Tuesday, August 30, 2016

1988 Tiger Force Recondo - Re-Play

The last couple of weeks have been very busy.  Kids back to school.  Work's getting hectic.  And, to top it off, I spent nearly a week very sick.  My profiles have suffered for it and I needed a bit of a breather to catch up and not feel like I short changed a figure I wanted to review.  So, instead of something new, I'm looking back.  Yeah, it's lazy.  But, sometimes you need to take a shortcut to get you back on track for the long haul.

Fifteen years ago today, I profiled the 1988 Tiger Force Recondo figure.  To this day, I don't know the origin of this figure.  It showed up in our house one day in the late 1980's.  I surmise that the kid next door left him in our yard and either my Dad or brother found him and just assumed he was ours.  I was pretty much out of Joe at the time.  But, when I found the figure in the house, I thought he was cool.  And, he had his gear and was unbroken, which was more than I could say for my 1984 Recondo at the time.  So, I stashed him away with the rest of my Joes that I was trying to save from my little brother.

I was relatively successful in this endeavor and most of the figures I packed into baggies inside a Lego carry case survived to the modern day with little or no wear.  I really look at that as the beginning of me being a collector.  I knew I would want my Joe toys again some day.  I didn't know when or where.  But, they would be something for which I would be grateful that I had kept from childhood.  The fact that an online marketplace would make Joe figures accessible at any time of the day was unfathomable to me at the time.  But, it all added up to the collector mentality that I carry today.

This Tiger Force Recondo is nice because the Tiger Force aspect of his design is downplayed.  If you take away the yellow stripes on his pants, this figures could very easily be mistaken for a Night Force Recondo.  For that reason, I find him useful.  While I like the original version, the light tan base color can be limiting, especially for a jungle trooper.  This is a nice, alternate look for Recondo that is true to the character, but gives him some depth.  (Plus, his pack is the "Brazilian" green color.  I love that color green and it's rare to find it on a U.S. release.)  In general, this is just a solid repaint that everyone should have.  It's a harder to find vehicle driver in lieu of a regular, carded release.  So, he's a bit tougher to track down and more expensive than the original figure.  But, I think he's worth it just for a different look for the character.

1988 Tiger Force Recondo, Budo

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lobisomem - Brazilian Cobra Werewolf

It is amazing how much of a difference a little bit of paint makes.  Take the common Grand Slam figure, paint over his red pads with silver paint and you have a highly desired figure from the line's first years.  Replace the red logo on the Cobra Trooper with a silver one, and instead of a $15 figure, you have a $70 figure.  One dot of paint missing from the nose of a Tele Viper renders the figure almost useless.  The point is that a little paint often makes the greatest difference for a figure.  In the case of Estrela's release of the incredibly popular V2, 1985 Snake Eyes mold in Brazil, it was their decision to leave one paint application off that is the difference between this being a $300+ figure that is highly desired and among the most famous international figures and it being a $100 figure that is left to the hardcore collectors, many of whom don't even realize the figure's affiliation change.  In Brazil, this figure was released as a Cobra.  The difference is a small Cobra logo.  Had Estrela included s small, silver or red Cobra logo on the figure's chest, arm or, even, leg, this would be a highly desired figure.  But, that omission has left this release as a forgotten gem that exists in the South American exclusive figure lines.

Lobisomem translates to Werewolf.  Lobisomem is the Cobra Black Commando whose specialty is night missions.  A Cobra Werewolf who works at night.  How can this figure not be a collector favorite?!?  The answer, though, is simple.  The only real distinguishing characteristic of this figure from the American Snake Eyes is the made in stamp on the figure's mold.  Lobisomem was made by Estrela in Brazil.  Other than that, the figures are almost identical.  So, to collectors, this figure is just Snake Eyes.  Sure, it's the most famous and popular mold for Snake Eyes.  But, you can get the American figure just about anywhere and most collectors already have one, if not more.

But, the character of Lobisomem has a lot of potential.  It's always great to find some international exclusive characters because there, frankly, aren't that many of them.  So, when you find a new villain who has hints of interest, you take note.  Below, you can read a rough translation of Lobisomem's filecard to see his character:

To devote himself to the martial arts, Werewolf isolated himself in the mountains, with Oriental Masters.
His identity has never been revealed, and who knows if he's still living.  Accompanied by a fierce Wolf who is always ready to attack whoever approaches with claws and teeth.
Primarily a commando!
 Werewolf leave his hiding place when summoned by Cobra for a special night mission.  And when that happens, you can hear the wolves whimpering in fear.
You can see that the character has his roots in Snake Eyes, but has been converted to an enemy affiliation.  If Lobisomem had a Cobra logo, he's likely be highly regarded.  You'd have seen multiple reinterpretations of the character in the comic, the modern figure line (as a convention exclusive) and other Joe media.  But, most people assume this Brazilian release is just Snake Eyes.  And, thus, they ignore it.

I have to admit, though, that I'm squarely in the "ignore" camp as well.  As a collectible, I enjoy this figure.  He looks great with the other Brazilian figures from his era.  I find it cool to have a near complete 1985 run of figures that were released in other countries.  But, unlike many of the other Brazilian exclusive characters, I just don't have a home for Lobisomem.  The figure is V2 Snake Eyes.  And, my preferred look for Snake Eyes has always been his V2 incarnation.  So, seeing an exact duplicate of that figure is just Snake Eyes to me.  Were Lobisomem differently colored or used a few other molds, my take would be different.  But, in photos, the figure is indistinguishable from Snake Eyes.  Figures like Armadilha are different enough from the American figure that you can tell it's someone new.  That is not true with Lobisomem and that greatly hinders his value to a collection.

There are two main differences between the Brazilian and American figures.  The harder to see difference is that the grey highlights on the Estrela made figure are slightly brighter.  You can see a comparison pic below.  The difference is so slight, though, if you only had the Brazilian figure in your hands, it would be tough to tell that is was not the Hasbro version.  However, there is another difference.  The Hasbro Snake Eyes has a made in Hong Kong stamp on the figure's backside.  This was removed for the Estrela figure and was left with no mark at all.  Again, you can see the comparison in the photos below.  You should note, though, that both figures feature a Hasbro 1985 stamp on the inside of the leg.

The most telling feature of Lobisomem are his accessories.  The Brazilian wolf is a slightly different shade of grey and is very noticeable when placed next to an American Timber.  The figure's Uzi is also different.  The think barrel version of the Uzi that was introduced with the 1985 Snake Eyes is not present.  Instead, you get a thin barrelled Uzi that was the original use of the mold.  The Brazilian Uzi, though, is the dark black color of the American, thick barrelled gun and is not the charcoal color of that mold's Hasbro produced releases.  It's a subtle difference and not one that most would care about.  But, in a quest for a complete figure, it's something to watch out for.  The figure's sword and backpack are made of Brazilian plastic.  You can't really see a difference, but you can feel the change in materials if you have an Estrela and Hasbro version in your hand.

The V2 Snake Eyes mold has always been a personal favorite.  From being the first kid in my class to own one after I found an unopened case of Joes on the local TRU floor in early 1985 to getting this Lobisomem, the mold has help a high place in my collection.  As a kid, I broke two or three Snake Eyes figures.  I got a second one at retail in 1986, but also bought a couple from classmates who were abandoning Joe as they aged out of toys.  I constantly wore out the figure.  Despite that, though, I have few real memories of playing with Snake Eyes.  He was always there.  But, I can't recall any specific adventures for him.  He was always the figure picked whenever friends would come over to play, though.  But, for a figure as popular as he was to me, the mold doesn't appear all that much in my photos.  I think the the base black makes it tough to capture how excellent the mold really is.  But, also, Hasbro released so many Snake Eyes figures in 1997 and later that there was always a new one available whose appearance in a photo was more timely.  So, the figure remains relatively unrepresented.

Not counting Lobisomem, though, I have three 1985 Snake Eyes figures.  He's so cool that I have a few to, eventually, round out my collecting display.  He can't just appear once.  So, there's one for the Mauler, one for the HQ and another for general display purposes.  As time goes on, there could be more.  It will be interesting, though, to also have this Lobisomem out and mingling with Cobras.  He and Stormshadow can fight side by side.  It's not a great use for this figure.  But, it's a way to get another showing of the mold and makes for an interesting story.  At the end of the day, though, this mold is Snake Eyes and I'm actually kind of happy that Hasbro didn't have it in the '90's and '00's as they would have released it to the point or irrelevance.  With just these two versions and the one, basic, look for this mold, his individuality and legacy were unaltered and spared.

A few years ago, Lobisomem figures were relatively available and could he had for under $50. Being the V2 Snake Eyes mold, he always enjoyed a bit of popularity.  But, most of Lobisomem's notoriety stemmed from him being responsible for Hasbro not being able to re-release the V2 Snake Eyes mold during the repaint era in the 2000's.  Now, though, mint and complete with filecard Lobisomems will easily fetch $100 to $125.  Like most Brazilian figures, Lobisomem is experiencing an upsurge in collector demand and that is driving prices higher and higher.  I'm not sure if this is sustainable as we've seen once highly priced European exclusives drop in price and have seen similar behavior on once super expensive Funskool figures, too.  Of course, the Plastirama exclusives have steadily risen for a decade and a half now.  But, they may not be the best model to follow as the prices from the early 2000's were, likely, artificially low due to the warehouse fine and the temporary supply outpacing demand.

Long term, I could see this figure becoming cheaper.  But, I could also see him staying the same price.  The difference between this figure and some of the later, brighter Brazilian figures is that Lobisomem is made of a classic mold and is the only other release of that mold anywhere in the world.  Of course, the figure is also, basically, identical to the American figure.  So, you have both an antagonizing and mitigating factor on his desirability in the same characteristic.  Personally, if you have the money, Lobisomem is a cool figure to own.  Sure, he's Snake Eyes.  And, using him as anything else will be hard.  But, knowing that this was a Cobra character and the Brazilian kid who originally owned him only knew him as a Cobra is fun part of the collecting experience.  But, if you are looking to economize, or only have a small budget for Joes, this is a figure you can also easily skip.  There are many other Brazilian exclusives that bring more to the table than this figure.  And, many of those are still cheaper than Lobisomem to boot.  As a collectible, this figure is nicely done.  But, other than appreciating the nuance of the different release countries, Lobisomem doesn't offer much that can't be found elsewhere for less money.

Brazilian Cobra Werewolf, Lobisomem, 1985 Snake Eyes, Estrela, Chinese Major Bludd, Funskool Street Hawk, India, Vibora, Python Patrol Officer, 2002 Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty

Brazilian Cobra Werewolf, Lobisomem, 1985 Snake Eyes, Estrela, 2006 Flaming Moth Shipwreck

Brazilian Cobra Werewolf, Lobisomem, 1985 Snake Eyes, Estrela

Brazilian Cobra Werewolf, Lobisomem, 1985 Snake Eyes, Estrela

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Diorama - Eel In Training

We had a bit of early winter rain.  Overnight, it turned cold and the ground water froze.  We then got a light dusting of snow.  I liked the idea of Arctic training for the Eels and thought of having them break through the ice.  Rather than attacking the Joes, I turned the table and had the Joe surprise the trainees.  I was hoping to get some better photos of Airborne.  But, none of those turned out.  The plan was to use the pics for a Duke profile, too.  But, I only ended up getting his back.  Still, this was a fun set to set up and take as the weather wasn't too bad, but the setting made it look like it was.

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord, Ace, Wild Bill

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord

1985 Eel, 1983, 1984, Dragonfly, Duke, Airborne, Ripcord

Thursday, August 18, 2016

1991 Red Star - Around the Web

Red Star was the first Russian figure to be released in the line.  While he seems based on Col. Brekhov, he was a new character.  In a Freudian slip, his first file card showed him with a Cobra logo.  Oops.  Here's the best of him on the web.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

1992 T'Jbang - Ninja Force

In 1992, I was long out of Joe toys.  I had bought a single Night Viper in 1990.  But, had not been to a toy aisle in quite a while.  My high school years were wrapping up and toys were mostly out of my mind.  Comics, though, were not.  While I had drastically curtailed the number of comic books I bought every month from my late 1980's heyday, I still picked up a few titles.  Of course, G.I. Joe was one of them.  In some ways, it was out of habit and loyalty that I kept with the comic.  But, it was also a way to keep informed on the toys of the day without resorting to actually going to a store or buying any actual items.  Plus, the stories and characters were something I could relate to since I had such a history with the property.

In these pages, I was introduced to a menagerie of new characters.  Some looked like they would spectacular toys.  Others, were somewhat lame.  But, they were new and exciting and, when I started buying Joe toys again, gave me both a familiarity with the characters and also pre-determined favorites that I wanted to track down.  In late 1991, Larry Hama introduced the comic readers to the Ninja Force.  This team of Ninjas to support Snake Eyes and Stormshadow was designed to sell new toys, but also raise the prominence of G.I. Joe's superstars.  The designs in the comic were promising and some of them looked like they could be great toys.  But, when it finally came time to track down these figures several years later, I found that the figures were long on "action" but not in line with my expectations of design.

When I think of Ninja Force, I think of Slice and Dice.  I think of them because I thought the comic book design of Slice was awesome and was almost enough to get me to go out and look for the figure.  The G.I. Joe members of Ninja Force are, to me, mostly  interchangeable parts that lack any real depth.  T'Jbang is a perfect example of that.  If you asked me to name a group of Ninja Force figures, there's a good chance I'd get them wrong.  T'Jbang and Dojo, to me, are so close in look that they simply cancel each other out.  Nunchuk is a bit better due to his different coloring.  But I knew nothing of the T'Jbang character prior to this profile and really only chose him as he's the last member of Ninja Force that still calls my collection home these days.  (How he survived when the others were sold remains a mystery.)  But, in my zeal to find obscure Joe figures, I figured I'd look into the T'Jbang character and see if I had missed a hidden gem.

One look at the figure in the photos below, though, is enough to tell you I did not.  The bright yellow and blue combination is not a flattering color scheme for any action figure.  But, even taking that away, the figure is simply not that good.  The 1992 sculpting had improved since the early days of the line.  But, good design on a poor concept still doesn't really work.  The figure has bare shoulders and arms (which seem to be a ninja thing, according to Hasbro) which look somewhat odd.  He has large, bulky boots which belie the stealthy implications of his profession.  The most off putting aspect of the figure is the luchador type head gear.  It does not hold up at all.  In short, you have a big, blocky figure who looks like he escaped from a Mexican wrestling rign rather than an expertly trained ninja.

The real failure of T'Jbang is the character.  You have a mystic swordsman who is, by choice, mute.  Yet, despite his devotion to his art and craft, he still found time to become a fully qualified Battle Copter pilot.  It screams of the trend to make all characters all things.  The result is an utterly forgettable character who really offers nothing you can't get from better figures.  If I wanted a mute swordsman, I'd get a Snake Eyes figure.  They were colored better, featured standard articulation and were available at the time of this figure's release.  If I want a pilot, I'd just use the ones included with the Battle Copters as they are pretty strong figures in their own right.  There's just no reason to have the figure in any of his intended specialties and what fun is a character who doesn't speak when that is the calling card of the most iconic character in the entire line?

So, that leaves me with no place for T'Jbang in my collection.  I've had a beat up figure for years.  He was so cheap that he wasn't worth selling off.  So, he just sort of hung around.  When I got the figure out, his chest was covered with some residue between the quilts of his shirt.  You can see it in the second photo below.  I decided to try something and got out a baby wipe.  I used it on the entire figure and it cleaned him up, nicely.  You can see the results in the first photo.  It's the same figure in both photos.  The baby wipe not only removed the residue, but also a lot of dust and dirt that was caked onto the rest of the figure.  So, that's something I'm going to do on more dirty figures going forward.  It really breathed new life into the figure and is a cheap and easy solution for cleaning toys.

The Ninja gimmick ran its course with Ninja Force.  The days of martial arts masters like Quick Kick or Budo were nice ways to augment the line without diluting Snake Eyes and Stormshadow.  Ninja Force removed that subtlety Ninjas were now their own team, apart from G.I. Joe.  It was overkill, but also a definite response to the early '90's popularity of certain reptilian, pizza eating, shell covered ninjas.  (The characters were introduced in the comic in 1991 and it's likely that the figures saw ample shipping in late 1991 as well.  Though, they are considered 1992 releases.)  Ninja Force was a continuation of the change in G.I. Joe's direction.  In 1991, the Joe line became a market follower when it introduced Eco Warriors.  It had spent the previous 9 years being the market innovator.  But, Joe's presence and influence on toys and children was diminishing.  And, the remainder of the line's life would be spent chasing the market rather than leading it.

T'Jbang figures are cheap.  Mint and complete figures sell in the $3-$4 range.  Carded figures, though, can be had for between $8 and $10 without much looking.  Collectors do not care for the Ninja Force figures at all.  The character returned in the 2015 G.I. Joe convention set.  Those figures sell in the $40 range.  But, that's more a function of the figure's rarity than any character resurgence.  For the price, it doesn't make sense to not have a T'Jbang figure, even if it's just for completion.  But, the figure is so poorly done and uninteresting that I find it hard to muster the desire to pick up a carded or higher quality version to cross off the list.  I've long avoided the Ninja Force figures and T'Jbang is a microcosm of why.  While I've been surprised by a few of the figures from the end of the line, this ninja is not among them.

1992 T'Jbang, Ninja Force, Nunchuk, Shadow Ninja Snake Eyes, 1994

1992 T'Jbang, Ninja Force, 1986 Zarana, Dreadnok

Monday, August 15, 2016

Cobra Flying Scorpion - 15 Year Anniversary

15 years ago today, I posted my profile of the Brazilian Flying Scorpion figure.  The Escorpiao Voador, as he is known in Brazil, became one of my most viewed profiles ever.  (It's still in the top 10 all time even on this version of the site.)  At the time, carded versions could be purchased for around $30 each.  Now, the figure is very popular and loose, mint and complete versions tend to sell for $150 or more.  The character has even appeared in the 2016 Convention set.

At the time, the Flying Scorpion was both my first Brazilian figure and one of the first foreign figures I added to my collection.  The distinct look and general quality of the figure, though, sent me through the looking glass of foreign Joe collecting and it's been one of my main areas of collector interest ever since.

I remember the day I got the figure very vividly.  I was so excited to have something so exotic in my collection.  I opened him immediately.  The figure quality was slightly lower than Hasbro figures and he has always felt slightly brittle to the touch.  That's why I haven't used the figure in nearly as many photos as I would have liked.  I'm afraid he'll break if he gets dropped.  And, at current pricing for a Flying Scorpion, that's not a risk I like to take.

But, in honor of the decade and a half that's passed since I first showcased this figure online, I took him out to take a few photos, just for old time's sake.  You'll see that I have Flying Scorpion paired with AVACs.  The silver and red work well together and I can see AVACs as the personal troopers of the Flying Scorpion.

I can't believe I've owned this figure for the majority of the time I consider myself a "collector".  A lot's happened in the Joe world in 15 years: a lot bad and some good.  But, the collecting world becoming a smaller place has made figures like this accessible and the information regarding them more available.  That's a good thing as collectors now have a lot more options with which to grow their collections.

Brazil, Estrela, Patrulha Do Ar, Escorpiao Voador, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Sky patrol, 2010 Convention Flint, Red Shadows, 1986 Dreadnok Stinger, Sears Exclusive, Alado, Plastirama, Argentina, 1989 Python Officer, Cobra Trooper, Rare G.I. Joe Figures

1986, Viper, AVAC, Firebat, Brazil, Estrela, Patrulha Do Ar, Escorpiao Voador, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Sky patrol

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Diorama - Helping Hand

I moved back to AZ in 2003 and had this pool for a bit.  It had a decent waterfall that didn't look too unnatural.  I had a chance to utilize two of my favorite Cobras: the Rock Viper and the Eel.  Usually, they'd be hard to use together.  But, the idea of a Rock Viper pulling Eels out of the water in an otherwise, improbable location was intriguing.  It was hard to get a good shot as the way to get close was for me to stand on the waterfall.

1990 Rock Viper, 1985 Eel, Eels, Decimator

1990 Rock Viper, 1985 Eel, Eels, Decimator

1990 Rock Viper, 1985 Eel, Eels, Decimator

1990 Rock Viper, 1985 Eel, Eels, Decimator

Thursday, August 11, 2016

1993 Duke - Around the Web

Duke had a lot of figures in the vintage days.  Some were great.  Others were not.  The 1993 Battle Corps figure, though, is more towards great.  It's a strong mold with decent coloring and black accessories.  There are rumors the mold would have been repainted in green cammo in 1995, but that figure never came to pass.  Hasbro had the mold during the early 2000's, but chose to only revisit the 1992 Duke figure and ignored this mold.  Here's some of the best content on the web for the figure.

1993 Duke Profile

1993 Duke at Nekoman's Viper Pit

Duke at JoeaDay.com

Custom Duke at OreoBuilder's Blog

Pre Production Duke at YoJoe.com

Custom Duke at Cooey's Toy Box

1993 Duke by BattleArmorDad1

1993 Battle Corps Duke, Mega Marines, Monster Blaster APC

1993 Battle Corps Duke, 1992 Toxo Zombie, Eco Warriors

1993 Battle Corps Duke, Mudbuster

1993 Battle Corps Duke, 2002 Night Rhino, 1991 Dusty, 2004 Desert Patrol Gung Ho

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

2005 Dreadnok Thrasher - Comic Pack

In early 1986, one of my younger brother's friends found pretty much all the new Joes at once.  He brought them to school and immediately put me into a "must have it now" mindset.  This was exacerbated when my brother found the lone 1986 figure at Target, a Dial Tone figure.  I was upset and spent the next few months desperately trying to get over his win of the Dial Tone find.  At some point in February or early March, word got around that the local KB Toy store (always a hot bed of early finds) had a new vehicle.  I convinced my mother to take me and found the Dreadnok Thunder Machine.  At first, I was underwhelmed by the vehicle and the figure included.  However, there was no way I was going to pass it up as it would afford me the chance to be the first to have the 1986 catalog insert that would show all the new toys rather than just the cardbacks.  So, I bought the Thunder Machine, enjoyed the jealous looks of my friends as the insert was passed around school and promptly forgot about the vehicle.  One of the reasons for this, though, was the less than stellar driver: Thrasher.

The vintage Thrasher figure was pretty bad.  His head was too big, he didn't have nearly enough shirt and his weapon was just lame.  In short, he was nothing that I wanted to use.  Not even being new was enough to save the figure.  Fortunately, he was able to just sit in the Thunder Machine, out of sight, where he would periodically die.  That was the extent of my interaction with him.  That summer of '86, though, Thrasher showed up in the comic.  I was fond of the story arc where he was introduced, even if the character himself was fairly forgettable.  This brought the figure out.  But, his poor overall quality quickly relegated him back into obscurity.

In late 1986 and into 1987, though, my Cobra armory was in desperate need of an upgrade.  While I still had decent Hiss Tanks, they had been around for nearly 5 years and were old hat to me.  I had gotten a STUN in '86 and it was a good foil to the Havoc.  But, when Cobra attacked the Joes in my room, they had two Hiss Tanks and a STUN.  That was it.  (The Stinger had long since died a thousand deaths.)  Against the Mauler, VAMP, Havoc, Dragonfly, Bridge Layer and a host of smaller vehicles, Cobra didn't stand a chance.  So, the Thunder Machine was retrofitted as a Cobra vehicle.  Out went Thrasher and in went a spare Viper whose thumb had broken.  The Thunder Machine became Cobra's anti-infantry weapon.  And, with that, Thrasher's limited role was taken away.

As 1987 progressed, Thrasher found use as a random civilian.  (All the Dreadnoks were moved to this role, eventually.)  Here, he would attack either Joes or Cobras from inside an A-Team van.  It was a way to expand beyond the Joe vs. Cobra dynamic.  But, those were short lived adventures and the figure was merely filler rather than a character.  As such, my childhood Thrasher figure survived in excellent shape.  This was not due to diligence but indifference to the character.  And, so, Thrasher faded out of my mind.  In 2004, the figure was repainted for a convention exclusive.  I bought the set, but never actually opened Thrasher.  (Zanzibar was opened the minute I got the set.)  He stayed in his bag until I sold him off.  Then, came this 2005 figure.

When the final comic packs were announced, they were met with relative yawns.  Collectors had seen the #9 comic pack for years.  So, finally getting it at retail was anti-climatic.  The Tunnel Rat/Hawk/Flint pack seemed boring since there had been so many Tomahawk and Tunnel Rat versions and the Flint mold had been used a few times.  The Fred figure was worth it for the head and Zartan was a cool upgrade.  But, both he and Zarana had appeared in the 2004 convention set and has recently been Funskool releases.  So, they seemed tired.  The Dreadnok pack was the most damning, though.  All three of the figures had been released just one year prior in the convention set.  While this set was pricey to buy prior to it's release, most of the figures from it were available for under $10 (yes, including Thrasher/Zanzibar) in 2005.  So, there was really no need for the figures to be so quickly re-visited: especially after the Dreadnok themed convention set was met with such malaise from the collector base.

But, the Dreadnok pack did feature excellent upgrades of both Buzzer and Ripper.  Buzzer's head was akin to his comic appearance and Ripper's melon was shrunk down to a more realistic size.  The colors on both figures were kept in line with the character's original looks, but given just enough difference that they were worth picking up for another look for the characters.  Thrasher, though, did not get the same treatment.  His new head was more narrow.  His hair was less '80's, but still overly large.  While the vintage head was bad, this new head was not much of an improvement.  The real failure, though, was the color scheme.  The original Thrasher featured a subdued back and grey motif that fit with the "Road Warrior" vibe of the design.  This new figure had orange highlights, pastel green details and a bluish-grey base with purple highlights.  Basically, the figure is a mess.  There is nothing about him that is an upgrade in any way.

But, in this eye-gouging menagerie of colors there is the redeeming factor of Thrasher being something different.  The comic pack and Toys R Us set colors of that era didn't take many chances.  The same themes of tan, green, blue and red were released over and over again.  Getting a figure with some different colors made for something a little closer to the variety of the vintage line.  In that vein, this Thrasher was welcome.  But, at the end of the day, the Thrasher mold is still fairly bad and the character's look has not aged well at all.  The new head brings nothing to the mold that you can't get in the vintage version.  In general, it's a bad figure.  (And, to top it off, mine is starting to discolor even though it's been stored out of sunlight and only used for this profile.  The 2000's era plastic may be worse than we thought.)  But, at least it's bad for different reasons.

In 2004, the Thrasher character was "fleshed out" more in a Convention filecard.  They gave Thrasher a file name and had him born in Belgium.  This is all fine and good.  Except for the fact that Thrasher's original filecard is dripping with classic Larry Hama disdain for suburban, yuppie life of the 1980's.  While not a uniquely American stereotype, it was the roots of what would later become the "Ugly American" archetype.  Aside from this, Thrasher's original card heavily hinted that he simply wandered into the swamps and found Zartan.  Knowing Zartan's base of operations was in the Florida Everglades, it implies more and more that Thrasher was a lost American youth.  (Another favorite Larry Hama theme that appeared in the comics more than once.)  So, there's a definite schism between the various characterizations of Thrasher.  For me, the character is so poor that I really don't pay either much heed.  But, based on my introduction to Thrasher in 1986, I'm more inclined to stick with Hama's original dossier rather than the fan fueled update.

This Thrasher figure was heavily clearanced by both Hasbro Toy Shop and, later, Toys R Us.com.  This put massive amounts of cheap Dreadnoks into the marketplace.  Today, you can get a mint, complete Thrasher for $3 or $4.  But, they are not nearly as plentiful as they once were.  While carded Dreadnok comic packs used to clog online auction sites for 1/2 their retail price, they are now fairly sparse.  Even carded, though, this set doesn't eclipse much more than $20.  But, this is a case where buying the individual figures is a better deal than getting a carded set since you can probably get all three Dreadnoks for under $10 if you look hard enough.  (Buzzer is definitely worth it.)  Had I not been both a completist and a fan of the Buzzer figure in 2006, it's unlikely I would have this pack at all.  When they were blown out for nothing, I picked up a few extras.  Those, of course, are long gone.  But, a complete set remains.  While I'm not a fan of Thrasher in general or this figure in particular, it was a good way to get something different into the hands of collectors.  I can at least appreciate that effort: even if the execution was a bit off.

2005 comic pack Thrasher, Dreadnok, Zarana, Zartan, 1986 Dreadnok Thunder Machine

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Diorama - Colton in the Woods

Back in the spring of 2002, I took these photos out in my yard.  That was 4 houses and two states ago.  But, here's another look back at a different time in the Joe world.

1994 Joseph Colton, Mail Away, Mail In, Action Soldier, Action Marine, 1997 Viper, 1998 Cobra Trooper, 1990 Metal Head

1994 Joseph Colton, Mail Away, Mail In, Action Soldier, Action Marine, 1997 Viper, 1998 Cobra Trooper, 1990 Metal Head

1994 Joseph Colton, Mail Away, Mail In, Action Soldier, Action Marine, 1997 Viper, 1998 Cobra Trooper, 1990 Metal Head

1994 Joseph Colton, Mail Away, Mail In, Action Soldier, Action Marine, 1997 Viper, 1998 Cobra Trooper, 1990 Metal Head

Thursday, August 4, 2016

1987 Sea Slug - Around the Web

Sea Slug was a figure who found some use in my collection: though as a new character rather than an army builder.  He's not held up well, though, and has fallen out of favor.  Here's the best of the web on him:

Sea Slug Profile

Sea Slug and Sea Ray Review at Icebreaker's HQ

Sea Slug Re Color Project

Sea Slug at JoeADay.com

Sea Slug at 3D Joe.com

Sea Ray & Sea Slug Video Review

1987 Sea Slug, Sea Ray

1987 Sea Slug, 2004 Urban Strike Nullifier, Unproduced Night Creeper, Corrosao, Brazil, Estrela, Dee Jay, Eco Warriors

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

2003 Funskool Tripwire

As the Funskool G.I. Joe line wound down in 2002 and 2003, the company tried many things to prop up lagging sales.  Things like Grunt's inkpad, Metal Head's bomb makers and Law's crypto game were all designed to attract kids to the line.  As the gimmicks failed, Funskool pushed the envelope on a tried and true strategy: incorporating bright colors into the mix.  Most of Funskool's final figures were very bright and utilized orange, red and yellow to create an eye catching product for the kids of India to desire.  While they may seem ludicrous by American collector standards, those bright colors were popular among the Indian consumer base.  They also created some of the most memorable, if ridiculous figures in the history of the Joe line.  Wild Bill, Big Brawler, Grunt and Windmill are memorable for their terribleness.  But, one figure stands apart from them: Tripwire.  While the figure is hideously bright, the colors somewhat work.  And, the addition a big Funskool "BOMB SQUAD" paint application make this a figure worth owning.

When Hasbro cancelled the A Real American Hero Collection series in late 2001, they packed up a large quantity of recently used molds and sent them off in India.  Funskool quickly put these into production with Law, Big Brawler and this Tripwire figure.  As such, collectors were a bit fatigued on the Tripwire mold when it was announced.  Tripwire figures were pegwarming in American retailers through the end of 2002.  So, it seemed like the figure was out there in abundance.  Of course, this was the view of the American collector.  In India, the mold was brand new and had never been seen before.  So, Funksool's use of it made perfect sense.  But, for American collectors, that initial malaise towards the figure was quickly dissipated when they saw the first photos.

The bombastic orange, purple, red and gold color scheme screamed "FUNSKOOL!" and instantly gained the figure some collector credibility.  Many army building obsessed collectors of the day saw the figure, with his color scheme and obscured face, a perfect complement for their Techno Viper corps.  With this, the figure achieved a modicum of popularity that was rare for a modern, Joe affiliated Funskool figure.  But, like most Funskool figures, that popularity was short lived.  There was a lot going on in the Joe collecting world in 2003 and 2004.  New releases from Hasbro arrived on the shelves almost every month.  Toys R Us ramped up their production of vintage style Joe exclusives.  And, in general, Joe achieved a level of retail success unseen since 1990 or 1991.  This brand activity pushed Funskool to the wayside and this Tripwire became a footnote on that collecting era.

Nearly a decade and a half later, this Tripwire is generally appreciated by collectors.  The odd colors but bold styling have left Tripwire as a figure that is memorable and desirable enough for collectors to care.  You see the figure appear in many collections, even if he is not a feature of the few bastions of vintage Joe content that remain.  He is certainly more popular than Metal Head, Law, Windmill and the Incinerator  with whom he shares a general timeline.  Modern collectors have taken to customizing Trip Wire figures into the Funskool color scheme as a way to spice up the modern remakes of vintage figures.  Generally, this Tripwire is treated fondly by the collecting world: even when his color scheme and bizarreness do not seem to warrant it.

One of the greatest collector complaints regarding Funskool is the figure quality.  In the early 2000's, Funskool really started to let their quality slip.  Sloppy paint masks, shoddy construction and frozen joints were hallmarks of the Funskool stock of the time.  This was a far cry from the earlier Funskool offerings: which were very close to Hasbro quality.  But, the time of poorest quality coinciding with the timeframe of greatest availability created a perception of poor quality among Joe collectors.  Hasbro, to their credit, took notice.  In 2003, they took umbrage with Funskool's quality and forced the Indian manufacturer to improve upon it: drastically.  The result is that the figures manufactured in 2003 have a much higher construction quality and crisper paints masks than figures from even one year prior.  You can see that quality on Tripwire with the sharp golden highlights and crisp lettering.  As such, this figure is more representative of the whole of Funskool offerings from the late '80's through the early 2000's than most of the other figures with whom collectors are familiar.

Tripwire features interesting accessories.  Interesting in that they contain both parts exclusive to Funskool and modified accessories from the American figure.  At the core, Tripwire has his standard backpack with three, removable mines.  However, the mold has been modified.  Instead of a hole into which you could plug Tripwire's mine detector, the pack features a raised peg into which you can plug a standard, black hose.  This hose connects to the new accessory with the figure, his mine detector.  Why Funskool chose to make a new accessory when Tripwire's original mine detector was still available is a mystery.  But, we have our first Funksool exclusive G.I. Joe accessory in it.  The blue mine detector appears to be 2 pieces glued together.  What it lacks is any real way for Tripwire to hold it.  The handle is straight.  So, Triwpire looks awkward trying to use his detector.  But, as an accessory, it is exceptionally well done.  It is large, detailed and painted.  The black controls and red lights add a great effect and really make it more cool than it should be.  These details almost forgive the fact that the figure can't hold it!

For me, this figure was exactly what I wanted of Funskool during their final year.  It was a figure so odd that it would never have been released in the U.S. and was a welcome diversion from the sea of green, brown, red and blue that defined the vintage style Hasbro releases of the era.  As a pure oddity, the figure is great.  But, as a practical figure, this Tripwire's uses are limited.  Still, he makes for fun background fodder on vehicles or in the G.I. Joe HQ.  He is a nice complement to figures like TNT, Sokerk and the European Mutt.  He works with vintage Joes, but is different enough to really make a display pop.  And, if you really push the limits, you can find a way to use him as a Cobra army builder.

Tripwire was released the world over.  Aside from his American release, Hasbro also released him in Japan, Europe and China in the same colors.  (It should be noted there are slight color variances between some of the releases and the arm insignia on these figures can differ as well.)  Hasbro released an all red and orange Listen and Fun Tripwire in the U.S. in 1985.  The Tiger Force Tripwire was released in 1988.  Prior to the standard Tripwire figure being released in Europe, the mold was repainted for the excellently done Action Force Blades figure.  Tripwire got another U.S. release in 2001 in darker greens than the vintage figure and then showed up in this Funskool release.  So, Tripwire fans have a lot of different versions to track down and they are all drastically different save the 2001 figure.

Pricing on this figure is all over the map.  Being a later release and not a Cobra and not an army builder, Tripwire didn't get the market penetration of many other Funskool figures who fit those criteria.  But, he was readily available from multiple dealers for around $4 MOC for several years.  Now, he doesn't appear nearly as often as other, more popular Funskool figures from his era.  Those that do appear, run the gamut.  Carded figures sell between $5 and $7, but also all the way up to nearly $35.  Loose figures, which are harder to find, go as high as $15.  But, really, the pricing is determined by how many are on the market at a given time.  If you just see one a month, the $15/$30 price is probably realistic.  But, even two or three being available cuts that down to the $5/$7 split.  As a ridiculous oddity and a representation of everything 2000's era Funskool, this figure is a must own.

Funskool Tripwire, India, Action Force Stalker, Snake Eyes, European Exclusive, 2008 AWE Striker, 2001 Double Blast, Roadblock, ARAHC

Funskool Tripwire, India, Funskool Barbeque, Barbecue, BBQ