Monday, August 20, 2012

1986 Sci Fi

1986 was a turning point for my childhood Joe collection.  In 1985, I had still spent a good amount of time playing very rough with my toys.  As such, most of the figures I acquired in early 1985 had considerable wear and lost accessories.  As '85 progressed, though, I began to take better and better care of my toys.  By 1986, I was very aware of play and paint wear.  I spent that year not only acquiring the newly released figures, but also upgrading my damaged '85's.  Fortunately, I was able to afford this through a lucrative grass cutting business that kept cash coming in from March through November.  This allowed me to not only upgrade my collection, but also buy up duplicates of figures that belonged to my younger brothers.  Usually, I left the figures I least wanted to them so that when they destroyed the figure, it was no real loss to me.  But, occasionally, a figure I originally dismissed would capture my attention and I would end up buying another version of the figure for me that I could keep nice.  Such was the case with Sci Fi.  Originally, his neon color was off-putting.  But, after we had him for a while, the figure grew on me and had to be added to my personal collection.

Let's face it, Sci Fi looks like Robo Cop colored in a horrendous neon green.  There isn't much to like about this figure, especially when you consider how out of place he looked in 1986.  At the time, I wanted to like Sci Fi, but couldn't warm to him.  It's not that he was bad.  It was just that the other 1986 figures were better.  However, as 1986 progressed, my Joe world took a turn to more science fiction as I integrated my remaining Star Wars vehicles into my Joe world.  With that Sci Fi became more interesting to my collection.  His color worked in the science fiction realm.  His specialty did as well.

While it made no sense for Sci Fi's weapon to behave like a Star Wars blaster, that's how I approached him.  Otherwise, the figure was of no use.  So, Sci Fi could bring tanks to a halt by melting their wheels, shoot down helicopters by chopping off the blades or burn through solid steel doors to break into a Cobra compound.  But, like many figures from this era in my collection, Sci Fi quickly wore out his welcome.  The laser was a fun thing to incorporate for a time.  But, got old and was too far removed from my core play pattern to remain a vital aspect of my Joeverse for very long.  So, slowly, Sci Fi found himself relegated to the chair of the G.I. Joe HQ or as a co-pilot of a Joe aircraft.  But, in this capacity, he found long life.  To this day, I often display Sci Fi in those same ways.  He is a staple of my Joe HQ.  For some reason, he just seems to fit into that role quite well.

For the first time in my years of reviewing Joe figures, I have a slightly different perspective: that of a father.  I now have sons of my own.  Reflecting upon my youthful experiences and the role that G.I. Joe toys played in them, though, has made me wonder about the childhood that my boys will experience over the next decade or so.  The days of walking into a toy store (for that matter, having more than one toy store to choose from!) and seeing a wall of your favorite toys all hanging there, begging to be purchased are long gone.  In my youth, every one of my classmates save for 1 played with G.I. Joe figures in some capacity.  It was a unifying presence.  When one boy brought the 1984 catalog into my third grade classroom, it was passed around to every male in the two separate classrooms for nearly a week.

These days, though, toys don't have that affect.  They are still a part of the childhood experience, but not nearly to the extent that they were in the '80's.  As such, it is unlikely that any toyline will ever again capture the imagination of a generation of kids like Joe did.  It has nothing to do with whether the line is innovative, realistic military, sci fi or fantasy inspired.  It has everything to do with changing habits of children.  A generation ago, kids playing with toys until they were 11 or 12 was common.  Now, those kids are glued to cell phones, tablets or other electronic devices.  A generation from now, they will be hooked on something else.  Toys will always have a place in the childhood experience.  But, action figure lines like Joe and Star Wars will always mean more to those who experienced them in their vintage days than they will to anyone who plays with them now.  The problem for a company like Hasbro is how do they keep a toy line going knowing that kids and collectors both are vital to any nostalgic line's success?  Collectors demand accessories, articulation and innovative design.  Parents demand a price point that is worth the fleeting moments of interest an action figure will bring to their child.

Those who followed the Marvel comic in the '80's were given a treat in 1985 when Marvel Age 33 previewed the 1986 G.I. Joe characters.  All of the favorites were there, even if the colors were a little off.  There are a few collector gems in there, though, such as the first appearance of Starduster when he was still named Hedge-Hopper.  Sci-Fi had a similar situation.  The character that appeared in that preview was not neon green, but blue and yellow.  And, in lieu of Sci Fi, sported the name Hot Spot.  Honestly, I don't know if Hot Spot is a better or worse name than Sci Fi.  But, it's a nice glimpse into the creative process that lead to finalized product.  The blue and yellow color was interesting, but I actually prefer the lime green.  For some reason, it seems more fitting for a laser trooper.

The Sci Fi mold was used for the American figure in 1986 and 1987.  From there, it was sent down to Brazil where Estrela released the figure in colors nearly identical to the American version.  Various parts, including the head, were then used for an exclusive character in the Brazilian Forca Eco subset.  There also exists, though, a mocked up version of Sci Fi that was referred to as "Translucent Joe".  This figure was sold as an unproduced concept by a dealer with close ties to the final days of the Joe line at Hasbro.  The Translucent figure used Sci Fi's mold.  But, it is unclear if this figure was intended to be Sci Fi, was an all new character, or was just a mock up using Sci Fi to prove a concept.  Regardless, it is an interesting footnote to Joe history and one of the rarer pieces of collectordom.

Sci Fi figures are neither difficult to find nor expensive.  While most collectors have a version, he is not a highly desired member of most collections.  As such, you can get them for under $7 most of the time.  You do have to be wary as the silver paint on the figure is very prone to wear.  The neon green plastic also tends to discolor quite a bit.  So, getting a fully mint sample may take more time than you would think.  But, it's still not hard to do.  For me, Sci Fi's value lies in the fact that he was part of my childhood collection.  For that reason, I appreciate the mold.  But, he is not a figure I conclude to be essential to any collection.  But, for the price, it makes no sense to pass him by.

1986 Sci Fi, Dial Tone

Thursday, August 9, 2012

2001 Rock and Roll - TRU HQ Exclusive

What do you get when Hasbro takes an obscure mold from 1994, repaints it in a relatively non-descriptive way, removes the accessories and releases it in a retailer exclusive, high price point, undesirable mold HQ remake?  The answer is the 2001 Rock and Roll figure.  But, the answer is also the 2002 Flint figure.  Confused?  You should be.  In one of the more bizarre moves in the history of the Joe line, Hasbro released the exact same figure in subsequent years in the same exclusive but with different names for the figure.  In 2001, the figure was Rock and Roll.  In 2002, he was renamed to Flint on the box of the HQ, but the figure's filecard still referred to him as Rock and Roll.  The fact that the mold is a repainted 1994 Flint just makes this one of the biggest messes in the history of the line.  But, the story of how it came to be actually is somewhat interesting.  And, the figure isn't terrible.  So, that's at least something to offset the confusing releases.

In the late 90's, Funskool released a version of the Sonic Fighters Rock and Roll figure.  It is nearly identical to the American figure, but is actually incredibly hard to find.  The reason is that Hasbro recalled the mold from Funskool early in the figure's production run as they intended to use it in their TRU or ARAHC re-releases.  Funskool complied and returned the mold.  Hasbro intended for this TRU HQ to have a repaint of that 1989 Rock and Roll figure.  But, when the time came, they could not find the mold.  So, the dug out the 1994 Flint, repainted him and released him as part of the HQ, keeping the Rock and Roll name.  Shortly thereafter, Hasbro actually found the Rock and Roll mold.  But, since they no longer had any plans for it since the ARAHC had been replaced with the new sculpt Joe Vs. Cobra line, they actually sent the mold back to Funskool.  Funskool then planned to release a new version of Rock and Roll at some point in either 2003 or 2004.  But, the Funskool line was cancelled before they got around to it.  So, the great 1989 Rock and Roll mold should have had 2 modern releases, but ended up with none.  But, that is how a Flint mold came to be named Rock and Roll.  In 2002, Hasbro tried to rectify the situation by calling the figure Flint on the package.  But, the reality is that since the 2002 HQ's were just overstock 2001 versions with new packaging, they didn't bother to print up any new filecards for the figure.  So, the box called him Flint, but the filecard says Rock and Roll.

I'm actually a fan of the 1994 Flint figure.  The mold, while it has some limitations, is rather strong.  The desert theme and odd helmet may limit him for some collectors.  But, I find that the look works and the helmet brings something unique to the design.  So, seeing it repainted was actually enjoyable for me.  The figure is fairly well done with brown, accent grey and the decent green pants.  The figure's torso is detailed well enough, but the legs are left basically unpainted.  So, the figure looks unfinished.  (This is likely a cost cutting move left over 1994 when some of the leg paint applications were left off Flint figures.)  The figure also includes no accessories.  While the head is nicely sculpted, the reality is that it needs a helmet.  With no head gear, the figure is too plain.  Even a weapon would have raised up in my eyes.  In the end, the figure is better than much of the ARAH style repaints Hasbro sold in 2002 and 2003.  But, he isn't nearly as well done as the 1997 and 1998 figures.

In my collection, the figure can only be Flint.  The mold makes no sense as Rock and Roll.  So, this is a version of Flint.  But, in the decade and more that I have owned this figure, I have never used him.  For whatever reason, I just can't find a place for the figure.  Without accessories, he is somewhat lost.  But, the solid coloring should at least get him an appearance in a photo or two.  It just hasn't happened.  I suppose this the very definition of "forgotten" when you can't use a decently colored mold of one of your favorite characters.

The timing of this figure's release was not great.  The ARAHC re-releases from 2000 had been hugely successful, though in a limited run.  2001 started strong, but Wave II was oversold and backed up in markets around the country.  This lead to huge quantities of pegwarmers.  Wave III was underproduced and only sold for a short time.  Wave IV was mostly sold to clearance outlets and the retail line was cancelled and Wave V went Internet only in early 2002.  In the midst of this was the 2001 HQ with this figure.  On Black Friday in 2001, I waited outside a TRU store to get one of these.  But, the line was long, the air was cold and I decided he simply wasn't worth the wait.  As the HQ's lingered into 2002, it proved to be a good thing as I ultimately traded for the figure at a much lower rate than had I bought the HQ.  In 2002, the Joe Vs. Cobra line was launched and Joe experienced a resurgence that lasted through 2004.  But, by the time the 2002 version of this HQ was released, it was old news and most collectors were awaiting the Spy Troops line that had started to filter out early.

This figure should be impossible to find.  He was only released with an HQ that was very expensive and undesirable for collectors to acquire.  It was released in 2001 and 2002 when Joe collecting was at it's highest, so few made their way into clearance bins.  Yet, this figure is ridiculously cheap.  Part of that is driven by the fact that a large quantity of overstock Rock and Roll figures was sold directly from Asia.  Many of these were sold straight to collectors for less than $5 each.  This sated most demand for the figure.  But, beyond that, the figure isn't that popular.  The mold is good, the colors solid and it's a major character.  But, no one really cares.  So, the result is a figure that's somewhat hard to find, but disproportionately cheap.  Today, you can get the figure without his filecard for $4 rather easily.  The filecard, though, is the tough find.  But, still, no one cares about it.  For me, this is a interesting figure that, had he a helmet, would have been a great update to an under-appreciated mold.  Instead, it is an oddity from a slow time in the Joe collecting world.

2001 Flint, Rock and Roll, HQ, TRU Exclusive

Monday, August 6, 2012

1984 Hooded Cobra Commander

Simply put, Cobra Commander is the single most important Cobra character in the entire Joe line.  Sure, Storm Shadow or Destro might be the favorites for some collectors.  But, no one can deny that, without the Commander, Cobra would have been a pale villain for Joe that would like have flamed out in a short timeframe.  With the Commander at the helm, though, Cobra had the dynamic, villianous leader that any good evil organization needs if they wish to stand the test of time.  Like most of the early figures, Cobra Commander's initial release was very worthy of his character.  His battle helmet denoted a dangerous enemy.  But, the baby blue coloring was less intimidating.  In 1984, though, Hasbro remedied this with the mail away Hooded Cobra Commander figure.  Featuring a bold Cobra blue offset with gold trim, the figure featured one mold difference from the first version: a new hooded head.  The result is a more laid back and strategic commander who better fits with his troops of the time.

In the mid 1990's, many dealers and comic shops thought this figure was rare.  He was a mail away only, so he had to be rare.  As such, many places sold loose versions of the figure for $35-$50.  Considering that, at the time, you could get carded '82 Joes for under that price, it was a ludicrous amount.  The reality is that this figure was produced from 1984 through, at least, 1993 and was likely available well into 1994 as overstock.  So, while he was never available at a store, he likely saw a larger production run that any figure who was released at retail.  In time, the collecting market figured this out and those early prices have dropped dramatically.  Early collecting had many of the ideas of rarity correct, but often got the details wrong.  This mail away figure is relatively common while others are among the rarest figures of the line.  It just took a while to figure who was who.

As a kid, I never used this figure as Cobra Commander.  My brothers and I got 3 of them at the same time.  So, this figure immediately became an army builder in lieu of the Commander himself.  The Cobra blue coloring made him a perfect fit as the gunner for a HISS Tank or ASP.  So, these figures became my Cobra Gunners.  They retained that title for many years, so much so that when I found my childhood toys in my parents' attic, a version was still strapped into the ASP.  It allowed me to expand my Cobra Blue army without having to buy more Cobra Troopers.  It also made sense to me that the Commander would have troopers molded in his image.  Their uniforms homages to his greatness.  It worked for a time.  But, there are better figures for these purposes now.  So, today, this is just the ceremonial Cobra Commander.  He appears in displays of other Cobra troops and that's about it.  He looks perfect next to original Cobra Troopers and Officers.  But, it doesn't make much sense to have him appear anywhere else.

As a mold, this version really fits Cobra Commander.  While the Commander's personality was large with an oversized ego, I always envisioned the man as rather small.  Not Napoleon short.  But, a slight build whose personality rather than his physical build carried the power of his military force.  In that regard, this mold is very successful.  Cobra Commander is neither overly slight, but he is not large, either.  He appears to be just an ordinary man whose personality drove him to power.  If you look at the mold, it is resplendent in detail.  The tunic buttons, golden bracings and the subtle undershirt give the Commander a regal appearance.  But, the armor plate on his back that holds his pistol lets you know that this guy still means business, too.  There are intricate details on the belt and the golden knife on his leg is a final, deadly display of excess.  But, it all fits with the character we've come to know as the Commander.

This mold was used for the helmeted Cobra Commander in 1983 and then the body was reused for this Hooded version in 1984.  In 1997, this body mold was planned for released in the Cobra Command three pack.  But, Hasbro could not find the tooling.  Which leads to the question, where is this mold?  Aside from the US releases, the figure was released in Europe and Japan.  But, this Cobra Commander mold never went to South America or India.  The fact that the Hooded Cobra Commander was in production until at least 1993 indicates that Hasbro had it right up until the end.  But, there is even more evidence that the mold should have been available.  In 1994, Hasbro produced a large quantity of figures for release in China.  These include in the infamous exclusive Major Bludd and Flint figures.  But, the helmeted Cobra Commander was also part of that line.  If you look at the Chinese releases, most of the figures saw release in the repaint line or in India.  (Roadblock, Duke, Dial Tone, Destro, Storm Shadow, Lifeline etc.)  So, Hasbro really did have the mold only three years before the repaints began and it should have been available.

Despite that, though, the mold never appeared again.  Hasbro resurrected the 1987 and 1991 Super Sonic Fighters Cobra Commander molds, but never found a way to bring this vintage version back to production.  It's an odd choice for Hasbro to not have resculpted this mold.  They did it for figures like Mutt, Lady Jaye and the Cobra Trooper.  But, never this version of Cobra Commander.  When you consider that they could have repainted this mold at least 3 times (Cobra Blue, Crimson, Black) and released each color as both a hooded and helmeted figure, it would seem that Hasbro could easily have recouped the costs of recasting the parts.  But, for whatever reason, things like that didn't happen in the repaint line.  Collectors are the ones who missed out as they were robbed of the chance of some great figures in lieu of a large number of mediocre releases.

(I have a theory on this, though.  I believe that Joe collectors are their own worst enemies due to their completist tendencies.  Hasbro could put out crap and collectors would buy it up for fear that they would never see anything else.  As such, Hasbro had no incentive to invest in the repaint line since collectors would buy just as many repainted 1991 Cobra Commanders as they would repainted '83's.  I think the 25th Anniversary line proved, though, that there was a large untapped market that Hasbro could have plugged into sooner had they released more classic repaints in better packaging.  But, they didn't know that until it was too late and the window for collectors to see high quality remakes of vintage molds has passed.)

This version of Cobra Commander is very easy to find.  Even bagged, the figures can be had for very reasonable prices.  But, I have found that, in recent years, perfect figures with no wear on the gold paint are getting much more difficult to find.  If you are willing to sacrifice a little perfection on the gold trim, you can have this figure for under $12.  Perfect specimens will climb upwards of $20, but you can get them MIB for just under $30.  So, it's not like the Viper Pilot symbol where a slight uptick in condition leads to a $50 or $60 price gain.  For a figure of this quality and importance to the line as a whole, it is a small price to pay.  The 1993 Cobra Commander follows the same idea for the uniform, but is more bulky.  I see him as the more battle inclined Commander from the later comics.  This version is the man who built Cobra on his back.  As such, I find him an essential figure to any collection.

1984 Hooded Cobra Commander, Mail Away, Stinger, Red Shadows Cobra Mortal, Bootleg, Black Major

1984 Hooded Cobra Commander, Mail Away, Stinger, Bootleg, Black Major, Cobra Trooper, Urban,

1984 Hooded Cobra Commander, Mail Away, Stinger, Bootleg, Black Major, Cobra Trooper, Jungle Cammo