I've told the story of the my foray into the Hills store in Hamilton, Ohio as 1996 wound down before. Along with the Detonator that was left behind, there were some figures on the shelves. For the whopping price of 4.95, I could have bought several Talking Battle Commanders Stalker figures. Even after finding nothing in terms of Joe figures at retail for several months along with paying $5 for one of the new Star Wars figures I constantly sought, I simply could not get myself to buy one. The price was so high and there was nothing about the figure that called to me. Mind you, I had paid 3.33 for both the Battle Corps Muskrat and the Battle Corps Mace figure at a KMart in Bloomington, Indiana the December before. Those are terrible figures. But, that extra 1.62 was simply too much to overcome. I finally gave in, though, and grabbed one in my final stop before moving home.
There was really only one reason why I finally acquiesced and purchased this figure: his black weapons. Most of the Joes I had been buying as the line disappeared had neon weapons. So, finding some cool looking guns cast in black plastic was a bonus. As it was a Stalker figure, I was happy to get a new version of the character. Though, I had long ago found the excellent 1994 version and that figure far surpasses this look for Stalker. But, the main plan was to buy him for the guns, open him up and disperse the weapons to other figures I liked more.
But, as 1997 began, other priorities took over. I had just graduated from college. I got my first "real" job. And, to top it off, I planned to move to Arizona (a place I had yet to even visit!) that summer. Those things took precedence in my life and I sort of forgot about this Stalker. As the initial chaos of the early year began to subside, the 1997 Star Wars line began to hit in force. I spent my free time searching out Star Wars figures, playing rugby, visiting friends in Cincinnati, St. Louis and even Paducah, KY. In short, this Stalker was dropped into a dresser drawer and was left there. When I moved that August, Stalker was left behind as I put him out of mind. In 2001, I returned to Indiana for a time. I then re-discovered this figure. By that time, though, the need for black weapons had diminished and I kept the figure carded. This time, he made it back to Arizona when I moved again and has been part of my collection since.
It has been 20 years since I bought that Stalker. You will see the carded version in the photos below. Two decades later, I still haven't opened the figure. I've never owned a mint, complete version of the figure other than carded version. The Hills sticker is still there. I should just open him and have a loose figure as I'm not much of a carded collector. But, I can't do it. There is so much personal history wrapped into the figure that opening him would destroy him. I can associate figures with their acquisition. I have my childhood memories. I then have my '90's, neophyte collector memories. Those really end in late 2000 or early 2001 which I consider my "collector" phase. I've been in that phase for more than 15 years now.
But, so far, nothing in that phase has been associated with life memories like items from the first two phases. I think that's just to the ages I was when those memories were forged. Childhood is the formative time of our life. Young adulthood is the time when you largely become the person you will be for a long time: but the future is still unlimited. I don't look back at the early 2000's with the same nostalgia: mostly because collecting was not woven into the fabric of everything I did and my best memories are associated with other parts of my life that didn't involve toys. But, part of why I collect is the memories associated with the items at the time of their acquisition. Seeing this figure recalls my younger self driving through the backroads of Southwestern Ohio in my '88 Ford Aerostar with the windows down and the heat on full blast due to a blown head gasket looking for out of the way stores as I went to visit old friends. It's possible that 15 years from now, I'll re-read this and recall staying up too late writing this on a Friday night before my kids soccer game listening to Urban Dance Squad's "Deeper Shade of Soul" over and over again. It's not quite the same. But, Joes remain tangible mnemonic devices for times that are long gone.
There's another reason I haven't opened this figure. He's terrible. Really, I mean it. He's a truely bad figure. The main complaint is the bright yellow highlights. Offset against the black body, they really pop. I have forgiven neon ever since it was first introduced into the Joe line. But, something about this figure really sparked intense dislike. It might be the yellow beret. But, the bright highlights are something that halts me from digging too deep into this figure, despite it not being a hindrance elsewhere. So, what else is wrong with him? The most obvious answer is the Talking Battle Commander backpack. The thing is enormous. It's a massive weight on the figure and it nothing short of ridiculous. Rather than make these packs use the standard back peg (like they did with the Super Sonic Fighters in 1991) Hasbro screwed them onto the figure's back. Now, you can remove the packs with some effort. But, in order to accommodate the pack, the designers gave the figure a flat back so the pack could rest flush against the torso.
This flat back has raised it's head before. The excellent 1993 Cobra Commander solved the problem by getting a new back piece. But, that piece disappeared in the 2000's and several solid Cobra Commander colorings were ruined by the return of the flat back. Really, though, this shouldn't bother me. Truthfully, figures are displayed from the front. And, the backpack hole is still there and there are any number of backpacks that could cover the back to solve the issue. I've overcome more glaring gaps with inventive accessory usage. But, this Stalker is not offered the same opportunity.
This leads to the final issue I have with the figure. I'm not a fan of the head sculpt. I don't particularly like the overly floppy beret. It doesn't fit with how I've seen Stalker through his other incarnations. But, my main beef is the face. To me, the expressive face is overdone. Including the scowl and open mouth was a great leap forward in sculpting prowess on the part of the Hasbro designers. But, it feels like they tried too hard. In their zeal to make Stalker appear like a bad ass, they had him come off as a bad action film actor. So, taking the head, bad colors, stupid backpack and flat back, you get a figure that I really don't have any interest in owning. So, I've kept him carded for two decades and will likely never open him.
Accessory wise, you know he includes black weapons. While these were novel and new to me in 1996, they don't hold up when you have the full panoply of G.I. Joe accessories available to you with little effort. The smaller rifle is very reminiscent of the 1992 Destro weapon. When I found the figure at retail, I thought they might be the same. But, they are very different when compared directly. The larger rifle looks cooler in the package than it actually is. It's somewhat futuristic and the odd design and large size makes it difficult for a figure to hold and use without being top heavy and awkward. The offset sight is interesting. But, I've found the weapon's value is in aesthetics rather than use. The sound backpack says three phrases: Blitz 'Em, Let's Party and Attack!. There's a fourth, combat sound. The sound quality is what you'd expect from a twenty five year old, $5 toy. I'm sure it was novel in 1992. But, it really doesn't hold up any more.
Hasbro released this figure in 1992. They also released him internationally. Many years ago, I had a carded Spanish Overkill figure whose talking backpack was actually recorded in Spanish. I've never looked, but I'm sure a Spanish speaking Stalker also exists. So, there is a likely, legit European variant for the figure. In 2003, Hasbro surprised collectors when this mold showed up in the Toys R Us exclusive Tiger Force set. The flat back to accommodate the talking pack was still present. That, and the bizarre color scheme pretty much doomed the figure and Tiger Force sets lingered for most the year. (Though, they are tougher to find, now.) Despite returning to the Stalker character many more times in the comic sets and Toys R Us sets, Hasbro never revisited this Stalker mold. Done up in more military colors, this mold has some potential. But, the only two versions we ever got both has severe color limitations and that has doomed this mold to obscurity forever.
This Stalker is worthless. Frankly, the $5 I spent in 1996 is worth more than the figure is today. You can still buy MOC figures for $6. Loose, mint and complete figures sell for $2 to $3, though dealers will usually ask at least $8. For completion's sake, the figure is out there. But, there's not much other reason to really seek him out. The black weapons aren't even enough of a draw to spend a couple bucks to get one. I can see the figure having its charm and I'm sure some people out there like this version of Stalker. I'm not one of them, though. The upside is that the figure has value to me based on the memories I have of finding him at retail. Sans that, I'm not sure I'd even remember this figure exists. The good news is that if you do like him, he's cheap and available. If you don't like him, there's tons of better Stalker figures to ensure the character is properly represented in your collection.