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

Oddly, both of the repainted figures from Wave 1 also featured variations.  The most notable is actually a different figure version rather than a variant.  Payload was first released in a black and blue color scheme that was a direct derivative of his 1993 figure.  He was then upgraded to match his card art with a red, white and blue version.  Roadblock exists with either silver painted grenades and highlights or black.  The silver was the initial version.  The paint mask was then removed to save money.  The silver gives the figure more depth.  But, both variations work.

1994 Star Brigade, Duke, Sci Fi, Space Shot, Cobra Commander, Blackstar, Roadblock, Payload, Variant, Carcass, Lobotomaxx, Predacon, Effects, Countdown, Ozone
Cobra Blackstar, White Payload Variant, Blue Payload Variant and Roadblock with Silver Grenades Variant.

Each figure except for Payload and Blackstar featured a removable helmet.  Payload and Roadblock included standard missile launchers of the day.  But, the rest of the figures were given new, more exciting gimmicks.  Blackstar included an oversized spring loaded cannon that fit onto a backpack.  Duke's pack not only shot missiles, it was the attachment point for his helmet.  Both Sci Fi and Space Shot included rope accessories integrated into their packs.  (Sci Fi's pack would later return with his Funskool release, as well.)  And, Cobra Commander got the oddest item of all: a suction cup laden climber that affixed to his torso and was designed to allow him to climb up your mother's nicest coffee tables and freshly painted walls.

Wave 2 of Star Brigade was equally ambitious.  Four of the six figures were all new.  The remaining two, Ozone and Countdown, were repaints of 1993 Star Brigade figures as well.  The overall color scheme of Wave 2 is excellent.  Ozone is a striking brown while Countdown uses a subtle grey and green base.  Effects is an all new figure using a base color of blue.  But, he also suffered from limited paint masks. (And bare, gloveless hands!)  The Lunartix aliens, though, took Joe to a whole new place.  Joe was now fully science fiction.  Whether you agree with that direction or not, the alien figures are something completely unprecedented and interesting.  They showcased the enhanced sculpting that was common at the time with the bulkier builds of the 1993 and 1994 figures.  But, they also stepped away from the constraints of the Joe line and added unforeseen construction while still keeping base compatibility with the existing line.

1994 Star Brigade, Duke, Sci Fi, Space Shot, Cobra Commander, Blackstar, Roadblock, Payload, Variant, Carcass, Lobotomaxx, Predacon, Effects, Countdown, Ozone
Wave 2 Joes: Effects, Countdown and Ozone.

The Lunartix Aliens are the most famous part of the Star Brigade subset.  Lobotomaxx, Predacon and Carcass are all something Joe had never seen before.  For many, these three figures represent everything that was wrong with G.I. Joe in the 1990's.  However, if you forget the theme, the figures themselves are very well done.  They are intricately sculpted, well painted and fit together within a theme without being too similar.  In short, they take the greatest qualities of Joe figures and applied them to aliens rather than humans.  Hasbro obviously spent a lot of money designing these figures.  So, they were part of the overall commitment that the maker had to the brand, even at the end.

1994 Star Brigade, Duke, Sci Fi, Space Shot, Cobra Commander, Blackstar, Roadblock, Payload, Variant, Carcass, Lobotomaxx, Predacon, Effects, Countdown, Ozone
Lunartix Aliens.  From Left to Right: Lobotomaxx, Predacon and Carcass

The aliens originally came back from the factory in colors that didn't match their card artwork.  Hasbro went back to the well and had them changed.  However, the miscolored figures were given Spanish language stickers and were released in Mexico.  They are extremely short run international variants and have become both pricey and desirable among collectors.  You will also note that none of the aliens include the spring loaded launchers.  This, likely, was a cost saving move for a wave that was destined to be a short production run.

The Star Brigade figures were individually numbered.  Hasbro starting the numbering in 1993.  It was likely a way for kids to track what they did and did not own.  The numbers appear on boxes on the back that make it easy for kids to check off which figures they own or want.  The series, though, it split.  The first 7 figures are numbers 21 though 27. The final 6 figures are numbers 49 through 54.  The numbers skip around based on other items released through the year.  It is noteworthy, though, that the second wave does not appear in the 1994 product catalog.  And, the first wave is only shown as card artwork and not actual figures.  The artwork may have been a stylistic choice.  But, the absence of the second wave shows that Hasbro was stepping out of the yearly release cycle for Joes in 1994 and was beginning the trend we see to this day of more releases in shorter windows.

For a long time, carded 1994 Star Brigade figures were cheap.  Slowly, though, the supply has dried up and more collectors have found them a necessary element to collection completion.  Now, many of the figures will fetch $25 to $30 for MOC specimens.  For a time, certain figures have even climbed over $60.  One of the reasons I have these is because they were so cheap to acquire.  Now, that's less true.  But, considering the low production run, the figures are probably still a bit underpriced due to the lack of popularity.

For me, this small, final subset of the Joe line is a perfect bookend to my collecting timeline.  I started getting Joes in 1982.  When I returned to collecting, I started at the end and worked my way backwards until I met my childhood collection.  But, beyond that, I find this line a lot of fun.  I was always a Star Wars fan and having astronauts and aliens was kind of a way to bring the two mythoi together.  Nearly 20 years later, I am still enthralled by the Star Brigade line.  It remains my favorite subset in the entire history of Joe.  I would have loved to have seen them return in the 2000's.  But, several of the molds were in India and collectors would have likely shunned them.  Now, I think Star Brigade returning as an anniversary sculpt convention set would actually be fairly popular.  The aliens would be hard to pull off.  But, I think we've finally reached a point where collectors are more accepting of the Star Brigade concept.


  1. I JUST got the Cobra Commander suction cup climber to complete my CC, and I am still in need of that damned Space Shot. The more I have these figures in front of me, the more I like them. Even the armour tech guys.

  2. Aliens came back in 2000, remember ('95 prototype Manimals), and they flopped. But now? Yeah, we'd be much more accepting, I think.