Monday, September 30, 2013

1994 Major Bludd

Major Bludd has long been one of my favorite Cobra villains. There was just something about him that captured my attention as a child and he has remained a character who has always been a significant player in my Joe collection. However, it has always been his original figure that was the representation of the character to me. Bludd was not revisited during my childhood. So, it was only as an adult that I came across new Major Bludd figures. I missed the Sonic Fighters version in 1991, but did find Hasbro's interpretation of the character in 1994. However, despite finding it a few times at retail, I simply could not bring myself to purchase the figure. The red weapons and purple color were just too much of a departure from the Bludd I knew. By the time I decided to buy any Joe figures I could find, though, Major Bludd had basically disappeared from retail. In 1999, I acquired a test shot of the figure and was surprised to find that the mold featured a knife molded onto Bludd's arm. This sparked an interest in the figure for me and I quickly tracked down a loose version to add to my collection.

Like most of the 1994 figures, Major Bludd's mold has great potential. The sculpting is solid and is true to the character. But, the color choices leave much to be desired. The combination of purple, black and red isn't a terrible departure from traditional Cobra colors. (Especially in light of the multitudes of Cobras who chose purple as their primary color.) But, they are a quite a leap from the subtle brown and black uniform that defined the first Major Bludd. Were this figure done in those colors, it would likely enjoy quite a bit of collector attention.

This mold isn't without its problems. The high collar and open chest are very reminiscent of Destro's disco inspired original outfit. The head is the true value of the figure. The large mustache is a Bludd trademark. But, the helmet is a nice homage to the original figure while being updated in a way that shows the improvements in figure sculpting over 11 years. The key feature to the figure, though, is the hidden blade on the figure's right arm. While the original Bludd had the armored right arm that limits the movement on the vintage version, this Bludd has the knife that tucks into a sheath beneath his forearm. It's not a feature that intrudes upon the figure in traditional display poses. But, it adds something very nice to Bludd as he has a built in accessory that is unique to him across the entire Joe line.

I have never really used this figure as part of my collection. The figure did not enter my collection until adulthood and there are much better versions of Bludd that are more true to the character. As part of a 1994 display, this figure works very well. But, the odd colors and non traditional look for Bludd prevent this figure from ever being more than a dio filler in anything I do. It's not that this is a bad figure. It just came out at an odd time. Being a Cobra, I missed this figure as the Joe line died at retail. So, I don't have those 20 year old memories of finding him as I first came back to collection like I do with many other 1993 and 1994 figures. As part of the line's history, this is a nice way to update Bludd and use him as something outside of his more traditional appearance. But, the opportunities to do that are less and less for a collector like me who is such a traditionalist.

The head, arms and chest of this figure were only released in 1994 for Major Bludd. (The legs are from the 1991 Toxo-Viper.) It is likely that Hasbro would have repainted this figure in 1995 had the line survived since that was their M.O. at the time. The mold has not appeared in the 20 years since this original retail release with the exception of the head being used in the 2003 Python Patrol set and again in the 2006 Convention set. What's odd is that Hasbro did revisit the classic Major Bludd color scheme in 1994 for the Chinese exclusive Major Bludd figure. So, maybe the plan was to give this mold a re-do in Bludd's traditional garb. It's a fun speculation, but nothing more than that.

If you want this figure, he's not hard to find. Mint, complete with filecard, this figure can be purchased for under $5. But, it's probably easier to just buy him carded since one of those will likely run under $10. Of the Major Bludd figures that are available, this is the least desirable by far. It lacks the distinguishing browns and blacks of Bludd. The colors are almost cartoonish in their appearance and this figure in no way conveys menace and evil. As such, this is never going to be a vital figure for any collector. There are too many other Major Bludd figures out there that are almost perfect.

1994 Major Bludd, 1993 Beach Head, Battle Corps

1988 Muskrat

As a kid, swamps fascinated me.  There was something about the incredible concentration of life that could so easily disguise intense danger that intrigued me.  As such, I always took advantage of rainstorms to take my Joes out in the yard and play in the "swamps" that were defined by puddles and mud.  Usually, figures in more traditional military colors were the characters of choice when this environment presented itself.  The classically cammoed figures were excellent fits for the green and brown that defined the landscape.  Alas, it was not until 1988, after I had stopped buying Joes that the line introduced a character unique to swamp warfare: Muskrat.

My first encounter with the Muskrat figure was in the summer of 1988. I was done collecting Joe and wasn't buying any figures. That summer, I was watching one of my parent's friend's homes. Their son was a few years younger than me and had a play room full of Joes. Among these were most of the 1988 figures. I looked them over and was enthralled by Muskrat. Beyond the great design and solid colors, it was his shotgun that left the greatest impression.  It was an upgrade on the shotguns from Flint and Falcon since it had both a stock and a handle.  It looked like the type of weapon that would go well with a variety of figures.  I took the Muskrat out of the plastic storage bin and gave his weapon to a few 1987 and 1986 figures to see how it looked.   The result was fantastic.  For a few weeks, I contemplated actually buying a Muskrat figure.  Unfortunately, the allure of sports cards and the money to be made selling and trading them (plus the more socially acceptable sports theme) kept me from regressing back into buying toys.

But, I would hold off until the summer of 1990 before I would actually give in and buy a new figure.  (The '89 Night Viper.)  In retrospect, that probably didn't hurt me too much.  The 1988 figures had their moments.  But, none of the traditional retail figures from that year have really taken on a aftermarket life.  But, I do feel that having a few more 1988 figures in that final, transition year of my childhood could have been fun.  Maybe I would have developed more of a personality for this figure.  He very well could have been as fun to use in my various play areas as Hit and Run.  But, what's life without a few regrets?

The paint details on Muskrat are somewhat lacking. The figure is only black paint on the green base with a smattering of brown on the boots.  But, in this case, the simplicity is effective.  For someone traipsing through a swamp, you don't need much beyond the standard green of the plant life around you.  So, Hasbro was able to save a bit on the paint applications that could then be applied to other figures.  But, for some reason, in 1988, Hasbro really didn't do this.  Shockwave, Repeater, Budo, Destro, Stormshadow, Wildcard, Ghostrider and other figures all feature large, undetailed portions of their molds.  Hasbro really skimped on paint applications across the entire year.  It might have been fallout from the failure of the Joe movie or just expected sales slumps.  But, the cost cutting doesn't make sense when you see the the increased detail that started to appear in 1989.

Accessory-wise, Muskrat is OK.  His shotgun is excellent.  The fact that it appeared with a large number of 1993 and 1994 figures is a bonus as it makes the acquisition of extras very easy.  It is nicely scaled with the figure and works in ways that other shotguns do not.  Beyond the gun, though, Muskrat's accessories get weird.  He includes an awesome machete.  But, it's baby blue.  I don't know why since most other 1988 figures have accessories that are sensibly colored.  Again, though, black versions of the machete are easy to steal from figures from the line's final years.  So, that helps.  Finally, he includes some type of boogie/surf board.  It can be attached to his back like a pack, or to his foot to have the accessory function.  The result is something that is odd and not useful.  As a pack, at least, the board can double for armored protection.  Beyond that, though, it doesn't make much sense.

In my collection today, Muskrat doesn't get much use.  He's a solid figure, but not a character to whom I have great attachment.  He was an adult acquisition and that leaves him without the childhood memories that make most of the 1982 - 1987 figures so important to me.  But, the figure is not without his uses.  His classic colors allow him to blend with Joe teams from a variety of different years.  So, he is a nice bridge figure between a team of 1985 and a team of 1994 Joes.  But, he doesn't have much character.  I've never really gotten around to creating a personality for Muskrat.  The upside is that this remains a figure of untapped potential in my collection.  The downside is that it's fairly unlikely that this figure will ever get the type of display or use that his quality really deserves.

Muskrat was released in the U.S. in 1988 and as a Night Force figure in 1989.  After that, the mold appeared in Brazil as part of the very rare Forca Electronica subset.  Then, the mold appeared in India where Funskool produced a Muskrat figure nearly identical to the original American release for many years.  (The upside to this figure is that it includes a silver machete instead of the baby blue version.  A great upgrade!)  The Muskrat mold was one of the first 18 molds that Funskool returned to Hasbro in 2003.  While Hasbro never produced another Muskrat, the body mold was used for the 2004 convention exclusive Dreadhead figures.  It then made it's final appearance as the basis for the 2004 Chief Torpedo figure that was included with the VAMP/Whirlwind set.  The Muskrat mold still has some life in it since three of the 4 releases of the character are based on this version 1.  A desert version or a repaint with a complex cammo pattern would be a welcome addition to the Joe world.  But, the chances for figures like that are likely gone and collectors are left with several high quality, but similar Muskrat figures to track down.

Muskrat figures are not expensive.  He is easy to find with no paint wear and complete with all his accessories.  Like most 1988 figures, though, Muskrat's elbows tend to crack.  Finding a figure without this flaw is difficult.  But, most Muskrat figures will sell for under $7.  That's a great price for a figure with a high quality mold done in traditional military colors who includes well done accessories.  Like many high quality Joe figures from the early years that saw full retail production runs, Muskrat's popularity in the marketplace has declined quite a bit in the past few years.  But, many collectors still have him and consider him a solid Joe team member.  Had I owned this figure as a kid, he would likely be much more important to me.  But, that lack of emotional attachment doesn't diminish his quality at all and makes Muskrat a worthy addition to any collection.

1988 Muskrat

1988 Muskrat, 1994 Stalker, 1998 Lt. Gorky, Oktober Guard

1988 Muskrat, 1994 Stalker, 1998 Lt. Gorky, Oktober Guard

1988 Muskrat, 1994 Stalker, 1998 Lt. Gorky, Oktober Guard

1988 Muskrat, 1994 Stalker, 1998 Lt. Gorky, Oktober Guard

Thursday, September 26, 2013

1987 Crazylegs

As a release year, 1987 is both spectacular and rather terrible. There is a huge dichotomy between some figures that are timeless classics like Falcon or Outback and some that are genuinely terrible designs like Raptor. In between, though, are a third group of figures. These are relatively minor characters whose figures are good, but not great. Some of these figures, like Fast Draw and Sneek Peek, fit into specialized niches. Others, like Croc Master and Big Boa, were interesting character ideas that never really took off. And then, there is the Crazylegs figure. Ostensibly, this is a character that should have been popular. He was a paratrooper, included paratrooper gear and had a decent sculpt. But, a poor coloring choice has somewhat doomed the figure to obscurity.

My first encounter with Craylegs was on the back of the 1987 cardbacks. As a paratrooper, he looked pretty cool. I hoped he would include a parachute and air mask much like Ripcord. Based on the card art showing him in freefall, I even hoped he would include a working parachute. In the late spring of 1987, my father took my younger brother and I to a Children's Palace store on Shadeland Ave. in Indianapolis. (Eerily enough, in the early 2000's, the building was still there, vacant, with a faint outline of the Children's Palace sign on the facade...a ghost reminding me of what had once been.) They had a full complement of Joe figures I had not yet found at retail. I grabbed the Crazylegs figure and looked him over. However, after seeing him in the full red glory with no air mask, my interest in the figure dropped considerably. I gave him to my younger brother and bought myself a different figure. (I can't recall who I got, but remember the disappointment of Crazylegs.)

Crazylegs simply got no use when I was a kid. The red color did not fit with the Tomahawk or Dragonfly and was difficult to use in combat situations. Even my beat up Ripcord and Airborne figures were better choices for airborne assault troopers. (Especially since the green Ripcord gear that worked so well on Airborne was a huge color clash with Crazylegs and did not fit over his bulkier mold.) So, Crazylegs became part of a legion of "no-name" characters who would randomly die in attacks on Joe bases, civilian outposts or Cobra encampments. He saw some use in that capacity for a while, but then faded away into the bottom of my figure box.

In the mid 1990's, I finally found a niche for the Crazylegs figure. The heavy suit could be construed as armor. The red color, was suitable for a jailer. So, Crazylegs filled a role I termed Sessions Officer. Basically, the Sessions Officer's job was to sit in session with a prisoner accused of a capital crime. It was the Sessions Officer's duty to ensure that prisoner lived to see trial and, if convicted, survived to be placed into his prison cell where he would await death. Sessions Officers were among the most highly trained and respected officers around and many would, eventually, go on to fine careers as senior combat officers, politicians or heads of corporations. But, when the Dreadnoks tried to free one of their members who was heading to death row, the Sessions Officer had to put his life on the line to ensure the prisoner was not freed and was not killed by his compatriots. (One of the Sessions Officer's last duties, though, was to ensure the prisoner did not escape. So, the Sessions Officer was authorized to kill his ward...provided that escape was ensured and all other options had failed.) I acquired multiple Crazylegs figures to fill this specialty. It was a fun diversion for a while. But, eventually, Crazylegs faded away again. He now stands as little more than display piece with the Night Force version being the figure of choice should I want the character to appear in photos.

As a mold, Crazylegs is remarkably well detailed. The airborne suit is bulky and detailed with quilts that look like a suit that would be worn when jumping from high altitudes. The molded helmet on the head is nicely scaled and fits with the overall look of the figure. The sculpted goggles and chin strap are nice adornments to accompany the grenades and knife that are molded to the figure's chest. The overall figure, though, isn't painted with great detail. Basically, the figure is just four colors: red, black, grey and a splash of tan on the figure's gloves. In comparison with other 1987 figures, the paint masks on Crazylegs are rather lacking and he looks more like a 1988 release due to the simplicity of the paint applications.

While Crazylegs' accessories were a disappointment to me, they aren't terrible. The parachute pack is very well detailed. The notion of having it wrap around the figure's legs was a neat idea that just didn't translate into the actual toy. Hanging on the wall of a flight deck or Tomahawk, the chute can be useful. But, attached to the figure, it's hard to make it work. Crazylegs' rifle included a folding, removable stock. This was the first such attempt in the vintage line. Again, it is a nice feature that gives Crazylegs some character. But, as an actual toy, the removable stock doesn't really add anything. As a kid, though, I always felt that Crazylegs' rifle was as close a representation to the Cobra rifles from the cartoon as we would see in the toy line. As such, I co-opted his rifle for various Cobras throughout my childhood. Later, the gun became a staple with figures like Sneek Peek as it just seemed to fit those figures well.

The Crazylegs mold is one of the most used in the world. It is likely that right after this figure was released in 1988, the mold went to South America. There, Crazylegs was released in Brazil and then again in almost concurrent succession in Argentina. (Crazylegs was the only post 1985 figure mold to be released in Argentina.) Both these figures were named Alado and are, basically, identical to the American Crazylegs figure. In an odd bit of timing, though, Crazylegs then appeared in India. Again, basically colored the same as the American figure, the main distinction for this Crazylegs figure is the red parachute. However, Crazylegs' head was also used by Funskool of the so-terrible-he's-cool Skydiver figure. So, Crazylegs fans have a lot of figures to track to down. But, the foreign variants are all, essentially, slight deviations from the American figure and don't really offer anything greatly new for the character. The Crazylegs mold was not among those recalled from Funskool by Hasbro in the early 2000's. That is too bad as the mold could have been a great candidate for repaints in jungle, desert or even arctic themes.

Crazylegs figures are neither hard to find nor expensive. The rifle stock can be problematic to find. But, it's not at rare as many other accessories. Being a 1987 release, Crazylegs figures can be susceptible to cracked elbows. But, finding a mint figure is still fairly easy. Mint and complete with filecard versions run in the $8-$9 range. That's a fair price for the figure. He's not as expensive as the more popular characters and is more expensive than the dregs of 1987. As a paratrooper, and a figure in general, the 1988 Night Force release is the definitive version and should be the choice if you only have one Crazylegs figure in your collection. But, this original figure has some charm due to the classic release year and does fit into a display with his contemporaries. For under $10 that's not a terrible purchase since the figure is a good way to add some visual diversity to the colors of your Joe characters.

1987 Crazylegs, Brazil, Estrela, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Escorpiao Voador, Patrulha Do Ar

1987 Crazylegs, 1986 Mission to Brazil Leatherneck, TRU Exclusive

1987 Crazylegs, 1986 Mission to Brazil Leatherneck, TRU Exclusive

Monday, September 23, 2013

1988 Night Force Crazylegs

The Crazylegs mold is solid enough. It is somewhat basic as it doesn't have a lot accouterments molded to it. But the mold is nicely textured and solidly detailed for what it is. The mold is actually somewhat bulky in appearance. While I hated that as a kid, it is a nice little detail that doesn't jump out at you even though it adds to the overall realism of the character.

The accessories are cool, if unspectacular. The rifle is small and interesting. I always felt that it was very similar to the weapons used by Cobras in the cartoon. The little stock, though, was somewhat confusing. While it was a nice feat of engineering to make the stock removable, it feature added little to the figure. As such, it was something to appreciate but not really enjoy. The parachute pack, though, was a failure. While it was realistic in how it affixed to the figure, the required bulkiness made it impossible for Crazylegs to wear it and be posed sensibly. Plus, it didn't work. While this was an improvement over Ripcord's chute in terms of realism, it was a step backwards as a toy. Ripcord's chute had the hole for the mask and was intricately detailed...even though its design required the odd strap on the back. While Crazylegs' chute was more like what you'd find a local skydiving club, it made for a poorer toy.

My first encounter with Crazylegs was on the back of my first Falcon figure that I acquired in December of 1986. I remember looking at Crazylegs and thinking how cool the small picture of art was. I imaged that he would have to include an air mask like Ripcord and might even include a working parachute. While the figure looked red, it was not until I walked into a Children's Palace store in early 1987 and first found the figure at retail that I realized just how red he was. On top of that, all the cool accessories I had imagined for the figure were no where to be seen. Plus, he had this weird quilty suit that just didn't live up the expectations I had set for the figure based on the artwork.

So, rather than waste the one figure I was allowed to get on a disappointment like Crazylegs, I bought another figure. For the life of me, I can not remember who it was. It might have been Outback. But, I remember pawning Crazylegs off on my little brother. (I always convinced my brothers to buy the crappy figures I didn't want. That way, I would still have the figure, but not waste any of "my" figures on toys that were disappointing.) When we got to the car and opened our figures, I was even more disappointed in the figure when I realized that the only way to attach the parachute pack was to make the figure's legs spread apart. So, a figure design I didn't like was made worse by the fact that the only way to use his accessories was to put him in a ridiculous pose. Naturally, Crazylegs did not get much use in my childhood.

If you fast forward a few years, though, I rediscovered the Crazylegs mold. While the coloring still had its shortcomings, I grew to appreciate the mold a bit more. In fact, I went so far as to find a place for the figure in my then small collection. I enjoyed the figure, but still felt the colors held it back. When I first discovered online Joedom, though, that problem was quickly solved when I learned of the Night Force Crazylegs figure. It had the solid mold of the original but was done in decent colors. Of course, when I went to find one, I discovered that they appeared rather infrequently and were rather pricey. (Even in 1999, Night Force figures were expensive. I remember a lot of 12 complete figures selling for more than I spent to buy a lot of over 70 mint, complete figures from '86-89: including a Starduster, 2 Rumblers and a ton of army builders.) As such, the figure remained elusive. Finally, I was able to trade for a decently conditioned (but certainly not mint) version of the figure. He immediately found great use in my collection as an integral part of helicopter missions, insertion teams or just outright assault squads.

Now, the figure holds the same position. As he's no longer new to my collection, he doesn't see the use he once did. But, he still remains an important part of my collection. As the original Night Force Crazylegs I acquired lacked his parachute, I found that the Argentine Fuego figure has a decent replacement. It is a brown Ripcord backpack that meshes well with Crazylegs and also gives him the mask. The best part is that Fuegos are dirt cheap and you can get a MOC version for less than you would spend to just get the Night Force Crazylegs parachute.

The Night Force figures were largely good, but not great. While Outback, Tunnel Rat, and Falcon were solid figures, they were not substantially better than their original incarnations. Crazy Legs, Psyche Out and Sneak Peek, though, could be considered upgrades. The issue with the Night Force set, though, is that the colors remained too consistent and start to get repetitive once you get a few of them. Alone, they are nice figures. As a whole set, they get boring and mundane. I think that's the reason I've been so slow to add the Night Force figures to my collection. Once you have a couple, you see diminishing returns on the rest. Fortunately, the characters that are the best upgrades are also the least popular and tend to be the least expensive.

As a character, Crazylegs doesn't have much to offer. He was killed in the comic with almost no use. As such, he really isn't a player in most people's Joe worlds. Personally, I've done little with his characterization beyond having him be a common infantryman. He doesn't have large personality quirks and isn't a character who's anything more than combat filler. But, a collection needs characters like that. A team of huge personalities is less likely to be cohesive than one that has a few subordinates who just follow orders and do their job. Crazylegs fits that position well and has found a home based on that.

The Crazylegs mold has had a long history. The figure first appeared in the US in 1987. This figure appeared in 1988. Around that time, the first Alado figure that used this mold appeared in Argentina. It then appeared almost simultaneously in Brazil where it was also released as Alado. Both of these South American versions are highly similar to the US version and included all the original Crazylegs accessories. Some time in the mid to late '90's, the Crazylegs mold appeared in India. There, it was used to make not only another exclusive Crazylegs figure, but the head also appeared on the very unique Skydiver figure. Since then, the mold has not appeared again, though it is likely that Hasbro is now in possession of it. Truth be told, I don't really think we need another Crazylegs figure. Granted, I would not be disappointed to see it return, but feel that the Night Force version is adequately available for a minor character like Crazylegs.

All the Night Force figures are hard to find. That's reality. As they were exclusive to a retailer who, at the time, was not fully saturated around the country, it was likely that large numbers of kids who would have bought these figures never even knew of their existence. The result is a group of figures that is difficult to find in any condition and that can be downright maddening to find complete. That isn't to say, that deals can't be had. While highly popular Night Force characters routinely sell for close to $50, you can still get mint, complete Crazylegs figures for under $25. Collectors largely don't care about Crazylegs and his figures (hard to find or not) are priced accordingly. My feeling is that if you're going to have a Crazylegs in your collection, it should be the Night Force version. It is just so superior a coloring to the original that it makes the character worth owning.

1988 Night Force Crazylegs, 1990 Freefall, 1991 Super Sonic Fighters Falcon, Updraft, 1992 Falcon, 1986 Tomahawk

Thursday, September 19, 2013

1986 Dreadnok Stinger - Sears Exclusive

As a kid, I was very fortunate to have acquired the 1985 Sears exclusive SMS set. My dad was a fan of Sears and would go there often. As such, I was able to spend time reviewing the toy aisle since it was right next to the tools section. I spent many hours in 1985 staring at the SMS. Once I got it, it became one of my favorite toys. So, as 1986 drew to a close, I was hopeful that Sears would offer another exclusive toy offering. I was not disappointed when I found the Dreadnok Ground Assault and Dreadnok Air Assault sets. Both were repainted vehicles, but looked very cool. While the Dreadnoks weren't really major players in my collection anymore, the opportunity to acquire the vehicles was simply too good to pass up. On Christmas morning in 1986, my brother opened a Dreadnok Air Assault set. Within a few presents, I found the Dreadnok Ground Assault set with my name on it.

The Dreadnok Stinger quickly became part of my standard Cobra arsenal. Our standard Cobra Stinger had long been broken. So, having a distinct Cobra attack jeep was a welcome addition to Cobra's arsenal. However, this role was short lived. Within a few months of my acquisition of the Dreadnok Stinger, it began to fall apart. First, a door snapped when I tried to open it and it caught on the roof. Then the brush guard broke off. In it's more dilapidated condition, the Dreadnok Stinger slowly morphed into a civilian vehicle. It became the go to transportation for random terrorists, militants and criminals who would terrorize Joe or Cobra bases. Along with an A Team van, random figures would attack one of the main factions in the Joe world. It was a way for me to expand the standard Joe vs. Cobra conflict and also have Cobra act in the role of protector when their possessions were attacked.

In time, the jeep became nothing more than the shell. When I packed all my Joe toys up and put them into a storage space in our house in 1988, the Dreadnok Stinger went into a box where it would stay for almost a decade. In 1997, I dug out all my old toys. The Stinger was dirty and stripped down. But, a search of boxes of random Joe parts in storage quickly yielded most of the original parts back. With that, I put my Dreadnok Stinger back together and found a place for display. Buzzer, Ripper and Torch adorned the jeep for a while. But, when I moved to Arizona and started acquiring many figures I had not owned as a child, the role of the Dreadnok Stinger changed again.

As an adult collector, I have found the Ground Assault set to be a great match for Python Patrol figures. The green and blue jeep is a decent match for the Python Officer and Trooper. Plus, it is a contemporary match for those figures within the context of the Stinger and the original Cobra Trooper and Officer. The best part, though, is the addition of Gatilho and Relampago to the Python Patrol ranks. These named characters fit within the design years of the original Stinger, are a perfect match for American Python Patrol figures and are excellent fits with the Ground Assault set. (Especially since Relampago was a motorcycle rider.) The only reason I have Dreadnok vehicles like these in my collection these days is due to the Python Patrol connection. It is a great display and gives these toys more usefulness in my collection. (The jeep is also a near perfect match for the Bronze Bomber Scorch figure, which is a blue and green Motor Viper repaint. If you can find a few of them, they are another great crew for this vehicle.)

The Dreadnok Stinger has very brittle parts, especially the doors, brush guard and handles. The reason these are so brittle is because they were designed to change color in sunlight. The vehicle follows the trend of Zartan, Zandar and Zarana in that it will change to different shade of green when exposed to unfiltered UV rays. As a kid, this was a neat idea. But, the practicality of it is pretty minor in terms of realism. For the modern collector, the brittle nature of the plastic has made the Dreadnok Sears vehicles that much more difficult to find in mint condition.

The Dreadnok Stinger was just released by Sears in the US. The Stinger mold, though, saw use all around the world. However, this version was the only real repaint available anywhere as the International Stingers were, essentially, the same as the American version. Sadly, Hasbro really never took advantage of the Stinger's potential. While there is the black repaint from 1998, it is very similar to the standard version. Missing the Stinger in Cobra blue, red, grey or white is a sad hole in the vintage Joe line. It's likely that a Stinger repaint would have sold like crazy during the army building era of 2002 - 2005. But, that didn't happen and collectors are left with few options for Stinger variants.

Mint and complete Dreadnok Stingers are very expensive. In recent years, perfect samples have climbed close to $200. This is a combination of the vehicle's rarity, collector interest in anything Dreadnok and the general upsurge in pricing for any vehicle that is derivative of the original VAMP. The reality, though, is that the vehicles were not produced in great quantities and the plastic used for them is very brittle and tends to discolor. The doors, brush guard, steering wheel and hand rails will break with little usage. (The brush guard and steering wheel are hard enough to find on their own rights!) So, mint specimens are not easy to track down. Years ago, the Joe market was not overly efficient and deals could be had on items like this. These days, though, collectors have largely caught up and most are looking for the same missing pieces. Items like the Dreadnok Stinger that are cool, rare and easily broken tend to be highly sought after. Whether time will ease or exacerbate this remains to be seen. I'm glad I have these items and have had them since childhood. Without that connection, it's unlikely that they would be part of my collection today.

1986 Dreadnok Stinger, RAM, Motorcycle, 1989 Python Trooper, Officer, Vibora, Estrela, Brazil, Relampago, Gatilho, Ripcord, Airborne
1986 Dreadnok Stinger, RAM, Motorcycle, 1989 Python Trooper, Officer, Vibora, Estrela, Brazil, Relampago, Gatilho, Ripcord, Airborne

1986 Dreadnok Stinger, RAM, Motorcycle, 1989 Python Trooper, Officer, Vibora, Estrela, Brazil, Relampago, Gatilho, Ripcord, Airborne

1986 Dreadnok Stinger, RAM, Motorcycle, 1989 Python Trooper, Officer, Vibora, Estrela, Brazil, Relampago, Gatilho, Ripcord, Airborne

Monday, September 16, 2013

Reptil Do Ar (Brazilian Exclusive Crimson Guard Commander)

In the pantheon of exclusive Cobra figures from Brazil, there are some who fly completely under the radar due to their late release date and overall obscurity. Most of these figures feature only slight differences from their American counterparts and are, as such, burdened by the same neon colors that sunk the American version of the figure. Among these is the Reptil Do Ar figure. A straight up repaint of the 1993 Crimson Guard Commander, the Reptil Do Ar is a figure that few collectors know about and fewer still count as part of their collection. But, as the figure doesn't offer much that you can't get from the American version of the mold, it hasn't been a figure that has become a point of interest in the collecting community. Of course, that doesn't mean that it isn't a decent figure and one that adds some depth to any collection.

Back in 2001, there wasn't much info regarding Brazilian figures available to the public. At that time, a group of collectors who were fairly new to the hobby took it upon themselves to delve into Brazil and slowly catalog many of the more obscure figures made by Estrela. It was a daunting task to be sure. But the results were an influx of new Brazilian figures and a plethora of new information regarding the figures who were available in Brazil. For many collectors, this opened the door for them to start collecting foreign figures and ushered in an era of greater understanding of foreign Joe releases. Personally, when I first discovered the Reptil Do Ar, I wanted one. But, the few that appeared were out of my price range at the time. By 2005, though, Joe collectors had largely abandoned foreign Joes to focus on other things. This brought prices crashing down on many formerly hard to find foreign Joes. In turn, availability did dry up to an extent, too. But, with patience, many great deals came around and it was possible for the enterprising collector to pick up some hard to find foreign figures for decent prices. Now, figures like the Reptil Do Ar pretty much never appear for sale. And, there is some pent up demand to accompany that drop in availability. As such, we've seen many of the higher quality and harder to find foreign figures start to climb in price again. It makes me glad that I was able to acquire many of these guys back at the beginning.

The Reptil Do Ar has a fairly cool name. The Sky Reptile sounds much better as Reptil Do Ar. But, it still works rather well. But, like many of the final release Brazilian figures, the figure does not live up to the name. It seems that Estrela was largely done with their most elaborate and unique repaints by 1994 and 1995. Instead, they mostly focused on figures that were similar to the American versions. It is possible that Hasbro tightened control on Estrela after the waves of highly unique figures like the Forca Eco, Forca Fera and Patrulha do Ar series from the surrounding years. We have learned from Funskool executives that there are certain characters and molds where Hasbro insists that their appearance be standard throughout the world. These are mostly with major characters. But, there are some oddballs thrown in. If a Funskool release in the '00's looked like the American figure, it was because Hasbro wanted that figure and character's look to remain similar the world over. (Think the Funskool Major BluddMajor Bludd.) But, if the figure was a dramatic departure from the American look, it was a character about whom Hasbro did not care. (Think Funskool Big Brawler.) It is likely that such an arrangement existed between Hasbro and Estrela as well. The vast majority of Estrela releases are similar to the American versions of the figures. And, in most cases where the departures are dramatic, the Brazilian exclusives use parts from American figures who are not well regarded. Obviously, there are exceptions like the Cobra De Aco, etc. But, this seems to be a common trait of many of the Brazilian exclusive figures that were released.

The Reptil Do Ar replaces the classic crimson color and replaces it with an orangish red. The result is a much brighter figure than the American Crimson Guard Commander. Beyond that, the general coloring is modeled after the Crimson Guard Commander. The Reptil Do Ar includes a version of Muskrat's shotgun in black. The only difference is that the plastic used by Estrela is more brittle. You can tell the Estrela accessory from an American version very easily in hand. But, the subtle differences are hard to convey via photo. The figure was available carded with a glider. I consider the glider to be more vehicle than figure accessory. But, it makes carded figures very awkward to handle since they are on much larger cardbacks. This figure was one of the final Estrela releases in the 1994/1995 timeframe. As late as 1998, the Estrela website still showcased photos of their Joe line: including the wave of which Reptil Do Ar was a part. It seems that many of the late Estrela figures were either sold off to other countries in South America or made available to toy dealers the world over. But, those deals seems to have been limited to the various subsets. The glider figures were pretty much unknown in the US until the early 2000's. And, even then, they were largely ignored by collectors since the colors were so similar to the US versions and, at the time, collectors were more focused on domestic collecting than international additions.

There's really not much to do with this figure. He is cool enough and does stand out in any display since he's different enough from the Crimson Guard Commander for viewers of a photo to take note. But, that is about the extent of his value. The brighter colors make him an inferior choice for a diorama than the standard Crimson Guard Commander. And, not many collectors want to invest tons of energy into creating a characterization for a figure that is more orange than crimson. So, this really leaves the Reptil Do Ar as a collector figure. He is one that a collector will want for completion's sake. But, there is little use beyond that. But, in the scheme of all Joedom, that isn't a bad thing. It's nice to have some oddball and obscure figures to track down that aren't so different that they become overly desirable. Reptil Do Ar fits that criteria. He is a figure that a few people will track down once they are made aware of his existence. But, for most collectors, he will fall off the radar. There is little chance that the Reptil Do Ar joins characters like Relampago, Gatilho, Abutre Negro or Escorpiao Voador as characters that even casual collectors desire to own.

The Crimson Guard Commander was released in the US in 1993. Hasbro quickly sent the mold down to Brazil and the Reptil Do Ar likely first appeared in late 1994 or early 1995 in Brazil. That sums up the history of the mold. It is fairly quick and easy. However, Reptil Do Ar's contemporaries Asa Negra and Vandalo have reappeared in the US in the 2008 convention set. As such, it is highly possible that this mold is available. If there is a Cobra from 1993 that needs a repaint it is the Crimson Guard Commander. This mold, done up in crimson with black and silver highlights instead of bright yellow would be an instant classic and a figure that collectors would flock to. Done in more classic Cobra blue, this figure could be something entirely new. That would energize collectors, too. But, as the days of ARAH Joes appear to be over, we are left to the talented customizers of the world to come up with interesting new takes on this mold.

Reptil Do Ar figures have become extremely hard to find. A few years ago, they could be had for under $30 each. These days, you'll likely pay well over $100 for a loose, mint and complete version. Carded, these figures can sell for three times that amount. That's a fairly high price for a figure who is probably inferior to the American release of the same mold. But, it is also in line with expected prices for exclusive Cobra figures from Brazil. Personally, this is not a figure I would army build. I'll reserve my need for multiples of this mold to the American Crimson Guard Commander. But, as a way to distinguish a collection, the Reptil Do Ar is a great figure that helps to differentiate Crimson Guard Commander molds. It is a figure that is worth tracking down since he is somewhat visually distinctive. But, one whose priority is below some of the other, unique Brazilian exclusives that are out there.

Reptil Do Ar, Crimson Guard Commander, Brazil, EStrela, Skycreeper, 1991 Skymate, 2005 Winter Operations Snake Eyes

Reptil Do Ar, Crimson Guard Commander, Brazil, EStrela, Strato Viper, 1986, Night Rave, 1994 Cobra Blackstar

Thursday, September 12, 2013

1985 Tomax and Xamot

Tomax and Xamot are two characters who are forever intertwined to me. There simply is no way to separate them. Individually, they are nothing remarkable. But, as twins, the characters begin to step above the Cobra riff raff and have some very redeeming qualities about them. The twins are characters that show that Joe was willing to think even more outside the box. (A trend that would continue until it probably went too far.) The Joe designers were willing to introduce different types of characters who were more super villain-ish without pushing the boundaries too far astray from the base realistic military concept. The twins fit within Cobra, but allowed it greater leeway as an evil organization. Plus, as characters, they were something different that had never been offered as a toy before.

In the spring of 1985, I was on a Joe buying mission. Flush with money from cutting grass all over the neighborhood, I was able to purchase any figure I found with my own funds. As such, on every trip I took with my mother to Target or the grocery store that was near the local Toys R Us, I was able to convince her to let me spend time looking at the Joes. If there was nothing new on the shelves, we left quickly. But, if I found something new, I would buy it for myself. This often lead to fits of jealousy from my younger siblings. But, it also kept my parents off the hook for the large array of G.I. Joe toys that I wanted to acquire every year.

I found my first Tomax and Xamot set in the spring of 1985. This was just after the release of G.I. Joe #37 where the twins were introduced. This comic made the characters very desirable to me and the spectacular mirrored packaging only enhanced that feeling. I purchased the figures on a Friday night and brought them home, placed them atop the Ferret and proceeded to have Footloose and Flint battle them in the Armadillo. All this was on the floor of my parents' living room before they sent me off to bed. The entire next day was spent with those figures out in the yard, replaying scenarios from the comic and me coming up with new adventures.

In time, the Tomax and Xamot characters evolved. When Serpentor was introduced, the twins joined his cadre. (This was counter to the comic where they were loyal to Cobra Commander. But, I just couldn't break up the Cobra Commander, Destro, Major Bludd grouping that had defined so much of my childhood play.) As Serpentor faded out of my play rotation and the new Cobra leader portrayed by the Sea Slug came into light, Tomax and Xamot joined up with him against Cobra Commander. They rarely actually commanded the Crimson Guard. More likely, they were just named leaders who were exceptionally talented and dangerous. I had the twins able to withstand and defeat pain by passing it back and forth. When one was injured, the pain would travel between them, lessening each time. This allowed them to fight through terrible physical beatings, but could also be a detriment as the pain passing between the brothers could be distracting and would lead them to capture or defeat from time to time.

The molds for the twins are very well detailed. The classic combination of blue and red with the silver accents firmly entrench the characters as Cobras. The adornments of their uniforms are very intricately detailed with ridged pads, chained belts and textured cloth. In case you thought these figures weren't combat ready, though, each twin features a knife, pistol and arm communication device sculpted onto the body. The heads are finely detailed to look like each other, but have slight differences you expect in twins. The figures are mirror images of one another with the sashes facing different directions, the arms being reversed and even the pistols and knives on their legs switched. It had to be a fun set to design for this reason. But, it didn't allow Hasbro to save any sculpting cost since each figure is, essentially, a completely unique mold.

I have always felt, though, that Tomax and Xamot were a bit "circus-y" in their appearance. While their uniforms worked for me as a child, as an adult, I have found them a bit more cartoonish than I like. The reality is that had Tomax and Xamot been introduced in the 1990's, collectors would abhor them. But, their classic release date gives them credibility that, perhaps, they don't altogether deserve. This is likely the reason why the twins' role in my collection has diminished over time. The introduction of suited figures in 2005 actually brought them back into a role in my collection since those figures were less outlandish and fit with the characters. But, being so linked to my childhood keeps these figures relevant, even if their look has diminished them a bit to me.

The twin's accessories are unique and both perfect and lacking. Each figure included a large, black pistol. The weapon found ubiquity in the modern line with release with tons of Cobra army builders. But, during the vintage period, it was exclusive to Tomax and Xamot. Also included with the figures was a small length of rope and a two handed hook that the figure's could use to slide along the rope to a quick getaway. While the rope included was too small to be of any real use, the hook became an integral part of my Joe world. In short time after acquiring the figures, my bedroom was strung across with various strings that connected the "building" that was my dresser, to the "light tower" that was a floor lamp. From this, the twins would quickly escape from any Joe captors. (I would also use Stormshadow's nunchucks in the same way. At least until one day when I slid them across the rope too quickly and it sliced the accessory in half!)

In the 1985 Joe catalog, the Crimson Twin figures' pictures are nothing like the actual retail release figures. It's likely the final samples were not ready in time. But, the pictured figures have larger heads and silver weapons. When I got my first set, I compared them to the picture and was actually happier with the released figures. (This was rarely the case. The prototype figures in the 1984 catalog looked much cooler to me than the versions that were actually released.) The mocked up figures are an interesting insight into the designer's vision of the characters. But, the slimmer heads on the production figures are actually better, even if they are not as detailed.

The Tomax and Xamot molds were only used in the U.S. In fact, they, Crankcase, Lamprey, Snow Serpent and Frostbite are the only 6 figure molds released in 1985 that were never released by another country as well. It is likely that this is due to the fact that all of these figures (Except the Snow Serpent which is just an oddity.) were available as mail ins from Hasbro Direct for many years. Since the molds were in production, there was no need to ship them off to Argentina, Brazil or India. The mail away version of Xamot features a scar variant. But, due to the large number of figures offered, isn't really that much more desirable than any Xamot figure. The entire figure molds returned in 2002 as part of the super limited Wave V of the A Real American Hero Collection. These figures are nearly identical to the original versions. In the summer of that year, Master Collector repainted the twins in Crimson and Fuchsia as part of their inaugural Convention set. The heads then appeared in 2005 in the Crimson Guard set. There were long rumors of a white pair of Twins released in Europe. This was simply urban legend caused by grainy photos. But, it does lend credence to the notion that these figures could have been repainted one or two more times in color schemes that collectors would have enjoyed.

On a personal note, the characters of Tomax and Xamot have taken on a deeper meaning to me in recent times. I am now the father of identical twin boys. (They have a fraternal, triplet brother as well!) Seeing how they interact with each other, and how they seem to know what the others are thinking with little outward communication has given me more insight in the Tomax and Xamot characters. It has made them much more real to me since I can see how identical twins and even the triplet have a connection far beyond anything I shared with my brothers of different ages. It lends credence to some of the more outlandish character traits of the twins. And, on mornings where my twins wake up with their hair parted in opposite ways, I always think of Tomax and Xamot!

Mint and complete with filecard sets of Tomax and Xamot can be problematic to price. You will see them sell anywhere between $12 and $30. Usually, though, high quality, complete versions can be had around $20 with consistency. This is down from a few years ago when the Twins were extremely popular and the figures would hit $50 with regularity. Considering that Tomax and Xamot are iconical in both the Cartoon and the Comic and that there was just the one vintage release of the characters, $20 isn't too much to pay. While the molds are a bit clownish, they are also integral to the characters. No Crimson Guard army is complete without Tomax and Xamot leading them.

1985 Tomax, Xamot, Ferrett, Crimson Guard Commanders, Crimson Twins

1985 Tomax, Xamot, Ferrett, Crimson Guard Commanders, Crimson Twins

Monday, September 9, 2013

2001 Duke

When I first heard that Duke was the winner of the most recent Feature Character Spotlight, I was disappointed. The first three spotlights all focused on characters that I wanted to profile. In this case, though, I am less enthused. It has nothing to do with the fact that this spotlight in on a Joe. It has everything to with the fact that this spotlight is on Duke. For whatever reason, the Duke character has never clicked with me. Even from the time when I got his first mail-in figure in early 1984, I have never been able to get behind the character. For a figure with as many versions as Duke had, he has only appeared here once before. In that profile, I told of how I use that figure as a totally different character. Well, surprise, surprise, the same holds true of this Duke figure.

In my collection, this version of Duke is a totally new character. In my previous Duke profile, I spoke of how that character turned into a martyr for the Joes. Well, the character represented by this figure joined the Joes due to the other character's downfall. This character is a highly competent and impeccably trained soldier who finds himself reluctantly thrust into a leadership role after he saves a battle for the Joes. Unlike the previous character who became tiresome, though, this character has a darker side. He does not want to be in the position he has been forced into. However, his sense of duty keeps him there as he discovers he was meant for his new purpose. That does not, though, reconcile his doubts and this character remains troubled, even with his successes. His problematic nature makes this character more interesting than my previous attempt and has kept this figure near the forefront of my collection for well over two years. (Especially after I had him kill Cobra Commander. It was a setup by the new leader of my Cobras but gave this Duke character instant credibility.)

I'm not sure why I don't like Duke. I think it has to do with the fact that his character got boring. There just wasn't much to do with him. I found him rather boring in the comic and was never a real cartoon fan. So, the character didn't much for me. Even as a kid, I didn't use Duke all that much since I had Hawk as the leader of my Joes. The nice thing about this is that figures like this 2001 version of Duke can be easily repurposed to new characters. For some reason, that seems to be the fate of Duke figures in my collection. But, since he tends to get solid molds and good accessories, I want to use the figures, even if the character doesn't suit me.

There is some debate as the to true year that Duke was officially released. Frankly, there is evidence to support both sides. Duke, and rest of his wave, made their first documented appearance at American retail stores a few days before Christmas 2000. On top of that, his figure wave only had 3 new packs in it and the case assortments carried over 3 packs from the first Wave of 2000 Joes. As such, it is easy to say that he was released in 2000 and should be considered part of that year's releases. However, historically, some of the next year's Joes have leaked out a bit prior to their intended release date. (I remember getting Lt. Falcon and the Battle Armour Cobra Commander for my December birthday in 1986.) These figures who get out early, though, have not, historically, been penalized for their premature appearance at retail and are considered as part of the next year's line. (The same thing happened to Wave 5 this year.) This points to Duke and his Wave as being the first official 2001 Joe releases (especially when you consider that Wave III didn't hit retail until after Memorial Day!) rather than the final assortment of 2000. Neither way really matters. I classify this figure as 2001 as I feel the historical precedent requires it. Others will not. In the future, it could be a source of confusion but I think this figure is so available that it really won't be an issue.

This Duke mold was a welcome site in 2001. It hadn't been used in 10 years and was a high quality original release. However, Hasbro quickly killed the mold with overuse. It appeared in Wave IV as the body for Leatherneck. Those two quick releases that were largely pegwarmers soured collectors. The mold was planned for use in late 2003 for the Wal Mart Exclusive Sky Patrol Duke. While that figure was not, technically, released, large quantities of them made it into the collecting world and are available. The mold actually has some potential left and could be used for some high quality repaints of Duke or use for other characters. But, that is never going to happen.

2001 Dukes are easy to find. Wave II was the scourge of collectors everywhere and was widely available both in the U.S. and Canada. Many stores finally discounted the wave to move the huge quantity of pegwarmers that were left over. Even today, you can get this figure MOC for under his original retail price. In my opinion, that is a pretty good deal. As far as Duke goes, this figure is one of his better interpretations. If you want to use Duke in a non-desert setting, this figure is your best way to go. This doesn't mean, of course, that this figure will ever unseat some earlier versions of Duke as the primary mold for the character. But, he does offer a nice change from Duke's typical appearances. In the long run, though, I just don't see this figure ever climbing out of the bargain bins. Too many collectors have this figure and many of them are so sick of him from the pegwarmers of 2001 that they never want to see him again. I think this is an unfair burden for this figure to carry as he really is a mold that I use frequently. Given a chance, I think more collectors might feel the same.

2001 Duke, ARAHC, 1994 Stalker, European Exclusive Spirit Iron Knife

2001 Duke, ARAHC, 1994 Stalker, European Exclusive Spirit Iron Knife, 2002 Night Rhino, Funskool Flint, Spearhead, Night Force, 1985 Snake Eyes, V2, 2002 BJ's Exclusive Dial Tone

Thursday, September 5, 2013

1984 Thunder

In the first three years of the Joe line, there were a good number of figure releases.  Not too many as to be overwhelming.  But, enough that a child could always get something new no matter what time the year.  (Unless you were of generous parents who just bought it all at once and gave one massive gift every year....)  In my childhood, the progression always seemed to be the acquisition of carded figures first through the school year and then transitioning into vehicles as the summer season started.  This was likely the function of me having more money in the summer to buy my own vehicles.  But, I have few recollections of seeing the vehicles from any given year in the stores as early as I found the figures.  (This was probably due to the seasonality of ordering where stores weren't going to buy expensive vehicles in January to have them sit on the shelf until December.  They could sell just as many by getting them in June.)  This has lead to the bulk of my new vehicle memories being focused outside in the summer.  1984 was no exception.  I had most of the figures early in the year, but started getting vehicles later.  Just before a summer trip to see my grandparents, my younger brother was given the Slugger.  While this vehicle left me somewhat cold, I thought the driver was cool.  This brought Thunder into my collection.

When my brother opened his Slugger, he found something that occurred from time to time in the vintage line.  His Thunder figure was damaged out of the box.  The screw hole was broken.  As such, Thunder fell apart right out of the bubble.  My father, though, had a solution.  He re-drilled the hole in Thunder's back and replaced the screw with one that was much larger.  The benefit was that Thunder was whole and could be used again.  The drawback is that he could not wear a backpack and he had the stigma of imperfection that bothered me even as a child. As such, this prevented Thunder from being a major player in my childhood collection. Rather than get a full characterization, Thunder was left relatively untouched and was even a character who could die from time to time since I had no real attachment to him.

Around 1986, though, another Thunder figure came into our childhood collection. Finally having a nicely conditioned version allowed me to use the figure more freely. Thunder quickly found a home as a generic Joe driver. He helmed the APC, would join Tollbooth on the Bridge Layer, man a gun turret on the WHALE or, most commonly, ride shotgun in the Mauler. This Thunder, though, still wasn't much of a character. Mostly, he remained a figure who was a Joe army builder. He might have a major role, or he might perish on any given mission. The figure was cool enough to warrant use. But, the damage from that original figure out the box prevented Thunder from ever attaining the characterization that made figures important to me.

The Thunder mold is extremely well done. The head is greatly detailed with a chiseled facial expression. The body has layers of armor and protective gear that driving a tank would necessitate. The figure is colored remarkably well. The hues of brown and green are a great combination that tie Thunder the line's roots, but give more character than was seen in the first wave of figures. The mold is full of painted details, from belt loops to the chest holster and buckles for his chest harness. Thunder is a richly textured figure that shows the level of detail Hasbro was willing to put into even vehicle drivers whose vehicles allowed them to be completely hidden from view. In the line's first few years, there was no real differentiation between a vehicle driver and carded figure except for the quantity of accessories. In time, that changed. But, Thunder is a great example of Hasbro's dedication to the line and their commitment to quality in those beginning waves of toys.

That quality serves Thunder well today. The figure is a staple of my vehicle driving corps and can be most often seen in the HAVOC or Mauler. The strong colors and great mold make for a figure that is perfect background fodder for dioramas or manning secondary stations on many classic vehicles. Thunder has the complexity that makes for a visually appealing member of a collection along with the simplicity that blends him perfectly together with figures from 1982 - 1984. His accessories give him personality that allows him to extend beyond the limited role of Slugger driver and into a more ubiquitous job as a general vehicle driver. This versatility makes the figure that much better and helps to expand the Joe ranks without straying too far from the norms of the time.

The 1984 Joes seem to be split into two camps.  The first group includes Thunder as well as Duke and Roadblock.  These three figures seem like they are just an extension of the 1983 line.  They use the standard helmet from 1982 and have scale and details that make them more akin to the 1983 releases.  (Which makes sense for Duke as he was released in late 1983 via the mail away offer.)  The rest of the carded '84 lineup (Spirit, Blowtorch, Mutt, etc.) seem like they benefited from the lessons learned in 1982 and 1983 and featured beefier sculpts with greater detail as well as accessories that were more custom tailored to their individual figures.  It could be that the first group was just a cost saving measure meant to squeeze a bit more life out of the earlier designs.  But, we do know that Hasbro was designing figures very early on (The 1983 Destro artwork is dated 1981.) and it's possible that Thunder was a holdover from an earlier design.  Whatever the story, it is an interesting view into the yearly transitions Joe made as the line evolved.

Thunder was given decent accessories.  While he included the standard 1982 helmet, Hasbro went a step further to give him new headgear.  In lieu of the played out visor, Thunder was equipped with menacing black "goggles" and earmuffs to shield his hearing from the Slugger's massive weapon's noise.  As if that weren't enough, he was also given a field monocular glass to target his quarry.  (To make up for the fact that my Thunder was broken out of the box, he actually included 2 monoculars.  Pure coincidence, but something I recall.)  All of this allowed Thunder to be more than many other vehicle drivers since he had accessories that matched his specialty. (It should be noted that Thunder's goggles are not the same as were included with Starduster. There are dealers who often confuse the two. Thunder's goggles only work when applied with the headgear as well. Though, in the old days of Joe, it was not uncommon to find a Thunder figure with Starduster's visor. Those were great finds!)

The Thunder mold was infrequently used.  After this figure's retail run was done in 1985, though, Thunder continued on as a mail away for most of the rest of the vintage line's run.  In 1988, Thunder's head and accessories were used on the Tiger Force Skystriker figure.  After that, the entire mold was repainted in green and released as Thunderwing the MOBAT driver in 1998 and again in 2000.  After that, the figure disappeared.  (Though his arms would make appearances from time to time on various figures.)  I would have liked to have seen Hasbro use the body mold with a Cobra Trooper or Hiss Driver head to make up a new Cobra vehicle driver later in the line.  But, thinking like that was gone by the time Hasbro could have done it.  But, Thunder exists in two high quality figures.  So, you can't say that mold was squandered.

Thunder figures aren't too hard to find.  But, mint and complete versions have gotten somewhat pricey in recent years.  You will see mint and complete with filecard figures sell upwards of $20 from time to time.  But, Thunder was available for a long time via mail aways.  And, he was one of the filler figures that was sent to collectors from Hasbro Canada in 1999 as a replacement for any other figure you ordered who was now out of stock.  So, there are lots of them out there. As a figure, Thunder is very high quality and he looks good as second fiddle in a variety of vehicles. That is versatility that is worth adding to any collection.

1983 Steeler, 1984 Thunder, Zap, Stalker, Mail Away Parachute Pack

1984 Thunder, Bomb Disposal, Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Awe Striker, Recoil, 1989, 1987

1984 Thunder, Bomb Disposal, Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Awe Striker, Recoil, 1989, 1987

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

1983 Rock and Roll

The original Joes hold a soft spot in my collection.  They were the first Joes I ever owned and were the gateway into my adult hobby.  While I really hold the 1983 figures as the true impetus that drove my collecting, it was the groundwork laid by the original 13 that allowed that to happen.  As such, as I've gotten older, I have grown more fond of the original Joes.  They have a lot of issues and feature many things that I find to be detriments to later figures.  But, when taken within the context of their release, these shortcomings are much more forgivable.  However, due to the similarities between so many of the figures, I truly appreciate those which deviated the most from the formula of the first figures.  Rock and Roll is a perfect example of a figure who uses unique parts and existing parts to create a lasting character.

The original 13 Joes, when taken as part of the overall line with over 1,000 ARAH style figures, have limitations.  The reuse of parts steals away some semblance of originality.  The molds are detailed, but not nearly to the extent of even the 1983 figures who came the next year.  The colors are mostly the same and lack the contrast that came in later times.  But, when taken as a group, these figures have a panache that is hard to match.  The flow of color gives them the appearance of a team.  The diverse specialties also define the individuality that can be lost with reuse of parts and colors.  In short, the group works because they were first.  Had this set of figures been released in 1984, the line would have suffered greatly.  But, by coming first, they set a bar for what the Joe line was going to be.  This allowed the figures in subsequent years to surpass these first figures in terms of mold, paint and accessories, but not to a point where the originals were useless.  If you look at modern toys lines, the first waves of figures are quickly dated to the point where they are useless.  (You can't give away the first 5 years worth of Star Wars re-releases these day since the figures produced since they are just light years better.)  In the Joe line, you see a progression.  It is hard to use '82/'83 figures alongside those from 1994 in some cases.  But, the two lines do not appear to be either completely unrelated or redesigned with a whole new sculpting methodology.  It is this continuity in design that has allowed the vintage Joe line to remain as relevant to me know as it was when I was first buying them in stores.

Rock and Roll sports a unique chest mold.  He joins Clutch, Steeler and Scarlett as the 4 original figures to have that distinction.  In this case, Rock and Roll's chest helps define his speciality.  The bullet straps might not be overly practical, but the quickly convey Rock and Roll's specialty has a machine gunner.  The bold golden paint drives home this detail all the more.  Beyond that, Rock and Roll is shared parts from the rest of the original figures.  Not even his blonde hair is unique as Short Fuze and Hawk share the color.  His M-60, though, is amazing.  The weapon is greatly detailed.  The inclusion of the bi-pod was both a feat of engineering, but also an attention to detail that no other military toy line of the time was able to capture.  To this day, the original M-60 is my weapon of choice for this figure, his 1989 version and Repeater.  It is enduring and one of the iconic weapons of the early Joe years.

Rock and Roll was not made as much by the figure as he was the character.  My introduction to Rock and Roll was really his appearance in "Hot Potato" in G.I. Joe #1.  As a kid, I found his demeanor fascinating.  He was drawn with wide, nearly maniacal eyes.  His bushy beard and longer hair made Rock and Roll appear as more of a renegade than a cut from the die good guy like Hawk or Grunt.  But, after that appearance, Rock and Roll was more subdued.  In his later comic appearances, his laid back personality was more prominent and gone was the character that had intrigued me so when I read the first comic.

This was the reason why Rock and Roll never played much of a part of my childhood collection.  I know that my younger brother had a straight arm figure.  But, I never managed to get a swivel arm figure until very late in the year in 1988.  Between that time, I never had much use for the figure.  Roadblock was a more effective heavy machine gunner (though the comic tried to differentiate them by saying Roadblock was the heavy machine gunner and Rock and Roll the "light" machine gunner.) and really kept me from ever needing Rock and Roll's speciality.  I still enjoyed the character in the comic, but really had no need for the figure.  This changed with the release of the 1989 Rock and Roll figure as I found that a perfect update.  But, that was the time I was out of Joe toy buying and is story for another time.

The Rock and Roll mold was a world traveler.  It was used for unique Rock and Roll figures in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.  The chest was used for the Argentine exclusive Shimik figure as well.  The swivel arm figure appeared in the US, Europe and Japan.  But, sometime during this run of releases, the mold disappeared.  In 1997, Hasbro intended Rock and Roll to appear in the ill fated Stars and Stripes set.  But, the mold was MIA.  It never appeared again.  On some levels, that's too bad as this is a character where a repaint could have been very well done.  But, really, Hasbro did very little innovative with the original 13 molds that were at their disposal.  So, even if the mold had been used, it's unlikely it would have created an enduring figure.  The result would have more likely been akin to the 1997 Grunt than the 2002 Toy Fair Scarlett.

Rock and Roll figures are surprisingly cheap when you consider that his brown eyebrows are easy to scuff, the gold paint on his ammo belts and pouches wears easily and he included the smallest accessory of the vintage run with the bi-pod from the M-60.  Truthfully, mint and complete Rock and Roll figures should be a lot more expensive then they are.  Mint and complete, Rock and Rolls can be had for $15-$18.  That price seems to be steady regardless of the figure being swivel arm or straight arm.  But, for a figure of this quality and with these characteristics, it's a price I find to be well worth the quality it will acquire.  Rock and Roll isn't my favorite figure from the original 13.  But, he is in the top 4 and is a figure with whom's absence I would not consider my collection complete.

1983 Rock and Roll, Grunt, Scarlett, Steeler, Clutch, Hawk, RAM, VAMP, JUMP, Jet Pack, Grand Slam

1983 Rock and Roll, Original 13, Snake Eyes, Action Force Stalker, European Exclusive

1983 Rock and Roll, Steel Brigade, Mail Away, 1985 Mauler, 1984 Clutch, Scarlett, 1987

Monday, September 2, 2013

1986 Mainframe

Periodically, I look through my older profiles to see if there is any information that I should update. When I do this, I often fill in some of the gaps in the profiles. These days, a profile is substantially longer and more structured than some of those early works. From time to time, I find a figure where I simply feel that the original profile doesn't do the figure justice. In those cases, I'll often add in addendums to the original profile. In some rare cases, I've actually profiled a figure a second time. Recently, I came across my old Mission to Brazil Mainframe profile. It was very lacking in information and was in need of an update. However, rather than spending time rehashing that older write-up, I thought it might be more fun to simply go back to one of the mold's other incarnations and start from scratch with an all new figure. Thus, the original Mainframe figure became the focal point of my most recent profile.

As a character, Mainframe was always interesting to me. When I originally purchased him, though, my initial interest was low since he did not come with a gun. This, though, was quickly rectified with some of the vintage accessory pack uzis that I had lying around. (This also gave Mainframe a link to Breaker as I had done the same thing with that figure in my earlier childhood.) This made the figure a bit more useful. As the grey, silver and black that comprised the bulk of the figure was eye-catching and somewhat unique at the time, Mainframe found his way into my Joe rotation. His status was cemented, though, with the release of the comic book where Mainframe and Dusty were showcased. This portrayed Mainframe as an older, wiser veteran. This was an idea that I took a step further as I made Mainframe the oldest of the Joes. (I also distinctively remember that the Transformers cartoon of the time did quick little profiles at the end of certain episodes that ran short. One was for Kup who was described as a "flinty, old warrior". That phrase came to describe Mainframe's character.)

Mainframe also played another important part in my childhood collection. His parts comprised my core group of 4 custom characters who were the main focus of my collection in late 1986 and early 1987. These four characters used parts from Snake Eyes, Barbeque, Footloose, Grunt, Recondo, Dial Tone, Heavy Metal and Flint. These customs became essential characters to my collection. They combined with the other 1985-1987 Joes to battle Cobra. Mainframe's parts were an essential ingredient in the mix that created these new characters. I upgraded and had another Mainframe as part of my collection, too. But these new characters were more combatants than Mainframe and saw more use in actual combat than Mainframe ever did.

Today, Mainframe is a figure who often sits in the base. But, beyond that, I just don't use him all that often. In fact, you can see the paint wear on my lone Mainframe figure as I've never really had occasion to acquire another one. From time to time, he does make it out a crew member of the Mauler. The grey color is a solid military color and works well with many of the realistically colored figures from the line's early years. In that role, Mainframe works well. Beyond that, though, I don't find much use for Mainframe. The figure is cool and the design solid. But, it's tough to use him as anything other than a support figure. That doesn't diminish the figure's quality. But, his specialty limits the amount of use the figure can expect to see.

Hasbro released their only two Mainframe figures in the same year. Both this original version and the Mission to Brazil version appeared in 1986. After that, the mold was discarded and, ultimately, was sent to Estrela where they released an exclusive Mainframe for the Brazilian market. This figure is nearly identical to the American release. After that, the mold appeared in India. Funskool produced another Mainframe for many years. Again, though, this figure is very similar to the American version. About the only thing it offers are some differently colored accessories. At this point, it is likely that the Mainframe mold is back under Hasbro's control. However, whether or not it is in a usable condition is unknown. Personally, I would like to see Mainframe return to the Joe lineup. The mold has some potential and it would be nice to see mainframe in some different colors.

Mainframes are neither hard to find nor expensive. A mint, complete with filecard figure can easily be acquired for under $11 or so. Mainframe was released during the height of Joe's popularity and even with collector sentiment on his side, simply can not overcome the sheer number of figures that are out there. But, I still feel that Mainframe is essential to any collection. The mold is solid, the colors are strong and the figure, overall, is definitely a winner. His look fits with figures from many eras and his specialty has only become more important in modern time. he is a figure that collectors should have as part of their collections. A cheap price and high quality figure make for a combo that everyone really should own.

1986 Mainframe, Sci Fi, 1985, Mauler, Snake Eyes, General Hawk, Dial Tone, Transportable Tactical Battle Platform

1986 Mainframe, Sci Fi, 1985, Mauler, Snake Eyes, General Hawk, Dial Tone, Transportable Tactical Battle Platform

1986 Mainframe, Sci Fi, 1985, Mauler, Snake Eyes, General Hawk, Dial Tone, Transportable Tactical Battle Platform

1986 Mainframe, Sci Fi, 1985, Mauler, Snake Eyes, General Hawk, Dial Tone, Transportable Tactical Battle Platform

1986 Mainframe, Sci Fi, 1985, Mauler, Snake Eyes, General Hawk, Dial Tone, Transportable Tactical Battle Platform

1986 Mainframe, Sci Fi, 1985, Mauler, Snake Eyes, General Hawk, Dial Tone, Transportable Tactical Battle Platform