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

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