Thursday, January 30, 2014

2004 Comic Pack Steeler

Steeler was the only original Joe that I never owned. In 1981, my father's best friend had given my brothers and I remote controlled tanks. They were the cheap Radio Shack types that were typical of that time period. They were too small to be useful with Star Wars figures and far too large to be useful with the standard, molded plastic toy soldiers you got in a bag for $1 at the grocery store. In effect, they were fun for 2 minutes and then just collected dust in our toy room. In 1982, I asked for the MOBAT for Christmas. I didn't really want the tank. But, I did want the Steeler figure. Upon seeing that the MOBAT was a motorized tank, my mother promptly said that we "had three tanks already that we didn't play with". So, the MOBAT was eliminated from ever joining our childhood collection.

That was not true for a friend of ours who lived around the block. He did get the MOBAT. His Steeler was a straight arm figure. But, in 1982 and early 1983, that was all we had and they were still substantial upgrades over the 5 points of articulation Star Wars figures. That Steeler became my favorite figure to use when I went over to this friend's house. The shoulder holster was reminiscent of my favorite feature of Clutch and his binocular helmet accessory was a great way to add depth to any Joe figure. In short, the figure was as cool as I had imagined and my collection always felt incomplete since I did not have a Steeler.

If you fast forward to late summer of 1987, I was on a kick to build a specialist Joe team. My parents were talking of selling our house and I wanted to finish out some adventures in our back yard in the event we moved. (We didn't.) This group of Joes was my "Bunker Cracking Team" and consisted of all original 13 Joe figures who drove around in an APC that was full of all the gear I could find. This group had sandbags, roadblocks and ammo boxes from the various battlefield playsets that had been released over the years. They had rope pulleys and radios from other, knock off military toy lines that were Joe compatible. At their core, the group had the equipment to pull off any mission. For weeks, I scoured the bottom of the toy boxes of all my friends, looking for any nugget that would fit the profile of this team. The friend around the block acquiesced and let me finally have his Steeler figure. He didn't use it much and didn't mind giving it away. I promptly took a pair of arms from a spare Wild Bill figure and updated Steeler to swivel arm mode. He became the driver of this loaded APC.

Alas, the Bunker Cracking Team was short lived. The summer was hot and humid by the time I got the group together and playing outside was deferred. By the time the weather cooled, school had started and playing with Joes took a backseat to soccer, baseball, football and throwing walnuts at any toy that had the misfortune of being in the yard. As such, Steeler didn't get much development from me since he was only in my collection a short time. By the end of 1987, after I had moved all my toys inside for the winter, I was pretty much done playing with Joe. Steeler went into a box and stayed there until I realized he had Wild Bill's arms. That figure was sold off for custom fodder years ago and the Steeler character remained one that didn't get much definition.

Hasbro had long teased collectors with updates of the classic Joes in new uniforms. Snake Eyes, Stalker, Grunt, Zap, Rock and Roll and Hawk all saw upgrades in the vintage line. (I hesitate to call the 1993 Scarlett or Mega Marines Clutch an "upgrade", but at least the characters got a new version.) In the modern line, Hasbro brought back many old favorites in terms of characters. But, some proved problematic. Flash, Grand Slam and Steeler all had unique molds that Hasbro was not able to recreate in adequate forms. In 2004, though, the opportunity for Hasbro to make new versions of classic characters that could be sold to a full retail audience appeared. With the concept of comic book packs, Hasbro was able to reinterpret many of the characters who appeared in early issues of the comics. Some were boring repaints. Others were all new amalgamations for figures that included new parts. It was one of these creations that finally brought Steeler back to the line.

This Steeler figure is a combination of a few figure molds. The legs and chest are from the 1993 Mace figure. (The same combo was used on the 2004 Clutch figure.) The head is brand new, but was also used on the 2007 Convention Exclusive Steeler figure. The arms are...interesting. The lower arms are from Snow Job but the upper arms are from the 1986 BAT figure. The result is that Steeler has rolled up sleeves, but still more sleeves underneath. On top of that, the Snow Job arms were designed with gloves. But, Steeler has flesh painted hands. The result is an odd set of lines molded onto the figure's skin. The overall body, though, is very bulky. Mace was a 1993 mold and features a larger chest mold than most other figures. So, Steeler appears improperly balanced. On the Clutch figure, the use of bulky arms and small head really make the figure awkward. Steeler has skinnier arms that help the visual proportions of the figure. Sans helmet, though, the Steeler head is slender and looks out of synch with the body. But, with the bulky helmet on, the effect is muted.

From an accessory standpoint, Steeler was actually armed to the teeth. The highlight of the figure is the newly sculpted helmet with a white visor. This combination hearkened back the original, but gave it some modernization. Really, from a collector standpoint, this helmet/visor would have been enough. But, Hasbro actually came through with more. Steeler was also given the ubiquitous 1991 Dusty backpack in black, a black knife and 2 rifles. The rifles are the newly sculpted M-16 that was introduced in the first wave of comic packs and a black version of the 1992 Shockwave's rifle. It is a great complement of gear and allows for Steeler to be fully armed should he be separated from his tank.

Included in comic pack #5 with General Flagg and a Cobra Officer, Steeler was part of the second wave of comic packs released in the fall of 2004. Like the first wave, the second was a mix of some pretty decent amalgamations and some pretty timid new heads on existing bodies. While figures like Steeler and Grunt and General Flagg were decent enough attempts at either reinventing those figures or bringing them to the line in the first place, they still felt a bit retreaded. This Steeler would be much more interesting had Clutch from just a couple months earlier not used the same body. As such, within the context of his release window, this Steeler didn't get much praise from the collecting community since it seemed that he was just a Clutch imposter. Of course, Hasbro tried to play it off as trying to make the characters "similar" in appearance like their vintage molds. But, the result was that the comic pack concept quickly started to feel like a bargain basement cost cutting endeavor rather than a fully supported and financed retail line.

The real question is what to do with this figure. As Steeler, he works. But, the abundance of gear, general appearance and other, quality alternatives for the character can leave this as an odd figure out. But, fully equipped with the pack, helmet and rifle, this figure actually makes for a better "Greenshirt" than the actual Greenshirt set that was available as a Toys R Us exclusive in 2005. The binocular helmet attachment gives him an anonymity that works in the setting of Greenshirts. And, his gear is adequate for a generic infantry trooper. Given that I was able to acquire several of this figure when his comic pack was clearanced out, that is the main role I have for the figure. As Steeler, though, this isn't a bad representation. The coloring is a bit bright, but he still works with the MOBAT, as a second chair on the Mauler or even as the primary driver of any of the tanks from the Slaughter's Marauders subset. He's not my first choice for the Steeler character, but he's not a bad one when he's all that's available.

The G.I. Joe comic packs were an ingenious idea. Three figures with a play inspiring comic for $10 was the closest thing to an actual 1980's toy that Hasbro released during the repaint era. The idea was so good that it was quickly co-opted into the Star Wars line as a way to put more and more expanded universe characters into circulation. But, for such a great idea, the retail reality of the comic packs was much more stark. While the first wave of packs sold well, they weren't really the revitalizing item Hasbro had hoped for. Joe's renaissance really occurred from late 2001 through Christmas of 2003. Starting in 2004, retail enthusiasm for the Joe brand really started to falter. Steeler was part of the second wave of comic packs. Despite being released in the fall, the packs didn't fare as well. After Christmas in 2004 and into 2005, it was very easy to find Comic packs 4 and 5 discounted and clearanced for around $5 per pack. This lead to packs 6, 7 and 8 being underproduced and the ultimate cancellation of the entire general retail Joe line in 2005.

The retail realities of modern toy lines played a part in this decline. But, Hasbro shoulders some of the blame, too. While the comic packs were a great idea, the notion to release them sequentially was not. The first year of the Joe comic was largely homogeneous in look. For parents unfamiliar with the brand, there was little incentive to buy packs 1, 3, 4 and 5 since the figures in those packs looked mostly the same. With no diversity, the line quickly stagnated. Hasbro tried to pump life into the comic packs by moving from 6, 7 and 8 to 21, 24 and 49. But, by then, it was too late to salvage the concept for Joe. The comic packs became clearance fodder with all but the #26 and modern comic pack sets being blown out for as low as $3 per pack.

The fact is that this Steeler figure is worthless. You might find someone selling them in the $5 range. But, that is probably an overstated amount. You can get lots of 15 to 20 mint and complete comic pack/TRU figures for around $1 to $2 per figure quite often. So, paying much more than that doesn't make much sense. But, mint and complete version 1 Steeler figures and the Convention Steeler figures are both very expensive. And, due to that expense, are not overly conducive to use, customization or oft-churning displays. So, as an inexpensive alternative, this is a great option. This Steeler is close enough to the character to work and the mold is acceptable, if not spectacular. Important characters should have inexpensive options for quality figures, even if there are iconic versions that are substantially more expensive. This Steeler fits that bill perfectly.

2004 Comic Pack Steeler, Clutch

Thursday, January 23, 2014

2001 Major Bludd

The A Real American Hero Collection promised collectors a great deal back in 2000. The Toys R Us exclusive repaints of 1997 and 1998 had been hit and miss in terms of overall releases. But, the '98's were generally more accepted by collectors than the '97's. And, the first wave of the A Real American Hero Collection showed great progress in terms of what Hasbro was willing to release. In late 2000, images surfaced of the 6 figures that would comprise Wave II of the series. Collectors were impressed with the lineup: Big Ben, Whiteout (a Snow Job repaint), Duke, Sidetrack (an Ambush repaint), the Rock Viper (a Range Viper repaint) and, finally, Major Bludd. Major Bludd was everything collectors were hoping the line could be: a sensible repainted homage to the vintage figure using a later mold that was not originally painted in colors that were as appealing. The 2001 figure returned Major Bludd to his brown and black roots while maintaining a look that was in line with the character. It was a great start that, unfortunately, turned out to also pretty much be the end of such quality figures in the line.

This Major Bludd is a straight repaint of the 1991 Super Sonic Fighters Major Bludd figure. The original use of the mold isn't a bad figure and works for the Bludd character. But, seeing it in Bludd's classic colors was a great bonus for collectors. It allowed Bludd to have his classic look with a more modern mold that fit with many figures from the 1990's. (If you look closely, the figure even has the pack of dog tags from the original figure. They are just not painted, so they are difficult to spot.) It was a great update that was the perfect companion piece to the 1993 Cobra Commander and 1992 Destro figures. For an adult collector, being able to assemble the Cobras of my youth in updated molds that match many of the later figures who became part of my collection as a collector was a great way to get me interested in the years of the line to which I have no real childhood connection. Figures like this Bludd also were a way to keep Joe from getting too out of hand. As the repaint era expanded, Hasbro had to create more and more figures that were "different" from the main notion of a character to keep those characters on retail shelves. There were times where a totally new interpretation of a mold worked out spectacularly. Other times, though, it completely failed. Instances like this Bludd, where Hasbro was able to bring a new mold back in colors that were reminiscent of the original were great ways to keep the characters out there without marginalizing them to too great a degree.

This figure quickly became the second most important version of the character in my collection. While he was not the classic look of the V1 that was displayed with my early Joes, it was a more ubiquitous figure who would appear among the stalwarts of the later Cobra repaints and remolds. The limiting factor of the figure, though, is the plethora of grenades sculpted on the body. Aside from the fact that Bludd would have to be a body builder to lithely move with that many explosives (no less than 16 of them!) attached to him, the grenades make it difficult for the figure to fit into many of the earlier Cobra vehicles. They add width to the figure's legs and arms that prevent decent fits into Rattlers, Hiss Tanks and Stingers. It is a limiting factor and the primary reason why the Chinese Major Bludd remains my Bludd figure of choice when I want a more modern mold for the character.

As a character, Major Bludd is among my favorite Cobras. Unlike the Commander or Destro, Bludd did not have some underlying reasons for his evil nature. It seemed that he liked money and was willing to accept payment from anyone who could meet his price. This makes him both an easy villain to predict, but also one that can be difficult to follow. At least with the Commander, his motivations always lead to him to the same path. With a guy like Bludd, he could accept work from Cobra one day and the government of a country opposing Cobra the next. It made him a labyrinth of loyalties that would be impossible to follow...unless you could follow the money. Having access to Bludd's finances would lead you to exactly where his immediate loyalties lay since he would be most loyal to the highest bidder. Of course, getting to his finances would prove problematic. So, even Cobra Commander would always to be wary of Bludd lest another, richer foe pay Bludd off for deep intel into Cobra's operations or for an assassination attempt on the Commander himself.

Major Bludd's accessories are terrible. He includes only a futuristic rifle from the Sonic Fighters figure. The originally yellow rifle is at least colored in black this time around, but it is still awful. As such, collectors are pretty much forced to update Bludd's weaponry on the aftermarket. There are a wide variety of weapons available for Major Bludd and the V1 figure's pistol and pack work excellently on this later release. It's unfortunate that collectors had to look elsewhere to get decent weapons for a figure released in 2001, but it was definitely a harbinger of things to come. It is also one of the reasons why this figure has never really gotten greater appreciation by collectors. Poor accessories can ruin even great figures. Had this Bludd included weapons more in line with his vintage appearance, or even something that was more sensical than what was included, it's likely this figure would be a bit more popular.

The Major Bludd mold saw a short life. After its use in 1991 and 2001, the figure was shipped off to India after Hasbro cancelled the ARAHC line. (The head was used in 1994 for the Chinese Exclusive Major Bludd.) Funskool quickly resurrected the mold and released in colors nearly identical to the 2001 figure in 2002. The Indian figure is slightly lighter in color. But, the general idea of the figure is the same. Amazingly, the Funskool figure actually included worse accessories than the American figure as it gave Bludd a series of translucent plastic weapons in bright colors. After that, the mold disappeared. It's possible that Hasbro got it back. But, really, the only use for the mold would be for parts in other figures. The chest would make for a nice Frag Viper upgrade. But, that will never happen. At least collectors got the best possible Major Bludd repaint from the mold before it disappeared forever.

To call this figure worthless would overstate its value. Wave II of the ARAHC series was so overproduced that it was really responsible for the line's death. Bludd's were available for $5 at retail outlets well into 2003, even though he was packed with a highly popular army builder during the height of the army building craze. If you can find anyone bothering to sell the figure these days, they are dirt cheap. As many collectors acquired dozens of Bludds in their army building zeal, you may even find some collectors willing to sell them for $1 or $2 each. It's a pittance for a figure of this quality. With the money you save acquiring the figure, you can go out and get a set of the V1 Major Bludd's accessories for use with this version. Then the figure appears more worthy of the character. For me, the Chinese Major Bludd is the best modern take on Major Bludd. But, this figure isn't far behind. The classic color and true to the character visage make for a figure that must be part of any collection. The fact that its dirt cheap only makes the figure that much better.

2000 Major Bludd, ARAHC, Cobra De Gelo, Ice Ninja, Stormshadow, Estrela, Brazilian Exclusive

2000 major Bludd, 2004 Comic Pack Cobra Commander, Zartan, 2005, ARAHC

Monday, January 20, 2014

2007 Convention Exclusive Grand Slam

Of all the convention sets that Master Collector has released, I hold the 2007 version in the highest regard. Sure, there are individual figures in other sets that are better than pretty much all the figures in 2007. But, as a whole, the set delivered across the board. What really enhanced the set, though, was the convention attendee figures. In years prior, the attendee figures had been OK, but nothing that set the collecting world on fire. That changed in 2007 with the release of Steeler/Rip It and Grand Slam/Starduster. These 4 figures helped fill out the set and filled many gaps in the remakes of the vintage figures.

The Grand Slam figure is nothing short of excellent. Using obscure parts and colored in the traditional silver with a base green that is a cross between vintage olive drab and Action Force Green, the figure is an excellent example of what could have been done with the multitude of vintage molds that were available to Hasbro during the early to mid 2000's. The figure is a great update to the Grand Slam character using more modern parts, but is still in line with the character's original appearance. He is the perfect update and an exemplary showcase of how the entire repaint era should have been approached.

The accessories for this figure were excellent. Aside from the jet pack, the figure included a flame plume that was originally molded for a Boba Fett figure in the early 2000's. It turns out, this item fit into the holes sculpted onto the JUMP almost two decades earlier. So, it was a logical fit for this figure set. Grand Slam also included a recolored helmet from the 2006 Lady Jaye figure. It is an acceptable choice for flight gear. But, the fit is only so-so. It's a small issue, though, as the general appearance of the figure makes up for any shortcomings and the appearance of the JUMP was a tremendously welcome surprise for the collecting world.

For many collectors, the 2007 convention set was the swan song for the ARAH style Joes. (Sure, Master Collector came out with ARAH sytle sets in 2008 and 2010, but this set seemed to be a celebration of the end when it was debuted.) The Anniversary figures were showing up at retail and bringing in a large contingent of modern toy collectors who had only a slight connection to Joe. The result was a drastic change in the collecting community...much moreso than even the dichotomy that erupted in 2002 over the JvC style figures. For that reason, the 2007 Con set has held a place of importance in my collection. It marked the last real time that collecting was about my generation and the type of figures that I enjoyed. After this, Hasbro was basically only interested in the new breed of collector and we dinosaurs were left behind.

The 2007 Jet Pack Troopers quickly became insanely popular on the aftermarket.  Within a week of the convention, the figures were selling as high as $150 each!.  In time, those prices dropped to around $100 or so.  They stay around that level, with some occasional dips, due to the low supply and high demand for Grand Slam and Starduster. These days, the figures are very difficult to find and do not appear with much frequency on the market. If you time your purchase right, you can get deals. But, the general scarcity and still high collector interest in these figures has left them very expensive to acquire. Had I not gotten a set during the days of the Convention in 2007, it's unlikely that I would have ever owned them. As a $35 figure, Grand Slam is pretty cool and worthy of acquisition. As a $85 figure, he is much less so. But, this is a both a character and figure that didn't get much due from Hasbro and having a high quality version is nice. It's a shame that these guys weren't offered to a broader audience for cheaper prices, though.

2007 Convention Exclusive Grand Slam, Lazer Exterminator, HAL, 1985 Snake Eyes, Bootleg Crimson Cobra Trooper, Black Major, European Exclusive, Red Shadows, 1994 Stalker, Action Force

Thursday, January 16, 2014

1992 Wild Bill

In 1992, Hasbro brought back a large number of classic characters. Many of them were in outfits that were based on their classic designs, but updated with more modern sculpts and molds. Roadblock, Destro, Cutter and Ace were all perfect examples of how to bring essential characters into the modern line. Another such figure was the Joe team's original helicopter pilot: Wild Bill.

This figure is rather important to me. Wild Bill was one of the first figures I bought at retail in the early 1990's and, as such, became a huge part of my collection during those early years. I created a character for the figure that was beyond Wild Bill. Even as a kid, the Wild Bill character had not resonated with me. While he was interesting enough, the notion of the wild, wild west simply didn't hold the fascination for me that it seemed to for many other people. (Ironic considering where I now live....) So, the original figure never saw much use, even though the Dragonfly was a staple of my childhood collection. As such, this figure had to be someone new. The result was a mercenary who was secretly working for the Joes. He was, publicly, a very wanted criminal. But, he had a secret deal with the Joes that, as long as he didn't kill any U.S. soldiers or police officers, he would be fully pardoned for any crimes as long as he kept the Joes up to date with intel from the criminal underworld.

This new character was often paired with a character portrayed by an ancient Stretcher figure I had bought for $1 at a flea market and Mercer. This trio would often disrupt Cobra's plans through their own criminal dealings. But, from time to time, they would help Cobra, too. Doing so allowed them to maintain the credibility as criminals and dig deeper into the Cobra hierarchy. Of the three characters in this little band, only Wild Bill had the deal with the Joes. But, unbeknownst to the Wild Bill character, one of the other members of this trio was a deep cover agent for another branch of the military. Only one member was a true criminal. When their reign finally ended, the real criminal was shocked to learn that his two compatriots were both fully exonerated and allowed to go free while he went to prison for the rest of his life. Naturally, at some point, it will probably behoove Cobra to break that character out of jail and have him exact his revenge....

As a mold, Wild Bill is well done. In this case, Hasbro actually allowed some simplicity to overrule the general look of the figure. So, Wild Bill doesn't have the textures or pockets on his shirt that are the hallmark of so many other figures. It is just plain and unencumbered. This helps to establish Wild Bill's homage to vintage cavalrymen since the entire look is based on the bandanna, gloves and hat. Time has shown, though, that collector response to this figure is poor. It is likely that the historical motif and bright yellow highlights really damage the figure's place in the Joe pantheon. But, at least the historical uniform was designed as a way to keep Wild Bill's character intact. Unlike many other character upgrades that occurred in the line's final three years, this Wild Bill would be recognized as the character by someone who was familiar with the 1983 figure. So, the mold succeeds in that regard, even if the coloring is poor.

Accessory wise, this Wild Bill is somewhat loaded. Along with the requisite missile launcher that was standard on carded figures after 1991, the figure also includes a removable hat, pistol, backpack and knife that fits into the backpack. These were done in a wooden brown color. It works for the pack and knife handle, so can be forgiven for the actual blade. For the pistol, though, the color would make no sense, except for the fact that Wild Bill's gun is supposed to be a wood encased homage to vintage weaponry. It is rather silly. But, the weapon looks somewhat decent and can be forgiven as a customization of a modern pistol gone wrong. At any rate, it gives the figure some additional character and fits the canonical representations of Wild Bill.

What's especially nice about this accessory complement is that it allowed for a kid in 1992 to use Wild Bill as more than a pilot. In the comic, Larry Hama was quite fond of Wild Bill and he was used time and time again in various situations. But, anyone familiar with the character was also familiar with the limitations of the original Wild Bill mold. This new take on the character coupled with the surplus of gear allowed for kids to use Wild Bill as more of a generalized Joe than just a pilot specialist. (This was also important since there were no real helicopters for sale in 1992 beyond any leftover Retailiators.) Upgrades like Wild Bill (Along with figures like Cross Country, Keel Haul and Frostbite.) helped to bring some of the older vehicle drivers into greater roles on the Joe team. It's possible that the updates for these characters was nothing more than Hasbro trying to maintain their copyrights on the names. But, even so, it kept the Joe line tied to its roots beyond multiple versions of Duke, Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander.

This Wild Bill mold was used three times. After the 1992 release, Hasbro repainted the figure with white pants in 1993. In 2000, Hasbro released the mold (basically in Cobra blue...) as the pilot of the Locust helicopter. The mold would never appear again. It would have been cool to see this mold done in a color homage to the version 1 Wild Bill figure. It would have been a great companion piece to the 1992 Cutter. But, that was not to be. In the end, the three uses of the mold are all fairly similar. The 2000 version is probably the best overall color scheme for the mold. But, it also has the least accessories. But, at least collectors have some variety in tracking down this Wild Bill configuration.

Like most of the regularly carded Battle Corps figures, Wild Bill is fairly cheap. Carded or loose specimens can be purchased for a pittance due to large supply and relatively low demand. This is another example of a quality figure that hasn't caught on in the collecting community. As such, modern collectors are able to add samples of the figure for nothing. Even buying an extra to customize into a green, "vintage" Wild Bill is affordable. That's a nice thing for a figure of this quality and helps to keep the Joe line fresh since you can still find high quality major characters for decent prices.

1992 Wild Bill, 2000 Firefly, 1987 Steel Brigade, Mail Away, 1993 Backblast, 1992 Barricade

1992 Wild Bill, 2000 Firefly, 1987 Steel Brigade, Mail Away

Friday, January 10, 2014

2006 Cobra Mortal - Convention Exclusive

Foreign Joes are cool. There is no denying that. Owning a piece of Joedom that was only part of the childhood of kids in completely different continents with different languages is a great way to grow a collection. But, foreign Joes have some issues. They are not easy to find. They are expensive. And, they are very brittle and prone to breakage. As such, there was a vocal minority who clamored for remakes of foreign Joes so they wouldn't have to spend the effort to get the originals. In general, I'm all for incorporating foreign characters into the American Joe line. However, my feeling is that if you're going to do it, make the new figure a definitive upgrade. Sadly, in the case of the first foreign character to really join the Joe line, this was not case. Instead of thinking of a new take on the classic Cobra Mortal, Master Collector took the coward's way out and produced a figure that was nothing but the vintage Cobra Mortal with swivel arms. A chance to do something truly creative was lost and collectors were left with a figure that is outdated and highly derivative.

The Cobra Mortal as a character would have been a disaster had it been released in the U.S.  Collectors would largely ignore a chrome and red Snake Eyes figures had it been produced during the 1983 - 1984 timeline.  Because the Mortal was exclusive to Argentina, and extremely rare, though, collectors have warmed to it.  As such, the figure gained popularity that the mold, in and of itself, probably doesn't warrant.

The Cobra Mortal was first released in Argentina is the ultra rare 2nd series of figures.  This wave included 6 figures, all of whom were exclusive repaints/characters to the Plastirama line.  The wave included Redmack, Glenda, Manleh, Shimik, Topson and the Cobra Mortal.  Why Plastirama produced a full wave of exclusive figures and why they were so limited are lost to history.  But, they did and the resulting figures are among the rarest in the history of worldwide Joe releases.  Few carded samples exist of this series, with some figures not existing MOC at all.  So, there was definitely something amiss with the whole wave.  The figures, as such, have taken on an aftermarket mystique and most collectors are aware of them, even if they have never seen the figures in person.

This figure is a straight repaint of the vintage, swivel arm Snake Eyes with the 1986 Roadblock waist.  As a mold, it is not interesting as we've seen it dozens of times.  The paint job, though, is interesting.  The figure has many, intricate paint details.  But, the true value of the figure is the vac metal coating.  This shiny addition to the mold makes the figure stand out. It was a nice expense to be offered for the figure.  (It also caused the Mortal to be cast in harder plastic as the soft plastic that was common to the era would not hold the plating.)  Visually, the Mortal is interesting.  But, collecting wise, he still falls flat.  Had a later Snake Eyes mold been used, the figure would have been much more exciting.  This figure simply feels derivative and stale.

Prior to the 2006 convention, collectors were "pre-selling" Cobra Mortals for $75 each. After the convention, that seemed to be the going price...for a while. In short time, collectors tired of the Mortal and prices fell precipitously. For a few years, it was possible to get a mint and complete Cobra Mortal for under $30. As dealers didn't want to take that kind of hit on an item that they had speculated on at higher prices, the number of Mortals for sale has declined. You can easily find dealers offering the figure for $65-$75 for a figure. But, those rarely sell. Offered to the market, Mortals tend to break $40 these days, but not much more. They are, far and away, the most expensive 2006 convention set figure. But, they aren't worth what many dealers want them to be. As such patience can yield a Mortal for decent prices. But, even at $30-$40, this figure is a stretch. It is cool to have a chrome Cobra who can stand among the 1983/1984 Cobras. But, it's not $40 cool. As an oddity the Mortal is interesting. But, as an essential figure, the Mortal falls quite short.

2006 Cobra Mortal, Convention Exclusive, Argentina, Plastirama, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1984 Stinger, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Snow Serpent Trooper, 2007 Rip It

Thursday, January 9, 2014

1997 Grunt

The 1997 Stars and Stripes promised so much, but delivered so little. Collectors were anticipating a great remake of the figures from the original year of the Joe line. Instead, they got a hodge-podge set that included some remakes, though in less than stellar paint schemes, and some newly amalgamated versions of classic characters. The result was a relative dud in the collecting world and the set became a remarkable pegwarmer for a few years. In retrospect, though, the set did have it's ups and downs. Stalker is a figure for the ages. Scarlett is a decent repaint that is something very different. Snake Eyes was interesting at the time, but watered down by the mold's later overuse. Breaker and Rock and Roll were just awful versions of those characters, though the Rock and Roll figure would work as someone new. The last three figures in the set, though, fall in between. Zap, Short Fuse and Grunt all use the classic molds with most of their vintage accessories. The figures have a similar color palette that is different from their original release, but similar enough that the figure's don't distinguish themselves. As such, these three figures have been basically forgotten by me since I first acquired them during their retail release window. Of the three, though, Grunt has some very redeeming characteristics and some unforgivable flaws.

This Grunt figure uses the basic mold of the original Grunt for the head, chest and arms. The legs, though, are from the original Snake Eyes figure. Snake Eyes had the most elaborate leg molds of the vintage line due to the molded bomb on his left leg that was lost in the sea of black from the original figure. Adding these legs to Grunt makes the figure more interesting to me. And, since the original Joes were just rearrangements of many similar parts, doing so again for this homage set is a nice way to get some figures to stand out. This version of Grunt also features black hair. Hasbro at least tried to differentiate the hair color of the includees in the set. Grunt in black still makes him seem too much like Zap. And, since the Zap in the set features the same colors, the figures look like twins. This is somewhat problematic since it's not great to have two figures with identical heads portraying different characters. But, the original 13 did it to an extent so I can forgive it here.

Grunt's coloring, though, is actually fairly strong. The figure's chest is cast is a tan with a slightly greenish tint. This is covered with swaths of green and brown cammo pattern. The green is a rich, deep hue that matches Grunt's pants. The color is somewhere between Action Force green and standard olive green. It's a color that is vibrant, but also realistic and believable. Sadly, though, Grunt's details are a mixed bad. Lost is the silver from the original figure's knife that was so distinctive. But, the bomb on his leg is painted. The result is a good figure, but not a great one. The colors and cammo allow for a new interpretation of Grunt and make him appear more modern. But, for a collectors set where the figure's retail cost was nearly $4 per figure, more was expected for the set's members. Short Fuse and Zap fall into the same category. Taken in conjunction with Grunt, the figure's are OK, but not spectacular. Seeing the Scarlett, Stalker and Snake Eyes from the same set, though, shows that Hasbro was capable of more and really leaves this Grunt figure as a disappointment for what could have been.

Grunt's accessories are, basically, non sensical. He includes a helmet based on the original design. The problem is that the poor plastic quality prevents the helmet from fitting on his head in any way that is not awkward. As such, it is useless. Grunt also includes a black version of the backpack from the 1986 Hawk. While I would have liked to have seen Grunt's original pack (it was included with Stalker, though), it is a small accessory and the larger packs from later years still work on the figure and help flesh him out as more of a long range infantryman. It is Grunt's weapon that is most consternating. Rather than include the iconic M-16 that defined the American fighting man of the '80's, Grunt includes an AK-47 (originally from the Cobra Officer) that defined the Russian fighting man of the '80's. It isn't just an oversight. Such a mistake really calls into question whether the designers of the time really understood the Joe toy line at all. Fortunately, it's not hard to find M-16's from original Grunts or the 1983 Accessory pack. Even the more modern M-16 introduced in the comic packs in 2004 will work well for this figure. But, displaying this figure with his original gear just looks odd. (Though, it would have been nice for that AK-47 to have appeared again during the repaint era either with the 2004 Cobra Infantry, 2004 Comic Pack figures or the 2005 Night Watch.) It is likely the reason why this figure never much mattered to me since Grunt missing his iconic weapon rendered the figure rather moot.

As a character, Grunt never did much for me. Even as a kid in 1982 and 1983, I didn't find the figure interesting at all. In fact, when my brother got his first Grunt figures in October of 1982, I took the backpack and gave it to Clutch since he was such a better figure. The 1983 Tan Grunt brought me a bit of appreciation for the original figure due to the prominence of the silver knife. But, it wasn't enough to bring the original figure into my primary use rotation. I think that is one of the other reasons why this figure was so discarded in my collection. Since Grunt was never relevant to me, there was no reason to really appreciate the 1997 repaint. But, when I set him out on display with Zap and Short Fuse a few months ago, the figure's quality was a pleasant surprise. As supplemental crew for a VAMP Mark II or Locust Helicopter, this Grunt works very well. So, I have some new appreciation for the figure, even if the original character never intrigued me.

In general, though, the entirety of the 1997 releases have really grown on me over the past 15 years. When the set was released, we were only 3 years removed from the vintage line's retail run. (It was possible to find straggling vintage Joes still on remote retail shelves even through 1997.) So, the comparison of the 1997's to vintage was poignant and critical. That soured me on the figures as they had shortcomings in comparison to the vintage line. But, since 1997, the release of ARAH Joes actually devolved quite a bit from the 1997 releases. While the plastic quality did improve, the accessory complements and paint applications got worse. And, while Hasbro had issues with missing or incomplete molds, at least the amalgamations in 1997 tried something. Many of the later Frankensteins were lazy, haphazard of just non-sensical. To me, the '97 and '98 figures stand as a bridge between the vintage line and the modern repaints that started in 2000. The '90's figures seem to have more care in their design and accessories than was shown in the 2000's. And that has made the '90's figures hold up better than I would have ever thought possible back in 1997 when I was reading the scathing criticisms of the new retail Joes on the burgeoning Usenet and mailing lists.

Grunt was released all over the world. After the mold was used in the U.S. in 1982 and 1983, the straight armed mold was sent off to South America. There, Grunt was released in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil. The swivel arm Grunt mold showed up in both Argentina and Brazil as a single carded figure. However, it is likely that Hasbro never lost all the parts to Grunt and the molds sent to other countries were actually additional molds that were created for the early figures. The Grunt character did not appear again in a form that was an homage to his original version after this release in 1997. But, the Grunt character did return in other forms and with new mold amalgamations. It's possible that Grunt's gear was lost in South America. But, the fact that Hasbro had the gear for Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Rock and Roll, Flash, Zap and Short Fuse (most of whom were also released in other countries by other companies) would indicate that the missing original weapons for Grunt may have just been laziness.

There was a time in the early 2000's when this Grunt figure was hard to find and expensive. All of the Stars and Stripes figures were considered "rare" for a few years. The fact that Grunt included an AK-47 also made him attractive to army builders who were desperate for decent accessories for their scores of recent release army builders who were so lacking in the weapons department. For a while, this figure would easily cost $15 - $18. In time, though, the army builders found better alternatives for weapons and collectors realized that there were a lot more 1997 figures produced than they realized. (It is rumoured that the Stars and Stripes set saw a production run of 30,000 units: much higher production numbers than any of the TRU exclusives from 2003 through 2005.) As such, prices on all the figures fell with releases like Grunt becoming mostly forgotten. Today, this Grunt is a $6 to $7 figure. Not a terrible price for a decade and a half plus year old figure. And, when you consider the accessories and the fact that the mold's colors are a nice way to modernize the character, it's an easily justifiable amount. However, had I not bought the Stars and Stripes on a whim back in December of 1997, it's unlikely this figure would be a part of my collection. Owning the original Grunt, though, is more than enough to make up for not having this figure. But, he is a nice edition of a classic character and does bring an interesting diversity to some displays of the original Joe characters.

1997 Grunt, Zap, Stars & Stripes Set, TRU Exclusive

1997 Grunt, Zap, Stars & Stripes Set, TRU Exclusive, Duke

Mastim - Brazilian Exclusive Mutt

There are 2 kinds of foreign figures: the drastic repaint/Frankenstein figure that everyone knows about and command high prices and the figure that looks nearly identical to the American release save for some subtle foreign differences.  The difference in supply between the two is very small.  The difference in collector demand for them is astronomical.  But, each provides a collection with something that is unique, different and worth owning.  The drastic figure always grabs attention.  But, the more subtle changes on classic characters can also bring a entirely different outlook to someones collection photos.  I have found in recent years that the figures that are similar to their American counterparts released in Brazil, Argentina, Europe, China and India are an overlooked aspect of collecting that can be extremely rewarding.  Mastim (Cão Bravio), or the Brazilian exclusive Mutt, is a perfect example.

When compared side by side to an American Mutt, the differences in Mastim are very apparent.  He is deeper, darker green than the American version.  The skin tones are slightly different.  But, the most glaring difference is the missing patch on Mastim's upper left breast.  Estrela removed this distinctive portion of the Mutt mold.  The reason why remains a mystery.  But, no subsequent Mutt created from the original mold ever had this patch imprinted upon his chest again.

Mastim's accessories are also similar to the American Mutt's.  He does, though, include a different helmet.  Gone are the goggles and brim from the original.  Instead, Mastim includes a black version of the standard 1982 helmet.  It actually works for the figure, though missing Mutt's signature design is somewhat disheartening.  (This is the same helmet used for the Slaughter's Marauders Mutt.)  The remaining accessories look the same, but are Estrela quality.  As such, the softer plastic used for the leash and mask do tend to dry out over time.  This makes them more brittle than those from the American figure.

Mutt has always been a solid character in my collection.  Right from the outset, I found the figure fascinating.  It had less to do with the dog and more to do with the muzzle, nightstick and silenced pistol.  Unfortunately, my childhood Mutt belonged to my brother.  As such, the figure was not cared for in the manner to which I held my own figures.  So, the vintage Mutt didn't play as much a part of my childhood collection as I would have liked.  But, seeing the character in the comics helped keep an off conditioned figure around much longer than most other figures in our house with similar wear.  It lead to a long appreciation of the figure and character and made Mutt one of the earliest figures I acquired as an adult.  Now, he sits with his other '84 brothers waiting for a time when I have a display space fitting.  But, it's just a waiting game....

Early in my collecting career, I overlooked figures like Mastim due to the fact that he was so similar to the American figure.  However, as time went on, I realized that acquiring a figure like this allowed me to own some of the classic Joes of my youth for the first time, again.  I had a complete run of vintage figures from 1982 through 1986 minus Steeler, AVAC, Keel Haul and the Viper Pilot.  Every other figure was part of my childhood experience.  As such, the thrill of finding that new figure and experiencing how cool he was was a life experience from two or more decades ago.  But, by adding these foreign figures to my collection, I was able to experience the acquisition of some of my favorite toys again.  It wasn't that I was getting my 12th version of Mutt, I was getting a whole new take on the character from another company.  While I had an idea of what the figure was like, actually holding it in hand and seeing the color differences with my own eyes brought the joy of owning my first Mutt back to me.  I have found this time and again with many of the foreign releases.  Most of the '83-'85 figures were released somewhere else in the world.  So, the modern collector has ample opportunity to relive the joy of youth through some of the more obscure foreign figures that are available.

The Mutt mold was a world a point.  The Hasbro figure was released in the US and Europe.  After that, it was sent to Brazil.  There, Estrela modified the mold by removing the patch on Mutt's chest.  All subsequent Mutt figures from the original mold are missing this detail.  Estrela released Mastim.  In 1989, Estrela made the Slaughter's Marauders Mutt for the American market.  This figure is Estrela quality using the modified mold.  In the early '90's, Hasbro reacquired the mold from Estrela and produced an exclusive black and blue Mutt figure that was only released in Europe.  From there, the mold disappeared.  In 2004, Hasbro resculpted Mutt's head and chest (bringing back the insignia) and released him in the Anti Venom Toys R Us exclusive set.  (It should be noted there are at least 3 variants of this figure: an unproduced dark blue figure and an unproduced light blue figure were never actually released, but were widely available from Asian Joe sellers in 2004 and 2005 and then the actual production Anti Venom figure.)  Mutt never appeared again and remains another mold that, if properly redone, could be a fun bone for Hasbro to throw vintage Joe collectors.

Mastim figures are actually not that hard to find.  In the mid 2000's, carded figures would run under $60 each.  Loose figures would sell for $15.  Now, prices have climbed and decently conditioned, complete with filecard figures will sell for $30-$40 each.  (Often, the figures are in Brazil, though, and that leads to high shipping costs which sometimes offset the sales price.)  But, usually, you can find a nice sample of Mastim every few weeks.  That makes him much more available than many of the more popular Brazilian figures who are his contemporaries.  For the price, he is definitely worth acquiring.  Mastim brings an element of uniqueness to a collection and helps differentiate displays of early Joes.  Once you get the most popular foreign repaints, it is the figures like this, with subtle changes from the domestic releases, that help to fill out a collection.

Mastim, Brazilian Exclusive Mutt, Estrela, Z Force Cycle, Action Force, Medico, SOS, Doc, Action Force, European Exclusive

Mastim, Brazilian Exclusive Mutt, Estrela, Z Force Cycle, Action Force, Medico, SOS, Doc, Action Force, European Exclusive

Funskool Beach Head

There are some figures in my collection that I hold in high esteem that, frankly, make no sense.  They are brightly colored oddities that really don't belong in a military themed line.  But, due to their striking colors and contrast, they hold my attention.  There is no reason to like a lime green repaint of a figure whose American version is one of the better figures from 1986.  But, the bright colors lured me in and have kept the Funskool Beach Head as one of the better liked foreign repaints in my collection.

The Beach Head figure is classic.  He was released at the height of the line and had appearances in the comic and cartoon.  The mold is full of detail and added much greater depth to the Ranger specialty than the original Stalker figure had.  The head is somewhat large and round, but that is forgivable due to the overall quality of the figure.  The colors of the American figure are a dark hunter green offset with black and brown.  Funskool took a similar approach, but replaced the dark camo on the pants with brighter blue and, more drastically, changed the hunter green to lime.

It is this lime color that gives this figures his cache.  For whatever reason, the bright green really resonated with me and this figure quickly joined the Tiger Force Outback as brightly colored foreign figures that got way more use in photos and dios than their color schemes deserved.  It is eye-catching and starkly different than most figures you see in the Joe line that aren't from 1993.  The fact that it is such a different paint job on an iconic mold, though, really adds to the fun.  It makes Beach Head a little less serious, but also a little more useful since there is now a different look for him when putting figures on display.

There are, literally, dozens of Funskool Beach Head variants.  They vary from the major variants with the red vest to subtle color changes in the paint on the figure's neck.  There were several variants made between 2002 and 2003 as well.  You will see figures with brown eyebrows and black eyebrows in the photos below.  Each figure has subtle differences in the greens, greys and blues on the figures as well.  There a few of these small variants that can fetch high prices.  But, the biggest price disparity is for the early Beach Head figures that have the major coloring differences.  But, if you want the standard lime green version, most are similar enough that one variant isn't particularly desirable over another.

The figure's accessories also have various variants over the years.  The more common figures have a black ammo pouch and a grey submachine gun that is similar to the American figure, but is somewhat lighter in color and of flimsier construction.  However, early Beach Head figures also came with black firearms.  So, that is one of the harder to find Funskool variants.  The modern Beach Head has a very dark green backpack.  So dark that it often appears black in photos.  But, it is green.  There are some Funskool figs with the black pack, but they are from production runs earlier than 2002.

The Beach Head mold has a short history.  After the figure's American release, it was not seen again until it popped up in India.  In 2003, Hasbro re-acquired 18 molds from Funskool.  Beach Head was one of them.  The figure was immediately used by Hasbro in the Toys R Us exclusive Night Force set in 2004.   Master Collector also jumped on the Funskool bandwagon for their 2004 Convention set and released Beach Head in a Tiger Force Color scheme.  It has not appeared since then.  While the mold is collector favorite, the reality is that the original figure was nearly perfectly colored the first time around.  The Night Force version was decent enough that it gave collectors something different and the Tiger Force version joins this Funskool figure as an oddball collectible.  While I would have like to see Beach Head in desert colors, that was not to be and we have likely seen the end of this mold's usages.

In 2002, Funskool started producing this figure again.  For the next year, American dealers were able to import large quantities of Funskool Beach Head figures and sell them for under $5 each.  After Hasbro re-acquired the mold in 2003, these cheap Funskool imports ended.  Now, a decade later, the collecting world still has not fully absorbed the quantity of figures imported.  Today, you can purchase a Funskool Beach Head for around $10 carded.  That's more than they were, but still a pretty good price for a figure that's been out of production since 2003.

Funskool Beach Head, 2004 Anti Venom Roadblock, Night Force Flint, Tigor, Brazil, Estrela, Forca Fera

Monday, January 6, 2014

2006 Flak Viper - Operation Flaming MOTH

In the vastness of the Cobra army, there is one area that was largely ignored during the vintage line. Desert themed Cobras were few and far between during the original run of figures. In the modern era, there are still very few desert themed Cobras done in the ARAH construction style. (The new sculpts did see a few more desert characters and repaints.) In 2006, though, Master Collector offered collectors a series of 4 2-figure sets. Each one themed to an environment. Included were aquatic Joes, and Cobras from the forest, Arctic and desert. The reception to these from collectors was no commensurate with the quality of the figures. The molds were generally not overused. The colors were very good. And, most included original accessories or close enough approximations that they were acceptable. Sadly, though, the concept failed and the Operation Flaming MOTH figures were the last ARAH-style retail offerings that Master Collector attempted.

The Flak Viper mold is one of the gems from the last years of the vintage line. The massive figure meshes with his speciality, even if the notion of a missile firing backpack that large (which would pulp the wearer) is ludicrous. The two tone desert pattern on the upper body along with the wealth of painted details really brings the mold to life. The inclusion of the figure's original accessories was another great surprise. The mold had appeared in 2004 as the highly likable Urban Nullifier. But, that figure had not included even the solidly designed Flak Viper rifle. So, seeing the full complement of original gear, helped to make this figure more desirable.

It is impossible to mention any figure from the MOTH sets without also mentioning the public relations fiasco that surrounded their release. When originally announced, the sets were trumpeted as not being army builders. For many collectors, the idea of dropping $16 on one figure is much more palatable if that figure is a character. When the first set appeared, though, the figures were army building molds. MC quickly went into a game of word play saying these sets weren't "meant" to be army builders. As such, the result is that this figure is actually Flak Viper Andrew. This wasn't cute. It wasn't coy. It wasn't fun. It wasnt' clever. It was a disingenuous ploy by a company who lacks any understanding of their 3 3/4 fan base to exploit the collectors and then laugh at the collector's expense. As such, these figures are forever tainted by the organizational failure of their release. To this day, when these figures are mentioned, someone brings up the fact that they aren't "meant" to be army builders and reminds the collecting community of the great laughs that MC's employees had at all our expense in regards to these sets.

It is no secret that packaging adds substantial cost to a toy's release. In the case of retail stores, this packaging is a necessity from a marketing standpoint. You have to have products that are eye catching on the shelves. However, these costs can be spread out over the higher production numbers of a full retail release and are built into the retail price. However, for a product marketed only online to a dedicated fan base that is interested in pretty much any new figure regardless of design, this packaging quickly becomes superfluous. This is especially true when the packaging offers little to the collector except for increased production and shipping costs. This was the case with the MOTH sets. Had these figures been offered bagged, they would have likely cost about half of the real price. When you think about this figure at a retail price of ~$8, it is much more attractive. At $8, this Flak Viper would be competing against an entirely different group of figures at the price point then it does at $16. The worst part about these boxes, though, is that they aren't even gradable. Sealed products can be graded. That appeals to a segment of collectors and makes things like packaging worth something. Since these boxes weren't sealed, grading wasn't an option. In fact, by not sealing them, MC pretty much dictated that these figures be enjoyed loose. But, even with that implied mandate, they forced the expensive boxes onto collectors. The upside is that the market forces rendered these sets a failure and the planned vehicle was scrapped due to low sales. But, that meant that a poor marketing decision has left collectors with 8 figures that are artificially inflated in price and have reduced availability due to the way the exclusive was handled. In the end, collectors lost on this whole endeavor and the ill will generated by these sets helped to diminish Joe's popularity in late 2006.

Today, these Flak Vipers aren't overly desirable. Despite low production numbers, they failed to capture the attention of the collecting community and are still available for their original retail price from MC. On the secondary market, it is not very common to find these figures offered below that original price since anyone who bought these for resale is reluctant to take the loss so quickly. Those that are left to full market conditions tend to sell for around $10-$12 or so. Those that are priced closer to the $16 price usually do not sell at all. The reality is that those who buy every figure purchased this set when it was released. Due to the price point, few collectors army built the set, many who were marginal about the figures simply skipped the set altogether and it was hard for dealers to purchase extra sets for profitable resale. As such, the figure quickly faded into obscurity and remains the type of figure that most collectors only seek for completion's sake. Personally, at $6, I'd buy a full dozen of these guys. At $8, I'd buy about half that many. For $10 or more, one is enough. Once you cross that price threshold, there are too many other options from the line that are available for the same price, but whose figure surpasses this desert Flak Viper. That's unfortunate as this is a good figure and one that I'd like to make a larger part of my collection. Based on comments from the community both at the time of this figure's release and even today, it seems that I'm not alone in that feeling. Alas, it will likely be several years before prices on this figure fall into line with the demand of the character. When that happens, I'd like to think that I'll get a few more. But, history has shown me that I will likely be on to some new figure at that point and this Flak Viper will remain alone in my collection.

2006 Operation Flaming Moth Flak Viper, V3, Master Collector Exclusive, Club, 1991 Desert Scorpion

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

1993 Cyber Viper - Mega Marines

For the first time in many years, I have the chance to post a profile on New Year's Day. What better way to exacerbate a hangover than with a figure so brightly colored he'll give you a headache on a normal day!

Recently, I have been re-reading the final 30 issues of the Marvel G.I. Joe comics from 1992 through 1995 This exercise has shown me a couple of things. First, those issues are largely as bad as I remember them. The stories and artwork are nowhere near the standards put forth on the G.I. Joe book from the earliest days of Kwinn, Dr. Venom and Scarface. Beyond that, though, you see the Hasbro influence coming through.  While there were still many classic characters involved in the book during those final years, there was also a heavy emphasis on the new figures that were being sold at retail.  In some cases, these substitutions worked well.  In others, they seemed very forced.  But, Hasbro's influence was at least a constant in the original Joe comic.  What was most interesting to me, was the way that those comics still blended classic Cobra forces with many of the newer (and much brighter!) Cobras that were being sold at retail.  Among these new Cobra army builders was the oddly menacing Cyber Viper.

I have looked at the Cyber Viper before...over nine years ago.  In that time, my perception of them has not really changed. they are solid molds whose brightness is so bad, it makes the figure good. But, closer inspection of the mold in general shows that the designers created the figure with attention to detail and care that was common with the line's entire history. The head is incredibly intricate, even down to the mouth sculpted behind the bizarre face covering. The entire body mold features very subtle details that are lost in the lack of paint details. This is a figure that should be high on the list for customizers due to the potential it yields for repaints. But, the general obscurity and scarcity of the mold has likely prevented that.

The Cyber Viper is cast in neon green, yellow, red, flesh and grey.  That combination should not work on any level.  But, it does.  There is something so off about the figure that it has a cachet.  It clashes so badly that it works.  Combined with a vehicle like the Detonator, the Cyber Viper is a decent contrast that stands out as a crewmember. The same is true in the Terrordrome. Cobra has always been a bit outlandish. So, having something so bright that it induces headaches would not be completely out of character...especially in the various hidden laboratories under Cobra's domain.

Cyber Vipers are, at their core, cyborgs.  The head features electronics that connect directly to the character's brain through his skin. On some level, this is a bit too far fetched for the Joe line. (Though, really, more plausible than space aliens and zombies.) But, how far off are cybernetic human enhancements? We have seen glasses and watches and phones that can do things that were unimaginable in 1993. In another 10 years, it will be commonplace for people to have access to even better technology that is even more embedded in their body. The difference is that they won't wear outer casings like those of the Cyber Viper that advertise their enhancements. They will be subtle, nearly unnoticeable. But, the concept remains, basically, similar.

In the context of the Mega Marines concept, Cyber Vipers work rather well. They are somewhat sci-fi and colored in line with the other members of the subset. However, I like to see their role as much broader. The Cyber Vipers can be scientists, deranged troops who work with unholy, man made abominations or just technological troops who happen to wear bright uniforms. I find the general figure so nice that I come up with ways to integrate the Cyber Viper into as many situations as possible. On display, though, the Cyber Vipers find their best home as a crew of a Detonator. I have always associated the Cyber Viper and Detonator together. So, seeing them on display together seems just about perfect. It isn't a huge role. But, given the prominence of the Detonator in my collection, the figure is front and center more so that he would be for most collectors.

The Cyber Viper's accessory complement is nothing great, but also not terrible. The weapons are cast in a unique grey color which gives them a distinct visual appearance. Some of the actual weapons are appropriate as they are originally from the Toxo-Viper and Incinerator figures. The remaining weapons from Voltar and the Rock Viper, though, are generally useless. The Incinerator flamethrower is a weapon I've liked since my first encounter with it when I purchased my first Crimson Guard Commander figure. I see it as less a flamethrower and more a high tech rifle that Cobra gives to more specialized troopers. Within that context, I like the weapon. I've never been a fan of the Toxo-Viper's rifle. But, the link between Cyber Vipers and Toxo-Vipers is close enough in the tree of Cobra specialties that it's appearance is acceptable. (However, the figure is missing any backpack into which either of these weapons could plug. So, that diminishes them a bit.) The figure also includes the requisite neon green body armor, can of play-doh and bright yellow missile launcher that were hallmarks of both the Mega Marines subset and other figures from the time. The problem is that this surplus of gear makes tracking down complete Cyber Vipers somewhat more difficult. But, since the armor and launcher don't really add much to the figure for me, I'm willing to sacrifice completeness in order to acquire some additional army members.

There was a time that collectors despised the Cyber Viper and avoided them like the plague.  In time, though, collectors grew to accept the neon years and figures like the Cyber Viper (which were produced in lower quantities than most of his contemporaries) started to dry up.  Now, Cyber Vipers are actually somewhat pricey and can be difficult to track down.  Mint and complete with filecard versions often sell for $22 or more.  Carded figures can go as high as $40.  For a figure that was basically worthless in the late 1990's, that's quite a change.  But, the rarer nature and the camp appreciation that comes with a figure that is so terribly done have made the Cyber Viper among the more desirable neon heavy releases from the line's final years. I find myself guilty of liking them and have built my own army since the figure is so interesting to me. Granted, I don't know if I'd do that had each figure cost me as much as they do today. But, I am glad that more than one Cyber Viper calls my collection home.

1993 Cyber Viper, Mega Marines, 1994 Detonator, Flak Viper

1993 Cyber Viper, Mega Marines, 1994 Detonator, Flak Viper

1993 Cyber Viper, Mega Marines, 1994 Detonator, Flak Viper, Nitro Viper