Monday, July 29, 2013

1993 Detonator

In December of 1996, I completed my final semester of college.  A day before Christmas, I left my college town for the last time.  Before heading home, I decided to make a final toy run at the stores in nearby Hamilton, Ohio.  There wasn't much Joe available at the time and I was most after Star Wars army builders.  But, at that time, you never knew what you would find at various stores.  One of my stops was a Hills Department Store.  In the '80's, Hills had been a competitor of Target, K-Mart and Wal-Mart.  It was a box store that sold a little of everything.  It once had a great toy department full of the latest Joes.  But, by 1996, Hills was mostly a close out type store that was full of dirt and clutter.  The toy aisles were mostly cheap knock offs and some overstock of current brands.  At the very back of the store, though, was the closeout aisle.  Here, you could find basically anything that had been rotting on the shelves for a long enough time.  As I looked through the mish-mash of junk covering the shelves, my eyes caught the final vintage Joe vehicle I would find at retail: the Cobra Detonator.

When I looked at the beat up box of the Detonator, I was not overly impressed.  Even as a discounted $10.00 price tag, I could not bring myself to buy it.  The large foam missiles and bright colors didn't do anything for me.  So, the vehicle stayed behind and was not added to my collection.  In early 1999, I acquired my first Nitro Viper from Hasbro Canada.  This rekindled an interest in the Detonator.  But, by that time, finding Detonators online wasn't easy and the cost to ship one was more than I was willing to pay.  Finally, in 2000, I purchased a lot of figures and vehicles.  I mainly bought it for the huge quantity of 1992 though 1994 army builders in the lot.  But, one of the other items included was my first Detonator.

As soon as I looked at the opened toy, my perception of the Detonator completely changed.  The vehicle itself was done in a decently dark blue color and featured many silver highlights.  Without the missiles loaded, the vehicle was actually somewhat menacing.  But, the real play value was the massive cockpit that could hold a full 5 seated figures.  I have always liked vehicles with large control areas.  It gave a large number of figures something to do as well as added play value to the vehicle.  I could easily display the 1993 Cobra Commander at the head of convoy in the elevated chairs.  It was a perfect way to hold army builders, especially the neon versions from 1993 and 1994.  But, above all, it was a greatly detailed toy that had the type of control space I always wanted since I had first acquired a Maggot.

Unfortunately, the back of the Detonator does not live up to the front.  Hasbro installed a massive air cannon in the main body to launch the foam missiles.  With the missiles removed, this can pose as a heavy artillery cannon.  But, the bright red color takes away from the vehicle as a whole.  The vehicle, though, is adorned with a multitude of foot pegs to hold the massive crew it would take to manually lift another missile from the storage brackets on the sides of the vehicles onto the launcher.  It's an impractical solution.  But, that can be said of most of Cobra's vehicles.  The front of the vehicle features a small cannon to provide some additional firepower.  In case any Joe had designs of jumping onto the front of the vehicle, though, the Detonator also comes equipped with an array of vicious spikes to keep away pesky infantry.

Many collectors have been able, though, to take the body of the Detonator and customize it into something much more useful.  There are customs out there of the Detonator mounted with an ASP, multiple anti-aircraft weapons and even more realistic missile launchers.  Some were even modified to be more of a troop carrier than even the Parasite.  The Detonator has great customizing potential and is cheap enough that many collectors won't feel guilty about cutting one up to make something even better than Hasbro offered.

If you read the final two years or so of the Marvel G.I. Joe comic, the role of the standard Cobra armored vehicle was taken by the Detonator.  Previously, this role had been the sole domain of the classic Hiss Tank for many years.  But, Hasbro's influence in the comic was felt and the Detonator became the de facto Cobra armor in the mid 1990's.  That exposure went largely unnoticed by me at the time since I was reading the comic, but not following the toys.  Only upon re-reading did I realize how pervasive the Detonator came to be in the comic's final years.  But, it did give this mold some exposure and establishes it as an important piece of the Cobra armory.

The Detonator was released in 1993 in North America.  Around 2001, though, the mold showed up in India.  There, Funskool released a Detonator in colors rather similar to the American version.  (But, the differences are enough to make the Funskool version worth acquiring, too.)  This Indian version was imported in fairly large quantities for a  few months.  So, there are a decent amount of them available in American collections.  The mold disappeared after that and is unlikely to ever appear again.

By and large, collectors don't care about the Detonator.  As such, even mint and complete versions are very cheap.  The problem is that the vehicle is large and heavy.  So, you might buy one for under $20, but then pay another $20 just to get it shipped to you.  For my money, though, the vehicle is worth it.  Tons of play features, good size and a solid base color all add up to something that any collector can appreciate.  The customizing potential is also another great reason to look into the vehicle.  At this point, I wish I had a couple of additional Detonators in my collection, just for the display value alone.  Perhaps, that will one day come to pass.  But, for now, I'm glad I have at least on Detonator as it has become a staple of my collection.

1993 Detonator, Nitro Viper, Cyber Viper, Flak Viper

1993 Detonator, Nitro Viper, Cyber Viper, Flak Viper

1993 Detonator, Nitro Viper, Cyber Viper, Flak Viper

1993 Detonator, Nitro Viper, Cyber Viper, Flak Viper

1993 Detonator, Nitro Viper, Cyber Viper, Flak Viper

1993 Detonator, Nitro Viper, Cyber Viper, Flak Viper, Poluicao, Cesspool, brazil, Estrela, Forca Eco, Corrsao

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bootleg Desert Cobra Trooper

It is a given that Hasbro squandered many opportunities in the repaint era to create a series of figures that would have filled every gap in the line that collectors could really have wanted. Knowing this, though, doesn't ease the sting of so many wasted figure releases between 2001 and 2006. Fortunately, entrepreneurs figured out ways to bring some of the missing figures to the collector market. The economies of these ventures have limited the offerings to mostly army builders and all figures that lend themselves to multiple repaints. But, many of the figures created for the collector market are excellent ways to grow a collection and fill obvious needs.  Among these is the bootleg Cobra Desert Trooper.

Living in the desert, tan themed figures have greater value to me than many other collectors who are not smack dab in the middle of Arizona.  When I first had a chance to get basic tan Cobra Troopers, I gobbled up a nice platoon of them.  These early figures were part of a special run.  A few months later, though, the Black Major started offering additional desert themed figures.  The best one was a desert cammo figure that features various shades of brown.  They are tan, brown and a third color that is a brownish green.  The mix of these colors creates an exceptionally complex army building figure that leads my desert Cobra forces.

You can see the two types of bootleg desert figures below.  (There are some additional types that I don't have, as well.)  The straight tan figures feature an exclusive Cobra logo with an added scorpion's tail and pincers.  It's a nice little touch that helps differentiate these figures from the troopers who are not environmentally themed.  But, the cammo figure is the real subject of this profile.  The blend of desert colors combined with the complexity of the cammo pattern create an excellent version of the Cobra Trooper who appears more modern than the single colored figures with whom he is posed.  The same cammo pattern was used to great effect on the woodlands and urban Cobra Trooper customs, too.  But, it is the subtle green on this figure that really makes him stand out to me.  There is a lot of green in the desert.  It just isn't the lush greens of the forest.  So, the lighter hue on this figure allows him to blend even more naturally into the environment.  It is the small detail that makes this figure more valuable to me than his specialty would indicate.

It's no secret that the Cobra Trooper mold is one of my favorites in the vintage line. The design is a perfect villain without being over the top or so technologically advanced that there would be no way for Cobra to afford to outfit large battalions of men. It is simple fatigues covered with some various weapons and militaristic gear. The simple scarf covering the face and the gloves give the character the anonymity required for a domestic terrorist while still conveying the sense of evil that Cobra would want to engender. The scarf hearkens back to the bandits of the old west while the uniform recalls many element of the Nazis. The end result is that if you ran into a Cobra Trooper of any uniform color, you would instantly know they are a bad guy.  It is this simplicity that makes the figure so enduring.  There is little to date it and the figure conjures the same emotions now as it did over 30 years ago when it debuted.

I still feel my Cobra armies are devised of the basic, blue Cobra soliders and Vipers.  It is that color, with the Crimson Guard elite, that means Cobra to me.  But, fighting in certain settings in the basic blue is simply not practical.  So, having some different colors of the basic troops makes sense.  This figure isn't the specialist that the Desert Scorpion is in desert warfare.  But, he is a basic troop who allows Cobra to partake in missions all over the world without having to expend their full supply of specialty Vipers.  Many of the classic Joes had repaints in other colors that were more environmentally specific.  It just follows logic that Cobra would do the same.

The custom figures feature reproductions of the original Cobra Trooper sniper rifle as well as the full recreation of the figure mold.  The Hasbro released figures based on the Trooper and Officer molds were missing the original arms from the classic figures.  The bootlegs are straight up reproductions with all the original details.  The quality, though, is not the same.  You can feel a difference in the plastic quality.  Many of the joints are looser than high quality vintage Hasbro figures.  (The joints also regressed over time.  Figures made early on had tighter joints and better fitting O-Rings.  Later figures had issues with these items and can be more difficult to pose or stand.)  The main difference, though, is that the bootleg figures are slightly smaller than vintage Joes.  Not enough that the naked eye will betray them.  But, vintage backpacks will not fit into the figure's backs.  Nor will their footpegs fit onto vintage figure stands.  It's a small difference, but something that can be frustrating if you wanted to outfit the desert troops with tan accessories from the first accessory pack.

Currently, there are bootlegs of Cobra Troopers, Snake Eyes (used for Cobra Mortal or Cobra De Aco figures), Grand Slam (Also used for said De Aco), Crimson Guards, BATs and Gas Mask Troopers.  Each of these molds have been done in multitudes of colors.  For the completist, there are likely nearly 50 different Cobra Trooper variants alone.  Some of these figures are tremendous.  Others are outright lame.  I've found that the Crimson Cobra Troopers, the Desert figures and colors based on the Stinger Driver are the most useful and the ones that have found the best home in my collection.  But, other collectors have their own favorites.  It was nice for collectors to have access to a variety of army builders for decent prices.

When the bootleg customs Troopers first showed up, it was easy to get them for under $10 each. In time, though, the supply dried up and collectors were forced to aftermarket sellers to acquire the figures. As such, these days, most of the custom Cobra colored Troopers sell in the $15-$20 range with a few of the more obscure and desirable repaints going into the $30 range. At $8, this figure is a great army builder. At $12, the figure is a great example of bootleg work. At $20, the figure starts to be overpriced for something that could, theoretically, be reproduced at any time. Beyond that, a collector would really have to want a figure to justify higher prices. For me, having these figures available is a great way to expand the Cobra army without having to mix later figures with Joes from 1984 and earlier. It keeps my collection more in line with what I wanted as a kid and helps diversify it from many other collections that are out there. I was fortunate to be around when these figures were cheap and plentiful. Were I to come along today, I doubt I would have more than one of any specific color and would likely not even bother with many of the best repaints due to the price point.

2009 Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Desert, Black Major

2009 Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Desert, Black Major

2009 Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Desert, Black Major

2009 Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Desert, Black Major

2009 Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Desert, Black Major

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tiger Force Sneek Peek - European Exclusive

Through the years, I've reviewed several of the European Exclusive Tiger Force figures.  By and large, they are no better or worse than the American Tiger Force.  But, their exclusive nature makes them more desirable and somewhat more interesting.  As a concept, Tiger Force doesn't make much sense.  The practicality of a team outfitted in yellow and orange makes even less sense.  But, as action figures, the color scheme is a welcome change for Joe and allows for many figures to be used in alternate ways.  For most figures, the Tiger Force color scheme is inferior to their original release.  But, it is still not bad and something worth having.  That is very much the case with the European exclusive Tiger Force Sneek Peek.

On the surface, this figure should be terrible.  An unpopular character with an unpopular mold released with baby blue pants and orange tiger stripes should suck.  But, the finished product is better than the sum of the parts.  Really, this figure has the best painted head of any Sneek Peek figure.  The grey goggles against the black helmet create the best head of any of the mold's releases.  The dark grey base for the figure's chest and arms is a nice juxtaposition with the orange and sky blue pants.  This is by no means a combat figure.  But, the overall aesthetic is very pleasing and actually works in the right context.

I don't know what to do with this figure.  The Night Force Sneek Peek is a much better figure in terms of usefulness.  The black and muted green of that figure are perfect for combat situations.  This Tiger Force version is too orange to be of any real use.  As such, you mostly see him around my HQ.  Here, the Tiger Force uniform is less garish and can be excused since he's not trying to disguise himself.  For many years, I used Sneek Peek as a representative figure for a basic, generic, military commander.  He was always an officer, but not a Joe.  That way, I could have multiples and the figure could die from time to time.  The original Sneek Peek was the base commander while the Night Force version was the combat uniform.  The Tiger Force version just adds another look to the wardrobe.

The Tiger Force Sneek Peek has an accessory variation.  Some versions include the awesome M-16 of the original figure.  But, some also include the Night Viper's rifle.  There is no known reason for the change.  But, Tiger Force Sneek Peeks can be considered complete with either weapon.  In addition to that, the figure has the rest of Sneek Peek's accessories.  The scope is colored in an exclusive grey.  But, the smaller accessories, most notably the microphone, are the same as the American figure's.  That makes Tiger Force Sneek Peek's much easier to complete than most of the other Euro exclusive figures who have accessory color variants exclusive to the figure.

The Sneek Peek mold saw some decent use.  In the U.S., it was released in 1987 and again in 1988 only as a member of Night Force.  The mold appears again for this European release.  After that, the mold was shipped off to Brazil.  There, Estrela used the Sneek Peek mold in both the Forca Eco and Patrulha do Ar subseries.  The mold disappeared after that point and has not been seen again.  For collectors, they are left with the excellent Night Force version, an OK original version, a distinct Tiger Force version and the reappearance of certain parts (including the head) in both Sky Patrol and Eco Warriors.  Really, if that's not enough, I don't know what is.

Tiger Force Sneek Peek's are rather difficult to find.  The upside is that the rarest accessory, the mic, is identical to the American version.  That keeps the figure from being ridiculously expensive.  But, a loose, mint and complete version will still easily run $75 or more.  That's not terrible for a foreign exclusive of this quality.  But, it's still one of the pricier figures on the market.  As a member of the European Tiger Force subset, Sneek Peek is essential.  But, if you're not after the whole set and are just looking for the best version of each mold, stick with the Night Force version.  But, if you like oddities: especially of minor characters, this is a great figure that is sure to grab attention.

European Exclusive Tiger Force Sneek Peek, Sokerk, Argentina, Plastirama, Unproduced Caucasian Desert Stalker, 2004, TRU Exclusive, Desert Patrol, Midnight Chinese

European Exclusive Tiger Force Sneek Peek, Ninja Ku, Ninja Black, Stormshadow, Argentina, Plastirama, Mission to Brazil Dial Tone, 1986, G.I. Joe HQ

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

1986 Serpentor

There was a time when Serpentor was the great divide in the Joe community.  Early comic devotees who collected from 1982 through 1985 wanted no part of him.  (Even though he had a good run in the comic.)  Younger cartoon fans were enthralled by the character and held him as the greatest Cobra leader.  This was the first real schism in the Joe world.  As years passed, these early groups sort of bonded together as younger still collectors came on board who were fans of the '90's Joe characters.  Now, it seems much of this animosity has passed as the community as a whole is much more mellow.  Plus, many of the modern renderings of Joe be it comics, toys or the movies have created a new divide among collectors that keep the general bickering around.

For me, Serpentor was still a line of demarcation.  After his release, the Joe line changed.  Part of that was I was older and more aware of the realism, or lack thereof in the offerings from 1986 and later.  But, the other part was that with Serpentor's release, there really was a new Cobra where the figures of Destro, Major Bludd and Cobra Commander had been left behind.  The original Cobra command cadre was a blend of military, terrorist and arms dealer that grounded the organization in reality.  It was possible to imagine that such a group could exist, though, with less military resources.  In 1986, though, the Cobra villains took a leap from their military roots and became more comic book super villains.  Dr. Mindbender, Serpentor and Zarana were the type of figures that would make for better television as over-the-top villainous archetypes.  (Don't get me wrong, all the cartoon Cobras were pretty over the top, much more so than their comic book contemporaries.)  Their more garish outfits, brighter colors and outlying specialties really made the G.I. Joe mythos more about fantasy and science fiction than true military realism.  Really, this infusion of a new direction is likely what helped Joe last so long.  The line evolved as new kids grew into the desired age range to buy the toys.  With minimal stagnation, Joe was able to outlast pretty much every action figure line that had come along to that point.

I was enthralled with the Serpentor character when he debuted.  There was enough science behind the fiction to make the backstory believable.  On top of that, the search for long dead historical icons was a touch of Indiana Jones that made the story even better.  (In fact, it was the addition of Hannibal that spurred me to read as much about the general as I could find.  Just another example of how the Joe line really affected my intellectual curiosity.)  As such, I was extremely excited to acquire a Serpentor figure.  I found my first one in the spring of 1986.  But, as I had no money, had to hide it another aisle in hopes it would be there when I came back with some cash.  I returned the next week with a fresh stack of lawn mowing money and was able to acquire my first Cobra Emperor.

Serpentor quickly became the de facto Cobra bad guy.  He lead Cobra troops into battle with great success.  But, it was his personal combat ability that was most consternating among the Joes.  The simply could not beat him.  Serpentor would match up with the best the Joes had and always come out ahead.  Whether it was evading capture in his Air Chariot or simply beating a Joe to a pulp, Serpentor was always one step ahead of the Joes.  The problem with this, though, is that the character got stale.  Having him so powerful was no fun.  Slowly, Serpentor was defeated a few times.  But, even that played itself out.  To me, Cobra was about the man who founded the organization.  His group of commanders was small, but had known motivations.  It was too much to believe that Serpentor would come into a tight knit group and completely sway the loyalty of the entire command.

So, there were few places for Serpentor to go.  Ultimately, I had to kill him off.  There was simply no way for the character to continue on.  However, the threat of Mindbender bringing Serpentor back was a good sub plot line for a while.  In time, though, I found another use for Serpentor.  I always felt that Destro and Hawk would have had a respect for each other as soldiers.  With this respect would come a moderator.  Someone who was a soldier, politician and diplomat who understood the workings of the U.S. military and Cobra.  This older outsider would possess a sagacity that made him invaluable to the two high ranking officers.  While this wasn't the Serpentor character, it was represented by the figure.  This character would welcome Destro and Hawk to secret summits where the three of them would ensure that the Joe vs. Cobra conflict would not escalate too far.  If Cobra Commander acquired nuclear weapons, Destro would inform Hawk through this character so that the Joes could intercede before the Commander could use them.  Having a conflict where men died was fine with this character since the Cobras and the Joes voluntarily signed up for the hazards.  But, if there was an escalation that threatened large swaths of civilians, this character would act.

The Serpentor mold is pretty much relegated to the character.  The snake armor motif doesn't lend itself for use with other figures or characters.  So, the look really defines Serpentor.  But, the armor is still well detailed.  The snake head helmet on the figure is not removable, but Hasbro went so far as to sculpt a face beneath it.  There are really three key details of the mold, though, that show the care the vintage designers took with the figure.  First is the snake teeth on the helmet.  These keep the snake motif, but are also a great little detail that could have been omitted to save money.  The next detail is the silver electronics on Serpentor's right arm.  I don't know what this is, but it's something that breaks up the gold and green and brings some depth to the figure.  The final detail is the snake fangs molded on Serpentor's gauntlets.  As a kid, I used these as poison filled spikes that made any punch from Serpentor lethal.  It's a small, often overlooked feature but makes the mold that much better.

Accessory wise, Serpentor was both great and weak.  The Roman inspired knife is a great homage to the character's roots.  But, as a primary weapon, it is rather limited.  The main issue with Serpentor's accessories, though, is that they are required to fully appreciate the figure.  Serpentor included a green cape and golden snake hood "backpack".  Affixed to the figure, they brought a regality to Serpentor that the base figure mold lacks.  To this day, I can only use Serpentor if he includes the cape and cowl.  Without them, the figure is too bland.  (You can see the difference in the pictures below.)  Serpentor also included a plastic Cobra.  There are some color variants of this snake in both green and gold.  It's a small detail, but worth noting for completeness sake.  The final piece of Serpentor's arsenal (and the reason he didn't have any firearms) is the Air Chariot.  This flying contraption is goofy as can be, but works with Serpentor.  It just fits him perfectly.  As a kid, it was the Air Chariot that caused the most damage to the Joes with Serpentor dismounting from it only in extreme situations.

The Serpentor mold did not see a great variety of uses, but was around for a good long while.  After the figure's retail run was complete in 1987, Hasbro still released Serpentor as a mail away for many years.  Huge quantities of Serpentor figures were offered by Hasbro Direct all the way into the 1994.  This has lead to mint in bubble Serpentor figures still being a relatively easy find today.  In 2002, Hasbro resurrected the mold for the Wave V Internet Exclusive Serpentor figure.  This is probably the best Serpentor release, but was extremely limited and remains the most difficult to find today.  In 2005, Hasbro retooled the head and released a Comic Pack Serpentor figure in very bright colors.  This isn't a terrible figure by any means and the removable helmet is a nice touch.  (If you can find one, there is a Midnight Chinese version of this figure with green hair.  It makes no sense, but is odd enough that it fits with Serpentor's character.)  After that, the mold was done.  Serpentor never appeared in any foreign countries or subsequent releases.  The general specificity of the mold did not make it conducive for use with other figures.  So, Serpentor fans are left with but three appearances of the favorite character.

Serpentor figures are notoriously brittle.  The golden plastic used to make the figure is well known in the collecting community for it's tendency to break down and degrade in short amounts of time.  This means that while there are many mint Serpentor figures out there now, it is likely that even well cared for figures will slowly break with minimal movement in time.  (As a note, I broke the crotch of one of my Serpentor figures trying to replace his O-Ring in preparation for the photos for this profile.)  So, while the figure isn't difficult to find today, time may change that.  Mint and complete Serpentor figures sell for around $30 if they have the filecard and Air Chariot.  Foregoing the Air Chariot will drop the price into the $12-$15 range.  A perfect cape specimen will sell for more.  But, frugal buyers can still find deals since the figure exists in such quantities.  For the money, I'd buy a version 2 Serpentor figure since the black is more regal and the plastic is less brittle.  But, considering Serpentor's place in the Joe mythos, it is difficult to ignore this original version.  At any rate, every collector needs a Serpentor figure in their collection.

1986 Serpentor, Cobra Emperor

1986 Serpentor, Cobra Emperor, Storm Shadow, Brazil, Estrela, Cobra De Gelo

1986 Serpentor, Cobra Emperor, 1993 Cobra Commander

Monday, July 8, 2013

1984 Stormshadow

Stormshadow in no way fits the definition of a "Forgotten Figure". At worst this version of the classic Cobra Ninja is an iconic representation of the line as a whole. This figure is easily one of the five most important and popular molds released in the vintage line and remains one of the first figures most new collectors attempt to acquire.  So, why profile a figure of this stature?  The answer is that it's just a great mold and ignoring it for too long simply makes no sense.  Stormshadow is a figure that looms over the entire line and defines G.I. Joe for a generation of kids who grew up in the mid 1980's.  So, overlooking him leaves a chunk of my childhood unrepresented.

In 1984, Stormshadow was basically impossible to find at retail.  Modern collectors know the pain of not being able to find figures at retail.  While the distribution issues of today are much worse than those from the vintage days, there were still problems getting the most popular figures into kid's hands.  I saw the first 1984 catalog with a photo of the Stormshadow figure in the early spring.  I did not see a Stormshadow on the shelves of a toy store until October.  At that time, the one I found was on the top row of an endcap of Joe figures: much higher than the reach of a typical 10 year old.  I asked for an employee's help and had the first Stormshadow figure.  But, it would not be for me.  Being only days before my younger brother's birthday, I had to buy the figure for him.  But, at least we would have one in the house.  Other friends of mine had the same issues.  One went as far as to order the figure, along with 5 figures he already had, from the JC Penny catalog.  Desperate times called for desperate measures.

My brother, though, quickly lost most of Stormshadow's accessories and even broke his thumb.  The figure I had so desired for so long was basically destroyed in a matter of weeks.  Fortunately, as the calendar got closer to Christmas, stores were moving Joe figures in droves.  This meant Stormshadow was more available.  On my birthday in December, I received my own Stormshadow figure.  From that moment, I was careful with him even as he became one of the most important figures in my collection.  For the next several years, Stormshadow would undergo various evolutions.  He might be Cobra Commander's most trusted ally.  He could be a silent assassin hell bent on killing Joe commanders.  Or, he would be a Cobra for hire for any of the Cobra hierarchy who could afford his price.  It kept the figure useful in a variety of ways and prevented him from getting stale like many of the his contemporaries.  As late as 1987, Stormshadow was still a major player in my collection: a testament to his quality and character.

Several years ago, I looked at this mold's 1997 release. At the time, it seemed unfathomable that Hasbro would not release that iconic mold over and over again with his full complement of accessories.  But, that did not happen.  The 1997 figure remains the only release to also have the ninja's complete weapons.  As such, that places greater importance on the original release.  With many figure, Hasbro tried to upgrade the original look of the figure in the modern line.  With Stormshadow, they were not successful because of the lack of weapons.  Stormshadow's gear is a great part of what makes him so special as a figure and as a toy icon.  Without them, some of the mold's limitations come into play.  The early Joes were successful for three reasons: design, character and weapons.  Take any of these away and the figure suffers for it.

This, or course, has lead to a greater appreciation of this figure for me as time has marched on.  With so many missed chances to surpass or, at least, equal this figure in the modern line, collectors have little choice but to turn to the vintage for their Stormshadow fix.  Over the years, I have tracked down Stormshadow variants from Brazil and Argentina, just to expand my roster of Stormshadow figures.  He is one figure that meshes well with high ranking Cobras from any era of the line's history.  As such, I, like most collectors, have several version in my collection.  Stormshadow is just a figure of whom one is never enough.

The Stormshadow mold was quite the world traveler. After it was used in the US, it was sent on to Argentina. There, it was released in 3 color schemes: in red as Satan, in black as Ninja-Ku and in white as Cobra de Hielo. After those figures, the mold was sent on to Brazil where Storm Shadow was released in colors very similar to his American colors. After that, the mold was returned to Hasbro where it was used in the early '90's as the Ninja Viper mail away figure. When Joe returned in 1997, the Storm Shadow mold was restored to its fully accessorized glory in the 15th Anniversary 3 packs. After that, Hasbro got stingy with the mold and it was not seen again until 2004 when it was used for the Black Dragon Ninja and the Red Ninja Viper. It was used one final time in 2005 as Storm Shadow (only with different arms) in the comic pack with Snake Eyes and Destro. Frankly, this is a mold that needs a few more releases. The fact that this figure hasn't appeared in Cobra blue is a crime and remains one of the most gaping holes in the ARAH collection. Aside from that, it could be done in a few other colors (grey, green, etc.) as either Storm Shadow or as a faceless army builder. Given the proper accessories, just about any color scheme for this figure would be well received.

Stormshadow figures feature wild variations in prices. Most of them are based on subjective judgments about the figure's condition. A pristine white Storm Shadow with no paint wear on the emblem or black sash can easily fetch $70 or more. (This is down from $100 just a few years ago.) But, even slight flecks of paint wear can drop the price down into the $40 range. But, you will be hard pressed to get a complete with filecard Storm Shadow in C-8.5 or better condition for much under $40. But, the good news is that Storm Shadows are rather common. With a little patience, you can put together a nice figure and easily pick up a few spare sets of accessories to boot. Doing it cheaply, though, can be a challenge. For my money, this figure is simply an icon that no collection can even begin to be without. There is no version of Storm Shadow that has lived up to this one and none of the others so iconically capture the look and feel of the character.

1987 Techno Viper

If you follow the look of the figures in the Joe line by year, you see a progression.  What started as a base military line in 1982 slowly evolved into something much more diverse.  1983 saw the addition of color and more character to baseline military specialties.  1984 upped the ante from 1983 as well as introduced a sci fi element with Zartan.  1985 added more color and a more diverse group of Joes, while diving into more obscure military occupations.  1986 introduced even brighter colors and more science fiction inspired designs.  1987 was a mix.  There were some solid military infused figures.  But, the Cobras were about as out there as any year in the line.  One Cobra exception was the Techno Viper.  This army builder was a solid addition to the Cobra ranks and helped keep the 1987 Cobras from being completely terrible.

The Techno Viper is a decent mold brought to life with a new addition to the Cobra color palette: purple.  While the Techno Viper was really the first Cobra to use the color, subsequent years brought almost as many purple Cobras as there were standard blue and red Cobras.  For the mold, the color works as the purple is darker, muted and not ostentatious like it was on many later figures.  For the mold itself, it is strong, though a little odd.  The body showcases some semblance of armor with enough trappings to know this is a technical support trooper.  It is the head, though, that is the topic of most of the concern around the Techno Viper.  It seems like an homage to the Black Hole more than a Cobra Trooper.  The silver and black around the eyes blend into a confusing mesh of protective gear or intimidating visage.  The result is a head that isn't perfect and is probably the weakest part of the figure.  But, the rest of the mold lives up to the figure's specialty.

As far as accessories go, the Techno Viper's are top notch.  The backpack took playability to a whole new level.  The pack was designed to hold three of the four tools (2 different wrenches, a hammer and his weapon) the Techno Viper could need.  All these items attached via hoses to two molded tanks on the bottom of the pack.  The result is something that is very useful, playable and detailed.  It showed that Hasbro was still upping the ante on figure accessories with each coming year.  The combination of silver tools and the black pack just made the items more realistic since they didn't all blend together in one sea of black.

I basically have one, specific memory of the Techno Viper.  It was from the day my brother first acquired one.  As I got my first Outback the same day, I have forever linked the two together.  But, the Techno Viper really speaks to a larger guiding vision with my collection.  I have always liked what's new.  As a kid, I had a few favorite figures.  But, as soon as new Joes came out, those older figures were dropped in priority and the newest figures I owned were always the most used.  As an adult collector, I find the same thing applies.  The figures in which I have the most interest are the ones that are most recently acquired.  The problem with this is that as my collection nears completion, there are fewer and fewer new acquisitions available.  So, as the amount of available new product diminishes, so does my interest in the hobby.

I have solved this problem, though, by being able to re-acquire vintage figures who I haven't used in a long time.  I have not acquired a new Techno Viper in over a decade.  So, when I found a bag with several in it, the figure had some sense of newness to it.  So, the Techno Viper came back out for a bit.  This renaissance didn't last as long as it would with a new figure to my collection.  But, it shows that the vastness of the Joe line allows what was old to become new again at some point.

The Techno Viper mold appeared twice: this 1987 figure and a 1994 Star Brigade repaint.  The mold disappeared from there.  He was not released anywhere else in the world and never appeared in the repaint era.  (Which is odd as his Star Brigade contemporary Gears did appear as a new Barricade figure in 2004.)  The Techno Viper is a mold that could have been a great addition to the repaint era.  Offered with a black base or in just basic Cobra blue, collectors would have army built the figure en masse.

Techno Vipers are not expensive.  Even with the multitude of accessories, easily worn silver paint and popular release year, the figure has not caught on with collectors to the degree that other, more combat specific army builders have.  The Cobra support type Vipers are the type of figures of which collectors acquire a few, but not dozens or hundreds.  But, this leaves the Techno Viper as an affordable acquisition for the modern collector.  I find that my Cobra army would not be complete without them as they fill an important function.  On top of that, the figure is well done enough that it deserves to call every collection home.  Similar to Joes like Alpine, Barbecue or Iceberg, the supporting role of the Techno Viper prevents him from being the backbone of a Cobra collection.  But, without one, you are missing a vital operation that would be missed.

1987 Techno Viper

1987 Techno Viper

1987 Techno Viper

1990 SAW Viper

In 1990, I was not buying G.I. Joe toys.  I was, though, buying the comic.  There, the SAW Viper was the ultimate Cobra villain: the first Cobra to score major Joe casualties.  The entire story arc built around him made the character larger than life.  I only imagined how cool the SAW Viper figure would have to be after seeing his run in the comic.  In the fall of 1992, I saw a lone SAW Viper sitting on the shelves of a K-Mart in a small town in Ohio.  I wasn't buying Joes at the time and didn't spend any time looking at it since it was my first weekend in college, so I left it there.  But at least I knew the figure existed.  It was many more years, though,  before I acquired my first SAW Viper.  Disappointment is too nice a word for what I felt when I held the paltry design in my hand.  The figure in no way lived up to the character from the comics.

As a figure, the SAW viper is small.  He does not give off the vibe of size like you see with the Flak Viper from just 2 years later.  Instead, the mold makes the figure seem slight.  This is in direct contrast to the hulking behemoth that was the comic SAW Viper.  It is also in contrast to someone who would carry such a large weapon into combat.  But, when you have visions of a gargantuan man donning the SAW Viper uniform, the figure is extremely disappointing.  It is thin, short and feels weak to the eyes.  In all fairness, part of this is due to the disparity between the comic character the molded toy.  But, it is the defining feature of the figure and makes him feel less imposing than he should be.

The mold itself, though, is well detailed.  The figure features a molded communications microphone on his head that is often missed over the chin strap.  The helmet is definitely a Cobra design: slightly futuristic, but still decent looking.  The single green visor works well for eye protection and does give the figure the sense that the human is shielded to some degree from his weapon.  The rest of the mold is rather non-descript.  It is covered in body armor.  But, the slight size of the figure makes this less imposing than it should be.  The legs and arms don't feature many details.  The real shame of the mold, though, is the purple color.  Cobra had an ever evolving color palette in the vintage line.  It began with blue, added crimson and then blended them together in various hues.  In 1987, though, the first purple Cobra appeared when the Techno Viper graced the shelves.  After that, Hasbro decided they liked that color and added it as one of the core colors of the Cobra army.  So, the SAW Viper joined the Techno and Toxo vipers as Cobras with the base purple color.  Really, it's not terrible.  The colors blend well together and don't seem overly out of place on the body mold.  But, purple is difficult to match up with an army of Cobra Troopers, Vipers, Crimson Guardsmen and BATs.  So, the SAW Viper finds himself on the outside of the Cobra infantry ranks.  Which is too bad as he would have been a great complement to a division of AK-47 toting Cobra Troopers.

The SAW Viper is actually well accessorized.  He includes a backpack, ammo belt and bi-pod that fits onto his machine gun.  But, what a machine gun it is!  The SAW Viper's weapon is as tall as the figure.  It is huge and unwieldy.  The bi pod that fits onto the bottom of the gun barrel isn't taller than the weapon's handle.  So, even with the bi pod, the gun can not be balanced unless the bi pod is set on another mount to exceed the height of the grip.  This large handle has broken many a SAW Viper figure's thumb.  But, the overall size just makes the figure ridiculous.  Were this figure given Rock and Roll's M-60 or some of the machine guns from the modern era, I think he would have been somewhat redeemed.  But, the large weapon makes it hard to take the figure seriously.  It is just too out of proportion to the figure mold to make any sense.

From 1989 through 1992, my only real connection to Joe was the comic book.  I was not buying the toys.  But, every month, I would ride my bike over to the Broad Ripple Comic Carnival and buy the new Joe book.  My connection to the characters introduced in those years was solely based on Larry Hama's presentation of them.  I did not have the toy versions of any of the characters and really had no interest in buying the figures at that time.  But, the comic kept me into the Joe world and held the connection to my childhood interests.  It bridged the gap years between my childhood playing and my adult collecting.  The stories from those years were well told and made me want to buy Joes again as I got older.  The comic arc with the SAW Viper was a big part of that.  I couldn't wait to see who would die in the next issue and was incensed when Doc was killed.

In my collection, the SAW Viper could never overcome his initial bad impression.  While I wanted to find a use for the figure, I just never did.  After I acquired my first version, the figure became something I was no longer interested in.  So, adding multiples to my collection was never important.  In looking through more than a decade's worth of photos from my various sites, I only see the SAW Viper in rare instances.  The figure just never found a way to capture my attention and become a valuable part of my Cobra army.  This continues today.  Had the SAW Viper been released in 1991 or 1992, it is likely he would not have made the cut to stay a part of my collection.  I have a complete set of 1990 Joes, though, so I keep him as part of the set.  But, beyond that, he really doesn't have a place in my collection.

The SAW Viper mold has been rather underutilized.  After its use in 1990 and 1991, the mold was not seen for a decade until the entire body was used to create the truly awful 2001 Zartan figure.  In 2003, Hasbro gave collectors the full SAW Viper as a member of the Toys R Us exclusive Python Patrol set.  Unfortunately, the SAW Viper was the only figure in the set to feature an alternate paint application.  In lieu of the Python Patrol pattern, the SAW Viper was a bright, ostentatious red.  Frankly, it was a horrible figure.  The mold was then never used again.  Really, it made no sense.  The SAW Viper was a natural fit for the Cobra Urban Strike set and would have been a great replacement for one of the named characters.  In Cobra Blue, the SAW Viper would likely be a nice figure that could be useful.  But, collectors never had the chance to get a decent repaint of the figure.

SAW Vipers are fairly easy to find and rather inexpensive...if they are incomplete.  Complete with filecard versions, though, tend to sell anywhere from $12-$18 on a consistent basis.  The bipod and ammo strip tend to be more difficult to find and they raise the price of mint figures.  SAW Vipers are the type of army builder where most collectors are satisfied with just a few samples in their collection.  The mold isn't that popular and doesn't really fit with any decent Cobra vehicles.  So, they are hard to display.  Of course, this means that, if you want one, SAW Vipers are easy to acquire.  Even with the small bi-pod and ammo belt, finding them complete is simple.  This isn't a bad thing.  It's just that the figure is a bad thing and that will likely doom him to an eternity of collector malaise.

1990 SAW Viper

1990 SAW Viper

1993 Ace

Ace is an iconic character in Joe lore.  His original figure is one of the most distinctive looks from the line's original years.  He featured a futuristic design that was integrated with his Skystriker's colors.  It was a nearly perfect blend of figure and vehicle.  However, as the line progressed, the pilot figures did not substantially improve.  Slipstream, Ghostrider, Dogfight and Windmill were all poor figures in comparison to Ace in terms of looking like pilots.  In 1992, however, Hasbro created a new design for Ace that had the look of a more traditional fighter pilot.  Unfortunately, the figure was colored more like a Cobra than a Joe since he was all blue.  In 1993, though, Hasbro repainted the figure in a olive drab color scheme that gave collectors a figure that I find to be the definitive pilot of the vintage line.

By and large, this Ace still has faults.  Many of the details on the mold are unpainted.  The flight suit appears to be overly bland except for the black band and gold highlights.  The figure definitely suffers from the lack of paint applications that plagued the line's final years.  But, the overall package still works quite well.  The mold is incredibly detailed, but not too bulky.  Ace's neck is painted red and that adds a splash of color to the figure that brings some needed depth without overwhelming the figure.  The helmet and mask are a great accessory combo.  The helmet even features gold paint on the goggles for a more solid design.  The fact that they plug into the flight suit only adds to this figure's overall quality.  You have a completely self contained pilot that features flight gear that at least borders on normal.  The figure also includes the "Low Light" uzi that first appeared in 1986.  I always liked it when pilots included pistols.  I don't really know why, but it adds dimension of danger to them and allows you to use them as more than just a figure sitting in the cockpit of a jet.

As a character, though, I can only use the V1 figure as Ace.  That is the iconic look for Ace and, to me, is the only look I can envision as the character.  But, this figure is simply too good not to use in some capacity.  As such, I see this figure either as an updated Slipstream or Ghostrider rather than Ace.  I have also used this figure as a generic pilot in certain cases.  So, I find use for the figure: just not as Ace.  The main problem I have, though, is that while this figure looks great in the Dragonfly, his mold is a bit larger than the early figures and it does not fit.  He is a perfect match for the Razor Blade helipcopter.  But, the larger size does somewhat limit this figure's use in early vehicles.

This Ace mold got its share of use.  After the vintage figures in 1992 and 1993, the mold was used again in 1997 in the Toys R Us exclusive figure offerings.  The body was resurrected in 2003 and used for the Slipstream figure included with the Conquest.  (This figure, those featured a new head.)  It has yet to appear after that.  However, when you consider that both this and the 1992 figure are fairly good and that the 2003 figure gives a body color that creates another look for Ace, this mold is probably played out.  I would love to see a new take someday that really uses paint applications to show off the mold's details.  But, I don't think that will ever happen at this point.

This Ace is hard to find.  Unlike Cutter, Nitro Viper and Windchill, this Ace was never available as an overstock figure.  (The 1992 Ace figures, though, were widely distributed as overstock and were even available from Hasbro Canada until 1999.)  The only way to get Ace was with the Ghostriker X-16 jet.  As such, this figure isn't the easiest to track down.  But, for whatever reason, collectors have never warmed up to this version of the character.  As such, a mint and complete with filecard version of Ace will run between $12-$15 even to this day.  Considering the figure's scarcity and his overall quality, that's a pretty good deal.

1993 Ace, 2007 Convention Exclusive Flash

1998 Ace

The 1997 Toys R Us exclusive Joe releases were much maligned at the time.  Collectors weren't overly fond of them and the online sentiment against them was great.  By 1998, some of the vitriol had subsided.  The '98 TRU exclusives, though, seemed to have taken some of the criticism from 1997 and used that as a guide in designing the second year of the figures.  The result is that the 1998's are, by and large, much more collector friendly with solid molds, muted, realistic colors, excellent accessories and useful characters.  Of course, the majority of collector time was spend on the Cobra Infantry Team.  But, if you dig deeper into the vehicle drivers from 1998, you find that they are all extremely well done updates to some classic molds.  The pilot of the 1998 Conquest, Ace, is no exception.

My reality in 1998 was that I was buying all the figure three packs that I wanted.  But, I avoided the vehicles.  At the time, I was living in an apartment and space was at a premium.  I wasn't to the point in Joe collecting where I was trying to complete the series.  Mostly, I was building my figure collection with the items that were most available, were most desirable to me and took up the least amount of space.  At the time, vintage Stingers were readily available, the MOBAT sucks and I still had my childhood Conquest.  As such, I passed on the TRU vehicles.

By 2001, I regretted this decision.  I was a completist by then and wanted every figure from the vintage and modern re-release lines.  By that time, figures from 1997 and 1998 had become both scarce and expensive.  But, through trades and good luck, I was able to fill the gaps and acquire all the figures from those years.  Ace was one of the final figures I added to my collection.  He was an afterthought since I was more interested in repaints of the 1992 Ace mold at the time.    But, once I had the figure in my collection, I realized how well done he really was.  The subtle grey and black were a great look for the mold and really gave Ace something that his original figure was missing.

This version of Ace is convention quality.  Hasbro really started skimping on the ARAH style figure paint applications when they took the line to full retail.  But, the TRU figures are detailed to nearly the same level as vintage figures.  Ace has a nice dark grey base that is a stark contrast to the white uniform from the vintage figure.  He is accentuated with black, silver and gold highlights.  These make him look like more of a pilot as the metallic colors better fit the detailed hoses and buckles of the mold.  The most interesting feature, though, is the silver band that runs around the base of Ace's helmet coupler.  It breaks up the huge ring to which the helmet attaches and gives Ace's flight suit substantially more depth.  It now looks like Ace's garb is actually multi-layered rather than one, continuous piece of clothing.  This was how Hasbro should have approached all of their ARAH style re-releases.  Using different colors and paint applications to showcase molds in new and exciting ways.  In the cases where they took this approach, the results are figures on par or even surpassing the vintage releases.

The 1998 TRU 3-figure packs had at least three, distinct production runs: one in late 1998 ahead of the holidays, one in the summer of 1999 as a refresh for all the Star Wars Episode I toys that were starting to back up on the shelves, and a final run right before the holidays in 1999 that were designed to give holiday shoppers more than just Oktober Guard and Seal Team pegwarmers.  I do not, though, know if the vehicles also saw three separate production runs.  For the most part, the vehicles were pegwarmers and sold very slowly.  So, it's possible that there was just the one run.  Based on the scarcity with which the vehicles appear on the secondary market in relation to the figure three packs, I would say that it's unlikely the vehicles saw additional production runs.  This, of course, explains the relative scarcity of all the 1998 vehicle drivers.

The Ace mold has been used just twice: once in 1983 and again in 1998.  The 1983 figure, though, was available as a mail away for years and the mold was likely in production long after the Skystriker was gone from retail shelves.  Ace was not released in any foreign exclusive design, even though his aircraft was.  After 1998, the mold did not appear in any of the ARAH themed fighter jets or aircraft.  Basically, it just fell into obscurity.  It's possible that this mold is available.  But, having 2 top notch repaints of Ace is all I need.

If you have looked for this figure recently, you would be surprised at how frustratingly unavailable he is.  This version of Ace has gotten rather difficult to find.  As such, in 2012, loose, mint and complete with filecard figures sold anywhere between $35 and $70!  The $70 price tag was a bit ridiculous, though, as you could purchase a MIB Conquest for that price plus a little more shipping.  But, it shows that this figure has some popularity.  But, Joe line historians can recall a time not too long ago when 1998 Vypra figures never sold below $60.  Now, they routinely sell for under half that amount.  Like the Vypra, Ace is a figure many collectors missed.  In their zeal to get a sample, one or two people likely overpaid and hysteria set in.  The result is that the figure is currently priced at his zenith and, over the next couple of years, you will see prices fall back to more reasonable levels.  Ace will still be tough to find, just not as expensive.  Personally, I could not justify this type of price tag for this figure.  He is a welcome addition to my collection and my preferred version of the mold.  But, paying even $20 for him would seem like overkill.  But, based on his rarity, this is likely a price that is sustainable and, did I not own the figure, be the target at which I would feel comfortable adding him to my collection.

1998 Ace, 1989 Payload, 1987 Jinx, Hardtop, Fast Draw

1998 Ace, Conquest Pilot, Toys R Us Exclusive, Locust, 2000, 2005 Comic Pack Short Fuse

1998 Ace, Conquest Pilot, Toys R Us Exclusive, Locust, 2000, 2005 Comic Pack Short Fuse

1993 Gold Head Steel Brigade

I never had a Steel Brigade figure as a kid.  I just couldn't stomach spending that much for a figure when I could buy other figures at retail for less.  Plus, I was never sure enough of the design to know if I would enjoy having it for the price Hasbro charged.  As an adult, the Steel Brigade never really factored into my collection.  I had the figures.  But, Joe army builders never appealed to me.  Plus, the Steel Brigade name was heavily sullied by an early collectors club of the same name.  Their juvenile antics in the early days of online Joe collecting just soured the figures for me.  (Most of these guys are now part of Master Collector.  Big surprise, eh?)  As enough time has passed, though, I have re-examined these figures in my collection.  The design is actually fairly strong and the figures are made with pre-1985 parts which makes them a perfect integration into my collection.  The more common figures are good enough, but is one of the rarest G.I. Joe figures ever produced that has recently captured my attention: the Gold Headed Steel Brigade.

This Gold Headed Steel Brigade likely started shipping to collectors in 1993.  Exactly how long it shipped and how many were made is unknown.  However, Hasbro did still have large volumes of regular colored Steel Brigade figures into 1994.  So, was the Gold Head version produced and then followed up with more of the standard colors?  Or, was it just something to help spark sales of the Steel Brigade in general as the line wound down and Hasbro wanted to reduce their mail away figure overstock?  At this point, it is unlikely we'll ever know the full story behind this figure.  But, we do know that he is rather rare and that has remained unchanged since his original release.

This figure is striking.  The bright green chest is perfectly offset by the deep blue body.  The golden head gives the combination a regal look.  I have long thought that this figure is not substantially rarer than the 1993 Create a Cobra.  However, the Create a Cobra is pink and this Steel Brigade variant is visually remarkable.  It is this desirability that has lead to the large pricing disparity between the two figures.  The Create a Cobra is a figure you get to complete a collection.  The Gold Head Steel Brigade is a figure you want to acquire because it is so appealing.

The deep blue base color, though, provides the insight into this figure's place in my collection.  I have long been more interested in the early years of the Joe team.  This is partially because those were not fleshed out in great detail in the original comic.  But, it is also because the entire notion of Joe's formation within the historical context of the late 1970's and early 1980's lends itself to some interesting perspective.  That time in US history was not overly kind to the military.  For Hasbro to take such a leap with a toy line either shows them to be great risk takers or Nostradamus-ly prescient as to the attitude the country would develop as Ronald Reagan's presidency took hold.  Which leads us to this figure's backstory....

Even in my childhood, I always had another team that was an equivalent of Joe.  They had different missions and, sometimes, different enemies.  But, they were formed at the same time as Joe.  The thought being that multiple teams would eventually produce a leader with the public support to be president.  This second team morphed over time to an international response team.  Joe was domestic.  However, when Cobra's first strike was on US soil, Joe got the call and then expanded into international operations in pursuit of Cobra and their contractors.  Regardless, these 2 teams were supported by a third team: the Steel Brigade.  The Steel Brigade was a group of 50 soldiers who weren't ready for acceptance into Joe or the other team.  The Steel Brigade was lead by a group of 3 officers who wore the golden uniforms.  Slowly, Steel Brigade members perished in support of their elite units.  However, no one from the Steel Brigade was promoted up to these units, even as their rosters expanded.

This did not sit well with Goldenrod, one of the leaders of the Steel Brigade.  He became more and more bitter about his oversight.  Finally, the Pentagon brass admitted that the Steel Brigade would never be expanded nor promoted.  They would just support the more prominent teams until there were no members left.  Goldenrod was not pleased with this, but continued on.  In support of a small Joe team along a river, though, the Steel Brigade was ambushed by a hidden Cobra force who was intended to overrun Joe reinforcements.  All but Goldenrod and 6 Steel Brigade members were killed.  Goldenrod could not overcome this.  He then plotted with Firefly to blow up G.I. Joe headquarters.  But, the plot was uncovered by one of the Steel Brigade soldiers.  However, when the MP's came to arrest Goldenrod, he lied to the other 5 members and told them they were under Cobra attack.  In the resulting melee, several US troops were killed.  Goldenrod and the 5 others were convicted of treason.  The 5 pleaded their innocence since they did not know it was US forces and not Cobra they were fighting.  But, it did not work.  They were sent to prison for life and Goldenrod was sentenced to the gas chamber.

On his execution day, though, the executioner dropped the gas tablets into the waiting room and freed Goldenrod while his accusers died in agony.  The executioner, a specialist from Australia, offered Goldenrod a deal: join him or join the recently deceased guards.  Goldenrod accepted on one condition: his 5 Steel Brigade compatriots were also freed.  As news of Goldenrod's escape spread, military prison officials decided to move the 5 other Steel Brigade members to a Supermax prison.  All 5 were taken to a small base, just as Cobra had planned.  Cobra troops overwhelmed the base staff and freed the 5.  While all had been betrayed by their country, not all were ready to take up arms against it.  But, facing that or life in solitary confinement, all went with the Cobra and rejoined Goldenrod as an early Cobra specialist unit.  Goldenrod remained one of the most wanted men in the world until one of the 5 finally contacted Hawk to work out a deal.  Ultimately, this man gave up information on Goldenrod and he was killed in combat in the mid 80's.  It was an end to a dark chapter in Joe's history and was one of the reasons why the Jugglers were so distrustful of Joe for many years.

This use left the figure as desirable in my collection.  But, as his story is complete, his use fullness has diminished.  As such, this figure is left as an expensive display piece.  He looks good when showcased with various figures from Joe's earliest years.  Whenever you see the figure, it is certainly a conversation piece.  The look draws attention to the figure and the golden head gives a vibe of either importance or rarity.  It's rare that a figure from any toyline accomplishes this.

This figure is expensive...often the most expensive American production figure of all.  In 2010/2011, prices went much so that a loose figure sold for nearly $1000.  More typically, though, the figure was selling from $350-$400 if it was mint and complete with the patch.  As 2011 wound into 2012, prices came down a bit and mint, complete figures started selling in the $225-$275 range.  But, as 2012 has worn on, the pricing has climbed back towards the $300 range for a mint, complete figure.  If you want the patch, that will typically run about $50 more.  If you forgo the exclusive backpack, the price will often drop another $75.  (Though, the pack alone will cost you $100 most of the time.)  The result is a figure that, in my opinion, is more expensive than he's worth.  It's an interesting design and the figure certainly is rare.  But when you consider what else that much money can buy for a collection, I find it hard to justify for a figure like this.

1993 Gold Head Steel Brigade, GHSB, Mail Away, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Fumaca, Brazil, Estrela, Ripcord, 1983 Dragonfly

1993 Gold Head Steel Brigade, GHSB, Mail Away, Rare G.I. Joe Figures,

1993 Gold Head Steel Brigade, GHSB, Mail Away, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Steel Brigade, 2008 AWE Striker, 2003 Convention Exclusive Cobra Infiltrate Firefly

1993 Gold Head Steel Brigade, GHSB, Mail Away, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Steel Brigade, 2008 AWE Striker, 2003 Convention Exclusive Cobra Infiltrate Firefly

1993 Star Brigade TARGAT

It was only a matter of time before a Star Brigade figure made an appearance on this new site.  I have long been a fan of the Star Brigade sub set and have an appreciation for the line that few other collectors understand.  I suppose it is the fact that my action figure collecting began with Star Wars and that drove a science fiction interest that lasted through the 1st half of my childhood.  Regardless, the notion of astronauts being a part of Joe was not something with which I had an issue.  It was a natural extension.  Plus, most of the figures could be adopted for other uses.  Such is the case with TARGAT.  The mold really lends itself to a top flight Cobra pilot.  The helmeted head and flight suit are perfectly suited for many of Cobra's experimental aircraft.  It's the colors, though, that made the figure tougher to use.

In the spring of 1995, I was home for Spring Break.  At the time, I was flat broke.  I, literally, rolled up pennies from my change jar to muster up enough cash to have a decent week with my friends.  (Had to save up for the Pantera show that week!)  At the end of the week, I decided to go on a toy run.  There was a toy liquidator on the West Side of Indianapolis at the time, so I went there in search of Joes.  To my astonishment, they actually had some figures that were new to me.  Hanging on the pegs were the 4 Star Brigade Joe figures for the resounding price of $2.00 each.  (The Cobras were long sold out.)  I had not seen these figures in any stores previously, so I scraped up $8.00 and change and added Roadblock, Payload, Countdown and Ozone to my collection.  When I opened the figures, I was amazed at the molds.  At the time, I did not have any of the original figures from which the Star Brigade members were derived.  So, they were new to me.  Immediately, they joined my collection as pilots and rescue crew.  They filled a great gap on the Joe side.  But, the Cobras were left wanting new pilots.

In 1995 and 1996, finding any Cobra figure was pretty difficult.  There were very few of them left at retail who were not named characters.  (The Joe pickings were pretty slim, as well, though.)  As such, despite my search for the Astro Viper and TARGAT, I never found them at any of the out of the way discount stores who stocked Star Brigade figures during those years.  Occasionally, I'd run across carded samples at flea markets.  But, usually, for higher prices than I was willing to pay.  In the late '90's, though, the advent of Ebay made the acquisition of these figures very easy.  In a short time, I managed to secure several lots of carded Star Brigade Cobras for around the $2 price point with which I was comfortable.  Most of these contained the Cobras and I soon had a nice cadre of carded Star Brigade Cobras.  And, having paid so little for them, those carded armies quickly became loose armies to man my Cobra aircraft.

I was out of Joe collecting by 1989.  As such, I never owned the original TARGAT figure.  The 1993 version was the first time the mold appeared in my collection.  Really, I was not impressed.  The mold was good enough, but the purple, gold and orange were an odd mix that wasn't great.  When I finally acquired a 1989 version, I realized that the earlier version also suffers from less than great colors.  The black base is good enough, but the accessorizing colors really don't make for a memorable figure.  I wanted to make this figure my default Cobra pilot.  But, the colors simply couldn't work.  They don't look all that great and they don't mesh with Cobra vehicles.  So, you're left with a mold with potential that is largely unfullfilled.

I quickly realized that the copper, orange and purple just didn't work out all that well.  As such, despite my zeal in opening a few of these TARGATs, I found that they had little place in my collection.  The '90's Cobras really went away from the classic Cobra colors.  Purple was one of the colors du jour for Cobras of this era.  But, Hasbro experimented with many different colors for Cobras.  Even the figures with solid bases, like the Crimson Guard Commander, were saddled with neon highlights that left the figure as less than perfect.  So, the TARGATs quickly became forgotten members of my collection.  Today, I'm glad I have a couple.  But, they will never play an important role in my collection.

All of the 1993 Star Brigade Joes were repainted and released in 1994.  This was not the case, though, for the Cobras.  Instead of getting what could have been a high quality repaint of the TARGAT in 1994, Hasbro opted for newly molded Cobras.  Considering the quality of those figures, you can't fault the decision.  But, it is an odd instance where just the 2 Cobras did not see repaints the following year.

The TARGAT mold was used in the US in 1989 and 1993.  The body was also used as the basis for the Create a Cobra mail away figure.  After that, the mold was sent to India where Funskool got great use out of it.  The head first appeared on a new version of the Street Hawk figure in the late 1990's.  Around 1999 or 2000, Funskool then produced their own version of the TARGAT.  Their version was heavily based on the 1993 figure's coloring.  At the same time, they altered the Street Hawk figure to feature more of the TARGAT mold in solid black with silver coloring.  These figures were produced until 2003 when the mold was returned to Hasbro.  While the TARGAT figure never appeared again, the body was used in 2006 for the COIL Trooper convention figure.  The mold died after that and has not been seen since.  But, there are a nice variety of figures out there who use the mold so collectors have likely seen as much of it as they wish at this point.

1993 TARGATs are cheap.  While the 1994 Star Brigade figures are starting to become scarce and getting more and more pricey, the 1993's remain cheap and plentiful.  The generic, pink card art really detracts from the collectibility of the sub set.  Plus, the reality is that this year of Star Brigade was likely overproduced and was, ultimately, dumped to many discount retailers and toy wholesalers.  So, huge quantities of cheap figures were available to the collector market in the 1995-1998 time frame.  This has lead to insanely cheap prices today.  You can get carded TARGAT figures for under $10 shipped.  At that price, it's worth getting one.  If you can find a Funskool version for a similar price, that figure is also a worthwhile pick up.  But, as an army builder, this figure just doesn't make sense.

1993 Star Brigade, TARGAT

1993 Star Brigade, TARGAT, Frag Viper, Operation Flaming Moth, Mamba, 2007, 1987