Friday, February 28, 2014

Funskool Lady Jaye

Back in 1984, I read the TV listings from the Sunday newspaper each week. I don't really know why I did this. It's really an antiquated notion: both in terms of looking for TV listings in general and using a newspaper to find them. But, in the fall of 1983, I had happened to notice a cartoon named G.I. Joe was being played on our local, independent TV station. That bit of pure luck lead to a habit...hoping lightning would strike again. Sure enough, in the fall of 1984, a second G.I. Joe mini-series was aired. I don't remember much about the cartoon in general. But, the series introduced Joe fans to three new characters who played major roles but did not, yet, have figures in production: Flint, Shipwreck and Lady Jaye. Just a few months after the cartoon aired, Lady Jaye appeared in G.I. Joe #33, ostensibly as Scarlett's bitchy replacement. Seeing this character in both formats ensured to all my friends and I that Lady Jaye would be part of the 1985 figure stable. Sure enough, just weeks after G.I. Joe #33 showed up, the kids down the street found the Dreadnoks at Sears and the back of the package confirmed Lady Jaye would be a 1985 release.

As 1985 began, Joe figures showed up in all the various toy and department stores. A friend of mine and I had a competition to see who could find all the figures at retail first. As the cardbacks of the time only named the figure's specialty and not their code name, we were eager to figure out the names of each character. Slowly, we completed the entire set except for three figures. One spring afternoon, I went to Target to find a new stock of Joe figures. Among them were the three figures no one had yet found: Lady Jaye, the Snow Serpent and the Tele-Viper. Unfortunately, just days before, I had begged my parents to buy me Dusty at a local KB toy store. So, they did not let me get a figure and I had no money of my own. So, my younger brothers got a Lady Jaye and Snow Serpent.

However, this Lady Jaye figure didn't look anything like the character in the cartoon or comic. Sure, she had a javelin gun. But, her trademark quiver was missing: replaced with a generic backpack. More noticeable, though, was that the figure featured an awkward baseball cap on Lady Jaye's head. Both her images in the cartoon and comic were sans headgear. The hat simply made no sense. A character that I had looked forward to was now a figure that wasn't great. Her head was large and her feet were bowlegged. Beyond that, she was missing the accessories that had defined her character. As such, I found it hard to use Lady Jaye in her intended purpose.

As such, my vintage Lady Jaye figure got almost no use. It simply wasn't the character the Joe media of the time had made out the character to be. So, the Lady Jaye figure remained basically unused for years and years. Now, as part of the class of 1985, Lady Jaye has some definite display value. Her odd green coloring does work well in some vehicles and she is a staple of my G.I. Joe Headquarters. This Funskool version just gives me another way to incorporate the character into displays. Most of the 1985 figures had some sort of international release. So, having the Funskool version of Lady Jaye helps flesh out my alternate display of early figures that includes Risco, Muralha, Alado and many other Plastirama, Estrela and Funskool takes on classic molds from the line's earliest years.

As a mold, Lady Jaye isn't great. Sure, the body mold is nicely detailed and works just fine. But, the unusually large head, combined with the odd choice of a baseball cap renders the figure rather moot. On top of that, Lady Jaye's feet are somewhat crooked. The toes point more toward each other than they should. If that's not enough, the figure's torso fits somewhat awkwardly into the waist piece. (This is especially pronounced on the 1997 Lady Jaye figure.) For a figure mold from 1985, Lady Jaye was not Hasbro's best effort. Despite those limitations, though, the solid details and colors on the rest of the figure make up for the head's shortcomings. This has kept Lady Jaye a collector favorite despite the problems with the mold.

Lady Jaye's accessories are decent. The javelin gun was a defining character trait. So, seeing it in the figure form was a welcome source of familiarity. Her backpack is not spectacular. It has nice details and is sized for the mold. Not having the trademark javelin quiver is a notch against her overall complement, though. Lady Jaye also includes another accessory: a video camera. There's no real reason for her to have this video equipment. But, it was a neat little side addition to the figure. I used the camera more than I used the figure as it was always helpful to have videotaped evidence of Cobra's nefarious plots. The best part of the camera, though, is how comically dated it now is. In 1985, a small, hand held camera like that was something most people didn't own. Today, I have a camera on my phone that is higher quality and can store longer video than that taped based model. One of the enduring aspects of the Joe line is that it was somewhat forward thinking. While there are some designs that are simply cringe-worthy when viewed through the modern eye, there are many, many more that have held up much better. Lady Jaye as a figure still has some relevance. Her video camera, though, is definitely a relic of her release era.

For many collectors, their opinion of the quality of Funskool figures is shaped by their experiences buying the bulk imports that were produced between 2001 and 2003. During this time, Funskool's quality was spotty at best. It was not uncommon to find sloppy paint applications, frozen joints or figures that fell apart the first time they were moved. In April of 2003, Hasbro tasked Funskool to get their quality act together and the figures produced after that time were much better. However, older Funskool figures were also of great quality. It seems that Funskool's commitment to a great product diminished right as American collectors had the chance to experience their figure offerings. Figures like this Lady Jaye who were produced in the 1990's, are nearly Hasbro level quality. You can see the odd coloring on the figure's face paint. But, the rest of the paint masks are indiscernible from a Hasbro figure. The make up of the plastic is very similar to that used on vintage Hasbro figures and only a slight sense of weakness in the arms really allows a collector to know this isn't a Hasbro release.

The Lady Jaye mold didn't have a great life. This mold was used in the US in 1985. From there, Lady Jaye went off to India. There, Funskool released her for a few years. (Likely between 1993 and 1997.) In that time, there were slight color variants and javelin gun color variants. Funskool also used the Lady Jaye mold for a figure named Canary Ann. This figure was a yellow Lady Jaye with minimal paint applications and a red hat. The figure was sold in a Funskool produced knock off line and is incredibly rare. In 1997, Funskool returned the Lady Jaye mold to Hasbro. (At this point, Hasbro erased the Funskool stamp on the mold and replaced it with a more modern Hasbro used it in 1997 and then again in 1998, only with a new head for the character Volga. Master Collector dusted the mold off in 2003 for the Tiger Force inspired Convention Lady Jaye figure. That is the last time the mold was used. In 2005, though, Hasbro resculpted the Lady Jaye mold. This body is slightly smaller than the original Lady Jaye and was used for Daina in 2005, Lady Jaye in 2006 and the female convention Doc in 2007. As a character, Lady Jaye could stand a few more repaints. However, since the body mold was used for other characters and Lady Jaye has some limitations with the head, collectors probably didn't miss much by having the mold used so few times.

It is likely that Funskool stopped production on Lady Jaye figures in 1997 when they sent the mold back to Hasbro. As such, Lady Jaye was long out of production when collectors began heavily importing Funskool figures in the early 2000's. While not nearly as rare as many of the earliest Funskool figures, Lady Jaye is still not an overly easy find. Carded versions can be rather expensive. But, if you can find loose, mint and complete versions, they will top out around $50. That's pricey for a Joe figure, but is in line with other Funskool figures of similar rarity. For the price, this figure doesn't offer much that isn't available from the American Lady Jaye figure. Sure, the coloring is a bit brighter. But, it's not as stark a difference as you see on many international figures. That allows the modern collector to really pass this release by since it doesn't offer anything remarkably different than the American figure and is much harder to find. As someone who appreciates the subtle differences between international Joe releases, the figure has merit. But, it's probably not enough merit to justify the price it takes to track the figure down.

Funskool Lady Jaye, Plastirama Blow Torch, European Exclusive Mutt, Cobra De Hielo, Stormshadow, Red Shadow Cobra Invasor, Flint, Action Force Z Cycle

Funskool Lady Jaye, Plastirama Blow Torch, European Exclusive Mutt, Cobra De Hielo, Stormshadow, Red Shadow Cobra Invasor, Flint, Action Force Z Cycle

Funskool Lady Jaye, Plastirama Blow Torch, European Exclusive Mutt, Cobra De Hielo, Stormshadow, Red Shadow Cobra Invasor

Funskool Lady Jaye, Plastirama Blow Torch, European Exclusive Mutt, Cobra De Hielo, Stormshadow, Red Shadow Cobra Invasor

Funskool Lady Jaye, Plastirama Blow Torch, European Exclusive Mutt, Cobra De Hielo, Stormshadow, Red Shadow Cobra Invasor

Thursday, February 27, 2014

1992 Cutter - Drug Elimination Force

There were two ways to re-create classic characters in the vintage line: either redesign them from scratch or produce a mold and coloring that were true to the character's roots, but brought modern sculpting and design into the mix. Both approaches created a variety of all time great figures and some duds. As the line wore on, though, there were fewer and fewer of the latter option produced. But, when Hasbro got it right, they could really get it right. One such figure is the 1992 DEF Cutter figure.

The original Cutter was released in 1984 as the pilot of the iconic WHALE hovercraft. Adorned with a baseball cap, the figure was a great visual use of orange and navy blue to produce a vehicle driver worthy of such a classic watercraft. But, that original figure had some limitations. The life vest was bulky and the figure included no accessories. In 1992, Hasbro rectified that when they updated the character. This new Cutter was still sporting his traditional orange and navy blue motif. But, he was now more streamlined, had some additional, combat details on his mold and was released on a single card so he was fully accessorized. The result is a figure that is still a perfect fit for the command center on the WHALE, but can also be used as part of the combat team he transported to the mission site.

As a kid, Cutter was one of the main figures I used. This really had nothing to do with the quality of the figure or the character. It had everything to do with the fact that the WHALE was one of my favorite vehicles and remained vital to my Joe world well past the time that it was mostly broken and destroyed. I outfitted Cutter with a Scarlett crossbow from the 1983 Accessory Pack. Only, I cut off the bows so it appeared to be a spear gun. I tied a thread around the sight and Cutter would sling this weapon over his shoulder when he commanded the WHALE. But, it was available should any stray Eel attempt to board the craft. In this capacity, Cutter remained one of the most important Joes since he commanded their most important vehicle. As I got older, though, the limitations of the Cutter figure became apparent. Standing him alongside figures from 1986 and 1987 really showed how limited the original Cutter figure was. So, as the WHALE's role in my collection diminished, so did Cutter's.

If you fast forward a decade or so, though, I had a new WHALE in my collection. Naturally, I wanted Cutter to be the commander. But, with years of new figures added to my collection, the original version simply didn't cut the mustard any more. I had the 1993 Cutter figure take command of the classic hovercraft, but it wasn't the same without the traditional orange life vest. Around 1999 or so, though, I got a large lot of figures from 1992 and 1993. Included with the lot was the 1992 Cutter figure. At long last I had the perfect figure to represent the character and man the command station of one of my favorite vehicles.

From that point on, the Cutter character was only represented by this figure. He perfectly matches the WHALE since he hearkens back to Cutter's classic design. Plus, the figure is more sleek and streamlined so he looks more in place in the WHALE than even the original figure. This Cutter works well with figures from across the line's history. This cements the figure as just about the perfect upgrade. He's not on par with the 1985 Snake Eyes just due to the more obscure nature of the character. But, the level of design improvement is very close. Shockingly close for a figure released in 1992.

Cutter's accessories were memorable and terrible. The terrible starts and ends with the light up, spring loaded weapons that were standard issue with every member of the DEF. The memorable, though, starts with Cutter's rifle. While colored white, the rifle is acceptable since it would see most of its uses in a maritime setting. The detail, though, is top notch. The weapon is compact enough to make sense on a tight space like a ship. But, it is large enough to pack a wallop. The best part of Cutter, though, is the large flashlight that attaches to the figure's leg. A flashlight shouldn't be much of an accessory. But, in Cutter's case, the utilitarian nature of the flashlight, coupled with it's size just makes sense. You could see Cutter using it to probe the dark depths of the Whale's engine compartment. Or, maybe in the boiler room of the USS Flagg. But, if you got in a pinch, you could also have Cutter use the flashlight to conk the head of any poor Cobra Eel that let his guard down. The terrible is the light up grappling hook launcher. Honestly, the grappling hook and rope are, in and of themselves, decent accessories that make sense for a maritime trooper. But, the launcher is large, bulky and bright. In short, it adds nothing to the figure but a higher price point.

The Cutter mold was used twice by Hasbro: for this carded figure and as the driver of the Shark 9000 in 1993.  After that, the mold made its way to India where Funskool released Cutter for many years.  The Funskool figure is based on the American figure, but uses a much lighter blue.  Of note for that Funskool figure, though, is that the figure includes black accessories.  So, if the 1992 Cutter's white weapons don't do it for you, it's easy to get a Funskool version and replace the white weapons with black versions.  After the Funskool figure, the mold has disappeared.  It is likely that Hasbro got it back in the early 2000's.  But, it was never used and we have likely seen the end of the mold.

Due to the higher price point, the DEF figures weren't as popular as other 1992 releases.  The result is that all of them are slightly harder to find than the standard carded figures.  Mint and complete with filecard, Cutters can run as high as $12-$14.  But, you can find them for around $9 if you are willing to look around and sacrifice a bit of condition or the filecard or a few accessories.  For my money, this is the best version of Cutter ever released and he is a perfect match for the Whale.  He is well worth the price and should be a member of everyone's collection.

1992 Cutter, DEF, WHALE, 1993 Beach head, Headhunter

1992 Cutter, DEF, WHALE, 1992 Big Bear

Monday, February 24, 2014

Funskool Wild Bill

There are some silly figures that were produced in India. At least, they were silly for the American collector sensibility. However, in the early 2000's, Funskool didn't much care what an adult, American G.I. Joe collector thought about their products. Funskool was trying to sell as many figures as they could to kids all over India. They felt that bright, ostentatious colors were the way to attract their target market. So, Funskool put out a series of very brightly colored figures: many featuring extremely liberal use of the color orange. The result is some of the most bizarre repaints available anywhere in the world. But, when taken within the context of their release, many of these figures do have redeeming qualities and can, in the right circumstances, be a valued addition to any collection.

In 2001, American toy dealers began to import massive quantities of Funskool G.I. Joe figures. When the figures first showed up in early 2001, for most people, they were all new. However, at the time, the Funskool Desert Scorpion was a recent addition to the Funskool line. In the summer, General Hawk appeared as a new figure. But, the novelty of Funskool in general obscured the fact that the figure was new. Later in the summer, word appeared that the Crimson Guard Immortal would be the next Funskool release. As it was the height of the army building craze, collectors went batty for that figure. This release was followed up by Zartan: another figure that was well received by collectors. He was followed by Red Dog. Not a great figure, but the Caucasian skin color at least made the figure interesting. As such, when it was announced that Wild Bill would be the next Funskool figure, collectors were actually anticipating the release. But, when images of the figure appeared, disappointment reigned. The orange coloring was too much and many collectors were turned off from future Funskool offerings just because this one release didn't fit with their idea of Funskool figures being aimed at American collectors.

Colors aside, this Wild Bill is well painted. The details on the mold are brought out with the eye catching silver and gold highlights that are offset by black details. Even the two-toned boots are a nice upgrade for the figure's overall look. But, in the end, it's impossible to get past that bright orange base. Outside of a rescue Wild Bill motif, there's really no explanation for such a garish color. But, that was the point. Funskool's market research on the preferences of kids in India indicated that they were attracted to toys by bright colors. As such, for many of the post Wild Bill releases, Funskool focused on brightness, often with the base orange color. (See Grunt, Incinerator and Metal Head as examples.)

So, what do you do with a bright orange figure? Really, you can hide him as the pilot of one of the various Joe aircraft with opaque canopies. Or, you can group with with some search and rescue figures. Beyond that, though, there isn't much use for a non-astronaut figure clad is base, bright orange. That doesn't mean the figure is useless. Wild Bill is certainly a example of Funskool bizarreness that appeared in the early 2000s and he was the first of a series of rather off-beat and relatively poor Funskool new releases. So, for the cultural value, the figure is worth having around, even if he has no real use.

The Wild Bill mold was used in the U.S. In 1988, Wild Bill was expected to be the pilot to the Tiger Fly helicopter. You can see mocked up versions of the Tiger Force Wild Bill in some catalog photography. However, this figure was never produced and the Tiger Fly included Recondo in lieu of Wild Bill. The character then disappeared until it showed up in India in late 2001. The Funskool version has a few variants (notably the silver vs. black sunglasses difference.) but is readily available in most forms. It is not believed that Hasbro reacquired the Wild Bill mold so it is likely still in India.

This figure is goofy. It is campy. And, at its core, it is fun to own. There is no rational reason for having this figure outside of the fact that every collection needs something silly to offset the seriousness of the military vs. terrorist theme that is G.I. Joe. This Wild Bill fills that role admirably. Beyond that, though, it's always nice to have higher profile characters in a variety of color schemes. It helps to keep them in various displays without overdosing on the original, or otherwise best, version. In the desert colored helicopters, this Wild Bill is acceptable. That leaves the original Wild Bill to fill his role in the original Dragonfly, but still allows the character other appearances in later aircraft. Again, that's worthwhile. For the $4 it will cost you to get a MOC version of this figure, it's definitely worth it.

2001 Funskool Wild Bill, India, 2000 Locust

2001 Funskool Wild Bill, India, 2000 Locust

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

1985 Snow Serpent

The Snow Serpent is the overlooked 1985 Cobra Army builder.  He's certainly not the worst figure from that year.  But, the arctic specialty dooms him to a lesser role than a figure of his excellent design would normally enjoy.  The Crimson Guard is one of the most iconic Cobra army building figures. The Eel is the de facto standard against which all other Cobra divers have been measured. And, the Tele-Viper is just a staple for pretty much every Cobra outpost, base and large vehicle due to his ubiquitous specialty. The Snow Serpent, though, is more niche. If you have an arctic mission, this is your first choice of figure. But, for most kids in the '80's, playing out in the snow with your Joes was a seasonal treat rather than a typical day of play.

In late 1984, the Dreadnoks were available at Sears stores.  My friends and I got them all for Christmas that year.  One of the great anticipations for Joe fans between 1983 and 1985 was not knowing the code names for the figures that would be released that year.  The cardbacks only referred to the figures by specialty.  So, we had great fun in trying to figure out the code names of all the characters on the cardbacks.  Between Flint, Lady Jaye and Shipwreck showing up in the cartoon early, the Crimson Guard appearing in the comic book and names that were listed in the copyright info on the comics early in the year, my friends and I were able to come up with the names for all the figures except one.  The Cobra Polar Assault trooper simply did not appear anywhere.  On top of this, no one could find the figure at retail.  We went several weeks not knowing this figure's name.  Finally, I found one at a Target store.  I went home and called my friend.  He was outside and his phone rang about 20 times before he heard it came in.  (Remember the days with no answering machines or voicemail?  Man, I'm starting to feel old.)  He was ecstatic when he heard the name Snow Serpent.  It was a vile and sinister name for a Cobra villain.

In the case of the Snow Serpent, the name lived up to the figure.  As a sculpt, the Snow Serpent is fabulous: well detailed with perfect coloring.  The accessories are about as perfect as you could get for the time.  The result is a complete package of a figure. The white combined with grey and blue stays true to the standard Cobra color palette while also keeping the figure in line with his environmental specialty. The detail on the mold is amazing and incorporates the airborne and arctic elements seamlessly. The figure's head is a bit odd. The solid black face mask loses some of the details. A simple eye paint mask would have broken this sea of darkness up nicely. But, the head is menacing and that's really the goal of the early Cobra figures.

One of the oddities about the Snow Serpent, though, is that he is actually two first time Cobras in one. He was the first Arctic themed Cobra Trooper. But, he was also the first airborne assault Cobra Trooper. The figure is designed with base parachute harnesses as part of his uniform. The inclusion of the parachute pack only reinforced the notion that Snow Serpents were designed to fill two specialties at once. This could be a function of Hasbro incorporating the airborne specialty as a way to keep the figure in kid's play patterns during warm weather months. Or, it could just be that they were trying to pack as much into a figure as they could. Regardless, the combination specialties help to make the figure stand out, even when taken against the later release Cobra cold weather troopers.

The Snow Serpent included an exceptional amount of accessories for the time. The figure started with the basics of a large backpack and an AK-47 assault rifle. The AK-47, though, was not the original sculpt from the Cobra Officer. Instead, it was a new sculpt that was thicker, bulkier and featured a new stock. In short, it was a substantial upgrade over the original Cobra weapon. The pack was large, but had a neat little engineering feature. The Snow Serpent also included an anti-tank missile launcher with stand. This launcher could neatly plug into the side of the figure's backpack. (The Snow Serpent I had as a kid, though, was irregular and his launcher never could fit on the peg.) This allowed the Snow Serpents to carry their full load of weapons without having to awkwardly pose the blocky missile launcher. If that weren't enough, though, the Snow Serpent also included a parachute pack that attached around the figure's waist. This wasn't a working accessory. But, it was a great detail that showed the Snow Serpent's versatility. The figure was topped off by a pair of snow shoes to assist with the snowbound marches. In short, the figure had everything you would expect of a arctic combat trooper.

In my collection, Snow Serpents were the best of the best of Cobra Troopers.  Somewhere, I got it in my head that Eels were taken from the ranks of Cobra's best.  So, the logical extension of that was for the Snow Serpents to be the elite fighters in Cobra's army.  Despite being themed for cold weather, I had Snow Serpents be the most devastating fighting unit against which the Joes could match up.  Often, Snow Serpents would hold their own against Joe forces of equal or even greater numbers.  They were that good.  There were very few of them.  So, when the Joe managed to kill one, it was an event worth noting for any hero.  Even as my vintage figure broke down, the notion of Snow Serpents being the best remained and the Joes were always on the lookout for any appearance of one.

In time, though, the Snow Serpents began to fade from my childhood play pattern.  Ostensibly, the reason was that the 1986 Cobra Viper was released and that figure gave me a newer, well equipped Cobra Soldier to fight the Joes.  But, at the same time, my lone Snow Serpent figure had taken a beating.  His rifle was lost, his missile launcher was broken, his parachute buckle was ripped and, after spending a few too many days outside, the figure and his backpack were caked with deep rooted dirt that just made the figure tired.  So, the Snow Serpent slipped into oblivion.  As an adult collector, though, the figure never made a comeback.  Living in the desert, I didn't have great need for arctic figures.  But, the reality was that my focus was on acquiring 1991, 1993 Mail Away and 1998 Snow Serpent figures.  Their sleek design, cheaper price and high quality mold made them more interesting to me than the traditional, plodding figure from 1985.  It was only through acquisitions of collections that I added a few original figures to my collection.  But, today, I am glad I have them.  The figure's classic design and vintage release year combine to make him a must have for me.

The Snow Serpent was one of the very few 1985 molds that never left the U.S. After his 1985 release, the mold went quiet until 1992. In that year, the head appeared as part of the nicely designed but poorly colored Heli-Viper. The mold then disappeared again until 2006. Then, in a surprise move, Master Collector found the mold and released it as part of the Operation Flaming Moth series of figures. This new figure did not have the classic Snow Serpent accessories and the high price point coupled with decreased Joe demand lead to a disappointing re-release of a classic. After that, the mold went silent. Really, though, there isn't much that could be done with this figure. The original is just about perfect. So, any attempts at repaints would likely suffer from those lofty expectations. So, it's probably best that the Snow Serpent is most know for his original release.

In the early 2000's, Snow Serpents were pricey.  But, when the army building bug was sated, their prices fell.  Today, mint and complete figures can be had for around $15-$18.  Be aware, though, that many of the figures in this price range actually have paint wear.  The figure's face is notoriously susceptible to paint damage and it's common to find a little paint missing from most figures in the market.  This isn't a terrible price at which to army the figure.  En masse, Snow Serpents are quite imposing.  Even as a single figure, the combination of quality sculpt, realistic colors and excellent gear make for a perfect display candidate. Overall, the best year for Cobra army builders is debatable. But, 1985 makes a strong case and the Snow Serpent is a shining example of why.

1985 Snow Serpent

1985 Snow Serpent, Tele Viper

Monday, February 17, 2014

1994 Star Brigade Space Shot

The 1994 Star Brigade series was one of the last items produced by Hasbro for the vintage Joe run. Like most of the subsets in the line's final years, it was a mix of existing molds and some newly scupted parts that were often paired with some pre-existing parts as well. It was all part of a drastic, but unsuccessful, cost cutting move that was intended to save the Joe line from cancellation. Despite the imposition of these mandates, Hasbro still managed to put a strong group of figures througout 1994. The regular Battle Corps line was a solid mix of military colors and neon brightness. Star Brigade was much the same. The 1994 series was a substantial upgrade from the 1993 group, even if all of the 1993 Joes made a return appearance, but with better paint applications, in 1994. Among the newly introduced figures in the Star Brigade line was the Joe's new pilot: Space Shot.

Spaceshot's overall look is more futuristic commercial airline pilot and less astronaut. The spacesuit is surprisingly formal with the buttoned tunic. The red, white and blue motif is subtly patriotic and is an exact match for the more common 1994 Payload figure. With the helmet on, I still see Space Shot as more of a terrestrially based pilot who would be a good fit for the Skystriker...if only his sculpt weren't so bulky and he actually fit into the iconic plane's cockpit.

Spaceshot's helmet is very reminiscent of the Egyptian inspired helmets from the original Battlestar Galactica franchise. In some ways, this is good as it gives the figure sci fi roots. In other ways, it is very derivative of existing work and makes the figure less original. Whichever stance you take on the helmet's appearance, though, everyone will admit that the helmet is the hallmark of the figure. Unfortunately, it has an open face. It's likely that a clear plastic visor inside the helmet would have been too expensive for a newly sculpted 1994 release. But, it would have made a world of difference with the figure.

In the late 1990's, I was on a mission to own every single 1994 Star Brigade figure both loose and carded. Back then, the figures were fairly hard to find carded and, basically, impossible to find loose. The upside, though, was that they were dirt cheap since collectors had largely written the entire series off as too "neon". Within a few months, I completed my goal with one exception. I never got around to finding a carded 1994 Space Shot. This is surprising when you consider that I had duplicates of most of the harder figures to find in the series and, in some cases, as many as three or four carded versions of specific figures. Space Shot, though, eluded me. I didn't realize I was missing him of course, until I did an inventory and realized that he was the one carded figure missing from my 1994 Star Brigade collection. I figured it wouldn't be difficult or expensive to fill the gap.

But, I quickly learned how wrong I was! It seems Space Shot has taken on something of a aftermarket popularity boom. Loose and carded figures are extremely scarce. Open auctions on carded figures can go as high as $60 with loose, mint and complete figures selling for $30. The upside is that there are still some old time dealers who don't really realize that some of the late run Joe items have become more than the bargain basement pegwarming fodder they were a decade and a half ago. And, from time to time, you see a carded Space Shot sold with a buy it now price of $12 to $20. Until I get lucky on one of those, though, Space Shot will remain the gap in my otherwise complete carded 1994 Star Brigade collection.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

1988 Tiger Force Roadblock

I have written before about the last Joes of my collection. There were three stragglers from 1988 who managed to be part of my childhood collection before I stopped buying Joes. Two of them were new figures for that year. The third, though, was a repaint of a classic figure from my childhood who had long been broken. When I saw the Tiger Force Roadblock on the shelf, I was excited as I was finally able to get a better version of the figure with his original accessories. It seems odd now, after years and years of Roadblock releases of both the figure and his accessories that something so common would be so appealing. But, in 1988, repaints were rare and it was hard to find figures that had been out of circulation for several years. So, the minute I saw the Tiger Force Roadblock, I had to own him.

The original Roadblock figure was always mysterious to me. The name, "Roadblock", simply conjured up someone capable of stopping Cobra on his own. Seeing the figure with such a powerful weapon only made me want the figure that much more. In early 1984, though, when we found our first three new figures on the shelf of a Value City Department store, I was too enthralled with Firefly to get the Roadblock. Instead, I pawned him on my youngest brother since I knew I would be able to basically call the figure mine after just a few days. Sure enough, that's what happened. My brother grew tired of his new Joe and Roadblock joined my collection as one of the most powerful and dangerous Joe figures around. Unfortunately, though, as the figure was still, technically, my brother's, he would take it and play with it from time to time. Quickly, the peg on the backpack and the machine gun stand were broken. In a matter of months, he snapped Roadblock's gun in two. I tried to glue it back together, but it wasn't the same.

This moved Roadblock into the category of figure who got away. I wanted to do more with the figure, but couldn't since his accessories were destroyed. I tried replacing his weapons with those from the machine gun defense station, but just couldn't make it work since he couldn't actually hold the gun. When the 1986 Roadblock came out, I wanted to love the figure. But, it just didn't do anything for me and the character remained someone I wanted to use more but could not find a way to overcome the accessory issue. This 1988 Tiger Force Roadblock, though, solved that dilemma. He not only included the original Roadblock accessories, but they were even colored better with a charcoal grey gun and stand instead of a green version. It was something I had wanted for a long time and was quickly able to integrate into my collection.

As soon as Roadblock got home, he was immediately involved in an operation where the Joes had to transport old equipment to a junk yard. Cobra, of course, attacked and the old, beat up SLAM in the back of a dollar store plastic military dump truck became the Joe's only salvation. But, being in the dump, it could not rotate to cover the front of the truck. So, Roadblock punched a hole in the truck's roof and mounted his machine gun so he could take out the Cobras. It's an oddly specific memory, but shows how important the figure was to me. I also acquired Hardball on the same day. But, I can not tell you his role in the adventure. Only Roadblock stands out.

As a figure, this is the standard V1 Roadblock mold. the base figure is a mixture of greens and browns with some yellow stripes thrown into the mix. Without those, this figure would be a solid update to the original figure and would have been releaseable outside of the Tiger Force subset. In general, though, Roadblock is among the more muted Tiger Force figures and this release is very useful, even when paired with non Tiger Force figures. The main issue remains the lack of painted details. Roadblocks harness is all green, with the grenades and details hidden in that base color. The result is a figure that, while decent enough, could still be improved upon. A few additional paint details and this figure could be even better.

The Tiger Force figures had the great fortune to include the full complement of accessories from their original figures. As such, this Roadblock includes his Browning .50 caliber machine gun, tripod, pack, ammo pack and helmet. The pack and removable ammo pack are in a light green this time around, though. The real gem is the machine gun. Gone is the green that haunted the weapons of the 1984 figures. It is replaced with a nice, charcoal color that is not black and not grey. It is a great update to Roadblock's weapon and would be much more appreciated if Hasbro had produced the accessory combo ad naseum in black in the 2000's. Roadblock's helmet is the standard 1982 mold, but cast in bright yellow plastic with black tiger stripes painted on. It's a ridiculous topper to the figure, but it works on some levels. Paired with the Tiger Force vehicles, Roadblock's helmet ties him to the genre even more so than his uniform.

The Roadblock mold saw just two uses in the vintage line: the original figure and this Tiger Force repaint. The entire Tiger Force figure was released on Asian packaging around 1994. Roadblock was one of the few 1984 molds that was never released by a company other than Hasbro. And, that continued into the repaint era. The full Roadblock mold made appearances in 2001, 2002 and 2004 with parts appearing at other times. Basically, the mold was rendered useless by Hasbro's incessant repainting of it. As such, many collectors have little use for the V1 Roadblock any more since the multitude of later releases really diminished the importance of the original release.

As a subset, Tiger Force is somewhat odd. They aren't really jungle specialists and they have both arctic and desert troopers on the roster. Really, it's just a way for some classic characters to have a slightly different uniform. The combination of yellow and green, though, can be a bit off-putting. But, within the context of the team, the figures do work. There is something about both the uniformity and the brazenness of wearing splashes of bright colors into the battlefield that has allowed Tiger Force to take hold in the collective collector conscience. As such, it remains a very popular subset among collectors.

That being said, though, Roadblock is likely among the least popular Tiger Force members. The figure is fairly ubiquitous and is relatively easy to acquire. As such, he tends to be the cheapest Tiger Force figure out there. Mint and complete with filecard figures tend to sell in the $6 range. For a figure with relatively brittle accessories who is a major character and part of a popular subset, that's a paltry sum. But, the Roadblock figure and character were overused by Hasbro in the 2000's and that has diminished a lot of interest in figures like this. But, it helps to free up collecting funds that will be needed to acquire a few of the more obscure Tiger Force repaints.

1988 Tiger Force Roadblock, Recondo

1988 Tiger Force Roadblock

Monday, February 10, 2014

European Exclusive Mutt

Mutt is one of my all time favorite characters and figures.  I really don't know why since I don't have a great recollection of using him when I was a kid.  (Mostly because he belonged to my brother and was quickly broken.)  But, I think that the combination of mold and accessories made me want to use the figure more than I did.  His appearance in the comics just drove home the value of the character.  The fact that the figure in our household was not mine also made him more interesting to me since he was not a figure that I could control.  As an adult collector, I have enjoyed the many versions of the Mutt character and mold.  As such, I was very happy to discover that the classic Mutt uniform had an European exclusive release that offered a new take on the character.

As a figure, the Euro Mutt has strengths and weaknesses. The base colors of black with brownish grey chest and blue pants is solid enough. It is a bit darker than the American figure, but the brighter blue and red details definitely are a detraction for the figure. The result is something that's excellent as an oddity, but not quite as strong as the standard, American Mutt figure. Were this figure an American release, it would likely be derided by collectors, especially when you consider that it would have been released in the 1990's. Being a European Exclusive, though, gives this figure some leeway. It's rarity helps to offset the less than stellar coloring and drives collector interest beyond what the figure probably deserves on its own merit.

For me, this figure has value in that it is Mutt and it is a version of him you don't often see. I like to have different versions of characters so that I don't grow tired of using my favorites over and over again. Having something like this version of Mutt helps to keep the character on display, but doesn't dilute the quality of the original figure.

This figure sees his most use, though, in more law enforcement settings. The original, green Mutt works perfectly for more combat oriented situations. This version is more suited to working the G.I. Joe HQ, Checkpoints or prisons. In this role, Mutt as a character can be utilized a little differently than the combat notion of Mutt that you get in the original hues. The darker colors are not only more law enforcement based, but they are also a solid complement to the European Exclusive Spirit figure. They make for a good combo and bring something different to both molds.

The Euro Mutt includes all of the standard Mutt's accessories.  However, the helmet, gun, nightstick and Junkyard are all cast in a grey plastic instead of the American black.  (The leash and face muzzle, though, are basically the same as the U.S. release.)  This is a very subtle difference, but important if you want a fully complete figure.  Really, outfitting a cheap, loose Mutt with American accessories works quite well.  But, the slightly grey weapons help to differentiate the figure and make him that much more troublesome to complete properly.

There are two noteworthy idiosyncrasies to this figure. First of all, the figure has orange hair. It is a bright, brilliant orange color that really isn't seen to often. It's a vastly different look from the black hair of the American figure. However, this may be explained away by the other major difference. This figure, while named Mutt, is not Stanley Perlmutter. This character is named Andrew MacKenzie from Glasgow, Scotland. At its core, it's meant to be the same character. But, the European version is different enough that an enterprising collector could use both figures at the same time and create a reasonable explanation for their similar appearance.

The Mutt mold was a world traveler. After his initial release in the U.S., Mutt was sent to South America. There, Estrela released him in Brazil as Mastim. In 1989, Estrela also released a Slaughter's Marauders Mutt figure that was imported to the U.S. by Hasbro and sold in American stores. After that, Hasbro re-acquired the mold and used it for this European release. The trail runs cold there, though. While we know Hasbro had the mold last, they were never able to find for release in the repaint era. Instead, Hasbro resculpted the Mutt head and Torso for release in the 2004 Toys R Us Exclusive Anti-Venom set. That was the only appearance of the classic Mutt look in the modern line. It would have been nice to get the full figure with his full complement of original accessories one more time. But, collectors have about 7 or 8 options for Mutt as a figure.

Euro Mutts are expensive and hard to find.  Mint and complete with correct accessories and filecard, the figure can run upwards of $150.  That makes him in the top 2%-3% or all Joes price wise in the world.  It's a steep price to pay for a version of the character that's likely not as good as the American original.  But, it shows what a brittle mold with rare accessories released in Europe can cost: even when there are alternatives available.  If you are willing to sacrifice the filecard and the accessories, though, the figure drops in price precipitously.  Loose figures can be had for $50 or so.  That's much more palatable if you want the figure for something more than display and bragging rights.

European Exclusive Mutt, 1984, Junkyard, Plastirama, Argentina, Antorcha, Blowtorch

European Exclusive Mutt, 1984, Junkyard, Plastirama, Argentina, Invasor, Action Force, Red Shadows, Funskool Lady Jaye, 1985, India, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

European Exclusive Mutt, 1984, Junkyard, Action Force, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Palitoy, Z Force RAM Motorcycle, 1983 Snake Eyes, Rock and Roll

European Exclusive Mutt, 1984, Junkyard, Action Force, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Palitoy, Plastirama, Argentina, Estrela, Brazil, Backstop, Sokerk, Stalker, Snake eyes, Alado, Crazylegs, Sigilo, Quick Kick, Spirit, Abutre Negro, Escorpiao Voador, Cobra Flying Scorpion

Thursday, February 6, 2014

1993 Backblast

Back in 1995, Joes were still available at retail, but somewhat sparse. Most stores in my area would have a few random figures left behind. What was interesting, though, was that different stores seemed to have different assortments of figures. Sure, I'd find a 1994 Shipwreck at Target and Toys R Us. But, other stores would get different assortments. Big Lots got in waves of 1993 figures including Firefly and Leatherneck. Meijer stores would have Snow Storm and Dial Tone. Toys R Us would have Vipers and Stalkers. CVS would have Crimson Guard Commanders and Gristles. And, at the Kay Bee toy store in the Castelton mall in Indianapolis, they had Keel Haul and Backblast.

During that time, my criteria for buying figures was somewhat structured. If the figure was just too cool to pass up, it would be purchased. If the figure was a remake of a character from my childhood, I'd buy it. If the character had an accessory that was just awesome, it would become part of my collection. However, I acquired more and more figure, the offerings available at retail fell into fewer and fewer of those categories. Finally, I reduced the criteria for which a figure would quality for purchase to if it included black accessories. If the figure had black guns, I would buy him. Which is how Backblast came to enter my collection. I had tapped out the big box retailers in my area for figures I did not own. So, I sucked up the extra dollar that KB Toys charged per figure and bought a Backblast.

Upon opening the figure, though, I was pleasantly surprised. While I was aware of the 1989 Backblast figure, I had never actually owned one. So, as far as I knew, this 1993 version was a completely new mold that had been created for the character. To me, the figure was brand new and not a repaint from something I already owned. The solid green base colors kept Backblast rooted in realism and his black rifles avoided the neon accessory pratfalls that were all too common on other, otherwise decently colored 1993 and 1994 figures. The detail on his helmet and uniform were top notch and helped to sell the figure since they maintained a realistic military feel in an era that was more about character and excess. In general, the figure had a generic military vibe that was hard to find during that timeframe and allowed the figure to stand out more than it otherwise would when taken against the line as a whole.

Due to the basic appearance of the figure, Backblast became a standard infantryman who would fight against my Cobras of the time. He was not the artilleryman from the filecard, but a standard infantry trooper who was more than capable of handling multiple Cobras on his own. In this role, though, the figure stagnated. While he was fun to use when I had few figures available to me, as my collection grew, Backblast's importance faded. There were many other figures from 1988 - 1992 who could better fill the role to which I had assigned Backblast. So, they rose to prominence and Backblast faded into much so that I almost sold off my only version.

Fortunately, though, I held on to the figure. There is a simplicity to Backblast that makes him useful. The basic green garb and solid mold allow him to be used as background fodder or as a vehicle crewmember without losing the integrity of the display or wasting more prominent figures in these lower roles. It is a utilitarian purpose for this Backblast. But, it fits with the characters release date and makes him more valued to me than many other 1993 figures who have coloring that makes them less compatible with earlier figures and vehicles.

For the 1995 Mike T. who found this figure, Backblast's accessories were all new and amazing. No other figures I had found to that point included the same weapon tree as Backblast. And, the fact that the weapons were all in black just cemented them as among the best accessories I had seen to that point. The main rifle that you see in the photos below (originally from Cloudburst) became the default weapon for Backblast. I needed him to be an infantry trooper, so that rifle made sense. The black hand held artillery weapon (originally from the 1991 Eco Warriors) became a standard piece of equipment on my APC. It was available for any Joe who had immediate need to destroy a Cobra tank or plane.

This figure is, basically, the same mold as the original Backblast figure. The lone difference are the arms. Gone is the arm holster for Backblast's knife and the entire arm molds are from the 1990 Topside figure. It's a small difference and not one that really matters. But, it separates the two figures in a slight way. There is also a Backblast variant. The chest logo can either be large or small. My figure has the large logo that encompasses most of the free space on Backblast's shirt that is not covered by his harness and gear. A quick perusal of figures available for sale indicates that the smaller logo figure is substantially harder to find. I don't think one is really better than the other, but it's something of which the eagle eyed variant hunter should be aware.

The Backblast mold saw three uses. The original use in 1989 had, far and away, the best accessories. This 1993 version is a solid followup, but doesn't really bring anything new to the character. After this figure's release, though, the mold was sent down to Brazil. There, Estrela released Leontor. This was a new character who made up part of the Forca Fera subset. Including a crappy, molded plastic lion, Leontor was basically Backblast in the 1989 colors. (There are some subtle differences.) After Leontor, the mold disappeared. Big Boa, who was released alongside Leontor as Kangor, did show up in India in the late 1990's. Backblast may or may not have made the trip with him. The mold would have lent itself to a variety of solid potential repaints in the 2000's. But, it was not to be. Still, these three versions are enough for Backblast aficionados to track down.

Like most 1993 regularly released Battle Corps figures, this Backblast is not expensive. Carded figures run between $8-$12 and loose, mint and complete figures sell for half of that. For a figure of this quality, that's a good price. If you only want one Backblast figure, the 1989 is superior in terms of color and accessories. But, this version is a nice way to bring some diversity to the character and also use him in more than one display without having to to buy multiples of the 1989 figure. This figure is another example of someone I would not have carded about were it not for the fact that he was part of my final retail purchases in the 1990's. That gives him value to me beyond the Backblast character. For as cheap as the figure is to acquire, though, most collectors will be able to find some value in him. The solid colors, acceptable accessories and pre-existing character do make the figure worth owning.

1993 Backblast, Battle Corps, 1992 Duke, 1982 Flak, Bazooka, 1985 Bomb Disposal

1993 Backblast, Battle Corps, 1992 Duke, 1982 Flak, Bazooka, 1985 Bomb Disposal

1993 Backblast, Battle Corps, 1992 Duke, 1982 Flak, Bazooka, 1985 Bomb Disposal

Monday, February 3, 2014

1985 Heavy Metal

In October of 1985, I had already acquired all of the regular release G.I. Joe figures and most of the vehicles.  All that was left was the larger, more expensive items that were released later in the year. (I have distinct recollections of the yearly Joe vehicles being released at different times. So, the Mauler was not available at any stores in my area until the fall. This could be selective memory, or just a function of how stores in my area ordered their toys. But, I don't recall finding every vehicle on the shelf at the same time during the vintage run.) That year, I took care of a neighbor's home while they wintered in Arizona. As a downpayment, the owner gave me a $50 bill. It was the largest bill I had ever had up to that point in my life and I wanted to buy something special with it. The last item on my Joe list for the year was the Mauler. So, I called around to various toy stores to find who had it in stock. I finally found one at a Service Merchandise store in the Glendale Mall in Indianapolis. I went in, placed the order, waited for the Mauler to be delivered by the conveyor belt to the customer pick up, bought the tank and went to the car, as happy as an 11 year old in 1985 could be.

I opened up the Mauler and found the Heavy Metal figure inside. The actual figure was a very different mold than the mock up that appeared in the 1985 catalog photo, but it was still amazing. The best part, though, was that the figure included two accessories: a cool sub machine gun with strap and a microphone that plugged into his head. I had to open the figure right away to see what he looked like fully accessorized. As soon as I opened him, though, the microphone fell out and disappeared. Fortunately, I was in the car, so after some frantic searching, it re-appeared.

I was very cautious with my toys by late 1985. I took great care of the figures in terms of keeping the joints tight and paint unblemished. I also was careful not to lose any accessories. As 1986 came around, this trend only continued. Through 1986, I repurchased many of the figures I had first acquired in 1985 that had gotten broken or had lost weapons so that I had nice examples of all my favorite figures. Naturally, I was particularly anal about tiny, easily lost accessories like Heavy Metal's microphone. In 1986, my mother had a good friend who had three younger children. These beasts were completely unruly and would destroy our toy room whenever they came over. Pretty much every lost accessory or broken figure that occurred in my collection in 1986 and 1987 is a direct result of these people. Naturally, they came over one day, completely took apart my Mauler and lost my Heavy Metal's microphone. I scoured my toy room and cleaned it top to bottom, but the mic never appeared. After that, Heavy Metal lost much of his lustre. The microphone was an awesome accessory that make the character stand apart from other vehicle drivers. Without it, the figure just had a hole in his head.

After the loss of the first Heavy Metal microphone, though, I had a bit of luck. As 1986 wound down, several of my classmates were leaving their toys behind. Most had complete collections through 1985 and had kept their figures in as pristine shape as I did. I convinced one friend to sell me his complete Heavy Metal figure so I would have the microphone again. Back in my collection, the microphone brought Heavy Metal back into the spotlight. He quickly resumed his status as primary vehicle driver and was one of the most used figures in my collection. But then, it happened again. I knew those kids were coming over to my house when I was at a school function. In an effort to save my Heavy Metal, I put him inside the Mauler on the top shelf in the toy room. Basically, they would have needed a stepladder to reach him. But, somehow, someway, they got the Mauler down and my second Heavy Metal microphone was lost forever, too. This time, though, I had no reserve outlet. My other good friend with a Heavy Metal had already given him to some younger kids who had thrashed the once great collection. So, there was no way to bring the accessory back. Without it, my two Heavy Metal figure became nameless, faceless armor operators who would perish every time Cobra managed to blow up an Armadillo or Mauler.

Heavy Metal was released in the U.S. with the Mauler in 1986 and 1987.  After that, the mold was shipped down to Brazil.  There, he was released as a carded figure, in colors similar to the American figure, but without the microphone.  While the mold was in Brazil, Hasbro partnered with Estrela and purchased many of their Heavy Metal figures for distribution through Hasbro Direct in the U.S. as part of a mail away premium in the early 1990's.  The result was the Brazilian version of Heavy Metal being released in the U.S. but newly named Rampage.  After that, the mold disappeared.  Heavy Metal would have been an excellent addition to the modern repaint.  But, the lack of Mauler and relative unknown whereabouts of the mold likely doomed any chances he had at returning.

Heavy Metal figures are very easy to find and very cheap.  Complete Heavy Metal's, though, are among the most expensive American figures available.  The reason is the highly desirable and easily lost microphone.  This piece alone will cost in excess of $100.  Fortunately, there are some cheaper reproduction microphones on the market.  So, you can buy an incomplete Heavy Metal, get a repro mic, and have a figure much like you see in the photos below: good enough to save a substantial sum of money.