Monday, May 26, 2014

Funskool Night Viper

In the early 2000's, collectors were army builder crazy. Hasbro couldn't put out enough army builders fast enough to satisfy the demand. As such, collectors were starved for new offerings that gave them figure molds they desired in colors that were acceptable. In early 2001, an enterprising group of collectors mass imported Funskool Joe figures and sold them directly to the online collecting community for cheap prices. While there were many gems of figures in this initial offering of around 40 different figures, it was the opportunity to acquire some new, cheap army builders that really go collectors interested. One of the most popular Funskool offerings was their take on the Night Viper.

Colored almost identically to the American figure, the Funskool version only had two issues: a neon eye piece and a neon backpack. As the figure was still the awesome green and black, though, collectors were forgiving of these two, minor shortcomings. As such, the initial shipment of Night Vipers sold out in a matter of hours. In June of 2001, when opened, their stock of Funskool Night Vipers also sold out in the first day. There was just a huge demand and it took most of the rest of 2001 before Night Vipers would remain in stock for more than week at the major online Joe dealers. But, the figure lived up to the hype and was one of the most popular army building figures of the early 2000's.

At its core, this figure is pretty much the same as the American figure. There are differences in the yellow logo, the general plastic colors of the greens, flesh tones and blacks. But, these figures integrate very easily into American Night Viper collections. While the pack is bright orange and the eye piece is bright yellow, these aren't overly essential accessories. So, the figure with just the black rifle and green headpiece avoids all the trappings of neon and helps these figures integrate more seamlessly into American armies. And, that was the appeal of the figures from the start. Of all the Funskool army builders made available, the Night Viper was the most similar to the American figure. And, in the case of the Night Viper, the American figure was a well regarded and somewhat expensive member of Cobra for collectors to acquire when the Funskool figures first appeared.

For me, the availability of the figure lead him to a greater role in my collection. While I had acquired an American Night Viper in the summer of 1990 (my only Joe purchase between 1988 and 1992), I had never viewed the figure as an integral part of my Cobra army. But, the cheap masses of Funskool Night Vipers changed that. The figure's mold is just cool enough to warrant large inclusion in a collection. So, having them available for cheap simply made that dream a reality. With my ranks swelled by Funskool Night Vipers, the figure became me de facto jungle and forest Cobra. Here, my armies would tussle with Joes and you can see the figure as a staple in many of my earliest photos. Today, that still remains the same as my Night Viper army survived the purge of my collection and these figures remain a display piece that outweighs their availability.

There are variants to this figure. The most notable are the accessory variants. From the 1990's through 2003, most Night Vipers were packaged with a black rifle. However, in late 2001, for a very short time, Funskool changed the rifle color to grey. While the grey rifles are harder to find, this was during the time of mass Funskool imports, so quite a few of them got to collectors in the U.S. Along with this gun variant, the figure's themselves show subtle color differences across different production runs. So, it's possible to acquire Night Vipers that were made over several years and see very distinct greens or flesh colors in each figure. It's not a variant that's overly exciting, but it is something that can add some diversity to an army.

For many, many years, this figure was available for $4 for a carded version. In 2004, though, the supply started to dry up and prices rose. Still, through the 2000's, it was very possible to get this figure for under $8 for a carded version. And, since so many collectors had opened up armies of these Night Vipers, loose figures were available for about 1/2 that amount. Now, though, the supply is further absorbed by the collecting world. Carded figures run into the $16 range, though you still can find them for cheaper. Loose figures are not as ubiquitous as they once were. But, mint and complete with filecard versions will go for $6 to $8 per figure. It's a small price to pay for a figure of this quality. And, I don't think that the price difference between the American and Indian versions are enough to justify an army of the Hasbro figure over the Funskool offering.

Funskool Night Viper, Crimson Guard Immortal, 2002 Serpentor ARACH

Funskool Night Viper, Crimson Guard Immortal, 2002 Serpentor ARACH

Thursday, May 22, 2014

1989 Frag Viper

In 1989, I was out of buying Joe toys. As I had been out since the beginning of 1988, even my younger brothers' interest in the Joe line had pretty much ended. A figure or two showed up at various points that year, but it was more of a one off rather than any effort on their part to actually collect the line. In the summer of 1989, though, I went with my parents to visit some of their friends in Vermont. These people had children who were about one year younger than each of the three boys in my family. So, the ages matched up well. While there, though, I found that they were very much into the 1989 Joe figures. They had a large selection of new characters I had never before seen. I spent many of the bored hours I was there rummaging through their boxes and baskets of toys to find all the G.I. Joe figures and accessories I could. Not having cardbacks or catalogs as reference material, I managed to put the figures together as best I could. In the end, the figures that stick out to me were the Annihiltor and the HEAT Viper. Those two were found with most of their gear, so their impression upon me was much more memorable. However, they had two other Cobras that I recall: the Alley Viper and the subject of this profile: the 1989 Frag Viper.

The Frag Viper is odd. He's odd in that he's cast in a base brown color with light blue highlights. He's odd in that he includes a Jai Alai basket that is used to toss grenades. And, finally, he is odd because he has a bug inspired helmet that is such a bizarre design that it stands out even among Cobra as being extraordinarily creepy. But, all that does not add up to a bad figure. The general sculpting and proportions of the body are well done. The figure is muscular, but not so much as to be noticeable. But, the greater bulk helps to offset the large head and keeps the figure in a general scale that works quite well. His jumpsuit is well detailed and the brown coloring actually works with the light blue that is used as the primary accent color. In all, he's an oddball that's put together in a way that works as a toy.

But, as I never owned a Frag Viper as a child, seeing him as a toy was always difficult. In my early collecting years, I focused heavily on lots of figures from 1989 through 1991. Those were the years that were new to me so I spent a great deal of time tracking them down. Through these purchases, the first few Frag Vipers entered my collection. At the time, I thought they were a decent addition to my Cobra Urban Assault forces. While Annihilators flew into the center of a location and fought their way out, Alley Vipers surrounded the location on the ground and fought their way in. The Frag Vipers were teamed with HEAT Vipers and Range Vipers as the specialized units that were called in when something slowed down one of the teams. They carried heavier ordinance and would be used to pry open an artery that was blocked during the attack. This was great in theory. But, the practicality was that why would Alley Vipers (who had their own grenades) need to call in a grenade specialist? At least the HEAT Vipers made sense in case the Alleys ran into a tank. But, in very short order, the Frag Viper simply fell out of favor.

The figure's color certainly didn't help. I have long held brown to the sole domain of Major Bludd within the Cobra hierarchy. (Few Cobras in the vintage line used this color.) And, Bludd was always a loner. He had no need for troops. (Even the Convention Skull Squad Troopers, which are pretty good figures, simply don't really work for me with Bludd.) So, having a Cobra in brown didn't really match. Plus, the Annihilators and Alley Vipers were complementary orange and the HEAT Viper's yellow wasn't too far from that. The brown Frag Viper simply didn't fit with those figures that formed the core of my armies. The brown does look decent when posed on a classic HISS. But, that's a small use for a figure like this. Even the Frag Viper's overall quality wasn't enough to save him from obscurity and the figure has languished at the bottom of my collection ever since.

Upon closer inspection, though, this figure is very well done. The metal rivets on the helmet combined with the stitch like look of the jumpsuit fasteners give the figure a bit of a "Frankenstein's Monster" vibe. Had the figure been decked out with black accents in lieu of baby blue and had the stitching been white, this figure would have had quite a monstrous appearance. Little changes like this can go a long way towards making a good figure great. But, 1989 was when Hasbro was in the dead center of what I call the "Yeah, but" phase of the line. The first few years all had nearly perfect figures with a few less than stellar ones thrown in. By 1988 and 1989, though, that changed. Pretty much every figure was good with one "yeah, but" detail. For the Alley Viper, it was the bright orange. For Recoil, it was the baby blue weapons. For Downtown, it was the red highlights. Pretty much every figure had some little detail that was big enough to keep that figure from eclipsing the classics from the line's first few years. (In time, Hasbro moved out of the "Yeah, but" phase and into the "If only" phase where figures needed much more work than one small detail.) For the Frag Viper, the blue highlights are the "yeah, but" item. They aren't terrible and certainly don't destroy the figure. But, were they black, or silver or even olive drab, they would have made a world of difference and this figure might be more popular today.

The Frag Viper's accessories really help to make the figure special, though. 1989 was a great year for weapon and equipment complements and the Frag Viper is right up there with the best of the figures from that year. The cesta for throwing grenades is well detailed and unique, even if the practicality is suspect. The figure's small machine gun is perfect as a secondary weapon and is small enough that it can be used with the figure even when he is fully loaded down with his pack and launcher. The figure includes 2 hoses: one the standard black plastic hose of vintage Joes. But, the other is a unique, flexible, thick, detailed hose to connect the launcher to the backpack. It is a great way to enhance the figure. The real greatness of the accessory complement is the backpack, though. This pack is detailed with tons of small grenades (the filecard indicates the number is 50.) that feed into the cesta for manual launch. If that weren't enough, there are pegs on the top of the pack to hold either 2 of the loose grenades that are also included with the figure, or three grenades if you choose to not attach the hose from the figure's head to the pack. The whole complement screams that this is a grenade launching specialist and is on part with gear from the contemporary Alley Viper or Annihilator in terms of design and functionality.

The Frag Viper mold was used just this one time in the U.S. Around 1992 or 1993, though, it was sent to Brazil. There, Estrela used the mold to produce the collector favorite Letal figure. Letal used the entire Frag Viper mold, but in a bright, lime green. The figure is relatively hard to find and tends to sell for substantial sums of money. At that point, most collectors assumed the mold was dead. Hasbro all but confirmed that most of the Brazilian molds were gone. Some of Letal's contemporaries, like the Toxo-Viper, had shown up in India. But, there was no real trail to track. Then, out of the blue, in 2006, Master Collector found the mold and used it in their Operation Flaming Moth series. The figure was colored in a darker green and was meant to be both a Letal homage and upgrade to the original Frag Viper. That was the last use of the mold. It would have been nice to see this figure in a more traditional Cobra color. But, those are the desires unfulfilled that keep collectors around.

During the army building craze, the Frag Vipers were mostly ignored by collectors. While Alley Vipers rose to prices of $20+ and Night Vipers were breaking $30 for mint, complete with filecard versions, Frag Vipers stayed under $10. While collectors would get a few of them, they were so specialized and oddball that very few collectors would seek them out, even as other army builders from their time rose in price precipitously. Today, the figure is relatively unchanged in price. Mint and complete with filecard versions tend to sell in the $9 - $11 range. Sacrificing the grenades or the unique hose, though, tends to drop the price quickly. You can also get them cheaper in lots of less popular army builders. So, there are options: all of which are fairly palatable. Personally, though, despite the relative availability of the figure, I've found that I have few of them in my collection. They just aren't a figure that's really high on my list to track down. They are a great scene filler and do bring a lot to an army. But, after acquiring three or four, the returns of each subsequent figure diminish. So, I find myself with few Frag Vipers. That doesn't take away from the fact that this is a decent figure. It just shows that even quality can have limits when the figure's speciality is too obscure.

1989 Frag Viper

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sgt. Slaughter's Marauders Low - Light - European Exclusive

Slaughter's Marauders as a subset is appreciated by collectors. But, in general, it doesn't get the respect similar to Tiger Force due to the fact that the colors aren't quite perfect and the U.S. releases of the figures are more brittle and prone to breakage since they were actually manufactured in Brazil. As such, it remains a subset that is rarely seen and is often overlooked by collectors when building displays or dioramas. (That is less true of the vehicles. But, the rarity and price of the vehicles is often prohibitive as well.)

In the cartoon, the Slaughter's Marauders figures appeared in different, and better, colors. If you look online, there are many customs of the figures showcasing what could have been. Despite the en potentia improvements, though, the general color palette for the Marauders was fairly decent. The greens, dark blues and browns created a, generally, solid group of figures. Unfortunately, the main difference for this Low-Light figure is that the bright green is even brighter than that of the American figure. So, the value of the color scheme is lessened since this figure is brighter than his other incarnations.

What the figure loses due to brightness, though, it makes up in construction quality. The reason for this is that the European exclusive Low Light was actually produced by Hasbro in Asian factories rather than by Estrela in Brazil. This Low Light is of the same quality as vintage American figures and doesn't have the issues with thumb breakage that are so common for Estrela made Slaughter's Marauders figures. The figure also has a Made in China stamp that was absent from the Brazilian made version. SO, there are three major differences between this figure and the one available in the US. They are subtle and probably not important enough to make this figure a must have, but they are there as differentiation between the versions.

Following the pattern of mold released for the vintage Joe line can be frustrating. In many cases, the trail runs cold once a mold appeared in South America. However, it does appear that Hasbro re-acquired most, if not all, of the Slaughter's Marauders molds after they were given to Estrela. Mutt and Spirit both appeared in the Marauders, but then also appeared as European exclusives right around the same time as this Low Light. Both Sgt. Slaughter and BBQ later appeared in India where Funskool released them for many years. (It is likely that they passed to India via Hasbro rather than Estrela, so Hasbro had those molds in their possession, at least for a short time.) The one missing link is poor Footloose. The figure that could so have excelled as a repaint was the one that never appeared again. Maybe it went to India. Maybe it was used by Hasbro Europe and was lost by them. Maybe it died in Brazil. But, the entire line of molds from this subset has one of the more interesting timelines in all of vintage Joedom.

This figure is not easy, but also not hard to find. He is easier to track down than the European exclusive Tiger Force and Spirit and Mutt repaints. But, that is mostly due to demand rather than actual production numbers. This is a variant of which many collectors are not aware. So, you don't see the demand or pricing of the other, more popular European exclusives. However, the figure is still more pricey than some of the other, more obscure European variants. Mint and complete, this figure tends to run in the $25 - $40 range. Really, the improved plastic quality isn't really an offset to the brighter colors. So, the American release of the Slaughter's Marauders Low-Light is probably still a better buy. But, this is an interesting variant that can bring some diversity to a collection. It is a way to spice up a Slaughter's Marauders display and can be a conversation piece. It is different enough that collectors can immediately spot it as a variant. So, it can be a fun addition to a collection: especially if you've already completed the American or more popular foreign variants.

European Exclusive Slaughters Marauders Low Light, 1986 Sgt. Slaughter, Steel Brigade, Mail Away

European Exclusive Slaughters Marauders Low Light, Convention Exclusive Crimson Baroness, 1992 Heli Viper, 2002, 2004 Comic Pack Cobra Officer

Thursday, May 15, 2014

2006 Shipwreck - Operation Flaming Moth

It is no secret that the figures made by Master Collector far exceeded the quality of many figures released for mass retail consumption. It is also no secret that the release of the Operation Flaming Moth sets was bungled to such a degree by Master Collector that to this day, they can not be brought up without memories of the fiasco being riled up. Once you get beyond the political snafu of the sets' release, you can spend time looking at the figures themselves. While the 8 figures in the set were high quality with lots of accessories and intricate paint masks, the reality is that the figure and mold choices were somewhat bland and left collectors really wanting more. One figure in the group, though, really stood out as the way to do a repaint right. The Shipwreck figure used a tired body mold and a new head in an updated color scheme to create a figure that meshes perfectly with vintage Joes without stealing too much from the character's body on which he is based. The result was a new way to use Shipwreck and a more combat ready look for one of the line's most iconic secondary characters.

One of the sad things about this figure is that his body is perfect as a base for a lazy bastard custom of pretty much any 1982 - 1984 Joe as a crew member of the USS Flagg. The more military coloring allows for great use as the basis for generic crewmen or alternate looks for Joes. But, being a limited release, high cost figure, it was very difficult for collectors to take advantage of the feature. As such, the perfect look for a cheap crewman is actually a very expensive, limited production figure that was not available at mass retail. Had this figure been in a Toy R Us 6 figure pack, it would likely be prized by collectors today for the easy potential the mold would bring to any display of a USS Flagg. The high cost doesn't prohibit this figure from still being prominent on Flaggs. It just means that the body only appears as Shipwreck rather than a more diverse group of characters.

Where I find the value in this Shipwreck, though, is that he finally gets away from the Village People motif that dogs the vintage figure. This is a more combat ready version of the character, but is still true to Shipwreck's roots. In that way, I see this figure as an upgrade. (Your mileage may vary depending upon how much you like the original figure....) This is very much a way that a classic figure can be upgraded without taking away from the original. This figure is a Shipwreck that can be in the cockpit of the Whale, right next to Cutter, without seeming too similar.

Like all Master Collector figures, this Shipwreck is well detailed and painted. But, side from an intricate new tattoo paint mask, the figure really isn't that spectacular. There are some golden highlights. But, in general, the figure doesn't offer masks that much more intricate from the 2001 Cutter. In a lot of ways, that's disappointing. There isn't a whole lot that could be done to this figure, but it would have been nice for some attempt to be made to justify the higher price point. It's likely that the budget for this figure was consumed by the new head and the new Polly. So, the paint masks took a bit of a hit. But, the overall colors and look of the figure work very well. So, the lower paint masks allow for a figure that is still very useful.

Shipwreck's accessories are decent, but not spectacular. The hallmark of the vintage figure was the pirate themed gun and the rope with anchors. It was a memorable subset of gear that enhanced Shipwreck's character. This figure includes a knife as well as a new sculpt machine gun. The weapon is one of the last new sculpt accessories, so it is of more than decent quality and works well with the figure. The real calling card for this figure is the new, re sculpted Polly. Master Collector had a new Polly made up for this figure. It is neat and works well for Polly. But, even as a kid, I had no use for the bird. So, while I can see some collectors enjoying this vintage homage, it really does nothing for me and I would have preferred a figure for $2 cheaper with no Polly than for this to be the accessory Master Collector chose to remake.

The Shipwreck mold was used by Hasbro in 1985 and 1986. In the early 1990's, it was sent to Brazil where Estrela used it to produce the Tiger Force Shipwreck (or Marujo) figure. After that, Shipwreck was one of the first figures Funskool produced in the mid 1990s. He enjoyed a good life there but the mold disappeared in the late 1990's. It is not known if Hasbro reacquired it along with the rest of the figures it recalled in 1997 and then found the mold unusable or, if Funskool simply retired the mold and it is still rotting in a Mumbai warehouse. But, since the vintage mold had gone missing, Master Collector had a new head sculpted. Rather than the normal ball head, though, this one was the swivel head that was designed for use with bodies from 1982 through 1984. It is based on the original Shipwreck look. But, it is a newly sculpted piece. The Cutter body on which the head is perched was used in 1984 and then available as a mail in for many years. Hasbro released it again in 2001, but didn't really bother to make it much different than the vintage mold. Seeing the body in better colors and the new head creates a figure that is much more new than his parts would suggest and would have been a much better use of Hasbro's resources during the 2000's than much of what was released.

Despite these figures being released 8 years ago in very limited quantities, they remain both very available and very cheap on the second hand market. The Flaming Moth sets were, largely, a failure. And, Master Collector ended up liquidating many of them at conventions and online to finally clear their inventory. Today, boxed sets including both Shipwreck and Chuckles can be purchased for $18-$20. Of the two figures, Shipwreck is clearly the more popular. While Chuckles figures can be had for as low as $5, Shipwrecks tend to run in the $9 to $12 range. That's still a bit much to army build them for customs. But, is rather cheap when you consider the quality of the figure and the low production numbers. (It's also a LOT less than this figure would have cost you to buy new.) I feel it's a just fate for these figures, though, since they were created in a way that was so anti-collector to begin with. But, it is nice that a figure that meshes with vintage and repaint era Joes remains relatively cheap. If only that could be said of all the figure's of Shipwreck's quality that were released in the 2000's.

2006 Operation Flaming Moth Shipwreck, 1992 Cutter, 1986 Mainframe, 1985 Tactical Battle Platform, TTBP

2006 Operation Flaming Moth Shipwreck, Convention Sparks, 1987 Road Toad, 2007, 1986 Devilfish

Monday, May 12, 2014

Red Jackal - Action Force Exclusive

Action Force is one of the most popular foreign G.I. Joe concepts.  For many of the earliest collectors, Action Force was their first, and easiest access into the world of foreign Joe releases. The fact that Hasbro produced the figures means they are on par with the quality of American versions. And, the classic molds which were used to create the Action Force exclusives ties them to the iconic years of the Joe brand. Along with a few repaints of classic Joes, Palitoy released two exclusive Cobra repaints. One, Red Laser, was a straight repaint of the version 1 Cobra Commander figure. But, the modified paint masks on the head and the red body color help to differentiate him as a completely different character. The other, Red Jackal, was a repaint of the classic Destro figure. This reinvention, though, was not as drastic as that of Red Laser, but is still a different look for the Destro mold.

The differences between Red Jackal and Destro are not great. Officially, they should be considered different characters. Though, in the Action Force comics, many members of the Red Shadows organization went on to become the European origins of Cobra. The Red Jackal and Destro figures, though, use the same basic color palette. Both have a black base for the body, red highlights and the silver, chromed head. Visually, they are not overly distinct. The main difference between the two is that Red Jackal wears a red undershirt under his tunic. Forgoing the bare-chested 1970's inspired look allows for Red Jackal to also sport a thoroughly imposing skull and crossbones Red Shadows logo on his chest. It is this logo that provides the greatest visual disparity between the two. (And, also provides the greatest source of likely wear on the Red Jackal figure.) The similarity is nice, though, as it plays into my view of the figures within my collection.

To me, the Red Jackal character is Destro. It is the Destro, though, who operates in Europe and sells his MARS wares to European terrorist and splinter groups. Just as with Cobra in the United States, as certain groups gained more power, Destro would allow himself to be aligned with the larger organizations. That is why he was willing to wear the Red Shadows logo. He supplied the Red Shadows with massive amounts of weaponry. (Including the Hyena tanks that he also sold to Cobra under the name of HISS tanks.) Their financial wherewithal drew him into wearing their insignia when he traded his arms throughout Europe. Red Jackal is an example of the pre-Cobra Destro and allows some freedom in use of the character. He can appear in the Red Shadows mythos without overly convoluting the established Joe canon from the U.S.

Aside from just having a slightly different uniform, though, Destro also liked to trade under different names. If he was known as Red Jackal in Europe, Destro in North America and Outlaw in South America, it would be harder for the intelligence agencies of the late 1970's and early 1980's to understand that this was one person with a massive, worldwide network of arms dealings rather than three or four more regionalized, smaller producers. In time, though, as Cobra either absorbed or eliminated many of their competing organizations around the world, Destro abandoned his other names and simply became Destro. Ultimately, his split with Cobra took him back to his regionalized roots. But, then he was known well enough as Destro to do so. Plus, his new golden mask signified his break not only with Cobra, but his past personas as well.

Red Jackal was released as the driver of the Hyena tank. This was a repainted Hiss tank that was released under the Action Force brand in the early to mid 1980's. The Action Force line was one of the most robust toy lines released in the world. Complete with an array of figures, a villain and a fleet of vehicles, the Action Force toyline was every bit as large and diversified as the vintage Star Wars line. Had Palitoy found a way to get it into the U.S. market prior to 1982, there might never have been a G.I. Joe line. As the Action Force line matured, though, it slowly changed. Starting as 5 points of articulation figures, the line was infused with repainted G.I. Joe molds after Hasbro acquired Palitoy. These Joe figures and vehicles were sold for a short time. The line then changed again to straight up Hasbro produced Joe figures released on Action Force cards. Eventually, these figures were moved onto cards that were mimics of the American packages. With this metamorphosis, the unique heroes and villains of the Action Force pantheon were dropped and forgotten.

In the late 1990's and early 2000's, a UK based toy dealer offered up large quantities of bubbled Action Force figures, all packaged with accessories.  The actual figure released with Action Force toys, though, did not include these accessories.  The difference was that the dealer overstock was intended for future Action Force releases that were cancelled when the line was transitioned to repackaged G.I. Joe figures.  These bubbled, overstock figures were sold into the dealer market and then resold to many collectors around the world. The result is that figures like Red Jackal can be considered complete either with the full complement of Destro accessories or without.

The V1 Destro mold saw use around the world. But, of those figures, Red Jackal has the most differences from the standard, American figure. (Which isn't saying much when you consider how similar Red Jackal still is to Destro.) Besides the Red Jackal release in Europe, the Destro mold was also released in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil. After the mold's South American sojourn, though, it disappeared. Many collectors would have loved to have seen the version 1 Destro in his golden Iron Grenadier colors. (Just like they would have loved to have seen the 1988 Destro figure in a silver mask as an homage to version 1.) But, that was not to be. The mold has some great potential. But, as Hasbro had other Destro molds that they felt were good enough during the 2000's, they had no reason to go back and recreate this Destro version.

Red Jackal figures are relatively hard to find and somewhat expensive.  Being a European exclusive means that American collectors were aware of the figure from the earliest days of collectordom.  That allowed many of these to be imported to the U.S.  But, over time, those figures have been absorbed into the collecting community and remain locked away.  So, today, the figure is tougher to find than it was a decade or so ago.  Mint and complete, Red Jackals run in the $60 or so range.  Some go higher, some go lower depending upon the condition of the Red Shadow logo and the overall paint wear.  It's a lot for a slight repaint of Destro.  But, it's also kind of worth it to have a new take on the Destro character that can tie him more to his European roots.  For that reason alone, I find Red Jackal worth the expense and time it takes to add him to a collection.

Red Jackal, Destro, Action Force, Palitoy, European Exclusive, Red Shadows, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Daina, 2005, Oktober Guard, Unproduced, Comic Pack, Variant

Red Jackal, Destro, Action Force, Palitoy, European Exclusive, Red Shadows, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Daina, 2005, Oktober Guard, Unproduced, Comic Pack, Variant, 1984 Stormshadow, Relampago, Python Patrol Ripcord, Brazil, Estrela, Rare G.I. joe Figures

Cobra De Hielo, Ice Cobra, Argentina, Plastirama, Stormshadow,1984 Firefly, Cobra Mortal, Bootleg, Black Major, Red Jackal, Red Shadows, Destro, European Exclusive, Palitoy, Action Force, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Fuera De La Ley - Argentina Exclusive Destro

In late 2000, I was scanning some online Joe auctions when something odd caught my eye. For a buy it now price of only $10.00, a seller was offering carded versions of Destro, Grunt and Cover Girl from Argentina. I figured that I'd never get a chance to buy a carded 1983 style Destro for under $10.00 and the Sokerk and Sparta figures were different enough that they warranted a purchase. So, I clicked the button and added the first three Plastirama figures to my collection. I kept these figures carded as I had no real incentive to open them. In time, as my interest in foreign Joes increased, I was able to track down cheap, loose versions of the same figures to fill out my collection. As a loose figure, the Argentine Destro doesn't offer much beyond what you can easily get from the American figure. But, sometimes, that's the great joy of collecting international Joe's.

This Destro is, basically, the American figure. The main construction difference is that the figure uses the waist from Doc rather than the original Destro waist. Other than that, the molds are the same and the look is very similar. The Argentine plastic and paint masks are much lower quality than those of Hasbro produced figures. There are no major color deviations beyond the differences between the paint used in Argentina and that used in China. One difference is that this figure's name is Fuera De La Ley, or Outlaw. It is an interesting name and works for the Destro character. I have always figured that an international arms dealer would adopt different nom de plumes in the various nations where he conducted business. Destro would be no exception.

For me, Destro has always been the linchpin in Cobra's international expansion. He came to Cobra due to their vast financial resources. But, his ownership of MARS meant that he also dealt with evil organizations elsewhere in the world. As such, Destro would go by different names in different locales. His basic look would be the same with his chrome mask. But, he might be known as Red Jackal in Europe or Outlaw in South America. It was a subtle difference, but enough that it would have confused many intelligence agencies in the late 1970's and early 1980's since photos would have been scarce and the names would have constantly changed. It would also allow Destro to continue his arms business for clients other than Cobra. Sure, Cobra was a huge buyer. But, it's never smart business to put all your eggs in one basket. So, Destro could be Cobra aligned under the Destro name. But, could maintain identities in other nations that were less tied to Cobra and allowed MARS to remain free from complete Cobra control.

Destro's accessories are the same as the American figure's. They are created from the same molds. The difference, though, is in the quality. The Plastirama figure's accessories are very poorly constructed. Destro's pistol barely fits into his hand. The barrel of the weapon is paper thin and often damaged right out of the package. The folding and closing weapons case backpack is loose and flimsy. It feels as if the pack could break at any moment. The flimsy construction diminishes the overall figure since they are so poor. The give the figure even more of a bootleg type feel rather than being a fully licensed Joe product. Of all the Plastirama accessories I've had over the years, Destro's really stand out as an anomaly. While the other Argentine weapons are not up to Hasbro quality, they are in the vicinity and are not overly noticeable. Destro's gear is a departure from that and should not be taken a representation of the overall Plastirama accessory quality.

The Destro mold was used quite a few times through the years. But, it never really deviated from the basic concept of the Destro character. The mold first showed up in Europe where Palitoy released it as the excellent Red Jackal figure. While this figure has some solid differences from Destro (notably the white undershirt and Red Shadows skull and crossbones logo) the basic color palette and appearance are the same. It's a great figure in it's own right. But, it is still so close to the American Destro that it would be difficult to use the figures as different characters. From there, the mold went to South America. There, Destro was released both by Estrela in Brazil and for this figure by Plastirama in Argentina. Both figures are, basically, homages to the original version. As such, there was much that could have been done with the Destro mold. Many collectors would have liked to see this Destro mold released in Iron Grenadier colors. Others would have loved to see the figure in more of a Cobra blue motif. But, alas, that was not to be. After the South American releases, Destro's mold disappeared.

For a time in the 2000's, this figure was criminally cheap. Carded and loose figures could easily be purchased for under $5.00 each. Slowly, though, the collecting market has absorbed most of the Plastirama overstock, including the less popular figures like Destro, Ripcord and Sgt. Slaughter. When you can find the figures offered at auction, you can still get carded Destros in the $10-$15 range. But, many dealers will always sell you one for two to three times that if you are too impatient to wait for market pricing. At $10, this figure is a good buy. Getting a classic look Destro with his vintage card art is not easy to do for prices like that. But, the figure still has quality issues. So, spending much more than that tends to leave you feeling taken as the figure's quality just isn't there to justify a $30 price tag. Personally, the value of this figure is in the fact that it's a slightly different take on Destro that allows me to use the character with some diversity. But, considering you can get a high quality, loose, American Destro for around the price of a carded Plastirama version, if you only want the character, go with the Hasbro figure.

Fuera de la Ley - Plastirama Exclusive Destro, Argentina, MOC, 2003 Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Black Major Cobra Mortal Bootleg

Fuera de la Ley - Plastirama Exclusive Destro, Argentina, MOC, 2003 Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Black Major Cobra Mortal Bootleg

Fuera de la Ley - Plastirama Exclusive Destro, Argentina, MOC, 2003 Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Black Major Cobra Mortal Bootleg

Monday, May 5, 2014

2004 Desert Patrol Snake Eyes

In the repaint era from 1997 though 2006, Snake Eyes was one of the most popular characters that Hasbro released.  However, the figures were limited to basically two molds, the 1983 or the 1989.  These molds quickly became diluted as version after version with only minor color differences were released.  At the end of 2004, though, Hasbro finally came through with a new take on Snake Eyes.  Instead of the tired molds, Hasbro brought back a repaint of the 1991 Snake Eyes.  A member of the Toys R Us exclusive Desert Patrol set, this Snake Eyes brought an environmentally themed figure into the Snake Eyes pantheon and gave collectors a hidden little gem in the line.

This figure is a straight repaint of the 1991 Snake Eyes. That mold has always been one that I've felt would greatly benefit from a repaint. This desert repaint proves that. The figure uses a black base to remain true to the Snake Eyes character. From there, it adds a bit of desert cammo on the paints and a great agave color bluish green on the tunic. Being a desert dweller, the vest color is often seen in nature in this part of the world and actually makes sense for a desert fighter to adopt. It would allow him to blend into the vegetation that actually does thrive in desert climates and it a great detail that makes this set all the more appealing to me.

But, the figure is still somewhat of a visual mish-mash. The desert camo is good. But, juxtaposed against the black torso, it clashes to a degree. Of the Desert Patrol figures, only Stalker really integrated the desert cammo into the full figure. And, as such, that Stalker is a figure for the ages while the rest of the figures in the set just sort of exist. (Of note is that the original set shown at the 2004 Convention actually had Ambush in the full cammo, too. But, that was changed prior to production and produced a much lesser figure than the original design.) The problem is that desert browns in a cammo pattern don't really work when the upper body is different. In the field, it could work since a person's legs would be closer to the brown ground and their torso might be shaded by a tree or cactus. But, the visual appeal of the figure is broken by the difference and the figure is more abrupt than it probably needs to be.

The Desert patrol set was the first TRU exclusive set to really abandon accessories altogether. Rather than try to include weapons that made sense for any figure, Hasbro just threw in a slew of random rifles, pistols and knives that were, generally, quite common during the time. As such, this figures loses the individuality of Snake Eyes accessories. The upside is that extra Uzis from the 1989 Snake Eyes mold were also common during this era and are a perfect match for this desert Snake Eyes figure. Outfitted with gear from the '89 Snake Eyes, this figure is ready for combat. (The '85 Snake Eyes' weapons don't really fit with the 1991 design, in my opinion.) But, the figure definitely needs an upgrade over the new sculpt, non-descript weapons that were intended for him in the set.

The 1991 Snake Eyes mold was used once in the Joe line in 1991. That figure saw a truncated release window, though, and isn't usually high on collectors' want lists. In 1995, Hasbro did use the mold again for the highly obscure and underrated Night Fighter Guile figure. This body was in all black and makes for a better Snake Eyes than the Snake Eyes figure. (Aside from a flesh covered open neck on the shirt.) When Hasbro returned to Joe in 1997, they tended to favor both the 1983 and 1989 Snake eyes mold. It was not until 2004 that this mold returned with this figure. But, Hasbro quickly made up for the long absence by using the head in the 2005 Winter Operations set and the releasing a full repaint of this figure in the awful 2005 Heavy Assault Set. The mold could have found additional life in some other fashions. But, at least Hasbro was able to squeeze a couple of decent Snake Eyes figures out of it.

The Desert Patrol set was limited to around 16,000 units.  While that number was often enough to sate collector demand, this set's release timing lead to many collectors missing it.  As such, today, this figure isn't very easy to find.  Despite its relative rarity, though, the figure remains criminally cheap.  While you might pay upwards of $60 for a MIB Desert Patrol set, you can often get the mint and complete component figures for much less.  Snake Eyes is obviously the most popular figure and will run as high as $8 to $12 from time to time.  But, you can get them cheaper if you are willing to sacrifice the filecard or just take your time for a mislabeled figure.  Regardless of the price, though, this is a figure well worth owning.  It gives Snake Eyes a different look, but still keeps within the established parameters of his character.  Hasbro often failed collectors in the repaint era.  But, in this case, they did pretty well and collectors should take advantage of those opportunities when they can.

2004 Desert Patrol Snake Eyes, Stalker, TRU Exclusive, Anti Venom Roadblock

Thursday, May 1, 2014

1998 Lt. Gorky

The 1998 Oktober Guard 3 figure pack was not well received by collectors of the time. As a Toys R Us exclusive, the set lingered on the shelves for years. While collectors had long clamored for the Oktober Guard to be released in the Joe line, the actual execution of the figures left much to be desired. It was not that the three molds in the pack were bad. They just were neither the characters nor the renditions that collectors really wanted to see. The dream was to see Daina, Horrorshow and a Brekhov that wasn't just a Red Star repaint. The reality was Volga, Lt. Gorky and the Red Star repaint we had hoped to avoid. That, coupled with the fact that the Cobra Infantry Team and the Cobra Polar Assault were excellent figure packs, caused the Oktober Guard set to be judged relatively unfairly at the time of its release. In retrospect, the set certainly has highlights and this Lt. Gorky is one of them.

To say this figure is tremendous is an understatement. Unfortunately, much of Hasbro's greatest work in the repaint era went into figures and characters that are not collector favorites. The upside, though, is that gems like Gorky can be discovered and re-appreciated later. The figure uses a light grey base to provide the primary color. There are few figures in the entire line who use this color, so it is very distinctive. If you look closely, though, there are additional hues of darker grey that are used to accentuate the details on the mold. Gorky's straps and boots use these colors to bring depth. Then, the figure rounds out the ensemble with flashes of black, silver and red to showcase the intricacies of the mold. Gorky even features a pasty skin tone that both coincides with his red hair, but also the fact that he is likely stationed in a place that is cold and doesn't get much sun.

When I first acquired this figure in December of 1998, my first notion was to make him a Russian army builder. The excellent gear and general obscurity of the character were a good fit for a non-descript character who could die off rather easily. However, I simply never got around to buying more Oktober Guard packs at retail. Usually, I would talk myself out of them, or buy up another Diver, Infantry or Polar pack instead. Before too long, I focused my army building efforts on the 1992 Big Bear figure since I often acquired him in lots of '91 and '92 figures that were my main source of purchases at the time. So, Gorky became a de facto officer for the "greenshirts" that were the Big Bear figures. This idea, though, died off quickly. Between Joe army builders, Cobra army builders and Iron Grenadiers, I had enough to chase down without trying to create another faction, especially when you considered that, at the time, the main Oktober Guard characters were non-existent.

That lead the figure to a life of obscurity. So much so, that this figure is, basically, buried in the bottom of a plastic tub out in the garage. But, the fact that the 1998 figures are a small subset and that this figure is very well done, have helped this figure find some life. From time to time, as I change out the figures who are displayed in a case, this figure will get selected for a short time in the spotlight. Usually, I tire of him rather quickly. But, the colors are distinct enough that the figure also provides a nice contrast in many of the photos I use for the site. It was in this capacity that I found the figure and determined him to be a good profile candidate. You will see him lurking in the background of a few other profiles. This gives him exposure over many other figures in my collection and is, likely, a good fate for the figure.

Gorky uses the entire body of the 1992 Big Bear figure. The huge color difference between the green 1992 Big Bear, the dark brown 1993 mail away Big Bear and the greys of this Gorky, though, allow for him to be used as a different figure. (Though, Big Bear is obscure enough that you could use this figure as a replacement for that characters as well and no one would really recognize the difference.) The mold was never re-used after this figure appeared. (Though a complete redesign of the character was released in 2006.) It's unfortunate as the figure's arms, legs and chest could be used for a host of amalgamated figures (His head and waist have a Russian star on them and would be harder to use, though details like that didn't seem to phase Hasbro during the 2000's.) and would have been a slight respite from the Big Ben/Red Star parts that were so popular. But, collectors are left with three distinct, and all strong colorings of this mold and that is more than can be said for many other releases from this time period.

One of the great strengths of the 1997 and 1998 repaint sets was the accessories. Most of the figures released during this time either included most of all of their original gear, or accessories that were good enough replacements that the missing originals was forgivable. Gorky is no exception. While his gear is not overly abundant, it is relevant to the figure. Included with the character are a well sculpted rifle with strap. The gun is small, compact and greatly detailed. The figure also included a backpack that was sized just about right and was detailed enough to give the impression that Gorky could be out in the field for a great deal of time. The pack was later used to death by Hasbro during the 2000's and even the rifle made a few appearances outside of this mold. That was somewhat nice since it allowed those collecting at the time to acquire some decent, extraneous accessories. But, the pack and, especially, the rifle always seemed very tied to the Big Bear/Gorky mold to me. So, despite having some extras, I've found I don't use them since they look out of place with any mold other than this one.

Lt. Gorky figures are not that popular. The Oktober Guard 3 pack was a remarkable pegwarmer that was available at retail well into 2001. On top of that, Gorky is a later edition to the Oktober Guard pantheon and is not considered, by many collectors, to be an integral part of the team. So, the result is that Gorky figures remain cheap. $4 to $6 is all a mint, complete with filecard version will run you. The issue is finding one. The figure is obscure and, as such, can take a little while to find. But, no one really cares about him since many collectors got one at retail in the '90's and haven't thought about the figure since. Considering the quality of the figure, this is a paltry price to pay. Even with Gorky being a lesser character, there is no reason to not have him among the Oktober Guard displays since his coloring, mold and accessories certainly fit right in. Time has allowed me to more greatly appreciate figures like Gorky, even if I overlooked him at the time of his release. Given a chance, I think many collectors would feel the same.

1998 Lt. Gorky, Oktober Guard, TRU Exclusive, 1994 Stalker

1998 Lt. Gorky, Oktober Guard, TRU Exclusive, 1994 Stalker

Lt. Gorky on the Web:

Lt. Gorky at
Lt. Gorky at

Monday, April 28, 2014

2007 Zap - Convention Exclusive

In 2004, Hasbro dropped a new version of Zap into a late run comic pack. The figure was the same basic, green body that everyone was pretty sick of by the 4th quarter of '04. That figure became clearance fodder throughout the country even though the new head was fairly well done and was a nice representation of how Zap appeared in the early issues of the Marvel comic. The head mold went dormant and was not brought back to retail until 2007 as part of the convention set. This Zap, though, brought an entire new life to a character and shows how the combination of two iconic figures with totally new colors can create an amazing new figure that doesn't tread on the ground broken by any of the figure parts from which it is made.

The original Zap mold was well traveled with releases in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Europe and India. In 1997, Hasbro got the mold back and released it in the Stars and Stripes set. But, that mold did not return with the debut of this new Zap head mold. The Scrap Iron body is also well traveled with uses in the US and India. But, it has only been used for Scrap Iron and in colors that are some shade of blue. As such, the combination of the head and body molds offered in the unique convention color scheme really brings the mold of Zap to life. You don't see Scrap Iron when you look at the figure. Instead, you see an obscure homage to Zap's original design with the overalls. The new figure looks more like Zap than even the vintage Zap and, to me, creates the definitive version of the figure.

This version of Zap's accessories...well...suck. He features some Sgt. Savage spring loaded weapons and a small machine gun. The gun is OK, even if it is out of character for Zap. The spring loaded weapons, though, are pretty much an unforgivable mistake on an otherwise great figure. There's aren't many bazookas in the vintage line, but Zap's original weapon still holds some relevance and is such an iconic piece that it's hard to view Zap without it. The great thing, though, is that the '97 Zap's accessories are a perfect fit in terms of colors with this new Zap figure. The dark green bazooka and dark green and black backpack mesh perfectly with this figure and look like they were intended for this color scheme. Outfitting the convention Zap with these fairly easy to find accessories is a great way to make this figure a traditional Zap figure and solves the accessory issue in a creative and unique way.

This mold combination works well. It was the only time that the character was released in this configuration. The Zap head originally appeared in a comic pack on a fairly lame figure. So, getting it again on a better body with more paint applications was a welcome treat. Like most convention figures, though, once the mold has appeared in a Club offering, it is rare to ever see it again. It is unlikely we'll ever get another Zap in any form. But, this figure gives Zap fans something different that is very useful with both repaint era figures as well as vintage Joes.

Typically, high quality Joe figures from Convention sets haven't seen great appreciation on the second hand market. Such was the case with Zap. Within a few weeks of the convention, Zaps could be had for as little as $10 each. For a figure like this, that's insanely cheap. Now, more than a year removed from this figure's release, Zap remains an remarkable bargain. He simply hasn't seen any appreciation on the secondary market and is a perfect example of how collectors simply don't reward ingenuity in the Joe line. I find this a great update to the Zap character and this is a figure that is well worth owning. It fits with classic vehicles while not being too out there. But, I've found that I'm in the minority on this point.

2007 Convention Exclusive Zap, 1997 STalker, Snake Eyes

Thursday, April 24, 2014

1994 Ice Cream Soldier

You may ask, "What's in a name?" as a facetious question. Or, it could be serious. In the case of the figure named Ice Cream Soldier, the name is the most interesting part. Why would someone choose such a seemingly outlandish name? And, if you take a name that invites ridicule, why would you exacerbate the problem by choosing to wear bright orange and yellow? The simple answer is that is was 1994. And, in 1994, things like this were acceptable. But, there is another answer: one that digs into the lore of fictional military characters and pays an indirect homage to Joe's basic roots.

In the 1950's and 1960's, DC Comics published a magazine named Sgt. Rock. The basic premise was they were an elite military unit during World War II. (In the 1980's, Remco made a line of Sgt. Rock figures. They followed some of the premise, were cheaply made and fought against an enemy based on a snake theme. I guess what goes around comes around....) The unit had a cadre of characters: all assigned nicknames by their leader, Sgt. Rock. The notion of the nicknames was so that the men could perform tasks that their civilian lives could not reconcile. They were capable of doing things as their nickname that their real name would never approve of. This allowed for a disassociation of their actions and the persona. It was a complex idea at the time and cuts to the basic nature of how people cope with the horrors of war. It was also an idea that was, basically, stolen by Hasbro for G.I. Joe since all of the characters went by Code Names rather than their real identities. One of the characters in the Sgt. Rock comic was named Ice Cream Soldier. With the specialty of flamethrower, Ice Cream Soldier got his nickname for being cool-headed in combat. The writers of the story likely had no idea that 35 years later, the name would be given to another, modern flamethrower as a bit of an homage to the story that, likely, influenced the design of the entire Joe line.

Ice Cream Soldier, though, did not get his nickname for being cool in combat. Instead, it is a red herring designed to give the enemy a false sense of ineptitude. They assume someone named Ice Cream Soldier would be young, inexperienced and an easy defeat. The actuality is that Ice Cream Soldier is highly competent and the misdirection of his name gives him an advantage over Cobra. As filecards from the 1990's go, Ice Cream Soldier's isn't as terrible as his name might suggest and the general characterization of him works on various levels. There is enough on the filecard to actually create something for the character since he never appeared in the cartoons or comics. So, that does give him an advantage over other, new 1994 characters. Unfortunately, the faceless helmet takes away some of that identity and helps drop Ice Cream Soldier into the faceless masses.

You can't really examine Ice Cream Soldier without addressing the glaring color issue. Ice Cream Soldier is cast in a base of bright orange plastic and is highlighted with brighter yellow accents. He is the epitome of the neon goodness that was the Joe line in 1993 and 1994. But, as a mold, this is certainly not a bad figure. The figure's helmet is very compact and detailed. It has a definite Stormtrooper vibe. But, this was acceptable in 1994 as Star Wars had yet to return to the public conscience. The figure's body is very well done. The straps have small indentations for texture and the entire mold appears to be encased in the thick armor that someone who used a flamethrower would require. The legs are a bit odd with the rounded, yellow armor. But, they still fit the specialty and the entire figure looks like he belongs together. (The 2007 Lt. Clay Moore repaint really brought out what this mold could have been with different colors and more paint applications.)

Ice Cream Soldier's accessories are decent for the time. Like all figures from his era, he included a basic weapon tree. The upside, though, was that the weapons were cast in a very light grey color. The color is unique to Ice Cream Soldier and allows the weapons to stand out. The tree included a version of 1992 Mutt's pistol, 1986 Beach Head's rifle, 1988 Spearhead's machete and the 1992 Shockwave's rifle. All are very solid weapon designs and Ice Cream Soldier's accessories were used to outfit many other, older figures in my collection who had long lost their gear. The hallmark of the figure's specialty, though, was the return of Charbroil's flamethrower. This is a modern looking device that works well with Ice Cream Soldier. Unfortunately, the gear that is really essential to a flamethrower: the fuel pack and the hose connecting the rifle to the tank, were missing. Blowtorch's gear looks dated on Ice Cream Soldier, but a pack from the original, Night Force or Anti-Venom Charbroil is an excellent upgrade that brings the figure into more usefulness. The figure is finished off with the requisite missile launcher and missiles. But, the overall combination of gear is very solid in terms of design and color.

In 1995 and 1996, I was buying every Joe I could find at retail. The sightings were hit and miss and there were many figures I never found. With Ice Cream Soldier, my first exposure to him was on the cardbacks of other 1994 figures. At the time, I was unaware of the Sgt. Rock reference and couldn't believe how G.I. Joe would have introduced such a lame code name into the line. Adding in the orange and yellow coloring certainly didn't help my perception of the figure. However, when I finally found an Ice Cream Soldier at retail, I still bought him. First, at the time, it was rare to find a new figure in the wild. So, when I found Ice Cream Soldier, I had to get him. Secondly, the figure's accessories are actually decent. Cast is a light grey, Ice Cream Soldier introduced a new color of weapons to my collection, but was also my first exposure to his flamethrower, pistol and rifle. Finally, the colors of the figure weren't that bad. I had always forgiven a bit of unrealistic colors for Joe figures, especially in the 1990's. But, frankly, Ice Cream Soldier's colors are no worse than those that appeared on Blowtorch and he is considered an iconic figure.

Now that I had an Ice Cream Soldier in my collection, his role was difficult to define. Flamethrowers, in general, weren't all that interesting to me. Wantonly destroying large areas by fire ran counter to my notion that the overthrow of a base or operation was heavily driven by the desire of the attacking party to actually own or control that installation. So, burning it up to take out the enemy was counterproductive. So, Ice Cream Soldier actually became his opposite. Instead of starting fires, he put them out as one of a crew of Joe firefighters. He would douse burning Tomahawks as they landed and even rescue trapped crew. His suit and colors were conducive to this role and he found a small role here. In time, though, that aspect got boring. So, Ice Cream Soldier became a pilot. His full body armor and helmet looked the part. And, the bright coloring wasn't really an issue for someone in the cockpit of an aircraft. Eventually, though, other figures were better pilots and Ice Cream Soldier fell into his final role as side gunner on the Shark 9000. His colors somewhat fit with that vehicle and I needed a gunner to man the station without taking away from the other, better figures I had in my collection. This was the last role the Ice Cream Soldier filled and he has pretty much been packed away for the better part of a decade and a half.

Ice Cream Soldier's mold was used for this lone figure in 1994. In 2002, though, Hasbro resurrected the mold and re-classified it as a Cobra named the Shock Viper. The first Shock Viper in 2002 was colored purple and red and was a great updated Cobra trooper. At the convention, Hasbro showcased a grey and black Shock Viper that would be released in later 2002. However, before this went to production, Hasbro changed the figure to a burnt orange and copper versions. The mold disappeared from there until 2007 when Master Collector created the Lt. Clay Moore figure using the mold with a new head. It would have been great to see the grey and black Shock Viper, or another version that more closely match Lt. Clay Moore. But, this mold got a lot of life. And, once it was appropriated to Cobra, there was little reason to ever bring back the Ice Cream Soldier character.

Ice Cream Soldier is a figure that few collectors care about. Being from the line's final year and in atrocious colors dooms the figure to a lifetime of obscurity. Mint and complete figures tend to sell in the $5 - $8 range with carded figures available for under $20. That's in line with most of the other, lesser 1994 figures and not enough to warrant skipping this figure in your collection. Ice Cream Soldier is definitely a product of his time. But, the figure can team with other Joe flamethrowers without too much difficulty. With a display of the rest of the 1994 figures, this figure does look at home. But, taken out of those contexts, the figure loses ownership value rather quickly. Had I not acquired this figure in my pre-Internet days, it's unlikely he would be anything more than a figure in a bag to me. But, since I acquired him at a time when all figures were interesting to me, Ice Cream Soldier retains a bit of nostalgic interest. That's not much, but it's enough for me to keep him around.

1994 Ice Cream Soldier, Flamethrower, 2004 Anti Venom Charbroil, 1987 Cobra-La Royal Guard

1994 Ice Cream Soldier, Flamethrower, 2004 Anti Venom Charbroil, 1987 Cobra-La Royal Guard

Ice Cream Soldier Around the Web:

Ice Cream Soldier at
Ice Cream Soldier at

Monday, April 21, 2014

1986 Firebat - Mail Away Version

Hasbro never released the Firebat at retail unless it was bundled with the Terrordrome.  As such, many kids who couldn't or didn't have the large Cobra base were left without one of the better small Cobra aircraft.  Hasbro tried to rectify that a few years after the Terrordrome's discontinuation by releasing the Firebat through Hasbro Direct as a mail away premium.  For a long time, the Firebat was indiscernible from the Terrordrome version.  But, at some point in the release cycle, Hasbro changed the plastic color of the Firebat from the standard maroon to a bright red.  This change was only available at the tail end of the mail away premiums and created a distinct version of the Firebat for collectors to track down and use as a supplement to the Cobra armies.

The Firebat is one of the better designed small Cobra aircraft.  It is compact, armed to the teeth and features some decent play features.  Really, that's all you can ask for from something like this.  These qualities have lead the Firebat to being a collector favorite. It is easily on par with many of the smaller Joe aircraft that were released and is compact enough to actually army build. It has guns, missiles, bombs and an excellent pilot in the AVAC figure who is clearly visible through the translucent canopy when you put the jet out on display. The sum of the parts is enough to make up for the limitations in terms of landing gear and other details.

There were very few Joe toys that were released prior to 1988 that I didn't have. The USS Flagg, MOBAT and Crossfire RC were among them. I had no interest in an RC vehicle, even if it had a unique figure. My mother would not buy us a MOBAT. And, my father told me I could not have a Flagg unless I was able to get a store to sell it to me for $50. In 1986, the Terrordrome joined the list of missing Joe toys. What's odd, though, is that I don't really have any recollection of wanting a Terrordrome. I wanted a Flagg desperately. But, by the end of 1986, I must have been occupied with other things. (I had entered junior high and that may have played a part.) By 1987, though, I was full bore into the new figures and vehicles that were released. There was just something about the Terrordrome that never spoke to me as a kid.

The Firebat, though, was one of the great misses of my childhood. I didn't know it at the time, but the Firebat was the exact thing I was looking for in my Cobra arsenal. By 1986, my Rattler had been pretty much trashed. With no other viable Cobra aircraft available, I focused my play away from air battles or air support. In time, though, I wanted to use the new Joe aircraft I had purchased. (Mostly, the Tomahawk.) But, I had no real Cobra aircraft which were not beat up and missing parts. Eventually, my youngest brother acquired the Night Raven and the drone from it became my de facto Cobra aircraft. Of course, this was limited as the figure was obscured and the drone only had guns, no missiles. (This was later solved with the drones from the Mamba.) Had I owned a Firebat, though, it would have been the perfect aircraft to battle my Joes. By 1987, the Skyhawk and Dreadnok Skyhawk were my Joe fighter jets du jour. The Firebat was a perfect size to battle them and would have been the exact toy I longed for. Only being available in the Terrordrome, though, made it unattainable and mysterious. I didn't even know anyone with a Terrordrome so it was impossible for me to see a Firebat in anything other than the pages of the G.I. Joe catalogs.

The Firebat saw release with the Terrordrome and as this mail away premium. It was never released by Hasbro again. In the 1990's, another toy company released a space jet that was based on Firebat mold. It is not clear if they reverse engineered the Firebat or if they acquired the mold from Hasbro. That vehicle drove rumors that Hasbro could not produce another Firebat. In the anniversary line, Hasbro finally resculpted the Firebat and has released it several times. This is similar to the vintage version, but has some updates to be more compatible with the anniversary line. It would have been great to see a Cobra blue or black Firebat in the repaint era. But, it never happened. During the army building craze, collectors would have bought these in droves. But, the vintage colors are interesting enough that they are useful. It just would have been nice to have a little more diversity as well.

Mail Away Firebats have gotten somewhat hard to least in relation to the standard Firebat.  There are many still out there in collections, but you don't see this as often as you see the more standard maroon vehicle.  As such, you will pay a premium for the mail away version.  Typically, mint and complete versions will run upwards of $70.  Since you can get two standard Firebats and still have some change for that, it's hard to justify this different coloring unless you enjoy the variant aspect of mail away vehicles.  Had I not gotten this version from Hasbro Canada, I wouldn't have it.  It's just not worth tracking down.  But, it does mesh better with the AVAC so it has some value.  But, I'm not sure that small detail is worth the premium price you pay.

1986 Firebat, AVAC, Mail Away, Strato Viper, Techno Viper, Crimson Guard Immortal

1986 Firebat, AVAC, Mail Away, Strato Viper, Techno Viper, Crimson Guard Immortal

Friday, April 18, 2014

2004 Anti Venom Charbroil

Time brings perspective.  Things that were terrible during their height are often mellowed after a few years have passed.  A great example from the Joe world is the Anti-Venom set from 2004.  When first released, collectors were lukewarm to it.  On the surface, it should have been a hit.  Sure, it had the requisite Duke figure.  But, it also featured molds from Stretcher, Roadblock, Barricade, Mutt and Charbroil.  None of these molds had been seen at retail in some time.  (Well, Stretcher minus the head had been released in 2002.)  The figures had a decent, if uninspired, color scheme, a full complement of accessories and new helmets based on the Steel Brigade.  Really, the set should have been a slam dunk in terms of collector popularity.

But, at that time, collectors were heavily focused on things like army building.  And, sets, no matter how well done, that didn't feature army building components were quickly cast aside.  As such, the Anti Venom set lingered at retail for the rest of 2004 and only finally disappeared after the holidays.  For years, the set languished in obscurity.  But, as time passed, collecting tastes changed.  With army building falling from the sole goal of many collectors, interest turned to many of the figures that had been released during the repaint era that offered something different.  The Anti Venom set achieved that in spades.  So, the popularity of the set has increased, even if the individual figures within have not seen great appreciation in value.  One of the surface gems in this set is the Charbroil figure.  But, deeper analysis spots the issues that many collectors had with this set upon its release.

As a character, Charbroil is an open book. As a figure, he is a forgotten mold whose biggest claim to fame is inclusion in the original Night Force set in 1989.  Beyond that, his flamethrower specialty is something of a bygone era while his mold design simply can't live up to the likes of Blowtorch or even Ice Cream Soldier.  He is caught in the middle of the Joe timeline and his mold shows it.  But, seeing as how collectors had not seen the mold at retail in 15 years and the fact that the Blowtorch mold was gone, Hasbro can be commended for trying something different.  They found an obscure mold, recolored it decently and, subsequently, saw collectors yawn over the release.

Personally, I was no different.  While I liked the idea of the anti venom set, the execution left a lot to be desired.  The Roadblock figure was very well done.  But, the painted heads on the rest of the figures left me wanting something more useful.  So, even today, the Anti-Venom figures rarely see the light of day in my collection.  Of them, only Roadblock and Barricade really get any display with Mutt appearing from time to time.  The Lifeline, Duke and this Charbroil sit in their baggies in a plastic tub.  Maybe, someday, they will come out and be put on display as a vehicle crew or manning an HQ.  But, until then, they remain unused, forgotten and unappreciated.

Charbroil's accessories are decent.  The flamethrower is well detailed.  But, it appearance with figures like the Shock Viper made it seem less unique to Charbroil than it was when first released.  His backpack is large and detailed.  Missing, though, is the lenticular hologram that was part of the original figure and the Night Force release.  It is a small detail.  But, it added substantial depth to the original pack.  (Though it is a good way to differentiate a hard to find vintage Night Force backpack from an easy to find Anti Venom version.)  The hose to connect the pack to the weapon, though, fails.  Instead of using flexible plastic that would have allowed the hose to have some natural look, Hasbro used rigid plastic.  The result is that the hose is basically unusable.  If you look at the photo below, you see the hose straight out, as inflexible as the day it was opened.  This is due to the plastic and further reduces the usability of the Charbroil figure.

As a concept, the Anti Venom set made great sense.  A group of specialized Joes to fight the Venomized Cobras.  Even taking away the character choices as not the best for this specialty, you are still left with a group of figures that had not been, for the most part, recently released.  The set featured mostly original accessories for the figures.  And, those who had updated accessories had acceptable choices.  But, the set suffered from some major issues.  First was the fact that the figures had painted heads.  Prototypes of the sets included figures with flesh colored head molds.  For whatever reason, this was changed to the painted heads in production.  The result are heads that are easily chipped, worn or damaged.  When you add the fact that each figure (except Lifeline) included a helmet, the set was designed to ruin the figures in it.  The helmets were the second issue.  While the Steel Brigade inspired helmets have their merits, the reality is the the original Mutt, Barricade and Charboil figures all included distinct helmets.  Replacing these with the generic Steel Brigade stripped the Joe characters of their personalities and reduced them to nameless army builders.  This struck at the essence of Joe.  Joe is about character.  Take that away and the line has little to differentiate it from most other toylines from its vintage days.

The Anti Venom set's most compelling claim to fame is that it had two sets of unproduced variants.  The first set of variant figures were cast in a very dark blue color scheme.  It's likely that this palette was too close to traditional Cobra colors.  The next take is a light blue set.  Again, this was abandoned and Hasbro finally released the colors you see below.  Both of the dark blue and light blue sets were available from Asian Joe sellers, though.  The dark blue sets are extremely rare and will cost a substantial amount.  The light blue sets are much more common.  A light blue Charbroil will likely sell in the $40 - $60 range.  So, if you're in the market for something additionally different for Charbroil, these unproduced figures are a great way to get more takes on the character.

Anti Venom sets have gotten somewhat popular in recent years.  Mint and complete with filecard sets have sold for as much as $50.  Individually, the figures are a lot harder to find than they were a few years ago.  But, prices aren't terrible.  Charbroils tend to sell in the $5 - $6 range when offered by themselves.  That's not a terrible price by any means for the figure.  But, it is still Charbroil and with the figure's shortcomings, I still wouldn't consider this a must have figure by any means.  As part of a broader set of figures, the inclusion of an obscure character like this is fun. The figure isn't perfect and has substantial shortcomings.  But, Hasbro should be lauded for at least trying something different.

2004 Anti Venom Charbroil, Flamethrower, Toys R Us Exclusive

2004 Anti Venom Charbroil, Flamethrower, Toys R Us Exclusive, 1994 Ice Cream Soldier