Thursday, May 30, 2013

2005 Crimson Shadow Guard

Sometimes, a great idea is simply brought to life at the wrong time.  It's happened more than a few times in the Joe world.  If you had told me in 2002 that in just three years a 6 pack of excellent Cobra army builder repaints with no named characters at all would be one of the biggest bombs of the repaint era, I would have thought you were crazy.  But, that's exactly what happened with the Toys R Us exclusive Crimson Shadow Guard set.

On the surface, this set is a complete winner.  For $20, you got 6 Crimson Guards repainted in black.  The visual result is stunning and brings a new, more combative element to the Crimson Guard genre.  Each figure included the standard helmet and backpack you would expect from a combat unit.  But, beyond this, the set starts to fail.  Rather than include the modified AR-15s from the original Crimson Guard set, Hasbro gave the Shadow Guard a full complement of ninja weapons.  So, instead of firearms, the Shadow Guard was decked out in crossbows, swords, knives, claws and other bladed weapons.  As extra accessories, these would have been perfect.  As the only weapons in the set, though, the reused ninja weapons failed miserably.  The Shadow Guard was not effectively equipped.  And, by this time, collectors had grown weary of having to pay to replace the crappy Hasbro accessory choices with aftermarket offerings.  But, the real issue was the overuse of the mold in such a short time.

In 2003, Hasbro recast the Crimson Guard mold.  The plan was to use this for the mail away Agent Faces figure and then in a 3 pack of Joes in disguise.  This infiltrate set was planned to include Gung Ho, Duke and Snake Eyes on Crimson Guard bodies with helmets concealing their true identities.  However, Hasbro did not market this to major retailers.  Without their buying power, the set couldn't muster the numbers needed to warrant production.  The result was the set's cancellation and, subsequently, the bankruptcy of more than one online G.I. Joe seller who could not produce the cash to pay back customers for pre-orders.  Hasbro, though, had spent the money on the molds.  So, a new head was added to the Crimson Guard body and the mold was released in late 2004 in the KB Toys exclusive Operation Crimson Sabotage.  The Toys R Us exclusive Crimson Guard sets followed to retail in early January of 2005.  The mold then saw it's final use in this Shadow Guard set in the early summer of 2005.  It was a lot of exposure for the mold in a short time frame and over saturated the market.

The redesigned mold was similar enough to the vintage Crimson Guard that it integrated well.  The issue, though, was the removable helmets.  As an add on for the Agent Faces figure, this removable helmet was ingenious.  As a staple for a highly popular army builder, though, it didn't work as well.  The helmets are large, bulky and leave the figure's neck exposed.  The result is a figure that is inferior to the vintage, sculpted helmet.  Personally, I find both the Crimson Guards and Shadow Guards to work better without their helmets.  The masked faces are a nice touch and follow the standard Cobra appearance.  Putting troops into combat without helmets also seems like something Cobra Commander would do in order to sort out the best and toughest troopers.

As a figure, the Shadow Guard is nicely done.  The black motif works well on the dressy Crimson Guard uniform.  This is a perfect way to use Crimson Guards in more combat specific situations.  But, I have found the most prolific use of the figure in my collection has occurred as a base for LBC Cobra customs.  I swapped out the generic head of 2 Shadow Guards and replaced them with a head from Agent Faces and the Fred head from the comic pack Cobra Commander.  The result is two new Cobra politicians who fill niche roles in my Joe world.  The black uniforms denote they are powerful, but still low enough on the command hierarchy to have to wear standard uniforms.  (This also allows the army building Shadow Guards to be their special troops who perform dirty work around Cobra Island as part of the political intrigue.)  Beyond this, though, I find the figures somewhat limited.  As a standalone, the figure works well.  But, it is not suited to be the backbone of any collector's Cobra army.

It is in this vein that this figure could have been better executed.  The 2005 Crimson Guard set was designed with collectors in mind.  The set broke up Tomax and Xamot into distinct sets.  But, instead of packaging 5 army builders in the set, it included 4 and a Firefly figure.  I have long speculated that Firefly was a last minute addition to the set.  Regardless, though, if the Firefly had been replaced by one Crimson Shadow Guard, I think collectors would appreciate the figure that much more.  As an army builder set, the black rendition of the classic mold is overkill.  As a single figure who could serve as a commander for a small unit of standard Crimson Guards in service of Tomax and Xamot, though, the figure would work excellently.  Thus, the execution of the figure limited it's value and appreciation.  Had this been a one off in the original Crimson Guard set, it would be a coveted figure today.  But, as a set, the Shadow Guards largely sated collector demand and faded into obscurity.

From a design standpoint, the Crimson Shadow Guard was well received by collectors.  But, the late release date, terrible accessories, announcement of the line's hiatus and general army builder fatigue all added up to a retail dud of a set.  Toys R Us was anxious to get rid of its Joe merchandise since the line had, effectively, been cancelled.  So, the Shadow Guard hit clearance very quickly.  But, even ridiculously low prices couldn't move the inventory.  Despite production numbers of only around 20,000, the sets continued to collect dust.  Finally, many stores and the online arm of Toys R Us reduced the price of the set to $4 each.  Even at this price, it took a few weeks to sell out.  The result was a set of figures that was stupidly cheap for many years.  Now, though, some of the bad memories of the time frame of this set's release have faded.  Mint and complete with filecard Crimson Shadow Guards will sell for as much as $10 to impatient buyers.  But, a more typical price is around $5 per figure with boxed sets still selling in the $22 - $25 range.  That's cheap for a high quality army builder.  And, it makes at least one Shadow Guard an essential part of every collection.

2005 Crimson Shadow Guard, TRU Exclusive

2005 Crimson Shadow Guard, TRU Exclusive

2005 Crimson Shadow Guard, TRU Exclusive, Funskool Street Hawk

Monday, May 27, 2013

1993 Armor Tech Star Brigade Destro

With a decade and a half of hindsight, it is somewhat easy to second guess some of the decisions made during the final years of Joe's original retail run. How could Hasbro have possibly thought that bulkier, less articulated figures and poorly detailed figures sold at a higher price point would entice a dwindling consumer base back to the brand? It seems like such an obvious problem that there's no way a toy company at the top of its game would ever make that mistake. Yet, in 1993, there were the Armor Tech figures: a brand new addition to the Joe line that would gather retail dust for almost 5 years in some markets. But, in looking back at the toy market of the time as well as Hasbro's original intentions for this line, you can see how figures like these came to light. It is an interesting glimpse into what might have been and what, had it been fully realized, could have been the catalyst for Joe's rebirth for a newer, younger audience.

In 1995 and 1996, I used to hit my local Toys R Us store a couple of times per week in search of Star Wars figures. I'd always check the Joes, though, and it was common for them to put out a long forgotten case of figures from time to time. Usually, these were things like Shadow Ninjas, Mega-Marines or the standard Battle Corps figures. (I never saw any 1994 Star Brigade figures at retail.) However, the one staple that was always hanging on the Joe shelf was the Armor Tech figures. They simply hung there, never moving. I couldn't bring myself to buy them since they were expensive, unarticulated and their weapons were largely neon. I moved to Arizona in the fall of 1997. That Christmas, a new mall opened near my residence. Inside was a small, independent toy store. Their shelves were stocked with peg after peg of Armor Tech Joes. They had no other Joe figures, but they had all the Armor Tech anyone could ever want at the whopping price of $5.99 each. I didn't return to that store for many years, but I suspect that those figures lingered even longer than the end of 1997. Such was the failure of Armor Tech. Even with major characters, they were the final figures that most people report seeing at retail during the vintage days. I think that's a fair place for these figure in history. While it might be hard to argue the merits of Shadow Ninjas over Armor Tech, at least the Shadow Ninjas shared articulation and design with standard Joes.

Thankfully, this mold was only used for Destro and has never appeared again anywhere else in the world. None of the Armor Tech molds were picked up by other companies...even as Hasbro was shipping molds off to Brazil as fast as they could as the line ended. These figures remain an anomaly in the line. Together, they are a conversation piece. But, they will never be more than that. The parts really can't be used for much. The heads might have some value. But, the '92 Destro mold features a similar head that is already compatible with the existing line. I don't think these molds will ever see any collecting interest and it's likely that they have died a merciful death. It would be kind of fun should they ever show up in some oddball line produced in a place like India. But, they're value would be camp rather than important parts of a collection.

In the late '90's and early '00's, carded Armor Tech figures were dirt cheap. Complete MOC sets often sold for under $15. You could get individual figures as low as a dollar or two. Slowly, though, the marketplace absorbed much of the dealer and clearance overstock that caused those low prices. Now, the figures are still comparatively inexpensive, but they are not the bargain they were just a few years ago. Many collectors who spent their time finishing more interesting aspects of their collections are now to the point where the Armor Tech figures are among the last they need to complete their domestic set. As such, these days, the carded figures will go between $10-$15 depending upon the character and the demand at the time. Loose, mint and complete with filecard, figures like Destro will still run $7 or so. But, it's still MUCH easier to simply buy a carded version as you don't see high quality loose samples as often as you do carded figures. For me, though, the Armor Tech figures really only have value as requirements for a complete vintage collection. Beyond that, they are an out-dated look into a different time in the toy world. They are a testament to unfulfilled potential and unrealized dreams. As they are priced accordingly, it seems that collectors still see these figures now just as we did when they were released: as poor companions to most Joe collections.

Monday, May 20, 2013

2007 Lt. Clay Moore (Convention Exclusive)

There are bad convention figures. There are good convention figures. And, every now and then, there are great convention figures. Lt. Clay Moore definitely falls into the last category. He is a unique character made of parts that fit well together and are perfectly painted. He is something completely different from most of the other Cobras we've seen over the years and stands as one of the most visually distinctive Cobra villains.

Back in 2004, I discovered the Street Fighter Movie Edition Balrog figure. For those unfamiliar with this guy, he uses the head seen on this Lt. Clay Moore and Salvo's body. His shirt is white and he has blue pants. The result is a figure that looks like a new Cobra villain. Unfortunately, these Movie Balrogs are rather hard to find. Shortly after I acquired one, the price skyrocketed to upwards of $50 for a MOC sample. If you could find a loose version, he was still going to run you close to $30. When I had the figure in hand, though, I realized that his coloring wasn't perfect and the overall presentation wasn't as great as I had anticipated. So, while the character became a player in my collection, the figure ended up on a bunk inside the prison of my Joe HQ out in the garage. He still lies there today.

The minute I saw this figure, I knew that I had found a worthy replacement for that Movie Balrog. Lt. Clay Moore uses Balrog's head and the coloring and uniform make him a perfect fit for the role I had always envisioned Balrog holding. So, this figure became Balrog in my collection. (I'm not a fan of Lt. Clay Moore. I guess it's some homage to an insignificant cartoon character. But, I have a Claymore figure already and naming this one something so similar is redundant. So, the Balrog name has stuck and I only refer to this figure as Balrog.)

Lt. Clay Moore uses the head first seen on the 1993 Balrog figure. That head was used again in 1995 for the Street Fighter Movie Balrog. This use of the head is notable, though, for the fact that it is not molded in black plastic. The skin coloring is painted on. To cut costs, Master Collector casts all their heads in one color and then paints them. It is cheaper than using multiple plastic colors. This practice failed miserably with Red Dog in 2006. But, it works much better on Clay Moore and the Doc figure. The body was originally used in 1994 as Ice Cream Soldier. But, it is more famously known for its use as the Shock Viper versions that were released in 2002. But, since it had been 5 years since this body mold had appeared, its use was welcomed. Personally, I would still like to see a new Shock viper version released that had the grey body base as was shown at the 2002 Joe Convention. I think that figure, properly painted with enough details, would make a great corps of troopers for Clay Moore to command. Beyond that, though, the mold is probably done. Clay Moore is strong enough that he finally realized this mold's full potential.

Clay Moore's accessories aren't great. He features a blue helmet originally used for some of the new sculpt figures. It works well and adds a nice dimension to Clay Moore's look. He is equally useful without it, though. His weapons are the real failure. He includes a large machine gun that was originally designed for the Sgt. Savage line. It is cool enough. But, as Sgt. Savage was a larger scale than Joe figures, the weapon is a bit oversized. Clay Moore also includes a spring loaded missile launcher. I don't know what possessed Master Collector to use spring loaded accessories in their convention sets. Collectors have never liked these and they probably helped knock down this sets' popularity a notch. As such, the best option to accessorize Clay Moore is a visit to Marauder Inc. Most of the photos below feature the figure with a Marauder weapon as his true accessories are so lame.

The 2007 Convention set should have been a winner. In included a few army builders that were a mold that had never been previously released as well as a great mix of high profile, named characters that were all done in awesome new mold mold combinations and given near perfect colors. Yet, the set was largely stagnated on the aftermarket. In the months after the convention, you could buy just about every figure from the set, mint and complete, for under $11. While collectors went nuts for the Grand Slam/Starduster and Steeler/Rip It figures: they largely ignored the incredible figures that comprised the main set. Since then, things have changed a bit and Clay Moores can now be had in the $15 range. Really, for a figure of this quality that was produced in these quantities, that's abnormally low. Much of the price atrophy can be attributed to the large number of collectors who went to the 25th Anniversary convention and hoped to recoup their costs by selling their sets on the aftermarket. The glut over saturated the market right as the demand for ARAH style figures dropped precipitously. The result is that anyone who missed this figure can still get one for a fair price. At the current cost, there is no reason for any collector to not have this figure in their collection. It is one of the highlights of the modern era ARAH style figure releases and brings some much needed diversity to the Cobra ranks.

2007 Lt. Clay Moore, Convention Exclusive, Tanks for the Memories, Balrog, 2002 Shock Viper

2007 Lt. Clay Moore, Convention Exclusive, Tanks for the Memories, Balrog, 2002 Shock Viper, 1997 Alley Viper, Rage, 2004 Urban Strike Nullifier, Flak Viper

2007 Lt. Clay Moore, Convention Exclusive, Tanks for the Memories, Balrog, 2002 Shock Viper, 1997 Alley Viper, Rage, 2004 Urban Strike Nullifier, Flak Viper

2007 Lt. Clay Moore, Convention Exclusive, Tanks for the Memories, Balrog, 2002 Shock Viper, 1997 Alley Viper, Rage, 2004 Urban Strike Nullifier, Flak Viper

2007 Lt. Clay Moore, Convention Exclusive, Tanks for the Memories, Balrog, 2002 Shock Viper, 1997 Alley Viper, Rage, 2004 Urban Strike Nullifier, Flak Viper

2007 Lt. Clay Moore, Convention Exclusive, Tanks for the Memories, Balrog, 2002 Shock Viper, 1997 Alley Viper, Rage, 2004 Urban Strike Nullifier, Flak Viper

Thursday, May 16, 2013

1988 Shockwave

As a release year, 1988 had quite a few advantages over 1987.  While the 1987 Joes have some of the most iconic characters in the line, the 1988 Joes stand with them toe to toe in terms of figure design, coloration and accessories.  The 1988 Cobras still have their issues.  But, they are substantially ahead of the 1987 Cobra characters.  1987 obviously wins out in terms of media exposure and that alone made 1987 the line of demarcation in the Joe line for many years.  Figures made through 1987 were "awesome" and those made after were much less so.  Time, though, has faded much of the early year bias in the Joe line and many collectors have come to realize the exceptional figures produced throughout the lifespan of the Joe line.  High quality figures from all years have seen upticks in popularity in the collecting world and have become figures by which collectors define a base collection.  One such figure is the 1988 Shockwave.

If you want to look for one simple reason for the vintage Joe line's success it was the diversion from military only into a more diverse grouping.  Joes weren't all grunts wearing green fatigues.  The colors that were added gave the figures more character.  But, some more civilian specialties were added to the ranks as a way to continue the diversity of the line.  (Unfortunately, the line followed this through reductio ad absurdum with the ultimate inclusion of space aliens, cyborgs and bright neon colors.)  Figures like Shockwave with his SWAT specialty deviate from the traditional notion of military toys, but are still closely related enough that it's not a stretch to see a figure like this in a line named G.I. Joe.

The Shockwave mold is incredibly detailed.  His body armor, mask and general design are intricately detailed.  The sad part, though, is that Hasbro didn't bring out these details with paint masks.  At his core, the figure is two toned in multiple shades of blue with a few splashes of yellow cammo.  The handguns, knives, buckles and other details from the figure are left in the base colors.  Really, the figure appears to have paint masks more in line with releases from the line's final year than it does his 1988 contemporaries.  But, even with this lack of paint, the figure works.  The mold is still strong enough and the colors done right enough that the missing details can be forgiven.

My main memory of Shockwave as a character comes from the issue of G.I. Joe Special Missions where he was introduced.  My recollection is not of Shockwave, though, as much as it is of the story and father with the rictus.  But, that tells the story of Shockwave in a nutshell: he is relatively undeveloped.  You have a character wearing a badass uniform with wicked accessories who can pretty much be anyone you want him to be.  Or, as is the case in my collection, who you don't want him to be.  To this day, I view Shockwave as more of an army builder type figure than an actual Joe character.  The faceless mask and law enforcement background make him more of a nameless support character who may bite the dust when faced with a den of Cobras.  It gives the figure more use, even though the character is undeveloped.

Shockwave's accessories are nearly perfect.  His blue backpack is large and detailed.  The side, though, features a working sheath for Shockwave's knife.  The blade is designed in silver and is an imposing addition to the Shockwave character.  He also includes a terrible blue handgun that doesn't really fit into his hand.  The handle is too broad and the design is somewhat bulky.  The sad reality is that this handgun saw massive reuse in the '90's as a staple of the weapon trees.  Shockwave's main weapon, though, is the blue, suppressed sub machine gun with stock.  While the weapon is well detailed and sturdy, it still plays out as a compact urban assault weapon.  It really works perfectly with the figure.  Of course, the main issue with all of Shockwave's weapons is that they are blue to match the figure.  When used with Shockwave, the blue is forgivable since it matches the figure.  But, it makes it pretty much impossible to share Shockwave's gear with other figures.  The upside is that his machine gun was available in black with the hard to find Night Force Shockwave, but also with the easier to track down 1992 Ace, so collectors have a cheap way to acquire one for use with other figures.

The Shockwave mold was used in 1988 and again in 1989 as part of the Night Force subset.  The legs appeared in 1993 for Beach Head.  (They, though, died in Brazil after they were used on the Armadilha figure.)  After that, the mold disappeared for many years.  In 2008, the head, chest and arms finally reappeared for a convention release.  Collectors were deprived of the mold in 2002 when Hasbro could not find it for the Wave 1.5 release.  There is much that could have been done with this mold.  Collectors would have loved to have seen it in multiple colors in various repaint sets.  But, that never happened and collectors are left with another mold full of unfulfilled potential.

Shockwave figures are rather popular.  He is a character that collectors enjoy and desire to be part of their collections.  As such, mint and complete with filecard versions are among the more expensive 1988 standard release figures.  The figure is very prone to discoloration, cracked elbows and paint wear.  So, finding a mint version can be a bit of a challenge.  But, Shockwave is well worth the acquisition.  Many collectors prefer the Night Force version or the Convention version.  But, the original is much cheaper, easier to find and as useful as those rarer figures.

1988 Shockwave, Muskrat

1988 Shockwave, 1991 Low Light, 2009 Bootleg Cobra Urban Trooper, Black Major Custom

Monday, May 13, 2013

1989 Night Force Lightfoot

Night Force is probably the most popular vintage subset of figures.  (You might make a case for Sky Patrol, but it is close.)  The two year Toys R Us exclusive theme always featured repaints of figures from the prior year.  Most of the characters were just straight out of the molds Hasbro had recently used.  But, redone in Night Force colors, many of the figures took on new life.  The trend continued in 1989 with series two of the Night Force group.  This year featured some figures in drastically new takes on a mold's coloring.  None was more different than Lightfoot.  Gone was the bright yellow base of the uniform.  It was replaced by muted browns and blacks.  Suddenly, a solid mold with terrible colors was fixed and Lightfoot had a place of usefullness in any Joe collection.

The Lightfoot mold is well done. It features intricate details and is bulky to the point where you know he is armoured, but not to the point where he is overdone. The Night Force colors accentuate the mold in a way that the bright yellow of the original never did. The muted brown offset with black and grey highlights make the figure useful in ways that no other figure with Lightfoot's specialty is. The black helmet with red eyes is the perfect capper and makes this figure everything that the vintage Trip Wire should aspire to be were he redone.

My interactions with the original Lightfoot figure were minimal. By 1988, I was out of Joe and only bought 2 figures in February of that year. But, as the year progressed, my youngest brother still bought new Joe figures from time to time. As such, I do recall figures such as Repeater and Lightfoot being around on the rare occasion when I'd pick up a figure or two. I do recall Lightfoot, though, due to the helmet. I liked the look of the helmet and desperately wanted it to be cooler than it was. But, my main memory of it was the fact that I accidentally sucked it up with the vacuum one day. Rather than let the helmet die a horrid death in a landfill, though, I took out the vacuum bag (remember those?) and pulled out months' worth of dust, lint and dirt to find the helmet. I did find it, washed it off, and the vintage Lightfoot was useful again.

In the times when I did use the figure, I liked Lightfoot's mold. But, unlike Airtight, I simply could not justify the bright yellow color. By the time this Night Force version was released in 1989, though, I was truly done with Joes and had no idea the figure existed. (Now, I'm sure that had I know of the figure, I still would not have bought it.) When I returned to Joe collecting as a adult, the Night Force Lightfoot was one of the few Night Force figures that really intrigued me. It was a figure that was capable of making a good mold relevant again. However, even in those early days, Night Force Lightfoot figures were hard to find and rather expensive. (I distinctly remember balking at paying $15 for a mint, complete with filecard version in 1998 as I could buy 7 or 8 other figures in similar completeness and condition that I did not have for the same amount.) As such, I delayed the acquisition of the figure for many years. By the time I did acquire one, it was after the point where a figure like this would get great use. As such, this figure's fate is probably to be stored away in a closet, in a box where he will wait for the off chance that someday I will have the desire to display him in a place of prominence.

While not overly used, Lightfoot's mold did have a bit of a history. After he was released in the US in 1988 and again as this Night Force repaint in 1989, the mold was shipped off to Brazil. There, the figure was released in colors very similar to the original Lightfoot and named Desarmer. After that, there is no trace of the mold. Two of Lightfoot's Brazilian contemporaries: Spearhead and Tracker, both later appeared in India. But, the other contemporary, Sci-Fi, did not appear anywhere else except for in the later series of Brazilian Eco Warriors. As such, it is impossible to know where the Lightfoot mold is today. It could have died in Brazil, been lost in India or sitting on a Hasbro shelf over in Asia just waiting for someone to say they want another Lightfoot figure.

Lightfoot's accessories are bulky, detailed, and an essential part of the figure. But, they are also largely useless. He does not include a weapon of any kind. That alone sunk him in the eyes of kids during his retail run. (Well, that and the bright yellow....) The backpack is large, but is well engineered as it can hold his explosives detector and the hose plugs into a socket on one of the arms. The robot is actually a realistic piece of detail that makes the character more effective. But, the hologram that represents the controls of the robot also date the accessory more than I would like. The helmet, of course, if the coups de gras. It fits the head well and, combined with the other gear, gives the figure an appearance that befits his specialty. Without the helmet, the head is very well sculpted. But, the figure loses most of his usefulness without that one accessory.

Lightfoot is probably the hardest Night Force figure to find: especially if you want him mint and complete. As such, he is also among the most expensive. Mint, complete with filecard Night Force Lightfoot figures will easily sell for over $50 and often get as high as $70. Even if you sacrifice the filecard and one of the accessories, though, the figure will sell for more than $40. For the character, that's probably a bit high. But, for a figure as cool as this one is and that is this hard to find, though, that is right in line with other figures of similar circumstances. This is easily the best version of the Lightfoot character. But, that's not saying much, either. I've found the figure to be a useful part of my collection. And, were this figure as plentiful and cheap as the original, full retail Lightfoot, I think that more collectors would use him in their dios and photos.

1989 Night Force Lightfoot, TRU Exclusive, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1988 Desert Fox, Tiger Force Flint, 2005 Lt. Gorky, Oktober Guard

1989 Night Force Lightfoot, TRU Exclusive, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1992 DEF Shockwave

1989 Night Force Lightfoot, TRU Exclusive, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 2004 Comic Pack Clutch, 2001 Desert Striker

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bootleg Crimson Cobra Trooper

In the history of the vintage Joe line, there are a few glaring holes.  Some of these (like Kwinn) were plugged in the repaint era.  But, others were conspicuously absent.  While a character like Dr. Venom can be forgiven as he would have required a combination of new parts and frankensteining existing molds, many of the other missing figures are simply baffling.  Most of these fall into the category of obvious, obligatory army builder repaints.  In the late 2000's, collectors were able to pick up where Hasbro failed and bootleg Cobra Troopers started to appear on the market.  At first, they were straight up retreads of the 1983 Trooper.  In time, though, more colors started to appear and many of the gaps were filled in.  Among the first of these new colors to appear was this Crimson Trooper.

Hasbro proved that they had a nice cadre of classic army building molds available to them during the 1997 - 2006 time frame.  But, rather than focusing on what would be new, the spent their energy recreating slightly new takes on figures that were already plentiful.  As such, collectors were treated to the classic Cobra Trooper in two shades of blue and one of gray.  But, we were never treated to an obvious collector friendly repaint such as a Crimson Trooper.  In the late '00's, collectors filled this gap.  A series of bootleg Cobra Trooper molds were created and collectors started pumping out the variety of Cobra Troopers that collectors had been craving.  Among these were the long awaited Crimson Cobra Troopers.

There are now dozens of Cobra Trooper bootleg variants.  The range from the obvious like this Crimson version, to obscure like an off green figure with an Interrogator logo.  All are of around the same quality and all bring something unique and different to a collection.  In time, bootleg Crimson Guards, Snake Eyes (Used for Cobra Mortals and Cobra Invasors.), Grand Slam (Used for Cobra De Aco figures.) and BATS have appeared.  There are actually two types of Crimson Troopers.  One is made by a collector named the Black Major.  The others were created for a small group of collectors.  The figures are slightly different when compared directly.  The most glaring difference the figure's weapon.  The Black Major figures feature a dark black gun while the other release has a weapon that is more charcoal colored.  Both being bootlegs, it is a minor point.  But, something to consider if you are looking for the figures.

It is important to note that these figures are not Hasbro quality.  The plastic is inferior and somewhat brittle.  Crotches can snap easily.  The molds themselves are actually slightly smaller than true production figures.  (This is the easiest way to differentiate the Cobra blue bootlegs that came out first.)  Side by side with a production figure, the differences are hard to spot.  But, these figures can not wear vintage backpacks as their back hole is too small.  Their feet will not fit on vintage vehicle footpegs.  So, that can limit their use.

Crimson Cobra Troopers were such an obvious addition to the Cobra hierarchy, that's it is insane Hasbro never came through.  From 2001 - 2005, they repainted pretty much every Cobra they could into the Crimson theme with varying degrees of success.  This version of the trooper, though, shows that the Crimson theme works perfectly with the classic mold.  These figures are the perfect companion to Crimson Guards.  They can man Crimson Hiss Tanks, ASPs or SMS's.  They fill a void in any Joe collection and are a nice way to enhance vintage figure ranks now that Hasbro is done with them.

When these figures first showed up, some dealers tried to pass them off as vintage prototypes of unproduced Cobra Trooper variants.  This has had a lingering affect and even today, you will find people who believe the differently colored Cobras are legitimate Hasbro releases.  When in the market for any of the flavors of these figures, be aware of this and don't overpay.  While these figures do not exist in huge numbers, there are a lot of them out there and they are all concentrated in the collector market.  So, they are not as scarce as some sellers will want you to believe.

At first, these figures were very rare and nearly impossible to get.  Then, they were very easy and cheap to acquire.  But, slowly, the supply of the Crimson Troopers has dried up.  With that prices have risen.  However, risen is relative.  Originally, the figures cost around $6-$8 depending upon the source.  Today, you might pay upwards of $12 for a version.  For what the figure is, that's not terrible.  But, it may be a bit much to ask to army build when you consider that these figures are well done customs at best and full on bootlegs at worst.

Black Major Customs, Crimson Cobra Trooper, Bootleg, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal, CGI, 2004 Crimson Strike, Hiss Tank

Black Major Customs, Crimson Cobra Trooper, Bootleg, 1983 Hiss Tank, Hiss Driver

Thursday, May 2, 2013

1993 Outback - Eco Warriors Variant

Outback remains of one the vintage line's most collector friendly characters.  He is widely liked by collectors and his initial design is appreciated in all it's releases.  There was, though, another Outback design in the vintage Joe line.  In 1993, Hasbro revisited the character.  This figure is not well liked by collectors and is rarely remembered when discussing the Outback character.  The reason for the indifference to this mold is that is does not have a decent coloring and is a remarkable departure from Outback's classic appearance.  But, the 1993 Outback figure actually has a better mold than most people realize and can find a niche in a collection.

Eco Warriors seems like a failure to the modern collector.  However, it must have been a good enough seller for Hasbro in the early '90's as it featured figures in both 1991 and 1992.  In 1993, Hasbro planned for series 3 of the Eco Warriors figures.  However, the idea was either played out, or Hasbro had enough other subsets to sell.  As such, the subset was cancelled.  However, Hasbro had already drawn up two new figures for the line: Snow Storm and Outback.  Instead of scrapping the brightly colored figures, Hasbro put them into the main Battle Corps line.  Rumored to be limited to 10,000 pieces, though, the figures were quickly replaced at retail by differently colored Battle Corps versions.  As such, the Eco Warriors versions of Outback and Snow Storm can be somewhat difficult to track down.

As a mold, this figure is excellent.  Take off the sunglasses needed to see through all the bright colors and you find that the figure is intricately detailed.  The face sculpt easily could be Outback and is true to the character.  The molded helmet is in scale with the head and is features molded electronics on one side.  The figure's chest follows the survival motif and showcases a large knife, canteen and grenade.  The pants are somewhat non-descript, but include molded pouches for some detail.  The figure's forearms are wrapped in cloth with gloved hands.  Properly painted, this could have been a really excellent update to Outback.

Accessory wise, this figure is no better off than the base mold's paint colors.  While the weapon molds are strong, they are colored bright red.  There is no playing off red guns.  The result is that the figure suffers as the red (if you can believe it) clashes with the other bright colors and just makes the figure appear worse than it is.  Replacing the red weapons with black versions that were available with other 1993 figures, though, makes a large difference and can salvage the figure to a degree.  Outback also includes the requisite spring loaded weapon from that time period.  The poor quality of the accessories, though, makes it easier to just pick up a loose figure and outfit him with better colored weapons from other figures.

I first acquired the '93 Outback in either 1994 or 1995.  At that time, it was relatively easy to find Battle Corps figures hanging around in most stores that sold toys.  I couldn't use the figure as Outback since the Version 1 was that character.  At the time, though, I was more into converting Joe figures into nameless army builders who could fight Cobra.  The named Joes were still around.  But, they had huge support squads who aided them against the Cobra legions.  Using this model, I often pigeon-holed figures into specialties...much like the many flavors of Vipers.  Outback became a combat engineer.  The mold and helmet reminded me of a construction worker and I found a need for battlefield engineers who could build emplacements or even repair vehicles all while under heavy fire.

For a few years, the figure saw use in that capacity.  I could get past the gaudy colors since so many other figures from the time had similar constraints.  By the late 1990's, though, my collection was growing with figures from 1988 through 1991 that I had never previously owned.  The superior colors and accessories on these figures slowly pushed the brightly colored 1993's and 1994's out of my display rotation.  Outback fell into disfavor and has never really come back.  (In looking through 15 years worth of Joe photos, I can only find the figure in two pictures I've taken.  That's a small amount for something that, at one time, saw some decent use.)  For Outback, there are better choices using the original mold.  And, the figure's colors don't lend themselves to display in many of the classic vehicles and playsets.  So, the Outback has become a forgotten stepchild of my Joe collection who gets this last moment in the sun.

The Outback mold was used for the two variant figures in 1993.  It was not repainted in 1994.  However, the mold was shipped to Brazil and released there by Estrela as Marfim.  This is notable as the Marfim figure is far and away the best version of this mold.  Colored in a muted green, Marfim is superior in every way to the two American releases.  Alas, Marfim figures have all but disappeared from the market.  Easy to find in the late 1990's and into the early 2000's, Marfims seem to have vanished into thin air.  There used to be carded and even loose Marfim figures available from Brazilian and American sellers.  (Col. Coragem was the same way.)  But, they have dried up and I have not seen a Marfim figure for sale in years.  If you can find one, though, it is the best version of the mold and definitely worth acquiring as a new, different version of Outback.

It is likely that this figure is rather rare for the vintage line.  There are probably fewer of him than there are extremely expensive figures like Star Duster or AVAC.  But, the late release date, poor colors and unpopular mold drive down demand.  So, even today, the figure is very inexpensive when you can find one.  As an oddity, the figure is useful.  He actually fits with the Eco Warriors subset and can work as a member of their team.  The marbleized pants are an interesting anomaly and are something that definitely ties the figure to his era.  Beyond that, though, the Battle Corps version of the figure is substantially better and more worth tracking down.  But, if you want something bright and obscure to dominate a photo, this Eco Warriors Outback is as good a choice as any.

1993 Monster Blaster APC, Mega Marines, Mirage, Bazooka, Outback, Eco Warriors Variant

1993 Eco Warriors Outback, Variant, 1993 Backblast, 1991 Tracker

1993 Eco Warriors Outback, Variant, 1993 Backblast, 1991 Tracker