Thursday, August 29, 2013

1983 Grand Slam

Most of the original Joes got solid character development in the comic.  When you have 10 issues and 13 characters, that tends to happen.  Grand Slam, though, was a notable exception. He was relatively forgotten in the comic until issue #17 when he got to kick in Major Bludd's face after Bludd had taken hostages on a bus. It was a solid appearance for a character who then continued to fade into obscurity. The figure of Grand Slam, though, is well done and is not deserving of this characterizational slight.

As a mold, Grand Slam is nothing more than Flash with Grunt's head. The base plastic is a darker green than that on Flash and the red is a deeper hue as well. There are no more differences than that. Had a figure come out in 1987 with this much similarity to another, regularly carded figure, it would have been decried by collectors. But, being an original member of the Joe team and being introduced in the line's inaugural year gives Grand Slam the leeway for collectors to enjoy him despite his similarities to his team mate. The fact that the mold is probably the most detailed body mold in the original lineup doesn't hurt, though.

In the fall of 1982, my brother got tons of G.I. Joe toys for his birthday. Among them were multiple HAL's. His best friend's mother realized this and snatched one up before it got opened in the present frenzy. She then exchanged it for a VAMP so my brother had the laser cannon and the jeep that towed it. As I looked at my brother's toy haul, the HAL didn't excite me. I wanted to like it. I was a huge Star Wars fan and anything that was remotely like the gun stations on the Death Star was a toy idea that intrigued me. But, the HAL disappointed. It looked cool. But, it wasn't that much fun to play with. Grand Slam looked good sitting the command chair. But, the toy just wasn't that much fun since my understanding of lasers prevented me from seeing the HAL as anything other than a weapon of extremely limited use. (Especially since there were no Cobra aircraft in 1982.) It was the VAMP that really attracted my attention. So much so that I got my own VAMP for Christmas that year. I did, though, take the visor from Grand Slam and give it to Clutch so that I had my first decked out figure of Clutch with the visor, Stalker's gun and Grunt's backpack.

As an adult, though, the HAL has grown on me. It is a remarkably detailed toy that I can better appreciate. The practicality of it as a weapon is still debatable. But, the sculpting and design are iconic parts of the Joe line. The fact that the mold for it was used the world over also makes it a fun part of international Joe collecting. Having a HAL, though, requires Grand Slam. Like all of the original vehicles, the HAL and it's operator are forever linked. I simply can't see one without the other. This is Grand Slam's role in my collection. He operates his heavy weapon and rides shotgun in the VAMP from time to time.

Most collectors, though, associate Grand Slam with a different specialty than just the HAL operator. In 1984, in an effort to boost sagging sales of the JUMP jet pack, Hasbro offered a new Grand Slam repaint as part of the set. This silver pads version is one of the harder to find vintage figures and a more diverse version of Grand Slam. It is also the only swivel arm version of the character I had in my childhood collection. It was this version that defined Grand Slam to me. But, in lieu of being the sole user of the JUMP, the figure was also a pilot. He found his greatest use outfitted with Lifeline's airmask at the helm of the Dreadnok Skyhawk. Here, Grand Slam saw use for many years. He was both a specialized character and a nameless army building pilot. In either role, though, the figure got more use than he ever would have seen from just the HAL. Even today, I see this red pads Grand Slam as more of a jet pack trooper. I have a spare JUMP set to outfit the figure and he sits in his drawer with the other 1983 swivel arm figures with a jetpack, cable and gun from the JUMP, just like his silver padded brother.

Grand Slam only appeared in the U.S. with the 1982 straight arm figure, the 1983 swivel arm figure and the 1984 silver pads version that was available with the JUMP jet pack.  After that, the figure and character disappeared until the modern lines. It's possible that his mold was simply lost when Hasbro exported Flash around the world. But, the complete disappearance of the characters was the bigger mystery. Grand Slam could have easily been brought back in one of the more science fiction themed subsets of the 1990's. As he was not, though, collectors are really left with just his original versions and there are no odd continuity gaps that require convoluted plot devices to slot the character as a astronaut, monster hunter or ecological protector.

Grand Slam figures tend to be expensive.  Mint and complete with filecard versions run in the $18 range.  You can get them cheaper from time to time.  But, Grand Slam tends to be rather popular and you see the pricing reflect that.  As a figure, though, Grand Slam is as essential as the rest of the original 13 characters. Within the context of his original release year, he is imperative. But, even taken as part of the greater vintage line as a whole, Grand Slam is essential. He is a figure and character that are a bit of a blank slate, but who fills an important specialty. My collection would not be complete without the two early Grand Slam figures. Despite the lack of attention paid the character in Joe media, many collectors feel the same.

1983 Grand Slam, HAL, JUMP, Hawk

1983 Grand Slam, HAL, JUMP, Quarrel, Action Force, European Exclusive, Palitoy, Scarlett, Z Force

Monday, August 26, 2013

Funskool Barbecue

In late 2000, Funskool figures were not overly common in the U.S.  You'd see them online from time to time.  The typical prices, though, were in the $15 range.  At the time, that was a ridiculous sum when you consider you could buy loose, mint and complete with cardback Satan's and Ninja-Ku's for that price.  At that time, I found a dealer in Malaysia who was selling several 1993 and 1994 American figures that I needed for very reasonable prices.  His shipping was expensive, but didn't add too much to the cost of the figures if you bought a lot of items.  In perusing his offerings, I found a Funskool section for the minuscule price of $8 each.  I decided to take the plunge and bought several figures.  Among them was my first Funskool Barbecue.

The Barbecue mold is a classic from 1985. It features tremendous sculpting on the body as well as awesome accessories designed to implement perfectly with the figure mold. The figure's foam gun attaches to Barbeque's leg so he doesn't have to hold it all the time. The same features exist on the Funskool figure and make him a perfect homage to the classic Barbecue. This Funskool variant has bright yellow and blue highlights. The body is not the subdued orange of the American figure and is much brighter. It's definitely a gaudy Barbecue variant, but that's what makes the figure fun.

Funskool figures have an innocence around them. They were not created for any collector market. These figures were designed to be sold to the millions of Indian children of the time. As such, the bright colors are designed to catch their eyes. As such, American collectors get an insight into the marketing of a foreign action figure line but also get the opportunity to acquire some figures that were designed more closely in line with the vintage figures than the repaints Hasbro was releasing during the same time period.

This is the reason why I enjoy Funskool figures so much. They are bizarre and obscure. But, they bring something that was missing from the modern era American Joes. Sure, the Funskool quality can be spotty. But, Barbecue figures tend to be a bit better than some other characters. Regardless, Funskool opens up a tremendous new world for American collectors. Aside from the super rare figures, these more common modern figures bring collectors some great new characters as well as some great updates to classic American molds. Figures like Barbecue are odd, but the bright colors are an interesting way to expand the Barbecue character and use him in more varied displays.

There are several variants to the Funskool Barbecue figure: mostly regarding the mask color.  Some figures have a bright yellow mask while others are slightly pinkish. Being Funskool, there are likely dozens of slight color variants. So, modern collectors have many different options if you want to track down Funskool Barbecues. The differences are extremely subtle, but they are there.

The Barbecue mold was quite a world traveler. After it was released in the U.S. in 1985 and 1986, it was sent to Brazil. There, Estrela released the figure in colors very similar to the American version. In 1989, Estrela produced the Slaughter's Marauders Barbecue for both the U.S. and Brazil. After that, the mold went to India for Funskool's long production run. Barbecue may have been returned to Hasbro in the early 2000's or he may not have. Regardless, the mold has not appeared since the Funskool release. The mold probably still has some potential for more repaints. (Especially as a Cobra!) But, that is unlikely to ever happen.

Funskool Barbecue figures are fairly common.  Thousands of them were imported to the U.S. between 2001 and 2004 and sold for around $4 each.  Today, carded versions don't cost much more than that.  The Funskool demand was sated and most of the figures remain cheap today.  So, the modern collector really has no reason to not acquire this figure.  For fans of the classic Joes, figures like this Barbecue are a great way to augment a collection and have some variety to classic characters. Sure, the colors are bright, but the figure still retains a solid camp value due to its foreign origins. For under $10, that's worth acquiring the figure.

Funskool Barbecue, BBQ, Barbeque, India, 1993 Outback, 1988 Rolling Thunder, 1986 Tomahawk

Thursday, August 22, 2013

1986 Dial Tone

I've reviewed the Dial Tone character and mold many, many times.  But, never have I taken the time to profile the original mold that started it all.  Despite the fantastic first impression of the character's original incarnation, I have always focused on later, different repaints. Lost with those are the classic accessories that make Dial Tone so unique. When combined with the figure's unique coloring, those accessories create a figure that was a huge part of my childhood and continues to be a vital part of my adult collection.

In late 1984, Hasbro released the Dreadnoks.  The cardbacks of those figure gave kids a preview of the upcoming 1985 figure lineup.  In late 1985, though, there were no special preview type figures for 1986.  If you followed comic books, you knew that Marvel Age #34 did feature a preview of the 1986 Joe lineup.  But, I didn't find that until later.  As such, my first encounter with 1986 Joe figures was on the playground at school.  One of my younger brother's friends had found a good number of new figures at a local Target store in late February of '86.  He brought them to school to show off.  I was amazed at the variety of figures and couldn't wait to get my hands on them.  I convinced my mother to take us to the Target store a few days later.  I walked quickly to the toy aisle only to find the new Joes were all sold out.  Crestfallen, I continued shopping with my mother and brothers.  As we followed my mother through the store, my younger brother found a carded Dial Tone figure randomly sitting in some other department.  Since he found it, he got to buy it.  I was shut out and insanely jealous that I had been beaten by my brother.

This created a sense of urgency within me for my Joe collecting in 1986.  Within just a couple of months, I had amassed most of the figures released that year, including the mail away Sgt. Slaughter figure.  (I even called the 1-900 number to get the secret code of 1986 to save me one mail away ticket.)  But, the total number of figures, many of whom were excellent in their own right, could not compensate for missing out on that Dial Tone figure.  No matter how many brand new figures I managed to acquire, I felt I was behind my brother since he had the one figure I really wanted. Granted, the fact that the figure was my brother's didn't prevent me from playing with it. Far from it. In fact, Dial Tone got more use than many of the 1986 figures in our collection. In short time, the figure was worn, his pack was broken and we needed a new version.

At some point in 1986, I upgraded and finally bought my own Dial Tone figure. I simply had to have one. As soon as he was mine, I took great care of his accessories and the figure. He quickly became a stalwart of many of my missions. He was the team's communications officer, but also a more than capable commando. Dial Tone filled both a need with his specialty, but was cool enough that he could double as a fully functional combat Joe. So, he remained important to my collection for a long time since Hasbro did not release another communications trooper during my childhood.

The Dial Tone mold is well done. He features a multitude of sculpted electronic gadgets that showcase his technological bent. The bandoleer over the aqua vest gives him a "soldier of the future" look without going too far overboard. Dial Tone's head is well detailed with the beret and mustache. His body could stand to have more color on the various gadgets in his vest. But, that's a small complaint. His accessories are top notch. Dial Tone's gun was a staple of my early collection for use with many figure, including the Cobra Viper. Hasbro releasing the weapon dozens of times in black was a great help in augmenting my Cobra armies. Dial Tone's pack is bizarre and excellent. It has a great deal of design work that looks like it could be high tech communications equipment...or it could be gibberish. Unlike Mainframe's somewhat realistic gear, Dial Tone's pack is somewhat sci-fi. But, the movable mouthpiece is a great detail that really adds playability to the figure. (It also adds a common point of breakage, but that's another matter.)

Dial Tone remains a figure who is important to my collection. His solid colors and excellent accessories have kept him as a major player for a long time. It is the role of Dial Tone, though, that has changed. While he started out as a named character in charge of communications, Dial Tone morphed into a nameless, faceless good guy army builder. Dial Tone figures became the backbone my military security force. Through the years, the various repaints and some custom figures utilizing Dial Tone parts have created a police force that is available to augment the Joes against Cobra, capture other, dangerous criminals or just be around to keep wayward Joes in line. It is in this capacity that Dial Tone has remained most relevant to my collection and is the sole reason why I have many multiples of the figure. Today, though, I find more use in Dial Tone's intended specialty. As a communications trooper, he works well in the Joe HQ or as a crew member of a vehicle. As a display piece, the figure has the versatility that I look for in any figure. So, that keeps him useful to me.

The Dial Tone mold was used to death. Hasbro used it for the original figure and Mission to Brazil figure in 1986. The mold then appeared in the Sonic Fighters line in 1990. In 1994, Hasbro produced Dial Tone figures for China. In 1998, Dial Tone was planned for the TRU exclusive Desert HQ set. A few versions of those figures were made and the Chocolate Chip Dial Tone figure remains one of the rarest in the history of the line. In 2000, Hasbro used Dial Tone in Wave I of the A Real American Hero Collection. The mold appeared in full in 2002's BJ's Gift Set and the 2003 Tiger Force set. Between 2001 and 2006, many other figures used Dial Tone parts. As such, collectors were sick of the mold and there is no reason for it to return again...even if it were for an arctic or more available desert version of the character.

Dial Tone figures are not expensive.  However, the figure is very susceptible to paint wear on the beret, arm patch, belt buckle and hands.  On top of that, the tan plastic tends to discolor easily.  So, it can take some doing to find a truly mint Dial Tone figure.  When you do, though, they are cheap.  Usually, you can get one for under $8.  For a figure of this quality, that's a steal.  While my days of army building Dial Tone figures are over, I still have more than a couple in my collection.  It is just a figure that I feel I need multiples of in order to make my collection complete.

1986 Dial Tone, Funskool Flint

1986 Dial Tone, Sci Fi

Monday, August 19, 2013

1985 Quick Kick

I'll admit to the fact that I'm not much of a Quick Kick fan. As far as figures from 1985 go, he is probably my least favorite and is a figure for whom I've never had any significant role in my collection. But, even with all that, the figure is still remarkably well done and stands proudly next to the other, high quality releases from his year.

I never really used the Quick Kick figure all that much when I was a kid. My main memory of him occurs in late 1986, shortly after I acquired my Tomahawk. A friend of mine was over and we decided to have the Joes be in Vietnam. We needed a Viet Cong soldier so we took Quick Kick, gave him the V1 Snow Serpent's AK-47 and made Quick Kick the enemy. For many afterward, this was the role Quick Kick filled. He would be an affiliate of the Dreadnoks, an anarchist student or some other domestic terrorist who would plague the Joes. I just couldn't bring him into the Joe team. His bare feet and chest were just too much to overcome when trying to use him on a mission in the field.

I did, though, enjoy some of Quick Kick's adventures in the comic. His work in Borovia as well as in the issue of Special Missions with Stalker were great uses of the character. After reading these as a kid, I wanted a Quick Kick figure that was up to the character portrayed in the comic. I tried various body combinations with Quick Kick's head, but simply couldn't get anything to look right. So, the character faded away into obscurity and was never really part of my childhood Joeverse.

As a mold, Quick Kick isn't terrible, though. Bare chest aside, the figure features the nicely detailed sash with throwing star pockets. His feet actually have toes and the general sculpt is muscled and detailed. His accessories are strong, but were clearly inferior to Stormshadow's from the prior year. The sword was bulkier than the line had previously seen and the nunchuks were a bit bigger than those from the Cobra ninja. His pack is small, but can hold the sword with ease. It seems Hasbro learned from the brittle Stormshadow accessories and improved Quick Kick's with increased girth and quality.

The Quick Kick was a world traveler. After his initial release in the US, the mold was shipped on to Argentina and released on a standard, single card. From there, it made its way to Brazil. Again, Quick Kick was released as a carded figure. Both of these releases are very similar to the American figure. The Brazilian release, though, is more familiar to American collectors as Hasbro imported large quantities of bagged Estrela produced Quick Kicks and used them to fulfill mail orders in the US in the early '90's. As such, it is very easy to acquire a loose Brazilian Quick Kick. After this, the mold appeared again in India where it was released by Funskool. Once again, the figure is nearly identical to the American release of the mold, though. So, while the discerning collector does have 4 unique versions of Quick Kick to track down, they are all, essentially, the same look and color combo. After the mold's appearance in India, the trail runs cold. It is likely that Hasbro has the mold back under it's control. But, there isn't a lot that could be done with the mold overall. So, it's failure to appear in form should not be construed as proof that it no longer exists. Personally, I could go for another Quick Kick figure. Maybe something that was less Bruce Lee and more subdued. Even a figure with a different torso would make a world of difference and would be something I'd enjoy having available.

Quick Kicks are not expensive. Even though he is an '85 figure, he hasn't achieved the same status as Snake Eyes, Shipwreck or Flint. Mint and complete, you can get a Quick Kick for under $10. However, if you are willing to sacrifice something like the nunchuks, or accept a little paint wear, you can halve that price. Foreign Quick Kicks from Argentina, Brazil and India are also cheap and readily available. So, anyone wanting one or more Quick Kick figures has a wide variety of cheap alternatives available. Today, I find this figure useful to complete the 1985 series of figures. But, beyond that, Quick Kick still remains a figure of little use value to me. Few collectors feel that way, though, and the character has a solid following. Were Quick Kick a 1987 release, I would not have one. But, being a 1985, he gets some leeway due to the quality of his contemporaries.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

2000 Undertow

In May of 2000, news broke that Hasbro would be bringing Joe back to retail shelves.  Joedom was rife with rampant optimism and speculation of how spectacular the new releases could be. Soon thereafter, pictures of the figures surfaced.  While the choices weren't all universally classic characters, the anticipation of Joes being available at mass market again excited the collecting world to the point where some of the more obscure figure choices could be forgiven.  About six months after the new first broke, collectors began finding the new figures. Favorites emerged among the collecting community and many people purchased large quantities of the figures just because they could. Sadly, in under a year, though, the Joe rebirth had collapsed under poor figure choices, terrible case pack ratios and general retail apathy. This lead to the first generation of newly sculpted Joes in 2002. But, within the A Real American Hero Collection from 2000 - 2001, there were a few figure gems. Among them is the 2000 Undertow repaint.

Originally released in 1990, Undertow was the final Iron Grenadier aligned figure in the vintage line. Called Destro's Frogmen, the Undertow were divers who specialized in murky waters. While the figure was given to Destro, his colors did not match the typical palette of the Iron Grenadiers. This 2000 version, though, brings the character fully into the Cobra fold. Emblazoned with a red Cobra sigil on his forehead, there is no doubt that these Undertow belong to the world's most fearsome organization. The blue color is not a match for the traditional Cobra blue, but it is reminiscent enough that it works for the character's new alignment.

There are actually a couple of variants for this figure. The most noticeable is that the figure either has a protruding peg onto which the hose that connects to the airmask attaches. Or, there is a hole in the figure's chest into which the hose will plug. The variants with the pegs seem to have been the earliest releases and are a bit tougher to find than the version with the hole. In addition to this, all of the wave I figures featured paint wipes. This controversial application of paint in an effort to make the figures look "worn" was not well received by collectors. As such, you can find Wave I figures with substantial paints or minimal paint wipes. (The differences are subtle in Wave I releases, but more more pronounced in Wave II figures.) This is nice as it allows for a display of Undertow with just enough differences to add some realism. But, it's also a pain for OCD collectors to track down the variants and try to get a good sampling of the figure's various incarnations.

The blue base color for this figure isn't a match for the classic Cobra version of the color. But, it is a perfect match for the 2000 Lamprey and 2001 Sub Viper figures. Hasbro threw collectors an Easter Egg by making these three figures in colors that complement each other perfectly. So, while this figure isn't a match for the classic Eels. There is a full contingent of Cobra aquatic troopers that do match him. If you can find one of the blue Moray decks from the 2004 Convention, it is also a nice match. One of those hydrofoils outfitted with Lampreys, Sub Vipers and Undertows from this era is a great display piece and integrates well into even the most staunchly vintage collection.

The overall paints masks for this figure are convention quality. The A Real American Hero Collection figures did not skimp on the paint applications like the figures from 2002 onward did. Undertow features his lighter blue base, grey, red and dark blue colors. While this isn't the 7 colors Hasbro would use on some figures, the Undertow makes up for it in the applications. All of the figure's details are highlighted. He even features fingers on his hands that are a different grey color that offsets them from the blue wetsuit. The overall result is a blend of color that is not too busy and is realistic enough to use, especially for a diver figure.

Undertow's accessories are holdovers from the vintage figure. (Except for the molded Barracuda that did not make the transition into the modern line.) Sculptwise, they are fantastic. But, they are also a bit lacking. Undertow's mask is a malleable plastic that fits tightly over the figure's head. It is well detailed, though could stand from paint on the eyes like that seen on the vintage figure's mask. A hose attaches to the mask and will affix to the air tanks molded onto the figure's chest. This hose, though, can also be attached to the well detailed underwater sled included with the figure. This device is meant to allow for faster underwater travel. It also features a blue missile underneath it. The figure has the requisite flippers required for any diver. His only weapon other than the sled's missile, though, is a thin handled spear. The large, pointed head atop the thin body makes it look like the spear was intended to fit into some type of launcher. But, if that was the case, the launcher never saw the light of day and the spear leaves Undertow vastly unarmed when dealing with Torpedo or Shipwreck. The inclusion of even a single spear gun would have saved the figure. The upside is that silver Eel or Torpedo spearguns aren't terribly hard to find and can make all the difference when arming the Undertow.

In my collection, these Undertows took the place of Eels for a while. Their greater availability, Cobra coloring and modern, pliable plastic made them a great alternative to vintage Eels...especially if I wanted to take them out into the pool. However, this novelty eventually wore off and the Eels regained their rightful place as the pre-eminent Cobra underwater specialist. Still, this Undertow retained some use. Without the mask, the figure can be used as a land based trooper who arrived at a location via water. So, they became basic commandos who would swim up rivers or canals to attack locations with little warning. This remains the primary Undertow function to this day. It is a more limited role, but these guys are definitively inferior to the classic Eels. So, that leaves them with more limited functions since the Eels are the figures of choice for any true underwater missions.

The Undertow mold got a bit of use in the modern era. After this 2000 figure was released, Hasbro revisited it again in 2002 when the mold was colored red and included in the 8 figure Gift Set release. This figure had the makings of a solid repaint. But, the red was not crimson, it was bright, fire engine red. But, the most glaring issue was that the figure was not given Undertow accessories. With no air mask or flippers, the figure was rendered basically useless and has fallen on the scrap heap of repaint era failed figures. In 2006, Master Collector dusted off the mold and released an Undertow with his full complement of accessories in colors that matched the 2005 Convention Iron Grenadier set. It was a neat idea that pretty much fell flat. Despite low production numbers, the figure is generally ignored by collectors and can be had for next to nothing today. The 2002 release pretty much soured collectors on the Undertow mold and there really is no clamor for it to return. The 1990 and 2000 releases gave collectors two options for the mold that are both high quality and useful. There really isn't a need for more.

In late 2001, the market for this figure was ridiculous.  Collectors were in a frenzy for both the woodlands Firefly and this Undertow army builder.  In the fall of that year, I sold two MOC packs of Firefly/Undertow for $75 each!  Naturally, this was an unsustainable price.  Within a year, the cost had fallen.  But, loose, mint and complete with filecard Undertows still managed to fetch almost $20 for a few more years.  Slowly, though, the release of other, better army builders combined with the decline of the army building craze has rendered this figure basically moot.  Today, those same mint, complete figures can be had for between $4 and $7 with carded versions available for around $10.  Considering that TRU charged $7.99 to get the figure new in late 2000, that's not too bad a price over a decade later.

Personally, I still like this figure. Aside from the fact that he's a high quality repaint of a decent mold with his original accessories, I find an attachment to this figure because of his release date. I was an adult collector at the time, but still young enough that something like new Joes at retail was really exciting. I bought a large quantity of these figures because I had the money and it was a lot of fun to army build at retail. I still think this is the best version of the Undertow figure and he is a great addition to a Cobra army. For the price of acquisition, it's not unreasonable to still army build these figures today. When looking back at the repaint era, there are terrible figures, good figures and great figures. I'd classify this Undertow as between good and great. He has everything collectors tend to appreciate and isn't expensive. Those factors have left him a valued member of my collection and reinforce the notion that he's a worthwhile pick up for any collector.

2000 Undertow, Variant, ARAHC

2000 Undertow, Variant, ARAHC, lamprey, Sub Viper

Thursday, August 8, 2013

1991 Tracker

There are a large number of vintage molds that were poorly colored the first time around and were never repainted in a collector friendly manner.  These were less common in the early years of the line.  But, as the calendar turned to the '90's, this became more and more common.  Modern collectors have clamored for many of these molds to be repainted in colors that were more realistic. During the repaint era, Hasbro did revisit many of these molds and offered collectors some high quality repaints of great molds that were poorly colored the first time around. However, there are still many gaps. One of the most glaring is the Tracker figure. With a solid mold and SEAL specialty, Tracker has all the makings of a great figure. But, his red and yellow base really makes it hard for collectors to warm to this figure like they should.

The Joe line is not really lacking for SEALs. Torpedo and Wet-Suit were the de facto naval representatives in the early days. (Ultimately, Shipwreck joined them in 1994.) The issue with these figures, though, was that they were all in dive suits. While excellent representations of divers, this left the Joe team with no version of a SEAL who had a land based uniform. Wet Suit had a great run in the comic outfitted in land cammo. So, having a SEAL that could be used on land was something the line was crying for. Unfortunately, Tracker was the first SEAL to be offered in a uniform that was not a diver. The sculpt and design were on par for such an important role. But, Tracker's colors were not. The maroon and yellow base hues really don't work with anything. They are bright and render Tracker difficult to use even in vehicles. It is an unfortunate fate for a mold of this quality with such a desired specialty.

Tracker's mold is well done. Outfitted in a form fitting shirt and pants, Tracker has the tools to work on land, but still has a look that allows him to be used in water, too. Across his chest is a harness with a sculpted pistol and grenades. He's got a nicely detailed knife on his legs and the drawstring on his pants is a great little, under appreciated detail. Tracker even features gauntlets around his shins for protection from things like stingrays, sharp corral or enemy traps. The oddity is Tracker's boots. They are large and oddly shaped. It is likely they were meant to be something he could wear underwater. That would account for their moon boots appearance but not the purple details that are painted onto them. Still, the overall ensemble is on par with other, better colored figures from the time period.

Tracker's accessories are very well sculpted.  He includes an MP-5 inspired weapon that became very common in 1993 and 1994.  He also included an inflatable rubber raft, oars and a visor.  The raft is the highlight as it can be blown up to float.  This allows it to be deflated and easily transported vs. the solid plastic rafts that came with the 1994 Action Series figures. The problem with all this gear, though, is that it is orange. The gun is orange, the oars are orange and the raft has an orange top. Not exactly the colors a SEAL would choose for his land based operations. (Fortunately, the visor is black.) This poor color choice renders excellent accessories irrelevant. Sure, they match the figure. But, adding more orange just means you can't even use these weapons with other figures. Fortunately, Tracker's gun was available in black with many other figures.

In my collection, Tracker has never really found a role. The mold is good enough and the accessories are certainly eye catching. But, the poor colors make him difficult to even display. Among his 1991 contemporaries, Tracker stands out...badly. Tracker is both a character and a figure who has great potential. When I first acquired one, it was the unrealized usefulness of the figure that stood out. I have forgiven many brightly colored figures, but could not do so with Tracker. For concepts that bordered (or were outright) science fiction, bright, neon colors could be acceptable. Tracker, though, is a SEAL. His missions would dictate subtetly in coloring to not attract attention to himself. A garish yellow pair of pants pretty much defines the anti-thesis of a SEAL's purpose. That has always made it harder for me to forgive the Tracker coloring than it does on a figure like Sci Fi.

The Tracker mold has a short history.  It was released in the U.S. only in 1991, but did see a short production run for release in China.  After it's releases by Hasbro, Tracker appeared on cardbacks in Brazil.  However, the mold was never actually released there.  Around 2000 or so, the mold turned up in India.  Here, Tracker was released in colors very similar to those of the American version, but with a new raft.  In 2003, Hasbro re-acquired the mold from Funskool.  They quickly showcased a Night Force Tracker at the 2003 G.I. Joe convention.  Early samples of the Night Force Tracker showed up in Asia and became available to American collectors.  But, the figure was changed from Night Force Tracker to Action Man at the last minute.  Action Man was included with the Night Force set in his trademark bright orange.  After that, Hasbro never returned to the Tracker mold and collectors never saw a decently colored version of the mold offered in any official, production release.

Tracker figures can be difficult to find if you want them complete.  The raft tends to pop and the visor is notoriously small and hard to come by.  Still, though, mint and complete figures rarely break $11 or so.  The poor colors just doom the figure to obscurity and cheap aftermarket prices.  It's nice as you can add Tracker to your collection for cheap prices.  But, you are still left with a figure that is difficult to use and doesn't really add anything other than bright colors to a SEAL team. At his core, Tracker is a glaring example of potential unfulfilled. He is a great mold that could have been recolored into something collectors really appreciated. But, since that never happened, collectors are left with a bright reminder that Hasbro made poor choices even in the vintage line.

1991 Tracker, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Dial Tone

1991 Tracker, 1990 Super Sonic Fighters Dial Tone

1991 Tracker, 1993 Eco Warriors Outback Variant

Monday, August 5, 2013

1993 Dino Hunters Ambush

Years ago, I briefly profiled the Dino Hunter Low Light figure.  Really, that review was posted as a novelty to showcase a rare figure that was heavily a product of its time.  That Low Light had a set-mate, though, that was also included with the playset: Ambush.  Ambush is a bit more low profile than Low Light in terms of characterization and collector popularity.  But, the figure released with the Dino Hunters set is almost excellent.  There is one glaring flaw, though, that is the same one that afflicted Low Light: a glaring use of bright, neon paint.  That alone renders the figure nearly useless and something most collectors will only seek for completion.

If you look at this figure, the base colors are very strong.  An olive green shirt with black sleeves and tan pants all add up to a pretty good start.  The tan helmet and dark green weapons are nice complements to the figure.  Most of the details, though, are left relatively unpainted as was the Hasbro norm at the time.  The real issue, though, is the neon orange bandoleers, grenades and belt.  The orange is just too much of a contrast with the rest of the figure.  As such, that's really the only impression that's left: the figure is bright.  Even though the reality of the figure is a solid base, the offending neon negates it and renders the figure largely useless.

The existence of the Dino Hunters set is really just a testament to how popular Jurassic Park had become in 1993.  At the time of the movies release, I was in the UK, France and Spain.  By the time I returned to the United States, the fad had largely passed by.  But, the cultural mark of the franchise had been felt across multiple platforms and Joe was no exception.  The set was hastily thrown together as a Toys R Us exclusive with Low-Light, Ambush, a cheap, plastic dinosaur and a repained Desert Fox that featured a retooled gun that would shoot a net to catch the dinosaur.  Done in better colors, the jeep and figures might have been a fun addition to the Joe line.  Who wouldn't want a net that would shoot out and catch Cobras?  But, the late release date, cheesy concept and poor colors really doomed the set to obscurity.

This figure really has no role in my collection. Occasionally, I pop him into the HQ as a new take on Ambush. But, that's fairly rare since his colors really clash with the classics from the '80s. The orange does give the figure some visual panache. It doesn't make him useable, but the figure does stand out in a display. However, I can't really find any other niche that fits this Ambush figure. He's a rarity and an oddity that will catch someone's eye when they peruse a collection. But trying to use him can be tough.

The Ambush mold has had a good life.  After it's use in 1990 and 1993, Hasbro dusted it off and produced the quality Sidetrack figure in 2001.  From there, the mold went over to India where the head was used on the amazing Funskool Big Brawler.  After that, the mold was returned to Hasbro where parts of it were used for various ARAH style figure releases until the line's demise.  It would have been nice to see Ambush repainted into maybe and Arctic theme or in a woodsy cammo pattern.  But, the original figure and Sidetrack are pretty good figures that leave the mold's legacy intact.

Dino Hunters figures are hard to find and expensive.  While not the $50 figures they were a few years ago, mint and complete versions still run in the $30 range.  That's a lot to pay for a neon rendition of a mold that is readily available with better accessories and much better colors for less than 1/3 the price.  But, as a novelty, the figure has some merit.  The neon is very '90's and the Dinosaur aspect is so 1993 specific that the figure retains some camp value.  The figure does have decent base colors, though, and can be forgiven more easily than many other 1993 repaints.  If not for the completist aspect, I would not have this figure.  But, it's still something different that will catch someone's eye since you don't see him all that often.  So, there is additional value in the figure for that reason alone.

1993 Dino Hunters Ambush

Thursday, August 1, 2013

1993 General Hawk - Mail Away and Convention Exclusive

Ahh, the early Nineties.  A time when bright colors were en vogue, music was starting to no longer suck and G.I. Joe was on its last legs as a toyline.  In many ways, I recall this time period fondly.  In others, though, I can't believe what people were thinking when they did certain things.  Looking back at the figures that were offered 20 years ago, (Yes, it's been that long!) the modern collector is left with a wide group of figures that are excellently done, but also a good number of figures that are very dated by their release time frame.  This Hawk is one such figure.  Done in military colors in 1991, the mold was well executed.  Done in neon green with bright yellow highlights just two years later, though, gives us a figure defined by the year in which he was released.

Many collectors have difficulty seeing this mold as the Hawk character.  Hawk is the Joe General and a distinguished field marshal.  Having him fly around in a modified space suit on a comic book inspired jet pack doesn't make a lot of sense.  But, were this figure named Grand Slam or Starduster, collectors would be much more kind to its legacy.  The reason is that the figure mold is, actually, rather solid.  The mold has the folds and quilting that are reminiscent of the original Grand Slam and tie this mold to some of the earliest designs for the brand.  But, the greatest value of this version of Hawk is the head.  Hawk keeps the countenance of his 1986 figure, but adds in headgear that brings a whole new dimension to the figure.  The headgear is well detailed and allows for two colors to be painted on the character's head.  For something intended to be covered by the helmet, this is a level of detail that was not necessary, but makes the figure that much more interesting.

This figure includes most of the accessories from the original release of the mold. The helmet, faceplate and gun are all here, just in different colors. Missing, though, is the small jetpack with the 4 missiles. This is replaced by a black version of the 1991 Major Bludd's Sonic Fighters backpack. It is a large, bulky pack that looks very out of place with the figure. Fortunately, the figure looks good with the pack from the Funskool Hawk as a way to better accessorize this version. The well sculpted gun is neon green, though. So, while the details on the accessories are solid, the colors match the figure and weaken the overall complement.

In my collection, this version of Hawk is just the General's Star Brigade uniform.  The neon green blends perfectly with the stark, bright colors of the 1994 Star Brigade series.  Those figures need a leader and having Hawk fill that role makes as much sense as the subset's existence in the first place.  But, standing at the forefront of the 1994 Star Brigade series, Hawk fits right in.  The stark colors and bright hues blend in well with Countdown, Effects, Roadblock, Ozone and the rest of the series. It's a small use for the mold. But, the bright colors and obscure uniform lend themselves to more niche uses.

This mold saw a fair share of uses.  After the debut in 1991, the entire body was revived in 1993 and reused as the Star Brigade Roadblock as well as for this figure.  The Roadblock was repainted in 1994 in bright orange and is a great companion piece to this Hawk.  Around 2001, the mold surfaced in India where Funskool released a dark green and red/orange General Hawk for many years.  Hasbro likely had access to the mold during the repaint era.  But, they chose to not revisit it.  But, collectors have three distinct Hawk colorings and two striking Roadblock entries to chase down and enjoy.

Collectors did not care about convention exclusives until 2002.  This leaves figures like this Hawk as relatively forgotten mementos of a more innocent era.  While the convention Hawks are very limited in number, collectors have forgotten them.  They didn't sell well at the convention and most of the overstock made it into the collecting community via after market dealers for under $10 per figure.  The mail away version of the figure shared the same fate.  Being an unpopular seller, massive quantities of overstock General Hawks were liquidated to the public when Hasbro Direct closed their distribution center in Ohio.  This pumped massive quantities of bagged figures into the collecting community.  So, large supply coupled with negligible demand has left collectors with a cheap figure in today's marketplace.  As an oddity, the figure is essential.  But, beyond that, the figure's use is limited.  For the $10 it takes to get one these days, though, the price is still right.  Star Brigade has found a new life as a collector favorite.  At some point, this Hawk could join those figures.  Until then, though, he's still a worthwhile addition to any collection.

1993 General Hawk, Convention Exclusive, Mail Away, 1993 Headhunter

1993 General Hawk, Convention Exclusive, Mail Away, 1994 Star Brigade Payload Variant, Roadblock

1993 General Hawk, Convention Exclusive, Mail Away, 1994 Star Brigade Payload Variant, Roadblock

1993 General Hawk, Convention Exclusive, Mail Away, MIB, Bagged