Thursday, October 17, 2013

2002 Big Ben

The repaint era of Joes had more than its share of duds from a figure perspective.  Every now than then, though, Hasbro really got a repaint right.  In some cases, collectors love the figure and hold it in high esteem even today.  More likely, though, is that the figure is relatively forgotten.  Usually, this is due to the fact that the figure was released at a time when there were many other high quality figures available, the figure was released in a set with better figures, or, the figure was released with an army builder that caused collectors to over dose on the mold and turned a good figure bad.  This was the case with the surprisingly high quality 2002 Big Ben figure.

When this figure was released, collectors hated it.  It had nothing to really do with the figure itself.  There were two driving factors behind the backlash:

1.  Big Ben was part of the epic pegwarmer Big Ben/Whiteout pack that was still around at retail.
2.  Big Ben was included with the army building Alley Viper.

It's easy to forget now just how strong the army building urge among collectors was during 2002.  Cobra armies were more popular than anything else in the hobby.  Really, collectors could not restrain themselves.  If they found 27 samples of a figure at retail, they bought all 27.  High quality Cobra army builders were fetching very high prices on the secondary market and collectors were desperate for a retail alternative to the online auction.  At the time, though, Hasbro only released Cobra army builders in 2 packs.  At first, the army builder was paired with a Cobra named character.  But, in 2002, this practice was abandoned for the Joe Vs. Cobra angle which required one Cobra and one Joe in every 2 pack.  The result was that collectors who stocked up on the Alley Viper figures ended up with dozens, or even hundreds!, of Big Ben figures.  This was incredibly frustrating to collectors of the time and they tended to take out their frustrations by disliking the Joe figures who were always included with the more desirable army builders. Despite the fact that this Big Ben and his companion, Mirage, were exceptionally well done, collectors could not stomach any more of them since they ended up army building the Joes along with the Cobras of the time.

As this figure multiplied like rabbits in collections around the country, collectors tried a variety of ways to make use of the surplus Big Bens. Many people tried to use the figures as Joe army builders. Since Big Ben wasn't an iconic character, this worked. But, after a time, even this was too much. Some collectors tried to trade off their extra figures to customizers. But, the parts quickly became far too common and the mold didn't have tons of customizing life in it. With few outlets to either offload or reuse the parts from this figure, the animosity towards it grew and grew in the collecting world. Hasbro compounded the problem by repainting the figure and releasing it with another army builder repaint only a few months after this figure's release. The disdain for Big Ben far outweighed what the mold, in and of itself, warranted. But, sometimes, other circumstances intercede and ruin what would have been great figure. And, that was certainly the case with this Big Ben.

I consider this the third best Big Ben figure behind the 1991 and the 2001 Arctic version. That may not seem a ringing endorsement of the figure. It is, though, a testament of how well done those other two versions of Big Ben were. The colors of this figure, though, are visually appealing and well worth the acquisition. I find the combination of green and tan to be a solid color palette that lends itself to more use than most of the other colors attempted during this time. The painted accents bring the figure to life and make him more dimensional than many of the later repaints that were released. The modern plastic is more pliable than that on the vintage figure, though not too much so to be trouble.

As a character, Big Ben was introduced to me around 1990 or 1991. I was out of Joes and not buying or keeping up on the figures outside of the comic. I would babysit some younger kids down the street occasionally, though, and they were still buying Joes. One of them had Big Ben. When I saw the figure for the first time, I was enthralled. It was a great figure with awesome accessories. When I started buying Joes in the late 1990's on the secondary market, Big Ben was high on my list of figures to acquire. Once I had one, he became a staple of my photos and displays. I was excited to see the 2001 Arctic repaint and actually army built a few of them in the first few weeks. Even after that figure collected dust around the country and, ultimately, lead to the demise of the A Real American Hero Collection series, I was happy to see this figure in 2002. It was still a great mold with great accessories and the colors were very cool. After that, my enthusiasm for additional Big Ben figures waned. There was no reason for the second repaint in 2002 nor the vehicle driver figure in 2003. This figure, though, still holds up. It can stand among vintage figures. But, it works best among the highest quality figures from the 1997 - 2006 era.

For a figure as much maligned as Big Ben, it is surprising to see just how high quality the figure actually is. The base colors of tan and green had not been seen on any Joe figures until this figure wave. (The General Tomahawk and Surefire figures basically use the same hues.) The only real detriment to the figure is that the gloved hands are painted flesh. This wouldn't be a huge problem, except that Big Ben's gloves were sculpted onto the mold. So, seeing these details in flesh coloring makes the figure appear to have some sort of skin disease. That and the G.I. Joe logo on the figure's leg, though, are the only real downsides to the figure. The paint masks are convention quality with grey fur on his had, an olive undershirt, golden bullets held in place by tan straps and tan and black boots. He is an excellent combination of strong, common colors detailed with accents that enhance the mold.

In the fall of 2000, the first carded image of a Big Ben/Whiteout pack was shown. Included in the sample was the bi-pod to Big Ben's rifle. When the first figures appeared on the shelves, though, the bi-pod was absent. Hasbro never saw fit to release the bi-pod again. That is the only small nitpick that can be levied against this version of Big Ben's accessory complement. He includes his original rifle, huge pack, soft plastic satchel with working lid and two grenades that fit inside. To make up for the missing bi-pod, Hasbro threw in a version of Snow Job's classic rifle. (At the time, these were not as common as they would become so it was a nice addition to the figure.) Basically, the figure was outfitted the same as the vintage version. For most figures during this release period, Hasbro skimped on accessories. (It got especially bad in 2004.) But, when they were able to include the full complement of original accessories with a repainted figure, the release was made that much better for it.

The Big Ben mold should be dead. It was used for the original figure in 1991, a hard to find mail away repaint in 1993 and then appeared in 2001, twice in 2002, partially in 2003 and then became the staple of the comic pack figures where he was used for figures like Kwinn, Schrage and Rock and Roll. Basically, collectors never wanted to see Big Ben again. And, there really is no need to. The figure exists in his classic green, an interesting brown, the requisite Arctic repaint and then this figure with an odd, blue version thrown in for the oddball repaint every good figure mold needs. This was a case of a mold where Hasbro got all the mileage they could from it and collectors have plenty of high quality options to choose from for the character.

Wave 1.5, of which this figure is a member, was one of the most overproduced waves of the repaint era. It was a stop gap wave between Wave 1 of the new sculpt figures and Wave 2 that were retrofitted with O-Ring construction to appease Joe fans. At first, collectors salivated over the wave with its inclusion of the Viper and Alley Viper. As the wave trickled out in the spring of 2002, collectors gobbled up the army builders with gusto that was pretty much unprecedented. Within a few weeks, though, the figures kept shipping and shipping. Collectors who were afraid they would never find the army builders at retail discovered that the figures were available just about everywhere. For months after the initial shipments, more and more Wave 1.5 kept showing up. As the year wore on, Hasbro sold more overstock to dollar and discount stores. So, into 2003, it was possible to find these figures at retail. It took until the summer of 2004, when Dollar General stores reduced the figure two packs to $1.00 each that collectors finally absorbed the U.S. based overstock. However, it also appears that Hasbro liquidated large quantities of the figures overseas as dealers from other countries contacted many American collectors about bulk purchases of these figures at drastically reduced prices. But, the sheer volume of figures had lead to collector apathy for even the army builders and most of these offers were refused since the figures had become somewhat unsellable to the collector market since demand had been completely sated.

Today, these Big Ben figures are basically worthless. You can get them for around $3. As the Alley Viper's popularity has dipped, though, even carded figures won't cost you more than $10. Considering that you get a great repaint of a high quality mold with almost his entire original accessory complement, that's a pretty good price. The character of Big Ben was overused by Hasbro during the repaint era and the mold was overused more so. This has left many collectors overlooking the actual quality of this figure. It is a great combination of mold, color, character and accessories that was rare to find during this time of Joe releases. Throw in a cheap price and you can find an overlooked figure that's worth far more than the price he will cost to acquire.

2002 Big Ben

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