Monday, April 23, 2012

1986 Mission to Brazil Dial-Tone

In the fall of 1986, I wandered into an endcap full of new Joe figure sets at Toys R Us.  These figures were not in the '86 catalog, but were definitely Joes.  My first impression of the Mission to Brazil set was not overly favorable.  It was mostly repaints of figures I already had.  And, they weren't great repaints.  But, there was one new figure.  Over the next few months, every trip I took to TRU resulted in me staring at the sets, watching as the endcap slowly dwindled due to Christmas shoppers.  I never got around to asking for the set.  But, my parents would have been hard pressed to not know I wanted it since every time they came to get me, I was holding one in my hands.  On Christmas morning, I found a Mission to Brazil set under the tree.  I quickly opened it and added the figures into my collection.  I had no idea how I would use multiple paint jobs of figures who were already major players in my Joe world.  But, that soon worked itself out.

Within a few days of Christmas, I determined that the repaints in the set would become army builders.  They would be soldiers with the same specialty as the characters from whom they were repainted.  But, they were nameless army builders who could die with impunity.  For the next few months, this is how these figures functioned...except one: Dial Tone.  For whatever reason, I retained this figure as a new character.  He was a sniper who used Frostbite's rifle.  He wasn't named, but he became an important player in my collection.

However, Dial Tone's existence in my collection was short lived. On a rainy day in early 1987, I was out playing with my Joes in the loft of my parents' garage.  The garage door was open and it provided a great platform from which a sniper could play an integral role in whatever adventure I was devising.  I placed Dial Tone on the door and promptly forgot about him.  I got done playing and took my Joes inside.  That night, I was sent out to close the garage doors before we went to bed.  The door went down about half way and got stuck.  I pulled and pulled to no avail.  I lifted the door back up and the cause of the jam was apparent: my Dial Tone figure.  In reality, he wasn't too bad for wear except one of his feet was broken clean off.  Unfortunately, an injury like this ended the figure for a point.  A few weeks later when trying to come up with some new figures from my broken parts, I added Flint's legs to the Dial Tone upper body.  The result was awesome and this figure joined my collection as "The Lieutenant" and remained an important character for the rest of youthful Joe playing days.  That figure actually still remains in my collection.

Dial Tone is actually one of my all time favorite vintage Joe molds.  There is something about the colors, head, details, proportions and accessories that combine to make a great figure.  The brown, green and black on this version makes for a great upper body.  The red pants, though, really take the figure down a few notches.  I'm not sure why red was the color of choice.  But, it was out of the line for the time and really didn't fit with other figures from that era.  For that reason, this figure isn't that popular outside of being necessary to complete the Mission to Brazil set and the general rarity of the figure when compared to his standard retail counterpart.  This figure's accessories are identical to those of the retail figure.  But, his filecard is unique in coloring, though the text remains the same.

Dial Tone got a lot more vintage love than his predecessor, Breaker.  The figure was released twice in 1986, once in 1990 and the character got a redo in 1994.  In the modern line, Dial Tone was nearly done to death.  He appeared in 2000, as the body of the Night Rhino Dusty in 2001 and in the BJ's set in 2002.  The figure was planned to be released in a desert color scheme in 1998, but that figure was never produced.  There are between 4 and 6 of those figures that managed to slip out and the "Chocolate Chip" Dial Tone is the rarest figure in the entire history of the American line.  There are enough flavors of Dial Tone now that there is no reason for any more.  But, since this is one of my favorite molds in the entire line, I would actually welcome any repaint that's ever offered.

All of the Mission to Brazil figures are somewhat hard to find.  Of the 5 figures in the set, Dial Tone is no more popular than Leatherneck or Mainframe.  But, is definitely less popular to Wet-Suit and Claymore.  This leaves Dial Tone as a solid $22 figure.  With his real filecard, the figure may go over $30.  Were this figure not one I had owned as a child, he would likely not be worth the money.  But, the nostalgia factor alone made an updated figure a high priority for me...regardless of price.

1986 Mission to Brazil Dial Tone, Toys R Us Exclusive

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bootleg Cobra Mortal

In the late '00's, enterprising collectors realized that they could have some Joe figure molds bootlegged in Chinese factories.  This lead a flood of repaints of some particular army building molds.  However, it has also shown that Hasbro, despite their attempts to appease the collector market, really missed some golden opportunities to supply collectors with large numbers of easy repaints that would have been gobbled up by the collector market.  These bootlegs have also shown that, done right, simple repaints that might appear quaint on paper actually create some great figures that integrate into a collection in a way that no Hasbro repaint ever could.  Such is the case with this bootleg Cobra Mortal.

Construction wise, these figures are bootlegs.  As such, they are not Hasbro quality.  The plastic feels cheaper and more brittle.  Some of the figures have bad O-rings that makes them difficult to pose and joints can be looser than new, out of the package Hasbro offerings.  They are also very slightly smaller than vintage Joe figures.  As such, the figures can not wear vintage backpacks.  The footholes will not fit on vintage vehicles.  So, they are easy to tell apart from original Hasbro figures when you have them in hand.  From pictures, though, the figures are very similar and easily do integrate with an original Hasbro collection.

Bootlegs are extremely problematic in the collecting world.  When you have figures like this Cobra Mortal that were never released, it is easy to know what you are buying.  But, the first forays into bootlegging were Cobra Troopers designed and colored like the originals.  Other enterprising bootleggers then copied Storm Shadow and carded the figures on Chinese cardbacks.  These figures become more problematic as dealers and collectors can be duped by them.  I have seen at least three major toy dealers who have sold bootleg Cobra Soldiers as originals.  In truth, I don't mind paying $6 for a bootleg Cobra Trooper that is similar to the vintage.  But, I'd be extremely upset to spend $20 for a figure I thought was vintage that turned out to be a bootleg.  Fortunately, there are some tells on the bootleg figures and many dealers are above board and let the buyer know they are not selling an original.  But, buyer beware on deals for some of these figures that have been bootlegged as you don't want to spend too much thinking a figure is original when it's not.

The bootleg figures first started showing up in the mid to late 2000's.  Cobra Soldiers colored like their vintage counterparts were the first to appear.  Then, Crimson Cobra Troopers started popping up.  Then, black Cobra Troopers, then Desert, then Grey Troopers modeled after the Stinger Driver.  This then opened the floodgates and there are now several dozen different bootleg Cobra Trooper designs out there.  These are often referred to as "Black Major" figures after the Ebay seller who creates most of the repaints.  They are also sold under the moniker of "customs" because Ebay does not like the work bootleg.  Aside from the Cobra Troopers, there are bootlegs of V1 Storm Shadow (available in white on Chinese cardbacks and chromed in gold or silver), dozens of variants of the V1 Crimson Guard, a dozen or more variants of V1 Snake Eyes (including this Cobra Mortal) and a variety of figures designed after the Cobra De Aco from Brazil.  There could be more as time goes on.  But, these have filled a variety of holes for collectors in the past few years.

As for this Mortal, he exists in various flavors.  There is a Cobra blue version using the Cobra Trooper body and a red version with the Snake Eyes body sporting a Red Shadows logo.  (I have this figure as well and he's a great new Red Shadows villain.)  But, I like the simplicity of this blue figure.  Were the original Cobra Mortal an American release, it would be lightly regarded.  It is different.  But, the rarity of it is really what drives collector interest.  This figure, though, takes the idea of the Cobra Mortal and makes it useful.  This Mortal appears as a Cobra.  It gives him an origin within the Joe world and helps integrate him into early Cobra lore.  It was this that attracted me to this particular design.  I see this Mortal as an early Cobra assassin.  He crossed paths with the Joes and was likely killed in the very earliest days of the Joe Vs. Cobra conflict.

It's a small use, but since this figure does match up with other '83 and '84 figures, he can work as an early Cobra operative.  I've always felt that the early days of Cobra were under-represented in the comics.  We saw glimpses of Cobra's formative days, but not much detail.  However, in some of the early comics, we saw unique, unnamed Cobras who were in the company of Cobra Commander.  To create an organization the size of Cobra, the Commander surely had to have top officers in his confidence who helped move the organization along.  As the named Cobras who appeared later all seemed to have backstories outside of Cobras origins, we are left to wonder what happened to many of these early pioneers who built Cobra into the organization it became.  It doesn't appear that the Commander rewarded them.  So, perhaps he had them assassinated in a paranoid rage.  Maybe they just succumbed to the ineptitude of the Cobra Troops and died in battle.  Regardless, it's an unexplored timeframe in Cobra's existence.  And, characters like this Mortal can fill in some gaps for those undocumented times in Cobra's history.

These bootleg figures are both easy to find and hard to find.  Certain configurations were produced in larger numbers than other configurations.  As such, figures like this Cobra Mortal are somewhat harder to find now than figures like the bootleg Cobra Troopers you see in the background.  However, as these are bootlegs, there is nothing stopping anyone from producing another 10,000 Cobra Mortals and selling them to the collector market.  As such, buying bootlegs can be difficult.  If you spend $80 for one and then see hundreds come out a few weeks later for $8, will you feel you were ripped off?  If the answer is yes, you probably should avoid the bootleg market.  But, if you feel that some figures are worth any price and you won't care if they turn into pegwarmers or a Pimp Daddy Destro, then you can spend what you feel is fair for bootlegs and not be disappointed either way.  Personally, I'm ecstatic that collectors had the opportunity to acquire some figures that Hasbro so poorly skipped.  Sure, they're not quite the same quality.  But, these guys are on display and not a toy that I play with every day like I did when I was a kid.  Hasbro or certain collectors may be butthurt at these figures' existence.  But, I think they prove that, sometimes, collectors really do know what they want and would be willing to spend to get it.

Cobra Mortal, Bootleg, Black Major Custom, Cobra Troopers,

Cobra Mortal, Bootleg, Black Major Custom, Cobra Troopers, Maggot, 1987

Cobra Mortal, Bootleg, Black Major Custom, Cobra Troopers, Steel Brigade Mail Away

Thursday, April 12, 2012

1985 Flint

In February of 1985, the rumor hit my 5th grade class that the local KB Toys had received a shipment of the new G.I. Joe figures.  One Friday afternoon, I finally convinced my mother that my mid term grades were such that I deserved a present and wanted to go to KB to find it.  When we arrived, sitting on the shelves were multitudes of new G.I. Joe figures.  Not all were there, of course,  (An employee saw us looking through them and commented how the Commando figure had sold out instantly.) but there was a larger assortment than I had hoped would be there.  The first figure that caught my eye was Flint.  I went to pick him up, but saw that the figure's head was drooping the package.  Not knowing that the '85 Joes featured new hear articulation, I thought the figure was broken.  As it was the only one, I passed him by and purchased Airtight and Footloose instead.  As soon as I got to the car and opened my new figures and realized that the head droop was a byproduct of the new head construction, I immediately regretted not buying Flint.  Over the next few months, I searched for Flint in vain.  I found nearly every other figure in the line, but not Flint.  On Easter Sunday, my younger brother found a carded Bazooka in his Easter basket.  I assumed Flint would be in mine.  But, I was incorrect and got no Joes that holiday.  Finally, in the late spring, I found a Flint and added him to my collection.  He immediately became one of my favorite figures and retains that distinction to this day.

As a figure, Flint is very well done.  The figure has gold, silver, red, green, black and brown paint applications.  He is intricately detailed down to the shotgun shells molded onto his chest.  The head could probably be a little better.  But, Hasbro's attempt to update in the mid 2000's showed that is easier said than achieved.  Overall, Flint has a military look and solid coloring.  But, he still maintains that uniqueness that makes him a memorable character.  Many of the early Joes succeeded in this.  You knew they were "army men" for lack of a better generic term.  But, they were allowed the individuality that really let the fact that they were characters stand at the forefront.  At its core, this is what made Joe the line that it is.  Other military toy lines had a base formula and stuck to it...trying often to have something that looked like a generic soldier.  (And, often based on the archetype World War II G.I. as the inspiration.  Something that even the 1982 Joes are somewhat guilty of.)  G.I. Joe was more and Flint is a perfect example.  You know he's a soldier and good guy.  But, he looked different than the rest of the figures so you knew he was an individual, too.

As a whole, the accessories included with the 1985 Joe figures were not as sophisticated as those that had been included with their predecessors from 1984.  Many figures simply had packs, guns and, maybe, one other piece of equipment.  There were a few figures (Alpine, Airtight, Eel, etc.) who had elaborate accessory configurations.  But, many of the staple figures from '85 (Flint, Crimson Guard, Lady Jaye, Footloose, Bazooka, etc.) featured accessories that were more in line with the '83 Joes.  This may have been a function of the new head articulation eating up development dollars that would have otherwise gone to accessories.  Or, it could just have been that the designers thought the figures didn't need as much gear.  But, this does not, though, reduce the quality or the importance these accessories hold to each figure.  The '85 figure accessories are iconic to the characters.  Flint isn't Flint without a shotgun.  Lady Jaye needs her spear gun, regardless of how ill conceived it may be.  A Crimson Guard with any other weapon just seems out of sorts.

In my collection, Flint was always one of the most important characters and figures.  I wore out multiple Flint figures in my youth.  I lost the shotgun for my final figure and struggled for years to find an appropriate replacement weapon.  (I ultimately settled on a Snow Serpent AK-47 or the sub machine gun from the Night Landing.  Flint was so badass, he could use enemy weapons that he confiscated in battle.)  Even though most figures whose accessories disappeared often took on a diminished role in my collection, Flint did not.  He was one of the three main Joe characters for most of my youth.

My Flint was not only the great soldier as showcased in G.I. Joe #54.  He was also a respected leader and was the go to field commander for any Joe mission.  Flint was Hawk's second hand man, not Duke.  This kept him going in my collection long after I was done playing with toys.  In 1988, I was too old for Joes.  But, I had a small squad that was in a box under my bed.  Flint was one of these chosen few Joes.  To this day, I have more Flint figures in my collection than any other non army builder.  He's just a figure that works in so many environments that I have to have a few extras around.

The Flint mold was used around the world.  After his use in the US in 1985 and 1986, the mold made it's way down to Brazil where it was released in colors similar to the American figure as Muralha.  (Hasbro made Flint figures were also carded by Takara for sale in Japan.)  It seems the mold was intended for Argentina, too, as Flint appears on late Argentine cardbacks.  But, that figure was never actually released in Argentina by Plastirama.  The mold resurfaced in India in the mid to late '90's and was released there by Funskool in a variety of construction variations, though in colors similar to the American figure through 2003.  At that time, Hasbro regained possession of the figure mold (but not the accessories as those have yet to reappear.) and released a Flint figure in the 2004 Night Force set, a comic pack in 2005 and used the head in the 2010 convention set.  It's a lot of uses for a great mold.  Unfortunately, though, most of these figures are similar.  We never got to see this mold in arctic, desert or Action Force colors.  And, that has left me wanting more.  If a vintage style Flint would ever appear with drastically different paint applications, I would be among the first in line to purchase it.

As Flint remains one of the most popular characters from one of the most popular years of vintage figures, he is surprisingly pricey.  A few years ago, when the Funskool Flint was widely available for $4, American Flint figures were cheap.  With the Indian figures largely consumed by the collecting market, prices for high quality American figures have risen.  Truly mint specimens (with all the gold paint) can go as high as $22-$25 each.  Even figures with paint wear but that are complete with filecard will hit as high as $18 or so.  But, if you don't have a Flint, it's a price well worth paying to bring the original into your collection.

1985 Flint, Brazil, Estrela, Hawk, Comando Trevasia, Argentina, Plastirama, Footloose, Coyote