Thursday, September 29, 2016

1987 Falcon - Around the Web

A few weeks before Christmas in 1986, I went to my local Toys R Us.  To my surprise and delight, they had a slew of new, 1987 Joe figures available.  In the sensory overload, I managed to pick out Cobra Commander and Falcon as the two I had to buy.  I've never regretted that decision since Falcon might be one of the best figures ever released in the Joe line.  Here's the best of his content around the web:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

1983 Stalker

The original 13 Joes were an amazing example of how to create something new and exciting from very few base parts.  It was a formula that was tried by other, derivative toy lines many times in the 1980's.  But, as Joe had largely moved away from reusing parts save for rare instances after the initial wave of figures, these other lines appeared cheap.  But, Hasbro's original cost saving foray into 3 3/4 figures was nothing short of remarkable.  While the figures retain a uniqueness to each individual character, the overall team was still somewhat unified.  There was a cohesion that stood out from other retail offerings while still bringing characters that showcased the effort that Hasbro put into their product.

In the fall of 1982, my younger brother got at least 2 straight arm Stalker figures for his birthday.  I know that by new year's day of 1983, we had at least 3 of them in the house.  (Stalker was not, though, part of my 4 man Joe army of Clutch, Snake Eyes, Hawk and Breaker.)  I have a few memories of playing with the figures in the front yard of my parent's home.  But, nothing overly memorable other than finding a very dirty and broken figure behind a paving brick when my Dad re-landscaped the vegetation restrictions that lined the concrete stairs that divided the hill in the front yard at some point in the early 1990's.  In fact, I didn't think of Stalker all that much and his figure really wan't all that important to me.

But, in the summer of 1984, I began to read the Joe comic book.  Here, Stalker's prominence lead to a greater appreciation of the figure.  Not enough to get me to track down a new version, but to at least realize he was probably the third most important Joe behind Snake Eyes and Hawk.  In the summer of 1985, though, my desire for a Stalker figure was sparked.  The catalyst behind it was something that, on the surface was completely unrelated: my acquisition of the 1985 Snow Cat vehicle.  The Snow Cat should be unrelated to Stalker in general.  But, Frostbite, the driver of the vehicle, included a large, scoped rifle that immediately reminded me of Stalker's appearance in the LRRP flashbacks from issues 26 and 27 of the comic.  I now wanted a Stalker figure and he became a more important addition to my collection than the few 1985 figures I had yet to buy at retail.

Fortunately, the Snow Cat's entry into my life immediately preceded a two week stay at my grandparent's home.  My grandparents spoiled me rotten.  They were comfortably retired and we spent our days going to various retail stores to look for and buy me toys.  For some reason, this was something they only did with me.  My younger brothers rarely spent any time with my grandparents without me.  And, after my younger brother's first week alone with them, the entire practice stopped.  There were some odd family dynamics at play and my mother has been more forthcoming with them in recent years.  It was her opposition to the arrangement (and the fact that my grandparents were so over the top in their gift giving) that ultimately ended it.  Yet, now, she is repeating the behavior she so disliked with her own grandchildren.  Go figure.

I announced my desire to find a Stalker upon my arrival and my grandparents set out over the next few days to find me one.  Store after store, though, was completely devoid of the 1983 figures.  I'd spend copious amounts of time flipping through every figure in every row to see if Stalker was buried somewhere in the back.  (In those days, retail Joe displays were dozens or hundreds of figures, so it took a while to search at every store.  And, there were a lot more stores, too.  K Mart, Children's Palace, Best, Sears, Service Merchandise and even department stores all had huge toy departments with chances to find my unicorn.)  After several days, we had exhausted all avenues.  While I had pretty much completed my run of 1985 figures through these travels, I was still missing the one figure I wanted.  Near the end of my stay, my grandmother recalled seeing a large display of G.I. Joe toys at a local Kroger store.  I had never seen toys at the grocery, but she assured me she had.  We went to the out of the way Kroger.  In the back of the store, this particular location sold a variety of hard goods to supplement their grocery.  Among them was an entire wall of G.I. Joe figures.

These were not, though, the recently shipped cases of 1985 figures I found at all the standard retailers.  No, these were older stock.  Tons of 1983 and 1984 releases bulged from the pegs: cascading down onto a blanket on the floor.  I'm sure there were untold treasures in that pile.  But, I cared about one figure and one figure only: Stalker.  And, sure enough, he was in the mix.  I found him and bought him: my mission complete.  I recall the happiness of that moment still today because the figure was something I wanted and searched for.  The culmination of my effort (well, my grandparents' effort!) was tremendous satisfaction.  I got my Stalker back to their house, armed him Frostbite's rifle and an Airborne backpack from the 1984 Battle Gear set and promptly elevated Stalker to be among my most important figures.

For the remainder of the time that I played with toys, this Stalker was at the forefront.  He retained his popularity through 1986 and even into 1987: despite the massive influx of newly released characters.  I had acquired him late enough in 1985 that I took good care of the figure.  (It's odd that 1985 seemed the turning point.  My early year 1985 acquisitions got beat up and broken.  But, anything bought after the spring survived pretty well into my adult collection.)  Since he remained intact, he also remained a vital character who was on par with Flint in terms of importance.  At some point in the mid 1990's, though, I got the figure out to display.  When I put Frostbite's rifle in his hand, the fingers snapped off.  Not the commonly brittle thumb, but the rest of his hand.  It was a tough loss: but a testament to the good life the figure lived.

I've since added a new Stalker to my collection.  But, these days, he and the rest of the original 13 swivel arms lay in a felt lined drawer of an antique tool box my father gave me for Christmas almost 15 years ago.  Occasionally, I'll get a few of those originals out for a photo shoot.  But, those are increasingly rare.  I sense a general fragility with these older figures and don't want to push my luck would one drop into rocks or concrete.  Plus, most of the characters were redone in the late 1990's or early 2000's in designs that are good enough facsimiles of the originals to satisfy the photo requirements.  But, most days I'm in the Joe closet looking for something, I'll pull open the 1983 drawer and take a quick look at the 16 figures (I keep a swivel Cobra Trooper, Officer and Commander in there with the 13 Joes.) that pretty much started it all.  They are a reminder of why I still collect these toys so many years later.  The memories and emotions attached to them are as much a part of my reasons as the enjoyment of a product well designed.

While Stalker was a mainstay of the vintage Joe line, he didn't become so until 1989.  Stalker waited 7 years to be revisited, but then promptly saw a new figure in 1992, 1993 and 1994.  This version remaining the default helped to cement this look for Stalker.  It also helped him bridge the changes in construction and sculpting that occurred through the 1980's.  Stalker appears, to me, less out of character among later year figures.  This is likely just perception.  But, it is perception forged from the years of seeing him with newer characters in the comic.

But, Stalker's figure also had more depth.  He was the only original Joe to actually feature a cammo pattern.  So, while his body was shared with many other figures and the base color isn't too far from some of the other original figures, the dark green color streaks make the figure stand out.  Having a unique head distinguished him quite a bit.  Stalker's personal M-32 was also a way to distinguish him.  The weapon always felt more substantial than Grunt's M-16 and was my default go to weapon for my Clutch figure.  But, that was short lived and I came to view the M-32 as belonging only to Stalker and, to this day, can't see it in the hands of other, American figures.  (I'm more forgiving of TNT, though, just due to the overall oddity of the character.)

The Stalker mold was a world traveler.  The straight arm figure saw exclusive releases in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.  (The mold was also repainted as a Caucasian for the Plastirama Manleh figure in Argentina, too.)  The swivel arm mold, though, also saw great use.  The figure was released in Japan, Australia and Europe.  Palitoy used it for the Action Force Jammer character and Funskool then released several Stalker variants for many years.  (Again, some were actually Caucasian.)  In 1997, Hasbro got the mold back from India and released the solid 1997 repaint.  Hasbro created a new head for the character in the 2004 Comic Book pack release and repainted it in more vintage colors the next year.  They then brought the head back on the high quality 2006 Lonzo Wilkinson figure.  Stalker was re-imagined multiple times in the vintage line, the new sculpt era and the anniversary style line, too.  So, there are ample ways to get the character.  But, this is the figure from which they all are derived and is, to me, the essential Stalker figure.

High quality swivel arm Stalker figures can be had for around $18.  You will see many dealers, however, offering them in the $30 range: with many selling.  Open market sales tend to be lower, but are less frequent than they used to be.  Considering the figure's high quality and the character's importance to the line, he's worth the money.  Sure, you can get some later Stalker versions for much cheaper.  (And, the 1997 version is probably a better overall figure.)  But the original Stalker is too important to the line's legacy to be left out of any collection.  Stalker's value as a character and a toy design are essential parts of line's endurance and should be part of every collection.

1983 Stalker, Ranger, Flash, 2002 Night Rhino

1983 Stalker, Original 13, Ranger, Spirit, Brazil, Estrela, Olhos de Fenix, 1984 TTBP

1983 Stalker, Original 13, Ranger, JUMP, VAMP, Rock and Roll, Hawk, Flash, Grand Slam, Clutch, Steeler, Zap, Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Short Fuse, Grunt

Saturday, September 24, 2016

1989 Recoil - Around the Web

Recoil is a figure I like so much that I've profiled him twice.  The baby blue weapons are the real negative to him.  But, there are lots of black M-203's from the 2000's era Joes that outfit him nicely.  And, if you can find a cheap Steel Brigade figure, you can get his gun in charcoal as well.  (Good luck with that these days, though.)  Here's the best of the character around the web.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

1994 Star Brigade - Carded Set

In the second half of 1998, I really started to look to G.I. Joe collecting as my hobby of choice.  I had dabbled a bit in a Joe resurgence for a while.  But, the retail stream of new Star Wars figures consumed not only most of my money, but also my time.  However, by the summer of 1998, the Star Wars market was over-saturated.  The huge volume of shipments and new waves that included carry over figures from earlier releases had caused a pegwarming backup that was unprecedented.  While the early part of 1998 had been a great time of constant new figures and refreshed army builders, Hasbro had made too much and the waves planned for later in the year could not get out to retail.  This resulted in a some waves being cancelled, others only showing up in obscure retailers and the complete reboot of the line in early 1999.  To me, though, the retail frustration of Star Wars, coupled with my first major promotion in my adult career lead me down another path along which I could spend my money.  All of this, of course, coincided with the emergence of Ebay as a means to purchase items that were not available from local toy dealers or second hand shops.  As I shifted my collecting priorities, I first focused on a few items from the Joe line that I had long wanted.  Among them were a Hammer, the 1989 Rock and Roll and, at least one Lunartix Alien.

In 1998, the alien figures, MOC, fetched about $15 on the secondary market.  This seems low, but was a princely sum back then.  You could get lesser character 1985 figures MOC for that price at the time.  So, it was a large purchase when I bit the bullet and got a Lobotomaxx figure.  When he arrived, I realized how cool the overall card presentation was.  I liked the colors and look of Star Brigade.  And, I had a connection to the 1993 series that I had found at KB Toys liquidation stores a few years prior.  As I surveyed the other 1994 Star Brigade offerings, I was enthralled by the designs and colors.  At the time, the figures were relatively hard to find, especially if you wanted them loose.  However, you could find them carded: and they were cheap when you did.  So, I put together my first complete series of carded figures: the 1994 Star Brigade.

The '94 Star Brigade line was divided into two distinct series.  The first wave consisted of Cobra Commander, Cobra Blackstar, Sci Fi, Payload, Space Shot, Duke and Roadblock.  The second wave contained Ozone, Countdown, Effects, Lobotomaxx, Predacon and Carcass.  This left an unlucky 13 figures in the retail, single carded line.  But, the overall presentation remained.  Gone were the generic pink cards from 1993 and in was a visual delight of black, blue and purple with a clean G.I. Joe logo running up the card's left edge, culminating in a bright Star Brigade logo at the card's top.  Each character got his own, unique card art along with a yellow "gimmick" tag that touted some feature of each figure.  In short, they were a crisp, clean look for the last unique retail wave of figures to hit stores.

Wave 1 showcased Hasbro's commitment to the line.  5 of the 7 figures featured either mostly new parts, or all new parts.  On top of this, the characters all included a wide array of feature rich accessories that were essential for retail success at the time.  Hasbro did skimp on the overall paint applications, though.  Most of the figures only have three or four minor paint masks.  And, Duke and the variant Roadblock only featured one paint mask on their entire body.  This Roadblock and the Payload figure were repaints of Star Brigade molds that had been released in 1993.  Which, in turn, were mostly repaints of prior years' retail release figures.  So, the line spent money wisely in terms of bringing something new to the market.

1994 Star Brigade, Duke, Sci Fi, Space Shot, Cobra Commander, Blackstar, Roadblock, Payload, Variant, Carcass, Lobotomaxx, Predacon, Effects, Countdown, Ozone
1994 Star Brigade Wave 1: Duke, Sci Fi, Space Shot and Cobra Commander

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

2004 Comic Pack Scarlett

G.I. Joe #2 was one of the earlier back issues I acquired in late 1984/early 1985.  My local comic shop usually didn't have a ton of G.I. Joe back issues in those days, but I got lucky and found a #2 for $3: which was a princely sum back then.  I sucked it up and bought it and then marveled as the book climbed to nearly $50 on the secondary market in fairly short order.  To me, though, the value of the comic was the story inside.  The second issue and third adventure of G.I. Joe was really a great precursor for the later Special Missions title.  It featured a team of 4 Joes battling against a new enemy, the Eskimo Kwinn. It remains one of my favorite Joe stories to this day.

When it was announced in 2004 that this comic would be in the first wave of Hasbro's new comic pack products, I was excited to see what figures would accompany it.  When the images popped up, my initial reaction was one of great anticipation for the toys.  But, after I got the pack, my enthusiasm was tempered.  Snake Eyes was cool, but the colors weren't great.  Kwinn was good to see: but still flawed.  The third figure in the pack, Scarlett, was one I categorically dismissed.  Getting the character's head on a white Jinx body to emulate an appearance on one page of the comic wasn't that exciting.  But now, 12 years later, this figure holds up a bit better.

In the comic, Scarlett appears in the outfit on which this figure is based for 2 panels.  2 panels.  But, frankly, that's the type of obscurity I preferred that Hasbro mine when looking for figures to populate the comic packs.  The artistic comic renderings of the Joes, in general, were based on the toy appearances of most of the characters in the early issues.  So, finding an alternate appearance to give collectors something different was a strategy I appreciated.  What I did not appreciate, though, was the quality of the newly sculpted heads.  Most of them had issues and appeared to be out of place on the bodies with which they were paired.  Scarlett is a notorious offender.  Her head is the size of a pin and is woefully small for even the relatively dainty Jinx body.  She looks like the reverse of those old cartoons where the character goes into the steam bath and comes out with a shrunken body but normal head.  She is swimming in her collar.  If the uniform had a generally baggy appearance, this might have been less noticeable.  But, this tiny head atop fully stout set of shoulders and arms is a bit silly.

If you look at some of the unproduced comic pack figures, you see that sizing the heads was a problem for Hasbro.  Most of the early heads exist in two sizes: both of which are often flawed in different ways.  The comic packs were an experiment and it's likely that the budgets for design were eaten up on the heads in general.  Spending more to make them perfect was probably not an option once the two sizes were production tested.  As the line progressed, the new heads got better and culminated in the 2005 Firefly head which is just about perfection in terms of fitting with the vintage mold while improving upon the 21 year old design.

Getting past the design limitations, though, the figure is about as good a representation of Scarlett as Hasbro could have done.  The Jinx body for this figure is a good choice.  Though, the shoes are a departure from the bare feet of the comic.  The white color is so different from the vintage red, Vypra black and Tiger Force green that it appears much newer and less overused than many of the Joe molds that later dominated the comic packs.  The figure included the standard Scarlett crossbow as well as a new sculpt era rifle.  The are unnecessary accessories, but nice to have and give the figure more useful possibilities.

As a toy, the figure is fairly basic.  You get the new head.  I'm sure the pony tail piece was quite expensive for Hasbro to design, paint and produce.  That said, though, the figure only has a black belt, white shoes, a grey leg cuff and flesh colored hands and ankles as additional details.  It's very basic.  But, the outfit was very basic on the comic and the Jinx mold itself doesn't have a lot of flash.  This is a rare case where simplicity rules.  You get a major character in an off hand appearance that, while not overly useful, is different and true to the media from which she was drawn.

For that reason, I appreciate this figure.  As a character, Scarlett appeared quite frequently in the repaint era.  But, each and every one of those figures with the exception of this one used the 1982 body in different colors.  As such, you had a bit of chromatic diversity that was lost due to the mold's overuse.  Seeing the character in a different configuration was nice and gives collectors a way to use Scarlett differently.  All that said, though, the figure has its issues.  The Jinx body works well enough.  But, the head does not fit onto it all that well and the overall appearance is that it's too small.  On top of that, while the look is different, it is also boring.  It makes for a good sparring Scarlett for your dojo dioramas.  But, this figure's use elsewhere is rather limited.  But, with an appalling lack of female figure parts available, Hasbro can be forgiven for using what they had in a more creative way than just repainting the V1 figure in white and calling her an "arctic" version.

Like many later edition figures, Scarlett's pricing is all over the place.  Left to her own devices, the figure can sell for under $2.  However, you see many more selling for $8 or so.  Kwinn sells in the same range.  The Snake Eyes figure sells between $4 and $6.  Or, you can just buy a carded set consistently for $15.  The point is that if you want the figure right now, there are lots of affordable carded versions available.  If you want to economize, you can wait it out and likely get the figure for next to nothing.  Either way, this is a decent version of Scarlett and something very different for her character.  It's a way to incorporate her later "ninja" theme without having to resort to the awful 1993 figure.  In a sea of green comic banality, this figure does stand out.  That and the head make the figure worth owning.  And, the cheap price makes it easier to accept the figure's flaws, too.

2004 Comic Pack Scarlett, 1987 Jinx, 1994 Viper, Battle Corps

2004 Comic Pack Scarlett, 2001 Laser Viper

2004 Comic Pack Scarlett, 2001 Laser Viper

Saturday, September 17, 2016

1987 Ice Viper - Around the Web

The Wolf was one of the last Cobra vehicles I bought at retail.  I found it to be a lot of fun and one of the few instances where Cobra's gear was superior to the Joe's.  The Ice Viper was a fitting driver, too.  The sais are an odd weapon choice.  But, they make the figure distinctive.  Here's the best of the Ice Viper around the web.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Diorama - Viper Attack

I was setting up a photo shoot for my Sgt. Slaughter profile.  I got a bunch of '86 figures out and showcased some Vipers, too.  Several of the photos were better as larger sets in lieu of the more focused Slaughter profile.  So, I put these photos together in a mini dio.  This was taken in early spring just as my garden was coming in.  It was fun to get several of these figures together: even if the photo style seems horribly dated now.

1986 Claymore, Sgt. Slaughter, 1982 VAMP, Viper, Sci Fi, Leatherneck

1986 Claymore, Sgt. Slaughter, 1982 VAMP, Viper, Sci Fi, Leatherneck

1986 Claymore, Sgt. Slaughter, 1982 VAMP, Viper, Sci Fi, Leatherneck

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

1987 Sgt. Slaughter Chilling Events Mail Away Promotional Material

We all know that Sgt. Slaughter was first offered as a mail away in 1986.  While mail aways would later become a means to clear out old retail stock, in the mid 1980's they were still part and parcel to a toyline's overall success.  The 1986 carded figures included special certificates that were redeemable for a Sgt. Slaughter action figure. There was a 1-900 number where you could call in and get a special code that would take the place of a certificate, too.  But, the general gist was that any kid buying Joes would get the Slaughter mail away on one cardback and then persuade his parents to buy more figures so he could get the special character.

This was all fine and good.  But, at the same time, Hasbro was starting to build up a thriving mail order business, too.  While G.I. Joe's first forays into the mail away world were preview figures of the upcoming year's characters.  Hasbro soon started Hasbro Direct as a means to also sell vast amounts of toys that were no longer shipped to stores directly to consumers.  In the 1980's, there was still a large percentage of the U.S. population that lived in areas with limited access to retail stores.  This was as much a function of the shifting population distribution between rural and urban areas as it was the fact that large retailers had yet to infiltrate smaller population centers with the ubiquity you see today.  Mail order companies were still going strong, though the cracks in armor were there and the model's collapse was closer than those in the industry probably realized.  Hasbro made it a matter of course to include mail away order forms in their various vehicles and playsets.  However, in one of the early implementations of automated data resources, Hasbro also targeted families who had made prior orders of mail away items with direct mailings designed to entice them into another order.  One such advertisement was the "Chilling Events Are About to Unfold" mail away.  

1987 Chilling Events are About to Unfold, Mail Away, Sgt. Slaughter, Hasbro Direct
Chilling Event are About to Unfold Mail Page

The focal point of the advertisement was Sgt. Slaughter.  His face greeted you when the promotion came in the mail.  And, when you opened it up, there was a full body painting of the Sarge, basically ordering you to buy some toys.  Inside the mailer, you see both the 3 3/4 Mail Away Sgt. Slaughter figure and the 8" vinyl figure of Sarge offered.  The vinyl figure was compatible with the WWF figures available at the time.  You see Sarge lording over vintage Hulk Hogan and other wrestling figures in the ad.  It was a blatant cross promotion that was not overly careful in dulling the lines between Hasbro and other toy companies' licensed brands.  But, Hasbro's Sgt. Slaughter standing on Hulk Hogan's neck was a not so subtle jab that G.I. Joe was on top.

1987 Chilling Events are About to Unfold, Mail Away, Sgt. Slaughter, Hasbro Direct
Sgt. Slaughter Full Body Painting when you open the mailer.

In addition to Sgt. Slaughter, the promotion offered kids a chance to get a large amount of discontinued toys.  Major Bludd and the Cobra Officer were offered as individual figures.  (Seeing the $3.00 price tag for each is weird to me after I bought bagged versions of both figures from Hasbro Canada in 1999 for .99 each.)  You could also get the Sky Hawk, Slugger, AWE Striker, Snow Cat, Stinger, Water Moccasin, FANG or Hiss Tank.  There was a 6 figure Vehicle Driver pack as well as offers for the Steel Brigade and Starduster.  You could order a G.I. Joe digital watch or join the fan club as well.  In short, this offer gave kids a chance to get a nice assortment of vehicles, their drivers, some Cobras and a few Joes all at once.

As a kid, I'd see these mail aways and find something I wanted.  I always wanted to have access to more vehicle driver figures.  So, seeing them available was often an enticement.  However, I never actually ordered any of them.  The reasons were many.  But, mainly, I was turned off by the prices and figure selection.  I remember wanting a Crankcase to replace the one from my childhood whose weapon had been damaged.  But, I had a good Frostbite, Copperhead and Hiss Driver.  So, it made no sense to get more of these figures I didn't want just to get one that I did.  (How foolish that mentality seems now when I look at drawers and boxes full of the same figures over and over again.)  So, in spite of filling out the forms, I never actually sent away for any of the figures.

One of the things that oddest about this mail away offer is the prices.  The Hiss is $4.00.  The Stinger, though, is $6.00 and the Snowcat is a whopping $7.50.  As shipping and handling are just $1.50 per order, it's possible that the differing prices are a way to offset the actual shipping cost.  It's noteworthy that the newer items are more expensive.  So, maybe Hasbro had paid off the older molds and could offer them cheaper.  Or, it might be they just had overstock of the cheaper items.  It's interesting to see items that were the same price point at retail have such different direct to consumer pricing.

1987 Chilling Events are About to Unfold, Mail Away, Sgt. Slaughter, Hasbro Direct
Vehicle and Figure Descriptions and Pricing

Aside from the cool painting of Sgt. Slaughter in a wooly, winter coat, the advertisement features full card art type pictures of the Stinger Driver, Hiss Driver, Copperhead, Frostbite, Crankcase and Thunder.  They are not the cropped filecard photos from the vehicle box art.  They are new full body shots of each charater.  The art, to be fair, doesn't seem up to the standard of the released card art from the era.  But, it's odd to see full body paintings of vehicle drivers.  It's even odder to see Thunder with a walkie talkie (awkwardly posed as it it were intended to be a gun, but was altered at the last minute), Copperhead with a pistol that looks like an oversized version of the Kenner Return of the Jedi pistols that debuted in the 1983 Star Wars line and awkward pose on Frostbite and Crankcase.  If that weren't enough, the Hiss Driver is drawn with a rope that appears to have a large knot and a bit of a hook on the end.  It makes no sense, but is what makes this so entertaining.

1987 Chilling Events are About to Unfold, Mail Away, Sgt. Slaughter, Hasbro Direct
Vehicle Driver 6 Pack Page

The other thing of note is the price of the Steel Brigade.  I can not recall how many times I filled out a Steel Brigade order form as a kid...only to not mail it in.  Not one person I knew who played with Joes (and there were a LOT of them) mailed in for the figure, either.  The reason?  The price point.  The Steel Brigade is $7.50.  With $1.50 for shipping, that's $9.00...or, more than the retail price of three figures in 1987.  I simply couldn't justify spending that type of money for one figure when I could buy a vehicle with driver, or three figures at the local stores for the same price.  Starduster with a Pocket Patrol is only $4.50.  A much more palatable price when you consider you also got a Pocket Patrol (regardless of how useless they actually were) along with the figure for the slight premium.  It's amazing there are as many Steel Brigade figures as there are in the collecting world when you realize how expensive they were to acquire back in the vintage days.

1987 Chilling Events are About to Unfold, Mail Away, Sgt. Slaughter, Hasbro Direct
Pricing Page, 8" Sgt. Slaughter Wrestling Figure and Watch

This mailer was first produced in 1987.  If you placed an order by December 1st of that year, you got a full color G.I. Joe poster, too.  When you consider printing costs in 1987, especially for high quality paper stock in full color glory, this advertisement had to have cost Hasbro a fortune.  Mass mailing it from a database mail merge at the time was also something that only big companies, with large budgets, could cost justify.  It's just another artifact proving the ubiquity of the Joe line and how important it was to Hasbro's bottom line.  They could spend massive amounts of money on these promotions because massive amounts of kids actually bought toys from them.

Mail Away promotions would continue for the rest of the Joe line.  However, as the Joe line died out, so did Hasbro Direct.  In the mid 1990's, the warehouses were shuttered and the remaining toys were sold to locals at blowout prices.  (One warehouse, up near Cleveland, OH sold figures for next to nothing.  A local grocery chain bought up tons of them and sold them for between .25 and .99.  Imagine finding bags and bags of Steel Brigade, Rampage and Cobra Officers for .99!)  Hasbro spent the latter part of the 1990's teaming up with food brands for Star Wars mail ins like the Fruit Loops Han Stormtrooper and the Frito Lay Spirit of Obi Wan Kenobi.  Hasbro brought the mail in back in 2003 with Agent Faces.  But, this mail in, and the few that followed, were more about appealing to collector nostalgia than an actual ploy to create new revenue streams.  Really, Hasbro could use the Hasbro Toy Shop as a means to sell exclusives that used to be the domain of mail away premiums.  It would be a way to keep offbeat brands like Joe going in the down years.  And, be enough of an audience to justify a production run large enough for Hasbro to turn a profit.  But, this hasn't happened in a decade, now, and the notion of a mail away format is all but a relic of a bygone era.

Paperwork collecting is a small subset of the Joe world.  Most collectors have large amounts of paperwork.  But, few pay it much heed.  However, some items, especially those sent out only to households that had ordered from Hasbro Direct recently, can be extremely difficult to find.  But, that usually doesn't translate to expensive.  Commonly, you'll find paperwork tossed into a character specific lot as a way to make something relatively common more enticing.  These items will sometimes sell for a premium.  But, on it's own, paperwork tends to be very cheap...even if it's pretty hard to find.  In a search for this item, I couldn't even find any pricing evidence or any examples that have been for sale in quite a while.  So, if you want some of the more obscure paperwork, it may take some time and effort to track it down.  But, when that work is rewarded with cheap prices, it can make the chase all the more satisfying.  I'm finding some classically overlooked Joe lore in some of these mail away offers and vehicle pack ins.  It's something I've ignored for nearly 20 years.  But, it's nice that the Joe line is vast enough that you can always find a new aspect to hold your attention...even when there's no retail product to keep you going.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Diorama - Walk the Plank

Some Eels leading Beach Head to a watery doom.

This was the waterfall I had at one of my houses.  It wasn't very deep and had a side pool which hid the filter and pump.  It was OK for photos and you can see it often in my 2005 - 2012 photos.  It was a nice part of the yard.  But, the control box tended to leak a little bit of water and was always full of scorpions.  So, doing any work on it was a pain as you never knew what would crawl out when you started moving rocks around.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

1989 Rock and Roll - Around the Web

While I didn't buy any Joe figures in 1989, I was aware of this Rock and Roll and really wanted him.  I was not disappointed when I finally got him nearly a decade later.  He's a great figure.  I'd have loved to have seen him in the 2000's as a repaint.  But, it wasn't to be.  But, we have a nearly perfect first attempt by Hasbro.  Here's some of his best content on the web:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

2016 Bootleg Blue Stormshadow

In 1997, Hasbro released a repainted Stormshadow figure.  This meant that they not only had the figure mold, but all his weapons as well.  When Joe returned to retail in 2000, it seemed pretty much a no-brainer that Hasbro would mine the V1 Stormshadow mold a few more times.  Every collector who had ever owned a yellowed Stormshadow and a bottle of red paint had made a Red Ninja.  So, it seemed obvious that Hasbro would give collectors that figure.  Easy and popular subsequent releases of the mold would have to come, as well.  A Cobra blue Stormshadow was a figure that simply made too much sense to not appear quickly, too.  Hasbro could have printed money with those releases.

But, years and years passed with no sign of the V1 Stormshadow mold.  Finally, in late 2004, Hasbro gave collectors a red and a black repaint of the figure.  Now, though, the original accessories were gone.  The mold got one more use, in the traditional white, before it disappeared forever.  In looking back at the repaint era of 1997 - 2006, the absence of the V1 Stormshadow figure mold is baffling.  We know Hasbro had it.  We know collectors wanted it in army building colors.  We know Hasbro liked the character as he appeared in the terrible 1992 mold in 2000, 2002 and 2004.  For some reason, though, Hasbro simply couldn't put it together and get the mold out to collectors who were all too willing to spend wildly on it.

As vintage Joe molds were destroyed and Hasbro turned its back on the legacy of ARAH Joes, collectors were left with some gaping holes that were never filled.  In the late 2000's, though, high quality, factory produced bootlegs began to fill a few of those voids.  I have looked at some of the figures before and found them to be excellent additions to a collection.  As the 2010's progressed, though, the quality of these bootleg figures slipped quite a bit.  Loose arm joints, splayed legs and poor quality all turned me off to the newer bootlegs that came out.  This was punctuated by the ever rising cost of the figures, too.  (They started in the $6 range, but quickly became $12-$15 figures.)  I found myself less interested in the bootlegs and didn't pay them as much heed.

Then, though, came hints that the bootleggers were upping their game.  Some new figures began to appear.  Those who had them reported higher quality.  Then, it was hinted that Stormshadow was in the mix.  This piqued my interest.  The possibility of a Cobra blue V1 Stormshadow has always been the last bastion of vintage Joes that was an absolute must have.  In 2016, the figures showed up.  Stormshadow was made available in a swath of colors and cammo patterns.  Some of the figures looked pretty bad.  Others were cool.  But, who really needs a jungle cammo ninja?  But, among the fodder was the gem: a truly Cobra blue V1 Stormshadow figure.  At long last collectors had access to either an alternate uniform for the Stormshadow character, or a much better look for the under-utilized Cobra Ninja Viper.

Quality wise, the figure is solid.  While you can still tell it's a bootleg, the overall quality is substantially better than that of the Crimson Guard figures and the middle release Cobra Trooper variants.  The figure feels more solid than those earlier figures.  The paint masks are crisp and you don't have any qualms about posing the figures.  However, there are some oddities that should be noted.  First, the elbow joints on the figure were redone.  They are smaller than the production figures.  They look odd and the figure appears somewhat out of proportion in the arms.  It's a small detail, but something you notice.  The second aspect of the figure that would be better is the hands.  Instead of flesh molded plastic hands, the figure's appendages are painted flesh color.  It creates a mismatch in the figure and adds to the oddity of the arms in general.  These are small points, but they do detract from the figure's overall presentation.

It is also of note that there are both logo and head variants for this figure.  You can get him with silver or red Cobra logos.  (I, personally, prefer the silver.)  You can also get an alternate head version.  The head is based on the Mortal Combat ninja heads.  It's a nice way to make the figure more of a true army builder that is different from Stormshadow as a character.  (The heads are also closer to the first appearance of the Red Ninjas in G.I. Joe #21.)  But, I am a fan of the original mold and the 1993 Ninja Viper gives enough credence to the similar looks to leave the classic Stormshadow head a canonical army builder, too.

The best part of the figure is the inclusion of the entire gamut of V1 Stormshadow accessories.  Along with the pack, you get a bow, two swords and nunchuks.  It is an excellent finish to a solid figure.  With the V1 gear, this Stormshadow doesn't have the detracting issues that plagued the 2004 Ninja Strike set.  In addition to a set of black accessories, though, the figures also include a full set of glow in the dark weapons.  At first, these are kind of gimmicky.  But, the translucent plastic is kind of neat.  And, the blue glowing swords are definitely a step up for the overall use of figures like this.  The extra set of gear also makes the price a bit more palatable.  Putting the glow in the dark swords in the black pack is a neat effect.  That also frees up some extra Stormshadow gear to outfit the extra 2004 Red Ninjas you have lying around.

A blue Stormshadow has a bit of history.  Collectors have long wanted the figure and it's been a customizing staple.  In the early 2000's, when the masses of Plastirama toys flooded the U.S., an scammer in Argentina custom painted some Cobra de Hielo figures in blue and packaged them into some overstock C.O.P.S. boxes.  These C.O.P.S. sets were a Plastirama hallmark of selling off their massive amounts of overstock Joe toys.  So, when the scammer offered them for sale, many ill informed collectors dropped massive amounts of money on them: thinking the blue figure was a new, Argentine variant.  Quickly, a few collectors got a hold of a set, opened it up and exposed the fraudster for what he was.  But, the damage was done.  To this day, you will see boxed C.O.P.S. blue Cobra de Hielo figures in both collectors and for sale.  The sellers usually try to hide the fact that it's a known fraud.  And, from time to time, you'll still see someone who was duped into paying a high price for this forgery argue vehemently against all the documented evidence that his high dollar purchase "could" be real and that all the collectors who have proof that the figure is a custom are out to get him.

With all bootleg figures, buyer beware.  Spending lots of money on a figure that someone can mass produce at any time is risky.  But, it's also unlikely that the figures will ever sell for substantially less than their current retail price.  (This usually only happens on extremely unpopular color schemes or molds.)  So, paying $12 to $15 is about the market rate.  We've seen discontinued figures skyrocket to three or four times that price.  But, we've also seen some plummet to around 1/2 that mark.  The popularity of the V1 Stormshadow mold, the classic Cobra color and the inclusion of the original accessories, though, all add up to a figure that's going to be popular both now and in the future.  Long term availability is unknown.  It seems these figures are very available right now.  But, we've seen Cobra Trooper variants that were common for a long time appreciate radically on the secondary market and become hard to find.  Stormshadow may follow that route, or he may not.  Personally, I wouldn't balk at getting the figure for the current price.  The accessories alone make him a worthwhile purchase.  Army building him, though, is still up in the air.  I can get a lot of army builders for $15 each.  So, you have to weigh the value of additional Stormshadows versus the value of the army builders you could buy in his stead.  I'd like a few more of these figures for sure.  We'll see what the future holds.

There are now two Joe bootleggers in the market: Black Major and Red Laser.  Black Major was the first who started with the Cobra Troopers back in the late 2000's.  He "retired" and Red Laser took up the mantle.  To date, only Black Major has the Stormshadow mold.  (You will see the Black Major info stamped across this figure's rear end.)  Both bootleggers seem to have the same suppliers and the general quality between them is about the same.  But, as they offer different figures, it's tough to get all the figures you want in one shipment.  I find that frustrating.  And, with different suppliers, you have differing quality, etc. between the figures.  Hopefully, having two different sellers will lead to increased quality and more creative offerings.  There's a lot that could be done with bootleg Joes since Hasbro left so much unmade.  Hopefully, these can be explored and there will be enough of a market to support larger production runs and lower prices.  We'll see how it plays out.

2016, Bootleg, Black Major, Custom, Stormshadow, Blue, Unproduced,1984 Firefly, 1983 Destro, Red Jackal, Stinger, Action Force, Red Shadows

2016, 2010, Bootleg, Black Major, Custom, Stormshadow, Cobra Mortal, Blue, Argentina, Unproduced, Plastirama

Monday, September 5, 2016

Bootleg Day

In honor of Labor Day, I thought I'd showcase the various bootleg figures that are the fruit of the labors of a few dedicated sellers.  You can see the figures I've showcased through the years, as well as find some other content on them.  Tomorrow, I'll profile the currently available blue Stormshadow bootleg figures.  So, check that out.  In the meantime: the bootlegs:

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Diorama - Reload

In late 2007, I had a few months between jobs.  During that time, I was able to get out and take a ton of pictures of figures and vehicles: both old and new.  Below is one of the last sets I took (you can tell by the poor color of the grass) before I went back to work.

It was fun to showcase the Iron Panther tank, which was still pretty obscure in 2007.  Plus, it was my first chance to use Lt. Clay Moore. In all, it's not a great set up.  But, was fun to get all the vehicles out for a bit.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

1990 Topside - Around the Web

I first saw Topside in a DeSimone Guide I found at an antique mall on my way back to college in 1996.  The figure stayed with me and he was one of the first 1990 figures I sought out when I started my adult Joe collection.  He's still an under-appreciated gem.  Here's some of his best content on the web: