Thursday, May 15, 2008

2008 Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

In the early months of 1984, my parents owed me a present for my top notch report card. However, in those days, the early months of the year were devoid of new toys. I was left with few options since I had already acquired all of the 1983 Joe figures and vehicles. I distinctly remember scouring the toy aisle at a local Kohl's store and finding only one single carded G.I. Joe figure: the 1984 Duke. (Of course, I already had Duke thanks to the mail away premium from the year before.) I was desperate to find something since my parents typically would only remember they owed me something for a few weeks and if I went too long without cashing in my reward, I lost it. There was only one other action figure in the store in which I had any interest: the original Kenner Indiana Jones figure.

I held it in my hand and thought long and hard about buying it. But, in the end, the prospect of finding new Joes who were shown the back of Duke's package was too tempting and I passed the figure by. (This worked to my advantage when I found Firefly a few weeks later.) I quickly regretted that move and wanted to acquire an Indiana Jones figure for many months. Alas, I was not able to find the original figure again and ultimately settled for Indiana Jones in the Nazi soldier disguise. This was a pale imitation of the original and it did little to sate my desire for the original character design.

When I returned to toy collecting as a adult, I focused my efforts on first acquiring all the Joe figures that I could still find at retail. From there, I branched into the newly released Star Wars figures. I then turned to vintage Star Wars collecting and finally ended at vintage Joe buying. This left little disposable income for collectibles outside my primary focus and Indiana Jones fell off my radar for a while. As my collection grew, though, I got more focused and started looking for the vintage Indiana Jones figure. However, by this time, the figure was somewhat pricey and I was more interested in spending that kind of money on Joes since they were so cheap. Plus, I was really hoping that we might, one day, see a new Indiana Jones done up in the style of the new Star Wars figures. But, more than a decade went by with no satisfaction. The Indiana Jones theme was used on some periphery products and even a small run of action figures. But, these were not really something I found to be in scale with my Star Wars collection and had no real interest in them. Finally, in 2008, Hasbro has come through with a modern Indiana Jones and the elusive title character finally calls my collection home.

For me, this is the perfect figure of Indiana Jones. I'm sure many will complain about some minor articulation point, or the inaccuracy of a certain element of his outfit. But, to me, this figure accomplishes all I would ask from a figure of such an iconic character. At it's core, if anyone who had only a passing knowledge of pop culture saw this figure, they would recognize it as Indiana Jones. The figure captures the essence of the character. It isn't obscured by irrelevant articulation points that cut into the figure's aesthetic. Nor is it buried under tons of useless "play features" that take away from the figure's usefulness. This figure is what it is: a toy that looks like you expect Indiana Jones to look.

Standing on a shelf about 12 feet from the floor in my downstairs office is my small collection of Star Wars figures. Most of these figures are more recent editions as I have largely cleared out my '90's versions of the characters. The versions of characters that I choose to buy are largely dictated by how many of that character I have in my collection, the quality of the figure, and whether the character is someone I care about. As such, I don't have many EU characters standing there (with the exception of some EU clones...) as the EU has never been part of my Star Wars experience. I also don't, necessarily, have the "best" version of each character. If I buy one that is good enough, it's unlikely I'll go back and get another unless the new version features a specific accessory or other enhancement that makes it worthwhile. The primary thing that motivates a Star Wars purchase, though, is how the figure looks. As such, standing front and center on my shelf is the 4 armed General Grievous from Revenge of the Sith. Most collectors wouldn't call this the best Grievous, nor even a good Grievous. But, standing in front of all my other figures, with his arms extended and fully armed with 4 lightsabers, this figure looks great. I'm not 9 years old any more, so the play value for Star Wars toys isn't as important as the look. I want some articulation since that gives freedom of pose. But, I don't want that articulation to come at the expense of the aesthetics. (This is one of the main reasons I dislike the anniversary style Joes. The joints are too pronounced and take away from the toy's look.) Grievous is flanked by Boba Fett, both VOTC and Animated Debut, IG-88, Ceremonial Luke Skywalker, Kit Fisto (Ep III and Clone Wars), Commander Cody and the generic Clone Commander from Ep III. As soon as I get the ladder out again, Indiana Jones will take a place front and center among my favorite figures.

This figure hits on all the points that are important to me. He looks like the character. He has great accessories. He is decently articulated. And, he is in scale and look of the Star Wars figures with whom he shares space. The figure includes the perfect complement of accessories and also features something I have never seen before in 3 3/4 scale: a holster with a working flap. Indiana Jones includes his standard pistol that fits into the holster, a fully extended whip, the bag from which he removed the sand that replaced the idol from the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a coiled whip that attaches to a hitch on the figure's waist, a removable coat and the golden fertility idol that started it all. Basically, everything that any version of Indiana Jones who appeared in this outfit would need. (As a neat little Easter Egg, the holster is positioned in a way that lets it sit just as it did in the movie when Jones handed his pistol over to Belloq after exiting the cave.) The extended whip's sculpting is a bit awkward and is difficult to get into believable positions. But, the figure can stand while holding it and that takes away from the sculpting deficiencies. The figure has articulation at the head (ball head), elbows (ball jointed), shoulders (ball jointed), hands, waist, knees (ball jointed) and feet (swivel). It is, basically, super articulated. Though, the purists will say otherwise since he's missing a few key points. The figure isn't perfect for everyone, but matches my expectations and desires exactly. (Also, it should be noted that Indy's likeness isn't that of Harrison Ford. So, if you're looking for a Harrison Ford look a like, this isn't the figure for you.)

Many collectors have complained about the lack of quality in the Indiana Jones line. Many people have reported finding figures with paint applications that make the figure appear disfigured. At this point, I have only seen one of this figure and it is the one in the photos below. Mine came out just fine and I don't see it. Perhaps, had there been a few more samples at the store, I might have noticed a difference. But, as the paint applications appear to be an issue, it is something to be on the lookout for. This figure also includes a "relic" and a sticker that can be used to redeem a mail away figure. Both are cool ideas that add some value to this purchase. The relics are particularly fun since there are so many and they are such an eclectic mix. However, this version of Indiana Jones includes a somewhat flat relic: a green mask. It isn't as exciting or useful as some of the other offerings. But, since the figure includes the standard idol anyways, it is acceptable.

There is a lingering question among collectors as to the longevity of this line. While Hasbro has publicly stated that have a multi-year commitment to the Indiana Jones line, the reality is that the panoply of characters from which they can draw new figure inspirations is substantially more limited than the same from the Star Wars movies. The Indy characters that did move from film to film retained much of the same look. While there were many background characters in the films, they haven't taken on the afterlife that was afforded many of the more obscure characters from the Star Wars movies. The fact that it took a new movie to finally bring a toy line that seemed so obvious to light speaks to Hasbro's confidence in the market to sustain this line over a long period of time. However, while I don't foresee a full blown retail Indiana Jones sustaining itself much more than a year or so, I can see that Hasbro has laid the groundwork to keep new Indy figures in the marketplace. The reality is that Hasbro produced a ton of molds for the movie figures and it's likely that, in the future, they can tweak these molds at little cost to produce new figures. Aside from that, look at the upcoming San Diego Comic Convention Cobra Commander in suit figure. His suit looks suspiciously like Toht. Hasbro is getting to the point where they can now take parts from one toy line and integrate them into another toy line. So, new molds could be made for future Indiana Jones figures and then be co-opted into G.I. Joe, Star Wars or some other licensed tie-in that would help offset the cost of the mold.

Hasbro also has two distinct distribution options for a reduced Indy line. They could easily package a new Indy figure or two into cases of Star Wars figures. The two fanbases cross over heavily and this way a few random figures would make it to retail without having to support a full blown line. Hasbro has already toyed with this idea when they shipped Titanium Battlestar Galactica ships in cases of their Star Wars Titanium assortment. It keeps retailers from having to program new products or make large commitments but allows for some fan favorite Indy characters to still appear at retail. The other option is the DTC model. A line like Indy would likely work better in a DTC type environment than G.I. Joe did. Indy has dedicated fans and it would be easy to stock online toy stores with enough product to justify small amounts. It would keep some of the main characters alive at retail and allow collectors to fill their niche desires, too. Either option gives Hasbro the ability to keep fans happy and keep the line alive even after it is no longer viable at the traditional retail outlets.

This figure is just now shipping and will likely be widely available through the year. The new movie will spark a decent amount of figures at retail stores and it's likely that they will still be available for the inevitable DVD release sometime this fall. As this is probably the signature figure in the line, it should ship for ample time in ample numbers in ample case assortments and anyone who wants one should be able to find one at retail. It is likely that Hasbro will revisit this character again and again if the line continues for more than this year. And, it is likely that those future versions will have increased articulation, better accessories, higher quality paint applications or other features (removable hat!) that will make you want to buy the same figure yet again. For me, though, this is just what I've wanted since I passed by the original Kenner figure back in 1984. It is Indiana Jones and has all the things that are iconic to the character. He will proudly stand among my small collection of Star Wars figures and it is doubtful that I will ever expand my Indiana Jones collection beyond, maybe, another version of Indy and the Ark. But, 10 years from now, if someone comes to my home and sees the figure, they will know who it is and the significance of the character. For a toy like this, that's all I can ask.
2008 Indiana Jones, Black Hole Stormtrooper, Animated Boba Fett, Endor Han Solo

2008 Indiana Jones, Black Hole Stormtrooper, Animated Boba Fett, Endor Han Solo

2008 Indiana Jones, Black Hole Stormtrooper, Animated Boba Fett, Endor Han Solo

2008 Indiana Jones, Black Hole Stormtrooper, Animated Boba Fett, Endor Han Solo

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

1988 Tiger Force Frostbite

When you think of the Frostbite character, it is likely that one of two things comes to mind: 1. the well done classic vehicle driver from 1985, or 2. the overabundance of low quality Frostbite figures that Hasbro heaped into the early years of the new sculpt line in 2002. It is a stark contrast between the two perceptions and shows how classic characters can easily become corrupted in the modern toy world. Sandwiched between those two realities, though, is this largely unrecognized Tiger Force Frostbite. As a subset, Tiger Force is generally well liked by collectors. As a mold, Frostbite is largely appreciated by the collecting world. As a combo, though, the Tiger Force Frostbite is a figure that is somewhat problematic. It is a solid mold in a popular subset, but the figure itself is somewhat difficult to use. But, that summarizes Tiger Force as a concept rather succinctly, too.

My first encounter with Tiger Force was in the early months of 1988. I was pretty much done with Joe as of 1988. Frankly, I was too old and had probably over-reached my youth by staying interested in the toys through 1987. But, even as a newly turned teenager, I found the lure of Joes hard to resist. I spent my final toy allowance from my parents (earned for good grades) on two new Joe figures who were available in the early stages of the year: Hardball and the Tiger Force Roadblock. I purchased Hardball because I was a baseball fan and justified his purchase through that angle. I rationalized Roadblock by saying that I had been missing his accessories since 1984 and this was my only chance to get a nice, fully accessorized version of him. To me, the fact that Roadblock featured a yellow helmet was of significantly less importance than the fact that he did include a black version of his gun. As such, for years, my only impression of Tiger Force was that they were good ways to get differently colored versions of oft-lost accessories like Flint's shotgun, Roadblock's stand or Duke's binoculars. It was an impression that permeated the early collecting world, too.

When I first found online Joedom in late 1997 and early 1998, there wasn't much discussion going on. In reading what material was available, though, the general consensus was that Tiger Force figures were "rarer" than their original counterparts since so many collectors passed them over since these were just repaints of figures they already owned. For the collectors who were online then: that was largely true. Most of us were of the same age and had come into Joe in 1982 or 1983 and had been collecting since the beginning. Most of us had our heyday during the '84-'86 period and were largely gone by the time of the animated movie. What was missing from that original group was the next generation of collectors who started collecting in 1986 or 1987. To them, these Tiger Force figures were the originals since they had not been collecting when the original molds were available at retail. As these collectors came of age, it became more and more apparent that there were ample supplies of Tiger Force figures in marketplace since so many of these younger collectors had viewed these repaints as entirely new figures and characters.

The Frostbite mold is quite well done. He was designed at a time when vehicle drivers were still given the same paint applications and mold designs as the figures released on the single cards. As such, you can see the level of detail that slowly became absent on later vehicle drivers. The mold also has an interesting secret: the head was molded after a real person. Frostbite's distinct face was a direct result of it being based on a Hasbro employee. In fact, there are anecdotes around that this employee still looks much like the Frostbite figure even today, more than two decades after the figure's design. The second Easter Egg in Frostbite's character is his name. Named Seward and born in Alaska, Frostbite is an in joke to "Seward's Folly" which was used to refer to the Alaskan acquisition. The figure itself actually features some variants in the eye and eyebrow color on Frostbite's head. Some look better than others, but none of the variants are really any more desirable than another. The figure also features Frostbite's signature rifle. This oversized, scoped rifle was the reason I traded to acquire a second Frostbite in my youth. (I gave the rifle to Stalker to match his comic book appearance.) Beyond that, there isn't much too the figure and what you see is pretty much what you get when it comes to the Tiger Force Frostbite.

As a character, Frostbite held a position of distinction in my childhood collection. As I first acquired the 1985 figure during the summer months, I didn't have much use for Frostbite in his own environment. However, rather than put away my new toy until the winter, I decided to make Frostbite a visiting dignitary from a northern country. He was there to teach and learn from the Joes. In time, they made him a full fledged Joe himself. But, I was able to explain away the winter coat in the jungle by saying that Frostbite was proud of his heritage and refused to change from his winter fatigues. This lead Frostbite to a position of leadership and, for many years, he was among my highest ranking Joes. When I returned to collecting, though, my focus was less on the character of Frostbite and more on the figure. As I did with just about every figure in the late '90's, I army built Frostbites for a while. They were cheap, I liked arctic figures and he had a really cool gun. However, in my first big collection purge, the Frostbite figures were among the earliest duplicates to go. I returned the original character to his more traditional roots and he is rarely seen out of his Snow Cat today.

This figure's fate is even less interesting. Really, I have no use for him. It is a neat figure to have around and is necessary for any Tiger Force display. But, beyond that, he doesn't have much purpose in my collection. The odd assortment of yellow, orange and brown doesn't lend itself to a wide variety of uses. I suppose I could see him as a winter, desert fighter who focused on arid climates during the winter. (It can get downright cold in the desert.) But, that's hardly a duty that can offer this figure more than the obligatory appearance in a few photos. (It is rare for a vintage Joe figure to appear nowhere on this site. Yet, this was the first time that the Tiger Force Frostbite has appeared in any of my photography.) But, I am an ARAH style Joe completist and if figures like Frostbite can serve no other purpose, at least they offer me fulfillment towards that end.

As a subset, Tiger Force remains a collector favorite. It wasn't the first theme to bring repaints to the Joe world, but it was the first that saw a full retail release. For many collectors, this was their initiation to some of the classic characters from the comics and cartoons. Today, Hasbro has brought the idea of Tiger Force into their modern ARAH style figures, the new sculpts and there is at least one Tiger Force figure rumoured to appear in the Anniversary style lines. The problem with Tiger Force, though, is that the figure designs that are produced for it tend to inferior to other paint jobs of common characters. The brown, orange, yellow and green hallmarks of Tiger Force don't really lend themselves to great figures. But, Tiger Force is a concept that was exported to Brazil, Europe, China and even India. (though to a lesser extent, there) This widespread influence of the basic theme coupled with the high profile characters who comprise much of the Tiger Force roster has kept Tiger Force a popular collecting theme. Many collectors who would ignore figures in these colors were they on their own will gladly buy them if they are aligned with Tiger Force since they want to complete their set. Tiger Force offers a nice collecting niche and is a way to justify repaints...even if they are a bit wacky.

The Frostbite mold has been conspicuously absent since 1988. It was only used the two times: for the original figure and then for this coloring. However, the original Frostbite figure was available as a mail away premium for many years and it is likely that Hasbro was still using this mold rather than relying on overstock to fill those orders. The mold was never released in any other countries and, like his contemporary Crankcase, has not appeared in any of the modern Joe renditions. The Frostbite character, though, has been done to death by Hasbro in the new sculpt line where the figure received several versions and sculpts...none of which were really an homage to this original design. Part of me would like to see another modern take on Frostbite. But, his mold is rather specific to the arctic and you really couldn't significantly upgrade the look of the version 1 figure to justify his inclusion in any of the precious ARAH style Joe slots that we see these days. As such, even if the mold were available, it would take something remarkable for me to really clamour for this mold to return.

Tiger Force Frostbites are not the easiest figures to find. The Tiger Force vehicles weren't the sellers that the figures were and a yellow vehicle that was originally designed for the arctic didn't, exactly, endear itself to the toy buying world. (Though, to be fair, the Snow Cat worked better in Tiger Force colors than any other arctic themed vehicle of the time would have....) On top of that, Frostbite is very susceptible to paint wear on his red and gold highlights. His elbow joints, like those of all the Tiger Force figures, is prone to cracking. So, finding a mint version of this figure can be challenging. But, it will also be cheap. Mint and complete with filecard, you can find this figure for around $6. Take away the filecard and the price will drop in half. It's not a figure that most collectors care about and will likely never be a figure that really captures the attention of the collecting world. The figure has its place as a member of the Tiger Force subset, but that's about the extent of its usefulness. For what it is, the figure works. But, the practical application of something like Tiger Force is difficult to utilize so it is likely that this figure will forever languish in obscurity.

1988 Tiger Force Frostbite, Flint

1988 Tiger Force Frostbite, Flint, 2007 Chuckles, 2004 Cobra Trooper

1988 Tiger Force Frostbite, Flint, 2007 Chuckles, 2004 Cobra Trooper