Thursday, January 28, 2016

1993 Mail Away Snow Serpent - Around the Web

Most of these figures can be traced to the close out of the Hasbro Direct warehouse in NorthEast Ohio in the mid 1990's.  It's a great figure that used to be cheap, but has gotten more expensive in recent years.  Here's some of the best of the web about the figure:

1993 Mail Away Snow Serpent Profile

1993 Snow Serpent at

1993 Snow Serpent by yotothejoe

1993 Snow Serpent at

1993 Snow Serpent at JoeWiki

Arctic Commandos at

1993 Figures at JoeGallery

1993 Snow Serpent V2, Arctic Commandos, Mail Away, MIB, Bagged, 1991 Snow Serpent, 1998 Snow Serpent, TRU Exclusive, 1987 Maggot, Worms, Wolf, Ice Viper

1993 Snow Serpent V2, Arctic Commandos, Mail Away, MIB, Bagged

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dhalsim - Street Fighter Movie Edition

In my trips to Toys R Us in 1995 and 1996, there was one group of figures that I simply could never even bring myself to try: the Street Fighter G.I. Joes.  They were too far removed from what I considered to be Joe.  Even figures with black weapon trees (the one thing that could get me to buy any figure) were not enough to sway me.  More than once, I held the figures in my hand and simply couldn't bring myself to buy one.  To this day, I have no Street Fighter G.I. Joe figures in my collection.  Through the years, though, I have found many of the Street Fighter Movie figures to have value.  Various Guile incarnations have called my collection home and the Balrog figure was a Cobra villain in my collection long before Master Collector re-used the head in 2007.  The Street Fighter movie line contains some very interesting takes on the various characters from the franchise.  (Though, I know nothing about the franchise outside of the figure lines that accompanied it.)  The Dhalsim figure from the movie line, though, isn't all that different from his G.I. Joe release.  He's got a few different colors.  The differentiating factor is his accessories.  Dhalsim includes a white lab coat that was a staple of Joe collectors in the 1990's as it was the one piece of gear that could effectively create a Dr. Venom custom figure.  In my zeal to acquire that piece, though, I found a character who has some odd, and redeeming traits that can work for Joe.

Dhalsim is billed as a Yoga Fighter from India.  Yoga is a meditative practice whose moves are not offensive.  As such, it makes little sense that the practice of said discipline would make one a formidable combatant.  However, Yoga is known to be both a physical and mental test that pushes the body.  Many professional fighters practice Yoga.  It helps them retain flexibility and strength while clearing their mind and helping them focus on their profession.  As such, a Yoga disciple could very easy use his mastery of the form to enhance his combat prowess.  So, seeing a "Yoga Fighter" might be a bit liberal with the vernacular.  But, it is in line with the training regimen that any professional fighter might employ.

Dhalsim is listed as 6 feet tall and 148 pounds.  That would make him quite lithe.  And, while he could have a defined physique, the massive muscles seen on the artwork and figure would likely place him a bit heavier.  Still, it's hard to not see a bit of Anderson Silva in Dhalsim.  So, you can see him as a formidable opponent in a combat arena.  It is not this physical description that is most interesting to me, though.  Dhalsim is also described as a scientist.  (Hence the lab coat.)  He was a professor of bio physics in Calcutta.  That part of his background is useful.  With this pedigree, Dhalsim could have been sought out by Cobra to continue work of enhancing Cobra Troopers to be capable of unspeakable feats.  The fact that Dhalsim would willing join into this endeavor plays into his over the top look and just cements that reality that he is one of the most dangerous men in the world.

The single most disturbing thing about the figure, though, is the small necklace of human skulls.  Wearing old bones is a time honored tactic to instill fear into an opponent.  Ancient warrior cultures employed the practice quite often.  However, Dhalsim's skulls speak to something much worse.  The skulls are small...implying they come from children.  At first, I thought the skulls might be from shrunken heads.  While those are mostly a South American custom, it's feasible that anyone in the modern world would pick up the skills.  However, shrunken heads do not actually contain any human bones.  The skin is removed and then shaped over small, often wooden, balls.  The skin is what is shrunken, not the bones.  So, these skulls would have to be from small children.  What type of absolute monster would wear the remains of children?!?  It provides an insight into Dhalsim that speaks to an evil.  An evil that could be useful to an organization like Cobra.

It is here that I've found use for the character.  Sure, he's dressed like a wildman.  But, that's part of the visage Dhalsim has worked for himself.  By looking primitive, opponents may underestimate him.  The biggest part of that underestimation, though, is Dhalsim's scientific and technological bent.  Anyone who sees a barefoot, shirtless man with vibrant, blank eyes wearing a necklace of children's skulls would likely not have an initial thought that this person was a scientific genius and had access to technological weapons that are far more dangerous than engaging Dhalsim in hand to hand combat.  The notion of a noble savage permeates western literature.  Dhalsim being this evil savage stands in stark contrast to the archetype.  He has the refinery of the standard bearer.  But, he has a darkness in him that defines his actions and appearance.  The skulls and primitive dress are actually a dire warning to any who approach him that he is evil and will carry out unspeakable acts.  The fact that he has a brain and is capable of creating weapons that can destroy humanity rather than just a few individuals is hidden behind the savage countenance.

The weakness of a character like this, though, is that his certainty and strength of character blind him to to his faults.  While Dhalsim wants everyone to know that he's crazy, it is that knowledge that holds him back.  Cobra Commander will never allow Dhalsim to work sans oversight.  There would always be contingency plans in place to eliminate Dhalsim should his work begin to progress beyond what Cobra Commander can control. As such, he is relegated to tasks that don't give him access to the weapons of mass destruction that he could so easily create.  Dhalsim is kept away from the Toxo Viper labs and is not allowed near any of Destro's most calamitous machines.  Of course, Dhalsim is smart enough to know this and it feeds a seething hatred deep in his belly that he may one day take out on Cobra itself.

While the figure sculpting is decent, it is the accessories that make this figure worthwhile.  Ostensibly, he included the same accessories as the 1994 Night Creeper Leader figure.  The swords, wicked knife and Night Creeper crossbow are all decent accessories.  They give the figure close quarter weapons while also offering him a firearm that can take out more distanced opponents.  There is a Road Pig, wrist mounted explosive tipped crossbow and an arm guard, too.  In all, it's a strong complement of gear in golden colors.  The coup de gras, though, is the lab coat.  The white cloth coat completely changes the look of this figure.  But, it's also a perfect accessory to procure for an upgrade to any Dr. MindbenderDr. Mindbender figure or Dr. Venom custom.  The coat may have been released elsewhere in the Street Fighter Movie or Mortal Combat figures lines, but I can't find any evidence that it was.  But, the fact it was made for these limited run lines implies that Hasbro either had greater hopes for the future of the franchises or the coat had been made up for a figure that was going to be part of the G.I. Joe line in 1995.  Either way, the coat is a great accessory that is essential for any Joe collection.

The Dhalsim figure was created for the 1993 Street Fighter G.I. Joe line.  That figure lacked the lab coat and had yellow shorts.  Being in the Street Fighter line, though, meant that the figure was saddled with the action features and non standard G.I. Joe construction.  While the scale is there, the articulation at the waist is gone.  The arms lock into positions based on the spring action feature and can not be posed with the flexibility Joe collectors had come to expect.  As such, the figure becomes limited by his construction.  Like some of the Shadow Ninja figures, the coolness of the design is tempered by the choice of articulation.  And, the figure suffers for it.  Were Dhalsim in vintage Joe construction, it's likely he would not only be more popular, he'd be far more expensive, too.

The Street Fighter movie figures had a solid package presentation.  Above the figure bubble was artwork unique to the character.  While not as pronounced as Joe artwork, it's still there and a way to quickly determine a figure from the card.  The figure is posed in a flat bubble.  Most of the figures in the line were posed in some sort of action pose.  Surrounding the figure are all the accessories included.  Anyone looking to buy the figure instantly can see the full array of gear included with each figure.  The plastic trees that obscured Joe accessories in 1993 and 1994 were gone.  The packaging style was also used in the Sgt. Savage line.  The reason the packaging is significant, though, is that this is what Joes would have looked like in 1995.  Had the Joe line survived for one more year, the traditional side card artwork would have been gone and replaced by this more presentative format.  These ancillary lines are likely where a lot of abandoned G.I. Joe concepts ended up.  (Many Mortal Combat Movie figures use unproduced molds from the cancelled 1995 Ninja Commandos line.)  For that reason, the Street Fighter Movie and Mortal Combat lines are more intertwined with Joe that the simple 1993 cross over connection.

The Street Fighter Movie figures are not common.  They were widely clearanced by KB Toys back in the mid 1990's due to the movie's poor reception.  Many dealers bought up overstock as that was what dealers did in the 1990's.  But, they are not overly popular and many people who have them don't realize that their greatest value is among G.I. Joe collectors.  There are times when they are nearly impossible to find and other times when there are a few sets available.  Dhalsim isn't the rarest figure in the series, but he is harder to find than many of the Guile variants.  Since the lab coat was widely coveted by early Joe collectors, many of Dhalsims were absorbed early in the collecting market.  As such, MOC Dhalsims tend to run between $20 and $25.  Loose, mint and complete figures can be had for around $15.  But, it's actually easier to find carded samples than it is loose.  So, this isn't a cheap figure in terms of the Joe line.  But, he's also not expensive.  (There was a time in the mid 2000's when this was a $40 figure.  Those days are gone, though.)  If you're new to the Joe world, this probably isn't a figure that should be high on your list.  If you have mostly completed your collection and are looking for new, odd things to add on, this is a great addition.  The regular Street Fighter figure is substantially cheaper.  But, I think the lab coat is actually worth the extra money since it adds to Dhalsim's characterization.   I'm actually happy with this figure, even if the construction is non standard and it's not a true Joe character.  He's one of those fun ancillary collection items that can add a lot of value to a Joe collection.  So, I'd definitely recommend one to all collectors.

1995 Dhalsim, Street Fighter Movie, 2003 Funskool Law, India

1995 Dhalsim, Street Fighter Movie, 2006 Gas Mask Trooper, Comic Pack

1995 Dhalsim, Street Fighter Movie, MOC, Carded

Saturday, January 23, 2016

1985 Heavy Metal - Around the Web

Heavy Metal was one of my favorite figures when I was a kid.  So much so that when some bratty friends of my mother lost his microphone, I bought another from a friend at school.  Of course, those same kids lost that one, too.  Wonder if I can retroactively bill them the $300 it would cost to get those back today?!?

Heavy Metal Profile

Rampage (Mail Away) Profile

Heavy Metal Wiki

Heavy Metal at

Mauler Video Review

Heavy Metal's Microphone at

1985 Joes at Icebreaker's HQ

Heavy Metal at

1985 Heavy Metal, Crankcase, 2007 Convention Exclusive Steeler, Mauler MBT Tank, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

Thursday, January 21, 2016

First Order Stormtrooper - The Force Awakens

In 1995, I got caught up in the return of Star Wars figures to retail.  Sure, the figures were buff beyond any reasonable expectation.  But, in the scope of action figures designed and released in the mid 1990's, they were actually somewhat tame.  Through 1999, I spent copious amounts of time searching retail stores trying to keep up with my completist tendencies.  At various times, it could take months to find new waves of figures.  It was an incredibly frustrating time to collect toys.  But, it was also an awesome time as stores still stocked massive walls of toys and, when the toys were shipping, you could go weeks finding all the stuff that you had been pining for.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2005 Cobra Imperial Guard

When G.I. Joe returned to retail in the early 2000's, it had a slow build.  The vintage style Joes from 2000 and 2001 petered out on store shelves rather quickly.  The relaunch in 2002 drove some interest.  But, it was full of heavy clearance fodder as repaint after repaint bogged down the shipping pipelines.  2003, though, was different.  The first half of the year was very slow.  But, in the final 6 months of the year, Hasbro shipped nearly 100 new figures.  That massive retail push generated a lot of holiday buzz.  And, as a result, retailers upped their G.I. Joe orders to the point where smaller dealers could not get access to things like the "Army Building Wave" nor Wave 5.  Toy stores had large displays of Joe figures and vehicles that almost completely sold out before Christmas.  To get product to the stores, Hasbro even shipped the first waves of 2004 Venom Vs. Valor figures early.  But, in the first quarter of 2004, all of the enthusiasm for Joe abruptly died.  While stores had been briskly selling every Joe figure in 2003, the 2004's began to stagnate immediately after their release.  Hasbro couldn't get product out due to the pegwarming figures.  The line's demise became more and more of a reality and Hasbro stopped putting their best efforts into their collector themed Toys R Us 6 packs.  The result was that the vintage style Joe figures that were released in 2005 are nothing short of an eclectic, uninspired mix of tired molds, odd colors and terrible accessories.  Buried in the garbage were some solid ideas: just poorly executed.  Perhaps the best example would be the 2005 Cobra Imperial Processional set.

On the surface, the Imperial Processional should have been a great set.  At the time, a Cobra rally was a staple of any collection display.  Having a set designed to augment this collector favorite was a no brainer.  The set included Cobra Commander, Baroness, four Imperial Guards, flags and a dais for the Commander.  It should have been awesome.  But, it was not.  The first reason starts with the coloring.  I'm not adverse to alternative colors for Cobra.  They've always been avante guard in their wardrobe choices.  But, the copper/red choice for this set just didn't work.  It's not a color scheme traditionally associated with Cobra and didn't fit with established Cobra figures.  So, putting the guards and the Commander in the middle of purple, crimson and blue looked very out of the place.

The odder aspect, though, was the Imperial Guard figure itself.  A 1987 Cobra Commander body with a Range Viper head is weird.  The figures look like they are designed to be cyborgs with exposed brain matter.  The Range Viper head has always been different.  But, it's worked on the various incarnations where it was employed by Hasbro.  In this case, though, the overall look just doesn't seem right.  The result is a figure that is neither fun to army build nor incorporate into other Cobra armies.  The fact that there were four of them in the set and they are only equipped with flags: no other weapons, only helps to further sink them.

This set has so many problems that it's hard to list them all.  First off, an Imperial Processional denotes an emperor.  Cobra has an emperor: Serpentor.  So, Serpentor's inclusion in the set would have made much more sense than Cobra Commander's.  But, Serpentor and the Baroness have a somewhat problematic relationship.  So, I can see how that may not have been the best choice.  (Though, I think the true reason was the Serpentor was slated for a comic pack in 2005 and they didn't want two of the same figures available at the same time.)

When I look at this set, it's hard to believe that it could have been bungled any more.  Had it been in traditional Cobra blue, black or, even Crimson, the figures would have at least been useful in a traditional Cobra army.  Using Serpentor instead of Cobra Commander would have been a nice touch and a way to get a Serpentor figure that was differently colored into the marketplace.  If they had used the full 1987 Cobra Commander for the central figure, he would have then better blended with the guards and their uniforms would make more sense.

To say the Imperial Processional set was a flop is an understatement.  Collectors were flabbergasted at such a lackluster effort from Hasbro, especially on the heels of the Crimson Guard sets.  Malaise quickly set in and those who bothered to buy any Processional sets usually stopped at one.  The sets languished through the holidays.  In the summer of 2006, Toys R Us clearanced out their online stock.  First, the sets dropped to $11 each.  But, that wasn't enough.  Within a few weeks, the sets dropped to $6.98.  (To put that in perspective, it's believed that Toys R Us's cost from Hasbro on the set was around $12.)  Even at that price, it took several weeks for them to sell out.  Collectors just couldn't justify spending money on the set, even at deeply discounted prices.

Today, complete figures can be had for $5 or $6.  If you wait for a lot of figures, you can get them as cheaply as $2 per figure and get a large volume of them at once.  There is simply no demand for the Imperial Guard and the pricing reflects that.  Had I not bought this set at its release, it's unlikely I would own it.  It is not a set that demands purchase and there are better figures from the era to be had.  But, since I do own them, I find the figures can have uses.  The throne for Cobra Commander is worth owning.  And, his cape isn't too shabby, either.  These Imperial Guards do look good when paired with the Commander figure and the flags are a neat addition to the Joe mythos.  So, I do think this set is worth picking up if you can get it for under $10 or $12.  Once you get much higher than that, though, the return diminishes and the set starts to falter.

2005 Cobra Imperial Guard, Cobra Commander, Imperial Processional, TRU Exclusive, 2004 Ninja Strike Stormshadow

2005 Cobra Imperial Guard, Cobra Commander, Imperial Processional, TRU Exclusive, Baroness, Crimson Shadow Guard, Agent Faces

2005 Cobra Imperial Guard, Cobra Commander, Imperial Processional, TRU Exclusive, Baroness, Crimson Shadow Guard, Agent Faces

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

1984 Battle Gear Pack #2

1984 Battle Gear Pack #2In very early 1983, I acquired the first Battle Gear pack.  It was odd to have only 4 G.I. Joe figures (Clutch, Hawk, Snake Eyes and Breaker) but have the gear for every figure except Zap and Short Fuse.  It was in short order that I snapped the thumbs of Hawk with either the accessory pack M-16 or M-60.  But, that is a story for another time.  It was the 1984 accessory pack that really took hold of the 10 year old me.  My fascination with it bordered between everything that was so perfect about the notion of accessory packs and everything that was so done so wrong with them.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.

Tonight, around 6PM Eastern time, Ken Griffey Jr. will be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  He will likely go in with one of the highest vote percentages ever.  If you are of a certain age, there is one indelible image of Griffey, his 1989 Upper Deck rookie card.

In the late 1980's, sports card collecting exploded.  It was popular among kids and adults.  Many fathers used collecting as bonding experience with their sons.  Card shows were a weekly occurrence and they were often so well attended that there were months' long waiting lists to get dealer tables at even the smallest shows.  People scoured garage sales and thrift shops for old cards: hoping to get that score.  There were articles in the Wall Street Journal about the high prices certain cards were fetching and how they were out appreciating commodities like gold.  Baseball realized the cash cow potential and expanded their license for producing cards to companies beyond Topps, Fleer and Donruss.  In 1988, Score cards appeared.  The first set is outlandishly '80's in its color choices. But, it brought higher quality photography to cards.  In 1989, the bar was raised again by newcomer Upper Deck.

Upper Deck did several things that had not been done before.  First, they improved the quality of the photos again.  They also used a clean, pristine white background that made the cards pop.  On the back was a hologram designed to guarantee authenticity.  For all this, though, collectors were treated to a retail price of .89 per pack.  (A stark increase from the .45 - .50 per pack of their competitors.)  Of course, Upper Deck cards were scarce.  They were basically impossible to find at retail.  Instead, you had to buy packs from dealers, often for $2 per pack.  The other novelty of the set, though, was card #1.  Traditionally, card #1 was reserved for a superstar.  But, in recent years, companies had gotten away from that.  Upper Deck took a chance and, instead of granting #1 to a proven player, gave it to a rookie who had yet to play in the Major Leagues: Ken Griffey Jr.

Choosing a rookie for such a coveted spot was a gamble.  But, Ken Griffey Jr. was about as sure a thing as existed among Major League rookies in the 1980s.  He had a professional pedigree, had played high school baseball at one of the most storied high schools in the country and was a natural athlete.  When he made the Mariners out of Spring Training, there was an excitement of what could be.  Many felt that Griffey was going to be Willie Mays and Hand Aaron combined.  He had that talent.  And, while his rookie season was underwhelming in totality, he was also only 19 years old.

As the '90's dawned, sports cards in general began a death spiral.  Upper Deck changed the game.  No one wanted cards from the other companies anymore.  The higher price point of Upper Deck meant they were better.  Dealers wouldn't buy Griffey rookies that weren't Upper Deck.  In short order, the other companies went in the "premium card" market, raising prices to as high as $5 per pack in some instances.  This priced kids out.  When the economy slowed down in the early 1990's, it took the sports card market with it.  By 1991, shows had lower attendance.  Dealer tables were unsold and you could buy them for discounts on the day of the show.  The ubiquitous Baseball Card shops that sprouted up all over the place slowly started to close down.  While prices for premium cards of premium players rose, everything else fell precipitously.  The infusion of Football, Basketball and even Hockey fans into the market that had been dominated by baseball was just masking the decline of an industry.  At it's height, this Griffey card was worth $50 or more.  Now, ungraded versions are worth maybe $5.

Personally, though, this card holds great sentimental value for me.  As Joes became less important to me, I found baseball as a pastime.  I had never really paid attention to sports.  But, I watched the 1986 World Series with my grandfather.  It was a great experience, but the season ended in disappointment and I didn't think much about the sport until the following summer.  My same grandfather was visiting for a month.  He took our TV out to our back deck to watch his shows outside in the warm air.  When I came from school one day, he was there, catching the final innings of a Cubs game.  The Cubs had scored more than 20 runs.  I didn't realize such a thing was possible in baseball and I was hooked.  (As a note, a quick review of Baseball Reference shows that game was likely a June 3, 1987 game between the Cubs and Astros.)  I watched games religiously all summer.  I was still buying Joe toys that year.  But, in the fall, I made a fateful purchase.  At the local Broad Ripple Hook's Drug Store, I purchased a pack of 1987 Topps baseball cards.  Once in hand, a new hobby was born.  While I bought a couple of Joes in 1988, the rest of my disposable income for the next four years would be spent on thousands and thousands of sports cards.

Over the next few years, I was more and more immersed in the sports card world.  In 1989, I was a Freshman in high school when this Griffey card made it's appearance.  For the first part of the year, I reluctantly bought a few packs of Upper Deck.  The higher price point made the purchases unpalatable.  But, they were nice cards and it was apparent that they were the future.  That summer, I took a Driver's Ed course at a local learning center.  Each day, there was a 15 minute break.  During that time, most of the students would walk over to the Hook's Drugs next door and buy some candy or soda.  I did the same.  One day, though, I found something different.  There was a mostly empty box of Upper Deck cards sitting on the shelf.  There were four or five packs left.  The great thing, though, was they were retail price of .89.  I quickly bought all five and returned to my class.  Waiting for the teacher, I opened them.  Inside one was the prized Ken Griffey Jr. card!  It was a moment of pure euphoria.  Not only had I gotten the holy grail of baseball cards, but I had gotten it for half the price it would have cost me from a dealer.  It was a great moment I will never forget.

As the summer dragged on, I found another box of Upper Deck at a local, independent drug store.  I was with a friend of mine.  I bought two packs.  He made fun of me for not having any money and proceeded to buy the rest of the box.  I opened my first pack and found another Griffey.  He did not get one in all the packs he purchased.  That Griffey haunted him for years and I didn't let him forget it, either.  (He and I would end up buying dealer tables a few years later and both made a lot of money selling cards, though.)

The reason I broke from tradition to talk about sports on the site is because this card was such a part of my youth.  I still have that original Ken Griffey Jr. card that I got at that Driver's Ed class.  It is one of the few that remain.  While I doubt my kids will ever appreciate sports cards for what they were, I do hope that they find something so old to them interesting.  Seeing Griffey go into the Hall of Fame is sort of a passage for me.  His career started when I was in high school, burgeoned while I was in college and came to a close as my life was getting started.  I look at the bright eyed youngster in the card below and it reminds of how I felt in those days.  The whole world was ahead of me and was filled with unbridled potential.

It could be said, though, that Griffey never lived up to his potential.  That's patently unfair.  But, when you thought of him as a guy who would break records and eclipse guys like Mays, he seemed an transcending talent.  And, through his age 29 season, he was.  But, in his 30's, Griffey was a brittle mess who accumulated little value.  Sure, he hit over 600 home runs and has a career WAR value of 83.8.  He is a clear hall of famer.  But, he was thought of as a guy who would be one of the two or three best players in history.  That didn't happen.  In a way, that mirrors life.  When you're young, anything is possible.  As you get older, you realize that's not always true.  But, you find solace and happiness in what you have done and can still do.  Recently, Griffey recreated this iconic pose from his rookie card for a rap video.  He is heavier and older.  But, so am I.  The thing that was still there was the smile.  And, perhaps, that's the most important part.

This Griffey has been called the last great baseball card.  And, it likely is.  The industry died mostly as a result of the trends that were started by the 1989 Upper Deck set.  This card stands as the lone iconoclast of the era.  For thousands of people like me, it has a value that is not monetary.  Seeing Griffey's career reach the pinnacle is a culmination of the promise shown in his visage.  It is also a reminder to me that it's important to remember where you've been in life as that can often be a path to where you want to be.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

1983 Hiss Driver

1983 Hiss DriverFor many years, I was not a fan of the Hiss Driver. The bright red color, odd leggings and bug eyed head all made for a figure that simply did not do anything for me.  Even as a kid, I replaced my Hiss Drivers with Hooded Cobra Commanders since they better matched the Hiss Tank and Cobra Troopers/Officers of the day.  (To be fair, the Hiss Driver did get matched with my Crimson SMS Hiss Tank, but only until a third Crimson Guard's thumb broke and he then became the full time driver.)  I always found the figure lacking.  In more recent years, though, my opinion of the Hiss Driver has changed.  While he's still not the excellent design of the Cobra Trooper, the mold has merit.  Plus, the fact that he's so iconic as the driver of the Hiss Tank has left me more room to appreciate the figure and the character.

I have two main memories of the Hiss Driver as a character.  The first is that he was not introduced into the comic until Issue #30.  But, in this issue, the uniform was used as a FANG pilot rather than a Hiss Driver.  Honestly, it's not a bad use for the mold and this is a figure I would use in FANG's today over superfluous Cobra Troopers.  The second, and more endearing memory is from Special Missions #2.  Here, a Hiss Tank attacks Alpine, Airtight, Snow Job and Breaker on the tip of an iceberg.  In the battle, the Hiss Tank falls over the cliff, leaving the driver clinging to a ledge above the frozen ocean below.  The Driver's grip breaks and he falls to his death.  The piece about the story that captured me was the Driver's knowledge of his own, unpreventable death.  He knew, when clinging to the bit of ice, that he was dead.  There was no escape or hope of rescue.  He would meet his painful end in icy water below.  Whenever I see the Hiss Driver, this is the image that comes to mind.

As a kid, the Hiss Driver did get some use.  He helmed the Hiss Tanks with great skill, for a while.  But, in 1984, the Hiss Driver was replaced by the Hooded Cobra Commander.  (My brothers and I had three of this figure, so he quickly manned the Hiss cockpit, gunner station and the ASP that it towed behind it.)  At some point, I acquired a second Hiss tank.  When this occurred, the Cobra Commander's went to the gunner stations and I reintroduced the Hiss Drivers to their intended specialty.  Here, they would be armed with Destro or Major Bludd pistols from the Battle Pack.  Upon their return to their given duty, I often incorporated situations similar to Special Missions #2 where a Driver would be in a situation where his demise was a forgone conclusion.  In fact, the reason I outfitted the Drivers with accessory pack weapons was due to a story where a Hiss Driver was trapped in the cockpit of a burning and disabled Hiss Tank.  His agonized screams as he burned to death were broadcast over the entire Cobra battlefield and were extremely demoralizing.  So, Cobra gave all drivers pistols they could use to shoot out of the tanks in extreme circumstances.  To this day, Hiss Drivers displayed in the driver's seat of version 1 Hiss Tanks have accessory pack Cobra pistols in their with them.

Hiss Drivers, though, fell out of favor.  When I found my childhood Hiss Tanks tucked away in an attic, it was Hooded Cobra Commanders who were in the seats.  As I amassed large quantities of figures in the late 1990's, Hiss Drivers were rarely part of the hauls. I got a few here and there.  But, in those days, I had a scoring system on figure lots where certain figures were scored a 0, 1 or 2 based on their desirability to me.  I would bid on lots where the score correlated to a certain price.  (Usually, about $3 per point.)  Most army builders got a score of 1.  But, I had Hiss Drivers with a 0 as they were not a figure I cared about enough to acquire in quantity.

Now, though, I appreciate the Hiss Driver for his charm.  Sure, the figure is still deeply flawed and easily the worst designed Cobra from 1982 through 1984.  But, in the grand scheme of things, he's still decent enough.  I will maintain that had the Hiss Driver been first released in 1993 instead of 1983, he would be as neglected and cheap a figure as is possible.  Collectors would hate him.  But, he was a 1983 release and that paints him with a nostalgic picture that is hard to escape these days.  So, I have a real Hiss Driver in command of each of my Hiss Tanks.  I even have one in my SMS.  He's not a figure I army build beyond needing one for each Hiss Tank.

The Hiss Driver mold was used by Hasbro for a long time. After the Hiss Tank's retail run was over, the figure was offered as a mail away by Hasbro Direct for many years. So, even kids who came into Joe long after the Hiss was gone from retail had a chance to own both the tank and the figure. The mold was finally repainted in 2001. But, rather than being a new Hiss Driver, the figure was a newly created character named Rip It who was included with the Toys R Us exclusive Hiss III Tank. This purple and red figure was interesting, but not cool enough to really do the mold justice. In mid 2003, though, Hasbro showcased some upcoming Wal Mart exclusive paratrooper figures. Among this 6 figure set was a newly painted Hiss Driver. It's likely that the figure would have been named Rip It as well. But, the blue base and golden chest painting looked very solid. Unfortunately, the Sky Patrol figures were cancelled due to safety concerns.

Fortunately, though, some early samples of the figures were available from Asia in 2004 and 2005. These Wal Mart Hiss Drivers are in a blue that is a bit lighter than Cobra blue and have a red chest. They are a marked improvement from Rip It and are probably the best Hiss Drivers ever made. In 2007, Master Collector released a new Rip It with a black base and blue highlights. (Basically, the figure is the inverse of the Wal Mart Hiss Driver.) Limited to about 500 figures, it's a great use of the mold, but too hard to find and expensive to ever become the de facto driver for a Hiss army. The figure's torso was also used in 2005 as one of the terrible "Greenshirts" exclusive set. Sadly, these are the only uses for the mold. And, the two best are extremely expensive and hard to find. So, aficionados of the Hiss Driver mold are left with few choices for the figure. It's unfortunate as the mold had such untapped potential. But, at least there's something to look for.

It is difficult to find Hiss Drivers with no emblem wear, uncracked elbows and pefect silver visors. The silver paint rubs easily and tends to wear on many figures. The upside, though, is that there were so many Hiss Drivers produced that the volume helps to offset the fragility. The result is a figure that is less expensive today than he should be were he only released in 1983 and 1984 and not also as a mail away.  You can get high quality figures for $12 or so.  But, truly mint figures tend to sell closer to $20.  Though, to be fair, you can often get a Driver and a Hiss Tank for the $20 price tag, too.  There are tons of bagged Hiss Drivers out there and they tend to sell in the $30 range.  So, there are a lot of options for Hiss Driver fans.  (There are also decent restoration kits for Hiss Drivers out there.  So, you can buy an off condition figure for $4, restore it and have a nice display army for cheap.)

1983 Hiss Driver, Hiss Tank, Wild Bill

1983 Hiss Driver, Hiss Tank, Black Major Crimson Cobra Trooper, Bootleg, Custom

Friday, January 1, 2016

Tiger Force Outback - Around the Web

Tiger Force Outback was one of the first foreign figures I ever owned.  I traded a Sgt. Slaughter for him.  (That's the late '90's for you!)  The gaudy orange shirt with the tiger face imprinted is nothing short of outlandishly fun.  Here's some solid content on the figure from around the web:

Tiger Force Outback Profile

Tiger Force Outback at

Tiger Force Outback at

Toysfromthepast Tiger Force Outback

European exclusive, Tiger Force Outback, Convention Paratrooper Dusty

European Exclusive Tiger Force Outback, 1985 Snake Eyes, Action Force Z Cycle, Funskool Streethawk