Tuesday, November 29, 2016

1991 Red Star

Back in October of 2000, I first reviewed the 1991 Red Star figure.  He was one of my great finds when I started buying '90's Joes and was a figure I immediately appreciated.  The high quality sculpt, excellent accessories and character obscurity all added up to a figure that was new and exciting to me.  As the years wore on, though, the figure fell to the wayside.  There was so much that was new to my collection from both retail Joes and back-filling my vintage collection that early finds like Red Star would be pushed aside as something even newer arrived in my mailbox.  The mid 2000's also saw many reuses of the parts that comprised Red Star, rendering him less relevant.  But, nearly 20 years after I first acquired this figure, I've once again come to appreciate the gem that Hasbro gave collectors in 1991.

In 1982, Larry Hama introduced the Oktober Guard in Issue #6 of the G.I. Joe comic.  This 5 member team was Russia's answer to G.I. Joe.  The cavalcade of interesting characters he created quickly found popularity among the comic readers.  Over the years, the Oktober Guard would return several times.  Many letters pages of the comic would include inquiries regarding Oktober Guard toys.  But, the overtures were always met with negative answers.  In the early 1980's, it would have been a tough political sell for any American toy company to include Russians...especially if those Russians were ambiguous in their affiliation since they shared a common enemy with the titular heroes.  So, the lack of Oktober Guard toys was at least understandable.  As the U.S.S.R. crumbled in the late 1980's, though, such inclusions were less taboo.  Hasbro then introduced Red Star in 1991 and Big Bear in 1992 as the first retail members of the Oktober Guard.

Red Star was problematic.  Larry Hama had killed off most of the Oktober Guard in the comic in the late 1980's.  Red Star was an obvious doppelganger for the original Oktober Guard commander, Col. Brekhov.  But, with Brekhov dead, Red Star came to be.  In 1993, Hama would parody this when Red Star was introduced in issue #146 as part, of all things, a Star Brigade introduction story.  The Joes noticed Red Star's uncanny resemblance to Brekhov and it was a nice inside joke to those around who understood that Red Star was meant as Brekhov before the existing character's untimely demise.  It also cemented the link between Red Star and Brekhov that would be confirmed by toys a full five years later.

Red Star was one of the first carded figures I ever acquired.  I bought a lot of carded 1991 figures from a prominent Joe collector of the day who would go on to work for Hasbro.  Among them was Red Star.  At the time, it was tough to find 1991 figures in any form.  A few characters, though, were more available than others.  Red Star, the Snow Serpent and the BAT were among the most common 1991 figures to find and they were readily available, especially carded.  Others, like the Crimson Guard Immortal and Desert Scorpion were substantially tougher to find.  It seems the figures that included spring loaded weapons either saw carry over into 1992 or simply had higher production numbers than the figures that did not include this new invention.  The upside was that you could get Red Star figures without too much difficulty.  The downside was seeing all the cool figures on the back of the package that were a lot harder to find back then.

Red Star has a lot going on.  1991 fell into the sweet spot for the Joe line.  The budget was still high and there was a lot that could be done with the toys.  Red Star took full advantage of that.  As a mold, the figure is well done.  He has the bulk and detail that defined the later Joes.  The dark tan base is an excellent foundation and the green web gear is nicely offset by blue and red details.  The highlight, of course, is the blue and white striped undershirt.  It defines Red Star as a Russian and is a fun little detail.  His gear continues in this vein.

The updated AK-47 is one of the highlights of the vintage line.  We were fortunate to see it released dozens of times in the 2000's as it was very difficult weapon to acquire prior to those re-issues.  But, the rest of Red Star's gear is more of a marvel.  His backpack is well detailed.  It features a softer plastic antenna (which is nice as you don't find bent and stress marked Red Star antennae like you see with that from the 1987 Falcon) and a holster for a knife.  It allows for self containment in the pack and gives Red Star much more diversity.  As if this weren't enough, Red Star also includes a 4 piece mini gun rig.  There are two barrels that plug into a base.  The base then attaches to the backpack via an ammo belt.  It's somewhat overkill.  But, it's a great inclusion with the figure and makes him that much more dangerous.  As a 1991 release, Red Star includes the first wave of spring loaded launchers.  However, the 1991 designs at least tried to be useful and Red Star's at least resembles an RPG.

For me, Red Star's role has changed from time to time.  He was, basically, a Col. Brekhov stand in until an actual Brekhov was released.  He was a nameless Russian for a while (especially when I had several of him) who would harass Cobra across Europe.  I never really developed Red Star as a character.  The idea of a post Glasnost Joe collaborator was very appealing.  As world politics have played out in the past 25 years, Red Star's position as an ally to American military aims becomes more complex.  In that regard, I think the character has value.  Is he someone who has a world view of eradicating groups like Cobra?  Or, is he simply pursuing that goal as it currently aligns with Russian military goals?  Can he be trusted and what can he be trusted with?  I think these types of interplays make Red Star more valuable as a Joe character.  But, having a solid figure certainly helps.

Red Star only appeared as this figure.  (There is a packaging variant where the cardback is a Cobra red or G.I. Joe blue.  The Cobra card is harder to find.  But, the figure is the same.)  However, the mold was used many other times.  It most famously returned in 1998 as the Col. Brekhov figure.  The paint job is neither better nor worse than Red Star, but he also has the full complement of gear.  The 1998 figure would be the last time that all of Red Star's accessories would appear.  In 2005, Hasbro used the body many times over in the Oktober Guard comic packs.  The new Col. Brekhov head has more character than Red Star.  But, also is missing the removable hat and proper scaling that we came to expect in the vintage line.  Red Star got somewhat cliched by the mold's overuse.  But, there is still potential there.  One of the great customs of the early 2000's used Red Star's body and an Ice Viper head to make an updated Cobra Trooper.  The G.I. Joe club borrowed this idea for the 2010 Red Shadow figure that makes great use of Red Star's body.

Red Star figures are not expensive.  While dealer pricing tends to run around $11, loose mint and complete versions can be found for around $7 with a little digging.  You can still get carded versions for around $15, too.  The character's large amount of small, easily lost accessories are offset by his high production numbers, later release date and general collector disinterest in his existence.  The upside is that you can find the figure with relative ease and even buying both of his accessory variants (he has a lighter and darker brown backpack) won't break the bank.

Red Star is definitely a figure worth owning.  He's a better version of Col. Brekhov than any of the Brekhov figures actually released.  But, keeping him as his own character works for Red Star, too.  He's kind of a blank slate and has the quality of design and gear that lends itself to many uses.  As such, there's no reason he shouldn't be part of any collection.  He is definitely a figure I appreciate and have found to stand the test of time against some of the poor and redundant 2000's era of Joe releases.  You can see that the figure was an Oktober Guard stand in.  But, that's OK.  When the design's as strong as you see on Red Star, the fact that he represents something we didn't get is not really a problem.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Diorama - The Mountain

One cold morning, when I let the dogs out, I noticed that the outside of my stone chimney had these icicles running down it.  I went inside and grapped Alpine for a quick shoot among them.  The cement and mortar kind of ruins the effect.  The location looked a lot cooler until I had to zoom in for the details.  Still, a fun reminder of the time I spent in a place where you actually could see icicles.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

1983 Steeler - Around the Web

Steeler was the only member of the original 13 Joes that I did not have as a kid.  I finally got one in 1988, just as my Joe days were ending.  As a figure, though, Steeler is noteworthy for both his original gear and his distinct sculpt.  The character was not revisited until the 2000's, though, he was available via mail away for many years through the '90's.  Here's the best of his content around the web.

1983 Steeler profile

1983 Steeler at JoeADay.com

PreProduction Steeler at YoJoe.com

Steeler at JoeDios.com 1

Steeler at JoeDios.com 2

Steeler at JoeDios.com 3

Steeler at JoeDios.com 4

Steeler at JoeDios.com 5

Steeler at JoeDios.com 6

Steeler Video Review

1983 Steeler, 1985 Mauler, Short Fuse, Mortar Trooper, Short Fuze

1983 Steeler, Rock and Roll, 1984 VAMP Mark II

1983 Steeler, Tank Commander, Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Black Major, Urban Cammo, Stalker, Snake Eyes, G.I. Joe HQ, Headquarters, Palitoy, action Force, European Exclusive

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

1993 Cobra Commander

In my many travels searching out the last retail remnants of the Joe line in the mid 1990's, there are a few figures that I never found.  This Cobra Commander was one of them.  It created the odd obsession where you just know that the figures you can't find are so much better than the ones you can.  To this day, I give a disproportionate amount of credit to figures that I didn't find at retail over ones that I did, even when the evidence of which figure is better is overwhelming.  In the case of this Cobra Commander, though, the figure is excellent.  The sculpting, colors and details are all in line with the character and fit with the notion of what Cobra Commander is supposed to look like.  Hasbro dropped a gem into the 1993 line with this figure and he is a release who really holds up well today.

The greatest complaint about this Cobra Commander mold is the bulk.  Most collectors have a view of Cobra Commander as a small, wispy man who isn't big on muscles.  This version is heftier than many collectors like.  I look at it two ways.  First, it was made in 1992 when the Joe line was getting a bit beefier.  If you stand this figure next to the 1992 Destro, 2001 Major Bludd and 1986 Viper, you have a solid Cobra Command and army that all fit with each other.  The other way to look at it was that in the very late issues of the comic, it was revealed that Cobra Commander wore a robotic suit under his uniform to both protect him and enhance his physical abilities.  This bulkier physique is explained by the armor beneath it.  In that regard, it works for me.  Plus, I like having a classic look commander that fits with the later figures from the Joe line.

For me, this look is about perfect.  The figure's hooded head isn't quite as elegant as it was drawn in the comics.  But, seeing the 2004 attempt to recreate the longer hood gives the actually released head much more value.  This Commander is regal with the arm tassels, formal tunic and bandolier.  But, the molded knife and pistol also denote that this Commander is dangerous and not to be trifled with.  I've never been a fan of the flat back.  As such, this figure's proper design elevates far above the other releases of this basic mold.  The black color is fitting with Cobra and matches with the classic blue.  The figure's furled brow and angry eyes showcase far more character than you usually saw on G.I. Joe toys.  (But, it was also a sign of the times as '90's action figures ushered in a wave of facial expression, though often to the detriment of the overall toy design.)  There's just enough color to keep the figure from a dual chromatic limitation with the red Cobra logo and belt buckle.  In this case, the simplicity works and you get an elegant, yet dangerous Cobra Commander.

For me, this figure was a unicorn.  It enticed me from the cardbacks of all the 1993 figures I was able to find at retail.  But, Cobras were popular even back in the 1990's.  This Cobra Commander, the Alley Viper and the Flak Viper were three figures that I simply never found.  (Oddly, I found multiple Crimson Guard Commanders.  Why them over the orange Flak Viper?)  So, the figure remained elusive.  Around 1999 or 2000, I picked up a carded version of this figure in a random lot.  I planned to open it. But, it was so nice of a card that I hesitated.  Before I came to a final decision to open the carded figure or not, however, I acquired a large lot of 1992 and 1993 figures that included a loose version of the figure.  (Back in that time, it was fairly difficult to find loose figures from any year after 1990.)  It wasn't mint.  But, it was good enough to keep me from opening the carded sample.  From that day on, the 1993 has been my default Commander version.

Hasbro used this mold to death.  After it's introduction in 1992 in the Super Sonic Fighters line, the figure's flat back was discarded and remade in regular style for this 1993 version.  (Overstock 1993 Cobra Commander figures were available from kid's pizza chains in the 1990's, too.)  In 2000, the mold appeared again, this time in a deep Cobra blue.  However, the 1993 back was gone: replaced by the awful flat back from the original figure.  This same construction continued.  Master Collector released a lighter blue with red highlights version of the figure as a convention exclusive in 2003.  They offset the flat back by including a cape.  This is a very well done figure and a worthy successor to the 1993.  In 2004, Hasbro sculpted a new, hooded head and put the figure into the first comic pack.  The head is interesting.  But, nothing great as it doesn't fit the body quite right.  The flat back and bright yellow color leaves the figure as less than stellar.  In 2005, the new head and flat back body appeared in copper in the Imperial Processional pack.  It's final appearance was as a translucent Cobra Commander that was released in a comic pack in 2006.  Why Hasbro didn't just sculpt a battle helmet head is beyond me.  They could have released that in the comic pack and collectors would have gotten something they didn't have.  But, it never happened.  While this mold got a lot of uses, only two are decent, with this 1993 being the cream of the crop.

When taken in context of 1993, Cobra Commander's accessories were not too bad.  They were silver, which matched the figure and was realistic enough for the time.  The actual assortment of weapons, though, wasn't great.  The Rock Viper, Toxo Viper, Incinerator and Voltar rifles don't really fit with Cobra Commander.  His missile launcher is massive, but also a complementary red.  The odd point is that on his card art, Cobra Commander is seen swinging in on a rope.  Usually, if such a detail was included in the artwork, the figure would then include a rope as well.  Cobra Commander did not.  It may have been artistic license for the artwork.  The Commander on a rope is a bit out of character.  But, it's also possible that it was a planned piece of gear for this version that was scrapped too late in the process to update the artwork.  Personally, I've always outfitted this figure with a Track Viper/Nitro Viper pistol.  It is reminiscent of the original laser pistol from the 1983 figure, cast in black and not overly hard to find.  To me, it better fits this figure than his included gear.

It should be noted that Funskool produced an inarticulate figure based on the 2000 use of this mold for the premium figures that were available with Pepsodent toothpaste in India.  Several cheap toy makers in Asia then acquired this mold and produced figures in various knock off packs throughout the early 2000's.  In the early 2010's, a large portion of knock off figures based on 1993 Joes appeared on the market.  They had remade G.I. Joe cards and artwork, but were not Hasbro properties.  This Cobra Commander mold was among the figures made.  (It's likely they were made by recreating 1993 molds rather than using the Hasbro molds themselves.)  The paint jobs are horrible and the quality is too awful to describe.  The Cobra Commander is interesting in that he has silver highlights on his hands and facemask.  It's a different look for him, though it is obviously based on his Hasbro design.  These bootlegs offer collectors something else to look for that is based on this mold.  And, in the case of the silver faced knock off, a pretty interesting update that is worth adding to any collection.

This figure is stupidly cheap.  It seems that all the figures that were quickly snatched up off of retail shelves in 1993 were bought by dealers and collectors who hoarded them away for 20 years.  You can buy this figure carded for about $10.  Loose, mint and complete, he sells for half that.  There's really no reason to not own one at that price.  The figure is very well done, has acceptable accessories and is true to the Cobra Commander character.  He is everything you want out of a later done remake of a popular character.  I wish I had been able to find him at retail in 1995.  But, I had one within a few years and continue to enjoy the figure today.  In my opinion, he is one of the highlights of the 1990's as a whole.  If you don't own one, go buy him right now.

1993 Cobra Commander, Battle Corps, Detonator, Crimson Guard Commander

1993 Cobra Commander, Battle Corps, 1994, Major Bludd, Beach Head, Detonator

Saturday, November 19, 2016

1994 Alley Viper - Around the Web

I never found the 1994 Alley Viper at retail.  By the time I was combing the scraps of the Joe line in 1995 and 1996, Cobra army builders were long gone.  But, this figure is a great homage to the original and a very nice update.  There is a variant where one has little stripes on his legs and the other does not.  As this guy is somewhat tough to find in any form these days, getting both variants can take a bit of work.  There's not much content on this guy out there, but here's what I could find around the web:

1994 Alley Viper Profile

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Diorama - Joe Base

In 2000, shortly after I got my first digital camera, I took a photo set of some of my favorite Joes in the HQ.  The centerpiece was my Tiger Force Outback figure.  I liked how it turned out and tried to replicate it 2001.  This time, the showcase figures were the Chinese Flint, the Tiger Force Psyche Out and the Action Force Blades figure.

I didn't like this set as much as the first.  But, the HQ is a constant setting for photos.  The open spaces and play features make it a strong backdrop for dioramas.  You'll see Gung Ho and Big Bear sparring in the corner, too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

1983 Hiss Tank

The Joe line has many icons. They are images of characters or vehicles that simply transcend the line and all subsequent versions of specific items must be derivative of those original incarnations. Items like the VAMP, Skystriker or even Snake Eyes wearing black are ingrained notions of the line that can not deviate too far from their original design. One such icon for Cobra is the classic Hiss Tank from 1983. Sleek, simple and, yet, so well done, the Hiss Tank personifies Cobra's military might. All subsequent takes on the Hiss have had to live up to the lofty standard of the original.

In August of 1983, my brother's best friend who lived around the block from us had a birthday. For this birthday, he received most of the 1983 Joe line. Aside from the awesome Joe figures from that year, he got the full gamut of Cobras. Destro, Major Bludd and the FANG were great starters, but he also got the first Hiss Tank I had seen. The tank was perfect for kids of the day. It held 4 figures, could move fast and was armed to the teeth. It was the ideal weapon for Cobra and was something for which the Joes had no real answer since there was only one MOBAT in the neighborhood and no one ever wanted to play with it.  A few weeks later, I recall zooming his Hiss down the sidewalk as we waited for the first G.I. Joe cartoon to air.  That's one of the driving forces behind the early memories of the tank.  Oddly, I recall the Hiss Tank and the adventure outside leading up to the cartoon moreso than I remember the cartoon itself.  That Christmas, my brothers and I got most of the rest of the G.I. Joe line, too.  While we shared the HQ and my younger brother got the Battle Bear, I got an APC and the Hiss Tank.  Immediately, the Hiss was opened and my Cobra forces now stood on far more equal ground with the Joes.

The greatness of early Cobra was the uniformity.  The Cobra Trooper and Officer were blue.  (Along with the Viper Glider and Viper Pilot.)  Cobra Commander was a lighter shade of blue.  Destro was black with red highlights.  Major Bludd was black with brown.  The Hiss Driver was red.  The FANG and the Hiss tank were red and black and black, respectively.  Sure, you had the white SNAKE armor.  But, even that was standardized as a Cobra color in 1984 with advent of the CLAW.  Cobra moved away from some of the standardization as the line progressed.  But, that early core cemented the idea of Cobra to me.  They were the blue and black brigade: fearsome terrorists (usually heavily Russian in the early '80's) who were willing and able to destroy the American way of life.  The Hiss Tank gave them power.  No longer were they some guys with Warsaw Pact small arms trying to infiltrate a town.  Now, they could roll their armor against any American city and impose their will while the populace waited for the military to arrive and turn their town into a ravaged war zone.

My favorite quality of the Hiss Tank is the durability.  The Hiss is sturdy.  As such, my original Hiss survived in pretty good shape while most of the vehicles which we acquired at the same time suffered damage and wear.  With few moving parts and a generally strong design, the Hiss withstood the constant play a 10 year old could put on his favorite toy.  That strength, though, is also a likely reason why vintage Hiss Tanks are cheap today.  On the surface, it is the most popular Cobra vehicle and is army built heavily.  Yet, they remain relatively cheap.  The surface reason is that Hasbro sold a LOT of Hiss Tanks in the early 1980's and then the tank had a very long life as a mail away as well.  However, I think the fact that good conditioned Hisses were common survivors of childhood collections meant that fewer found the trash can back in their release window.  Broken toys were thrown away in my home and many of friends faced the same policies.  If the Hiss didn't break, it was more likely to survive and be available for the adult market.

In my childhood collection, I had three Hiss Tanks: two black versions and the Sears SMS.  This convoy formed the backbone of my Cobra army for years and years.  For a time, the Hisses were replaced by STUNs.  But, I was always brought back to the Hiss because I had so few Cobra vehicles in general.  But, as a vehicle, the Hiss was pretty much perfect.  The cannons were large enough to plausibly destroy smaller Joe vehicles and do damage to the perimeter defenses around Joe bases.  But, they were also small enough to be used for anti-infantry purposes.  They could elevate to shoot down aircraft and the gunner was, relatively, protected for a Cobra vehicle.  The Driver was exposed.  But, the sloping bulletproof canopy was uses as a shield that could deflect most small arms fire away from the cockpit.  The Hiss was large enough to hold four figures (though, at some point, almost every Hiss that saw extensive play suffered a broken foot peg on the rear figure stand) while small enough to be easy to transport and play with.  Like the VAMP, the Hiss was pretty much an ideal toy for kids of the day.

The detail on the tank, though, is what elevates even beyond the basic construction quality.  While the pins that hold the guns into position are often broken, the rest of the tank had little in the way of moving parts.  While it would have been cool to have moving treads, the wheels hidden beneath the tank worked perfectly well and left the rolling tracks to be part of your imagination.  The cockpit is well detailed with controls and buttons that make it appear high tech.  The sides of tank features molded rivet marks to show where the steel is fastened together.  It's a cool little detail that brings more depth to the tank's appearance (which is important due to the overall black color) and adds an element of design that was missing on most, cheaper toys of the day.  Two figures could ride on the back of the tank.  The platform is large enough to be useful and pose figures less awkwardly than most of the later vehicles which incorporated the same feature.  The gun turret is nicely detailed and there is a sticker to show the gun controls.  The canopy fits tightly over the cockpit and is easily held in place.  The entire package is a marvel of toy engineering and holds up remarkably well more than 30 years later.

The Hiss Tank was a staple of international release.  Hasbro repainted the Hiss for the Sears exclusive SMS in 1985.  But, the tank was also released in Brazil, Argentina, Europe and Japan.  Palitoy released an exclusive coloring of the mold called the Hyena and released it with Red Jackal.  In 1991, the canopy was retooled for the Septic Tank.  Hasbro retained the mold in modern times and released a Toys R Us exclusive version in early 2001, a convention exclusive tank in 2002 and then a KB exclusive crimson version in late 2004.  Oddly, though, Hasbro would not revisit the mold again.  In the modern line, remakes of the Hiss have been rather ubiquitous, but they have gotten some really nice repaints that are sadly missing from the vintage line.  Hiss collectors will keep themselves occupied for a long time tracking down all the international and packaging variants.  (There are sticker variants as well between the retail release and mail away versions.)  But, the general look of the Hiss was kept consistent and there are really only three materially different color schemes: black, red and the 2001 purplish-blue.

Hiss Tanks are not expensive.  Nicely conditioned tanks, with the blueprints run under $25.  Just the tank alone runs between $15 and $20, usually depending on the condition of the gun mounts or stickers.  For a vehicle that is as popular as it is and as important as it is to the Cobra army, that is a pittance and there's no reason why any army building collector doesn't have a convoy of Hiss Tanks to transport his troops.  But, collectors are fortunate that such an iconic and important piece of Cobra equipment is also so ubiquitous.  There's no excuse for anyone to not have a Hiss convoy as large as they want except for sheer indifference to the toy's availability.  If only we'd gotten a couple of more repaints in the 2000's.  But, when the original is as perfect as the Hiss, it's hard to not just be grateful for what it is.  33 years later, this vehicle still remains the backbone of my Cobra vehicle motor pool.  I'm not alone in that which is a testament to the incredible quality of this toy.

1983 Hiss Tank, Cobra Trooper, 1984 Stinger Driver, 1989 Python Trooper, Officer, MMS, Stormshadow, Black Major, Red Laser, Bootleg

1983 Hiss Tank, Cobra Trooper, 1984 Stinger Driver, 1989 Python Trooper, Officer

1983, 1984, Destro, Baroness, Hiss Tank, Baroness, Firefly, Scrap Iron, Cobra Trooper, Hiss Driver, Cobra Officer, Viper Pilot, Stormshadow

Saturday, November 12, 2016

1984 Scrap Iron - Around the Web

Scrap Iron was originally planned to be Alpine.  You can see the pitons still on his leg.  But, he became a classic Cobra and the rest is history.  Here's the best on the web of him.

Scrap Iron Profile

Scrap Iron at JoeDios.com

OG13 Review of Scrap Iron

Scrap Iron at JoeADay.com

Scrap 1984 Toy Commercial

Scrap Iron Video Review

Scrap Iron at 3DJoes.com

1984, Scrap Iron, Firefly, Destro, 1982, 1983, MMS

Thursday, November 10, 2016

1991 Sci Fi

I started reviewing G.I. Joe figures in 1999.  These days, pretty much every collector that's still around is at least familiar with all the figures released in the vintage Joe line.  In 1999, though, that was not the case.  The vast majority of collectors stopped collecting at 1987 and had little desire to learn anything about the figures released after that year.  If you wanted to buy Joes made in 1987 or earlier, they were plentiful.  You could find a good deal of 1988 and 1989 collections online from students who were selling off their childhood toys for beer money.  But, anything made after 1989 was actually pretty hard to find.  It wasn't uncommon to go weeks without seeing any 1990 or later figures offered for sale.  Individual figures were nearly impossible to find unless you bought a large lot.  But, since these lots often sold for under $2 per mint, complete with filecard figure, it wasn't a huge burden to pick up the extras for the sake of the figure you did want.

My childhood was immersed in pre 1988 Joes.  A decade later, I could still fully equip the entire line from memory.  I had a passing knowledge of 1988 and 1989 figures as I was still dedicated to the comic and my younger brothers bought enough items that I owned cardbacks and catalogs.  After 1989, though, my only real resource regarding Joes were the fleeting memories of a kid down the street who had some figures that I had seen when I babysat him and his little brother.  From here, I recalled Big Ben and Metal Head.  But, I couldn't have told you if they were released in 1990 or 1991.  So, when I returned to Joe collecting, my primary focus was to acquire later edition figures that I had not owned as a child.  (I still had pretty much all my childhood figures and, while they weren't mint or complete in many cases, I considered them good enough at the time to satisfy my collecting goals.)  In short order, I acquired most of the 1990 through 1992 line.  As I did so, I discovered the quality of these figures was easily up to par with that of the figures from the '80's.  While most collectors at the time would not have entertained the thought of these figures supplanting the vaunted 1985 and 1986 series, I found that there were hidden gems among these years.

In my zeal to overshare everything, I started a website to showcase these figures.  17 years ago today, that site went live with the review of a 1990 Decimator.  The purpose was to tell the story of later figures and "prove" there was life in the tail end of the Joe line.  7 of the first 10 profiles I did were of figures made in the 1990s.  While I did showcase a large volume of '80's figures, too, the first year of the site was heavy on figures from 1990 through 1993.  I doubt this had little impact.  It was only as more collectors whose childhoods occurred in the 1990's came of age and the older collectors ran out of pre-1988 figures to buy that interest in the line's later years began to flicker.  Now, most collectors can find favorites in any year and the real dichotomy remains between the construction styles rather than the release years.

Among the figures I acquired in one of those early lots was the 1991 Sci Fi figure.  In my amazement at the Crimson Guard Immortal, Desert Scorpion, Topside and Salvo, this figure slipped through the cracks and fell into obscurity.  If you peruse the thousands of photos on this site, you will see the figure very rarely appears.  But, if I opened the 1991 figure drawer looking for a photography subject, there were so many great figures from which to choose that I would overlook Sci Fi.  Plus, I really liked the 1986 version and that was my default if I wanted the character.  But, like many 1991 figures, Sci Fi is a solid figure worthy of a second look.

The original Sci Fi figure did not have a removable helmet and was rather bulky and bright.  The 1991 version solved those issues and gave collectors a drastically different view of the character.  Sci Fi's head was fully visible and his helmet was now removable.  The helmet still features the open face of the original figure.  But, does have goggles and what appears to be some mouth protection.  The base uniform is grey with black details.  Just so you remember that this is a 1991 release, though, Sci Fi also feaures bright yellow gloves and stripes.  He's more muted than the 1986 figure, but still has some color to him that showcase his release year.

The mold isn't overly detailed, though the head sculpt is quite good.  The figure pretty much has a vest and wrist gauntlets.  That's it.  Sans helmet, Sci Fi isn't much to review.  With the helmet and his full complement of gear, there is a lot more there.  But, Sci Fi is definitely an example of capable minimalism.  He works despite his simplicity.  The basic colors work well together and the splash of color gives him depth.  There's just enough here to create a nice toy without overdoing it.

Hasbro's dedication to accessories started with a few, sporadic 1987 figures.  You saw it again in 1988.  But, it expanded in 1989 and, by 1990, figures were laden with gear.  Sci Fi is no exception.  He includes a removable helmet, backpack, laser rifle and two hoses.  If this isn't enough, there is also a spring loaded missile launcher and a yellow missile.  The silver pack and gun add to the futuristic nature of Sci Fi's specialty.  But, the rifle later appeared as a stand alone item in so many multi colored weapon trees in 1993 and 1994 that it's uniqueness was lost.  The missile launchers of 1991 were designed to be more realistic and less intrusive that those that would come later.  So, the launcher plugs into a hose and generally fits the look and scale of the figure.  Overall, the gear enhances Sci Fi's look and makes him much stronger as a release.

For me, this Sci Fi is one of those background figures that you need to make the line work.  He's not going to be anyone's favorite.  The lime green original took chances and created a figure that you either love or hate.  This version inspires neither such emotion.  It is one of the multitudes of figures that simply are.  They are great to have around in dios or manning vehicles.  And, you need them for that.  But, he's not a figure that you notice or go out of your way to include in a collection.  But, that's ok.  The Joe line's strength was the army of figures and characters who filled in behind the main players.  You had a figure for every occasion.  That's what lead so many kids to buy them all.  You may not have wanted this Sci Fi.  But, you probably wanted a laser trooper.  So, when you saw this guy, you'd, eventually, buy him.

Hasbro seemed to have a reluctance to redo some of the original 13 Joes.  Stalker, Snake Eyes, Hawk, Rock and Roll and even Scarlett got multiple vintage versions.  Clutch, Grunt and Zap eventually saw new versions, too. Short Fuse, Breaker, Grand Slam, Steeler and Flash did not.  (OK, Grand Slam got a repaint, but that's not really a new version.)  Why these four characters were ignored while others were not is a mystery.  Maybe the designers didn't like them.  Maybe they just liked the replacement characters better.  This Sci Fi could easily have been Flash.  But, the same could be said for the V1 of the character, too.  My affinity for Flash was his original outfit being so different from the other, carded figures'.  So, I don't mind this being Sci Fi over Flash, even if Sci Fi is a bit more obscure.

This Sci Fi was only made by Hasbro.  He was released in the U.S., Europe and various Asian countries.  The figures are no different, but the packaging can be quite fun to track down.  In 1993, Hasbro repainted the mold in white and included him as the pilot of the Starfighter.  This is a nice remake of Sci Fi and is also worth owning.  The figure then disappeared until 2001.  Hasbro resurrected the body and added a new, Cobra head and released the figure as the now unappreciated Laser Viper.  That marked the end of the mold.  Sci Fi would have been a nice member of the Anti Venom set and it's hard to understand how Hasbro could remake the same mold over and over while neglecting an easy repaint that was right before their eyes.  This body painted like the V1 would have been a hit in the 2000's.  But, like so much in that time period, it was simply not meant to be.

Sci Fi figures are not expensive.  You can get a carded version for around $20.  Mint, loose and complete with filecard figures usually run around $7, with some going cheaper if you skip the filecard or one of the easily replaced hoses.  Dealer pricing runs around $11.  But, the figure isn't overly difficult to find and appears with enough frequency that the extra price for expediency isn't really worth it.  The figure is a good addition to a collection, though.  He's the least gaudy of the vintage laser troopers and his gear is solid.  The removable helmet is a nice touch and adds some depth to the figure.  He's one of those guys that is great to have, but you don't miss him if he's absent

1991 Sci Fi, Laser Trooper, 1993 Payload, Star Brigade

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

1984 Thunder - Around the Web

Thunder's a high quality figure from the line's early years.  He would have made a great repaint of a Cobra Driver in the 2000's.  But, Hasbro wasn't keen on thinking like that.  But, we got two good uses of the mold and a classic vehicle driver that's at home in any piece of Joe armor.  Here's the best of Thunder from around the web.

Thunder Profile

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Diorama - Hiss Attack

In the fall of 2002, I came home every day at lunch to let my dogs out since I didn't have a doggy door.  One mild fall day, I came home in a gentle rainstorm.  I saw the lighting in the yard was good and that the rain was bringing out the green that was left in the leaves.  I got out some recent figures and vehicles and took some pics.

The scene is heavy on 2002 figure releases since they were new at the time and still somewhat exciting.  The Night Rhino was one of my de facto Joe vehicles of the time and has remained so ever since.  My favorite part was getting the Convention Paratrooper Dusty out and into action.

The scene is quaint today.  But, it was a lot of fun at the time and reminds of the lusher locations I used to have available for dios.

2002 Wave V Shock Viper, Night Rhino, Mirage, Viper, Dusty, Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, Hiss Tank, 1983, 2000, 1993 Outback

2002 Wave V Shock Viper, Night Rhino, Mirage, Viper, Dusty, Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, Hiss Tank, 1983, 2000, 1993 Outback

2002 Wave V Shock Viper, Night Rhino, Mirage, Viper, Dusty, Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, Hiss Tank, 1983, 2000, 1993 Outback

2002 Wave V Shock Viper, Night Rhino, Mirage, Viper, Dusty, Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, Hiss Tank, 1983, 2000, 1993 Outback

2002 Wave V Shock Viper, Night Rhino, Mirage, Viper, Dusty, Convention Exclusive Paratrooper Dusty, Hiss Tank, 1983, 2000, 1993 Outback

Saturday, November 5, 2016

1984 Blowtorch - Around the Web

Blowtorch is one of the classic Joes that everyone knows, owns and kind of forgets.  I think he's a great fig in general and have lots of fond memories of him from childhood.  Here's some of the best Blowtorch content around the web.

Blowtorch Profile

Blowtorch Pre Production at YoJoe.com

Blowtorch 1984 Toy Commercial

Blowtorch Video Review

Blowtorch at JoeDios.com

1984 Blowtorch

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Mutt - Where In The World

The Mutt mold's history is extremely interesting to me.  First, it's one of my favorite vintage molds.  I like both the character and the figure.  Secondly, Mutt had a major alteration done to his mold in Brazil that allows us to confirm that the same mold moved around quite a bit and there were not multiple instances of the mold.  As a figure, Mutt was produced by Hasbro, Estrela, Auriken and then Hasbro again.  In 2004, Hasbro resculpted Mutt for a retail release.  But, this just adds complication to the story.  So, we'll start at the beginning.

In 1984, Hasbro released the Mutt figure.  He was part of the first lineup that really benefited from the line's success.  The 1984 series showcased more in depth sculpting, especially on the figures' heads.  The real hallmark, though, was the bounty of accessories that the 1984 series offered.  Mutt was one of the greats: featuring a silenced pistol, nightstick, helmet, face muzzle, a dog leash and his signature, the dog Junkyard.

1984 Mutt, Dog Handler
1984 Hasbro Mutt
The character was featured in both the cartoon and the comic.  While Mutt never achieved major character status, he was a secondary player who was able to garner a bit of popularity.  Among my peers, Mutt was well liked, mostly due to the inclusion of his dog, Junkyard.  That feature upped his popularity, even if he didn't have as much media exposure as Duke or Roadblock.

After Mutt was discontinued at retail in 1985, the mold was sent to Brazil.  This is where Mutt's history gets a little odd.  Estrela toys released the figure as Mastim around 1986 or so.  However, they modified the mold.  For some reason, they removed the insignia on Mutt's chest.  This seems a random and unnecessary change.  The insignia was part of the chest mold and didn't have any paint masks.  Ostensibly, there was no reason to remove it.  Anecdotally, I've hear from a Brazilian collector that the patch was somewhat reminiscent of symbols worn by Brazil's dictatorship government and it may have been removed to avoid any associated with them.  It makes for an interesting story.  But, one that's completely impossible to verify and should be taken for what it is: speculation.  Aside from the patch, Mutt's colors are generally darker than the American figure's and he has a darker skin tone.  The figure also features an accessory change as he now includes a black 1982 style helmet rather than the American helmet with the molded goggles.

Estrela, Brazil, Mastim, Mutt, 1984, Dog Handler
Mastim - Brazil Mutt Release
After Estrela released the mold, Mutt surfaced for a brief time in Mexico where Auriken released the figure using the Estrela mold.  (Estrela licensed the molds they had to Auriken which is why the Mexican figures so resemble the Brazilian lineup in terms of characters.)  The Mexican figures didn't deviate too much from their American designs.  Mutt has some slight color differences, but we'll look at those more later.

Auriken Mutt, Mexico, Mexican Exclusive, Steel Brigade Mail Away, Action Force Stalker, Snake Eyes, European Exclusive, Palitoy, 1984 Thunder, Black Major Bootleg Urban Cammo Cobra Trooper
Auriken Mutt - Mexican Release
In 1989, Estrela released the Mutt mold again.  This time, the figure was repainted and was released in the United States.  This new Mutt was known to American collectors as the Slaughter's Marauders Mutt.

1989 Slaughters Marauders Mutt, Estrela, Brazil
1989 Slaughters Marauders Mutt
Around 1991, Hasbro got the Mutt mold back from Estrela.  It appears that they reclaimed several molds at the time.  It's not really apparent as to why.  However, it may be that there was a mold exchange and Hasbro sent large volumes of newer molds to Estrela in exchange for getting older ones back.  We don't really know the details of Hasbro's international mold sharing agreements and they are one of the few remaining, truly unexplored facets of the vintage Joe line.

With the Mutt mold in hand, Hasbro produced an exclusive version that was only released in Europe.  This Irish character was not Stanley Perlmutter, but an Scotsman named Andrew Macenzie and featured a flock of orange hair.  It's noteworthy that the gun, Junkyard and nightstick released with this figure are actually dark grey.  It's hard to note the differences in photos and, can even be tricky in hand.  But, there is a difference in color to the Euro exclusive gear.  Also of note, Mutt's original helmet returned with the European release without explanation as to its absence.

European Exclusive Mutt, Dog Handler, Antorcha, Argentina, Plastirama, Blowtorch
European Exclusive Mutt

Below, you can see a visual comparison of all the worldwide Mutt releases.  (You can click on the image for larger versions that better show the detail.)

1984 Mutt, Dog Handler, Junkyard, Mastim, Estrela, Brazil, Auriken, Mexico, 1989 Slaughters Marauders Mutt, European Exclusive, Europe, Palitoy
Mutts From Around the World
The top row are the three Mutt releases based on the American color scheme.  The first is the Hasbro Mutt released in the US and Europe.  The second figure is the Brazilian Mastim figure.  You can see the vastly different skin tone.  Aside from this, the patch is removed.  The general color scheme features a brighter green body and darker brown vest.  The third figure is the Mexican release by the Auriken toy company.  The skin tone is pastier and the green body is darker, but the brown vest is brighter.  You will notice the patch is missing here, too.

Note the similarity in blue color between the Slaughter's Marauders figure and the European exclusive figure.  This may be just coincidence.  But, the Euro figure features an exclusive paint mask on the figure's chest knife, too.  The paint masks were similar to the vintage figure rather than similar to the Marauders figure.  This is also odd.  In 2003, Hasbro planned a series of Wal Mart exclusive figures.  Among them was the V1 Low Light.  That figure featured the same paint masks as the Slaughter's Marauders figure from 1989.  It's possible that this was just a function of the fact that the Marauders Low Light also has a European exclusive release.  But, it appears that paint masks may have become available and then unavailable at various points in the lives of molds.

Interestingly, in 1990, Spirit and Mutt were paired together by Larry Hama for a story line beginning in issue #100 of the Marvel comics series.  It was an odd pairing at the time as the characters had never really interacted much.  It might have been a way for Hasbro to get the characters into some media after their 1989 Slaughter's Marauders release.  But, then, you would have expected some of the other members to reappear, too.  Or, at least for the characters to appear in their Marauders uniforms.  It may have been that Hasbro planned for the two exclusive repaints of these characters to have a worldwide release.  But, they couldn't find a slot for them in the American line and they became European exclusives instead.

In 2004, Hasbro decided that Mutt would make a return to retail.  However, instead of finding the old mold, Hasbro resculpted the character's head and chest.  On this resculpt, the chest insignia returns.  The mold was just used one time for the Anti Venom Mutt.  But, there are also two unreleased variants of the figure.

Unproduced Anti Venom Mutt, Midnight Chinese, Alternate Oktober Guard Daina, Bootleg Cobra Desert Trooper, Black Major
Unproduced Anti Venom Mutt - Light Blue
Hasbro's decision to recast the mold is odd in light of the fact that the Low Light mold was in Hasbro's possession.  Of the Slaughter's Marauders molds, BBQ and Sgt. Slaughter ended up in India.  Footloose has never appeared again.  Three figures, Spirit, Mutt and Low Light, though, were released in Europe.  Hasbro still had the Low Light mold.  It would stand to reason that they still had Mutt and Spirit, too.  So, why did they recast?  Maybe it was cheaper than searching for the original mold.  Maybe the original wasn't usable, but was useful enough to get a cheap recast.  Maybe Hasbro was just lazy.  Collectors would have loved a re-release of both Spirit and Mutt in the 2000's.  Both figures were popular and people would have bought them, especially with their original gear.

Junkyard also has variants unique to the various figure releases.  The 1984 Hasbro Junkyard features a brown belly paint mask that you can see below.  Both the Brazilian and Mexican Junkyards also have this paint mask.  The brown paint was removed for the 1989 Slaughter's Marauders release.  The European, grey, Junkyard also has no paint masks.  For the three that do have paint mask, telling them apart is very difficult.  The Mexican version appears to have a bit of  a shine to it.  But, that's a small sample size and could just be wear.  As the three Junkyards were made in different places, they should be different.  But, telling them apart is very difficult.

Junkyard, Mutt, 1984, Auriken, European Exclusive, Mexico, Mexican Exclusive, Slaughters Marauders, Esterla, Brazil, Mastim

The rest of Mutt's gear also has slight differences.  The Estrela and Auriken versions included a black 1982 helmet instead of Mutt's standard head gear.  The 1989 Slaughter's Marauders version also included this helmet.  The European Mutt brought the helmet back, though.  Mutt's muzzle has some differences, too.  The Estrela version I have is a more rigid plastic.  Again, though, small sample sizes may be at play.  The 1989 mask, though, is a much softer plastic.  I have found that this version tends to feel oily to the touch as the plastic isn't holding up as well as collectors would like.  Mutt's leash, Mac-11 and nightstick are tough to tell apart.  There are slight differences in the plastic composition.  But, they are tough to discern on such small pieces.  The biggest difference in the European Mutt that includes very dark grey versions of the helmet, gun and nightstick.  Again, the differences are difficult to see.  In hand, the comparison is easier to spot.  But, on a cursory glance, it's easy to confuse American Mutt accessories with the European gear and many "complete" European figures actually include American guns or nightsticks.

You can see some of the accessory differences in the photos below.

Junkyard, Mutt, 1984, Auriken, European Exclusive, Mexico, Mexican Exclusive, Slaughters Marauders, Esterla, Brazil, Mastim
Mutt Accessory Comparison
Junkyard, Mutt, 1984, Auriken, European Exclusive, Mexico, Mexican Exclusive, Slaughters Marauders, Esterla, Brazil, Mastim
Mutt Helmet Comparison

Mutt has 5 versions of the original figure for collectors to track down.  Three of them, though, are based on the American version.  There are three versions of the resculpted Mutt, too.  So, there's a lot out there for the Mutt collector.  But, there was a lot that could have been done with the mold.  If Hasbro had it, along with his original gear, he would have been great in Night Force, Tiger Force or even in an arctic theme.  But, that never happened.  So, we have what we have.  The Auriken and Estrela Mutt figures are not overly common.  But, they are not rare, either.  Finding them mint and complete can be a challenge, though.  The Euro Mutt is also tough to find.  But, again, he's not impossible.  And, prices on the Euro figures have fallen in the past 5 years or so.

The main Mutt mystery is why Estrela removed the chest patch.  But, the greater question is the ultimate Fate of Mutt.  Did he get shuffled off to India and is still rotting in a Funskool warehouse?  Or, did Hasbro have him and just fail to either realize that collectors would welcome him or understand that they had the mold at all?  Regardless, collectors got a decent run of Mutt figures from around the world.  There isn't a great deal of diversity in them, but he got more releases than many other figures.  An important part of my enjoyment of the Joe line comes from the international takes on the classic figures from my youth.  I get a chance to enjoy the figures again and get something a little different in my collection.  Hopefully, this piece gives collectors more information so they can make the best decisions for them when diving into foreign Joe collecting.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Cubs Win The World Series

In the fall of 1986, I watched my first World Series with my grandfather.  Despite being from Buffalo, he was a Red Sox fan and despised the Mets.  I followed and found myself enthralled with baseball for the first time in my life.  In game 6, I watched Dave Henderson hit the series winning home run in the top of the 10th inning.  If you know anything of baseball history, though, you know that some things happened in the bottom of the 10th and the Red Sox didn't win the World Series that year.

The following spring, my grandfather, again, got me into baseball when I came home after school to find him watching a Cubs game on WGN.  From there, I was a baseball fan.  That summer was spectacular for a Cubs fan...to a point.  Andre Dawson had, what appeared at the time, to have a great season, culminating in his winning the MVP award.  For the life of me, I still don't know how that Cubs team was so terrible.  There were three hall of famers on that team: Dawson, Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux.  In addition to them, there was Lee Smith and Rafael Palmeiro who are both Hall of Very Good players.  Rick Sutcliffe was the third most valuable pitcher in the Nation League.  Despite all that, the Cubs finished last.  But, I was hooked.