Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ripcord - Where in the World

Ripcord has been a fan favorite for as long as I've been collecting Joes.  His original figure with the amazing accessories caught the attention of a generation of kids.  But, his run in the comic established the character as more than a niche player in the Joe mythos.  Despite the popularity, though, the Ripcord figure only had one release in the United States: the 1984 version.

This figure coupled a base, military green with some basic camo to create a solid figure that hearkened back to the first year of Joes while still incorporating the more modern sculpting of 1984.  What made the figure, though, was his gear.  Aside from the rifle and helmet, the focal point of Ripcord was his parachute rig with attachable air mask that affixes over his face around the helmet.

1984 Ripcord, 1986 Lifeline, Viper Pit, 2006, Tomahawk

Hasbro produced the figure in 1984 and 1985.  Hasbro also packaged Ripcord figures for release in Europe under the Action Force banner.  This kept the figure in circulation for several years.

1984 Ripcord, 1985 Mauler MBT, 1983 Steeler, Spirit Iron Knife, 1998 Volga, Oktober Guard

In 1988, Hasbro planned for a subset of repainted figures called Tiger Force.  Among the original members was a repainted Ripcord.  This would have been Ripcord's second appearance in the line and would have been a welcomed version.  Handpainted samples of Ripcord appeared in some early advertisements for Tiger Force figures.  But, when Hasbro went to put the mold into production, it was missing.  Well, not so much missing as it had been sent to South America.

This leads to the second appearance of Ripcord: in Brazil.  Here, the figure was released as Fumaca.  This Estrela produced figure is a darker green than the American figure.  The regular accessories were included with the Fumaca figure.  What was notable, though, is that Fumaca features exclusive card art.  The Brazilian artwork showcases Ripcord freefalling, but also pulling his mask down a bit to expose his face.  It's a subtle difference.  But, Ripcord and Airborne were the only two American characters to get Brazilian exclusive card art.

1984 Ripcord, Fumaca, Brazil, Estrela

The timeline for Ripcord's release in South America is a bit murky.  Typically, Estrela released figures first and the molds then showed up in Argentina where Plastirama used them.  It's possible that this timeline was followed as the Ripcord mold showed up in Argentina where it was released as a figure named Fuego.

However, around 1990 or 1991, Estrela released the mold again.  This time around, though, the mold was not Ripcord.  This time it was released as a Cobra member of Python Patrol named Relampago.  This new character was a Cobra, but utilized the full Ripcord body mold.  His gear, though, was gone.  (Though his rifle did appear with his exclusive contemporary, Gatilho.)

1984 Ripcord, Relampage, Brazil, Estrela, Python Patrol, Action Force, Palitoy, Red Jackal, Destro, Stormshadow, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

The interesting point on Relampago is that there are new paint masks.  Aside from the obvious cammo pattern (which matches that of the Python Tele Viper that was released in the US) the figure also includes painted cuffs around the neck and wrists.

Finally, we have the Plastirama release.  Like I said above, the exact timeline is unclear.  Maybe Plastirama released Fuego after Estrela released Relampago.  It would make sense and would explain why the Plastirama molds are largely gone.  The figure's green is brighter and he has flesh painted hands.

1984 Ripcord, Fuego, Plastirama, Argentina

Plastirama, though, then used the Ripcord mold as a repaint of their exclusive Sokerk figure.  This figure was an all tan repaint of the full figure mold.  It did not, though, include any of the classic Ripcord accessories and, instead, features a light tan Doc helmet and an M-60 from Rock and Roll.  Originally, Sokerk was a repainted swivel arm Grunt figure.  But, later editions were this Ripcord repaint.

Sokerk, Plastirama, Argentina, Tiger Force Sneek Peek, European Exclusive, Unproduced Caucasian Desert Stalker, Midnight Chinese, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Ripcord

Here is a full comparison of all the Ripcord figures released:

1984 Ripcord, Fuego, Plastirama, Argentina, Fumaca, Brazil, Estrela, Relampago, Python Patrol, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Sokerk

1984 Ripcord, Fuego, Plastirama, Argentina, Fumaca, Brazil, Estrela, Relampago, Python Patrol, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

You can see the difference as the figures go from left to right: Hasbro US release, Estrela Brazilian release, Plastirama Argentina release and the Brazilian Relampago.  The Fumaca figure is darker than the Ripcord figure, but the dark green cammo is colored blue.  The Fuego figure is much brighter green, but keeps the blue from the Brazilian release.  The accessories have similar differences with Fumaca's being darker green and Fuego's pack being a greenish brown and a glossy black rifle.

In the end, the figures are different, but not overly so.  For fans of Ripcord, none of the foreign releases aside from Relampago and Sokerk are not really all that different from the US version.  It would have been great to get a Tiger Force Ripcord and if that cost us the chance at Fumaca and Fuego, I would be OK with that.  But, when given a choice between the Python Patrol Ripcord, Sokerk and a Tiger Force version, I'll stick with the Python Patrol version or Sokerk since they something so different and allows for a great expansion of the Cobra or Joe ranks.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Flint - Where in the World

G.I. Joe figures were released all over the world.  Some foreign releases were just Hasbro produced figures in international packaging.  Others, though, were made by different companies for the markets which they served.  As such, many figures saw different releases around the world, often with minor to major differences from the American figure.

Hasbro made the first Flint figure in 1985.  He was released through 1986 with no figure modifications.  What is notable is that the figure features a 1985 date stamp on the mold.

1985 Flint, 2002 Alley Viper

In 1988, Hasbro repainted Flint in Tiger Force colors and released him for that one year.  This figure included an updated 1988 date stamp on the figure's legs.

1988 Tiger Force Flint, Frostbite, 2004 Cobra Trooper, TRU Exclusive

Subsequent to this, Hasbro also produced Flint figures for release in Europe under the Action Force line and in Japan.

Takara carded Japanese Flint, MOC
Takara (Japanese) Flint Release
After Hasbro was done with the figure, the mold began it's movement around the world.

Flint's first appearance was in Brazil.  Here, the figure was released as Muralha.  He was colored very similarly to the American version.  Overall, he has a darker green hue and his accessories are in the Brazilian Green color that is common to Estrela figures.  This figure also features a prominent 1988 date stamp.

Muralha, Brazil, Estrela, Flint, Risco, Plastirama, Argentina, Alpine, Footloose, Coyote

After the Brazilian release, Flint started to appear on the final cardbacks for Plastirama figures in Argentina.  However, Flint was not actually released there.  The line was either cancelled or Plastirama never actually got the Flint mold.  But, his appearance is an interesting turn in what was planned.

Around 1993 or 1994, Hasbro planned to release Flint in China.  The packaging was prepared with the original Flint artwork (in Tiger Force colors as the original had been painted over).  However, since the mold was gone, they could not use it.  Instead, they created an exclusive figure from existing molds and released it in China in colors nearly identical to the Tiger Force Flint.  The Chinese Flint (AKA Tiger Force Falcon) is a great way to get the Flint artwork with a high quality figure.  Plus, they tend to be really cheap.

Chinese Exclusive Tiger Force Flint, Falcon, 1990 Bullhorn

Finally, the mold was sent to India.  Here, Funskool started producing Flint figures in the 1990's.  The mold they used was the 1988 date stamped version.  Though, Funskool made an attempt to blot it out.  During these initial runs, Flint had several variants on his am construction.  He used arms from both the 1992 Roadblock mold as well as the 1986 Zandar mold.  At some point in the late 1990's, Funskool stopped producing Flint figures.

In 2002, though, Funskool resurrected the Flint mold.  He was released as both a carded figure and as a bagged vehicle driver pack in figure.  Funskool ran several different runs of Flint figures.  Often changing out parts and modifying the colors during 2002 - 2004.  Flint was released with upper arms from Blocker, Blaster and Roadblock.  You can see some major color differences in the various variants in the photos below.  In April of 2003, Hasbro re-acquired 18 molds from Funskool.  Flint was among them.  (The Blocker arm variant was the final production run in 2003 and was only available bagged.)  Once Hasbro had the mold back, the began to use it again.

Funksool Flint, MOC, India

Funksool Flint, Variants, India
Funskool (India) Flint Variants
At the time that Funskool ceased production of Flint, there were three major Flint variants in the world: Hasbro, Estrela and Funskool.  Below you can see a comparison of all three:

1985 Flint, Muralha, Brazil, Estrela, Funskool, India
Hasbro (US) Flint, Muralha (Brazilian), Funskool (India) Flint
Once the mold was back in Hasbro's control, they quickly put it into production.  The first use was in the high quality 2004 Night Force set.  The figure was given new arms this time around and is also noteworthy for the return of the 1988 date stamp.  The reason this is interesting is that it appears Hasbro had control of another set of Flint legs rather than the ones returned from Funskool.  The Night Force set also included Beach Head: who was also late of Funskool.  When Hasbro updated the date stamp on Beach Head, they made it a 2003 date.  So, why was Beach Head updated and Flint not?  Maybe it was easier to fix the 1988 on Flint's mold.  Or, there might have been two sets of molds.  It is known that many figures from 1985 and earlier had two molds.  But, there was just one set of instructions to put them together.  So, it's possible that Hasbro had access to Flint all along, but not the means to put the mold into production.  Once they got the details back from Funskool, they used their mold.  This might also explain why Flint's accessories, that were included with the Funskool figure, never appeared in the U.S. again.

2004 Night Force Flint, TRU Exclusive

Large quantities of "unproduced" Night Force samples were sold to American collectors in the mid-2000's.  The major difference is that the figures feature all white pants.

Hasbro used the mold again in 2005.  This time, the figure was given a new head in a Comic Pack.  The rest of the body was the standard Flint, but the colors were similar to the original version.  The Comic Pack was widely clearanced and is generally unpopular with collectors.

2005 Comic Pack Flint, Night Watch Cobra Officer, 1997 STalker

The final appearance of Flint was when Master Collector used his head for two convention figures in 2010.  These heads were put on 1993 Duke bodies.  They are solid figures, but would have likely been better received were they full V1 Flint repaints.

In all, there are a lot of Flint figures for a collector to track down.  There are not any "out there" repaints that are often associated with foreign Joe releases.  But, the differences are great and plentiful enough that fans of the mold and character can spend a lot of time searching for.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Lightfoot - Around the Web

Lightfoot is an underappreciated figure.  The bright colors turn off many collectors.  But, as the Night Force figure proved, the mold is quite good.  Here's some of the best Lightfoot content from the web:

Night Force Lightfoot Profile

Lightfoot at Mike's Collection

Lightfoot at Joeaday.com

Lightfoot at JoeWiki

Lightfoot at JoeDios.com

1989 Night Force Lightfoot, TRU Exclusive

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

1994 Shadow Ninja Snake Eyes

I have often talked about the final retail days of the Joe line.  I just started collecting again in 1995, right as the Joe line was disappearing from retail.  Every trip to a store included a jaunt to the toy aisle to see what I could find.  Often, there would be random Battle Corps figures that were either leftovers from 1994 shipments or backstock cases that were cleared out of the local retailer's distribution center.  But, there were also other, common figures that lingered at various retailers.  Some of the subsets that Hasbro introduced into the Joe line in 1993 and 1994 were not popular.  As such, they hung around retail through 1995, well into 1996 and, in one case, were still there at the end of 1997.  These subsets tend to be figures that even now, two decades later, are not popular with collectors.  The four main culprits were the Star Brigade Armor Tech figures, the 1993 Ninja Force figures (though some figures from the series did tend to sell out),  the Street Fighter Figures and the series that contains the subject of this profile: the Shadow Ninjas.

The Shadow Ninjas were one of Hasbro's last ditch attempts to throw something at the wall and see if it would stick with kids of the day.  They were translucent, color changing figures who included action features.  All three of these selling points diverged them from traditional Joe figures and, likely, lead to the substantially decreased popularity.  Hasbro was desperate to revive sluggish G.I. Joe sales and wanted something that could compete against Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers while not deviating too far from the standard Joe fare.  But, as the line wound down, the Hasbro designers became less and less attached to the legacy figures in their desperate hope they could spare the line from the post Kenner acquisition chopping block.

During the summer of 1995 and 1996, I would go to the local Toys R Us store three or four nights a week.  I was home from school for the summer, working a full time day job and didn't have anything to do on most nights.  So, I went toy hunting.  Ostensibly, I was after the new Star Wars figures that Hasbro/Kenner had debuted in 1995.  If you were collecting the POTFII line in 1995 and 1996, you know how incredibly frustrating it was.  Hasbro wouldn't ship cases for months and months.  When they did, the popular figures were shortpacked and impossible to find.  Lame figures pegwarmed in epic numbers.  You could go months without finding anything, skip two weeks and discover that the only shipment for that quarter in your area came in and sold out in that time.  To offset the Star Wars frustration, I also went looking for Joes.  The Toys R Us near me had a pretty solid selection of Battle Corps figures left over and was still putting out new cases of figures on a semi-regular basis through 1995.  In 1996, the new shipments were sparser as the overstock was mostly sold through.But, you could still find stuff that was decent.  What was constant, though, was peg after peg of Shadow Ninja figures.  They simply didn't sell.

Each day, I would go and search through the pegs.  On the nights there was something new, I'd buy it.  On the many nights there was not, I went home empty-handed.  After a few weeks of buying nothing, though, I'd get desperate.  In those times, I'd end up buying a figure or two that I didn't really want.  But, I wanted something new and would lower my standards for figures just to get something new.  This is how I ended up with the 1993 Ninja Force Night Creeper, Col. Courage, Snow Storm and other, less than stellar figures in my collection.  But, despite looking at them several times thinking that maybe I should give in and buy one, I simply never pulled the trigger on the Shadow Ninja figures.  They were too far gone from my idea of Joe for me to purchase.  As 1996 wound down, the traditional Joes at the store finally sold out with no more to come.  The Armor Tech, Street Fighter and Shadow Ninjas remained.  Slowly, the Street Fighter and Armor Tech figures disappeared.  As 1997 dawned, the Shadow Ninjas remained the last bastion of the vintage Joe line that was on retail shelves.  As I had no interest in them, I stopped looking for Joes on my TRU runs and solely focused on Star Wars figures.  At some point, they simply disappeared: likely clearanced out.  I didn't even notice they were gone and it wasn't until I found a cache of Armor Tech figures at a mall toy store in late 1997 that I even realized that I hadn't seen any Joes on the shelves in quite a while.

I am torn over this figure.  I had a carded version lying in a box for years, never thinking about him at all.  When I pulled him out for this profile, I was strangely drawn to the oddball face and eerie eyes.  In fairly short order, I convinced myself that this figure was actually somewhat cool and I should immediately open it up.  As I was about to cut open the bubble, I stopped myself.  While I have an idea for a photo I'd like to try with this figure, I've often found that my ideas of photos and the actuality of them differ greatly.  That lead me to rethink my decision to open the figure.  Maybe I should keep it around?  I think the packaged version is likely cooler than any loose version I would have.  Especially when I considered that if I opened the figure up and took the photos, he would then disappear into a drawer, box or bag: likely never to be seen again.  So, was there really a reason to open him for this one time use?

I considered buying a loose figure.  They are insanely cheap.  But, again, spending my sparse collecting dollars on a figure who would be used one time, in one photo just didn't make a lot of sense.  Especially when I had the carded version sitting there.  I've profiled figures of whom I only owned carded version before.  In those cases, though, the figure was pretty standard: just a different configuration than other figures I already owned.  Shadow Ninja Snake Eyes was slightly different.  The plastic quality, different construction, action features and oddball accessories are an integral part of the figure's existence and are the parts that most make him worth reviewing.  What to do?  What to do?

In the end, I opened the figure.  I figure I may regret it one day.  But, I sincerely doubt that any Shadow Ninja figure will ever become super expensive.  So, it's something easy to get in the future.  For now, I have a loose figure for the purpose of this profile.  Whether he is ever used again will remain to be seen.  For now, though, I find myself liking the figure.  There is something about the blank face, oddball coloring and overall design that is appealing.  It's likely just new figure afterglow.  But, I find myself thinking that this figure isn't all that bad.

This Shadow Ninja figure is a straight repaint of the 1993 Ninja Force Snake Eyes mold.  The mold is fairly solid and the head is the selling point with the blank face and hollow eyes.  The dark colors of the Shadow Ninja figure really sell this aspect of the mold and do add an element of creepiness to the overall ensemble.  The light purple base color is interesting and something that reappeared on the 2002 Snake Eyes figure.  It hints at a traditional Snake Eyes, but gives more flexibility within the concept of Shadow Ninjas.  The figure also changes color in cold temperatures to an almost all white version you can see in the photos below.

The figure's construction is different.  There is no O-ring.  So, there is no waist articulation.  The figure's arms move when you squeeze his legs together to create a "ninja chopping motion".  This means that the legs are fairly rigid: making the figure hard to stand or pose.  This also means that the position of the arms is determined by locking mechanisms inside the figure.  So, they will not hold specific positions and will always default back to the lowest "lock" that's available.  (This is why, in the photos, the arms of the full color figures are in the same position: there's no way to alter it slightly, you must do a massive move to change them at all.)  Due to to the action figures, the figure feels loose in your hands.  So, even straight out of the package figures don't seem to be gem mint: even if they are.  Also note that the figure's elbows always remain white.  This is due to the colors not changing on those sections: likely due to decreased plastic strength that would not work on these high stress areas.  Other Shadow Ninjas feature the same white elbows and it's likely the designers determined it was better to have always white sections on the colored figures than dark sections on the all white figures: even if the figure's natural state is full color.

To change the figure's color, you simply dip him in hot water.  Nearly boiling water turned mine the brilliant white you see below.  Within about ten minutes, the figure reverted to his normal color.  Through the years, figures stored in different conditions have different reactions.  It's possible to find carded figures that are in the all white state, or the full color state.  How the ones that are full white in the package would react to water are unknown.  But, if you see dealers selling all white "variants" of the Shadow Ninjas, it's just the color change feature.

The figure includes the standard weapons tree that was common in the final two years of the line.  On it are three swords, a knife, a battle stand, a set of nunchuks and two hand claws that are derived from the 1988 Stormshadow figure.  There are two major issues with the accessories.  First, the nunchuks.  They are molded in a straight line.  For other uses of this mold, the molding on the tree isn't an issue.  But, the brittle plastic used for the Shadow Ninja accessories does not allow for the nunchuks to flex on the rope that separates the handles.  So, the effect is more of a stick than actual nunchuks.  The second is the set of hand claws.  These are basically awesome accessories on every figure with which they were ever included.  However, the Shadow Ninja Snake Eyes versions are missing an essential element: anything with which to connect them to the figure!  There are neither grips nor plugs that will affix the claws to the figure's wrists or hands.  Instead, there is a simple rectangular peg that does not attach to the figure not really fits into the figure's hand.  So, you have these solid accessories, but no real way to use them with the figure.  These are minor points, especially since the grey, translucent plastic used for the swords and knife is actually pretty cool.

Shadow Ninja figures were not popular, are not popular and will never be popular.  Unlike the Series II Star Brigade figures where lower production runs drive up prices on obscure figures, it seems the Shadow Ninjas got a full production and were produced in more than ample numbers.  (The fact that the cards were marked with a 1993 date indicates they were early releases and likely not subject to the truncated production runs that were ordered once the line's cancellation was imminent.)  You don't often find Shadow Ninjas in the wild.  But, tons of dealers bought up the overstock on the shelves in the mid 1990's and those figures are largely still out there.  MOC, this figure can be had for under $12 shipped.  A loose, mint and complete with filecard figure can be had at any time for around $5 and, if you are patient, even cheaper when someone tries to sell one on its own.  From time to time, you see a figure spike in price.  But, those are anomalies and do not denote the true value of the figure.  Despite these low prices, I find it hard to recommend a Shadow Ninja figure.  They are odd and quirky and that makes them somewhat fun.  But, the action features, non standard construction and generally bizarre plastic make for a set of figures that really only have a place in the hearts of completists.  If you don't have any Shadow Ninjas, $5 is a paltry price to get one.  It's fun for about 8 seconds.  After that, you wonder why you spent $5 on this figure when there were so many other things that money could have done.As a relic of its time, this figure is interesting.  As anything else, though, it's a tough item to integrate into any collection.

1994 Shadow Ninjas Snake Eyes, Ninja Ku, Ninja Black, Argentina, Plastirama, Stormshadow Variant, 1983 G.I. Joe HQ, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

1994 Shadow Ninja Snake Eyes, Carded, MOC

Friday, December 11, 2015

Sonic Fighters - Around the Web

The Super Sonic Fighters are an underappreciated subset full of high quality figures.  There's not a lot out there about them, specifically.  But, here's some links around the web to take a another look at the figures:

Super Sonic Fighters Profiles

Photos at JoeDios.com

Sonic Fighters at JoeaDay.com

Sonic Fighters Commercial at Youtube (Video)

Super Sonic Fighters at JoeWiki

Sonic Fighters at Icebreaker's HQ

1990 Super Sonic Fighters Gold Viper, 2006 Viper Pit

1991 Super Sonic Fighters Lt. Falcon

1991 Super Sonic Fighters Road Pig, Dreadnok

1991 Super Sonic Fighters Psyche Out, Ozone, Clean Sweep, Eco Warriors

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

1993 Bazooka

Many of the stories I've written in the past few months have heavily focused on the later years of the Joe line.  The reasons for that are heavily based on the nostalgic factor from that time period.  While not the innocence of childhood, that time in my life was full of the anticipation of the road ahead while also enjoying the moment to the fullest.  Recalling those tales from that period of my existence is fun and has been a good way of further documenting some of the events of 20 plus years ago before they become murky from time.  The 1993 Bazooka, though, does not hearken back to those days.  Truthfully, I have no recollection of ever seeing the figure on the shelves.  While the green weapons would have been a reason to skip him, the relatively solid mold and familiar character would have made him an acquisition target had he been available.  But, this figure did not enter my collection until either 1999 or 2000, when I was firmly buying older collections rather than scrounging retail for the last scraps of the line.

As a mold, the '93 Bazooka is pretty solid.  While the waist and legs are repainted from the 1990 Bullhorn figure, the head, chest and arms are original.  The Bullhorn legs are a decent mold and not overused.  They are in scale with the new parts and create a figure that fits together well.  The arms are fairly non-descript, save for the string of grenades around his left wrist.  Practically, these are inane.  These would be so heavy that Bazooka would be hard pressed to even move his arm: much less use it effectively.  But, as a look, they are different and interesting.  The torso is also well done.  The vest features a pistol and holster and....some fishing gear.  Yes, fishing gear.  It seems that this Bazooka will take a few hours to fish while waiting for Cobras to stroll on by.  Again, it's somewhat ridiculous.  But, the sculpted details are not overly obnoxious and could be construed as standard, military gear.

The figure's color scheme, though, doesn't live up to the sculpt.  A red shirt, tan vest and blue/green pants are an odd combo.  As a standard Joe, this isn't a uniform you would want to see.  But, if you expand the definition of Joe to incorporate more of the Adventure Team motif, this figure starts to work.  The colors are more acceptable when taken in the context of a civilian adventurer who, while out fishing, could also scare up a cache of deadly terrorists.  Sure, it's different.  But, it gives figures like this more solid footing in the Joe mythos and helps to validate some of the odd color choices that dominated the early 1990's.

To say the filecards from 1993 and 1994 were bad is an understatement.  Rather than have them be the defining character profiles that hallmarked the early years of the line, the later filecards dropped to promoting the sculpted features of the figure and cross-selling other Joe toys.  Bazooka is highlighted for wearing a vest, splats, boots and pants.  Really, his filecard points these features out as selling points for the character.  Sure, the grenade ring, spring loaded launcher and machine gun are included.  But, 4 of the most interesting things about this figure are the clothes he wears.  On top of that, Bazooka's specialty is listed as Blockbuster Driver.  While the heavy armor operator fits with the established skillset of Bazooka (as a kid, the 1985 Bazooka was second fiddle in my Mauler for years due to his filecard listing tank operator as a specialty), this figure is hardly a match for the arctic themed Blockbuster.  Especially when 1993 saw release of both and Iceberg and a Snow Storm figure that would have, at least, matched the environmentally specific design of the Blockbuster.

For me, the figure's use is mostly filler.  I wave never a big Bazooka fan.  He is the 1985 character I most often overlook.  The true value of this figure lies in the customizing potential.  His head was a staple for early customizers who sought to create renditions of the unreleased 1995 Battle Corps Rangers Footloose figure.  The rest of his parts are quite useful as well.  I've mostly found this figure filling the position of equipment operator in various vehicles through the lifespan of this site.  He can take that role so that a better figure isn't relegated to being mostly obscured by the vehicle's cockpit.  I don't really see that changing.  But, Bazooka at least has some value in the regard since he's a recognizable character.

Like most figures sculpted in 1993 and 1994, Bazooka would greatly benefit from a modern repaint.  The mold is solid and could be used to create an excellent figure.  But, that never happened.  The mold was not even repainted or re-released in 1994.  So, there is but this one version.  The 1993 figures who were never repainted mostly showed up in Brazil.  As such, it's possible that this mold was given to Estrela.  But, they could not find a way to release it.  If that were the case, though, it's also likely that Hasbro got the mold back.  The later Brazilian figures who were found indicate the likelihood of Hasbro having all the molds back.  But, who was going to spend time searching for this figure?  While it would have made a great repaint, the reality is that Bazooka was not a hugely requested character.  Nor was this mold overly popular.  Hasbro repainted a few '93 and '94 molds in the 2000's.  But, collectors mostly met those with a yawn.  So, there was no incentive for anyone to spend time looking for figures like this Bazooka.  And, we as a collecting community are worse off for it.

Like most of the 1993 Battle Corps figures, Bazooka is super cheap.  Even carded, he can be had for under $10.  The late release year, odd color scheme and widespread clearance of the line lead to a surplus of carded 1993 Battle Corps figures.  So, they are easy to find and priced in line with their availability.  So, there is no reason for any collector to not have one.  As Bazooka, the figure works.  But, the colors are odd and don't really mesh with much from the line.  So, it's hard to see him as a main player in any collection.  The original Bazooka figure isn't great.  But, it's 1985 release year tends to cause collectors to give it a pass.  This 1993 version is a worthy successor and can be a fun part of a collection.  You just have to give it a chance and use a little creativity.

1993 Bazooka, Battle Corps, 2005 Crimson Guard, TRU Exclusive

1993 Bazooka, Battle Corps, Mega Marines, Mirage, Monster Blaster APC, Eco Warriors Outback Variant

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Relampago - Brazilian Python Patrol Ripcord - Around the Web

Relampago (The Brazilian Python Patrol Ripcord figure) is one of the more interesting international variants.  Translated loosely as "Lightning", Relampago is a motorcycle operator exclusive to South America.  I've long enjoyed the figure and his integration with the American Python Patrol figures.  Here's some of the best of the web on the figure:

Relampago Profile

Relampago at Kingtoys

Relampago at Yojoe.com

Relampago's Filecard Translation at JoeBattlelines.com

Relampago at JoeDios.com 1
Relampago at JoeDios.com 2

Relampago, Brazil, Estrela, Python Patrol Ripcord, Lightning, Red Jackal, European Exclusive, Action Force, Red Shadows, 1984 Stormshadow, Stinger

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

1985 Parachute Pack - Mail Away

One of the great things about the vintage G.I. Joe line was that Hasbro offered small, supplemental play items that were designed to be used with the standard figures and vehicles.  Some of these, like the small battlefield playsets, were retail offerings.  Others, like the 1985 Parachute Pack were exclusively offered via mail away through Hasbro Direct.  As a retail item, the Parachute Pack is rather dull.  But, as a cheap mail away item, the parachute is a remarkably fun toy that adds a whole new layer of play to Joe figures.

The Parachute Pack is stuck in a great collecting dichotomy.  As a toy, it is fun and exciting.  The pack fits into the hole on the backs of figure and includes a belt shoulder strap that provides an extra layer of protection to keep the figure from separating from the pack when thrown into the air.  It was a great way to add a sense of realism to the toyline.  But, as a visual item, the pack is less awesome.  It is large, bulky and unwieldy.  It looks out of place on a figure and will not fit into any vehicles.  So, you either had to have the figures wearing the packs stand on the skids of the Dragonfly.  Or, have them in the aircraft, take them out, affix the pack and then have the simulated parachute drop.  The engineering that made the pack possible is quite impressive.  But, it is somewhat difficult to play with outside of specific scenarios.  So, that may explain the lack of popularity since kids likely grew bored with it rather quickly.

The Parachute Pack was not overly complex in terms of the parts.  The pack itself is a hard shell of green plastic.  There is a thin edge in between the two sides that allows the sides to close together.  At the top is a pliable plastic peg that holds the pack together.  The parachute itself is the same plastic sheet material that was first seen in the Skystriker.  This version, though, is camouflaged.  The back includes a belt strap that provides an additional attachment point to the figure as it goes over the figure's shoulders and attaches into two slots on top of the pack.  The best part of the belt strap, though, is there is a small hole on the side into which a replica of the 1984 Ripcord's air mask will plug.  The pack also includes a version of Ripcord's helmet.  (There is a definite feeling that this pack was mostly intended to be an additional play item for Ripcord.)

As a kid, I loved the notion of parachutes.  My younger brother received a Fisher Price Adventure People parachute pack for his birthday in 1982.  This also happened to be the birthday where he got tons and tons of G.I. Joe toys.  Even though the Fisher Price parachute was rainbow colored, it was quickly integrated into the Joe play patterns.  The Adventure People chute was actually cloth material with heavy plastic straps affixed to it.  It gave the overall package more weight and allowed it to be thrown higher into the air.  The cloth parachute worked remarkably well and the figures were securely strapped into the harness.  In short, it was a great toy.  When Ripcord entered my collection in 1984, I would often have him bail out of the Skystriker and have the Fisher Price parachute become part of his survival gear on the ground.  He would use it as shelter, a blanket or a diversion.

I wanted a real, G.I. Joe parachute.  The closest thing was the seat back chutes in the Skystriker.  These were plastic and didn't work nearly as well as the Fisher Price item.  As such, I never pursued the mail away Parachute Packs.  I had another parachute that worked just fine.  When my youngest brother got the Target Hit and Run figure that included the Parachute, my apprehensions were confirmed.  While the idea of a working parachute was cool.  The execution was less so.  The bulky pack was awkward.  It took away from the figure due to the sheer size.  But, the play value remained.  My parents' home was a two story with a banister overlooking the stairs.  It was a perfect drop for parachutes onto the stairs below.  So, more than once, that Hit and Run was dropped over them.  But, that was about the extent that the G.I. Joe parachutes saw any use.

The parachute pack was first available in 1985 and continued to be available from Hasbro Direct through at least 1989.  In 1988, Hasbro packaged it with the Target exclusive Hit and Run figure, though they did not include the air mask or helmet.  The same pack, but in a very slightly different shade of green, was available in 1994 with both the individually boxed and 30th Anniversary Set Action Pilot.  Various other figures included different versions of the pack, including the Paratrooper Guile figure and the members of the Sky Patrol set.  There is a variant on the Parachute Pack.  One has a Made in China stamp and the other has a Made in Hong Kong stamp.  The packs have slightly different coloring based on the production stamp.  I don't know if one is rarer than the other or if one is exclusive to Hit and Run.  The later Parachute Packs had the production stamps removed altogether.  So, it's something to be on the lookout for.

Mint and complete with blueprints parachute packs can be purchased for between $7 and $10.  If you don't want the blueprints, you can get complete packs for around $5 with relative ease.  The widespread availability of the pack and general disinterest from collectors have left the parachute as an obscure mail away exclusive.  It's amazing to see the disparity between items like this parachute pack and the MANTA versus the mail away exclusive figures like Starduster or the Steel Brigade.  While those figures are extremely popular and rather expensive, their vehicular counterparts are cheap and plentiful.  It's possible that the pricing difference is a function of greater production of the vehicles.  But, I doubt that's the entire reason.  There's just more interest in figures and many collectors simply disregard these mail away add ons entirely.  That's not a bad thing, though, since it allows the modern collector to acquire as many of these Parachute Packs as they want without too much hassle or expense.  They are a fun addition to a collection and very worthy part of Joe lore.

1985 Parachute Pack, Mail Away, Ripcord, 1984, Spirit, Brazil, Estrela, Olhos de Fenix

1985 Parachute Pack Mail Away, Risco, Plastirama, Argentina, Alpine, Snake Eyes, 1985

1985 Parachute Pack, Mail Away, Variant, Steel Brigade, G.I. Joe HQ, Headquarters, JUMP, Fuego, Ripcord, Plastirama, Argentina

1985 Parachute Pack, Mail Away, Steeler, Thunder, 1983, 1984

Friday, November 27, 2015

2001 G.I. Joe HQ - Around the Web

With Black Friday upon us, I take a look at what's out there for the 2001 G.I. Joe HQ.  The reason is that on Black Friday 2001, I went to TRU with plans to get one of these.  When I got there, the line was around the building with people waiting to get in.  I had NO desire to wait in that line so I skipped it.  I then ended up skipping the HQ, too and never got one.  I did get the figure.  But, in retrospect, I probably didn't miss much by skipping this item!

There's not much out there on this, but here's what I could find:

2001 HQ Flint/Rock and Roll

YoJoe.com Page

GeneralsJoes.com Review of 2001 HQ

Icebreaker HQ Flint Review

Not the 2001, but a good view of the 1992 Version from JoeDios.com

2001 Flint, HQ, Rock and Roll, 2002, ARAHC

2001 Flint, HQ, Rock and Roll, TRU Exclusive, Dino Hunters Ambush, 2000 Dial Tone, ARAHC, 1994 Metal Head, 1988 Swampmasher

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

2004 Unproduced Comic Pack Hawk - Custom Figure Skeres

The summer of 2004 began a weird time in Joe history.  As 2003 wound down, a large volume of figures in unproduced color schemes began to appear from Asia.  The first were items like the cancelled Wal Mart exclusives and a few alternate color schemes for convention figures.  As 2004 passed by, hundreds of these alternate figures began to appear.  Almost every Toys R Us exclusive set released in 2004 also had an unreleased counterpart in an alternate color scheme.  Some were drastic.  Others were minor.  But, collectors had a steady stream of unproduced figures available to them.  The prices would fluctuate wildly.  Some figures would sell for $100 one week and $15 the next.  Some figures disappeared after only a few appearances while others seemed to have a never ending supply.  As a collector who likes oddball items, a few of these alternate figures caught my eye.  The one that really got me going on the unproduced bandwagon, though, was an alternate set of the 2004 Comic Pack #3 figures.

Comic Pack #3 included Clutch, Hawk and Stalker.  Originally planned to be part of the first case of comic packs, it was initially pulled from the first case assortments and didn't appear at retail until a few weeks later.  Frankly, of the first three comic packs, this was the one collectors were least excited about.  So, the fact that it was delayed helped to foster some interest.  Asian sellers, though, had a different version of the 3 pack.  It included the same three figures with three major differences:

1.  Clutch's head was different.  The alternate version was smaller than the production figures.
2.  Stalker's face had Caucasian skin.
3.  Hawk had an African-American skin tone.

It was the Hawk figure that made the pack a must buy for me.  Here was the chiseled Hawk from the comic, with his blazing blonde hair, but set in a completely different racial release.  As soon as I saw the figure, I knew that I had found the perfect head for a new Cobra.  I spent the ~$30 to get the figures from Asia and added this alternate Hawk to my collection.

I didn't, though, know what to do with him.  Switching the Caucasian Stalker head onto the Caucasian Hawk body was a decent match.  For a while, I saw that creation as Manleh.  But, in time, the bright green didn't feel right for the character and that figure faded away.  The African American Hawk head on the African American Stalker body was OK.  But, the small head didn't look right on the body.  And, Stalker's color scheme was pretty weak.  So, I took the head off and left it sitting in a box.  In the first week of 2005, though, my local Wal Mart clearanced all their #4 and #5 Comic Pack sets for half price.  Through this, I was able to acquire a large number of Comic Pack Cobra Officers from the #5 pack.  For some reason, I liked this version of the figure.  It was then that I realized the variant Hawk head would be a perfect fit on one of these Officer bodies.  I made the switch and Skeres was born.

Anthony Burgess (Of A Clockwork Orange fame) wrote a novel titled Dead Man in Deptford.  In the book, there is a character named Skeres who is introduced as a filthy man with no taste for hygiene.  His profession is described as "cutter".  As in, good with a knife and will cut you, cutter.  I thought the name was perfect and the specialty was a natural fit for the background of a new villain to add to my collection.  For years, I had this character in the background, but could never find a figure that fit him.  Enter this Hawk head.  When placed on the Officer body, I had something so visually distinctive, but at the same time grounded in Cobra lore, that I needed a character for the creation.  The marriage of Skeres and this custom was a perfect bit of kismet.

From the get go, this figure has featured prominently in my photos, dioramas and profiles.  He is a mesh of classic pre 1985 Cobra that will mingle with those figures while also being "modern" and fitting with figures from post 1984 release years.  So, I've long used him whenever my Cobra hierarchy meets.  He's such a different animal than you usually see with Joe figures that he always stirs conversation.  Plus, his visible face is part of my new Cobra mentality where the new, younger, dynamic leaders don't hide behind masks or helmets as they do not fear the repercussions of their actions.  They are so confident in their abilities that they don't retain a secret identity that allows them to hide in defeat.  It sends a clear message to the new Cobra troops and has helped turn Cobra into a more dynamic enemy since they are no longer content to slink away for another day.

I have an entire backstory for Skeres that I wrote up nearly a decade ago when I first posted the figure:

A native Algerian, Skeres was orphaned at a young age and left to fend for himself on the streets of Barcelona. He quickly learned the value of being good with a blade and earned a reputation among the homeless squatters of that city as a dangerous man to cross. This reputation brought him to the attention of the Basque separatists who recruited him for terrorist activities in the city. Skeres was taught demolitions and explosives and was turned loose on the unsuspecting city. He destroyed several vacant buildings that had become homes to the street urchins he had recently considered peers. However, Skeres grew disillusioned with the Basque's motives and sneaked out of Spain having pocketed a substantial sum of the Basque's money.
Over the next several years, Skeres roamed the world's hot spots in Africa and Eastern Europe. Here, he honed his skills as a mercenary and soldier. As Cobra looked to move their operations into Africa, Skeres name appeared again and again as a possible recruit to lead operations in the area.
Skeres was approached by Cobra operatives several times about joining them. However, he was never fully convinced they had a viable plan. Finally, though, the leader of Cobra's South American Operation (Ramen) was able to bring Skeres aboard. He was quickly dispatched to South America where he distinguished himself as a field commander. Those who served under Skeres would follow him to their deaths without hesitation. He is a rare commander who earns the respect of his troops through skill, loyalty and sheer ability.
When Cobra was finally ready to move into Africa, Skeres was the first choice to lead the 1st Afrikaaner Division. This unit is comprised of many of Cobra's most battle hardened troops. In the division, there are no ranks. An officer may report to a sergeant depending upon the situation. It is a unique arrangement and one that has drawn great ire from the more established Cobra regimens. (Most notably, the Crimson Guard.) The men who comprise the Afrikaaner Division, though, look to Skeres and his dealings with the Cobra aristocracy. Skeres is the buffer between the bureaucracy and the field troops. His men know he will not betray them or lead them astray. The reward him in turn with fierce loyalty and ruthless drive to complete their goals.
As Cobra expands their operations, Skeres looks to become a prime player inside of Cobra. His affiliation with Ramen is troublesome to the Commander, but no one on Cobra Island can argue with the results that either of them have achieved.
Skeres remains one of the most dangerous knife fighters in the world. While his recent laurels have been earned as a field commander, he is known to still effectively practice the skill that first earned him his name.

The reality is that this figure is very difficult to find.  While there were a good number of these sets available in 2004, the variant comic pack dried up fairly quickly.  In the ensuing decade, all of the unproduced figures have become scarce.  But, with the scarcity has also come obscurity.  While all of these figures are rare, only the most desirable variants (Tiger Force Steel Brigade, Night Force Tracker, Dark Blue Anti-Venom figures) have retained extremely high prices.  Many of the others can be had for more reasonable prices...though they may still run anywhere from $40 to $80 depending on the character and who's in the market.  The problem is that you may wait for years before you see a specific figure.  You might be the only person who's interested when you do find it.  But, you have to be in the game for the long haul to track down all of these figures now.

I was fortunate to be collecting when these figures were available from the source.  It allowed me to add them to my collection with cheap ease.  As those days are gone, it's unlikely that figures like this variant Hawk would be part of my collection were I new to the collecting world.  But, I'm grateful for figures like this.  So much of the ARAH style figures that were released in the 2000's was bad and bland that items like this that were completely different and a little hard to find were fun.  The speculation that the figures were "illegal" or "stolen" only added to the mystique.  This Skeres is a figure that has simply become part of my collection.  He is no longer an oddity or a rarity.  He just "is".  I like that.  It gives me a fun character that's different.

2004 Unproduced Comic Pack Hawk, Skeres, Custom, African American Hawk, Cobra Officer, 1984 ASP, Cobra Trooper, Viper Pilot, Bootleg, Black Major

2004 Comic Pack Hawk, Unproduced African American Head, Midnight Chinese, Unreleased, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1983 Cobra Commander, 2005 Gas Mask Trooper, Cobra Officer

2004 Comic Pack Hawk, Unproduced African American Head, Midnight Chinese, Unreleased, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Stinger Trooper, 1984, Black Major Customs, Bootleg

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

1997 Torpedo

The 1997 Joe line was so full of promise.  While collectors were largely disappointed by the actual, final product that was released, the reality of new Joes at retail was an endless stream of what could be.  Sure, there were misfires like the Breaker and Rock and Roll figures.  But, many of the other figures were strong and hinted at the possibility that the long term prognosis for the line was a steady flow of classic molds with their original accessories done up in new and often solid color schemes.  While that, largely, didn't come to pass.  The early waves of re-released Joes did have some real winners.

This Torpedo was everything collectors ever wanted in a repainted Joe line: an iconic pre 1988 figure with his original accessories done up in a color scheme that was strong, but did not tread on the original nor get too environmentally specific.  Granted, the base black color bears resemblance to the 1983 figure, but the lack of grey really differentiates them and allows the different versions to co-exist.  (The 2001 Wetdown, was a different story, though.)  The red highlight treads on Cobra coloring.  But, as an accent, it does help to give this figure more depth than a completely black figure would.  It should have been a great figure.  And, until you hold it in your hand, it is.  But, the construction quality on the 1997 Joes was spotty and Torpedo is among the worst offenders.  He feels like any movement could break the figure apart.  It's a sad detriment on a repaint that should be held in higher regard.

Torpedo was sold on a blister card for $9.99 in 1997.  The 1997 series consisted of 3-figure blister carded sets or "Mission Series" where you got 1 figure and a small vehicle for the same price.  The Mission Series consisted of Duke and the Silver Mirage, Viper and Trouble Bubble and Torpedo with the Night Landing.  This time, though, the Cobra raft was rebranded to Joe.  In and of itself, that wasn't a terrible choice.  The raft is generic looking enough that it could easily be manufactured stock that was sold to many buyers.  Plus, it's not really an iconic vehicle (like the Rattler!) where it would be tough to see it in any color without Cobra sigils.  For $10, these sets were an OK deal.  They seem like a bargain now, especially since the figures included their full complement of accessories.  But, in 1997 and 1998, you could often get the original figures and the original vehicles for about the same price.  (Even less if you bought large collections.)  It wasn't uncommon for lots of 40 to 50 mint and complete 1982 - 1985 figures and vehicles to sell for an average of $1 per figure and a couple of bucks per vehicle, depending on which vehicles they were.  So, when you considered that, the sets were seen by many collectors of the time to be of less value for their collecting dollar than buying vintage pieces.

As such, the 1997 Joe line largely languished on the shelves.  While it did sell well enough to warrant a 1998 series, pretty much every 1997 pack and vehicle was available through the entirety of 1998 and even in 1999.  Slowly, the more popular figures started to disappear.  And, as the various production runs of '98 figures came and went, the '97's started to dwindle, too.  The slow burn left a lot of collectors somewhat jaded on the 1997 figures for a few years.  But, when the Joe world exploded in late 2000 and early 2001, the rush to complete these recent sets brought back a great deal of interest in them.

The construction quality of the 1997 figures left a lot to be desired.  And, Torpedo is one of the worst figures in the series.  The figure just feels weak and poorly built.  It may a function of the mold's long use in India by Funskool, or just a really horrible batch of plastic.  But, Torpedo figures feel cheap and like any pressure would break it apart.  As a toy, this is a severe detriment.  As a collectible, it's less an issue.  But, the overall soft plastic used for the hands does make it difficult to long term display the figure in any configuration where he's holding his gear.  That greatly diminishes the figure's value.  If you can't put him out on display, what can you do with him?

And, in the end, that is what makes this figure problematic.  You can argue that this is the best version of Torpedo in terms of coloring.  But, the original is still so strong that this version being superior to it is a marginal victory if one at all.  What you gain in color, you lose in construction.  So, in the end, it's a wash.  I first acquired this figure back in early 2001.  I've wanted to use him many times since then.  But, I find that it's the original Torpedo figure who gets the call for dioramas, photo shoots or general display purposes.

The Torpedo mold got a lot of use through the years, though in few color schemes.  After his American release, Torpedo was also produced by Hasbro for Japanese and European markets.  The mold was then given to Funskool.  Torpedo was among the first figures released by Funskool and saw production runs for many years and in many variants.  (The most famous being the yellow Torpedo figure.)  Funskool, though, also used the mold for parts on a variety of different figures including their infamous Super Hero figure as well as Snake Eyes.  Hasbro reacquired the mold for this release and then proceeded to produce a renamed figure in 2001.  Unfortunately, outside of the Funskool yellow version, most of the other Torpedo molds resemble the V1 American figure.  There is no Tiger Force, or swamp Torpedo that would have brought some diversity to the mold.

The 1997 figures have had an odd aftermarket life.  In 1997 and through the first part of 1998, they were all fairly common at retail.  It's likely that had they more shelf space at TRU, collectors would have considered them pegwarmers.  They sold, but not briskly and you could pretty much get any set you wanted at retail for at least a year.  When the 1998 Joes came out in December, though, that helped wipe away most of the unsold 1997 merchandise.  While you could find some of it into 1999, it was mostly gone.  (At least, the figure sets were.  The Stars and Stripes set lingered a little longer.)  Once they were gone from retail, though, collectors largely forgot about them...until 2001.  Then, as the Joe world exploded under the release of the full retail A Real American Hero collection as well as internet ascension kismet, the market for 1997 figures got rather heated.  By the end of 2001 and through 2003, most of the 1997 Joes were $15 - $20 acquisitions with the army building Vipers and Alley Vipers hitting nearly $30 with regularity.  The 1997 Joe collectors had bought the new figures for their collections, but few bought extras for future trading.  So, as the Joe world got larger and larger, there was simply no supply of 1997 figures available and pricing reflected that.  Slowly, though, a combination of a shrinking collector base and release of other, better versions of many of the 1997 molds brought substantially lower pricing.  Today, the 1997's tend to be pretty cheap.  The poor construction and materials combined with the wealth of other figure options has left them largely by the collecting wayside.

And, that is the fate of Torpedo in my collection.  The vintage figure is much better both in terms of coloring and construction quality.  As such, he is much more useful.  As an alternate, this Torpedo is decent.  But, the overall dark color base makes him difficult to photograph in many vehicles where he would best fit.So, when I'm looking for a Torpedo to man the WHALE or Shark 9000, it is the vintage version who gets the call.  This 1997 figure mostly sits in his drawer and gets pulled out when I have things like a profile of an obscure figure version to write.  It's not a terrible fate and this is a figure who is superior to many of his contemporaries.  I just don't find myself taking advantage of the figure's quality.

1997 Torpedo, Toys R Us Exclusive, Night Landing, Stalker, Duke

1997 Torpedo, Toys R Us Exclusive, Night Landing