Thursday, October 23, 2008

2004 Demolishor - Convention Exclusive

I have long felt that the popularity of the Dreadnoks as a subset in the Joe line was vastly overstated. While collectors are familiar with these characters, they aren't the type of subset that collectors want to see repainted ad naseum. This was made all to evident in 2004 when Master Collector released their Dreadnok themed convention set. While some people were happy to see Zarana, Ripper and Buzzer return, the set still turned into a massive dud. Collectors were not interested in the Dreadheads and the colors chosen for many of the Dreadnoks were downgrades from their original incarnations. As such, just about every figure from that convention set can now be purchased on the second hand market for about 1/2 of the original price. There are 2 exceptions to this. Hardtop continues to be popular and consistently sells in the $35+ range. The other exception is the subject of this profile: Demolishor.

The Demolishor figure is the highlight of the Dreadnoks in this convention set. He is a completely newly amalgamated figure utilizing obscure original molds. He is decently colored and features the typically complex paint masks that are the hallmark of convention figures. Sure, his name makes him sound like a two-bit He-Man villain, but it works in this context. The convention set used a common color theme to separate the Dreadnoks into "factions". So, there were certain figures that matched each other. Demolishor was part of the "blue" team. This was fortunate as he is cast in colors that are actually useful outside of a Dreadnok setting but they also match the colors of the 2004 Dreadnok exclusive vehicles.

Demolishor utilizes the head of the Street Fighter Viktor Sagat. It is a mold that you don't often see mixed with Joe collections and perfectly fits the nature of the character. The head looks like a Dreadnok and is visually distinctive. Demolishor also uses the body of the 1987 Steamroller figure. Raise of hands: how many collectors actually have a Steamroller in their collection? Of those, how many use him on a regular basis? Frankly, this body was a great choice as it is incredibly obscure, well detailed and perfectly fits the look of a Dreadnok. Like the Convention Dragonsky, Demolishor shows that when a little thought is put into mold combinations and coloring you can create one of the great figures in the history of the line. His accessories aren't great, but they work. Demolishor is outfitted with 2 new sculpt weapons: a grenade launcher and the AK-47 esque rifle that was a staple of new sculpt Cobras. These work well enough with the figure, though I'm not a fan of any of the new sculpt weapons since they appear too large for ARAH-style figures. But, since Demolishor is supposed to big and muscular, I can accept the weapons as they are.

As a character, Demolishor isn't too well thought out. While some of the convention exclusive characters feature decent backgrounds, Demolishor's is nothing but cliche after cliche. The reality is that anti-social miscreants with severely violent tendencies don't tend to form lasting friendships. One reason why I always felt the original team of 3 Dreadnoks worked was because Buzzer was actually educated and he was able to keep Torch and Ripper in line with his superior intellect. As the subset grew, though, that became less and less likely. As such, I can't really get behind the canonical origin of Demolishor and have had to create my own personality for the figure.

One of the reasons why I'm not a big Dreadnoks fan is because you really can't use them for much beyond their intended purpose. Even in that regard, though, there are now so many different Dreadnoks that the entire gang is a bit of overkill. Demolishor, though, can at least step out of the Dreadnok role...somewhat. The figure's colors are such that he can be an outside Cobra contractor. To me, that makes the figure more valuable since he isn't saddled with the ineptitude that is the hallmark of the Dreadnoks. Still, though, the mold is limited. In the right parts of town, Demolishor would be taken for something all together different than a hard core biker. So, that does limit the mold to an extent. But, the solid colors and less garish than other Dreadnoks appearance of the mold does allow for Demolishor to fit in with other, named Cobras. The head is different enough that it doesn't clash with Major Bludd and the colors do work with standard Cobra blues.

Demolishor is a perfect example of how a figure that I do not own can capture my attention. For a time, this figure was my holy grail of collecting. As soon as I got one, though, he went off into his drawer and I have yet to really use him aside from a few pictures you see here. The reason is that, while the figure is good, he isn't something that really offers the diversity that I like to see in figure molds. My collection is littered with figures like this: characters that I had to have and as soon as I got them, the figure lost all its luster. Now, I have quite a few figures in my collection that I really wanted that do get a lot of use, too. But, I have found that one of my collecting M.O.'s is to quickly grow disenfranchised with certain figures that were once so desirable. I think the reason for this is because I build the missing figure up so much in my head that there is no way the actual product could ever live up to my expectations. Frankly, I can trace this all the way back to 1985 when I acquired the 1985 Snake Eyes. I wanted that figure so badly, but could never find a way to use him that lived up to the expectations in my head.

Still, Demolishor has his uses. It is a figure that really lends depth to some Joe displays as you don't often see him in online dioramas. He can be used as a standalone bad guy or with his other Dreadnoks. Personally, I see this figure moving more towards the world of independent freelance work where he will be paid by Cobra for some jobs, but not be a true member of the organization. It's a limited role, but this figure simply lends itself to that now that he is a part of my collection.

This is only the second use for the Steamroller body and the first since the original figure. The Sagat head was used in the Street Fighter line in the US. As neither of these molds had been done since the vintage line, seeing them together in the convention set was a refreshing change of pace from the other figures: most of whom had just been released by Funskool. Going forward, though, there isn't much else to do with this parts combination. You could make another Demolishor, but that's about it. And, while that might seem like a good idea since this figure is rather pricey and popular, I think that it would be a waste to produce another version of a convention only character. We just get too few opportunities to see ARAH figures these days. I'd hate to see one wasted on a figure that, while top notch, is probably best left as he is.

If you want a Demolishor, it's going to cost you a bit. I watched these figures for over 3 months. In that time, there was rarely more than 2 available at any given time and the average ending price was $35-$40 with some going as high as $70. Naturally, once I had my first Demolishor figure, the price fell down to around $20 for a week or two, then, it went back up to the $30-$35 range. However, these days, the price has once again fallen and recent Demolishors have sold for under $20. It seems that if collectors want one figure from the Dreadnok set, it is Demolishor and his price reflects his popularity. (Plus, there were a ton of surplus 2004 convention figures that were available from Asia. However, Hardtop and Demolishor were not among the common ones so the demand for those two figures was not offset by the Asian surplus.) Personally, I've found that the figure's look is much better from afar and I actually was disappointed when I first held one in my hand. But, like many figures, I have grown to like it more and more just due to the originality of the figure and way in which the mold amalgamations mesh so well to create a new and highly distinctive unique creation.

2004 Convention Exclusive Demolishor, Zanzibar, 1994 Action Soldier, Action marine

2004 Convention Exclusive Demolishor, Zanzibar, 1994 Action Soldier, Action marine

2004 Convention Exclusive Demolishor, Funskool LAW, 1993 Dee Jay, Mail Away, 1992 General Flagg

Friday, October 10, 2008

2002 Crimson Fast Blast Viper - Gift Set Exclusive

I don't know why this figure has my attention these days. It's been in my collection now for almost 6 years and almost all of that time has been in a bag with the figure's filecard and accessories, safely packed away in a drawer or a box. The 2002 Gift Set Fast Blast Viper really shouldn't be the type of figure in which I have any interest. Yet, in recent months, I've taken a new interest in the figure and found it an asset to my collection...all the way to the point where I've actually gone out and acquired multiples. On the surface, this should be an inferior version of this figure. But, there is something about the look of the Crimson Fast Blast Viper that attracts collectors.

Beginning in 2002, Hasbro became fascinated with crimson. For some reason, it became the color du jour for Cobra repaints. While crimson has long been a staple of the Cobra army and the popularity of the Crimson Guard over his equally high quality contemporaries like the Eel and Snow Serpent shows that collectors hold it in high regard. But, Hasbro went a little overboard with some of their Crimson choices. Figures like Firefly, Undertow and this Fast Blast Viper really had no purpose in the crimson color. Collectors were quick to adopt the figures, though, as either ceremonial outfits or as the colors the unit leaders. It was an innovative approach and one that allowed collectors to be satisfied with fewer of these crimson army builders in their collections. But, at the end of the day, how useful, really, is a Crimson Undertow or Fast Blast Viper? Up until late 2004, the answer was not much.

In late '04, though, Hasbro released the Operation Crimson Sabotage set. This highly popular exclusive included 3 Crimson Guards in different racial and hair colors, a crimson Hiss Tank and a Crimson ASP. Most collectors really don't use Crimson Guards as standard Cobra infantry. Yet, the set was so well done and the demand for Crimson Guards so strong that the sets were largely gobbled up prior to Christmas. It is the vehicles, though, that were the real gem of the set. The Crimson Guard figure mold has now been released no less than 4 times, with 3 of them in easily acquirable crimson color. Collectors largely liquidated their extra vehicles from this set, though, as they tried to recoup some cost but also wanted to gain some storage space. At first glance, crimson Hiss Tanks and Asps don't have all that much practical use. But, coupled with a figure like this Fast Blast Viper, they can take on more significant roles within a Cobra organization.

In my collection, the crimson equipment serves a dual purpose. It is the ceremonial display that Cobra puts on for the tourists of Cobra Island. It is also, though, the equipment that dots Cobra Island. Since satellite imaging and surveillance techniques are so advanced, Cobra chooses to hide much of its weaponry in plain site. These Crimson tanks drag Crimson Asps all over Cobra Island and they are full service weapon emplacements. By doing this, Cobra lets the outside world know they are protected by standard weapons. But, it also suggests that if they are so overt about it, that they must have other, nastier weapons hidden. The casual invader isn't likely to be a world power. As such, they will probably not look below the surface and will underestimate the Cobra defenses. At the same time, those who know that Cobra must have other, hidden weapons, can't find them as the electronics zero in on the stuff in plain site. The tanks leave tracks and the Asps leave trenches that, at night, are used by Cobra's secret safeguards. But, since the tanks are overtly running day and night, no one is ever able to discern what types of weapons might be hidden beneath the island's surface.

This all leads to the Fast Blast Vipers. For me, the Fast Blast/Heat Vipers serve dual purposes. The HEAT Vipers and the black Fast Blast Vipers are the mobile armored weapons specialists for which the figure was designed. The crimson Fast Blast Viper, though, is the gunner of the Cobra world. The crimson attracts less heat than the black when stationed in the sun and it looks stunning as these Vipers man the turrets and gun seats of the Hisses and Asps that are their specialty. It's not much of a use, but it is an important one as it gives me a figure that is perfectly suited for these vehicles without sacrificing one a figure who is also well suited for other, more glamorous duties. The Joe line is filled with niche and role figures. Frankly, they are what makes the line so enduring since there is something for everyone. This crimson Fast Blast Viper is such a figure and one of the rarer examples of the role player on the Cobra side.

The Heat Viper/Fast Blast Viper mold has a bit of a history. After it was first released in 1989, the mold made its way down to Brazil where Estrela released it as Estihaco in colors very similar to the American figure. From there, the mold was returned to the US and dusted off by Hasbro in 2001 and released, with a new head, as the Fast Blast Viper. This Fast Blast Viper was released in 2002 and the full HEAT Viper mold returned in 2003 as a member of Python Patrol. It has not been released since. But, this isn't a bad thing. While the mold is good, it isn't a classic. With the first Fast Blast Viper, collectors had the mold in a coloring that was pretty much as good as we needed. The Crimson figure offered some diversity and the Python figure served the dual purpose of giving us a niche version of the HEAT Viper but also offering a fully black head that was the perfect way to turn the first Fast Blast Viper into a fully helmeted HEAT Viper.

The Gift Set in which the Fast Blast Viper was offered was the epitome of a marketing and distribution mess. To this day, the full set can be purchased for less than 2/3 retail price at many online dealers. Individually, some of the figures in the set can be acquired for under $2 each. Overall, the set was a disaster full of overused figure molds done in obscure and relatively useless colors that included no sensible accessories. But, time has shown that we actually got a couple of decent figures in the set. In fact, this is the third figure (along with Dial Tone and Wet Suit) that I have profiled from the set. But, it is also likely the last as these three figures are the highlights of the set and the other, remaining figures are less useful.

The thing was, in 2002, we had high hopes for what the Joe line would become. Largely, at least in the ARAH-style arena, these hopes went unfulfilled. Sure, we got some great figures in the 6 years of the ARAHC and its successors. But, most of the releases were flawed in some way. With several hundred figures released now, we have the opportunity to reflect and look back at the line as a whole and find the figures that really stood out, but were forgotten for whatever reason. They are out there and have become somewhat of a focus of my collection in recent months. During this time period, Hasbro released Joes as fast as they could. (In fact, they released more unique figures between 2001-2006 than they did between 1982 and 1994.) As such, the frantic pace caused more than one collector to acquire something and not get the time to integrate it into their collection and gain the appreciation of the figure's design because there were new items with short shelf lives that had to be acquired. This has given me a great chance to take this time when there really isn't much new to collect to look back and find figures like this Fast Blast Viper and give him his due.

When the gift set first appeared, the Fast Blast Viper quickly became the most popular figure in the set. At the time, collectors were starved for army builders and even obscure figures in useless colors got a lot of attention. As such, this has always been the most expensive figure from the Gift Set and continues to hold that distinction. However, a large quantity of these figures appeared over in Asia. That supply has helped keep the figure below the price it might otherwise have achieved. Still, this figure, complete with filecard, will typically cost you $7. That's not cheap for an army builder that most collectors agree is only needed in quantities of 1. As such, the price is a testament to the figure's overall quality. In time, I don't see the figure appreciating too much in value, though. It seems that the current price is fairly good for what the figure is and I would expect that in another 5 years you'll be able to still acquire Fast Blast Vipers for about this same price. Regardless, if you like this figure, you might as well get them now. They are a useful addition to most collections and can fill a valuable role in some of the Crimson vehicles that Hasbro has released since 2002.

2002 Gift Set Fast Blast Viper, Crimson, ASP, 1986 Beach Head

2002 Gift Set Fast Blast Viper, Crimson, SMS, Sears Exclusive, 1985, Crimson Guard Immortal, 1991, 1984 Firefly

2002 Gift Set Fast Blast Viper, Crimson, SMS, Sears Exclusive, 1985, Crimson Guard Immortal, 1991, 1984 Firefly

2002 Gift Set Fast Blast Viper, Crimson, 1987 IMP

Thursday, October 2, 2008

1986 HAVOC

Simply put, the Havoc is goofy. From a practical standpoint, it is one of the more ridiculous concepts in the Joe line and is about as useless in a real combat situation as you can imagine. But, none of that takes away from the fact that the Havoc is a fun toy. It features great play features and has tremendous value since it's so interesting to play with. It has long been one of my featured vehicles and is one of the few vehicles that has made the cut in my modern collection. It is certainly not without shortcomings. But, the vehicle works well as a toy which is how I was first exposed to it.

1986 was probably my most prolific Joe year. I was 12 years old, had plenty of spending money and was old enough to spend my cash and time wisely. 1986 has started slowly for me in terms of Joe and it took me a while before I felt I had caught up with some of the other kids in my class. By May, though, I had managed to acquire most of the '86 figure lineup and had even tracked down a few of the early release vehicles. The one big item I wanted, though, was the Havoc. To me, this looked like the Joe vehicle that I had been waiting for. You see, by '86, I had long since trashed my VAMP and VAMP Mark II. The Whale was still around, but not suitable for every situation. I had a Mauler, but found it heavily lacking in play value. Basically, I wanted a Joe vehicle on which I could use several figures and that had something unique that made it easy to play with. The Havoc fit the bill perfectly.

As the month of May wound down, I was certain I'd find the Havoc. But, it simply wasn't happening. I distinctly remember the weekend I finally acquired my Havoc, though. It was the weekend of the Indianapolis 500 in 1986. (Back then, the race was still relevant and was an event...very unlike today.) My father had managed to get 2 tickets to the race, but decided to take my younger brother. I stayed home and had to go grocery shopping with my mother. Back then, we did our grocery shopping right next to a Toys R Us store on Indianapolis' north east side. Since I had to go that way anyways, I managed to convince my mother to stop at TRU for me. But, as an added precaution, I called the TRU that Saturday and asked the employees if they had the Havoc in stock. Sure enough, they did. (Remember when calling a store meant you'd get actual help?) The clerk was even kind enough to hold one for me at the service desk. When we arrived at TRU, I went right to the desk, asked for my Havoc and went home a happy kid. I distinctly remember one other detail of that day, 1986 was a rainout at the Indianapolis 500. As the day wore on, I played with my new Havoc in the living room as I heard a torrential downpour fall outside the picture window in my parents' living room. I always felt I got the better end of that day as my brother shivered in the rainy cold at a track on the other side of town while I got to play with my long awaited Havoc from the warm dryness of our childhood home.

From there, the Havoc quickly took over as my de facto Joe vehicle. It was the one transport that was always called into duty. Cross Country drove with Sci-Fi or Dial Tone as the co-pilot. Sgt. Slaughter was always the gunner and Lifeline always manned the fancar. Leatherneck, Beachhead and Hawk were always on the side rails, ready to jump off and take out Cobra Infantry that tried to sneak up on the Havoc's sides. It battled against the Cobra armor of the day and was easily the equivalent of the STUN and the Thunder Machine. It was the mainstay of my Joe armor and was always the first choice for a vehicle whenever my Joes needed armor, transport or transportable air cover.

As a toy, the Havoc has some decent play features. While the cockpit is oddly designed, it also is greatly detailed and will hold two figures with ease. You have to fit them into their positions with bent knees, but it works. The gun tower moves up and down and can be used as long range artillery, close quarters weaponry or anti-aircraft weapons. It also locks behind the cockpit and covers the main engine cover. The real hallmark of the vehicle, though, is the fan car that is disguised in the back. The back doors open up to reveal a flying fan car that has guns on the side. It isn't the most practical thing, but it is a fun way to expand the play value of the Havoc. The nice part, though, is that if you don't want to use the fan car, you can leave the doors closed and the seat of the car works as a rear gunner station for the small guns on the back of the Havoc.

Aside from the absurdity of the overall design, the Havoc does suffer from poor color choices and lack of details. The guns and missiles on the Havoc are bright orange. While this can work, it does leave the vehicle somewhat bright and obvious. Fortunately, the parts are small and removable so a slight bit of paint will solve the brightness problem. The weapons on the Havoc also lack great detailing. While the rear guns are a nice feature, they are somewhat bland and lack the realism that collectors had come to expect from a Joe vehicle in 1986. It is these detriments that are most remembered by modern collectors, though. Which probably isn't fair. But, when taken against the line as a whole, the Havoc is easy to pass by in favor of other vehicles.

As a driver, Cross Country was a disappointment. The 1985 vehicle drivers had been nothing short of amazing. They had great sculpts, realistic colors and incredible accessories. But, all that changed in 1986 and Hasbro largely sucked the greatness out of their vehicle driver pack ins. Sure, Cross Country was still a unique mold that was only available with the Havoc. But, he suffered from an odd color combination and a head that was overly large for his body. Plus, he included no weapons. In short, he was nothing more than something to put into the window of the box to show the Havoc included a driver. In time, I removed Cross Country from my Havoc and replaced him with Heavy Metal. Heavy Metal had the look of someone who would operate large machinery like the Havoc and was a much cooler figure to have around. Hasbro attempted another Cross Country years later, but even its design fell flat. As such, I rarely associate Cross Country with the Havoc. To me, the vehicle stands on it's own much moreso than the figure who was intended to drive it.

The Havoc was released in the US as well as Europe and Brazil. The Brazilian version is a slightly different shade of green and is visually distinctive from the American Havoc. If you can track one of these down, it is an interesting companion piece to the American Havoc. The Havoc was also covered in chrome and released as part of the Sky Patrol subset in 1990. After that, the mold disappeared and this vehicle has been MIA since then. But, as modern collectors are quick to point out the vehicle's shortcomings, it probably wouldn't make much sense for anyone to attempt a reissue. No enhancement in color is going to make up for the wacky design of the vehicle overall. Plus, Havocs are so cheap these days that it is more prudent to buy a spare and paint it any way to you want rather than hoping to some day see a re-release.

Havoc's are not expensive nor are they hard to find. Even mint and complete, they cost nothing when compared to Cobra vehicles of the era or other Joe armor like the Mauler. The vehicle is somewhat large, though, so it will cost a bit to ship. But, by and large, collectors are indifferent to the Havoc. Most people who have been in the hobby a while likely have at least one Havoc in some state of repair. And, most of them have no desire for another version. To me, the Havoc's value is solely sentimental. It was the last vehicle that really made an impression on my childhood and remained a relevant part of my collection long after its design shortcomings became all too apparent. But, it's the innocence of childhood that has kept me a collector in the two decades plus since the vehicle was released. So, in some way, the Havoc is very much a great success.

1986 Havoc, 2002 Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, Python Patrol Viper, 1989, 2003 Mirage, 1985 Heavy metal