Tuesday, November 25, 2008

1985 Tollbooth

Along with Shipwreck, Law and Spirit, Tollbooth completes the G.I. Joe homage to the Village People. This bit of humour hasn't been lost on many current satirical shows that have taken hold of some of the more outlandish Joes. But, beneath the orange helmet, sallow face and skinny mold lies a figure that has an understated design that befits the character's specialty. Tollbooth is the perfect forgotten Joe who is a strong match for his vehicle and draws his value to a collection from his affiliation with a toy that plays an important role in any collection.

The Bridge Layer is a toy that appears to be somewhat boring when you first come across it. It's pretty basic. Though it's well detailed, it doesn't do a whole lot. Yet, it remains a toy that is incredibly useful and fun to have around. As a kid, I can't remember all the times that I needed a bridge to get my Joes across a swamp, over a ditch or just up the stairs. Enter the Bridge Layer. In my childhood room, the main chamber was at the end of a short hallway. The hallway had one small step that allowed the actual bedroom to be lower than the hall so it was tall enough to use. This was my primary place of indoor play as a child so I always needed some way to get the Joes up, over the step so they could engage the attacking Cobras from the hallway. The Bridge Layer served a dual purpose of both moving the Joe heavy equipment over the obstacle, but also as shelter. Stood on its sides, the bridge made for a strong shield behind which the Joes could avoid blasts from Hiss Tanks and Stuns.

I learned of Tollbooth before he was fully released. Some friends of mine had seen the Bridge Layer at Sears stores during Christmas of 1984. I had not seen the Bridge Layer, though I had found the Dreadnoks. As they told me of this new vehicle and its driver, I didn't believe them. When I finally found a 1985 catalog and saw the Bridge Layer, though, I had to have one. However, I could not find one for a good long time. I finally found one at a Sears store in Dayton, Ohio when visiting my grandparents near Easter. (I still remember the shelf configuration and seeing the Bridge Layer on an endcap.) As soon as I got the vehicle home, it quickly became my first vehicle of choice. With the bridge attached, the top of the vehicle was a perfect place for my new '85 Joes to ride. I set Flint, Snake Eyes, Footloose and Alpine as the main crew atop the tank with Bazooka as Tollbooth's co-pilot in the main vehicle. This meant that Tollbooth took on a greater role in my collection than a figure of his design normally would.

While I found some charm in Tollbooth's figure, my friends from down the street were more grounded. They ridiculed Tollbooth from the get go and often made fun of his drunk face, hyperbolic open shirt and cockeyed helmet. The figure makes the character look slow. Rather than that, though, I viewed Tollbooth as a typical heavy equipment operator who understood the power of the vehicle he was operating and who had full knowledge of the consequences were he to be off in a bridge placement by even only a few inches. I saw his face as hardened experience that allowed him to operate a vehicle under that kind of pressure while he was also under enemy fire. Plus, his sledgehammer made him an interesting combatant for any Cobra foe who happened to get too close to the Bridge Layer during the course of battle.

As the Bridge Layer remained a staple of my Joe convoys for many years, Tollbooth saw more action than a figure like him normally would have. As such, my original figure quickly found himself with a broken thumb and crotch. While this normally would have been the death knell for any figure in my collection, Tollbooth managed to stay relevant. As he was rarely used outside his vehicle, the figure was still usable in that capacity. It was only after the Bridge Layer was phased out of my collection that Tollbooth finally disappeared from my use bin. As an adult, I was slow to re-acquire a new Tollbooth figure. He simply wasn't important enough for me to add now that vehicles were boxed away. Finally, though, I crossed him off my list of needed figures and have enjoyed having him back in the fold that as he helps complete my vintage collection.

The Bridge Layer, though, is a different story. I had at least 2 of them at one point in my adult collecting life and am pretty sure the overall number was at 3 for a little while. I have no recollection, though, of selling any of them. As the vehicle was an important part of my childhood, I liked having one around: even though I had no place to display it. However, it now appears that all my Bridge Layers are gone. I can not find any of them. As such, Tollbooth's relevance is severely limited. Had I even one Bridge Layer left, Tollbooth would be at the controls with most of my other favorite '85 figures adorning other spots of prominence on the vehicle. One day, I'll probably replace my Bridge Layer and pick up another. They're not expensive. But, I have other collecting priorities these days and adding more vehicles that take up space in boxes that make good scorpion nests out in the garage is not one of them.

As a figure, Tollbooth fits in with the other releases from 1984. But, he is largely out of place in 1985. He does have some decent detail. But, the head design isn't perfect by any means. The open shirt also dates the figure as it exceeds the standards for acceptable sloppiness and is brazenly in the territory of a 1970's disco king. The vest and waist do mesh well together, though, and give the figure a credibility as a heavy equipment operator. The figure's colors are strong, but the bright orange helmet does take away from that a bit. The inclusion of a sledge hammer as Tollbooth's accessory also grounds the figure in his utilitarian roots. Tollbooth is definitely a worker for the Joes more than he is a fighter. But, the design is such that this is OK and it helps to keep the Joes more grounded in realism.

Tollbooth uses the legs and lower arms from Gung-Ho. Other than that, the rest of the figure is original. But, it was also never used again. However, Tollbooth was one of just 5 figures with the straight head joint newly released in 1985. As such, he was obsolete the day he hit the retail shelves. As the Bridge Layer was an exclusive that hit in late '84 (along with the Dreadnoks) it makes sense that he used the older body style. But, that poor timing also relegates the figure into obscurity since he was dated so soon after his initial release. The mold lacks any real potential and would be hard pressed to repaint in any manner that would justify a return. The character, though, could be salvaged. The Hardtop head would be a good update for Tollbooth and I think that someone could make a figure that is a worthwhile update of the character with existing parts.

I would welcome that because Joe can always use more vehicle drivers and armour operators.
If you want a Tollbooth, they are not hard to find. The figure is subject to paint wear, though, so mint versions aren't as common as many collectors think. The filecard is also usually missing. But, even fully complete and mint, the figure rarely will run you more than $6 or so. He just isn't a figure that collectors care about. But, if you like the Bridge Layer, it is essential to have a Tollbooth figure. He fits in with the vehicle and brings an air of realism to the Joe line. He will never be a figure of great importance in any collection. But is a figure who serves a role and serves it well. The strength of the Joe line is the supporting characters. Tollbooth is just another example of how well planned the vintage Joe line really was.

1985 Tollbooth, Flint, 1982 VAMP, Schrage, Oktober Guard, 2005, Comic Pack

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rock Trooper Guile - Street Fighter Movie

Several years ago, I profiled the Paratrooper Guile figure. At the time, I was enjoying the various Guile variants that are available and felt the paratrooper was one of the better options for a profile as it was one of the higher profile Guile variants. Accompanying that Paratrooper Guile was another, more obscure Guile theme: the Rock Trooper Guile. This version of Guile features the same head as the other figures, but has a repainted body from the 1991 Dusty figure. The result is a solid repaint that has found a home in my collection.

The Street Fighter Movie figures were a ploy by Hasbro to milk some last pennies out of their now defunct G.I. Joe toy line. The line featured some new parts. But, the vast majority of the figure construction was leftovers from the Joe line. At the time, it was a way for Hasbro to keep the costs down while still producing a line of toys that would take advantage of the marketplace. It is curious that Hasbro has again done this just this year with toys from the Hulk movie line. The existing Joe molds were a cheap way for Hasbro to bring more diversity to that line without having to invest in all new tooling. I don't mind this approach. In the case of the Street Fighter and Mortal Combat Movie figures, the results were some great additions to any Joe collection. In time, it would be nice for Joe collectors to have some other lines like this that would keep classic Joe molds on retail shelves.

Really, what is a "rock fighter"? Is he a mountaineer? A survivalist? Or, is he just a figure that has some a tan base and comes with an eagle? At its core, this is what makes the figure useful. This Guile can be a Joe, an unaffiliated, military consultant or just some guy who likes to forage in the woods with a high powered assault rifle. As such, he brings some much needed diversity to a collection. He is a visually distinctive method of adding some diversity to your Joe ranks. The figure looks like a Joe, but is different enough that most people would not recognize the body at first glance.

This leads to the question of how does one use this Guile version? I see him as a standard infantryman. He is somewhat of a survivalist and is capable of operating unsupported for long periods of time. In a way, he has many of the characteristics of Outback. But, I see more of an independent and rebel streak in the Outback character. Guile is more straight and narrow when it comes to his outlook. He will get the job done. But, he often lacks the creativity that someone like Outback could provide to a situation. But, this trait is also highly desirable in some circumstances as Guile is somewhat predictable. His teammates know what to expect from him and will not be surprised by Guile going against his training when the situation becomes stressful. He is a dependable soldier who is always a known commodity. In a unit like the Joes, this is the type of person who is needed to offset the more rebellions tendencies of some of the other team members.

Guile features a very intricate set of paint masks. They are the most significant part of the figure. Guile is covered in overlaying applications of red, green and blue cammo all on top of a light tan base. He features black painted details that offset the colors, nicely. You wouldn't think that red and blue would make a color palette that was pleasing to the eye on an action figure. But, surprisingly, it actually works. The colors are muted and work to give the figure depth without making him stand out like so many of his neon contemporaries. Even the red and blue help the figure to blend into a neutral background like you find on many rock formations. He isn't invisible, for sure, but he also doesn't stick out like some of his neon contemporaries would.

Guile's mold was well used. Originally, the entire body was used for the 1991 Dusty figure. From there, it was used for the obscure Chinese Exclusive Flint figure. Immediately after that, this Guile figure appeared. In 2000, Hasbro recolored the mold for inclusion with the first wave of A Real American Hero Collection figures. The mold was planned for use in 2001 as the driver of the Desert Striker, but that figure was replaced with Flint. It then appeared for the last time in 2002 as the seldom seen Convention Paratrooper Dusty figure. At this point, we have probably had enough of this body mold to satisfy even its most ardent fan. However, I would not mind seeing the Guile head return. Master Collector has proven that some Street Fighter heads make for great new characters. As such, I would not mind seeing the Guile head return as a different take on a characters like Mace or, maybe, even Duke. It would be a daring departure from the norm. But, in the right context, it would also make a figure for the ages.

Guile's accessories are very solid and provide an interesting look into what was available at the time. The figure includes the first black version of the 1991 Dusty's backpack. (Which has subsequently become quite common.) It also includes an olive version of the 1991 Snow Serpent's rifle. This accessory is somewhat fun as it gives the rifle that is only otherwise available in white a very different look. As such, it helps to distinguish the figure. Guile also includes the missile launcher from the 1994 Flint figure. Only, this version has an olive trigger and missiles that match the plastic color of the figure's rifle. The final accessory, though, is the most interesting. Guile also includes the falcon from the 1987 Raptor figure. This is notable as Raptor was last seen in Brazil only a few years prior. Among Raptor's contemporaries, though, were Blizzard (who also appeared in the Guile series), Hydro Viper, and the unproduced Crimson Guard Immortal and 1991 Cobra Commander. Just about all of Raptor's Brazilian contemporaries ended up in India. But, Raptor did not. Not to say that I would like for Raptor to return. But, it does lend credence to the theory that Hasbro had access to molds like Repeater, Sci Fi and Psyche Out. Perhaps they could one day appear if one knew they were likely under Hasbro's control.

Rock Fighter Guile figures are not easy to find yet still inexpensive. It will likely take a few weeks to find a mint, complete or carded version of this figure. But, a carded sample will run no more than $15 and a loose, mint, complete figure will typically run about half of that. As such, when you do track one down, it will not cost you a substantial amount to add the figure to your collection. Of the Street Fighter Movie figures, the Guile variants are the most common. You will pay substantially more for some of the ancillary characters in this series of toys. Personally, I find these Guile environmental figures to be a fun addition to my collection: but not figures in which I maintain any level of long term interest. They are fun to have, but hard to use. On display, it's cool to see all the Street Fighter Movie figures. But, as integral parts of a collection, only a select few of the total figures released in this set are really worthy of distinction.

1995 Night Fighter Guile, Street Fighter, 1991 Grunt, 1985 Heavy Metal, Bomb Disposal

1995 Night Fighter Guile, Street Fighter, 1990 Rock Viper

1995 Night Fighter Guile, Street Fighter, 2005 Convention Exclusive Gung Ho, Steel Brigade, Mega Marines

1995 Night Fighter Guile, Street Fighter