Monday, September 24, 2012

1988 Spearhead

There were many times during my childhood where I would review the cardback of a figure to see what else was coming out that year.  There were always some figures whose artwork made them look extremely cool.  But, once you saw the actual figure in the package, it was obvious that the mold and paint did not live up to the artwork.  One such figure is the 1988 Spearhead.  His card art makes him look menacing and cool.  He has a unique shape, stylish helmet and an amazing weapon.  The figure, though, is awkward, bulky and oddly colored.  The result is a figure that should be better than he actually is.

I've said may times before that I didn't really collect Joes in 1988.  My younger brothers, though, still did.  As such, we still had a good portion of the 1988 line in our home, it just did not belong to me.  Spearhead, though, was not one of those figures.  No one in my family ever owned him.  We did, though, have one of his guns.  Somehow, a Spearhead rifle appeared in our home at some point in 1988.  One of my brothers' friends likely left it behind.  I saw this weapon and was intrigued.  It was large, detailed and unlike anything else from my collecting experience.  It slowly made it's way through a few figures until it ultimately ended up in a bag of random weapons that survived into my adult collection.

As a collector, though, I had to find the figure with which this weapon was included.  When I found Spearhead, I remembered the artwork and thought he would be a great addition to my neophyte collection.  I acquired one in the late '90's and was immediately disappointed in the mold.  The figure's torso is too large, his neck is too long and the tan and orange coloring just doesn't work.

Through the past decade, I have taken thousands of pictures of Joe figures.  In most of the photos, there are random figures dispersed throughout the scene to bring depth, action, interest, etc.  Through time, I have managed to capture just about every figure in some form or another.  Usually, those who I have left out have either been because I didn't own the figure or because the figures were generally useless (Manimals and Armor Tech Star Brigade.)  However, in searching my photos, I never see Spearhead.  I occasionally see the Funskool version poking around in the background.  But, the original, American figure just never made his way into any scenes.

Spearhead's greatest claim to fame is his included bobcat: Max.  There were a few Joes who included animal companions.  Junkyard and Order made sense and dogs are a vital part of all law enforcement and military organizations.  Polly worked since a sailor and parrot made as much sense as anything else.  Timber worked because a mystic like Snake Eyes could surely tame a wild wolf.  But, what about Spearhead got him to bond with a bobcat?  A bobcat is really a rather random animal companion.  I guess it sounded cool that this guy had the feral cat as his combat companion.  But, it's probably the least plausible of any animals up to that time.  (Even Voltar's vulture was more credible.)

The Spearhead mold has actually gotten fairly good use: it's just not overly diverse.  The mold was used for this original figure in 1988 and then a Night Force version in 1989.  From there, the mold went to Brazil where Estrela released it as Baioneta.  This figure is nearly identical to the version 1 Spearhead.  After that, the mold appeared in India.  Funskool released a Spearhead figure that is based upon the Night Force version.  It is an excellent version of Spearhead and much cheaper alternative to the Night Force version from the US.  Funskool also used various parts of the molds for the Street Hawk figure that was released in India for a number of years.

Spearhead figures are not difficult to find.  Nor are they expensive.  Mint and complete with filecard figures range from $8 to $12.  For that price, there's no reason to let this figure remain unacquired.  But, thinking that you will get a ton of use for Spearhead is likely a stretch.  I have found him to be nothing more than a filler in my collection.  He is OK, but nothing special enough to warrant use.

1988 Spearhead and Max

1988 Spearhead and Max

Monday, September 17, 2012

Albatroz - Brazilian Exclusive Sky Patrol

The Joe community goes in cycles of popularity.  A few years ago, European exclusive Joes were all the rage.  Availability was low, prices were extremely high and collectors were crawling over each other to acquire just a few samples of toys unique to Europe.  During that time, Joes made by Plastirama from Argentina were quietly being absorbed into the collecting world by those who realized the great supply and low prices were finite.  Similarly, Estrela made Joes from Brazil were readily available and very cheap.  Savvy collectors bought them up and completed large portions of their foreign collections.  Now, the tables have turned.  European Joes have plummeted in price in recent years (Don't get me wrong, they're still pricey, but lower than they were a few years ago.) while availability has increased.  Joes from South America, though, have seen their popularity skyrocket right as the supply has gotten tighter.  The result is that many Joes from Argentina and Brazil have gotten very hard to find and exorbitantly expensive, especially when you compare them to just 5 or 6 years ago.  Such is the case of the Albatroz figure.  Once a step-brother to the highly desirable Patrulha Do Ar Cobra figures, Albatroz has become not only very desirable for collectors to own, but also very expensive to acquire.

The Brazilian Patruhla do Ar is probably the single most popular subset in the Estrela series of Joes.  It has several things going for it:

1.  It is a small, late issue set with only 4 figures released around 1994.
2.  Sky Patrol is one of the most popular American subsets
3.  Each figure features not only unique colors, but unique construction from any American figure
4.  All of the figures feature distinct names that are relatively easy to recall
5.  The set features 2 of the most distinctive and famous exclusive Cobras in all the world

As such, collectors often use this small series of figures as their first foray into Brazilian Joes.  Abutre Negro and the Escorpiao Voador are usually the figures first sought by collectors.  They are great additions to a Cobra collection and work both within and outside of the Sky Patrol theme.  Albatroz and Aguia Comando are usually then sought to complete the set.  Both figures feature stark colors, strong molds and good accessories.  They would fit right in with the American Sky Patrol or as stand-alone characters grouped with other foreign exclusives.

Albatroz is actually brighter than he often appears in photos.  The figure is a mish-mash of orange, maroon, silver and grey.  But, it all actually comes together in a nice package that makes the figure usable.  The orange is a bit loud.  He's not as bright as the Star Brigade Roadblock, but isn't quite a subtle pumpkin color, either.  The overall result is a figure that blends with vehicles like the Tomahawk, but would be out of place in the Skystriker.

Albatroz includes a helmet, backpack, parachute as well as a black version of Blaster's pistol and the Alley Viper's gun.  It is odd to see a Joe with such a Cobra centric weapon.  But, it works with the figure.  The real failure of Albatroz, though, is the helmet.  On the surface, the silver version of Maverick's helmet on Maverick's head should be perfect.  The helmet looks like it would work for a paratrooper.  Albatroz also features the high collar of Sneak Peek.  If the helmet fit over the collar, the figure would be almost perfect.  But, the helmet does not fit.  As such, Albatroz can not wear his helmet at all!  It sits about half way down his head before the bottom of the helmet is block by the top of the collar.  You can see it in a photo below.  The helmet simply doesn't work.  If Albatroz is holding it, is does look really nice.  But, not being able to wear the helmet almost renders the figure moot.  It is a glaring deficiency on an otherwise solid figure.

For me, Albatroz is an interesting figure.  He lacks any characterization, so he has great potential.  He can be used as an alternate Maverick.  But, let's face it, Maverick didn't have much characterization, either.  He can be a new member of Sky Patrol, but that also leaves you a lot of leeway in defining him.  So, for those who enjoy having characters of their creation in the collection, Albatroz is a perfectly blank slate.  However, I have yet to really do anything with the character.  While I created long backstories for the Brazilian Sky Patrol Cobras, I never had the same interest in the Joes.  As such, Albatroz remains just a background characters in my collection.  He looks cool on display, but I don't see him as a major player in way beyond that.

Albatroz translates as Albatross in English.  The Albatross is one of the most superstition laden birds in all the world.  Coleridge's Ancient Mariner set the tone for future sailors to not even heed the name of the bird.  As such, it seems an odd code name for a Joe.  Being a member of an organization that undertakes the most dangerous military missions in the world should be enough of a risk that tempting supernatural spirits with a cursed name would be hyperbolic overkill.  But, maybe Albatroz likes to tempt fate.  Anyone who jumps out of planes into enemy fire for a living probably has to feel an aura of invincibility anyways.  So, things like old sailor's fears would seem inconsequential.  This might be the most interesting aspect of the Albatroz character and the trait I would delve into should I ever look to build his character.

In terms of quality, the Estrela figures from this time period are definitely more brittle than a vintage American figure.  The plastic feels lighter and more fragile...but only slightly so.  If you were going to give this figure to a child, it would probably be broken only slightly faster than a vintage US Joe.  From a collector standpoint, though, the brittleness is likely of small concern since the figure would only be displayed or stored away.  This is the first Brazilian figure I've owned, though, that did not feature degradation of the helmet plastic.  All of the prior Estrela figures I've owned that have included helmets had issues with the helmet plastic "weeping" as it broke down.  My Albatroz does not have this issue, though.  I don't know if it's a result of better storage in it's life prior to calling my collection home, the silver plastic used to make the helmet or just dumb luck.  But, for now, this helmet is the best of the Brazilian headpieces I have possessed.

10 to 12 years ago, you could all of the Patruhla do Ar figures carded for under $40 each.  But, times have changed.  The subset is among the most desired of all foreign Joe subsets and collectors are desperate to acquire each and all of the figures.  Today, loose mint and complete with cardback Albatroz figures sell as high as $170.  Carded, the figures can go upwards of $300 each.  Really, those are prices that make this figure more expensive than most figures in the world.  Sure, he's cool.  But, likely not worth those kind of asking sums.  If you're looking for an Albatroz, though, it takes a good bit of time.  During the Cobra crazed heyday of the early to mid 2000's, many collectors sought out and acquired the Flying Scorpion and Black Vulture figures.  Years later, they are going back to complete the set and finding the Joes to be much more difficult to track down.  This explains the high prices, but does not, necessarily, make the figure one of the most desirable of all time.  Personally, I had the figure for years and am happy he's part of my collection.  But, I'm not sure I would pay the current prices to own him.

Albatroz, Brazil, Estrela, Sky Patrol, Patrulha Do Ar, European Exclusive Tiger Force Tunnel Rat

Albatroz, Brazil, Estrela, Sky Patrol, Patrulha Do Ar,

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

1988 Hit and Run

In 1988, I was basically done with Joes.  I had purchased just about every 1987 figure and had enjoyed them through the first part of the year.  But, in the fall of 1987, I entered 8th Grade and Joes became a thing of the past for me.  As 1987 wound down, I moved out of my old room that was filled with my toys and into a new, larger, more private space.  My Joes did not make the move with me.  Even as my interest in Joes diminished, I found that old habits died hard.  As such, in very early 1988, I purchased the last of my youthful Joe toys: Hardball, Tiger Force Roadblock and Hit and Run.  Each had something specific about him that compelled the purchase.  Hardball was a baseball player and I was hooked on baseball at the time.  Roadblock was an update to a childhood favorite and a great way to finally get an unbroken gun in my collection.  Hit and Run, though had everything I looked for in a figure: great militaristic colors, amazing accessories and a solid mold.  There was no way I could not buy him.  As such, Hit and Run became one of the final 3 G.I. Joe figures I purchased in what I would call the "childhood" phase of my collecting life.

Hit and Run had a short life in my collection.  I had only owned him a few weeks before he went on a trip to Dayton, Ohio with me.  There, in my grandparents' backyard, Hit and Run disappeared on me.  My grandparents had a great backyard for playing with action figures.  It had 2 limestone walls that were covered in ivy with gardens above and below them.  It was a perfect place for hiding Joes...especially those with ropes who could scale the walls.  Hit and Run was perfect for this.  I had him climbing the walls, hidden in the ivy, to sneak up on Cobra.  However, when I went inside, the figure was so well blended with the green ivy that I didn't see him.  As such, Hit and Run hung on that wall, hidden in ivy, until the fall of that year.  I then retrieved him.  But, by then, I was in high school.  So, Hit and Run went into a box and stayed there for years.

As an adult collector, though, Hit and Run became a favorite, again.  The mold and coloring were just too good to overlook.  Even though I had a well conditioned, complete Hit and Run from childhood, I found myself acquiring multiple, additional Hit and Run figures in my early days of adult Joe collecting.  I had him posed on the Whale, in the HQ and among other, similarly cool figures.  He fits well with figures from all years of the line.  While I have long stated that green figures are boring, that statement applies only when the basic military colors are overused.  When every figure looks the same, the line suffers.  As the vintage joe line was very diverse in terms of colors and designs, figures like Hit and Run stand out.  At his core, the figure is green and black.  That's it.  There are some subtle differences in the greens and the whites of his eyes are painted.  But, the basic figure is a solid core color with a single paint mask over it.  In the modern line, this would reek of laziness.  But, in the vintage line where he was surrounded by a diverse contemporary force, Hit and Run's simplicity makes him stand out.

The standard colors work so well together and were seen so seldom in the '80's that the figures who do use them became iconic.  Plus, Hit and Run's accessories are an extension of his character.  The hallmark of the vintage line was that figure and accessories were perfectly paired to create a character.  You can see this with Hit and Run.  Hit and Run's accessories were just about perfect.  He featured the light machine gun that was aesthetically pleasing, but also practical for his specialty.  Instead of a backpack, Hit and Run included a duffel bag with a working knife holster on the side.  This fit around his torso and had a rope wound inside it.  The rope slotted through the end of the bad and was attached to a grappling hook.  This feature was a substantial improvement over the accessories originally included with Alpine.  Hit and Run's waist also has a molded tab through which the rope could be threaded so that Hit and Run could use the rope in a real rappelling type motion.  It was that type of little detail that helped take something that could have been boring and turned it into one of the best figures in the line's history.

The Hit and Run mold had a short life.  It was used for the US figure and then repainted as the European exclusive Tiger Force Hit and Run.  After that, the mold went down to Brazil where most of it was used by Estrela to make Alpinista.  (Which is very similar to the American figure in terms of coloring.)  Both the Euro and Brazilian figures have the distinction of featuring Hit and Run's face in flesh tone rather than green paint.  It is a different look for the figure and gives collectors an alternative for the Hit and Run character.  Hit and Run's arms were ultimately used for various Duke variants that were available in certain parts of the world.  The mold seems to have died in Brazil and collectors were never treated to a modern remake of this character.

Hit and Run's can be surprisingly expensive.  Mint, loose and complete, the figure can go as his as $20.  With a little patience, though, they can be had for $15 or so without too much trouble.  (Watch the elbows of the figure, though, as they are very prone to discoloration.)  An exclusive Hit and Run was released to Target stores in the early 1990's.  This figure was identical to the retail figure, but included a parachute pack.  (This pack was available for years as a mail away.)  The real differentiator is the yellow file card.  Collectors will pay upwards of $20 for the Target filecard.  So, that can raise the price of a loose figure.  For me, Hit and Run remains one of the best figures released in the vintage line.  He is a perfect blend of colors, mold and accessories.  So, he's worth adding to a collection for about any price.

1988 Hit and Run, 2002 Night Rhino, TRU Exclusive

1988 Hit and Run, 1985 Snake Eyes, V2

1997 Alley Viper

It's hard to believe, but, in 1997, collectors hated this version of the Alley Viper.  Outright loathed it.  Many people resorted to selling them for nothing or even giving them away for free.  They despised the mold, the colors and the accessories.  It's amazing how time changes perspective on things.  Today, this is one of the most popular Alley Viper repaints.  The relative scarcity of the figure combined with the quality has put it among the collector favorite army builder figures.  The Cobra blue is unique to this version and leaves this Alley Viper as the best figure to integrate into classic Cobra ranks.

Alley Vipers are the urban backbone of the Cobra Army.  Their heavy armor, decent weapons and menacing helmets make for a frightening enemy.  The 1989 version, though, suffered from a gaudy orange and blue color combination.  The 1993 update grounded the character in a bright yellow base.  It was not until 1997 that the Alley Viper appeared in a color that was true to Cobra's roots.  The dark blue is easily integrated with more classic Cobra characters.  However, the figure is not without faults.  Notably, the white cammo splotches that dot the figure's uniform are not a perfect combo for the deep blue.  Aesthetically, the figure is pleasing.  But, it is still not perfect.

In my collection, the Alley Vipers remain the third most important Cobra army builder behind the original blue Troopers and the Crimson Guards.  Beyond those classics, Alley Vipers are the next most common specialty in my Cobra ranks.  It never made much sense to me for Cobra to have a standing army that was capable of holding ground against the military of even a small nation.  Instead, it would seem more prudent for Cobra to have small, highly mobile and extremely deadly strike forces that were capable of rapidly dispatching a small portion of any urban setting.  The objectives are smaller and more attainable and Cobra wouldn't need thousands of men waiting around for a mission.

This figure has quite fragile paint applications.  It uses gold paint for many of the highlights on the body mold.  Gold paint is notoriously easy to rub off on vintage figures.  But, the combo of the paint along with the softer plastic of the 1997's is a recipe for disaster.  Hasbro chose to use the most fragile paint on the protruding parts of the mold that are the most susceptible to disintegration.  Many Alley Vipers had paint wear right out of the box.  As such, finding a truly mint version of the figure can be extremely difficult.

This version of the Alley Viper was the first to use the parts combination of the 1993 Alley Viper chest, waist, arms and head and Duke's legs.  For whatever reason, this design didn't click with collectors.  Even into 2003, the use of Duke's legs were a constant complaint.  Personally, I don't have much issue with the construction of the figure.  The parts combination works well enough and the colors offset any mold deficiencies.  The figure includes a black face mask, a black version of the 1993 Alley Viper's shield and a black version of Dial Tone's gun.  It is likely that the Alley Viper's signature weapon mold was lost in Brazil.  So, Hasbro went with the Dial Tone weapon that had first appeared with the 1993 version.  It's not a great accessory with this figure.  But, since the original, more highly desired gun never made another appearance in a Hasbro release, the use of the Dial Tone weapon has become less distasteful in the past 15 years.

The Alley Viper was the included vehicle driver with the repainted Rage vehicle.  The Rage, in and of itself, is a great repaint of an obscure Cobra mold that most collectors at the time did not own.  But, this worked against it during its release period.  Collectors did not want cool repaints of toys from the later years.  They wanted items from '82-'85 and would settle for things released as late as 1987.  But, that was about as far as the collecting conscience went back then.  On top of the general collector dislike of the Rage and Alley Viper, they were rather pricey at retail.  Toys R Us sold these items for $17.99.  While that may not sound like much today, the reality is that in 1997, $20 at a toy show would get you a mint and complete vintage Stinger with Driver and leave you enough money to pick up a 1983 Cobra Soldier to ride shotgun.  So, when faced with buying up the retail item or vintage toys, you can see how most collectors would choose the latter.  The result was that the Rage didn't sell through all that quickly.  It lingered into 1998 in many places.  Eventually, the vehicles were sold through.  Though, many collectors reporting finding quantities of Rage's with the figure removed.

In the early 2000's, the army building craze really affected this version of the Alley Viper.  For a time, this figure was nearly impossible to acquire.  As such, prices rose ludicrously fast and, for a while, loose, mint and complete versions of this figure would sell for around $40 each.  Hasbro, though, kept pumping out repaint after repaint of the Alley Viper.  Eventually, these new versions took much of the steam from the 1997 version.  Today, many dealers still hold onto hope that this figure is worth a lot of money.  As such, you see many places offering the figure for $50 or more.  You'll notice, though, that these don't sell.  The reason is that demand for this figure has diminished drastically.  You can now purchase these Alley Vipers for $15-$17 each.  That is still a bit high, but much more in line with their quality and availability than the higher prices.  The figures are still not easy to find and it may take a month or two to track one down at the market price.  But, it can be done.  I've found this to be the best version of the Alley Viper that is available.  It's taken me more than a decade, but I've been able to get a nice squad of them together.  So, it can be done.  It just takes time.  But, in this case, it is very worth the investment.

1997 Alley Viper, Rage, Lobosiomem, Brazil, Estrela, Snake Eyes, Cobra Werewolf, Baroness, 1993 Detonator

1997 Alley Viper, Rage, Lobosiomem, Brazil, Estrela, Snake Eyes, Cobra Werewolf, Baroness, 1993 Detonator