Wednesday, November 27, 2013

2005 Comic Pack Short Fuze

The original 13 G.I. Joe figures had a lot of common parts. As such, to an outside eye, many of the figures appeared to be very similar or the same. Hasbro went to great lengths to differentiate the common parts by using different hair colors or uniform styles. But, at the end of the day, Breaker looked like Clutch who looked like Rock and Roll. In the Marvel comic, though, the artists were not constrained by such cost cutting. On the drawn panel, each character was allowed to take on his own look and personality. Rock and Roll had longer blonde hair. Clutch didn't have full beard, but a few days of scruff. And, Breaker didn't have a beard at all and usually had his face obscured by a ubiquitous wad of bubble gum. The Short Fuse character was similar. Sharing a head with Flash, Hawk and Steeler, Short Fuse had the misfortune of also sharing a hair color with the Joe team's leader. To give him more uniqueness than just his shoulder harness uniform, the comic artists drew Short Fuse with glasses. In time, these became the character's signature look, even though they were missing from his figure.

23 years after the release of the original Short Fuse, Hasbro revisited the character and sculpted a new head for him. Finally, Short Fuse had his trademark glasses and a head that was more unique to the character. The head is a great piece of work, too. Short Fuse has flowing 80's style hair with peaks that perfectly frame the tightly sculpted glasses. The black spectacles bring some character to the figure without making him too geeky. The rest of the face is full of detail and stands far above offerings like Zap or Flash that were fairly boring. Unfortunately, the rest of the figure is boring. The odd green color meant to be a comic book homage is less useful than most collectors would like and the rest of the body is nothing more than the same Short Fuse mold that was released in 1983 and 1997. Instead of adding some new cachet to the mold, Hasbro did a straight homage to the original. The result is a figure that starts off exceptionally well and then quickly fizzles into mundane repetition.

The comic pack figures had some shortcomings. The most glaring for Short Fuse is his inability to wear a helmet. In their zeal to sculpt different hair for the character, Hasbro removed the ability for a Mortar Trooper to wear protective head gear. Sure, the hair is nicely done. But, having a bunch of bare-headed homages to the original line seems half hearted. Near the end, Hasbro brought in a helmet for Breaker. But, figures like this Short Fuse and Zap were left wanting by not having the helmets and eyewear that were in line with their character's original appearance. It was little details like this that kept the comic packs from ever reaching the heights of collector popularity that they should have. Sure, they were enjoyed at the time. But, there are few figures from the packs that have sustained any long term collector appeal...mostly because the figures had small or glaring flaws such as the accessories, colors or mold choices.

One of the frustrations I had with the comic packs was the lack of original accessories. In some cases, Hasbro included some decent new weapons (The resculpted M16 you see below was one such nice inclusion.) but basically all of the original Joe accessories had been seen in 1997. Had figures like Short Fuse, Zap and Flash included their original weapons, the figures would have been more memorable. This Short Fuse does include a newly sculpted mortar, but he also has the recast Roadblock's backpack that was all too common during this timeframe. As such, while Short Fuse retains some tie to his speciality, the reality is that some of the character that were brought by his unique accessories is now lost in banality of modern, ubiquitous resculpts. At least the new mortar was well done and this time, Short Fuse included a pistol for a short range, anti-personnel weapon.

Short Fuse, like many of his contemporaries, is actually a mostly new sculpt. Hasbro had used the Short Fuse/Zap chest in 1997. But, rather than resurrect that mold, they resculpted all of the figure with the exception of the upper arms. Again, this was a huge frustration during this time period. Hasbro would not resculpt excellent figure molds like the V2 Snake Eyes, V1 Alley Viper, V1 BAT, V1 Cobra Commander or V1 Destro but they did resulpt figures like Short Fuse, Lady Jaye and General Hawk whose molds had been used less than a decade before. To me, this showed a great disconnect between Hasbro and the Joe collecting community and was part of what lead to the great amounts of distrust and ultimate abandonment of the line by both parties in 2006.

If you really want this figure, he is dirt cheap. He's not common, but the comic pack figures have basically become worthless in recent years, even the harder to find characters. Carded versions can be more expensive, but loose figures can be had for under $5 if you can find them. It's not a bad price to pay. The head is worth having for the character and has some potential for use even on the vintage mold. But, the original Short Fuse figure is still superior to this one. So, if you only want one version of the character, I'd go with that one. At the core, that was the issue with the comic packs in general. There were too many remakes of characters that simply were not better than prior versions. As such, collectors were left with unfulfilled promise. At least the prices of many of the figures now bear out the lack of long term collector interest.

2005 Comic Pack Short Fuse, HAS Duke, Night Force Roadblock, Kwinn, 2004, 1984 Stinger Driver, Firefly, V1

2005 Comic Pack Short Fuze

2005 Comic Pack Short Fuze, 2007 Convention Exclusive Zap

2005 Comic Pack Short Fuze, HAS Duke, TRU Exclusive, Snake Eyes, Heavy Assault Set

European Exclusive Tiger Force Blizzard

The European Tiger Force exclusives are likely the most well known of the international exclusive figures.  In the early days of Joe collecting, European collectors happily traded away tons of Euro Tiger Force figures to complete their collections with the American exclusive offerings.  As time progressed, though, the scarcity of these figures manifested itself and prices started to rise.  As more and more collectors completed their American collections, they found foreign exclusives to be the next logical place to expand their collections.  The result was a boom in popularity for these European Tiger Force figures.  As a set, they are interesting, if not useful.  Outback is outstandingly distinctive while Hit and Run features the only Hasbro produced version of the mold with a flesh colored face.  The Tiger Force Blizzard is a continuation of the distinctive trend.  The yellow and orange figure is just so visually striking that collectors forgive the fact that a yellow arctic trooper doesn't make a lot of sense.

As a figure, the Tiger Force Blizzard is simply amazing.  The rich yellow and contrasting orange are perfectly offset by the black and brown highlights.  There is no way to miss this figure in any display or photo.  But, that leaves the question of what do you do with an arctic figure whose coloring no longer matches his specialty?

You can use this figure on the Tiger Cat.  But, that's a pretty limited use for a figure like this.  Really, I can't think of any legitimate uses for him at all.  Really, the only reason he should show up in a photo is because he looks cool and you want to show off the fact that you own one.  Beyond that, it is hard to find a good fit for this Blizzard.  His color is a good match for the European Action Force SAS vehicles.  You can see from the photo below that he blends well with the Panther jeep.  So, that is another alternative use for this figure that actually fits with his European background.

Blizzard includes the same accessories as the American figure.  His pack, skis, shoes and handles are identical to the US version.  His uzi, pistol and helmet, though, are all uniquely colored in bright yellow plastic.  It should be noted that the Brazilian Dr. Mindbender includes the same pistol and uzi in colors that are nearly identical to the Tiger Force Blizzard.  But, these are made of Brazilian plastic and you can tell the difference when you hold each.  (This was more of an issue in the days when the Brazilian figure sat unsold all over the Internet for $15.  But, he has gotten as hard to find as the TF Blizzard so someone pulling a switch makes less sense that it did a few years ago.)  These accessories make or break the figure.  Individually, the weapons and helmet have sold for over $50 each to collectors desperate to complete their figures.  They are perfect matches for the figure and really are necessary to complete the overall look.

Tiger Force is one of the more popular subsets among collectors.  With unique members released in Europe and Brazil, it is also a set that gives collectors some difficulty in completing.  (You could also argue that a Tiger Force Lifeline was released in India and many collectors consider the Chinese Flint to be a Tiger Force figure as well.  So, there's even more for collectors to track down.)  Really, the source of the popularity is difficult to pinpoint.  The figures, for the most part, are not significantly better than the original use of the molds.  Tiger Force never played a major part in the cartoon or comic.  And, the colors tend to be somewhat bright and non military.  For most subsets, those facts would be a death knell.  But, Tiger Force enjoys modern collecting support.  It's like a combination of the excellent choice of characters combined with the fact that the subset has a tremendous visual appeal.  Adding the European figures to the mix only enhances that.

The Blizzard mold got some good use...even if it wasn't in great variety.  The figure was released in the US and Europe.  This Tiger Force version was also released in Brazil.  In Brazil, the mold was released as Nevasca who was colored similar to the US figure, but was released as a Cobra.  (Only his filecard says this, though, and the figure has no Cobra markings.)  In 1995, the mold was used for the Arctic Assault Guile figure.  The coloring was similar to the US figure, but with a new head.  Then, 10 years later, Hasbro dropped the mold into the Winter Operations Toys R Us exclusive figure set.  This figure lacked most of the original's accessories and was colored in a light brown.  I think Hasbro could have done something different with the mold and released a Tundra or arctic forest camo figure.  But, that never happened.  But, fans of the mold do have a nice variety of figures to track down, even if they are mostly the same.

The Tiger Force Blizzard figure is expensive.  Typically, he is the priciest of all the European Exclusive Tiger Force figures.  Since he tends to have paint wear, has hard to find unique accessories and is just so bizarre, collectors have long flocked to him.  For a time, this figure hovered around the $300 mark for a mint and complete version.  By 2011/2012, though, the figure was selling in the $150-$175 range.  That still puts him in the top 1% of all Joes in terms of price.  But, this is a figure who is probably worth having, even at those higher prices.  He is hard to find and he is unlike any other figure in the line.  He's not the most useful figure in the Joe world, but he is something that is visually striking and he brings some depth to any collection.

Tiger Force Blizzard, European Exclusive, Tigor, Estrela, Comandos Em Acao, Brazil, Action Force VAMP

Tiger Force Blizzard, European Exclusive, Tigor, Estrela, Comandos Em Acao, Brazil, Action Force VAMP

Thursday, November 21, 2013

1988 Night Force Sneek Peek

What happens when you take a less popular figure mold that was done in less than stellar colors on its initial release and re-imagine it as a retailer exclusive, only in a much better color scheme? The answer is you get the 1988 Night Force lineup. But, really, you get the Night Force Sneek Peek figure.

In late 1988, my youngest brother acquired a set of Night Force figures. It was the Sneek Peek/Lt. Falcon pack. I thought the figure colors were well done and were a great way to get new versions of the characters. In very short order, my brother lost the Falcon figure. To this day, I have the figure's arms and accessories, but nothing else with no trace of where the other parts disappeared to. The Sneek Peek, though, stuck around and found its way into a box full of less popular figures that I had left behind when I stashed my best figures in a box in my closet in early 1988. About a decade later, when I first returned to Joe collecting, this Sneek Peek became a highly used figure.

I've often written about how I liked to have Joe army builders as a foil to the masses of Cobra troopers. The nameless good guys were ways to have Cobra rack up a body count without sacrificing any major characters. Through the years, certain figures have simply become Joe army builders. In the case of Sneek Peek, it was simply a function of the fact that I had two original Sneek Peek figures and one Night Force version at a time when I had less than 50 total figures available to me. As such, Sneek Peek became a nameless officer, often very high ranking, who would lead other, faceless troops against Cobra. The red and grey version was the "base" uniform which these officers wore when indoors. The Night Force version was the "combat" uniform.

In this capacity, the Sneek Peek figures saw great use. As my collection grew, the figures retained their lofty status as officers in the Joe ranks and would often even command Joes in certain situations. From time to time, Sneek Peeks would show up as part of security force and as prisoner guards. But, those were less common uses. Still, the Night Force Sneek Peek figure has remained relatively important to me and was one of the figures to survive my purge of superfluous versions in the late 2000's. I had too much of a nostalgic connection to both the original and Night Force version to simply let either one go.

This version of Sneek Peek is well colored. The charcoal undershirt with the black armor plates is a substantial upgrade from the grey and red original. The green pants are a nice visual contrast with the darker upper body. But, they still work in the Night Force context. The figure's red goggles suggest some sort of 1980's era night vision technology while giving the helmet a bit of color. The overall ensemble is both eye-pleasing and useful. The figure blends with most of the early Joe vehicles and works as both a stand alone trooper or are as part of a larger unit. He fits with the other Night Force figures, but the coloring is no specific, like the 2004 Night Force, that it looks out of place on it's own.

Sneek Peek's accessories are well done. Basically, the Night Force figure includes the same group of accessories as the original figure. The only difference is that the telescope and its parts are all black in lieu of green. But, the original M-16 (that originally came with Footloose), microphone, radio and binoculars match this figure that much better than they do the red and grey original. The overall complement is a solid rendering for the character that fits with his specialty but still gives him versatility to also be an infantry trooper.

The Sneek Peek mold got a good amount of use. After the 2 releases in the US, the mold was used by Hasbro for release in Europe as the European exclusive Tiger Force Sneek Peek. From there, the mold went to Brazil. There, Sneek Peek's mold was used to create various Forca Eco and Patrulha Do Ar figures. After that, the mold disappeared and was likely "lost". While the vintage releases of Sneek Peek gave American collectors two solid figures and the foreign releases brought the character into some additional subsets, the mold still had potential. Hasbro could have redone him in some new interpretations and produced a solid figure. But, in the grand scheme of things, for a character as unimportant as Sneek Peek, he likely has enough figures to keep everyone happy.

As Sneek Peek figures go, this version is tougher to find and more expensive than the V1. He is, though, cheaper than the Euro Tiger Force version. As Night Force figures go, though, Sneek Peek is the second cheapest behind Psyche Out. Sneek Peek is just a character that few collectors care about. So, there really is no demand for this figure, even though he had a tough to find accessory in the microphone. Mint and complete Night Force Sneek Peeks tend to sell for around $25 or so. Versions with the filecard might get a bit more, but patient buyers can get them for pretty fair prices when you consider the premiums that the more prominent characters in the Night Force series can command. That's probably more than a character like Sneek Peek is worth. But, this is the character's best version and the Night Force coloring open a lot more avenues for use of the figure. So, while he may cost more, if I was only going to have one version of Sneek Peek, this would be it.

1988 Night Force Sneek Peek, Crazylegs, TRU Exclusive

1988 Night Force Sneek Peek, Crazylegs, TRU Exclusive

1988 Night Force Sneek Peek, 1985 Heavy Metal, TRU Exclusive

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ar Puro - Brazilian Exclusive Tiger Force Airtight

Estrela produced over 100 unique figures for the Brazilian toy market. Some of them are very similar to the American versions of a character. Others were unique amalgamations of various molds that were brought together into Brazilian exclusive characters. The third group was exclusive repaints of classic molds in drastically different colors. This group includes figures like the named Python Patrol characters and Urzor. It also includes, though, some exclusive members of the Tiger Force subset. Along with slight repaints of Duke, Lifeline and Dusty, Estrela also produced exclusive Tiger Force versions of Shipwreck (named Marujo) and the subject of this profile: the Tiger Force Airtight or Ar Puro figure.

The main difference between Ar Puro and Airtight is the color of the figure's trimmings. Sadly, the base yellow undercoat for Airtight's uniform was kept intact. In lieu of green accents, though, Ar Puro features a brown helmet, vest, gloves and boots with a few tiger stripes painted onto his legs for good measure. The result is a figure that is duller and more subtle than Airtight, but still strong in appearance. The brown is generally more muted and makes this figure seem more combat ready than his green, American or Indian brothers in mold.

But, Airtight is still somewhat difficult to use. I've found his best days are inside of vehicles or the HQ. In the field, the figure is somewhat out of his element. (Unless he's fighting Toxo Vipers....) As a crew member on a vehicle, though, Airtight's uniform works well. (I've always thought his overall look was reminiscent of Rebel Pilots from Star Wars.) So, you will see him in aircraft, gunner stations or computer terminals in various parts of my collection. In that capacity the figure works much better than as part of a patrol or combat unit.

As a kid, Airtight was one of my favorite figures. He was the first 1985 figure I acquired at retail (along with Footloose) and remained relevant to my collection for a long time. Seeing a new version of a figure I liked so much was a great discovery when I first learned of the Brazilian exclusives. While there are iconic versions of the classic 1985 and earlier Joes, I also like having options for them in terms of uniform design. So, while I'm not a fan of Tiger Force, per se, having Airtight in a color scheme slightly different from his iconic version is a nice way to diversify the character and allow to appear in more settings without getting stale. Ar Puro isn't as far removed in look from the classic Airtight as I would have ideally liked, but he is enough of a diversion that he brings some new life the character.

Ar Puro includes all the standard Airtight accessories.  The sniffer and hoses are black like the American versions.  But, Ar Puro's backpack is black as well.  This unique accessory is the most difficult piece to find for Ar Puro since the pegs tend to break and you can replace his other gear with American weapons without too much loss of use for the figure. While it is difficult to tell the differences between the Estrela and Hasbro sniffer, the Estrela accessories are made of different materials.  So, be sure to verify those if you purchase an Ar Puro figure.

The Airtight mold has been around.  After his release in the U.S., this Ar Puro figure was created in Brazil.  From there, the mold went to India.  Funskool started releasing Airtight at some point in the mid 1990's and continued to produce him off and on through 2004.  At this point, the mold could still be in India.  It could be in Hasbro's control.  Or, it might have been destroyed.  Whichever of those fates has befallen it, we have seen the end of Airtight figures.  It was not enough for my tastes as I think the mold could have made an excellent addition to the Anti-Venom or a new Eco Warriors set.  But, at least Ar Puro gives collectors a slightly more combat colored Airtight figure and another take on the Airtight character.

Ar Puro figures are hard to find.  The brittle thumbs and Brazilian release have combined to make a mint, complete with filecard figure a $100 purchase. That's a lot for a figure with limited use whose colors don't really match the Tiger Force team from the US or Europe. But, this is a figure that has a uniqueness to him that helps to justify such an expenditure. He is certainly hard to find and does stand out in any collection. That may not be enough to justify the price tag, but it is something that gives the figure value beyond the yellow and brown colors.

Ar Puro, Tiger Force Airtight, Forca Tigre, 1993 Beach Head, 1992 Toxo Zombie, 1989 Night Force Muskrat

Ar Puro, Tiger Force Airtight, Forca Tigre, 1993 Beach Head, 1992 Toxo Zombie, Forca Eco, Eco Warriors, Biomassa, Maverick

Friday, November 15, 2013

1987 Nemesis Enforcer

I am not a fan of Cobra La.  I never have been.  Even as a kid in 1987, I couldn't figure out why something like Cobra La was introduced into the Joe world.  For some reason, even as a adult, I am more forgiving of aliens, robots and genetic mutations than I am of Cobra La.  I think this comes from the fact that the characters were so odd for the time.  In 1994, including the Lunartix was an extension of the Armor Tech and astronauts that had come before.  Cobra La had no such soft introduction.  Suddently, Joe went from reality based military themed toy to full scale fantasy.

As a kid, I did not own Cobra La.  I purchased Slaughter's Renegades while my younger brother picked up Cobra La.  (This was by design as I knew Cobra La sucked and I wanted Mercer in my possession.)  Once we had thee figures in house, though, I felt obligated to try to use them in some capacity. The Royal Guard slowly found a role as a Cobra diver, pilot, flying trooper or heavy armor soldier. He was never the primary focus of any battle, but he did get some use. Golobulus was simply useless. The tail did not translate to a toy and was of no use. Even his weapon was terrible. Nemesis Enforcer fell somewhere in the middle. The figure was human enough to pass for a random bad guy. But, I had no real character in mind for him.

Mostly, the Nemesis Enforcer became a faceless villain whose main goal was to be killed by Joe or Cobra forces. He might have been the albino leader of a group of dissatisfied students, a disfigured solider bent on revenge or just some random guy who happened to get a gun a tried to rob a bank. Regardless, the figure's main goal was die without me having to sacrifice one of my good figures for the role. The result was that my childhood Nemesis Enforcer survived in remarkably good condition compared to many of his contemporaries. As an adult collector, Cobra La has no home in my collection. I have purged all but the Royal Guard and he remains only due to an oversight. I don't have a connection to the characters or figures in any way. So, there is no reason for them to take up a space in my collection any more.

The Nemesis Enforcer mold was only used this one time in the U.S.  Hasbro realized their folly on Cobra La and buried the molds...never to be seen again.  Really, this is too bad.  Funskool might have done something very interesting with this guy.  Really, collectors would have likely enjoyed a Cobra La repaint set during the repaint era.  The molds aren't terrible and Nemesis Enforcer could easily be converted to a more conventional Cobra villain. The character was revisted in the Anniversary line in a more movie accurate design. So, fans of the character do have at least one other option available.

Nemesis Enforcer figures can be pricey.  At times, they will exceed $20 for a mint, complete with filecard figure.  But, other times, you can get them cheaper.  Some collectors love this figure and consider the cartoon characters to be more important than anyone heavily utilized in the comic.  As such, this figure has its following.  Other collectors, though, couldn't care less about Cobra La and don't spend much time seeking them out.  As a mold, the Nemesis Enforcer has great potential.  Saddled with the baggage of the G.I. Joe Movie, though, the character is tough to get behind.  Still, the figure is a reminder of what the Joe line was in 1987 and was a harbringer of things to come as the line progressed. In that regard, the figure has some value. But, to me, this guy will always be an aberration.

1987 Nemesis Enforcer, Cobra La, 1988 Tiger Force Flint

Thursday, November 14, 2013

1989 Stalker - Arctic Tundra

I did not buy any Joe figures in 1989. In fact, I only bought one figure in 1990. (Though, it was the 1989 Night Viper.) As I left Joe behind, my younger brothers did, too. So, despite the fact they were 3 and 4 years younger than me, the line of Joe toys into our house pretty much ended when I stopped playing with the toys. In the early 1990's, though, many of our neighbors who were younger still played with Joe toys. It wasn't the primary toy line like it had been for my contemporaries. But, it was often a large part of their toy collections. From this, I cam to know a few of the 1989 through 1991 figures. It was in one such encounter that I first found the rifle from the 1989 Stalker figure. To me, it was amazing: something far better than many of the weapons my childhood Joes had included. It was compact, sleek, well designed with all the bells and whistles good accessories required. In short, it was almost enough to get me to seek out a Stalker figure at retail...almost.

While I was never able to actually acquire the figure during his retail run, the Arctic Stalker joined the short list of figures who I wanted to quickly acquire when I returned to Joe collecting in the late '90's. Along with stalwarts like Big Ben, Rock and Roll and Metal-Head, Stalker was a figure who I felt I needed to get quickly since it was such a well done figure and since he had some tie to my younger years. Though a concerted buying effort of large figure lots, I was able to acquire several of the figures. But, due to the nature of his accessories, it took those several figures to complete a single Stalker.

Once I had the figure, though, I didn't find him as useful as I once had thought I would. By the time I first acquired this figure, I had a 1994 Stalker in my collection. The later version had most of what I wanted from the character with better coloring, black accessories and the cool stocking hat. As such, the Arctic Stalker was relegated to display only duties. In the few times I was able to take pictures in the snow, Stalker did appear. But, without actual winter conditions, the figure found itself buried at the bottom of the 1989 figure drawer. I still appreciate the figure for what it is. I just don't see much occasion to display or photograph it since there are some better Stalker figures already out there.

Stalker's sculpt is top notch. There are a lot of amazingly sculpted figures in the 1989-1991 release years and this character is no exception. The mold features the bulk of late '80's figures while still being sleek enough to pass with those from the line's earliest years. You can almost see the knits in Stalker's stocking cap. The face sculpt resembles Stalker from the earlier years, but has some aging you would expect of the character. The face is a bit flat, though, to accommodate the face mask. The figure has a open jacket with a vest beneath it. The jacket has a few sculpted details. These are unfortunately colored in red and yellow. But, it's not enough of either color to spoil the overall look. Stalker's gloves are finely textured in a criss-cross pattern that bring some depth to his arms. His lower body is fairly non-descript with some small splatterings of cammo pattern paint. In this case, the simplicity of the mold works well. You know that this is a soldier of some ability, but he can still maintain his cool.

The figure, though, starts to fall apart in the color scheme. A white and green motif makes him neither a forest trooper nor a true Arctic Trooper. In certain environments, though, the combo would be useful. But, adding the green also helps to bring some diversity to the Joe Arctic troopers. Prior cold weather troopers basically used all white as their base color with a few splashes here and there for some contrast. Stalker brings something different to the genre while still having some uniformity with the existing specialists. This allows the figure to be used in more settings and expands the figure's role beyond the one weather type. That type of diversity is appreciated.

Stalker's accessories are incredible. Aside from the already mentioned rifle, the figure included a small backpack, a face mask and knife. This contingent alone would have been decent for the figure. But, Hasbro went one further and included a full kayak into which Stalker could fit. This included a front mounted machine gun, stabilizer rig and oar. As a bonus, Stalker's backpack would connect to the stabilizer arm to create a small outrigger for the kayak to help keep it afloat. It was an accessory that could have almost been sold by itself. To see something so large and detailed sold with a standard carded figure was outside the norm. It also helps give this figure great character.

This Stalker mold was used in 1989 and then for a mail away exclusive in 1993. After that, the mold went quiet for a long time. Then, in 2004, the head appeared on the excellent Desert Strike Stalker figure. If that wasn't enough, the entire body returned a few months later in 2005 as part of the Winter Operations set. Sadly, this figure wasn't in the best colors. Much of the mold was then used in 2007 for the Convention Exclusive Rock and Roll figure. So, the mold still has some life in it and could be used to create some interesting amalgamations or newly colored Stalker figures.

This figure is not terribly difficult to track down. The white plastic base is prone to discoloration,but not to the extent seen on many other figures. As the figure includes a wide array of small accessories, it can take some time to track down a complete version. Mint and complete with filecard figures tend to sell in the $12 - $15 range. For a non-army builder from 1989, that's a fairly high price. But, when you consider that it's Stalker, he's got a lot of gear and the white plastic tends to fade, the higher price point becomes more understandable. Even as a niche figure, this version of Stalker has value. The coloring allows him to be used a few different environments and it's always nice to have a weather specific version of major characters.

1989 Arctic Tundra Stalker

Friday, November 8, 2013

1989 Snake Eyes

We all have moments from our life of which we are not proud.  For many people, they have more of these moments when they are young than when they are old.  At least, that's supposed to be the way people grow.  One of the moments from my life that I regret involves the 1989 Snake Eyes figure.  It is, perhaps, a testament to the figure's quality that I have this lament.  But, my first acquisition of this figure was under less than honorable circumstances.  As such, it has left this figure with a stigma that has precluded him from ever being used much in my collection.  But, a more rational examination reveals this figure to be of superb quality and something that should have more prominence in the Joe world.

On a Friday in February of 1989, my mother and her friend decided to take all their kids grocery shopping.  The Cub Foods was just a short walk away from the Toys R Us store on the north side of Indianapolis.  And, being the oldest and freshman in high school, I was able to walk to TRU while the rest of the pack had to peruse food.  Ostensibly, I went to TRU to look for new packs of baseball cards.  (Amazing how buying sports cards was OK for a 15 year old, but buying toys was not.)  But, while I did, eventually, look at the cards, my first stop was the G.I. Joe aisle.  I had not bought any figures for a year.  So, this was, really, my first jaunt down a Joe toy aisle in quite a while.  Immediately, I was enthralled by the assortment of new figures.  Many classic characters were updated in new uniforms while the new characters were outfitted with amazing new accessories.  It was pure sensory overload.

Naturally, it was the Snake Eyes that most captured my attention.  I looked it over multiple times.  I didn't use my 1985 Snake Eyes any more since I was on my third version and did not have any outlets to acquire another.  So, the thought of having a new Snake Eyes was very appealing.  For whatever reason, the notion of buying the figure and throwing away the packaging never entered my mind.  Instead, I slowly lifted the corner of the figure's bubble from the card.  After doing this, I left the figure sitting on the shelf and walked around the aisle to see if anyone was around.  I then went back to the figure and slid my finger along the bubble to create enough space to remove the figure.  Again, I took a short walk.  The final time I returned, I removed the figure, his uzi, backback and sword.  I put them into my coat pocket.  No alarms sounded and no security came running.  I casually went to the baseball card section and purchased several packs of 1989 Donruss cards.

When I went to the check out aisle with my multicolored wax packs in hand, I heard a voice say "Hi, Mike.".  It was my Freshman English teacher!  She was there checking out with her kids.  I didn't know which was more embarrassing: being seen by a teacher at a Toys R Us on a Friday night.  Or, being seen by her when I knew that I had stolen goods in my coat pocket.  It was like she knew what I had done.  I said hello and jumped aisles to buy my cards.  I exited the store and opened the cards on the curb, waiting for a security guard to come out and bust me.  But, that never happened.  I got a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card in the packs, my mother came to pick me up and I went home without incident, an ill-gotten Snake Eyes figure burning a hole in my coat pocket.

Once I had the figure home, though, I had another dilemma: where would I keep him?  As soon as either of my younger brothers saw the figure, the questions would start: When did you get this figure?  Why did you buy this figure?  Can I use this figure?  To avoid the juvenile interrogation, I kept the figure hidden away.  So well hidden that I never took him out to even start to enjoy him.  Sure enough, after a few months, my youngest brother did find the figure.  (Which means he was really digging into the stuff in my room.  But, that's another story...)  Sure enough, the questions came.  But, I told him to shut up and then hid the figure in the basement for a while so no one else would find or use him.

The result, is that my illicit Snake Eyes ended up being as if I did not own him at all.  I couldn't use him.  I couldn't enjoy him.  I knew I had him, but could not take him out for any length of time.  I suppose this was the lesson I learned about stealing toys.  Having a figure I really couldn't use was much worse than not having him at all.  I would sneak down to the basement from time to time and pull the figure out of hiding to look him over and wish I was a few years younger and could still play with toys without being "weird".

Due to the dubious origins of this figure in my collection, I never really appreciated the mold, even as an adult.  After I acquired many more versions of this figure through legitimate means, I simply never really used him at all.  It was like a shroud of guilt surrounded the figure whenever I would view him.  But, 23 years after the fact, I think I can finally appreciate this figure on his own.  Simply put, this is an awesome version of Snake Eyes.  It is intricately detailed, true to the character and includes great accessories.  Really, what more could you ask for?

Of course, though, collectors ask for a lot.  And, this Snake Eyes version committed the ultimate sin: he is not the 1985 Snake Eyes.  While this version of Snake Eyes is certainly a top 100, and maybe top 50 figure in the vintage Joe line: the 1985 figure is a certain top 5 figure and is generally considered the most popular figure in the entire vintage line.  When that precedes you, how can any figure live up to the legacy?  As such, this Snake Eyes version is relatively forgotten.  On his own, it is a great mold.  But, it's not even the best Snake Eyes figure.  So, how can it be all that great?  It is derivative of the '85 (which, let's face it, was derivative of the '82....) and doesn't have a better overall mold.  But, it is different.

At it's core, the figure is both a commando and a ninja.  The '85 figure is more commando than ninjitsu master.  But, this version begins Snake Eyes' transformation into more ninja than man.  The chest is equipped with overly large sheathed knives.  Frankly, they make the figure a bit frightening as what kind of man wears weapons like that on his chest?  The are well complemented by the head and goggles.  To be truthful, the head appears to be somewhat small for the body.  But, I always chalked that up to the knives throwing off the proportions.  The slim, silver goggles are a new look for Snake Eyes, but give him a somewhat otherworldly appearance.  Seeing just the eyes and knives coming at you in the night would be a terrifying prospect.  The rest of the mold is decently detailed with, again, overly large grenades on his arms.  Most of the details are lost to the black coloring.  But, there are enough elements here to keep Snake Eyes somewhat true to his Commando roots.

The figure isn't without its problems, though.  There are many unpainted details on the mold.  But, part of Snake Eyes' charm was the all black motif.  The accessories are very well done and perfectly detailed.  But, the uzi is over sized and is difficult for Snake Eyes to hold.  (The 1988 Iron Grenadier Uzi with a smaller handle is a better fit for this figure.)  The nunchucks are extremely large and awkward to hold.  While the pack will hold the sword, there is no place to put the nunchuks or the blowgun.  The blowgun itself is hyperbolically large and does not fit into the figure's hands at all.  But, despite all that, the figure still works.  Just the gun, pack and sword are enough for the figure to be perfect.  The nunchucks can be a fun addition to the figure.  But, to this day, I have never used the blow gun.

This Snake Eyes mold was very popular with Hasbro during the modern repaint era.  It appeared with his full complement of accessories in 2000.  The same mold appeared again in 2002 in the BJ's gift set.  (There is also a green version of this figure available from Asia.)  It was slated to be part of the ill-fated Wal Mart exclusive parachute packs in 2003.  But, when those were cancelled, the mold was, for all intents and purposes, retired.  (You can get unproduced Wal Mart Snake Eyes figures, though.  Hundreds to thousands of them were sold to collectors through Asian sellers from 2004 through 2007.)  Hasbro found the 1991 Snake Eyes mold in 2005 and used it as the default for the remaining ARAH style Snake Eyes figures.  Really, there isn't much Hasbro could do with the mold and the 2 repaints that were released weren't overly popular.  The vintage black and silver version is far and away the best and there isn't much reason to attempt any new releases when it was done so right the first time.

For whatever reason, the collecting world has never warmed to this figure.  Sure, collectors like it.  But, it has nowhere near the cache of the 1985.  Despite the fact that this is Snake Eyes, the figure includes tons of accessories and the mold is highlighted by easily chipped silver paint, mint and complete versions of this figure are cheap, cheap, cheap.  Today, you can have this figure for $10 or less with ease.  There are stories floating around that 1989 and 1990 were the two highest production run Joe years.  If that's true, then there are substantially more of these 1989 Snake Eyes figures than there are of the 1985's.  But, I think the main reason for this figure's relatively cheap pricing is that he is usually the third vintage Snake Eyes mold considered by collectors.  People will pay for the V1 or V2 Snake Eyes figures as those are the most iconic looks for the character.  But, they are also the versions that defined Snake Eyes.  While this figure certainly continues that legacy, it is behind the others.  Sure, were it the only Snake Eyes figure ever released, this would be a much more expensive item to acquire.  But, it was not.  So, the figure will forever suffer "little brother" syndrome and not be as popular as his older relatives.  But, collectors can rejoice as this leaves an extremely well done version of the line's most popular character much more affordable than he probably should be.

1989 Snake Eyes, 2008 Convention Exclusive Headhunter Driver, Funskool Zartan

Thursday, November 7, 2013

2005 Cobra Night Watch Squad Leader (Cobra Officer)

In 2004, Hasbro hit the collector mother lode when it released the Cobra Infantry Set.  This mix of 4 Cobra Troopers and 2 Cobra Officers (Called Squad Leaders) made from mostly original molds in classic Cobra colors sold like hotcakes.  Collectors tripped over themselves to build massive retail armies and the sets quickly doubled in price on the secondary market.  In the 18 months that followed the release of the Cobra Infantry Set, though, Hasbro never again captured lightning in a bottle the way they had with the original 6 Pack.  Collectors clamored for more flavors of Cobra Troopers and Officers.  But, Hasbro never came through.  Finally, in the summer of 2005, collectors saw the only other time Hasbro would package the Trooper and Officer molds together in an army building set when they released the Cobra Night Watch.  This set featured the return of the original head molds for the Trooper and Officer in a base grayish-blue coloring.  The officers, though, got a more standard treatment.  But, the result is a figure that is remarkably well done.

I've never been as much of a fan of the Cobra Officer as I have of the Trooper. I don't really know why, but I have always considered the Officer to be the lesser of the two figures. As a kid, the Officer was the first of the Cobra army builders to enter my collection. Despite the excellent AK-47, there was not much about the figure that really intrigued me. The named Cobras of the era were the villains who captured my attention. And, having them superseded the need for faceless troopers. In time, though, this changed. Army builders became more important to my Joe world. Hordes of masked troopers helped to set the Joes up as a super-hero like organization since they could overcome such great odds against them.

The Night Watch set didn't have much of an identity.  The figures weren't really night combat colored.  They didn't match Stinger Drivers.  And, they didn't fit any of the other, existing Cobra color palettes.  This doesn't mean that they didn't stand on their own as valued releases.  But, they were more difficult to integrate into existing Cobra armies.  The Night theme was at least something new that Hasbro tried that didn't come off as completely cheesy and cliched. But, it would have been nice for these figures to have been integratable with Night Vipers (it would have been even nicer had Hasbro included a Night Viper or two instead of the 2nd Officer and a Trooper!) But, the colors are subdued, close enough to vintage to be acceptable and can work as a reasonable Cobra strike force.

Since these figures were plentiful and cheap, I acquired a good lot of them. At the time, I heavily favored figures based on molds from 1985 and prior. And, since the Night Watch fit the bill, I acquired a large number of sets. Once I owned, them, though, I found that the Cobra Troopers really didn't do much for me. When picking out a cadre of villains to use for a photo, I would gravitate to the 2004 Infantry Troopers before I would look at the Night Watch figures. However, it is this version of the Cobra Officer that I find is my favorite. The dark blue background with the solid painted details and red trimmings make for a figure that leaps off the vintage comic pages. The silver logo and helmet sigil hearken back to the vintage Cobra Officer and give this figure a feel that is more like the vintage line than most of the repaints of molds from that era were able to accomplish.

The set included two Cobra Officers, one adorned with purple trimmings and this figure, with the classic red mask. The purple figure is visually interesting. But, this vintage inspired, red masked figure is the one that really stands out. One of the great shortcomings on the vintage line was that the original Troopers and Officers were never released in more colors. They should have seen repaints with the comic book based red mask. Fortunately, the repaint era did remedy some of this. Both the 2004 Infantry set and this 2005 release prominently featured red masked officers to help augment the Cobra armies.

As a mold, this figure is something relatively new.  At the 2003 convention, Hasbro said that the Cobra Trooper and Officer molds were gone.  But, to create the 2004 Infantry set, they retooled them from the ground up.  At some point after this proclamation, though, Hasbro found at least part of the vintage molds.  So, the 2004 Comic Pack Trooper and Officer as well as these Night Watch figures feature the vintage head, chest and legs of the Cobra Officer.  The arms and waist, though, are from the 1984 Roadblock figure.  The result is fine, though, the skinny arms are not nearly as nice of a replacement for the original arms as the Thunder arms from the 2004 Infantry set were.

The Night Watch accessories were OK. The certainly beat those included with the 2004 Infantry set. But, that was a pretty low bar to overcome. Each of the Troopers included a well done combat knife and a new sculpt assault rifle. It's not the best sculpting of the new sculpt era, but also not the worst. It fits the figures and is acceptable. The purple Officer includes two more rifles that are also from the era. This figure includes 4 sub machine guns. (2 occurrences of 2 different weapons.) The weapon you see pictured below is one and, frankly, kind of sucks. I have never liked the look. The other two, though, are very nice and look like the weapons that Cobra Troopers and Officers used in many of the late '80's issues of the Marvel comic. Since there's really no need for one figure to have both weapons, it's easy to hand the extra gun off the other Officer and both figures are then well outfitted. It would have been nice to see some vintage accessories and backpacks for these figures. Maybe even some additional gear to accentuate the fact that these troops were supposed to be more elite would have helped. But, for the time, at least the weapons made sense and were mostly firearms. That, alone, was a victory for the set.

The Direct to Consumer line from 2005 through 2006 was actually a surprisingly good mix of collector friendly figures and vehicles.  The ARAH style releases finally escaped the numeric sequential comic releases and expanded into some new territory using vastly different molds.  The new sculpt figures were progressing and featured many of the highest quality figures in that style.  There were army builders, classic characters and some decent new characters all sprinkled into the releases.  But, the line was still doomed from the beginning.  Not even Hasbro dumping all their overstock to Toys R Us for huge discounts was enough to save the line from cancellation.  There just weren't enough Joe collectors alone to keep a toy line afloat as an online only offering.  Without the residual retail sales, Joe didn't have the interest to sustain itself.  But, even the appearance of the DTC items at Toys R Us stores was too late. Most of the releases languished at retail for years. Better items, like the Night Watch, did sell out. But, Hasbro was forced to rethink what they wanted the Joe line to be.

The Night Watch sold well upon its initial release.  At the time, Cobra themed TRU 6 figure sets were seeing production runs in the 20,000 units range.  It is likely that the Night Watch saw production numbers this high as well.  Every online dealer of the time stocked the Night Watch set and most sold through their initial shipments very quickly.  But, collector demand was sated just as swiftly as the sales.  The move to the DTC model alienated a large portion of the Joe fanbase.  And, collector interest in the DTC releases was at an all time low.  This lead to Hasbro selling off their remaining DTC stock to Toys R Us stores.  TRU then sold the items in their brick and mortar stores across the US.  A full year after the Night Watch set's release, it was possible to still find them for original retail price at TRU stores around the country.  The result is a cheap figure to acquire today.  Mint and complete Night Watch officers sell for around $4 each.  Boxed sets seem to run in the $30 range.  So, the sum of the figures is much less than getting all at once.  For $4, this figure is worth picking up, especially if you can get a nice cadre of the Night Watch Troopers.  But, at it's core, this figure is still inferior to the original Cobra Officer.  He's just a lot cheaper.

2005 Night Watch Officer, 1984 Baroness, Hiss IV, Cobra Trooper

2005 Night Watch Officer, 1984 Baroness, Hiss IV, Cobra Trooper

Monday, November 4, 2013

1993 Blast Off - Mega Marines

In 1995 and 1996, I spent a lot of time trying to track down the last vestiges of Joes at retail. Through 1995, my local Toys R Us stores still got new shipments of 1993 and occassional 1994 figures. As the year went on, though, those became more and more scarce. As the better figures dried up, I started to look at what was left on the shelves and determined whether buying the figures was a good use of my time or not. For many months, my local Toys R Us had a couple of Mega Marines Gung Ho and Clutch figures hanging on the shelf. I passed them by for months and months, not letting even the black weapons twist me into buying the figures. Eventually, though, desperation kicked in and I succumbed to buying even the most hideously neon figures available. So, I went to Toys R Us to pick up the Mega Marine Gung Ho and found that the figures had finally sold out.

The Mega Marines are kind of a neat idea...if taken within the context of 1993. Cobra has some science fiction inspired monsters and augmented soldiers that require special skills and gear to combat. If you take the science fiction out the concept and just leave the Mega Marines as a highly technological, extremely well training fighting force, though, you have a pretty solid basis for a sub team. Really, they could have been a modernized Battleforce 2000 without the gimmicks. Unfortunately, the subset was bogged down in neon colors, outlandish villains and play-doh armor that was supposed to add play value.

The Mega Marines first entered my collection in early 1999. I acquired a huge lot of '90's figures and it included Gung Ho, Clutch, Mega Viper and a Cyber Viper. The figures were well done and rather interesting. But, their colors didn't lend themselves to great use. The figures were quietly packed away and didn't appear for a long time. I lost interest in the sub set and never really went out of my way to complete it. A few years later, the constant Mirage repaints coupled with my increased interest in the Cyber Viper finally brought me around to completing the line. I acquired a Mirage and Blast Off...and quickly packed them away, too. The figures were good enough, but had issues with colors that would forever doom to the pile of what could have been.

Blast Off's accessories are neither great nor terrible. His weapon tree features a solid cast of useful weapons. But, they are all colored dark blue. In 1993 terms, this is pretty good. They could have been pink, orange or yellow. But, Clutch and Gung Ho had black weapons, Mirage had olive and the Cyber Viper included grey accessories. So, of the members of the subset, Blast Off's blue only beats out the neon yellow from the Mega Viper. The figure includes the requisite body armor and play-doh that were the gimmick for the line. Finding play-doh that hasn't dried out at this point in time is basically impossible. But, it wasn't much of a collector oriented feature, anyways. Blast Off's helmet could be better. As a mold, it is very solid. (See Dragonsky for further proof!) But, the neon orange color and lack of paint details really takes it down a notch. The other issue is that the helmet is tight. So, any Blast Off figure that had the helmet removed and put back on more than a few times suffers from severe paint wear on the figure's nose and eyebrows. At least the late release date makes finding mint versions easier than if this were, say, a 1985 release.

The Blast Off mold was used just the one time in the vintage line. During the repaint era, one Cobra and all the Joe Mega Marine molds were found. Mirage was used ad naseum, but the bodies of Clutch and Gung Ho only appeared in a convention set. And, this is the only other time the Blast Off mold appeared, too. The head and helmet were used in the incredibly well done 2005 Dragonsky figure. It was a great reuse of the parts and created a figure for the ages. It would have been cool to see a full redo of the 6 standard construction Mega Marines figures in a repaint set. But, that was not to be. So, Blast Off remains a sad reminder of the neon era of Joes, even though the sculpt could easily be saved with a solid repaint.

Blast Off figures aren't easy to find. All of the Mega Marines seemed to have been produced in lower numbers and Blast Off is among the least common of them all. Mint and complete with filecard versions of the figure sell in the $10 - $12 range, but carded versions can be had for $18 - $20. It's a lot for a figure like this, but is also in line with the figure's general scarcity and late release date. Had I not found this figure when I did, it's doubtful he would be part of my collection. It's a figure with potential and works in the context of the Mega Marines. But, Blast Off will never be a vital part of any collection.

1993 Blast Off, Mega Marines