Friday, January 25, 2013

1989 Dee-Jay

Dee-Jay!  Really, Dee-Jay!?!  As figures and characters go, there aren't many who are treated with as much disdain as the final Battleforce 2000 member.  His figure is pretty much reviled and his character traits (A DJ who became an electronics expert and was recruited into Battleforce 2000 for this expertise!) are pretty ridiculous.  Most collectors pass this figure by without much of a thought.  That was his fate in my collection, too.  However, the Dee-Jay mold actually has some decent sculpting and the figure, in the proper setting, can be a useful addition to any collection.

Dee-Jay's most legitimate claim to fame is the fact that his head and body were used to make two of the most distinct Brazilian Exclusive Cobra Villains: Abutre Negro and Corrosao.  His other claim to fame is that Larry Hama introduced him into the comic book, only to kill him on the same page.  The real question with Dee-Jay is why was he released as a member of Battleforce 2000 in 1989?  The first 6 Battleforce 2000 members were released at the tail end of 1987.  They were still in the rotation in 1989.  But the addition of one new team member in 1989 really didn't add anything to the team.  The original series was 6 figures, 6 vehicles.  So, Dee-Jay was the odd man out from the get go.  Maybe the designers thought his futuristic look was better suited to an existing sub team than as part of the regular carded Joes from that year.  But, his late release just makes Dee-Jay even more of an odd duck.

When you really look at the Dee-Jay mold, you see why it was so popular on South American Cobras.  His eyes are covered with a villainous visor.  His helmet seems overly ornate for a simple communications officer.  And, he has a random communications device coming out of his helmet.  His entire outfit is bulky and detailed in a way that makes his appear more evil than good.  Beyond that, though, the mold is, in total, fairly strong.  The white and olive green isn't a color combo that should work, but it's actually not terrible.  If not for the splash of blue that protrudes from his grey leg armor, Dee-Jay would be fairly strong figure.  There is definite potential in the mold...even if most of it would be better suited for Cobra.

Dee-Jay's accessories are interesting.  He has the helmet antenna which should, due to its propensity to be lost, should drive up Dee-Jay prices.  But, the antenna actually affixes to the helmet quite well and isn't as loose as those of Heavy Metal or Worms.  So, it is much easier to find.  His backpack is large and not overly detailed.  It doesn't add to the figure's quality, but doesn't really detract from it, either.  The hoses from Dee-Jay's head to his shoulder really make no sense.  Since his face is open, why would he need this type of attachment?  The hose is too big and either restricts movement of the figure's head, or gets in the way of his backpack.  The white attachment points for the hose are nice additions that help differentiate Dee-Jay from many other figures with hoses.  But, the whole apparatus is clunky and rather non-sensical.  Dee-Jay's gun is futuristic and maroon.  I'll say it again...maroon.  Fortunately, black versions of the weapon were available with a few figures from the mid 1990's.  So, it's easy to give him his weapon in better colors.  But, out of the package, the maroon space gun is an awkward fit.

The Dee-Jay mold got a lot of use, just not in the U.S.  After he was released in 1989 and 1990, the mold was sent off to Brazil where it was used for the aforementioned Patruhla do Ar and Forca Eco figures.  In 1993, Estrela produced a final Dee-Jay figure for Hasbro.  This neon colored addition to the mail away Arctic Commandos Set was the final appearance for the Dee-Jay mold.  (This figure was bagged separately from the other three polar figures since it was made in Brazil whereas the rest of the set was made in Asia.  To this day, you most often see the Arctic Commandos Set sold with the three Asian figures together and Dee-Jay either missing or sold separately.)  The mold then died out, mercifully, and has not appeared since.  In the modern line, a Hasbro take on Abutre Negro or Corrosoa would have been cool.  But, that would have been the only reason for the Dee-Jay mold to make a new appearance.

I never had a Dee-Jay figure as a kid.  He came out after I had moved on from Joe.  As an adult, he was a figure I never really pursued.  Since he was so unpopular, I figured I could always get one cheap so there was no hurry.  When I finally did acquire one, it was for completion's sake.  He stayed in the baggie in which he was shipped to me and has not really emerged in years.  With both Corrosoa and Abutre Negro being such large parts of my collection, I had no reason to find a niche for Dee-Jay.  With this profile, though, I have a new appreciation for the figure.  It is of much higher quality than I ever remembered.  That doesn't mean, of course, that Dee-Jay will take on new prominence in my collection.  But, if the opportunity to display him ever arises, I will take advantage.

Dee-Jay figures are not hard to find.  Even with a small antenna and two small, white end caps to his hose, the figure is easy to track down complete.  The figures do tend to discolor, though, so that can be a problem when finding a truly mint figure.  But, since the figure is pretty much hated, even that's not really an issue.  Mint and complete with filecard Dee-Jay figures run under $8 and can be had much cheaper than that with a little looking.  For the price, Dee-Jay isn't a bad pick up.  The Brazilian figures have gotten hard to find and expensive.  So, cheap Dee-Jays make for perfect customizing fodder.  Even beyond that, the figure isn't terrible.  On the right vehicle or in the right playset, Dee-Jay is actually acceptable looking.  For a cheap figure that's over 25 years old, that's a respectable position.  Really, I only own the figure for completion's sake.  But, I have at least a passing appreciation for the figure.  It's not the worst lot in life for a Joe figure and, to me, makes Dee-Jay worth having around.

1989 Dee Jay, Battleforce 2000, 2004 Comic Pack Snake eyes

1989 Dee Jay, Battleforce 2000

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hunter - European Action Force Exclusive

International Joes are one of my favorite areas of collecting.  There's just something about owning figures that were never available in the U.S. that makes the hobby more exciting.  Through the years, I've featured figures from all over the world.  But, the original foreign exclusives are the one area in which my profiles have been rather deficient.  The first Joe figures exclusively repainted outside the U.S. were in Europe as part of the Action Force line.  The Joe repaints are low in number and were produced just before Action Force was replaced by G.I. Joe in Europe.  In the history of this site, I have only reviewed three of the Action Force exclusives, even though they were, likely, the most famous international exclusives of the time.  Two of the prior profiles, Blades and Stalker, were both members of the SAS subset of Action Force.  The fourth Action Force figure I've reviewed, and the subject of this profile, is the sole remaining SAS member of the subset: Hunter.

Hunter is a straight repaint of the 1983 Cobra Officer.  Instead of being a villain, though, Hunter was re purposed as a member of the SAS.  He was given a repainted Wolverine as his vehicle and promptly drove himself into Joe lore.  All three members of the SAS squad featured figures with at least some of their face covered.  Hunter was no exception and makes you wonder what the SAS was so keen on hiding back in the '80's.  But, as a small subset of figures, the SAS works and looks great together.

Back in the late 1990's and early 2000's, Hunter was one of the most popular international figures.  He was a repaint of a highly popular army builder done in a base color of black with blue highlights.  During the army building craze of that time, Hunter figures became increasingly expensive as collectors gobbled up the majority of the supply in the marketplace.  In those days, even figures without the SAS were desired as they were more integrateable into Cobra ranks. As the army building craze simmered down, though, Action Force figures in general became highly desirable.  That kept Hunter among the more expensive releases.  While some interest in Action Force has diminished due to the increased demand for South American figures, Hunter remains one of the more difficult Action Force figures to track down and retains his higher price tag.

The real issue facing this figure is how do you take a masked villainous mold and convert it into an ally of the Joes?  It's nearly impossible, especially when Hunter's basic color scheme is closer to Cobra's classic colors than he is to any Joe colors of the time.  As such, I have never really found a use for Hunter.  He is just a figure who calls my collection home, but has no real purpose.  With the SAS logo, I can not display him with Red Laser and Red Jackal.  But, the classic Cobra mold looks too out of place with any Joe figures: foreign or domestic.  The nice thing is that Hunter is a blank slate for collectors.  He could be a turncoat, mysterious spy, or just some guy who likes to keep dust out of his nose, but doesn't mind it in his eyes when he drives his mobile missile launcher.  Regardless, he does offer collectors something different from what we saw in the U.S.  Even if it's not as useful as it could be.

For their popularity, there are actually very few Action Force repaints of Hasbro molds.  Jammer, Gaucho, Dolphin, Moondancer, Quarrel, Steeler, Red Jackal, Red Laser, Stalker, Blades and Hunter were the extent of the series.  But, those small numbers equated to collectors easily completing the set and lead Action Force to extended popularity among modern collectors.  But, despite this popularity, Action Force did not make any return to Joe until the 2010 Convention Red Shadows set.  And, even this only featured the Black Major and Red Shadows figures rather than a full complement of Action Force characters.  In reality, the original Action Force line was quite amazing.  Despite the figures only have vintage Star Wars type articulation, the complement of vehicles and accessories was actually ahead of Joe for the time.  It was a shame that none of the Palitoy weapons or vehicles ever appeared in a Hasbro release in the U.S.  But, it does give modern collectors a nice way to distinguish their collections by peppering them with the various Action Force toys.

There is some debate in the collecting community regarding the accessories on Action Force figures.  It appears that the original figures were released without accessories.  But, as the line progressed, accessories were going to be added as part of a packaging change.  These packaging changes, though, likely never went to production.  So, where do the Action Force figures who are packaged in bubbles with accessories come from?  The answer is that Palitoy/Hasbro Europe liquidated a huge amount of Action Force vehicle driver overstock to various dealers in the UK.  In the '90's, there were UK dealers who would sell all the Action Force drivers for a fraction of their cost today.  This was the source of the accessorized versions of the Action Force figures.  As such, getting an AK-47 with Hunter is a bonus, but not, necessarily, a requirement for a complete figure.

The reasons behind the foreign figures, though, were nothing more than money grabs for Hasbro.  The tone was set in Europe right around 1984.  Here, Hasbro wanted to introduce G.I. Joe.  They were able to co-opt the popular Action Force brand that they acquired in the Palitoy acquisition, and include G.I. Joe molds in the toy offerings.  After one year, the repaints were ended and standard G.I. Joe figures were released on generic Action Force cards.  Soon after that, the Action Force logo was incorporated into the G.I. Joe style and the European brand became nothing more than G.I. Joe under a less Americanized name.  This was the same philosophy Hasbro followed in Brazil, Argentina and India.  Though, in these later countries, they did not acquire an existing brand as much as they just introduced G.I. Joe to the markets and raked in the international licensing fees.

Hunters are very hard to find.  The SAS logo is as fragile as any paint application on any figure released anywhere in the world.  As such, finding Hunter with a perfect logo has gotten extremely difficult in recent years.  As such, pricing reflects the scarcity and mint, complete Hunters will now fetch upwards of $150 each.  If you are willing to sacrifice some quality on the logo, the price falls, but not that much.  For that much, this is an interesting figure, but not one that is really worth the cost.  The Cobra Officer mold is just too iconically evil to transition to a heroic character.  But, since the Action Force line is so small, it still makes sense to add Hunter and complete the set.

Action Force Hunter, Palitoy, Cobra Officer, European Exclusive, Bootleg Red Shadows Invasor, Red Shadow Trooper, Bootleg, Custom, Black Major

Action Force Hunter, Palitoy, Cobra Officer, European Exclusive, Tiger Force Tunnel Rat

Tigor - Brazilian Exclusive

Collectors of Brazilian Joes have a few common favorites.  These are figures that are relatively easy to find, have distinctive colors or parts combinations and have been in the collector conscience for more than 10 years.  The names are easy for most collectors to spout off: Escorpiao Voador, Abutre Negro, Relampago, Gatilho, Marujo, Ar Puro, Cobra De Aco, etc, etc, etc.  One of the figures that collectors have found favor with is a Frankenstein of 2 obscure Joe molds repainted into an orange and green medly.  From that description, you would never think that collectors would care about the figure.  But, Tigor has become a figure that many collectors enjoy.

Tigor includes 2 accessories: a crappy plastic tiger and a wonderfully colored version of Recoil's original rifle.  In the US, Recoil's rifle was only available in baby blue with Recoil.  In the '90's, though, it was finally offered in black with certain versions of the Steel Brigade mail in.  Tigor features this same rifle, but in a bluish grey color.  Again, the description doesn't do the actual item justice.  The rifle is a perfect match for the figure and decent look for such an important accessory.  Without it, Tigor is certainly lacking.  The tiger, though, is less important.  While it is Tigor's namesake, the tiger itself was not developed for the Joe line.  Estrela produced a line of cheap plastic animals, the type of thing you would buy at a grocery store for $1 here in the US.  The took the molds from these sets, recolored them, and packaged them with each of the Forca Fera figures.  As an oddity, the tiger is neat.  As a valued Joe accessory, it is relatively worthless.  But, it is, technically, part of the figure and should be included with any complete figure.

In my collection, Tigor is a great scene filler.  He works perfectly in the G.I. Joe HQ, or as crew on board a vehicle.  But, beyond that, I have never characterized the figure.  While I spent a great deal of time developing a back story for his sub set mate Urzor, I never did the same for Tigor.  On the surface, I'd say Joe characters weren't as interesting to me.  But, that's not true as I have developed very intricate back stories for many Joe characters.  I think the truth is that I just didn't know what to do with the figure.  I never counted on him being a great addition to a collection.  But, I have owned him and known what a quality figure Tigor is for over a decade now.   So, that theory doesn't hold.  Really, I can think of no reason why Tigor hasn't been developed in my collection.

But, that doesn't mean the figure isn't visually striking.  The orangish red jumpsuit actually works and the green highlights complement it perfectly.  Tigor's blue sunglasses give him an air of mystery and the leather colored gloves and boots give the figure the depth that collectors enjoy.  The figure could use some additional painted details on the chest to further highlight the quality of the mold.  But, the overall paint job is on par with American figures and I find Tigor to be substantially superior to many of the late year American "neon" figures.

Tigor was released in the Forca Fera subset.  This small group consisted of Tigor and Leontor (A Backblast repaint) as the Joes and Urzor (A Cobra Repeater) and Kangor (Big Boa) as the Cobras.  All the figures featured unique card artwork (Kangor looks like he's boxing his kangaroo and is the most unintentionally funny cardart in the entire Joe line.)  In Brazil, there were ads and marketing materials displaying these figures together.  It was a poster with the 4 figures on it that initially sparked my interest in the entire set.  There was just something about that simple marketing material that made me want the figures.  There were only 4, which made the set attainable.  The repaints were extremely well done.  And, the overall notion of an animal patrol was different enough from anything in the US to pique my interest.

As a rarity, Tigor has gotten much harder to find than he was a few years ago.  But, that has more to do with the increased popularity of South American figures than it does his availability.  There are a lot more collectors vying for Brazilian Joes when they appear for sale than there used to be.  The result is higher prices and more scarcity since people are buying the figures to hold rather than to flip.  But, this doesn't mean that the figures are not attainable.  There are still strong collecting ties in Brazil that continually offer Estrela's exclusives to American collectors.  On top of that, many long time collectors have had occasion to acquire these figures and are out of the market for them.  They are still pricey and can be more frustrating than most collectors would like.  But, they are no where near as rare as some of the early Funskool exclusive figures.

In 2001, I bought a carded Tigor for $35.  At the time, it seemed ridiculously expensive as I thought I could get for about $25.  But, after a month of searching, I just went for it.  I immediately opened that carded figure.  Now, a decade later, loose Tigors will hit $100 if they are complete with the cardback.  Carded versions will go as high as $175.  For those prices, I would never have likely acquired the figure.  But, that would have been a shame.  Tigor is just one of those figures that should not work, but does.  His look is unique and not something that most collectors would think they like.  But, once you get Tigor into your collection, his quality is mesmerizing and he quickly becomes a figure that you never wish to part with.

Tigor, Letal, Brazil, Estrela, Forca Electronica, Forca Fera

Tigor, Letal, Brazil, Estrela, Forca Fera, European Exclusive Tiger Force Blizzard, 1989 Night Force Lightfoot, 1986 Tomahawk

Tigor, Letal, Brazil, Estrela, Forca Fera, European Exclusive Tiger Force Blizzard, 1989 Night Force Lightfoot, 1986 Tomahawk, 2007 Convention Exclusive Rip It, Hiss Driver

Tigor, Letal, Brazil, Estrela, Forca Fera, European Exclusive Tiger Force Blizzard, 1989 Night Force Lightfoot, 1986 Tomahawk

Tigor, Letal, Brazil, Estrela, Forca Fera, Vibora, Abutre Negro, Cobra Black Vulture, Patrulha Do Ar, Python Trooper, Officer

Tigor, Letal, Brazil, Estrela, Forca Electronica, Forca Fera

Argentine Exclusive Backstop

In the late '80's and into the early 90's, the Plastirama toy company in Argentina produced G.I. Joe figures exclusively for the Argentine market.  Since then, collectors have flocked to this line due to it's exclusive figure offerings and the general to extreme rarity that defines many of the figures.  Plastirama produced a decent amount of figures using molds from 1982 through 1985.  Many of the figures are close to the American counterparts.  But, when Plastirama deviated from the standard paint applications, they really deviated.  The Plastirama line offered nearly a dozen characters who were unique to Argentina.  One of the last figures they produced, though, was an odd hybrid.  Plastirama took an existing mold and repainted into another existing character.  The result is the Argentine Backstop.

Most people can forget Backstop.  He is a forgettable character using an unfortunate color scheme that came out in a year full of iconic figures.  His vehicle is rather boring and pales in comparison to other, similar price point vehicles from the adjacent years.  But, for some reason, the character clicked with me.  From the moment I got the American figure, he was immediately thrust into an important role.  For many years, he and the Persuader were my go to armor vehicle...ahead of even the Mauler.  This Argentine figure, though, doesn't capture that magic.  While the colors are reminiscent of the US release, I have a hard time seeing this figure as anyone other than Blowtorch.  As such, this figure really is just a display piece for me.  It makes for a good background in a photo since it usually draws viewers' attention and draws a comment or two.  Beyong that, though, the figure doesn't have much additional use.

Backstop is a mishmash of red, yellow, hunter green and silver.  On paper, it should be terrible.  Were this an American release, it would be terrible.  (Like the real Backstop is.)  But, as a foreign release, the look of the figure gets a little more leeway.  Collectors are forgiving of monstrosities when they are from foreign countries and can be hard to find.  Like most Argentine figures from around his time, the figure's paint masks are often sloppy.  The overall construction quality also varies.  It seems that many of the Argentine figures that were found were not properly stored for many years.  As such, even figures right off the card (or, out of the bag in Backstop's case!) can be brittle.  So, you have to be a bit careful when you try to fit him into a tight vehicle.

Backstop was only available in Argentina, packed with the Plastirama Persuader.  The figure includes a filecard that features an actual picture of the toy rather than artwork.  The figure includes a silver version of Doc's helmet and a silver air mask.  These are exclusive to Backstop and can be difficult to track down if not acquired with the figure.  The actual date of Backstop's production is difficult to pinpoint.  Backstop is likely one of the final Plastirama figures ever produced.  He may not have appeared until the early '90's.  But, due to the difficulty of tracking down hard evidence of release dates in Argentina, this is mostly guesswork.

Backstop uses the mold from Blowtorch with Doc's waist.  This was a popular configuration in Argentina as Backstop shared the construction with both Antorcha and TNT.  Aside from his uses in Argentina and the US, the Blowtorch mold also appeared in Brazil, Mexico and Europe.  The mold disappeared after the Argentine releases and has not been seen since.  Homages to the vintage Blowtorch have been released in both the New Sculpt and Anniversary Sculpt Joe lines.  It would be great to someday see this mold either in drab green or even Action Force colors.  But, that's not likely ever going to happen unless a bootlegger takes on the mold.

The Argentine Backstop has become relatively hard to find.  Loose, mint and complete with filecard figures can be expensive as $70.  But, since a lot of people still don't realize that a boxed Plastirama Persuader includes the Backstop figure.  So, you can often buy one of those for around the same price.  A large number of Persuaders were acquired by toy dealers during the Plastirama warehouse find.  So, this figure is more common than a lot of people realize.  In 2001/2002, you could often get boxed Persuaders for under $20.  So, a lot of collectors do have the figure.  As an oddity in an Argentine collection, Backstop is worth having.  But, he lacks the "wow" factor of Satan, Ninja-Ku or even TNT.  But, he is something completely different.  For me, that makes him worth having as part of my collection.

Plastirama, Backstop, Argentina, Sokerk, 2008 AWE Striker, Leopardo, Recondo, Estrela, Brazil, Blowtorch

Plastirama, Backstop, Argentina, Sokerk, 2008 AWE Striker, Leopardo, Recondo, Estrela, Brazil, Blowtorch

Plastirama, Backstop, Argentina, Sokerk, 2008 AWE Striker, Leopardo, Recondo, Estrela, Brazil, Blowtorch

Thursday, January 10, 2013

1994 Stalker

The figures from the final years of the Joe line don't have the greatest reputation.  However, most of the notion that they are neon heavy, bright monstrosities comes from the 1993 series.  In 1994, Hasbro really pulled back the reigns on the line and churned out a series of figures that were much closer to the line's classics than the multitude of 1993 neon releases.  That isn't to say that 1994 didn't have its share of neon paint.  But, it did have a decent number of figures done in muted, military colors that are some of the best figures in the line.  One such figure is the new version of Stalker.  Done in a more commando style, this Stalker is probably the second best version of the character released in the vintage line.

This figure is far from perfect.  While the mold is exceptional, the figure suffers from lack of paint applications.  The chest is large and the arms don't have the range of motion that many figures from the '80's have.  (Joes bulked up over the years, even if it was only slightly.  But, the '94's are notorious for having larger torsos and heads.)  The head is big and has two odd rings molded onto it.  It is likely meant to be a turtleneck.  But, it is flesh colored and just makes it appear that Stalker has some odd medical condition.  Once you get past those points, though, the figure is solid rendition of Stalker as the nighttime, urban commando he was capable of being.

In the mid 1990's, Joes were starting to disappear from retail.  During 1995 and 1996, I was looking for any and all Joe figures I could find at toy and box stores.  At this time, I appreciated most of the figures, even those done in neon colors.  But, I could not abide by the neon weapons.  Figures that included black accessory trees were the ones I most sought out.  In that regard, Stalker really stood out.  The figure was excellent and he included a tree of well done black weapons.  Stalker's tree included a shotgun from Muskrat, Tracker's MP-5 and a large gun from the 1991 Grunt.  (2 out of 3 isn't bad.)  The MP-5 became my default weapon for Stalker since it hearkened back to his original M-32 and it looked really nice with the figure.  Years later, I added a black backpack from the 1997 Hawk figure to complete Stalker's look.

From a mold standpoint, this figure is extremely well done.  The knit stocking cap is well textured and looks like a real hat atop a man's head.  Stalker's face has a hardened look that shows how dangerous he really is.  The torso is detailed with grenades, straps and additional details that, were they painted, would stand out with more detail than many figures from the '80's.  But, in all black, the figure still works as you would expect someone sneaking around in the dark to avoid any additional splashes of color.  The olive drab highlights are a perfect match for the vintage Night Force figures and just accentuate the nighttime vibe of the figure.  (It should be noted that there is a variant of this figure that also featured neon green highlights.  That figure is more striking, but less realistic.)

During my last years of college and first year out of college, I had very few figures available to me.  At the time, the bulk of my collection was comprised of the figures I was able to acquire at retail.  This Stalker was among those figures and was one of the most used characters I had at the time.  Along with the 1994 Shipwreck figure, Stalker was a among my new breed of Joes.  They were a more specialized unit who went on small, very dangerous missions.  They battled the Vipers and Crimson Guard Commanders along with whatever figures I could find from my childhood.  This small time in my collecting life is also one of the most important as it was a era before the Internet really played a part and was a time when my collection still maintained the innocence that is often diluted by the online collecting world.  This was the time that ultimately lead me to collect more and more and grow my collection in many new ways.  So, the figures who defined this epoch of my life retain an importance that otherwise eclipses their quality.  But, with this Stalker, that isn't the case.  This is a figure who has retained his importance in my collection beyond the nostalgic factor.

This mold was criminally underused.  There were the two 1994 Stalker variants and then the body did not appear again until 2002 when it was used on the very limited edition Sidetrack figure.  This figure lost Stalker's head, but still left all the details on this mold unpainted.  It never appeared again in any convention or Toys R Us release and was never sent overseas.  This Stalker would have been a great candidate for a convention set and seeing the mold with convention paint applications would have been great.  But, it was not to be.  Most of the 1994 molds suffer from the same fate.  It is unfortunate as many of the mold deserve another look with a modern take.  But, at least collectors are left with one high quality figure use of the mold.

This figure isn't terribly difficult to find.  Even carded, he rarely runs more than $10-$12.  Loose mint and complete is just cheaper.  For a figure of this quality, that's a price that makes him a no-brainer.  This is an excellent figure that is true to the Stalker character, has decent accessories, and is colored nearly identical to vintage Night Force figures.  The lack of paint details also makes him great for customizers who can fill out the missing details.  All in all, it is a great figure that is worthy of the Stalker character and should be part of any collection.

1994 Stalker, Battle Corps, Variant, Action Marine

1994 Stalker, Battle Corps, Variant, Action Marine

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2006 "Classified" - Comic Pack Snake Eyes

My first encounter with the G.I. Joe comic book was in third grade when a copy of G.I. Joe #10 circulated through our classroom.  I didn't really think much of it at the time.  It was a good read and fun to look at.  But, I was not compelled to go out and actually buy any of the comics.  This changed in the spring of 1984 when G.I. Joe #26 was published.  My friends and I passed the book around again and again, taking in the origins of Snake-Eyes.  As school let out for the summer, I found a copy of G.I. Joe #27 at the local Hook's Drug Store.  I bought the issue, read it a dozen times that day, and subscribed to the comic the very next day.  I would not miss an issue for the next four years as I used the comic to supplement my Joe collection.  As I did not own G.I. Joe #26, though, that comic held a cachet for me.  I always felt my collection starting at #27 was odd.  I went to the local Comic Carnival for months and months, but they never got an issue 26 to sell.  I finally got a second or third printing of the comic (along with another 27 and 25) in a three pack of comics that was sold at Target.  But, the missing 26 left an indelible mark on my childhood and the characters from that comic have always been what I considered to be the beginning of Joe turning from a random childhood toy into something much deeper.

Hasbro started their comic pack series in 2004.  As a concept, it was novel and something that really appealed to kids and collectors.  However, the system had a fatal flaw: an adherence to numerical sequence.  Rather than skip around and hit highlights of the Joe book from various eras with each new wave, Hasbro went in release order of the comics.  The result was a line that quickly got stale and petered out at retail.  The result was that highly anticipated packs like the Oktober Guard were under-produced.  The final comic packs ended up being only offered online until the overstock overwhelmed Hasbro and they had to pawn their unsold inventory onto Toys R Us for steep discounts.  Among the packs relegated to the ghost town of a Joe community after the "Deth of the Line" phase, was a comic pack including figures from the nostalgic favorite G.I. Joe #26.  In this pack was a redone Stalker, Tommy "Storm Shadow" Arashikage and this figure: Classified, better known as Snake Eyes.

These three figures were Hasbro's only attempt to bring the fabled "LRRP" group to action figure form.  As such, they were eagerly anticipated figures in many collecting circles.  Had Hasbro released this pack earlier in the comic pack product's lifecycle, it is likely that it would have been more highly regarded.  By the time they got around to getting this pack into collector hands, it seemed somewhat stale.  The green comic colors had been overused and the molds that formed the basis for the figures in the pack so commonly appeared that some of the specialness of the set was diluted.  But, in retrospect, the figures do hold up better than many of the other comic figures from the time.  The fact that Hasbro took the time to cobble together something from such an iconic moment in the Joe mythos, though, shows that certain figures will work if enough care is put into their creation.

From a collector standpoint, this Classified figure poses an interesting problem.  The character always had his eyes shielded in the comic to prevent a full on view of Snake Eyes true face.  How would this translate to an Action Figure and would Hasbro have to tool a new head to bring this hidden identity to life?  The answer was yes to the new tooling and the result was something that was about as true to the comic as any action figure could be.  Hasbro deftly tilted Snake Eye's hat very low on his face.  Then, they applied a fine spray of black paint around the figure's eyes and nose.  The result is that the "shadow" effect is very real on the figure.  You can tell it is an homage to the mysterious pre-disfigurement Snake Eyes without having the feature completely dominate the figure.

Really, the figure's head is about the only thing that really mattered to collectors in regards to this figure.  The head had to be perfect.  And, Hasbro got it very right.  Aside from the tilt and shadow, the hat is covered in a complex cammo pattern.  But, the real gem on the figure is the black and white photo of Snake Eye's sister that is tucked in the band of his hat.  This is a nearly identical recreation of the photo drawn in the Marvel comic more than 20 years prior to this figure's release.  It is an amazing detail and one that makes the figure worth acquiring.

The rest of the figure is OK.  It is as true to the figure's comic look as could be achieved with existing, vintage parts.  The figure uses the body of the 1992 Gung Ho figure.  Done in the standard comic pack green, it works fine for this figure.  The mold is a bit over done and had been heavily used at the time.  But, its appearance with the new head works well enough.  But, the green and yellow combination is a bit brighter than most purists would like.  It is, though, a perfect match for the rest of the comic pack figures.  For accessories, Classified includes the excellently resculpted M-60 and bi-pod.  He also includes the overused SAW Viper back pack which doesn't fit the figure at all.  All of these accessories, though, are cast in a charcoal colored plastic.  It is not the true black of the other comic packs and makes the accessories included with these figures completely unique.  So, when buying loose versions, be sure to validate the correctly colored accessories as the true black versions of the gun and pack are much easier to find.

Really, there isn't much to do with this figure.  He is a collector homage and nothing more.  It is a definitive look for a character within a very specific time frame.  A time frame that pre-dates the entire notion of the A Real American Hero G.I. Joe mythos.  As a display piece, Classified is essential to any collection.  But, as a useful figure, this version of Snake Eyes falls off quite a bit.  It's hard to use Snake Eyes out of his post accident, all black commando garb.  Dropping Cobra into an earlier history gets problematic as well.  This is why you don't see this figure in too many dioramas or photos.  It's just difficult to get into action, though it is required for most collectors' displays.

This figure was available online for many months.  When Hasbro dumped their overstock into Toys R Us stores, the availability only increased.  These packs hung around at retail for more than a year.  But, like many items that stagnate at retail, collectors were slow to consume these packs thinking they'd be around forever.  In time, the #26 pack disappeared.  The Devil's Due comic pack followed shortly after that.  Suddenly, collectors realized they might miss the Classified figure and the remaining stock dried up quickly.  That doesn't mean that a lot of these figures weren't produced.  It is just likely that a lot of them ended up with kids in lieu of the collecting market.  Today, Classified figures can be somewhat tough to track down.  In the past year, I've seen loose, mint and complete with filecard versions sell for over $60 and under $6.  So, the price does fluctuate quite a bit depending upon the seller and the time of year.  It is easier to just buy a carded #26 pack and open it up.  The Stalker figure is extremely well done.  The Storm Shadow figure is less so.  But, still a worthwhile pickup for the convenience and potential cost savings over acquiring Classified on his own.  Had I not picked this figure up during his initial retail availability, it's still likely I'd own one today.  It is a figure that collectors of the comic must have, even if the uses are limited.

2006 Classified, Snake Eyes, Comic Pack 26, 2002 Alley viper

2006 Classified, Snake Eyes, Comic Pack 26, Unproduced Caucasian Stalker, Comic Pack #3, Midnight Chinese

2006 Classified, Snake Eyes, Comic Pack 26, Unproduced Caucasian Stalker, Comic Pack #3, Midnight Chinese