Thursday, March 27, 2014

1988 Secto Viper

1988 was the year I quit collecting Joes. Without me obsessing over all the figures and vehicles, my younger brothers lost interest in the property, too. My youngest brother would get a few figures and vehicles through the next year. But, he never followed the line with the enthusiasm that I had. As such, most of the 1988 vehicles remained foreign to me until I returned to collecting as an adult. With the vehicles being absent from my childhood, the only exposure I had to the drivers of these items was through their appearance in the comic. Drawn on paper, many of the figures looked much cooler than their actual release. Others, though, didn't appear enough for me to really form an opinion. They looked interesting, but didn't make enough of an appearance for me to really care about them one way or another. Such was the fate of the Secto Viper. My exposure to him was a couple of brief comic panels. He looked interesting enough, but was not overly distinctive and was in line with the other Cobras of the time. When I found the first images of the figure in the mid 1990's, though, my opinion quickly changed. The Secto Viper was a figure I had to own due to its distinctive look and specialty within the Cobra hierarchy.

The Secto Viper's calling card is the 1950's sci fi inspired, clear, bulbous helmet. This topper is the keystone visual element for the figure and instantly conveys that the figure is either a deep sea diver or an astronaut. (Really, this figure would have been perfect for Star Brigade in 1993 or 1994, certainly a better choice than the TARGAT figure.) The yellow and black color scheme (with red highlights) is somewhat basic, but it is also effective for someone who would operate heavy equipment underwater. If you look at the mold, though, it is full of details that would be seen on a deep sea operative. The chest is covered with two rows of small hoses that would be the suit's air recycling system. It speaks to a self containment of the Secto Viper's uniform that would allow them to forgo bulky air tanks for quick repairs or escape should their BUGG be disabled under the water.

I have always liked the notion of deep sea combat. The unforgiving nature of the environment always added an element of danger and randomness to the battle. A simple cut into a deep sea pressure suit was a near instantaneous fatal injury as the deep water pressure would pulp the inhabitant of a perforated suit. So, the combatants in this realm would have to be overly cautious while still being aggressive enough to take out their enemy. For a time, this type of specialized battle was my primary focus. Figures like Deep Six and this Secto Viper could fight outside of a sunken Cobra base. With spotty communications at the depths, it allowed for unsupported danger that took only the steeliest souls.

Like many things in my collection, though, the fascination with deep sea warfare eventually passed. As more figures came into my collection, the possibilities expanded and the limited availability of deep water troopers helped to stifle that as a primary concept in my Joe world. Which isn't to say, though, that the Secto Viper hasn't retained some popularity. This is a figure who, today, finds his home on my Moray. I see Lampreys as more maritime troops for Cobra's naval operations. They are often the uniform of choice for Cobra Eels who are on a land based mission and don't want to wear a wetsuit while they are fighting. So, the Secto Viper becomes the primary aquatic vehicle operator for Cobra. In this regard, the figure sees more use. And, since the Moray is an open cockpit vehicle, the figure displays very well, much more so than as the driver of the BUGG.

The Secto Viper is an example of figure, though, whose value is heavily diminished if he lacks accessories. The figure's clear helmet is an essential element of the entire package. While open faced Secto Vipers can have uses, the helmet is required for the full experience of the figure as it completes the entire ensemble. Secto Vipers also included small, bizarre pistols. These weapons are difficult for the figure to hold in any position that is not drooping towards the ground. But, the odd design of the gun fits the look of the figure. With anyone else, this gun would be a tough sell to collectors. But, with the Secto Viper, it seems a natural fit. The 1988 vehicle drivers in general tended to be light on paint applications, bright in base colors and packed without accessories. The Secto Viper fits the first two traits, but not the third. And, in this case, the accessories were a perfect match that really accentuate the appreciation for the figure's design.

The 1988 and 1989 vehicle driver molds had three distinct fates. They were either: sold to another company, sent to India for use by Funskool, or tucked away in Hasbro warehouses where they were used on obscure convention figures or just forgotten about. The Secto Viper mold died an Olmec death.  After it's use by Hasbro in 1988 and 1989, the mold went fallow.  In the late 1990's, Hasbro sold the mold to Olmec toys where it was used to make the Bronze Bomber figure named Firebomb.  This orange version of the Secto Viper is a nice companion piece to the Hasbro figure.  But, the orange color and lack of paint details really don't bring anything to the mold you don't get from the original figure.  All the molds sold to Olmec disappeared when that company was liquidated by the government.  So, the figure was not eligible to appear in any future sets.  In a different color, maybe as a companion to the Eel or in colors similar to Copperhead, the Secto Viper could be an amazing figure.  It's too bad collectors never got the chance to see another take on the mold.

Secto Vipers have gotten quite expensive in recent years.  Mint and complete with filecard samples often sell for as much as $40.  Figures with just the helmet still often break $25.  But, for a Cobra army building figure that has captured collector attention and has a unique helmet, a very small pistol and who was only available with an odd, higher price point vehicle at a time when Joe had no daily media to support it, that's probably about the right pricing.  Collector tastes evolve, though.  And figures like the Secto Viper can see pricing ebb and flow over time.  In time, you might be able to get this figure cheaper. (Especially now that high quality reproductions of the helmet and gun have hit the market.) Personally, I like the Secto Viper, but find using him difficult.  He has a role in the Moray, but that is limited duty for a figure that has such a distinct look. Perhaps, one day, I'll have a BUGG or Hammerhead which will be manned by various Secto Vipers. Until then, though, I'll have to be contect with him as the crew of the Moray.

1988 Secto Viper, BUGG

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2004 Urban Strike Alley Viper

To say that the Alley Viper was overdone in the repaint era would be an understatement. In 7 years, the figure was released in 5 unique color schemes. Each of these were designed with collectors in mind and each was army built with some gusto by the collecting world. In 2004, though, Hasbro put out their last Alley Viper incarnation. By that time, collectors had feasted on three retail Alley Viper figures in the prior two years. And, as such, were somewhat burned out on the mold. This lead many collectors to overlook what might be the best Alley Viper repaint of them all: the 2004 Urban Strike Alley Viper.

On paper, the Urban Strike Set looked like a winner. 3 major Cobra characters combined with three army builders should have been strong. The actual release lived up to the hype. Done in shades of black and blue with a bit of grey thrown in, the set was classic Cobra colors with strong molds. The Alley Viper, though, was fairly plain. But, there are times when less is more and this all black body with a few silver details and brown highlights was a perfect swan song for the mold. It was a simple and effective look for a character whose primary duty would be urban combat, likely under the cover of darkness. Despite Cobra's affiliation with evil, they rarely featured figures that were clad in solid black. (The repaint line featured more and more of them, but it was still relatively rare to see.) So, those who do appear in that color can be very useful, especially when paired with the large volume of black Cobra vehicles that are available.

The Urban Strike set suffered from it's release window. In late 2003, Hasbro had created the Python Patrol set. This set included 5 vintage army builder molds, all with their original accessories, colored in a decent homage to the Python Patrol theme. In January of 2004, the Cobra Infantry Squad was released. This set of 4 Cobra Troopers and 2 Cobra Officers was the high point for army builders. It was an immensely popular set that sold through very quickly. When the Urban Strike set appeared, collectors were hoping for a repeat of 6 army builders for their Cobra forces. But, Hasbro disappointed them by including only three army builders in the set along with Firefly, Scrap Iron and Stormshadow. This disappointment caused many to overlook the set and not realize that the Firefly was the best Firefly released up to that point, Scrap Iron had not been seen in 20 years and the Stormshadow was decently colored, even if the mold was lackluster. It was in the army builders, though, that Hasbro really outdid themselves. The Nullifer was nothing short of amazing. The Night Creeper was the best use that mold ever saw. And, the final figure, the Alley Viper, was one of the great, unheralded army builders in the repaint era.

Like most TRU sets of the time, the Urban Strike set had an unreleased variant that was available from Asia. While Firefly, Scrap Iron, Stormshadow and the Night Creeper all had fairly obvious differences, those on the Nullifer and Alley Viper are minor. Really, the only difference is some red paint cammo patterns applied to the figure. It is not a major variant, but one that is worth tracking as a squad leader for a group of retail released Alley Viper.

Today, these Alley Vipers are the main unit that's left outside of the 1997 Alley Viper contingent. The black color makes them one of Cobra's most effective quick strike units. The fact that they included the shield, face mask and pack helps flesh this out. (While the Alley Viper's weapon in the set sucks, the Stormshadow figure includes an all black uzi from the 1989 Snake Eyes mold that works perfectly with this figure. (You can see it in the photos below.) The figures are fully armed and ready for battle. While they are not perfect matches for the Rage, they work well enough and are right at home on Hiss Tanks or Stingers. It's a versatile figure that meshes well with vintage Joes and shows that sometimes, a simple repaint can be incredibly effective.

These Alley Vipers can fluctuate in price. In recent years, they have gone as high as $12 per figure to as low as $4 per figure. These days, you can get them in the $6 to $7 range, and less if you are willing to buy lots that include this figure and others. Many of the TRU exclusive set, including the Urban Strike, have taken on a bit of aftermarket appreciation. But, considering it's been a decade since this figure's release, that's not unexpected. Especially when you consider that this set likely only had around 20,000 units produced. Collectors have realized that sets like the Urban Strike did have some very redeeming qualities and are now willing to pay a bit more to add them to their collection. If you passed by this set at retail, that can be a bitter pill to swallow. But, the figures in it are top notch and this Alley Viper is certainly no exception.

2004 Urban Strike Alley Viper, TRU Exclusive, 1983 Hiss TAnk, 1990 Overlord, Fred, Crimson Shadow Guard

Friday, March 21, 2014

1989 Recoil

The Joe line is littered with great figures. Even in the line's final years, it is possible to find a figure that truly stands among the classics. As the line progressed, though, Hasbro did allow imperfections to creep into many releases. Little things like a splash of neon, lack of accessories or unpainted details slowly started to erode the overall quality of the Joe line and made it so that when they did get everything right, those figures really stood apart. Of the figures, though, who have slight flaws, those who can be easily redeemed tend to still maintain some relevance in the collector world. One such figure is the 1989 Recoil.

Recoil was one of my best early discoveries when I first returned to Joe collecting in the late 1990's. I first acquired the figure in one of the various lots of 1988 and 1989 figures I tended to buy in those days. My initial impression of Recoil was that he was a great figure. The green base and sleek design were a perfect match for what I liked in a figure. The fact that he was not a character with which I was familiar and that his head was somewhat obscured made him an ideal figure for a Joe themed army builder. For the first few years, this was Recoil's role. Armed with a Python Patrol Copperhead rifle, Recoil was mostly a nameless army builder who would kill or be killed in skirmishes with the various Vipers I most liked at the time.

Eventually, though, Recoil grew out of this role. If you look at many of my early photos, you see that Recoil is a staple. While I never really concocted any sort of character for Recoil, I did want to use the figure since it worked so well in outdoor environments. Slowly, though, Recoil lost much of his luster. Most of the figures I acquired in the 1990's eventually did as I acquired more and more figures during the 2000's. When it was time for this profile, I thought I had actually sold all my Recoil figures and only found a complete one buried in a junk box full of other, forgotten, figures in the garage. It's doubtful that Recoil will even ascend to the previous heights of use he enjoyed a decade or more ago. But, he's still useful to have around and is a nice way to fill out a photo or diorama.

Recoil's success lies in his simplicity. The figure is, basically, just two shades of green with some brown thrown in on the extremities. Really, the mold would benefit greatly from additional paint masks that would bring out the details in the mold. The grenades and hooks on the figure's chest would look great in silver and they would add a realistic aspect to Recoil that would actually make him better. But, the base green is so strong that these missed details can be forgiven. The weakness of mold are some of the bizarre details that give Recoil his personality. First, he wears a very open zippered shirt. It's an odd look for 1989. But, was something that the Joe designers seemed to use from time to time to give figure's different appearances. The second odd aspect are Recoil's sunglasses. These bright green spectacles give Recoil a bug like appearance. They make you wonder what he has to hide. But, they also offer a degree of anonymity that helps to either establish Recoil's character or embrace the lack thereof.

Recoil is a great mold in realistic colors with excellent accessories. On the surface, he should be one of the more popular Joe characters from this year. But, he has one fatal flaw: baby blue accessories. Recoil's rifle is one of the best Hasbro ever produced. But, colored the way Recoil's is, the weapon becomes worthless. The combination of rifle, grenade launcher, bayonet and sight all make for a perfect sculpt. The colors just ruin it. (Fortunately, a black version of the rifle is available with the highly common Version D Steel Brigade figure.) Recoil's second blue weapon is just odd. A double handled weapon with a pistol on top and shotgun on bottom was silly. It's relatively useless, even before the color becomes an issue. The two decently colored Recoil accessories, his pack and case, though, are also exceptionally well done. The backpack is small, compact, detailed and has an antenna. Details like this helped make the figure more interesting and suggest that Recoil has a great many talents and would be an asset to pretty much any Joe team. The case is well sculpted but rather superfluous. But, is one of the little extras that made Joe so much fun. Recoil may not have used the case, but it was nice to have it if you ever needed it for an adventure.

Recoil was released in the U.S. the one time and not re-used again. The figure also saw release by Hasbro in Europe and China. The real life for the mold, though, was in Brazil. Estrela never actually released Recoil, but they did have the mold and used it for a variety of exclusive figures. His head, chest and arms appear on the brightly colored Tigor figure. His chest was also used for the amazing Cobra Flying Scorpion character. The mold saw more use in South America than it ever did by Hasbro. The mold seems to have perished in Brazil, though, as it never appeared after those releases. The figures released at the same time as the various Recoil inspired figures have also never appeared. So, there is no accounting for where the figure could be.

Recoil figures are typical of 1989 figures in terms of availability and pricing. They are not hard to find and can be had between $8 and $12. However, due to the plastic and rivets used in 1988 and 1989, finding a Recoil with uncracked elbows and no discoloration is getting harder and harder to do. Even well cared for figures are starting to deteriorate a bit and there is likely no stopping the process...only delaying it. Still, as you can see from the photos below, having elbow issues is not enough to render the figure useless. The overall quality of Recoil makes it easy to stop worrying about those small imperfections and allows the modern collector to enjoy the figure for the design that it is.

1989 Recoil, 1987 Falcon

1989 Recoil, Long Range, 1988 Duke, Tiger Force, Weapon Transport, 1987

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

2004 Cobra Black Dragon Ninja

From 2003 through 2005, Toys R Us released 14 exclusive Joe and Cobra figure packs. (Most were 6 figures, with the Tiger Force only being 5.) These releases ranged from spectacular to worse than terrible. There were times when they got everything right on a figure. There were times when the failed so badly that Hasbro lied to the face of collectors and pulled the sets from the convention displays. But, most of the time, the sets were a mixture of one or two good figures, two or three unimpressive figures and 1, maybe two, real stinkers. With the early sets, it seems like Hasbro really tried to make something impressive. But, their level of care and commitment to quality diminished with every set that was released. The beginning of the end really was signalled at the end of 2004 with the release of the Desert Assault Joe set and the Ninja Strike Cobra set. Both sets suffered from bad weapon choices, less than stellar quality and general laziness. But, sometimes lazy can an extent. As such, the Ninja Strike featured the derivative Black Dragon Ninja figure.

In 2004, pretty much every active collector was familiar with Satan and Ninja-Ku from Argentina. Online sellers had been overflowing with carded versions of these two Plastirama exclusive ninjas for a few years. By '04, the supply was starting to dry up and both of the figures were priced in the $50 range for a carded version. They were still very easy to get, but somewhat pricey when you considered how common they were. Rather than come up with an original idea, Hasbro decided to mimic these South American exclusives for release in the Ninja Strike set. Only, rather than name them Satan and Ninja-Ku, the decided to make the red ninja and black ninjas army builders to appease the army building craze that was finally starting to die down. The resulting set is not terrible, but feels like something that had been done before.

As a figure, the Black Dragon Ninja is vastly inferior to Ninja-Ku in some regards. But, in other aspects, he is vastly superior. Ninja-Ku is spectacular because of his simplicity. The black skin color combined with the simple black and gold color scheme makes for a mysterious and dangerous enemy. The Black Dragon Ninja loses the distinct skin color, but excels with additional paint applications on the belt, sash, wrist gauntlets and boots. The result is a more vibrant figure that looks more at place in a collection heavy on modern interpretations of classic figures. Ninja-Ku works well with vintage Joes. But, the Black Dragon Ninja works better with their modern repaints. With his white accents, though, the Black Dragon Ninja is a nice complement to a vintage Stormshadow.

The Ninja Strike Set was released as a Toys R Us Exclusive in late 2004. It was the Cobra companion piece to the Desert Patrol set. The set included one Black Dragon Ninja, two Red Ninja Vipers, two Vypra army builders (repaints of the Jinx mold) and a green and brown repaint of the 1988 Stormshadow mold. Despite production numbers of around 20,000 sets, these sold through very quickly during the holidays of 2004. Joe was still popular at the end of 2004. Toys R Us carried three exclusive sets that holiday season (they also had a VAMP/Whirlwind set.) and all sold very well. It was not until 2005 that the general interest in Joe declined.

My biggest issue with this figure is not that he's a poor man's Ninja-Ku rip off. (Though, if that's what they were going for, Hasbro should have given him the black skin and called it a day.) The real tragedy of the Ninja Strike set is that collectors were deprived of the chance to finally get a V1 Stormshadow figure in Cobra blue. Perhaps one of the most common customs out there is a blue Stormshadow. It's such an obvious repaint that every collector with a jar of blue paint and a yellowed Stormshadow has attempted it. I get the inclusion of the Red Ninja Vipers. They appeared in the comic and are also an obvious repaint. But, to include this black version of Stormshadow while not including a Cobra blue version seems like a great opportunity lost. To this day, collectors have no way to acquiring a factory produced Cobra blue Stormshadow. This set was their chance to get it. But, instead, we got this figure.

The Black Dragon Ninja is a new character. They were designed as ninja guardians for Cobra Commander who were brainwashed by Dr. Mindbender. However, Stormshadow was able to take control of their minds and make them loyal to him. As a comic plot, that's not a terrible characterization...especially for such a late addition to the line. As a long term character, it's not something you can build a great deal of plot around. Once their double loyalty is exposed, their use fullness is diminished. But, having other factions out there to battle Stormshadow or be nameless assassins under Cobra's employ is always a good way to expand a collection.

The accessory complement for the Ninja Strike was OK. It featured a wide variety of swords, knives, nunchuks, bows and arrows and even a rifle and a duffel bag. What it did not include in any way, shape or form, though, was any accessory from the V1 Stormshadow figure. In 1997, Hasbro released the full range of V1 Stormshadow accessories with that year's figure. Seven years later, the entire array of pack, knife, sword, bow and nunchuks were no where to be seen. Had this set included 4 copies of the V1 Stormshadow accessories, collectors would have been much more excited about it. Instead, the panoply of gear seemed overly random and none of these figures really had anything that made him stand out since his weapons were, basically, generic.

The Stormshadow mold was used around the world. He was released in the U.S. in 1984 and 1985. The mold was also used for the 1993 Ninja Viper. Between those times, the mold was released as the Cobra Do Gelo (Ice Cobra) in Brazil and as Satan, Ninja-Ku and Cobra De Heilo (Ice Cobra) in Argentina. Hasbro resumed use of the mold in 1997, but it then sat fallow until this set in 2004. In 2005, Hasbro used most of the mold for a comic pack Stormshadow and parts of the mold for other figures. Sadly, despite all these uses, collectors are still left with gaping holes such as the blue repaint and many other color schemes. It should be noted that Hasbro did produce the figure for China in 1994. However, in the late 2000's, someone bootlegged that mold. The market was quickly flooded with bootleg carded Chinese Stormshadows. When collectors got wise to this and the prices plummeted, the tactic was changed and bronzed and chromed versions of Stormshadow were made available. These are very interesting conversation pieces and show that there are unauthorized copies of the mold out there that could be used to fill the gaps that Hasbro has avoided.

In the near decade since this figure was released, they have gotten a bit harder to find. As such, pricing is difficult. If you have great patience, you can get this figure for under $10. But, most of them sell between $15 and $20. Due to the lower supply, these impatient sales make up the bulk of Black Dragon Ninjas that are available. At $10, this figure might be worth it. At $20, it's probably overpriced and is hard pressed to provide that kind of value to a collection. I was fortunate to get my fill of this figure when he was available at retail. Had I not, I doubt I would have spent the time to track this figure down. But, it is nice to have some Stormshadow variants in my collection. This figure does mesh well with the collecting years which are most meaningful to me. In the end, my feelings on this figure are mixed. I like having him, but really don't use him. If I want a black ninja, I use Ninja-Ku. But, at least this figure is a cheaper alternative that's available.

2004 Black Dragon Ninja, Stormshadow, 2005 Snake Eyes, Ninja Ku, TRU Exclusive, 2002 Tomahawk

2004 Black Dragon Ninja, Stormshadow, 2005 Snake Eyes, Ninja Ku, TRU Exclusive, 2002 Tomahawk

Monday, March 10, 2014

Alpinista - Brazilian Exclusive Hit and Run

It is rare for a G.I. Joe figure to be done just about perfectly the first time around, yet still have so much potential that the lack of repaints make the mold a stalwart of unfulfilled releases. Such is the case with Hit and Run. The American figure is basically perfect. He has great colors that are true to the line's military roots. he has tremendous accessories that accentuate his specialty. And, he is versatile enough to be used in a variety of settings. Despite all that, though, most collectors would rank Hit and Run high on their lists of figures they wanted to see repainted during the 2000's. But, that never occurred. The likely reason for this is the Brazilian version of Hit and Run: Alpinista.

At his core, Alpinista is, basically, Hit and Run. The general theme of the figure is the same with the standard green cammo. But, the reality of the detail is that the two figures are quite different. Alpinista uses a darker base green. You would not think this would make so much of a difference. But, it completely changes the appearance of the figure...for the better. The darker colors are more muted and realistic than the brighter green of the American figure. The main difference, though, is that Alpinista has flesh colored hands and face. The face is most noticeable since the all green face has always been the hallmark of the American Hit and Run. The flesh face is a stark contrast to Hit and Run and makes Alpinista a deeper, more useful figure.

It is in that vein that I use the figure. I can't make this someone other than Hit and Run due to the similarity in look. But, it is nice to see that Hit and Run can sometimes wash the green paint off his face when he is around his comrades. As an alternate look for the Hit and Run character, Alpinista is excellent. There is no mistaking this figure for the Hit and Run character. But, it is different enough that anyone would recognize this as a foreign figure should they see it in a photo or display. It's a great expansion of the Hit and Run character and allows him to be used more often. (Which is a good thing for a figure of this quality.)

The Hit and Run mold got some use...just not in the U.S. After his release on a regular card and as a Target exclusive, the mold was sent to Europe. There, the impressive Tiger Force Hit and Run figure was released. It is an interesting repaint of the figure, but something that, were it not rare, would likely be unloved by collectors. Around 1993, the mold made its way to Brazil. There, Estrela released this Alpinista figure. After that, the trail runs cold. Alpinista's Brazilian contemporaries did not appear in India or during the repaint era. So, it's possible that the molds perished in Brazil. However, Hasbro did get some molds from later Estrela releases back. So, it's possible that the mold was available, but just not used. Either way, collectors never got a chance to see this figure in Night Force, Desert, Urban or Arctic colors. Any of those repaints would have been a great addition to the Hit and Run character's pantheon.

Time was that Alpinista figures were cheap and plentiful. For years during the early 2000's, carded versions could be purchased for under $20. As the decade wound down, though, these got harder and harder to find. Eventually, the supply pretty much dried up and Alpinstas became $50 carded figures. You can get them cheaper loose, but they are somewhat difficult to find as the few collectors who did open their cheap carded figures are the type who would hang onto their figures rather than sell them off. If you can find an Alpinista, though, he's a worthwhile pickup. Being cheaper than the European exclusive Hit and Run makes him more palatable as a purchase. And, the fact that this is a better variant of the mold makes it even more so. I've found this is a figure well worth having, whether you are a Hit and Run fan or not.

Alpinista, Brazil, Estrela, Hit and Run, Night Fighter Guile, Urban Assault Scrap Iron, 2004, 1995, Street Fighter Movie

Thursday, March 6, 2014

2005 Gung Ho - Convention Exclusive

The Mega Marines subset has long been held as an example by collectors of molds that, had they been properly painted, would make for tremendous figures. In the early days of Joe collecting, it was common to see repainted Mega Marines figures since the subset featured some classic characters, great molds, but terrible colors. When the repaint era began, many fans called for Mega Marines repaints and wanted them to be among the figures Hasbro offered. Fortunately, Hasbro an extent. In 2002, the first Mirage repaint appeared. It was a fantastic update to the vintage figure. But, it was quickly repainted two more times. And, the fact that it was packed with army builders quickly soured collectors on the mold. Still, though, collectors wanted to see more from the Mega Marines molds. In 2005, Master Collector came through and delivered on the desires and produced a set of figures that utilized some of the Mega Marines molds. The results are not bad: as evidenced by this Gung Ho figure.

There is such a thing as overcompensation. The original Mega Marines Gung Ho figure was painted in an eye-burning yellow with orange highlights color scheme. It was as bright as any figure from the 1990's. This 2005 figure, though, goes too far in the opposite direction. The figure is so dark that many of the subtle color splotches and details are consumed by the overall opaque hue. Lost in the unnecessary cammo pattern is the more lightly colored grey that forms the base of the chest and legs. Were this color not covered by the rain and cloud cammo pattern, the dark green and black details on the mold would pop much more. You would be able to see that there are multiple shades of grey used on the figure and the general metallic black and gun metal greys would have more visual contrast. The figure is still quite good. The colors really can't be beat, especially for an urban assault themed figure. But, in an effort to make something drastic, Master Collector went too far. The cammo is an interesting conversation piece. But, it probably takes away from the figure as a whole.

This figure was a very late addition to my collection. As such, he really has no definitive role. The Mega Marine Gung Ho never had a real place in my collection and this figure doesn't either. He would work on the Monster Blaster APC. But, the brighter colors of that vehicle really require the 1990's era neon figures to give it the full effect. So, this Gung Ho remains unused and really unwanted. He's interesting and shows what could have been done with the Mega Marines molds. But, with so many other high quality figures from around the world already available, this figure fades away. It's not a definitive look for Gung Ho and the 1992 and 1993 updates of the character are more true to the marine's roots. It's nice to have something different for him when the need arises. But, for the price and hassle it takes to acquire this figure now, that's too small a role to justify his inclusion in my collection.

The figure's accessories are rather boring. Gung Ho was given a grey version of the Range Viper rifle. I don't often like Cobra rifles included with Joe figures. The other way around tends to work as you could see terrorist organizations using weapons from all over the world. But, seeing a Joe with a weapon I associate with Cobra really doesn't work for me. He also included a grey version of the MP-5 inspired rifle from 1993. It's nice to see this weapon as it's one that I enjoy and would have liked to have seen included with more figures in the repaint era. But, it's a weapon that doesn't really fit the Gung Ho character. His backpack is the common Big Bear pack that was also ubiquitous throughout the '00's. The only accessory unique to the figure is the helmet. This time, though, the helmet is decked out with multiple paint applications and features metallic blue, green and a purple tinted brown that bring a level of depth to the helmet rarely seen on Joe headgear.

To me, the most underutilized portion of the Gung Ho mold is the helmet. Take away the mouthpiece and this helmet is a dead ringer for a firefighter's helmet. As such, I always felt it should have been used on a new update for the Barbeque character. It would have been great to see the helmet on a more modern, updated firefighter. Even with the mouthpiece, you had the basis for a fire crew that was able to communicate effectively while dealing with burning choppers, tanks or bases. Knowing the mold was available shows the unfulfilled potential of the vintage Joe molds. There was so much that could have been done with them. But, lack of innovation kept the actual product bland and predictable most of the time.

This Gung Ho was sold as part of a 3 figure attendee exclusive set at the 2005 G.I. Joe Convention. Included with him were the excellent Dragonsky figure as well as a Steel Brigade Commander. Limited to a reported 500 sets (there were many more figures, including some with subtle paint differences available from Asia), the figure is rather hard to find. The upside to this Gung Ho, though, is that he was released two years before the attendee exclusive sets took off in aftermarket pricing. So, while you don't see him all that often, you can still get the figure for around $25 when they do appear. For a high quality repaint that was produced in such limited quantities and is of a major character, that's probably a fair price. I was fortunate to acquire this figure before such aftermarket pricing became common for convention figures. Had I not struck then, it's unlikely this Gung Ho would call my collection home. But, I have found the figure is better as an idea than an actual display.

2005 Convention Exclusive Gung Ho, Mega Marines, Steel Brigade, 2005 Winter Operations Snake Eyes

2005 Convention Exclusive Gung Ho, Mega Marines, Steel Brigade, 2006 Mercer, Slaughters Renegades

Monday, March 3, 2014

Red Shadows Cobra Mortal - Custom Figure

Among the early year Joes, there were plenty of Cobra villains. Major Bludd, Destro,Firefly, Stormshadow, Cobra Commander and the Baroness were all excellent evil characters who were equal foils to the Joes. In other countries, though, the Cobra villain roster was slightly expanded. In South America, there were three new Cobra characters: the Cobra Mortal, the Cobra Invasor and Cobra De-Aco. All three had one common ingredient which was the head from the 1982 Snake Eyes figure. In Europe, there was a completely different villain for the early days of Action Force. There, the Red Shadows with Baron Ironblood, the Black Major and an army of red clad troopers slowly were integrated into the European origin of Cobra. For the modern collector, these foreign figures offer some of the most expensive offerings to track down and purchase. But, the figures have limitations. The South American figures are all straight arms. The European figures are, mostly, 5 points of articulation figures that do not integrate with Joes. So, there are these great other villains out there that could expand the Cobra roster, but no quality figure representations of them.

Hasbro, for whatever reason, was loathe to release any of the concepts from these areas. But, in the late 2000's, factory produced customs of certain figures began to appear. After the intial deluge of Cobra Troopers, the Snake Eyes mold appeared. On the surface, why did collectors need more Snake Eyes figures? Hasbro had produced plenty. But, the Snake Eyes molds were quickly colored into classic Cobra colors and sold as Invasors. Shortly after this, chrome head versions appeared as Cobra Mortals. Quickly, more and more permutations appeared. Among them was a perfect hybrid of the South American and European villains: the Red Shadows Cobra Mortal.

I always like to expand the Cobra organization into more and more figures that fit with the style of the 1983 and 1984 figures. While those early years contained the bulk of the classic Cobra characters that permeate the line to this day, that is also their limitation. It's tough to play out other scenarios involving Destro, Major Bludd, Firefly and Zartan since their origins were well laid out in the comic. Having figures like this Red Shadows Cobra Mortal allows me to bring some other characters into the fray without disrupting too much of the established Joe canon. They fit with the bulk of my collection and build out the roster in ways that other foreign lines did not. While Invasor and Mortal were actual figures, they were straight arms. Most of the other pre 1985 molds that were exclusively released in other countries were Joes. Aside from Red Laser, Red Jackal, Satan and Ninja Ku, the exclusive figures from outside the U.S. who were released as swivel arm figures were Joes.

I see this figure as the Cobra Mortal's look when he operates within the European continent. My vision of the Joe world has always been that Destro was the centerpiece of Cobra's expansion into other countries. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, the world was full of splintered terrorist organizations. Some were well funded. Others were largely a facade. Slowly, though, Cobra was able to absorb most of them through its greater financial resources. Most of this, though was facilitated by Destro. Being a weapons supplier, Destro had access to the heads of most of the worldwide organizations. He would splinter these groups by funneling their most ruthless members to Cobra, where they would be better paid. Here, Cobra would turn these operatives against their former employers, eliminating the heads of the other organizations. Great operatives such as the Cobra Mortal would be employed by Cobra Commander to infiltrate organizations like the Red Shadows. There, the Mortal would actually do work for the Shadows. But, he was secretly learning about the Red Shadows and would give that information to Cobra Commander who would later use it to weaken the Red Shadows. In time, though, the Commander had no choice but to also eliminate the Mortal. Leaving him alive would have left too dangerous an individual in the wild for Cobra Commander.

This is a custom figure. It was not made with Hasbro molds, but was factory produced. The result is a high quality bootleg that integrates well with Joes, but is not a perfect match. The figure is slightly smaller than Hasbro Joes and can not wear real Joe backpacks nor fit onto vintage Joe figure pegs or stands. But, in general, the figure is decently constructed. The thumbs are a bit brittle, though. The Snake Eyes molds tended to be higher quality than many of the second wave of Cobra Troopers and Crimson Guards. There can be loose joints, but the figures are on par with many of the other quality issues that plagued both Funskool and Hasbro releases from the 2000's.

This figure is not easy to find. For a time, the various versions of the Cobra Mortal sold in the $30-$35 range, with some going as high as $50. After more and more got into the market, prices dropped into the $15 range for a few months. But, then, the supply dried up. Today, this is a $25-$30 figure. As an oddity that can be used to expand a Cobra army, that's a high price tag. But, when referenced against other Cobra Mortal figures (even the 2006 Master Collector fiasco) it's pretty cheap. I've found these bootlegs to be of more value than even the bootleg army builders. The characters are what drives Joe and having tons of repainted army builders starts to diminish the value of the entire mold as it gets overused. That is less so with characters that have no prior releases. So, I find these figures to be the type of thing that makes a collection even better. For that, they are worth the price.

2005 Winter Operations Snake Eyes, Cobra Mortal, Red Shadow, Action Force, Bootleg, Argentina, European Exclusive, Custom Figure, Black Major