Tuesday, April 26, 2016

1994 Action Marine

During the week of Christmas of 1994, I went to the local Toys R Us store on my lunch hour.  The store was completely packed and the aisles were nearly un-navigable.  I made my way to the G.I. Joe aisle.  I did not know at the time that the line was done.  I just tried to get through the throng of humanity to look at the figure offerings that were available.  I only recall one item from that visit: the 30th Anniversary Boxed set.  In it were 5 figures and a space capsule.  They were done in G.I. Joe style, but were not meant to a part of the character driven G.I. Joe line with which I was most familiar.  The set was far more expensive than I would have liked and I put it down and forgot about it for a few years.  When I returned to Joe collecting full time a few years later, I found not only the set on YoJoe.com, but also the fact that 4 of the figures in the set were offered as individually boxed figures.  I quickly started looking for the sets and found that the boxed figures were insanely cheap.  In most cases, even cheaper than the original retail price of the figures.  So, I built up my first set of actual Joe affiliated army builders: the Action Marine figures.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

1985 Silver Mirage

I've told the story of my first encounters with 1985 figures many times.  I had 1985 cardbacks in late 1984 and was awash in anticipation as the new Joes slowly trickled to retail.  On the vehicle side, though, I did not have the advance notice.  The vehicles for 1985 remained a mystery until rumors began swirling that Sears had a shipment of Silver Mirage motorcycles.  The name struck a chord, but I didn't see the actual toy.  Within a few weeks, though, a new G.I. Joe commercial began to air.  In it, brand new 1985 Joe figures battled the new Cobras in the snow.  Included with the figures, though, were two new vehicles: the Cobra Flight Pod and Mirage motorcycle.  As soon as I saw the motorcycle, I was hooked.  The Mirage quickly became the one toy I most wanted.

The RAM was my first G.I. Joe toy.  By early 1985, though, it's days were done.  I had broken, super glued, re-broken, glued again and then re-broken the RAM again so many times that it was simply beyond repair.  It was now nothing more than junk on the floor of my toy room.  Joe needed a motorcycle, though, and I was desperate to replace the toy that had started it all.  In the late spring of 1985, I found a Silver Mirage at the local Sears.  I had started mowing lawns and had the money to buy it.  We got back home in the late afternoon.  In the waning sunlight of that Saturday afternoon, the Silver Mirage entered into my collection.  With great excitement, I opened it up and assembled the vehicle.  I loaded it up with my favorite figures and prepared to zoom it across the carpet.  As soon as the Mirage moved an inch, the sidecar fell off.  As I struggled to to keep the vehicle together through just normal play, it slowly dawned on me that this toy to which I had so looked forward was actually, somewhat, a piece of junk.

As the days rolled forward, my initial impression of the Mirage was only reinforced.  It simply did not stand up the play to which it was subjected.  By 1985, I was 11, so it's not like I was overly harsh on the toy.  It never left my room.  But, this was due to the fact that just picking it up caused pieces to fall off.  It would chase a Ferret for two feet and I'd have to reattach the front light, sidecard and a missile or two.  The Mirage displayed a fragility that was simply not present on most other Joe toys.  And, as such, it quickly found itself out of the rotation, replaced by the Armadillo which would withstand a nuclear holocaust.

But, this wasn't the end of the Mirage.  At least, not the end of all of it.  In 1986 and 1987, my room was the stage for epic battles.  My room was an addition to our house that was fit above an old screened in porch.  It was a nightmare of odd angles and weird design choices that made it useless as a selling feature but an awesome place for a kid to grow up.  My room was actually a nook attached to my brothers' room.  It didn't have its own door.  Instead, it had a huge tunnel like opening that lead from the original room to the new annex.  It was maybe 6 or 8 feet long, but seemed much longer back then.  This hallway then had a single step that lead into my bedroom.  It was this hall and step that forged the focal point of my play.  You see, the Joe's base was in my room.  To attack it, Cobra had to sweep through the hall and descend the step to get to the base.

My childhood Joe was based on the premise that Cobra was much stronger than the Joes.  They had unlimited resources and a resolve to defeat the Joes that was nearly unmatched.  This left the Joes on the defensive.  To protect their base, they built a line of defenses right above the step.  These ranged from junked vehicles to old TIE Fighter wings.  (The Star Wars appearance was relevant as much of the Cobra attack on the base premise was derived from The Empire Strikes Back.)  As the years progressed, Checkpoint Alpha became the focal point with the Bridge Layer's bridge as the way down the step.  Playsets like the Outpost Defender and Coastal Defender were integrated into the junk to provide hidden firepower to resist the Hiss Tanks, STUNs and, later, Maggots that made up the bulk of the Cobra attack.  Hidden among the broken down pieces were the sidecars from various Mirages we had received.  (At one point, I think we had three of them as they must have been cheap gifts.)  A solitary gunner would man these posts and the missiles and large guns were a way to trap the Cobras in an enfilade.  This was the final fate of the Mirage: parted out for random defense.  But, it was the way I could use the piece without it falling apart.

The Silver Mirage has a lot of upgrades over the RAM.  First, the sidecar is substantially upgraded from the gun pod from the RAM.  The Mirage's sidecar holds a figure, but still has the massive machine gun that provides the bulk of the armament for the cycle.  In addition to the gun, though, the Silver Mirage also features two missiles on the sidecar and two, smaller missiles that attach, awkwardly, to the cycle's body  itself.  This lends an air of armament to the vehicle that was great for such a small package.  To me, it made the Silver Mirage more dangerous since it had the ability to take out vehicles with the missiles.

The overall sleek design suggested speed.  I found that you could more easily put two figures onto the main body than you could the RAM and the general additional detail was a substantial upgrade.  My favorite part, though, was the color.  The silver body was not a color often seen by 1985.  And, it gave the Mirage a special appearance: like it was reserved for the best Joes.  (A fact I initially played up since it didn't have a specific driver.)  All of the details on the engine and wheels were upgrades from the RAM and the enhanced controls made for more realistic posing when figures rode it.  In short, this was a great toy: visually.  But, the cost of that appeal was reduced playability.  As an adult collector, I find more value in that aesthetic.  But, the disappointment from my childhood in regards to the limitations of the vehicle's use clouds my entire view of the vehicle.

The Silver Mirage mold was sent around the world.  It was released in Brazil by Estrela. Aside from its use in the U.S and Brazil., it saw an exclusive release in Argentina.  This version was very similar to the American version and was fairly available during the Plastirama warehouse find days of the early 2000's.  The mold then made its way to India where Funskool also released it.  Again, the version is similar to the American cycle.  Funskool, though, reused the mold in some other playsets.  A blue version can be found in the highly underrated Super Cop sets.  It lacks the sidecar, but is an interesting piece.  Hasbro reacquired the mold for the Silver Mirage in 1997 and promptly re-released it in the Toys R Us exclusive 15th Anniversary sets with a repainted Duke figure.  This version suffered from poor quality and the Silver Mirage was not seen again.  In 2010, a newly sculpted Silver Mirage was released in Action Force colors at the convention.  Why new molds could be created for this but not other, more popular vehicles will always remain a mystery.  But, Silver Mirage aficionados have a wide variety of specimens to track down.

Pricing on Silver Mirages is all over the place.  Mint and complete specimens sell anywhere between $10 and $40.  The higher ones often have the blueprints.  But, it's rare to see such a pricing disparity on a vehicle that should be relatively common.  But, the Silver Mirage did have a lot of small parts that not only fell off easily, but also were of a clear color that made them tough to find.  So, some of the pricing reflects that.  It was also released during the height of Joe's popularity and gets a nostalgic pass from a lot of collectors for that reason.  My experience with the Mirage may be the anomaly, though.  And, others may have found it a wonderful toy.  The look certainly supports that notion.  But, my experience with the playability across multiple examples from my childhood will forever cloud my take on the Silver Mirage.

1985 Silver Mirage Motorcycle, Bazooka, Flint, Footloose, Snake Eyes, V2

1985 Silver Mirage Motorcycle, Breaker, 1982, 1983 Cover Girl

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Brazilian Abutre Negro - Cobra Black Vulture - Around the Web

The Brazilian Abutre Negro, or Cobra Black Vulture, is one the great Estrela exclusive figures.  I first brought him out in late 2001 and he's been a mainstay of my collection ever since.  What was a cheap and easy figure to find in the early 2000's has become a very expensive addition to any collection.  Here's some of the top content around the web on the character:

Abutre Negro Profile

Review of a Carded Estrela Figure Featuring Black Vulture

Black Vulture at JoeCustoms.com

Abutre Negro at YoJoe.com

Abutre Negro at JoeDios.com

Cobra Black Vulture, Abutre Negro, Brazil, Estrela, Patrulha do Ar, 1984 Wild Weasel, Rattler

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

1988 Sgt. Slaughter

Sgt. Slaughter is the personality looming over the late 1980's Joe line.  He was not only the spokesman for the brand, but also a ubiquitous presence in the toy line.  He had two figures from the same mold in 1986 and another repaint of that mold in 1989.  The original look for Slaughter was then exported to Brazil, Argentina and India: making the Sarge one of the few characters to appear in under four separate manufacturers.  In 1988, though, Hasbro granted Slaughter another mold.  This time, Hasbro really took out the stops.  The kept the larger than life size of the figure.  But, they added a more combat ready appearance.  The most notable upgrade to the character, though, was his now removable hat.  Rather than put a sculpt of this quality into the standard, single carded line, though, Hasbro continued in the vein of the 1986 original and released Sgt. Slaughter only as a vehicle driver for the outstanding Warthog vehicle.

Sgt. Slaughter's first two figures featured a mold that was based on his wresting look.  The first figure was designed as a drill sergeant.  The second figure had more of a combat look.  But, the mold was still relatively basic.  This version of Slaughter, though, is in full fledged combat gear.  While he still features the bare arms as a throwback to his wrestling roots, the chest is now encased in a full combat vest.  He has a bandoleer of bullets around his neck along with a machete on his right side.  The pants are a bit more real and the Sarge features a stylish Marine Corp belt buckle.  The figure's head is still classic Sgt. Slaughter, complete with the silver sunglasses.  The defining feature is the removable hat.  It fits onto his head relatively well, but will not stay affixed through any standard play that a kid in 1988 would have subjected the figure to.

As my personal G.I. Joe buying decreased in 1988, my peripheral interest still remained.  I was still buying the Joe comic and my youngest brother got a few more toys.  It was through the catalogs from his acquisitions that I came to see the Warthog.  It immediately appealed to me for a few reasons.  It held troops.  Which, at the time, was a rare feature.  It acted and looked like a tank, which hadn't really been seen in 1985.  It had mounted guns for the crew, as well as hatch covers that could open and close.  All this lead me to think that I should buy one.  But, by the time the summer rolled around and I would have had the money to do so, two things happened.  One, there was a drought that summer.  As such, my lawn mowing business dried up and I didn't have nearly the spending money to which I was accustomed.  Second, I had been bitten by the baseball card bug and nearly every penny I did have went into this life sucking hobby.  So, the Warthog was not to be.

In 1989, I was babysitting the kid next door.  He did have a Warthog.  But, it had been trashed.  It looked somewhat cool.  But, by missing so many parts, it lost something and wasn't the vehicle I had hoped it would be.  I put the Warthog out of mind for years.  When I returned to Joe collecting, I bought a large volume of figure lots from 1988.  I never, though, got this Sgt. Slaughter or the Warthog in my acquisitions.  In 2000 or 2001, I put the Warthog on my wishlist and planned to finally acquire one.  Before I was able to do so, though, Hasbro repainted it as the top notch Toys R Us exclusive Night Rhino in early 2002.  Once I had this, my quest for a Warthog went unfulfilled.

This Sgt. Slaughter also remained elusive.  In my zeal to complete my figure from from 1988, I did manage to pick up a non mint version of Slaughter.  He had been owned by a smoker, though, and the figure was not only visually damaged: it smelled, too.  I kept him tucked away.  In the mid 2000's, though, I was on a completist kick.  At the time bubbled Sgt. Slaughters were available for just a couple of dollars.  While I didn't really want one, I had seen prior examples of cheap bubbled figures that would suddenly disappear and double or triple in price.  (Though, to be fair, tripling of $4 is still only $12, so it's not like it would have gotten stupidly expensive.)  So, I struck and bought a bubbled Slaughter figure.  I opened him up and watched his T-Bar break within seconds of trying to put his hat on.  I repaired that figure.  In that process, I realized that this was a really solid version of Sgt. Slaughter.

Gone were the caricaturist aspects of his character. Were this figure not based on a real person, no one would have questioned the mold or it's solid design.  This Sarge looks like a full fledged combat sergeant.  He was outfitted in combat gear.  He only lacked a weapon to complete his ensemble.  Pairing him with an Accessory Pack M-60 from the 1983 Rock and Roll figure was a great way to complete his look since the gun matches not only the bullets across his chest, but also the overall size of the figure.  This Slaughter isn't as much a marketing gimmick as he is a full blown member of the Joe team.  He fits perfectly with other figures of his era and looks at home among displays from the time.  While the figure still had aspects that made it different, the overall look could have been any new character released that year.  The figure is heavy on brown and tan.  The green belt (that matches his hat) and the silver bullets (which match his sunglasses) break up the monotony quite well.  Like most of the '88 figures, though, there are lots of details left on this figure that were not painted.  (The machete and pouches are the most glaring.)  I think the figure's head is a bit large.  But, within the context of the larger figure, it still works.

There are two characters in the vintage line who were designed to stand taller than other figures.  The first was the 1983 Destro.  He is slightly larger than his contemporaries and it allows him to lord over the other Cobras of his era.  Sgt. Slaughter was the second.  The original figure incorporated this and the tradition was continued with the 1988 figure.  The result is that Slaughter is larger than other figures.  It fits the "larger than life" motif and is likely an intentional choice. It makes his parts harder to use in customs.  But, not overly so.  Mostly, it's just something you notice when you hold the figure in your hand.  His height can lead to him not fitting in pre-1988 vehicles.  It does, though, make this figure more distinctive that he might otherwise be.

This mold was just used the one time for the Warthog in 1988 and 1989.  After that, it disappeared.  This is both odd and not odd.  It's odd as most of the 1988 and 1989 vehicle drivers featured two fates: they were sold to Olmec for Bronze Bombers or they went to India where they were used by Funskool.  It's possible that this Slaughter did end up in India and Funskool chose not to use it since they had already released the Sgt. Smasher figure.  But, as Funskool's production of new figures wrapped up in the early 2000's, they were less worried about things like this.  But, maybe Slaughter's likeness would have been an issue for them at that time.  And, this is the reason that the lack of appearance of this mold is not surprising.  Hasbro probably had a royalty agreement with Slaughter for any figure they produced of him.  Now, this certainly would not have precluded the parts of the mold other than the head from appearing on another figure.  But, I can see Hasbro just choosing to avoid any issues rather than investigating for 8 seconds to figure out what they could or could not do.  The result is that this is the only appearance of this mold.  Which is a shame as it had a lot of potential that could have been realized through a more modern repaint.

1988 Sgt. Slaughter figures are not hard to find.  For some reason, large quantities of bubbled 1988 vehicle drivers made their way into the secondary market.  Slaughter was one of these.  Tons and tons of MIB Sgt. Slaughter figures were liquidated, often for only a few dollars, throughout the mid 2000's.  (It should be noted that these figures were likely not stored in the best conditions and if you open them, the plastic is brittle and prone to breakage.)  Now, you can get the bubbled figures for around $15.  Loose, mint and complete with filecard figures tend to sell for $8 or so.  And, if you just want a complete figure, they can be had as low as $4 or $5.  I would go as far as to say that this is easily the best Sgt. Slaughter figure available in the Joe line.  For a cheap price, he's well worth acquiring.  If you can pick up a Warthog at the same time, all the better.

1988 Sgt. Slaughter, 2008 AWE Striker, 1985 Footloose

1988 Sgt. Slaughter, 2008 AWE Striker, 1985 Footloose

1988 Sgt. Slaughter, Lightfoot, Super Trooper, Mail Away, 1983 G.I. Joe HQ

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ninja Ku - Argentina Black Ninja - Around the Web

Ninja Ku is one of the two daring Stormshadow repaints that were only released in Argentina by the Plastirama toy company.  Collectors have taken to him and his case mate: Satan.  Here's some of the best content on the web for Ninja Ku.




Ninja Ku, Argentina, Plastirama, Storm Shadow, Cobra Black Ninja, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, Stinger Driver, 1984, 1983 Cobra Trooper

Ninja Ku, Argentina, Plastirama, Storm Shadow, Cobra Black Ninja, Rare G.I. Joe Figures, 1983 Stalker, Scarlett, Snake Eyes

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

1990 Vapor

Cobra had some great aircraft in the 1980's.  The Rattler was an iconic mold that gave Cobra incredible air support capabilities.  The Night Raven was a sleek spy place that, while it could be used as a fighter jet, wasn't really the dog-fighting/combat equivalent of the Skystriker.  The Condor was a futuristic bomber that expanded Cobra's air force.  In 1990, Hasbro released the Hurricane.  This two seater jet had featured VTOL capability and a fully armed missile dec that showed the plane was ready for air to air action with any Joe aircraft.  The pilot of the Hurricane was a technology enhanced pilot named Vapor.

Vapor followed in the vein of previous Cobra pilots in that he had direct shunts to his brain to aid in his fighting capabilities.  He is a direct heir from the Strato Viper, Star Viper and other cybernetically enhanced Cobras.  When he was released, Vapor had to be the "most advanced" pilot.  (This followed with every Cobra being the "baddest" or "worst" in order to make them appear more villainous.)  His head was very robotic in appearance to suggest the extent of his electronic integration.  It is this design, though, that is the figure's limitation.  While the mold is fairly well done and distinctive, the figure's head can only be described as odd.  It has two different sized eyes and a beak that sticks out from under them.  The ears are very pronounced.  Basically, the head looks like a bad robot from the 1960's.  It's not an overly human head and looks out of place on the figure.  The figure's lack of high altitude survival gear can be explained through the helmet's odd design.  (The "beak" houses an air mask, the eyes are for the electronic inputs, the ear shapes are to maintain pressure and keep the pilot's equilibrium at high altitude, etc.)  But, it does not take away from the overall bizarre-ness of the figure's head.

The figure's colors are excellent.  The grey and black base offset with red highlights is reminiscent of the Strato Viper and is firmly within established Cobra colors.  The silver head is very distinctive.  But, the metallic tone only helps enhance the robotic look of the head sculpt.  The red waist is a bit much.  But, is not so bad as to ruin the overall ensemble.  The chest is relatively barren, aside from the straps affixed to the centered Cobra logo.  It's a relatively clean look that fits with existing Cobra legions.  It is all this that had lead to the figure's relative popularity.  Vapor is well liked by collectors and is generally expensive to acquire due to his quality.  It's likely that, with a few tweaks, he'd be among the most expensive retail release Cobras.  But, the imperfections prevent him from ever becoming that popular.

There is ambiguity in Vapor's filecard as to whether he is an individual or an army builder.  Collectors have, naturally, gravitated towards making him an army builder.  However, the filecard is vague enough that the any individual collector can make their own determination.  My feeling is that the filecard's cautious wording is an indication that Vapor is an individual.  The notion that he is more advanced in terms of technological integration than both the Strato and Star Viper would imply a level of expense that would be difficult for Cobra to expend.  But, at the same time, the box shows two Hurricanes flying, though you can't see the pilot of the second aircraft.  As Vapor follows the color palette of the Strato Viper he could be seen as a legion building extension of their function, or as the highest ranking of them members.

If you look at the Hurricane box, you will see Vapor armed with a greyish/silver version of Major Storm's gun.  The figure was not actually released with this weapon.  It was a cause of much consternation for a while as people would claim memories of having a gun with Vapor.  But, the weapon was removed before the Hurricane and Vapor went to production.  The gun's appearance on both the box art and filecard indicate it was a late change.  But, the gun was not produced and the Vapor figure is complete with no accessories.

Vapor was released with the Hurricane in 1990 and 1991.  The mold then disappeared for 12 years until Master Collector surprised collectors with a repainted Vapor at the 2003 convention.  This time, there was no ambiguity as to the purpose as the mold was renamed an Air Viper.  It was good to see the mold and the repaint was pretty solid.  On one level, it was great to get a repainted Vapor.  On the other hand, Vapor's appearance showed how many molds that Hasbro actually had available to release, despite their insistence that their stock was very limited.  Hasbro could have done so much and the molds that appeared in some convention sets showed that there was a greater inventory available than Hasbro would admit to.  Imagine a decade in the 2000's where Hasbro released hundreds of vintage molds rather than dozens.  They could have done it.  But, they didn't.  So, there are just two versions of the Vapor mold out there.  Both are solid.  But, it's just the two.  The head could have been re-purposed into a new BAT very easily.  So much wasted potential.

In the mid 2000's, Vapor figures came into favor with collectors.  There was really no reason he found an audience while other figures of similar rarity languished in obscurity.  But, it happened.  In short order, army building collectors drove Vapor prices upwards of $30.  In the decade plus since, prices have calmed a bit.  But, high quality Vapors with the filecard routinely fetch more than $20 today.  If you just want the figure, you can consistently get a good one for $15 to $17 with some dropping as low as $12.  The reality is that what was once considered a rare figure has come out in droves.  While he used to be hard to find, Vapor figures now show up with regularity.  The lower price makes his acquisition worthwhile.  It's a solid figure and the Hurricane is an excellent vehicle.  But, Vapor isn't the best Cobra pilot.  I'd still take the Strato Viper or Aero Viper over him any day.  But, the mold is interesting and the character is a blank slate.  That brings value to the figure and makes him someone that should call most collections home.

1990 Vapor, 1986 AVAC, Night Raven, Air Viper

1990 Vapor, 1994 Shipwreck, Beach Head, Battle Corps, DEF, Shark 9000, 1993



1990 Vapor, Hurricane, Topside