Friday, September 5, 2008

1987 Outback

Outback remains a fan favorite and is a figure that collectors have clamoured for since Joe first returned to retail. However, for whatever reasons, Hasbro has largely failed to deliver the character in a format that has been widely available to collectors. As such, the character remains one of the holes from the vintage line that could desperately use an update of some sort. This isn't to say that the original figure is bad. Not at all. But, Outback remains one of the few highly popular characters who has not appeared in the modern line. Even a full year into the Anniversary figures has yet to produce an Outback. Despite this, or because of it..., Outback has remained one of the figures that fans have most requested for nearly a decade now.

1987 was really the last year I bought Joes as a kid. But, that year was one of the bigger years for me in terms of figures and characterization. At the time, I was engrossed in the Joe comic and used it as a guideline for my personal collection. Simultaneously, I was old enough to take of my toys and build a complex Joe world that lead to my continued interest in the hobby. This lead to my most lasting memories of Joe from my childhood largely centering around the figures who were important to me in 1987. This isn't just relegated to figures released in 1987, but all the figures who were important parts of my collection at that time. When I returned to Joe, I focused my buying efforts not on these figures from my last years. I still had all of those in decent condition. Instead, I spent my energy on figures that I had never previously owned. I spent many of the early years of my adult collecting life enjoying many of these post '87 figures for the first time. As I slowly absorbed most of those later figures, though, I saw my collecting focus returning to the items to which I had the greatest childhood connection. The classic figures from the line's first 6 years are the ones that have recently become the center of my collecting attention.

As a figure, though, Outback never lived up to my expections. Sure, he had an amazing gun with a strap, the cool web gear, the removable flashlight and the awesomely oversized survival pack. But, he also had a white shirt. And, at the end of the day, that was tough to get past. When I had my patrol of Joes moving through the grass, Falcon, Tunnel Rat and Beach Head were all hard to spot. Outback, though, stuck out like a bright beacon. Even the web gear wasn't enough to mute the figure's appearance and it was difficult for me to see a survival expert living in the wilderness wearing a garment that would make him so easy for the enemy to spot. But, in a nod to the figure's characterizations, these limitations weren't enough to sour the figure for me, entirely. In fact, as a kid, Outback was one of my more used Joes during the last days of my childhood. It was as an adult that I began to feel his limitations a bit more. I always felt that Outback should have been a perfect complement to Falcon in terms of coloring. However, in retrospect, I can see why Hasbro went the way they did. The beginning of Joe's great success came when Hasbro moved away from coloring all the figures the same and gave each figure a distinct look. Had Outback been cammo'ed up, he would have been too similar to Falcon and he likely would have faded into the background. By going with the tee shirt, Hasbro gave Outback an identity. Because of this, the figure has transcended other, more realistically colored figures like Recoil and Hit and Run in the collector conscience.

Outback's accessories have always made the figure. His huge backpack is the type of thing, as a kid, that I felt a suvivalist would need. (Now, the reality is that a true survivor would likely take less into the wild with him.) His web gear was a great addition that built upon the figure. With it, Outback was more complex and seemed to have more happening as a toy. Without it, the white tee shirt was all too noticable. His Hekler and Koch machine gun was also a great addition. It was big, but easy for him to hold and pose. It had the strap that was large enough to fit over the figure when you had him climbing a vine or wading through a river. Plus, it was well detailed and looked like the menacing type of weapon that a character like Outback would carry. And, to top things off, you had the little flashlight that could be removed from a peg in the figure's leg. It was this little detail that allowed me to pair Outback with Tunnel Rat on many missions. (In fact, when I wanted Tunnel Rat to hold one of the flashlights from his pack in a dark place, I would give him Outback's accessory as a placeholder for his own so that the large Tunnel Rat flashlights didn't risk breaking the figure's thumbs.) It was these little details that make many of the '87 figures better than even their high quality molds and color schemes would indicate.

To this day, I am awaiting a perfect Outback figure. The Night Force version is decent. But, I've never liked the way the orange hair worked with the dark colors. The Tiger Force version is cool, but suffers from the same issues as this original figure in terms of coloring. (Though, the white hair is a cool addition to the character and makes for more of a conversation piece.) The Big Brawler mold is decently colored, though somewhat bland. But, it still needs the classic Outback gear and head to make the figure really work. If this mold is available to Hasbro, it is surprising that it has not been used. But, as it was last seen in a late Funskool release, it is likely that this mold is either not available or is no longer in a state where it can be fully utilized. That's too bad as any full blown Outback figure will likely see great collector interest. Maybe the head will show up on a new body in a future convention set. These days, that's about the only hope we have.

The thing that kept Outback a prominent member of my collection, though, was his characterization in the comic. From his initial appearance, Outback had that rogue quality that made him more than a cookie cutter Joe. However, it was his use in the first Borovian arc that really sold me on Outback being a bit darker than you might otherwise believe. While he had great loyalty to his team-mates, Outback still had to go out on his own and fight his way out of Borovia. It was this grit (with the pressure of knowing that his friends' only hope for rescue rested on his shoulders) that really cemented the Outback character for me. As such, Outback was able to transcend the shortcomings of his figure and remain a vital part of my collection long after many of his contemporaries had faded into obscurity. It is this comic vision of Outback that has largely fueled his long term popularity. Few of the '87 Joes say as much use as Outback in the comic during that time. So, that showcase was the ticket to lasting popularity for the character.

In my collection, Outback saw a good deal of use...even though the figure was really only part of my collection for about a year before I packed all my Joes into a box in my closet. The figure you see pictured below is my original and he exhibits a good amount of wear when you consider his late date of addition to my Joe world. But, that is evidence of the importance I gave to the figure. Outback was always one of the first figures I grabbed whenever it was time to take the Joes outside, into the yard. His gear and specialty made him someone that I always felt any mission could use. He worked great as a stand alone fighter, a member of a team or as vehicular support. He was perfect as the guy who could rescue Joes stranded behind enemy lines or he could be a member of a patrol, keeping watch on the flank as the Joes moved on a Cobra position. In either capacity, the figure blends well with others from all years of the line but still stands apart enough to give a photo or dio a bit more character.   Today, Outback has seen a resurgance of appreciation in my collection. While you still don't see him in photography to the extent you might see Flint, Recoil or Beach Head, he is still a figure that sits at the front of his drawer, always ready to be pulled out for appearance in some dio. Something about the wild nature of his appearance has always made Outback less of a by the books soldier and someone whose maverick attitude would be best utilized in an elite unit like the Joes. I saw Outback as somewhat of a rogue who would rather be on his own for extended periods of time. But, by the end of his isolation, desperately craved intervention with other people. It was these extremes that drove Outback's other traits and was how he was able to be so ruthless when he needed to be. It drove an independent spirit that seemed to resonate with me and helped make Outback a more memorable part of my early collecting years.

The Outback mold saw a decent amount of use over the years. It was used twice in the US and then in Europe. After the Euro Tiger Force Outback was released, the mold went down to Brazil where it was released in colors similar to the European figure as Forastiero. After that, the mold made its way back to the US. In 1998, Hasbro intended to release Outback in desert colors and white hair and include him as part of the planned G.I. Joe Headquarters. However, this never came to fruition and the figure was scrapped. A few of them are available in the collecting world and are among the rarest figures in the history of the line. (They'll fetch over $2,000 each when one appears for sale.) In 2001, Hasbro released the Outback body with a new head as Big Brawler. This tease was made all that much worse when Hasbro sent the mold to Funskool in 2002 and it was used for the laughable Funskool Big Brawler. Now, it is likely that Hasbro has the Outback mold. But, they still have yet to use it. Were a new Outback to appear in a convention or other exclusive set, collectors would embrace it. But, for now, Outback remains one of the glaring holes in the modern era or ARAH-style Joe releases.

Back in 2001, a mint complete Outback would easily cost you over $20. At that time, most of the major characters from 1985-1987 were fetching similar prices as the Joe market exploded. Within a few years, though, the aftermarket for these figures cooled considerably and prices fell into the $12-$15 range. These days, that's about what you'll pay for a high end, with filecard version of the figure. If you're willing to give up a little condition or even the gun strap, though, you can get Outbacks for half that. Personally, that's not too bad a price for a figure that is hard to find in mint condition, has many easily breakable or losable accessories and that is still, very popular with collectors. For my money, though, this Outback version has never lived up to the hype. As such, the Outback character remains very under-developed in my collection and will likely remain that way until someone comes along and re-imagines this mold in more usable colors.

1987 Outback, 1994 Stalker, 2004 Night Force Short Fuse

1987 Outback, 1990 Range Viper

1987 Outback, 1992 Wild Bill, 1986 Dial Tone, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Tunnel Rat

1987 Outback, 1986 Leatherneck, 1988 Tiger Force Flint

1 comment:

  1. I cut a piece of OD cloth and used it Rambo style over the white t-shirt. It fit perfectly into his character, and made him more tactical.