Tuesday, July 26, 2016

2001 Leatherneck

When 2001 started, it was an amazing time to be a Joe fan.  The first wave of the A Real American Hero collection was both widely available and well received.  The second wave, with 6 top notch figures was just trickling out and collectors were excited for what the year would hold.  Vintage Joes were starting to get more expensive, but you could still find a lot of deals: especially on larger collections.  A warehouse find in Argentina flooded the market with tons of cheap Plastirama figures and vehicles.  On top of that, American Joe dealers began carrying cheap Funskool imports.  Basically, if you had some money to spend, it was about the best time imaginable to be a Joe collector.  While collector exuberance continued through the year, retail enthusiasm for the Joe line did not.  It took Hasbro nearly 6 months to get the third wave of the A Real American Hero collection to stores.  Instead of shipping more of Wave 1, which had risen in after market value by 5 to 10 times, they kept shipping Wave 2.

Unsold pegwarmers quickly clogged the shelves.  When Wave 3 finally hit, it was slow to reach retail due to the backlog.  Collector interest in the wave was cool as the figures weren't up to the standards of the first two waves.  At the end of the year, Hasbro dumped out Wave 4 of the line.  It was the swan song as retailers had already de-committed to Joe and forced Hasbro to create an all new construction style for 2002.  Wave 4 featured even less inspired designs than Wave 3 and was relegated to discounters and close out stores in very short order.  A decade and a half later, the wave is still uninspiring.  But, with time comes re-evaluation. When taken in quick succession, many of the figures of the A Real American Hero collection were a sea of similar mold, same color banality.  But, when taken in context of the hundreds of figures released in the 2000's, some of the figures are worthy of a bit more appreciation.  The Leatherneck figure is one.

When the Leatherneck name first popped up as a potential figure in the next wave of releases, collectors were ecstatic.  2001 was before the reality of lost molds, broken pieces and separated accessories had become in ingrained.  Most imagined a repaint of the highly appreciated 1986 figure. (At the time, mint and complete Leatherneck figures routinely sold in the $12 range, which was rather pricey in comparison to his contemporaries.)  When the figure appeared, though, disappointment set in.  The figure didn't incorporate any of the hallmarks of the Leatherneck character.  Instead, the figure used the 1992 Duke Torso, a new head (that was a cross between a young Richard Nixon and Duke) and the growing to be hated 1984 Roadblock legs.  The skinnier legs beneath the bulky Duke arms and legs makes the marine look like a body builder.  In short, it Leatherneck looks nothing like the iconic character so many people had desired.

The worst part was, the colors made the figure look like a cheap custom.  The torso and arms had been released in nearly identical colors on the 2001 Duke figure only a few months prior.  (And that figure was readily available when Leatherneck hit the shelves.)  The legs were available in nearly the same color on Double Blast that had been released the wave prior.  The saving grace, though, were the accessories.  Leatherneck featured a knife, helmet and backpack (based on the '84 Roadblock's pack) that were good, but not really interesting.  The highlight, though, was the return of the 1992 Duke rifle that has been missing from the 2001 Duke figure.  The rifle was at least something new for the figure that allowed you to distinguish him from the other figures with whom he was so similar.

As Leatherneck, though, this figure failed.  As a nameless army builder, he works and a repaint of the figure would have been a huge improvement over the terrible 2005 Greenshirt set.  For many, seeing a popular character reduced to such an awful figure release was very disheartening.  The figure quickly faded from memory and many collectors will not even recall that a Leatherneck figure was made in this era.  In 2003, Hasbro released the figure again as the driver of the MCC that was a Toys R Us exclusive.  The figure was unchanged from the original release, but included fewer accessories.  But, even this duplicate release did little to spark collector interest.  In 2004 and 2005, you could still find Leatherneck/Gung Ho figure packs in various retail pockets around the country.  When the figures were finally reduced to $1 per pack, collectors were able to absorb the overstock.

As 2001 wound down, my Joe budget was shot.  I had little to no means of figure acquisition and what little trade fodder I had was spent acquiring Brazilian and European exclusives.  (Which turned out to be a fortuitous choice.)  I got one pack of the Gung Ho/Leatherneck, opened it up and packed it away with the other figures from that year.  He was simply an item to check off a list.  There was no excitement at finding him nor enthusiasm for owning him.  In the mid 2000's, though, I acquired a couple of spare Leathernecks from someone who had found them clearanced.  With a few years between the sameness of the 2001 figures, I looked at the figure again.  I thought that it had potential.  But, again, he was packed away in bins, never to really be used.  Not much has changed in the ensuing decade.  The figure still sits in bins.  But, as I look to display more and more of my collection, I have found that figures like this Leatherneck can make for good background fodder.  The colors work with a variety of other figures and vehicles and having him in the background helps to fill out a display without wasting a good figure on an obscure position.  That's about the best this figure can hope for.

But, I do see more potential in Leatherneck than I did 15 years ago.  The black pants with grey highlights are far more interesting than some of his contemporaries.  The leather brown gloves and belt bring a splash of color to the mold and show that there was more here than just releasing Duke all over again.  It's likely that Hasbro spent all their development on this figure for the head.  Of the new heads from the 2001 and 2002 series, Leatherneck's is the closest to vintage quality.  (Sure Fire's is a pin head.  Big Brawler is, well, Big Brawler and the other heads for Crossfire and Side Track were just bad.)  Leatherneck's new head fits on the torso and wears the helmet well.  Had Hasbro taken a little different approach in his base coloring (maybe desert or a brighter green) the additional differentiation would have likely lead to wider acceptance of the figure.

To call this figure worthless is an understatement.  Left to sell on his own, a mint and complete with filecard figure routinely sells for $1 or $2.  Dealers won't touch him for that price, so you see lots of unsold figures with an $8 price tag that makes him more worthy of dealer time.  You can get carded figures for $5 or $6.  So, basically, this figure isn't worth his retail price, before you take inflation into consideration.  It's probably a fitting fate for this figure.  He showed minimal effort by Hasbro and has become completely forgotten by the collecting community.  But, as a diorama filler or general soldier, the figure has some value.  The 2001 Duke is among my favorite figures of the 2000's.  Using this Leatherneck just as a way to properly accessorize that figure is worth the $1 price tag.

Ultimately, this is the type of figure that will be found at thrift stores and garage sales.  And, for many who do find him, he will be left behind as even those discounted prices are unattractive for anything less than a mint and complete specimen.  Fortunately, through the years, collectors have responded to poor G.I. Joe products by not buying them and leaving them behind.  It frustrates both Hasbro and the club since we can't be counted on to buy anything with the logo on it.  The result is that what little product we get now seems to have a bit more thought put into it.  (We may not agree with the thought, but at least it was there.)  Unfortunately, many, many figure slots in the heyday of collecting were wasted by Hasbro before they learned that lesson.  This Leatherneck is simply a poor reminder of that.

2110 Leatherneck, Marine, 2000, Duke, A Real American Hero Collection, ARAHC, Laser Viper

2110 Leatherneck, Marine, 2000, Duke, A Real American Hero Collection, ARAHC, Laser Viper

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Action Force Quarrel - Around the Web

Quarrel is the European exclusive repaint of the classic V1 Scarlett mold.  The blonde hair makes her a stark difference from Scarlett.  There was a time when she was the most popular foreign female figure.  But, she has since been eclipsed by Glenda.  There's less out there on her than I would have expected.  But, here's what I can find of her online.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

1988 Mean Dog

Through the years, I have bought and sold a lot of G.I. Joe toys.  Not as a business, but as my ability to collect has ebbed and flowed with various stages of my life, I have upsized and downsized my collection accordingly.  Though these stages of sell or buy, I, inevitably, make a mistake or two.  In most cases, it's innocuous like buying a figure I already had.  In one, specific, instance, though, a haphazard decision to quickly clear a little bit of space left a void in my collection.  It was a great regret and it dated back to 2001.  The piece that caused this lament was the 1988 Mean Dog.  Now, I have one back in my collection.

1987 was the last year I collected Joes.  As the calendar turned to 1988, I was too old to buy toys anymore.  I picked up a few figures in the first months of the year, but was then done.  Without me leading the way, my younger brothers' interest in Joes also diminished.  My younger brother got one or two figures that year while my youngest brother probably got another 5 or 6 more.  While the figure acquisitions were sparse, the vehicle accumulation was even less so.  In all of 1988, my brothers got just a few vehicles: the AGP, the Swampmasher and the Desert Fox. I appreciated these toys immensely and thought they were better than many of the toys I still loved.  But, that wasn't enough to get me to go back and buy toys for me.  Through, first the catalogs that came with these two items and, as the year wore on, the comic books, I did manage to get a good idea of the toys that were part of the 1988 line.  I was enthralled by the new characters and vehicles and thought the toys must be cool.  But, I couldn't pry myself away from baseball card collecting to even entertain the thoughts of getting more toys.  So, the 1988 and later vehicles remained much of a mystery to me.

When I started buying up Joe toys as a adult in the late 1990's, my primary focus was figures.  I was living in an apartment in a new city and didn't have much storage space outside of a closet.  So, it was rare for me to get a vehicle unless it was a throw-in with a large lot of figures which I had purchased.  In 2000, I bought my first house.  With this newfound space, I had an entire room dedicated to my collection.  Shortly after moving in, I had one of those once in a lifetime deals fall into my lap.  I managed to acquire a mostly complete set of 1983 - 1985 figures and vehicles, all in exceptional condition for $40.  Even at the time, it was a ludicrous deal.  While that collection was heavily focused on '83 - '85, there were some outliers.  Mostly, they were figures.  But, there was a later vehicle included that I had never owned as a child, the Mean Dog.

Immediately, I was drawn to it.  At first, it was mostly curiosity.  Every single other vehicle in the lot (the Whale, Skystriker, Dragonfly, Rattler, HQ, Moray, APC, etc.) had been part of my childhood collection.  So, seeing something new to me made the Mean Dog more important an acquisition than those more iconic vehicles.  As I started looking at it, I was amazed at the details and play value inherent in it.  One my laments on classic Joe vehicles was that they, generally, carried few figures.  The VAMP is great.  But, it can only hold a driver and a passenger, with no place for much gear.  I had appreciated the Desert Fox since it held so many more figures and had space for spare packs and guns to be stored.  The Mean Dog excelled in this.

The Mean Dog is a modular vehicle.  Hasbro liked this design.  I think it made it easier to pack the vehicles into boxes.  But, it also tied Joe toys to the popular Transformers franchise as they could be taken apart and played with in different ways.  The Mean Dog contained a front mini tank.  The back gunner station and the removable massive cannon.  Together, these three parts made up an awesome design.  Individually, the parts still had value.  This added to the overall playability of the toy and made it something that I immediately found interesting.

I had never known that the front canopy opened and could hold a full crew of three figures.  Upon discovering this, the Mean Dog took on even more value.  It could hold these figures in a protected environment, while still leaving the driver available to man the gun station on the front part of the vehicle.  The back vehicle is less useful.  But, it does have a command station (which is a feature I've always liked) and can hold additional figures on the back.  The stand alone gun isn't that great when removed from the Mean Dog body.  But, it's massive and being able to take it out does give the body of the Mean Dog more versatility in terms of how anyone would want to use it.

The Mean Dog included the driver Wild Card.  The 1988 vehicle drivers are notoriously bad and Wild Card is no exception.  He features few paint applications, a terrible torso sculpt and a huge head.  He also, though, includes one of the cooler accessories in the line: a machete and sheath that is designed as a backpack.  It is great and makes Wild Card worth owning.  The figure, though, doesn't really match the Mean Dog.  There are many, better figures that mesh more cohesively with the vehicle.  So, I don't often match the driver and tank.  I find figure whose colors blend or complement the Mean Dog and outfit the crew with those figures in lieu of the intended driver.

The Mean Dog was released around the world.  The most famous release is the Funskool version: only because it was one of the excellent vehicles that were readily imported and sold for cheap prices by American dealers in the early 2000's.  However, exclusive colorings of the Mean Dog were also released in Europe and Brazil.  Each of the foreign releases are just variations of the brown color.  Put together, they add up to a cool little convoy.  But, at their core, they are just slight variations of the same theme.  So, if you are economizing space and don't collect shading variants, these are international releases you can skip.  It would have been great to get a green or black version of the Mean Dog as something different.  But, the brown color is very solid and works for most collecting needs.

Mean Dogs are not expensive. It is a very common vehicle with no easily lost or broken parts.  You can get a mint and complete version for around $15.  But, you'll pay another $10 or so to have it shipped to you.  As such, you'll see dealers selling the vehicle in the $30-$40 range.  As the vehicle can hold lots of figures for display and is in a solid color scheme, I'm surprised it isn't more popular among collectors.  But, the availability likely nosedives the demand.  It's still a great toy, though, and something that every collector should own.  Outfitted with some desert themed figures, the Mean Dog is a prime display piece.  I don't think I'd want to pay $50 for one.  But, the current market pricing is well under that and makes the Mean Dog a realistic acquisition for even the most frugally budgeted collector.

1988 Mean Dog, 1985 Crankcase

1988 Mean Dog, 1985 Crankcase, Flint, 1993 Star Brigade Payload

1988 Mean Dog, 1985 Crankcase, Flint, 1993 Star Brigade Payload, Col. Courage, 1990 Bullhorn

1988 Mean Dog, 1985 Crankcase, Flint, 1993 Star Brigade Payload, Col. Courage, 1990 Bullhorn, 1993 Duke, 1992 Cloudburst

1988 Mean Dog, 1985 Crankcase, Flint, 1993 Star Brigade Payload, Col. Courage, 1990 Bullhorn, 1993 Duke, 1992 Cloudburst

1988 Mean Dog, 1985 Crankcase, Flint, 1993 Star Brigade Payload, Col. Courage, 1990 Bullhorn, 1993 Duke, 1992 Cloudburst

1988 Mean Dog, 1985 Crankcase, Flint, 1993 Star Brigade Payload, Col. Courage, 1990 Bullhorn, 1993 Duke, 1992 Cloudburst

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Up Too Late

This is why you don't stay up late looking up shit on the Internet.  You find the full video of a concert you attended 23 years ago in a different country:

Metallica at Milton Keynes - 1993

And you then watch the full 2+ hours of it as you remember everything from the hot sticky night that caused all those fights in the crowd to the drunken and vomit filled train ride back to London and then the long walk home across the city in the middle of the night with no place to get a drink because you were too broke to get a cab.

Good times.  Back to Joes on Tuesday.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

1998 Vypra - Around the Web

For a character that's gained a bit of popularity, I was surprised at how little material there is out there on Vypra.  Here's what I found:

Thursday, July 14, 2016

2003 Clone Wars Kit Fisto

In 2003 and 2004, Star Wars burnout was taking hold.  The first two prequel movies had not, exactly, lived up to the hype.  Hasbro's figure offerings for "Attack of the Clones" were generally awful as they were more focused on play features than being actual, good toys.  Collector interest fizzled as the final waves of Hasbro figures found their way to clearance stores and specially discounted multi packs as a way to get rid of overstock.  There was little indication that "Revenge of the Sith" would go on to break box office records.  But, Lucasfilm did have a little something planned.  In 2003, the Cartoon Network began airing short, animated "Clone Wars" cartoons.  These 3 minute set pieces were designed to keep Star Wars in the minds of the fans and win over new kids from the network.  The early sketches were self contained vignettes that focused on a specific character or two within a specific story frameword.  One of the first featured Kit Fisto battling on Mon Cala: the homeworld of the Quarren and Mon Calamari.

Kit Fisto was introduced in "Attack of the Clones".  His distinctive look and goofy smile paved the way for him to become a fan favorite.  As soon as I saw him on screen, I was hooked on the character.  I wanted to know his story and get an action figure of him.  Alas, the first figure released of him was an action attack monstrosity that simply couldn't hold my interest.  When I saw this figure, though, I was hooked.  The green color, unique design and simply fun aspect of the character was both visually stunning and in line with the grinning countenance that was the hallmark of Kit Fisto's introduction.

The "Clone Wars" microseries was, finally, a look into the Jedi that I had always imagined.  In "A New Hope", Ben Kenobi hints that the Jedi had been a powerful force of good in the galaxy.  However, in the prequels, the Jedi didn't do much through the first two films.  We saw a Jedi Master get killed by a Sith Apprentice.  This, alone, is forgivable.  However, when we see the Jedi Council in the second film, it has many different members: due to the Jedi from "The Phantom Menace" getting killed.  As if this implication that Jedi Masters die frequently wasn't enough, the culmination of "Attack of the Clones" was watching the Jedi get cut to ribbons by lame Battle Droids.  These "great warriors" turned out to be pretty bad at dodging laser blasts and pretty much just fell dead with no fanfare.  It was a terrible dose of reality that differed greatly from my vision of Jedi formed as a child.

The "Clone Wars", though, changed that.  While their abilities were exaggerated, the Jedi in this series were master combatants.  While they did perish, it was at the hands of a powerful villain.  Jedi weren't just felled by random laser blasts.  They put up a fight and showed why the galaxy was in awe of them.  Kit Fisto played a small part in one of the earliest episodes.  As the figure showcases, Kit doffs his shirt and fights the Separatist leaning Quarren on their home world.  Here, he leads a band of underwater Clone Troopers to victory, his lightsaber proving a valued weapon under water.  This marked the first time we'd seen underwater combat in Star Wars and also introduced the underwater capabilities of the lightsaber.

This Kit Fisto, along with the character who survived "Attack of the Clones" looked poised for greatness.  Alas, it wasn't to be. While Fisto was among the four Jedi dispatched to take out Palpatine, he also perished in his quest.  In the novel, Fisto was quickly beheaded by Palpatine.  In the film, he went out lamely with just a quick saber flash before the battle even began.  I suspect that the visual practicality of beheading a character with long tentacles would have been more gruesome than the film producers wanted.  So, Fisto went out much more benignly in the film.  It was a poor end for a good character.

As a figure, this Kit Fisto is very dated.  Being a 2003 release leaves him with excellent sculpting, but limited articulation.  He features the standard 6 points of articulation that had been standard since the line's revival in 1995.  But, the figure features two upgrades.  On is a ball jointed head.  For humans, such a head can be problematic.  For fantastic aliens like Kit Fisto, though, it can work wonders.  It allowed for more freedom in sculpting his tentacular head and gives him greater range of motion.  It is a substantial upgrade.  The change is that the figure has articulated ankles.  These were provided so the figure could be posed "swimming".  It's a fun feature, but not overly practical.  I'd have preferred knee or elbow joints.  But, super articulated figures didn't really exist until 2005.  At the time, this figure was good enough.  As the years progressed, the limited mobility has dated the figure.  But, the sculpting and proportions are strong enough that the figure still has a loyal following, despite the mold's limitations.

For me, the figure is good enough.  Star Wars figures are for display.  While it's cool to get a Clone Trooper into an elaborate pose that emulates the movie, it is not a necessity.  This Kit Fisto looks very good standing among my limited collection.  That's all I ask from any Star Wars figure.  Sure, I love extra pose-ability and tons of gear.  But, they can also distract from the fact that some figures, despite being super articulated, are not that good.  Conversely, some that are not well articulated, like this Kit Fisto, can also be great figures in their own right.  Star Wars has shown collectors that sculpting tends to rule all.  And, with maybe more than 3,000 figures produced in the last 20 years, collectors can be discerning when building a collection.

When Lucasfilm created their CGI "Clone Wars" series in the post "Sith" world, they were left with a conundrum: what to do with the pre-existing Clone Wars stories.  Sadly, the answer was to retcon them out of existence.  The DVDs were discontinued and stories were abandoned.  A few people gave some disparaging quotes against the series.  But, despite this, fan interest remained.  Hasbro continued to mine the franchise for figures well into the late 2000's.  Many of the releases were very well done and found strong fan support and interest.  The re-release of this Kit Fisto was further evidence that the series was enjoyed well after it's demise.  Personally, I found my almost non-existent Star Wars interest rekindled by the "Clone Wars" and that continued with "Revenge of the Sith".  I began a long run of Star Wars collecting that coincided with, arguably, the best release years for collector themed figures in terms of character selection, army building, availability, price point and toy quality.

There was a time when this figure, MOC, was hard to find, extremely desirable and very expensive.  The Clone Wars figures of this era didn't see a huge production run.  And, as collectors flocked back to the hobby in the wake of "Revenge of the Sith", the demand simply overwhelmed the supply.  The ARC Troopers from the line were fetching over $100 for MOC samples.  Figures like this Kit Fisto would jump into the $30+ range routinely.  Slowly, though, this trend abated.  First, Hasbro re-released many of the Clone Wars figures during their market onslaught in 2006 through 2008.  If that weren't enough, they also revisited many of the characters from the Clone Wars line and created new and better molds that were more available and greatly surpassed those of the Clone Wars era.  As such, this figure is basically worthless today.  MOC figures can be had for $2.  (Though, $8 is more common.)  If you can find anyone selling the figure loose, he can be had even cheaper.  The same figure was re-released in 2006 on Saga Legends packaging.  A slight color variation with a cloak was released in 2008.  So, there's a few options for the figure out there at varying price points.  At this time, it looks unlikely this mold or appearance of the character will be revisited anytime soon by Hasbro.  But, again, this mold is good enough for me and I'm glad to have the figure in my collection.

2003 Kit Fisto, Clone Wars, Jedi Knight, IG-88, Bounty Hunter, Vintage Collection, 2009

2003 Clone Wars Kit Fisto, Jedi Knight, 2005 Revenge of the Sith, Clone Commander

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

1993 Firefly

The 1993 Firefly figure was one of my first profiles ever written, way back in April of 2000.  That was a lifetime ago (technically, a little more than a third of a lifetime ago!) and the way I approach collecting has vastly changed.  What has not changed, though, is my appreciation of this figure.  Sure, it has flaws.  But, those flaws are what makes it interesting to me.

This figure is visually stunning.  Sure, he's bright.  But, the color is hallmark of his release time and is something, now, that seems very firm in establishing this figure as a design of the 1990's.  The neon green, offset by black and accented in gold, though, is a strong combination that lets this figure stand apart from many of the other neon monsters that were his contemporaries.  The figure's colors are complimentary and avoid some of the clashes of brightness that appeared all too often on similar figures.

As a mold, the design is excellent.  Firefly's head is a nicely updated helmet and mask combo that offers him more protection.  The texture ties him to the body but also gives him depth that a smooth helmet would lose.  The torso continues the trend with a textured armor that covers his shoulders and chest.  Again, this figure is more protected than the jumpsuit clad original figure.  His bandolier contains painted pockets, grenades and detonators.  Firefly carries a garrote on his waist.  Just in case you forgot that Firefly is a dangerous badass, this little detail reminds you that Hasbro always envisioned Cobra as a legitimately dangerous foe and not the cartoon buffoons.  The figure's legs feature more explosives and his arms retail the armored pattern from his chest.  In short, the figure is well put together and was designed in totality rather than the designers trying to mix and match existing parts.

My first encounter with this mold was around Christmas of 1992.  I went to the local Toys R Us at lunch and found the grey 1992 version of this figure.  As he was Firefly, he was among the figures I purchased that day.  The black, 1993 figure, though, joined my collection a few years later.  I was in the Big Lots in my college town and found a few pegs of 1993 G.I. Joe figures for 1.99.  I had about $5 to my name and could only get two figures.  I picked up a 1993 Leatherneck and this Firefly.  I had noticed that the black paint was different.  And, as variants were popular at the time, I figured I should get him.  Once I had him, though, the grey version was retired and this black trimmed Firefly rose to prominence.

I used this Firefly as a new field general rather than Firefly, though.  He was a fast attack commander who was extremely dangerous, but well loved by his troops.  In the summer of 1994, I sketched out some basic character outlines on index cards while I was answering phones at a real estate office.  Those cards formed the backbone of my new Cobra.  Once I had the characters, I simply had to find figures that matched the personalities.  This Firefly figure was the first to be matched up.  (Mostly because I already had him and needed a character for him.)  But, once given that new character, the Firefly became rather useful.  I incorporated the bright colors into his personality in that he was not afraid to attract attention to himself.  This allowed me to reconcile the bright colors of the time and make the figures of that era useful.

In time, though, the newness of the final figures I bought at retail in the mid 1990's wore off.  They were replaced by the masses of new figures from all years I was now able to buy on the secondary market.  Soon, Hasbro started making new figures and my old favorites fell further and further into obscurity.  These days, though, pretty much all figures are old hat.  I've had so many of them for so long that everything has a staleness to it.  That has allowed me, though, to go back find some of favorites like this Firefly.  They bring up fond memories of old times.  But, they also bring around a chance to re-appreciate the figure.  I've been reviewing figures for a long time.  And, the eye I bring to it now is far different that my perspective from long ago.  So, it's fun to dust off a figure like this and appreciate it once again in a new light.

This Firefly mold only appeared from Hasbro in 1992 and 1993.  After that, the mold completely disappeared.  Well, not completely.  While the figure mold never appeared again, Firefly's excellent rifle did show up in 2000's era convention sets.  Its appearance was not, necessarily, an indication that the mold was available and not used.  But, it is a strong hint at the possibility.  If the mold was available, Hasbro missed a golden opportunity.  The V1 Firefly mold was released by Hasbro ad naseum through the 2000's.  Had even one of those figures been replaced with the 1992 mold, repainted like the V1 figure, collectors would not have bemoaned the inclusion of Firefly in so many subsets.  (Though, I suspect that the commonality of Firefly was due to the fact that his mold was available and cheap to produce rather than anything truly sinister.)  Aside from that obvious repaint, Hasbro could have milked the body for any number of Cobra army builder upgrades.  I always lament we never saw a Cobra marine.  And, the custom figure I envisioned for that specialty always included parts from this Firefly figure.

Like most brightly colored 1993 figures, Firefly is relatively cheap to acquire.  Loose mint and complete figures sell around $5.  But, you can get a carded version for $10.  Either is an acceptable way to pick up the figure.  The neon green is a nice juxtaposition against the black and gold highlights.  It's also a great reminder of the early 1990's and the bright colors that found favor in that time.  It's tough to see this figure as Firefly, just because the original version of the character is so iconic.  But, this appearance had a nice run in the comics and would, were the green more muted, have been a really strong second act for the character.  As a novelty and nostalgic favorite, I appreciate this mold.  As a collector, I lament it never saw a better paint job.  But, collectors are starting to come around on '90's Joes.  The wacky neon colors are less irksome when you are trying to collect them all and complete a set.  I doubt it will ever lead to massive pricing upticks for these figures.  But, it is nice to see molds like this not being offhandedly discarded just due to their color.

1993 Firefly, Battle Corps, 1984 Stinger, Vibora, Python Patrol, Estrela, Brazil, Cobra Trooper, Officer

1993 Firefly, General Flagg, 1992 Bulletproof, DEF, Mudbuster

Saturday, July 9, 2016

G.I. Joe #155 - Marvel Comics

I have never reviewed a G.I. Joe comic book.  For me, the passion of G.I. Joe collecting has always been about the toys.  Yet, the comic has been intertwined with those toys almost from day one.  From a dog eared copy of G.I. Joe #10 that was passed around my grade school class room to discovering #27 on a comic rack at the local drug store in the summer of 1984 to picking up issues on my trips home from college, the Joe comic bridged the gap at times when the toys were not a part of my life.  Larry Hama made the characters real and interesting.  He made the comic more than just an advertisement for the toys and wrote a book that I continued to follow after my interest in Spider Man, the Avengers and Captain America had all abated.  As the '90's progressed, though, the comic became more muddled.  So much story had been told that it was getting difficult to bring all the pieces together.  In 1994, though, the comic was starting to return to its roots.  Many of Cobra's top characters were brainwashed back into the Cobra fold.  You saw that the comic was attempting a slow reboot to bring itself back to the classic Joe vs. Cobra motif with the Cobras we all know and loved.  Then, issue #155 happened.

For those who recall 1994, it was a very different time.  The internet was still mostly text based and the majority of people who were on it used it for email.  The internet population was heavily college students and technophiles.  While rumors and discussion were available, you had to spend time to seek them out.  News was still reported in paper publications.  And, if you didn't follow any of the toy magazines of the time, you wouldn't have known that the G.I. Joe line had been cancelled.  As a casual observer, it was obvious that the line was in decline.  While nearly an entire aisle had been dedicated to Joe toys just a few years prior, the product was now sparsely stocked and only had limited shelf space at many retailers.  Joe was losing out to the new toys of the day.  At my local comic shop, new issues of G.I. Joe used to have two stacks of fresh books stocked in prime viewing location when each monthly issue arrived.  Now, it was just one stack, 1/2 filled and on the top shelf where it was difficult to see and the prior month (my shop always kept the prior month and current month on their new book shelves) would often get buried by a more popular X-Men title overflow.  G.I. Joe's dominance was fading.

The summer of 1994 was very good to me, personally.  My sophomore year of college had gone exceptionally well and I had found a good group of friends and activities about which I was passionate.  I found myself in an unfamiliar position when I returned home from the summer where I had a job that paid me well enough, but also afforded me free time and weekends off where I could pursue my hobbies.  When I returned to school in the fall, the trend continued. Things were going very well.  Well enough that I only returned home for Thanksgiving and then Christmas.  (Normally, I would go back for the various 3 day weekends, etc.)  My college town was tiny and had no outlet that sold comics.  So, it was only on break when I could pick up new books.  Usually, I was home every 4 to 6 weeks and this wasn't an issue.  But, in 1994, I left for school in late August and didn't return until November.

In my first excursion to the local comic shop, I found G.I. Joe #155.  Just looking at the cover, I knew that the end had come.  I bought the issue, took it home and read it.  Upon it's completion, the G.I. Joe story was over.  While it was somewhat shocking to read, it also wasn't completely unsurprising.  A friend of mine worked at the local comic store and I ran into him a few days later.  We got to talking and he indicated that the sales were sliding and their orders were way down.  But, as a fan of the comic, he also felt the ending was abrupt.  Cobra was just getting dangerous again and it seemed as if there were all these unresolved story lines regarding the characters.  But, it was done.

All this, though, leads to the story itself.  G.I. Joe was, at its core, a conflict book.  It was about heroes and villains that had battled for the better part of 12 years.  But, G.I. Joe was not an owned license where leaving the characters unresolved would be a way for an enterprising writer to resurrect them a decade or so later.  Everything in the mythos pointed to a final conflict where Joe vs. Cobra could finally be resolved.  But, 155 went in a completely different direction.  Instead of showcasing the final battles between the major players, it went with a more somber and, in my opinion, impactful tact.  Cobra made no appearance at all.  And, the entirety of the book was an exchange of letters between the son of Wade Collins and Snake Eyes.

It was the insight into Snake Eye's thoughts that was the most interesting.  We had seen Snake Eye's actions for years.  There were a few occasions where we got to see some words: either written or spoken.  (My favorite was in G.I. Joe #4 where he was highly critical of Hawk, his commanding officer.  That spoke volumes into how Snake Eyes was regarded and respected within the Joes.)  His letter back to Sean Collins is rather meaningful and provides a summation of Larry Hama's G.I. Joe that nicely wraps up the series.

Snake Eyes doesn't sugar coat his message.  It is straight and to the point.  His military experience was full of personal value.  He found camaraderie among the soldiers and learned to respect the values of honor, bravery and integrity they brought to their duty.  But, he was also practically cynical.  Snake Eyes spared no words in describing how a nation may turn their back on the warriors.  He laid out the good stories of brave men who served their country for the right reasons.  But, they died in that cause.  Their deaths were not particularly noble.  In fact, Dickie and Ramon were viewed as little more than random casualties whose contributions to the nation were left as a carved name on a wall.  For me, the most poignant line was where Snake Eyes said a soldier's pension isn't enough to survive without food stamps.  There were many Larry Hama lines in the course of the series that stuck with me.  Some were funny.  Others were banter.  Others were serious.  It was the food stamps line, though, that was his final contribution to library of memories.

As a comic, I find the artwork in the mid 1990's Joe titles to be atrocious.  But, it was also in line with the style at the time.  There was a movement away from realism and the art had begun its trend of exaggerated muscles and limbs.  One panel of Wade Collins is particularly bad.  He is sublimely thin, but still chiseled in a way that would make the most dedicated HGH user jealous.  He also has horrible, tinted '90's glasses that really date him.  My other beef with the art in general is that most of the Joes in the book are in looks that are at least close to their most iconic appearances.  Except for Scarlett.  As you can see on the cover and in the sample panel below, Scarlett is in her highly colorful Ninja Force outfit.  (Though, to be fair, Snake Eyes' look is heavily based on the 1993 Snake Eyes mold.)  She looks very out of place with the other Joes.  But, that was a sign of the times and does help place the book into proper context.

There was a time when comic books were very expensive.  But, like many of the collectibles from the '80's and 90's, they lost quite a bit of value over time.  Issues of G.I. Joe that cost $5 or $6 back in the early 1990's can now, 25 years later, be had for 1/2 that.  G.I. Joe #155 is an exception, though.  It is a pricey book.  The low production run, final issue status and quality of the story have kept it a prized piece of Joe lore.  Ungraded, but high quality copies of the issue run between $60 and $70.  High graded books, of course, will fetch substantially more.  It's a lot to pay for a comic these days.  And, had I not been buying these issues as they were released, I would not own this book.  But, that would be a shame.  The final story is a fitting nail in Joe's coffin.

G.I. Joe #155, Final Issue, Marvel Comics

G.I. Joe #155, Final Issue, Marvel Comics

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

1987 Dodger

Battle Force 2000 were some of the final figures to enter my collection.  I found them at the local Toys R Us in December of 1987.  I bought two figures: Blaster and Knockdown.  My youngest brother bought himself a Maverick and my middle brother bought a Dodger.  In retrospect, I have no idea why I chose Knockdown over Dodger or Blocker.  Maybe I liked the helmet.  Regardless, my two figures became a large part of the final days of my collection.  The other two figures were around, but never got the characterization that was reserved for toys I owned: rather than those of my brothers.  Dodger, though, is a pretty strong figure.  He has some flaws.  But, they are forgivable due to his generally strong color and mold design.

I have only one real memory of Dodger.  In late 1987, I put together a small team of Joes who were the crew on a truck carrying the SLAM.  The truck was an in scale, dime store special plastic military drab dump truck.  But, it held the SLAM perfectly and you could fit figures inside the cab and on the steps leading to the doors (which were molded and did not open).  The premise was simple.  The Joes had this truck carrying cargo in addition to the SLAM.  Cobra wanted the cargo and would attack.  However, in order to keep Cobra from cutting in on the Joe communications network and learning how the team was functioning, the Joes instituted a "modular" communications network in the truck.  Each member of the team had to wear a communications device in order to speak with their cohorts.  The system was closed and not intercept-able.  So, the figures chosen for the mission had to have comms gear as part of their mold.  Sneak Peek, Lift Ticket, Dial Tone and Fast Draw were mainstays as this scenario played out.  With his microphone, Dodger was an integral part of the team.

This mission saw variations played out for a few weeks as my time playing with toys came to end.  Often, the truck's cargo were the plans to defeat Cobra once and for all.  Ultimately, though, this final battle never came to be.  I simply packed up my toys and put them away for several years.  But, I was left with a memory of a figure that was otherwise inconsequential to me.  Dodger was a valuable crew member, often driving the truck.  There were times he was the first to die.  But, in others, he made it to the end.  His comm device made him useful.  In later years, a rough conditioned Dodger did find time as a Joe affiliated army builder.  He was the nameless minion of the army who would battle Cobra legions, only to fall before the Joes would arrive to save the day.  But, after that, Dodger simply faded away.  In my years buying up lots of 1986 - 1990 figures, Battle Force 2000 guys were few and far between.  The only Blaster I've ever owned is the one I bought in 1987.  I had to actively acquire Blocker.  They just didn't show up in the figures lots of the time.  The figures, though, are readily available.  But, they just eluded me.  And, that aided in their irrelevance.

Dodger only included a gun.  All of the Battle Force 2000 were skimpy on accessories.  That may be a function of them being planned as a lower production sub set of the main line.  Or, Hasbro may have wanted to limit their gear to make them more attractive as pilots for the vehicles.  But, Dodger just has a single weapon.  (The microphone comes off, but not without some work.  It's fairly sturdy.)  The rifle is a science fiction themed photon launcher. It's fairly terrible.  But, the figure is so common with the weapon that it's hard to see Dodger with any other gun.  Sadly, Hasbro liked this weapon and it later appeared with both the mail away Create a Cobra and the Chinese Major Bludd.  The gun mold was also used in Brazil for various figures, including a black version offered with the Cobra Black Vulture (Abutre Negro) figure.

Battle Force 2000 represented a departure for the G.I. Joe line.  Originally, the figure line was conceived as a way to entice kids to buy the more expensive (and profitable!) vehicles.  Those vehicles, though, tended to include drivers as value added pack ins.  Battle Force 2000 was the first wave of Joes that were sold specifically to be the drivers of separately sold vehicles.  While driverless vehicles were sold with characters from the current year on the box art, the figures, the figures were never listed as specifically being the driver of a vehicle.  It was a logical extension of the original concept of vehicles.  And, had the Joe line gone this route through it's history, some of the great vehicle drivers would have been much more available.  But, how would our perceptions of vehicles changed had the drivers for them not been packed in with them and available through no other means?  The line starts to look very different.

Dodger was first released on single cards in late 1987.  In 1988, he was packaged with Knockdown in special 2 figure packs that were designed to sell the BattleForce 2000 concept.  In 1990, Hasbro repainted Dodger and released a new version in the Sonic Fighters line.  After that, the mold went to Brazil where Estrela released the mold as Kaptor.  This single carded figure was designed after the American figure, but features slightly different green and brown hues.  The mold then showed up in India where Funskool released it for many years.  The Funskool Dodger is based on the Sonic Fighters coloring scheme, but features the obligatory Funskool splash of unnecessarily bright blue and yellow.  But, this is an interesting take on the character.  The result is that collectors have 4 figures to track down, but they are based on the two color schemes.  The mold is likely still in India as Funskool last used it around 2010 and could reappear at some point in the future should the G.I. Joe concept once again become viable at Indian retail.

Dodger figures are cheap.  While you do see some sell in the $15 range, these are usually to impatient buyers.  Mint and complete figures can be easily had for $5, though the filecard will add a couple of bucks to the price.  Oddly, you can get carded European Dodger figures for around $22 and they seem readily available.  So, that's another route to take.  There is a persistence in the Joe dealer world that any figure with a removable microphone is rare to find complete.  Dodger's mic, though, was sturdily transfixed to his helmet and is not hard to find at all.  So, don't buy into the marketing hype.  As a cheap acquisition, Dodger is worthwhile.  He fits into the team outside of Battle Force 2000.  So, that gives him a purpose beyond his stated sub group.  He's a figure I enjoy, but not one that will ever gain any additional importance than what he has today.

1987 Dodger, Battle Force 2000, 2000 Man o War

1987 Dodger, Battle Force 2000, 1994 ACtion Sailor, 1987 Road Toad

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Zeros

If you're bored this holiday and want to kill some time, I present the zeros.  These are all older profiles that have not had any page views since I relaunched the site.  It's a fun way to look back and also waste some time on your day off.

1997 Alley Viper

2003 Python Patrol Rock Viper

2000 Law and Order

1989 Backblast

1991 Sludge Viper

1997 Scarlett

2002 Sgt. Stalker

1990 Metal Head

2003 Funskool Grunt

1992 Toxo Zombie

1986 Motor Viper

Silver Pads Grand Slam

1988 Hit and Run

1992 Toxo Zombie, Eco Warriors, DEF, Bulletproof, 1993