Tuesday, January 27, 2009

2008 Headhunter Driver (Convention Exclusive)

During the modern Joe redux between 2001 and 2006, collectors had many requests for certain figures to return to retail. In time, we learned what Hasbro could and could not do. Despite this, though, collectors largely clamoured for the same figures over and over again. In time, Hasbro came through with fan favorites like original Cobra Troopers, Vipers and Crimson Guardsmen. The one faction that was not revisited, though, was the Headhunters. These figure molds were very popular with collectors and lended themselves to nice repaints. The obvious answer to Hasbro's inability to sate collector demand for these figures was that the molds were lost in Brazil. As the figures had been released in Brazil around 1995, this seemed plausible enough. But, in 2004, Hasbro offered a glimmer of hope when parts from Mace appeared on the comic pack Clutch. This indicated that some of the later released Brazilian figures might be available to Hasbro. Finally, in 2008, Master Collector came through and released a boxed convention set featuring the Headhunter characters and original figure molds. However, these figures were not met with the fanfare that might have been expected just a few years earlier. The result is a decent set of figures that have largely failed to endear themselves to the modern collecting community. Of the figures released, the Headhunter Driver has the most interesting story, even if he the most similar to his vintage counterpart.

Originally, the Headhunter Driver was going to be part of a vehicle/driver combo set. Thus, his name would make a lot more sense. The figure was intended to be the driver for a repainted Cobra Rage that would have been the Headhunters signature urban assault vehicle. However, production costs and other factors kept this vehicle from coming to light. (And, with the fiasco of the Maulers from 2007 still fresh on their minds, the decision to err on the side of caution can only be viewed as a wise one.) However, as the figure had been made, there was no reason why it couldn't be used for another promotion. So, the figure became the attendee bonus figure for those who purchased boxed sets. As just that, a bonus, the figure works nicely. It is decently colored though not overly complex and has a specialty that allows for compulsive collectors to scale back their desires for multiples. But, as a bonus figure, the Driver also suffered from decreased availability. Collectors could not just buy up multiples of them unless they found other attendees who purchased full sets who wanted to part with the Driver. The result was an increased demand for a figure that was nearly never to be the first place.

Much was made of the coloring of these Headhunter figures. Initial fan reactions were adverse as the figures appeared to be a light blue color. This was quickly explained away, though, as the photos not showing the "true" color which was revealed as "arsenic". In name, this is a cool color. And, in form, it would be good, too. However, this profile uses the hex code for arsenic as the background color. You can compare that background color to the color on the various Headhunter figures and make your own determination as to how true to the color of arsenic the figures actually are. The bigger issue for me, though, is that this Driver is just so close to the original Headhunter figure. At least the more common Headhunter Guards were done in all arsenic bodies that differentiate them from the original figures. This Driver does not. As such, if a collector is forced to choose between a high priced, low production run figure or the more available and cheaper vintage figure, there is no compelling reason to take the more modern rendition. It is so similar that there isn't a great reason to spend copious amounts of time and money tracking down additional Headhunter Driver figures.

The Driver figure is the opposite in coloring from the Guard figure, though. As such, any collector who tracks down a few of the Guard figures can now use the Driver as a commander or lead figure for those Guards. Much like the 2007 Rip It being a near inverse of the Wal Mart Hiss Driver, the Driver figure takes on an additional potential use by being the opposite of the more common, unnamed figures. The fact that both figures also feature the distinctive Headhunter logo helps pair them together. This logo incorporates Cobra into the Headhunter theme and helps to merge the two factions. It is distinctive from any vintage appearance of the Headhunter faction and is a nice addition to these figures. Though, it is brittle and will rub off easily if the figures are used too much.

One of the nice things about seeing figures like this revisited is that it brings a new opportunity to appreciate the mold. As it was released in 1992, the Headhunter is a figure that most modern collectors found affinity for long after their childhood. So, there aren't as many collectors to whom this figure was a vital part of their formative Joe years. These new figures, though, help these molds get some of their due. When you look at the Headhunter figure, the mold is full of possibilities for other uses. One of the most influential customs I recall from my earliest online days was a Cobra Commander by the immortal Evilface. This figure creatively used the Headhunter head as a new take on the Commander. It showed an ingenuity that, if properly applied, could be used as inspiration for many new Joe figures to be created from the molds we know to be available. While people are quick to point out that the number of ARAH Joe molds is "dwindling", the reality is that there are enough parts that an entirely new line of new figures and characters could be created only out of newly colored amalgamations. It's probably too late to see this pipe dream fulfilled. But, it does show that there is potential out there for molds like the Headhunter to be used in different ways that could more greatly expand the collecting experience.

The Headhunter Driver's accessories are interesting in that they are the only appearance of the bomb pack that is included. This orange explosive was originally intended for release with a Sigma 6 figure that was cancelled and never saw production. As such, the only way to get this accessory is with this Headhunter Driver. The bomb pack is cool enough for this reason, but really extraneous...especially when you consider this figure was intended for use a vehicle driver. He also includes 2 shotgun pistols. These are not the shotgun from the vintage figure and are, instead, from the new sculpt Joe line. The give the homage to the original accessories, but are inferior and don't really fit well with the figure. But, for what they are, at least they make sense. But, if you can find them, extra vintage Headhunter accessories make all the difference in the world for these figures. (Especially if you augment them with an Alley Viper gun, too.)

The Headhunter mold has been used for 5 unique figures now: the 1992 and 1993 Headhunters, Brutus from Brazil and these convention Headhunter Guards and Headhunter Drivers. All of these figures, though, feature the same basic paint masks (though, the Guard and Driver figures do have some additional gold paint that is missing on the vintage and foreign figures) and colors. Only the Guard is not done with a black body and he features black highlights. As such, though there are 4 unique uses of this mold, there are really only 2 versions that are greatly different and even those are still similar in appearance. As such, this mold still has some great potential. Headhunters in Cobra blue, dark grey or even crimson might be a nice way to make the mold more diverse. At this point, that's probably unlikely to happen any time soon. But, the existence of the mold does at least offer the possibility that the figure might, one day, be revisited in more distinct coloring.

The Headhunter Driver figure was the attendee bonus figure at the 2008 convention. As such, the only way to get one was to buy a boxed convention set and then attend the convention. As such, this figure is rather hard to find. Within a week of the convention ending, mint and complete with filecard Headhunter Driver figures were selling in the $125 range. (If you could find them at all!) In the months since, the figure has seen a slight decrease in popularity, but still routinely sells for ~$80. Really, that's WAY too much for this figure. Sure, he probably has low production numbers and is somewhat hard to find. But, this figure really offers nothing that you can't get from the original Headhunter figure. And, most collectors would much rather buy 6 or 7 vintage Headhunters than one of these figures. I know I would. Still, for what it is, the figure is rather well done, if uninspired.

2008 Headhunter Driver, Convention Exclusive, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 2001 Desert STriker

2008 Headhunter Driver, Convention Exclusive, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1992 Headhunter

2008 Headhunter Driver, Convention Exclusive, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 2001 Desert STriker

2008 Headhunter Driver, Convention Exclusive, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Headhunter Guard, 1983 Hiss Tank

2008 Headhunter Driver, Convention Exclusive, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Headhunter Guard, 1983 Hiss Tank, 2005 Comic Pack Firefly

2008 Headhunter Driver, Convention Exclusive, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1997 Alley Viper, Rage, TRU Exclusive

2008 Headhunter Driver, Convention Exclusive, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1997 Alley Viper, Rage, TRU Exclusive

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2001 Funskool General Hawk

The 1991 General Hawk figure has long been a guilty indulgence of mine. I like the figure design and don't even mind that such a specialty was used for the leader of the Joes. The bulky flight suit and bubble helmet hearkened back to the cheesy sci fi movies I used to watch on late Friday nights as part of the Sammy Terry show as a kid in Indianapolis. It certainly wasn't the most militaristic of Joe figures, but was a mold that I wanted to add to my collection almost immediately after I learned of its existence. Once acquired, the figure did not disappoint. And, I found myself also fond of the subsequent figures that also utilized the body mold. As I knew that Hasbro would never, ever consider this figure for their modern releases, though, I figured the mold was done with its vintage uses. But, in 2001, Funskool came through with this exclusive version of General Hawk and the mold was given one more life.

This version of Hawk was one of the first Funskool figures who American collectors were able to acquire shortly after his initial release. In the subsequent years, this became commonplace and American collectors were often privy to new Funskool releases even before they were able to saturate the markets in India. This Hawk holds some distinction for me, though, because of that status. He was one of the first "new" foreign figures that was available to the American market at a time when most collectors didn't even know that ARAH style Joes were still being produced in India. This fact alone made him a must buy for me as soon as he was available.

There is no denying that this mold has been done to death. After the 1991 Hawk figure, Hasbro used the mold again in 1993 for the Star Brigade Roadblock. That same year, the entire mold was used again for a convention exclusive Hawk figure. This neon green monstrosity has remained obscenely cheap on the secondary market despite a production run of only around 3,000 figures. This convention Hawk was then also used as a mail away exclusive as the line died a slow death. In 1994, Hasbro repainted the Star Brigade Roadblock into a somewhat hard to find orange beacon of a figure. That ended the figure's American run. Funskool released this Hawk starting in 2001. As it was still around when Funskool ceased producing Joes, it is likely that Hasbro would have access to this mold. While I would not want to see this figure return as Hawk, the mold does have potential for other characters. This mold could easily take a head from the comic packs and some silver paint to highlight the straps and you would have an acceptable version of Grand Slam. You would even mold the figure in baby blue and have an updated Star Duster. While these aren't inspirationally creative uses, it would be a way to get these two characters back into ARAH form in a more affordable format.

1991 was a year where Hasbro designers progressed quickly. The 1990 figures were loaded with awesome complements of accessories. Many of the accessories added play features that were design challenges for the engineers. It's likely that this was a byproduct of extra development money from years of success, improvements in technology and a simple desire by the toy designers to alleviate the boredom of doing the same thing over and over again. 1991 followed the same path...for the better and the worse. 1991 brought us innovations such as the kid activated launchers such as those seen on the mighty Crimson Guard Immortal. It also brought us the advent of spring loaded missile launchers and water cannons that actually worked. This Hawk mold, though, showcased some of the enhancements that 9 years of experience had brought to the design team. Hawk does not feature a clear helmet with painted details like the Ace of previous years. Instead, he has a fully featured helmet that has a removable face shield. (This became useful later on when Hasbro used different colors on the transparent shields to help differentiate figures who used the same mold.) Hawk's jetpack has hinged wings that fold up or down. They are sturdy and are, to this day, still largely found unbroken. But, to top all this off, the jetpack and rifle are also compatible with the JUMP platform from years earlier. The barrel of Hawk's gun is about the same width of the weapon that was included with the JUMP and easily fits into the slot meant for the original blaster. As such, this figure retained full compatibility with previous years while still taking leaps forward in design.

In my collection, this figure is mostly just for show. My original suffered from poor quality and the subsequent version I acquired is my "display" figure. As this figure isn't as nice as the original American version, though, I find myself rarely using him. In fact, the first figure I acquired back in 2001 was at the bottom of my Funskool drawer and his accessories were still in some bags that I had packed up in 2003 as part of my move. So, he obviously doesn't get much use. If I would pull him out, it would likely be as a nameless, faceless jet pack trooper in the vein of how I use Maverick. Even in that capacity, though, this figure is inferior to other uses of the mold in the vintage line. The base color of the figure, though, is quite good. The deep evergreen flight suit would actually work quite well were it not for the neon orange highlights. Had this figure black boots, gloves and straps, it would probably have been better received. But, without the neon orange, the figure also loses much of its camp value.

While I miss new Funskool Joes, I have also realized that, for the most part, my interest in them was as a collectible. There are few Funskool figures (aside from those similar to their American counterparts) who see much use in my collection. Mostly, they are bagged up and packed away, awaiting the day I have a Funskool display case for them to call home. The horrible colors and bizarre parts combinations gave my Joe collection a welcome respite from the Hasbro offerings that were largely lost in a sea of drab green or endless repaints of the same parts over and over again. Funskool figures retained an innocence about them that you would never see from a company in the US that was trying to cater to both adults and children. Maybe if Hasbro had just focused on the kids, the lines would have been more successful. Maybe not. But, without Funskool releases giving us a good laugh every few months, the Joe world lost much of the levity that helped break the tensions of adults collecting a children's toy.

Unfortunately, this Hawk was released during Funskool's period of horrible production. As such, many of the early figures suffer from poor paint jobs, frozen joints and loose rivets. For many people, it is these Hawk figures that forever soured them on Funskool figure quality. If you can find a Hawk that was produced in late 2002 or even 2003, though, the quality does improve. But, if you are in the market for a Hawk figure, be prepared to find a few that suffer from the poorest of Funskool quality.

Another point of interest on this figure is that Funskool altered the mold. On the American versions of this mold, the words "Made In China" are stamped across the top of the back of the waist piece. On the Funskool figure, these words are wiped out. The fact that the words were removed isn't that interesting. Funskool was known as a crusader against cheap Chinese toys in India and they were not likely to want their products as being stamped with a "Made in China" stamp. On the early Funskool figures, these words were simply rubbed out. The legacy of this can be seen on figures like the 1998 Cobra Troopers and Firefly. In the case of this Hawk, though, Funskool did not simply wipe out the offending words. Instead, they actually sculpted three new little boxes on the upper rear of the waist piece. It is a slight mold modification, but something that shows Funskool was still preserving their brand image well into 2001.   There are also variants on this figure that, like the quality, are dependent upon the production date. The earliest figures from 2001 have a flat finish on the orange highlights. This orange is also much, much brighter on these early figures. It also appears to have a layer of white primer underneath the neon orange. Later figures lose the primer and, instead, have a much more muted red color on the highlights. The figures are easily distinguishable by eye and you can see a comparison photo below. Of the two, the later figure is probably more useful to the modern collector. But, Funskool aficionados will appreciate the brighter, neon figure as an example of Funskool's infatuation with bright hues. Of course, the silver accessories also have slight differences with the earlier being a shinier silver. As this is a Funskool release, you can be sure that there are more variants just waiting to be discovered.

It's hard to believe that it's been nearly 5 years since Funskool ceased producing Joe figures. (It's harder still to fathom that it was 8 years ago this month that the first waves of mass imported Funskool figures appeared for ~$5 each!) Slowly, though, collectors have managed to consume most of the remaining Funskool overstock. During that process, this Hawk was, surprisingly, one of the first non army builder to sell out. However, this isn't a testament to the figure's popularity. It is an indictment of it. As this was an unpopular figure, most dealers didn't carry much inventory. So, while the figures did sell out, they did so from much smaller numbers than more popular figures like Storm Shadow, Cobra Commander or Beach Head. If you look around, though, you can still find a few out of the way dealers (usually dealers who don't specialize in Joe) who will have this figure in stock for close to the $5 price tag we've grown accustomed to. Barring that, you can still find the figure for sale on occasion. The prices on these fluctuate, though, as I've seen this figure sell for $10 or go unsold for $5. If you are missing many Funskool figures, though, the best option is still a large lot. There are still solid numbers of sellers out there who sell lots of 5 to 10 carded Funskool figures at a time. Often, these lots sell for under $3 per figure. So, if you are a bargain hunter, this figure is out there for you to find. That is probably a just fate for a figure such as this. It is a mold that has never endeared itself to collectors and is in inferior colors to the American release. Worst of all, it's a take on General Hawk that most collectors find out of character and can't bring themselves to adopt. In time, this is one of those figures that will be truly forgotten. In the meantime, though, he's still a figure who finds occasional use in my collection.

2001 Funskool General Hawk, India, 1994 Star Brigade Cobra Commander, Viper

2001 Funskool General Hawk, India, Variants

2001 Funskool General Hawk, India, Variants, JUMP, 1993 Convention Hawk, Mail Away, 1994 Star Brigade Payload

2001 Funskool General Hawk, India, Variants, JUMP, 1993 Convention Hawk, Mail Away, 1994 Star Brigade Payload

2001 Funskool General Hawk, India, Variants, JUMP, 1993 Convention Hawk, Mail Away, 1994 Star Brigade Payload