Tuesday, January 31, 2017

1990 Sub Zero

In the early days of online Joe collecting, the collector base was almost exclusively focused on 1987 and earlier figures.  Finding figures released in the 1990's was very difficult and most were summarily dismissed.  While I've long maintained there were lots of 1990's era gems, the reality is that the 1990 lineup itself is easily on par with any year from the 1980's.  It includes a strong lineup of Cobra army builders, new characters and specialties.  The figures are nicely colored and fit in with the prior years.  The best part, though, is that the figures are accessorized to the max.  Many include more gear than is really necessary.  But, the gear was designed to be specific to the figure and enhance the character.  A great example of this is the unheralded 1990 Sub Zero figure.

The Joe line is full of classic cold weather troopers.  Snow Job and Blizzard are iconic characters with accessories that defied toy conventions at the time.  Iceberg and Frostbite were well designed figures who were perfect in support of their environmentally similar cohorts.  Sub Zero follows in the vein of the first two as he is laden with gear and had a solid design.  His base blue is a bit bright, but works within the arctic context.  (You get some fairly brilliant blue hues in the right icy settings.)  He is loaded down, though, with a massive machine gun, bi pod, mortar, backpack, shells and snow shoes.  The result is a figure that, when all geared up, stands equally proud among his fore-bearers.

The Sub Zero figure has a few odd characteristics.  First, the mortar.  It has no bi pod to stabilize it.  If you stand it straight up, it will retain its position.  But, adding any angle will result in immediate collapse.  The catalog photo of Sub Zero showed a white bi-pod on the mortar.  It appears this bi-pod was the same as was included with the machine gun, just in a different color.  You can not tell from the photo if Sub Zero was meant to include two bi-pods in differing colors to match his weapons.  But, the accessory is shown in white.  The machine gun bi-pod does not appear on Sub Zero's card art, either.  So, it may have been never intended for the machine gun but was added there at a later time.  The second odd thing is that Sub Zero's backpack has three tabs on it.  The largest tab is designed to hold his machine gun.  (I tried for 20 minutes to get the gun to stay on the pack long enough for a photo, but mine just pops off after a few seconds.)  The other two, though, have no purpose.  Were these meant for another, redacted accessory?  It might be that the original design had slots in the mortar shells so they could be stocked on the pack.  (That would have made sense and been inline with the time.)  But, with nothing to store there, Sub Zero's pack appears a bit off.  He seems unfinished and the general appearance of his gear always makes you think you are missing a few accessories.

The biggest source of contention on the figure, though, is his head.  The odd shape of the head coupled with the bizarre design choice for the hood creates a look that is just odd.  Sub Zero looks like a fish peeking through the hole on a barrel.  His face also makes him look pretty pissed off.  But, if you were forced to wear a coat with a hood collar that looked like a blue bonnet, you might be pissed at the world, too.  But, the head limits what is, otherwise, an exceptional figure.  The rest of the mold is solid with enough details to be interesting, but not so many as to be distracting.  The two tone color of blue and white work well together and there's enough grey to make him visually interesting.

For me, though, this figure has never found a real purpose.  He did not enter my collection until after I lived in the desert.  For the time I moved back to a snowy place, any use of the character was represented by the 1993 repaint.  So, while I've long admired the figure's gear and design, the reality is that I've not had any occasion to really photograph him in his native environment.  Maybe one day this will change.  But, that's not going to be for a while.  Until then, this figure just sits in a baggie, in a plastic tub waiting for the rare appearance in a dio or as a vehicle crew member.

Like a lot of the 1990 figures, though, since this guy came after my childhood, I have no memories of him as anything other than an adult collectible.  He was in one my first lots of 1990's figures.  But, was overshadowed by the many figures that attracted me to the collection in the first place.  He was a nice addition and something that I thought had potential.  But, with dozens of other new figures coming into my possession for the first time with the same purchase, Sub Zero was lost in the shuffle.  Were I a kid in 1990, though, I'm sure I'd have found this figure quite strong and it would have had quite a few adventures out in the backyard during the winter.  Timing prevented that.  But, it doesn't cloud another strong entry into the Joe pantheon.

Sub Zero got a bit of use.  After his appearance in 1990, a darker colored version appeared in the 1993 Arctic Commandos mail away.  That figure is probably better than this 1990 version.  But, he only includes a recolored Dodger rifle and is missing the gear that makes the figure.  If you can swing it, accessorizing the 1993 with the 1990 figure's gear is the best way to go.  In 2005, Sub Zero's body made a comeback.  It was used for the spectacular Winter Operations Snake Eyes figure.  The cammo and overall design combined with the Snake Eyes head made for one of the best figures released in the repaint era.  But, the character of Sub Zero was no more.  Arctic repaints are tough to pull off.  And, the few arctic figures that did get the treatment between 1997 and 2005 were, almost to a figure, much worse than the original designs.  So, getting the awesome Snake Eyes instead of a terrible Sub Zero figure was OK.

Like all white plastic figures, Sub Zero is prone to discoloration.  However, his backpack is extremely prone to discoloration and you'll often see pristine white figures and mortars paired with yellowing packs.  So, it can take some doing to find a completely brilliant white figure and accessories.  But, they aren't expensive.  You'll see mint and complete with filecard figures selling in the $9 - $12 range.  Dealers will charge up to $20 for the same figure, though.  You can get carded figures in the $30 range, too.  For me, it's a worthwhile price just to complete the 1990 run.  The figure's head somewhat limits his value.  But, the great gear and decent coloring make up for it.

1990 Sub Zero, 1997 Snake Eyes, 1994 Blockbuster, 1983, G.I. Joe HQ, Headquarters

1990 Sub Zero, 1993 Frostbite, 1994 Snow Storm, Battle Corps, Blockbuster

1990 Sub Zero, 1993 Frostbite, 1994 Snow Storm, Battle Corps, Blockbuster

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Diorama - Red Jackal's Negotiations

Red Jackal negotiates the release of some Cobra Elite Troopers.  Hawk is not pleased and fears this Red Jackal person will become a thorn in the fledgling G.I. Joe Team's side.

Red Jackal, Destro, Action Force, European Exclusive, Palitoy, 1982, 1983, 1984, G.I. Joe HQ, Hawk, Stalker, Breaker, Zap, Rock and Roll, Clutch, Short Fuse, Silver Pads Grand Slam, JUMP, Black Major, Red Laser, Bootleg Crimson Cobra Troopers

Red Jackal, Destro, Action Force, European Exclusive, Palitoy, 1982, 1983, 1984, G.I. Joe HQ, Hawk, Stalker, Breaker, Zap, Rock and Roll, Clutch, Short Fuse, Silver Pads Grand Slam, JUMP, Black Major, Red Laser, Bootleg Crimson Cobra Troopers

Red Jackal, Destro, Action Force, European Exclusive, Palitoy, 1982, 1983, 1984, G.I. Joe HQ, Hawk, Stalker, Breaker, Zap, Rock and Roll, Clutch, Short Fuse, Silver Pads Grand Slam, JUMP, Black Major, Red Laser, Bootleg Crimson Cobra Troopers

Red Jackal, Destro, Action Force, European Exclusive, Palitoy, 1982, 1983, 1984, G.I. Joe HQ, Hawk, Stalker, Breaker, Zap, Rock and Roll, Clutch, Short Fuse, Silver Pads Grand Slam, JUMP, Black Major, Red Laser, Bootleg Crimson Cobra Troopers

Red Jackal, Destro, Action Force, European Exclusive, Palitoy, 1982, 1983, 1984, G.I. Joe HQ, Hawk, Stalker, Breaker, Zap, Rock and Roll, Clutch, Short Fuse, Silver Pads Grand Slam, JUMP, Black Major, Red Laser, Bootleg Crimson Cobra Troopers

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rarities - The Curious Case of the Missing Mustache

In the 2000's, Hasbro reused many molds.  Starting in 2000, though, they would, periodically, skip the paint application for a figure's facial hair.  These were by design.  However, it seems that Hasbro had some issues with facial hair in general as figures missing facial hair were common pre production finds.  Below, you will see a few examples of figures that are missing the facial hair paint applications.

The first figure is the mail away Agent Faces figure.  For this figure, the head was a either a new sculpt based off of the '92 Duke or a slightly modified version of that head.  The production figure's facial hair was just a paint application.  In the sample below, though, this application was missed.  The result is a very different looking figure.  While the sample is production level, it's more likely a case of factory error or poor quality control than an actual variant.  But, it's interesting nonetheless.

2003 Agent Faces, Mail Away, Pre Production, Rarities, Crimson Guard

2003 Agent Faces, Mail Away, Pre Production, Rarities, Crimson Guard

The second figure is the pre-production 2002 BJ's Dial Tone.  This mold was released with no mustache in 2000, but the production figure in 2002 did have the mustache.  This pre-production figure has differences other than the facial hair, like the differently colored elbows and general difference in the green arms.  But, the mustache is the most glaring difference.

2002 BJ's Dial Tone, Unproduced, Pre Preproduction, Rarities

2002 BJ's Dial Tone, Unproduced, Pre Preproduction, Rarities

The final figure is, again, likely a factor error rather than a variant.  But, it is a 2003 Python Patrol Major Bludd figure with no facial hair.  Bludd is very odd without his trademark mustache.  So, this figure is boldly different from any other appearance of this head.  While it's likely not a variant, it does offer further proof that factory goofs can make their way to retail.

2003 Toys R Us Exclusive Python Patrol, Major Bludd, SAW Viper, Rock Viper, Lamprey, Laser Viper, HEAT Viper, Raritities, Spy Troops

Click on the Rarities tag to see more oddball items.  And, Rarities Month II will be coming in June of 2017.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

1987 Psyche Out

I have two younger brothers.  Growing up, they played with Joes.  But, they were not nearly as interested in them as I was.  They would casually pick up figures while I definitely had a plan of which new releases were my priority.  In short order, I learned how to use this.  Even as a kid, I wanted to be a completist and have every Joe released in a given year.  From the catalogs, it was easy to see what all was available and get a general idea of which toys I liked and which ones I didn't.  It was the ones I didn't really like where I used my brothers' relative lack of interest in the line.  When my parents would agree to buy us each a figure, I'd pick out the "best" one for me.  I'd then encourage my brothers to pick out one of the lesser figures in which I had little interest for themselves.  This would allow me to cross the lower priority figures off the checklist without wasting my resources on them.  I was most adept at this in 1987, which was when I got my youngest brother to choose Psyche Out as his figure purchase.

The 1987 Joe line has a major schism.  There are spectacular figures like Falcon, Outback, Tunnel Rat and Law.  But, there are a lot of terrible figures like Raptor, Bog Boa, Crystal Ball, Psyche Out and Gung Ho.  Of course, my definition of awesome and awful were defined by my 13 year old self in 1987.  It was the last year I collected Joe and it was probably a year or two too long for me to be doing so.  But, I was still heavily into the comics and played out adventures every day before and after school.  My room was full of toys, saved packages and comics.  In retrospect, the space was small.  So, having all of that packed into the area was quite impressive.  But, all of my Joe collecting and playing peers had moved on to other things.  So, I was also alone.

This solitude, though, proved a creative spark for my adventures.  While I didn't really want to own a Psyche Out figure, I was able to come up with a story and use for him.  My childhood realm was heavily shaped by Star Wars and then supplemented with Marvel comic super heroes.  As such, the more sci fi bent of the 1987 Joe line didn't bother me as much.  I saw certain accessories as super hero like inventions or creations.  Crystal Ball's hypno shield was indestructible: just like Captain America's.  The green tentacles from the Cobra La pack were given to the Royal Guard, who could then fly.  (He was still a human encased in armor, though.)  And, Psyche Out's gear was part defensive gear and a powerful weapon.

Psyche Out quickly became a science officer inside my Joe HQ.  Here, he would rarely venture out into combat.  But, the staple of my adventures was Cobra overrunning the Joe base that was my room.  So, from time to time, Psyche Out would be forced to fight.  As such, his gear was designed to aid him in those rare instances.  His armbands and shields doubled as Wonder Woman-esque wrist gauntlets that were bulletproof.  He could use these to protect himself.  But, they also shot out electricity beams capable of killing anyone who was hit.  His hand held case shot even more powerful blasts that could disable or destroy Hiss Tanks.  The weapons were short range and were very inaccurate.  So, their usefulness as anything other than a weapon of last resort was limited.

Naturally, this played itself out and, today, Psyche Out is a relic from the final days of my childhood collection.  But, his bright colors are still fun to use in the HQ.  And, in the modern world, his specialty is more useful than ever before.  Of course, having a guy psycho analyze the makeup of a team or try to softly interrogate a villain isn't much of a play pattern.  So, the figure would still be boring were kids today into Joes.  The main problem is that there are a lot of better figures from the time that can also fill Psyche Out's role as scene filler.  With just one vintage HQ, the coveted spots will go to those figures first: leaving Psyche Out slowly rotting in his plastic bag.

The Psyche Out figure is not good.  His body is cast in bright, lime green.  He is covered with a patterned shirt and a large cadre of silver electronics.  He has poofy '80's hair that's buoyed by a red lined headset with an antenna on the back.  For some reason, the knife on his leg is unpainted, despite the multiple paint applications on the head.  There is some quality in the general design, though.  The Tiger Force and, especially, Night Force repaints showcase that the mold can be redeemed.  His gear is odd and a bit goofy.  Except for the pistol.  Psyche Out's pistol is one my favorites and was found its way to a good number of figures in 1987.  When I returned to Joe collecting in the late '90's, the pistol was one of a couple of accessories that I stockpiled (I, maybe, had three extras!) to give to other figures because I liked it so much.  Some of that luster is gone, of course, but the pistol is still top notch and is, to me, the highlight of the figure.

Psyche Out had a pretty good run.  This figure was released in 1987 and was quickly repainted into the Night Force Psyche Out in 1988.  That was the end of the American releases.  But, Psyche Out also has a European exclusive Tiger Force version released in the early 1990's as well as a Brazilian version that was based on the V1 American release, just in slightly brighter colors.  The Brazilian release is named Tele-Mentor.  For some reason, I love that name.  It's like he's a tormentor, but with technology: which is exactly how I used the character.  It seems that the Tele Mentor figure was released after the European version.  Looking at his series of figures, 8 of the 13 contemporaries were later released by Funskool.  The remaining figures have not appeared again.  It seems likely that Psyche Out was sent to India, but they chose to use the 1991 mold for the character instead of this 1987 version.  In the end, you get one foreign Psyche Out with a cool name and two well done repaints in highly popular subsets.  So, collectors got pretty much all they could from this mold.

Psyche Out figures are not expensive or rare.  His radar dishes can be annoying to track down.  But, there are plenty of complete figures out there and you can even buy a couple of incomplete versions to build one perfect figure for not too much money.  Mint and complete with filecard figures run in the $5 to $6 range.  Dealer pricing is about double that.  You can get carded figures for around $20, too.  The mold is the cheapest Night Force figure and the least expensive Euro Tiger Force figure.  Collectors just don't care for the character or the mold.  In the right setting, though, the figure is useful.  I like the bright green inside my HQ.  But, of the three major repaints, this original version is easily the weakest.  If I was going to choose just one version of the character for my collection, this 1987 figure would be the first to get tossed.  But, that's OK.  He's another obscure, background figure that can be useful for a variety of situations.  The line had a lot of them and they are a big part of what made it great.

1987 Psyche Out, 2005 General Hawk, 1992 DEF Shockwave, Mutt, Bulletproof

1987 Psyche Out, 1988 Desert Fox

1987 Psyche Out, 1988 Desert Fox, Worms, 2005 HAS Snake Eyes, TRU Exclusive

Saturday, January 21, 2017

2007 Animated Debut Boba Fett

In early 1999, I worked for a start up insurance company.  One of the perks was that I was the entire IT department at the time.  For those old enough to remember, 1999 was still the age of dial up for most internet users.  Lots of people had access to higher speeds at work, but were limited in their browsing habits.  In the spring of that year, someone posted the first clips of the animated portion of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special.  At the time, the Holiday Special was kind of a unicorn which was traded via copied VHS tapes.  There was no YouTube and video on the internet was small and difficult to download.  The clips were broken into small file sizes so that they were easier for dial up customers to get.  A few friends of mine were desperate to see the clips and set out downloading them.  I was able, though, to get all the clips at work through the high speed internet.  I then burned them onto a CD and mailed them to those friends: allowing them to get the quicker than trying to download themselves.  How far we've come.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is terrible.  Really, it's not even one of those things that's so bad it's good.  It's just awful.  (I remember my parents rushing us out of the mall that night, though, so we could get home to watch it.)  But, the animated cartoon brought about several cool things.  The best, though, was the debut of Boba Fett.  He was still a mysterious bad ass.  But, his appearance was drastically different than what we would see in "The Empire Strikes Back" because he, you know, did something.

The animation for the cartoon is not good.  And, the story isn't much better.  But, the real value is the hint at the story between the stories.  You know that several years passed after "A New Hope" before Empire.  In those years, Luke Skywalker was not a Jedi nor really understood the force.  He obviously had some self discovered capabilities.  But, he was still that 19 year old kid who had just left Tatooine.  As such, I've always imaged that he, Han and Chewbacca would have had some interesting adventures in the intervening years.  Seeing Luke in his ceremonial outfit in the cartoon is cool and helps foster the notion that he likely spent some years emulating Han Solo's approach to life rather than that of a Jedi.  I think there's fertile ground for storytelling here.  And, the fact that you could bring in characters like Boba Fett who were contemporaries, but not really utilized in the original trilogy just adds to the potential.

The figure itself is pretty solid.  There are a full 14 points of articulation.  While not quite "super articulated" as some figures of the era were, he's pretty close.  The figure is, at its core, a repaint of the 2004 Vintage Collection Boba Fett figure, so you expect some high quality design based on the high price point figure that comprises his base.  Hasbro created new forearms for this figure as well as a new waist.  The arms, though, have a limitation.  The molded plastic hoses that connect from the elbow to the forearm are too short.  They hinder some movements of the arm and make it impossible to pose the figure drawing the pistol from his holster on his waist.  It is the waist that makes the figure, though, since he now sports a nifty holster to hold his animated style pistol.  He completed with the a forked staff that shot powerful energy in the cartoon.  It looks decent enough and is a fun homage to a forgotten element of Star Wars lore.

If you look at the colors of this Fett, you can see stylistic similarities to Jango Fett.  As this character debuted decades before Jango's creation, it's possible that these colors were a basis for Jango's appearance.  Or, it could be coincidence.  Like most Star Wars characters, we'd expect an evolution of Fett's appearance.  However, having it change so drastically in such a short time is likely just due to the concept not being finalized when the animation was done.  We know the early concepts of Boba Fett were in all white armor.  This version has paler colors.  The final, film version was more brightly colored and detailed.  Having toys of different eras of Boba Fett is fun and keeps the character fresher than just getting the same colors in different poses.

I've never really been able to wrap my brain around why Lucasfilm never pursued animation as a viable story telling avenue.  The late 1970's were the heyday of Saturday morning cartoons and a Star Wars themed entry would have likely been hugely popular in an era where the only non movie year media most people had access to were the Kenner toys.  It seems like a large misfire on Lucas' part.  Though, to be fair, the company wasn't as large then as they would be by the time "Return of the Jedi" was released.  So, they may not have had the resources to handle both production of new films and an animation division.  But, I can't help but feel that my childhood would have been much better had their been Star Wars cartoons available every Saturday morning.

Like most Star Wars figures of this era, Boba Fett isn't worth much more than retail.  You can get carded figures quite easily for under $12.  Dealers will often charge twice that amount for impatient buyers.  But, the figure is readily available for cheaper.  Considering the figure is now 10 years old and cost $7 at retail, that's not much of a mark up.  The figure was re-released in a Droid Factory two pack as a Wal Mart exclusive in 2009.  That release seems a bit harder to find, but the figure appears to, basically, be the same.  Back in 2007, the 30th Anniversary Collection figures were heavily shipped.  Local stores had pegs and pegs of them, with Wal Mart actually having both a preponderance of an aisle dedicated to figures as well as an entire endcap.  Figures from all waves sold briskly and stock was replenished often.  This figure tended to be among the first sell outs from restocks.  But, he was certainly not hard to find and was readily available to anyone who looked for him even casually.

2007 Animated Debut Boba Fett, Star Wars, Hermi Odle, Garindan

2007 Animated Debut Boba Fett, Star Wars, Biggs Darklighter

2007 Animated Debut Boba Fett, Star Wars, Rogue One, Death Trooper Black Series, Shadow Stormtrooper

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Diorama - Snow Blind

In early 2003, we got a lot of snow.  One Sunday evening, I took some Joes out to get some snow pics.  It was late in the evening, so I had to use the flash.  But, I liked how the flash photos looked.  This photo set was planned to be the showcase for the 2001 Big Ben figure.  But, he didn't come out well enough in the photos and this was the last real snow I saw before I moved back to the desert.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

1993 General Flagg

Over Christmas break in 1992, I spent my lunch hour away from washing dishes in a local deli going to Toys R Us.  It was the first time in a few years I actually went with the intention of buying some G.I. Joe figures.  I had my first semester of college under my belt and didn't really worry about what anyone would think of an 18 year old buying some action figures.  At that time, G.I. Joe still commandeered huge amounts of shelf space for both figures and vehicles.  I was faced with a wall of figures: with whom most of which I was unfamiliar.  In the overwhelming sea of new figures, I chose two recognizable names for my collection: Destro and General Flagg.

The General Flagg figure I picked up, though, was the brown coated 1992 version.  It was not until more than a decade later that I added this 1993 version to my collection.  During my searches for the remnants of the G.I. Joe line at retail in 1995 through 1997, I found a couple of 1992 General Flagg figures.  I never, though, found a 1993 version.  I had found enough of the 1993 repaints to be watchful for any figure variations.  But, certain figures were very hard to find at retail after the line's demise.  This General Flagg was among them.  So, he was a much later, after market acquisition for me.

The only real change to the figure is the black coat.  Frankly, I like the contrast a little better.  The grey details and gloves are a little extra that put the figure over the top.  Surprisingly, grey was not a color that was often utilized in the vintage line.  So, it's appearance on Flagg's upper body gives him a more distinguished look.  The black jacket is very reminiscent of the 1986 Hawk's first appearance in the comic.  He had a black jacket that would have made for a great repaint in the 2000's.  The contrast against the figure's green pants is nicely done and he looks the part of military commander without being either too grounded in realism or too far out there.  The fur lined coat does give him an arctic vibe and would have made for a solid snow Joe amalgamation.  The fur color is well done and you can almost feel the itchy material against your skin when you look at this Flagg.

Flagg's accessories are top notch.  His gun was one the primary reasons I bought the original figure in 1992.  It is heavily detailed and the perfect blend of small and large scale.  He also features a removable hat.  I really like this accessory.  And it's perfect for the 1992 figure.  The downside is that the black coat 1993 figure also includes the same brown hat as the 1992 figure.  The hat is a perfect match for the brown figure.  But, looks out of place on the black coat figure as there is no other brown on the mold to which it can match.  The missile launcher is the standard ridiculousness that was common in 1992.  But, at least it works.  The rubber bands are easy to break and do dry out with age if not stored properly, though.

In my youth, I created a second G.I. Joe team.  They were a competing group with Joe for the top assignments.  The faction was made solely of custom figures that I cobbled together from broken Joe figures that had been replaced.  Joe was given Cobra as an enemy and the other group faded away a bit.  In 1986, though, the group was ambushed in the Rockies and all but a few members were killed.  This character was represented by a custom I put together using Ripcord's head, Duke's chest and various arms and legs that weren't broken.  I gave him an Accessory Pack Ripcord helmet that was painted blue with white trim.  It was also badly chipped, which was part of his character.  This figure worked fine for when I was a kid.  But, I wanted a figure who could adequately represent the character for me that wasn't a Testor's covered amalgamation of badly worn and play damaged parts.

Enter this version of General Flagg.  I never got behind the use of this character as General Flagg's son.  The math just didn't work.  (Flagg was a young general who died in 1983.  Even if "young" meant 50, which is doubtful, it's unlikely that he would have a son who attained the rank of general by 1992.)  For some reason, I can accept pain sharing twins and super powered ninja commandos, but not a slight age discrepancy among some characters.  So, this figure was a prime candidate to be retconned into a different character altogether.

In this capacity, General Flagg saw some use.  I still had an occasional adventure back in 1992 and 1993.  Flagg was paramount to these missions.  He was now in charge of the Joe team with Hawk's retirement.  He lead the team through some rough years where Cobra was able to beat them due to the constraints put on the Joes by bureaucrats.  He was nearly killed on one of the missions and was forced out of active combat duty.  But, he still remained in command of the Joe team and lead them on more international missions using his foreign contacts.  He remains the nominal head of my Joe team.  But, he really only appears in photos with his contemporaries these days.

The General Flagg mold got a good amount of use.  Aside from the original figure in 1992 and this 1993 repaint, the chest and arms were used for the exceptional Chinese Major Bludd around 1994.  The mold then reappeared around 1999 or 2000 in India where Funskool released their amazing General Flagg figure.  There are three versions of General Flagg for collectors to track down and all are well done.  He is a character of whom there is no bad version.  His mold's reuse for Major Bludd showed it's potential for repaints, though that angle was unexplored.  Flagg was not among the figures that Funskool produced in their final run of figures in 2009 or 2010.  So, it's possible they returned the mold to Hasbro who then, likely, destroyed it without ever using it.  I can't say, though, that the character didn't get his due.  So, this is a rare case where I think that collectors really got the best of a later mold.

For years, this figure was actually kind of hard to find.  A few of the 1993 repaints (Mutt, Wild Bill and this Flagg) didn't appear with much regularity.  And, lo and behold, this figure is still somewhat tough to find and rather pricey for a 1993.  Mint, complete with filecard figures sell in the $15 range.  But, carded figures sell at the same pricepoint and and even cheaper if the card is damaged.  They are also slightly easier to find.  So, if you want this figure, carded is probably the way to go.  Still, I was shocked to see what prices this figure fetched since he's not an army builder, mail away or vehicle driver.  But, he is a solidly colored figure with top notch gear.  All that adds up to a figure that's worth owning.  Apparently, the collecting community agrees with me, even if it's a silent affirmation.

1993 General Flagg, Battle Corps, Mudbuster, Duke, Beach Head, Bazooka, Spirit, International Action Team, Mail Away

1993 General Flagg, Battle Corps, Mudbuster, Duke, Beach Head, Bazooka, Spirit, International Action Team, Mail Away

Saturday, January 14, 2017

G.I. Joe #123 - Shots in the Dark

The Joe comic is filled with keystone issues that drive the story.  #2, #10, #21, #26, #33, #40, #155 etc. are all key stories that either lay the groundwork for many future adventures or fill in major story gaps for the reader.  But, the Joe title was a monthly book that ran for over 13 years.  While there are stand alone stories throughout the run, there are many just random issues that carry on a story.  They aren't key issues.  They aren't beginnings or endings and they are not, on their own, all that memorable.  #123 falls into this category.  There is really nothing in it that you can't pick up from some other, earlier or later issues.  But, that is magnificence of the issue.  You have classic Joes, new recruits, the Headhunters, Eco Warriors and Ninja Force all interspersed into 22 or so pages.  I read this issue for the first time in 2017.  Yet, there was nothing in it that I didn't already know from the surrounding issues.  It's a good issue with lots of action, but also not important at all in the overall scheme of things.

The comic's cover is a kneeling classic Hooded Cobra Commander with the title of "Secret of the Sludge".  This alone implies that Cesspool and his Plasmatox ilk are going to be a focal point of the issue.  Only, they're not.  They're here.  But, they aren't the focal point of the story at all.  Instead, that goes to Cobra Commander leading a group of Paralyzer tanks after a squad of Joes manning the Badger and Battle Wagon as the Joes try to reach a safe border.

Marvel Comics #123, Cobra Commander
G.I. Joe #123 Cover

The cover date for the issue is April of 1992: meaning it appeared on newsstands in January of 1992, basically 25 years ago exactly.  This accounts for the odd assortment of characters appearing in the issue.  You have the Hama classic staples of  1983 Wild Bill, 1986 Hawk, 1984 Duke and 1985 Flint and Lady Jaye.  Joining them are the 1986 Roadblock, 1991 Dusty, 1989 Rock and Roll and Big Ben.  At the time, it was conceivable to really only find two of those figures on retail shelves.  But, Cobra was worse.  You have the '84 Cobra Commander, 1985 Tele Vipers, 1986 Vipers, Saw Viper and Frag Viper manning the Paralyzer tanks.

Marvel Comics #123, Cobra Commander, Paralyzer Tanks, SAW Viper, Frag Viper
G.I. Joe #123 Paralyzer Tanks
But, in addition to these more classic characters, you have three other story arcs rolling through the issue.  In the first, you have the Cesspool showcase that brings his character to the forefront.  You see 1991 Toxo Vipers and Sludge Vipers in the background.  Cobra Commander's toady is, of course, Zarana.  But, she pulls up to Cesspool's headquarters in a brand new Hammerhead.

Marvel Comics #123, Cesspool, Sludge Viper, Toxo Viper, Zarana, Eco Warriors
Cesspool being himself
The second story arc features the Ninja Force.  You see the entire 1992 Ninja Force figure contingent as well as never produced Red Ninjas.  This is a quick interlude to set up more story later.  But, it ws also the requisite appearance of Snake Eyes that seemed to be required in every issue of the G.I. Joe in the '90's.  The final arc introduces Headman and the Headhunters in Broca Beach.  It's really kind of a mess.

Marvel Comics #123, Snake Eyes, Red Ninja, Ninja Force
Snake Eyes Captures the Red Ninja Leader
At the time, G.I. Joe toys were moving away from their standard, yearly release schedule and subsets were becoming more and more important to the line as a whole.  But, seeing recent introductions that spanned three years of toy releases in one comic speaks to Hasbro's influence and demands that new toys remain part of the comic, despite their sometimes absurdity.  This point is driven home when Flint meets Clean Sweep and Ozone.  He notes their garish outfits and states they must not be covert.  Ozone replies they are made from recycled action figures.  Ouch.

One of the other great things about re-reading a 25 year old comic are the ads.  The inside cover features an ad for the BeetleJuice Game Boy game.  The next is a full page for 1992 Score baseball cards.  (One of the cards shown commemorates Dennis Martinez's 1991 perfect game and I remember working a table at a baseball card show the day that occurred.  Fun memories.)  Fleer outdoes them a few pages later with a 2 page advertisement for their new cards.  One full page is Roger Clemens and Fleer's 1992 promotion built around him.  Anyone who thinks Roger wasn't considered a future Hall of Fame player prior to his late 1990's stint in Toronto should see this as a reminder of how fans saw Clemens in 1991 and 1992.  You then get the requisite ads for Marvel T Shirts.  (Remember when the only super hero merchandise you could get was special order?)  There's then a full page ad for a series of James Bond Jr. books with a chance to win a Super Nintendo Gaming System and James Bond Jr. game pack.  Somehow, I think the SNES was the plum of that prize.  You then have the requisite role playing games advertisements in the book and on the back cover.  Not to be outdone, though, you have two more ads for trading cards: one for Marvel trading cards and another for Series II of NBA Hoops cards.

Marvel Comics #123, Cobra Commander
G.I. Joe #123 Ads

Marvel Comics #123, Cobra Commander
G.I. Joe #123 Ads

The trading card heavy content shows how that hobby had grown in popularity during that time period.  1992 was pretty much the begging of the end for that industry, too.  High end cards, endless streams of new product, difficult adults and the 1994 baseball strike pretty much killed the hobby and have left the vast quantities of merchandise produced during this time as basically worthless.  But, looking back at the ads in these old comics provides good insight into what kids of the time were buying.  Unsurprisingly, there's lots of failed merchandise in there.  But, that's almost more interesting than finding ads for popular items that have collecting value today.

I missed this issue at retail.  I was a senior in high school when this was released.  And, while I still visited my local comic shop a couple of times a month, that was down from the multiple times per week of just a year or two before.  It wasn't cool to collector or read G.I. Joe.  But, it wasn't cool to collect sports cards or any other comics, either.  So, there's that.  But, at the time, I had other distractions.  Music was starting to get interesting and I bought Nirvana's Nevermind for the first ever CD I purchased.  I stopped buying around #120 as the ninja plotline didn't do much for me.   I did come back when I saw the cover for #125 with the Eco Warriors Flint hanging over the pit of sludge with the flesh eaten hand protruding from the ooze.  Comic Carnival had #124 at the same time for retail price so I bought those and then maybe missed one or two other issues between then and the end of the series in 1995.

Marvel Comics #123, Eco Warriors, Flint, Ozone, Clean Sweep
G.I. Joe #123 Eco Warrior Introduction
The 1990's Joe comics are not as good as their 1980's predecessors.  Some of that is the nostalgia filter.  But, reading some of them critically still gives the edge to the earlier issues.  However, I also think that this was because the toy line and character library was smaller and Hama probably didn't have enough characters to use rather than too many.  By 1991, the line was huge and there were tons of Joes and Cobras.  Many of whom were nothing more than carbon copies or updates of already used characters.  So, instead of having focused plots, you got things like this issue where there are four stories crammed into the pages.  The others are setup for future issues.  But, the only way to get the characters that matched the toys on the shelf into the comic pages was to sacrifice some of the linear story telling and go with the packed story you see in this issue and its contemporaries.

Of course, this comic is worthless.  It's not late enough in the run to have had a truncated production run and there is nothing of note that occurs within its pages.  (I'm probably one of about 6 collectors who would consider the introduction of Headman and the Headhunters as noteworthy.)  But, it's still a good issue.  There's a lot in here that could have made for cool comic pack figures in the 2000's.  The white Headhunters alone would have sold a ton of 3 packs.  Seeing how Hama had to weave his tales together to appease Hasbro and comic buyers is a lesson in balanced artistry.

Marvel Comics #123, Headhunters, DEF, Headman, Siegie, Crimson Guard, Broca Beach
G.I. Joe #123 Headhunters Introduction
I don't follow the Joe comics at all these days.  The whole early 2000's comic mess pretty much turned me off to them permanently.  I've always felt that the majority of the vintage Joe line was controlled by the relatively steady hand of a few, key, creative people.  They were the brand's shepherds who kept in on course.  As others gained influence in the line, it lost its way.  The late issue comic stories and the odd figure releases of 1993 and 1994 are good benchmarks of this.  But, anything produced after 1994 for Joe just seems like an imitation of the prior good.  No matter how good a comic writer is, they will never escape Hama's shadow, even if it's well earned.  No matter how realistic the anniversary figures are, they are still treading on the blueprint laid out by the line's founders.  This prevents the brand from moving forward and is why it will never even get close to the success enjoyed in the '80's.  But, that's OK.  There's enough to keep interest alive until Hasbro figures out the next big iteration of the G.I. Joe theme.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

2003 Scalpel - Around the Web

The new sculpt era Joes have become the wayward stepchild of the collecting world.  They are too new to have any real nostalgia attached to them.   But, they are too old to fit into the modern style of action figure that has dominated the toy aisles for the last decade or so.  There was a lot of junk in the Joe vs. Cobra era figures.  But, themes like Spy Troops did bring some cool new additions to the line.  One such character is the Cobra medic Scalpel.  Below is the best of the web on the character.

Scalpel Profile

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2004 Whirlwind

In a way, Joe really returned to retail in 1997 with the 15th Anniversary sets.  But, the triumphant return began in 2000 with the launch of the A Real American Hero Collection.  This series was released to mass retail and was supplemented with vehicles to bring it in line with a vintage type release year.  The death of that line in 2001 and the subsequent new sculpts era that began in 2002 somewhat ushered the vintage Joe sculpts out the door and into history.  At least, that was the intent.  Collector backlash, though, kept Hasbro in the vintage Joe game: even when it was the clear desire of the Hasbro employees at the time to move onto something new that could benefit their resumes.  While there were some vintage style Joes released in general retail waves in 2003, 2004 saw vintage style Joes become the sole domain of retailer exclusives.  The emphasis was on re-imaginings of classic subsets and army builders.  As 2004 progressed, though, the sets got a little more distant from established Joe themes and began to stand on their own as original concepts.  Some were good.  Others were not.  But, the toys were fairly solid.

Hasbro and Toys R Us had a quid pro quo relationship at the time, too.  TRU was happy to take collector dollars by offering items that were aimed at them.  They especially liked vintage style Joes and were about the only outlet willing to take on vintage style Joe vehicles.  Hasbro had a need to appease their collector base without sacrificing the integrity of their fledgling retail line.  While the partnership started off with a bang with the excellent Night Rhino and Hiss III, TRU exclusive vehicles stumbled into poor repaints of the Snow Cat, AWE Striker and Conquest.  They took a bath on a poorly conceived MCC re-release that was so close to the vintage version that many collectors passed it by.  As such, their 2004 focus was more on figures than vehicles.  They did release the underappreciated BAT Transport.  But, it was their final vehicle set of 2004 that, to me, has best stood the test of time: the VAMP and Whirlwind set.

Hasbro struck a cord with the idea of a small vehicle, towable playset and 3 figures for a $20 retail price.  In short order at the tail end of 2004, they created this VAMP set and the Operation Crimson Sabotage set with a Hiss Tank, ASP and three Crimson Guard figures.  Retailers felt the "battle in a box" idea would attract parents to the items as gifts.  Hasbro also felt that collectors would really like getting a small army for a decent price.  It turns out, they were both right.  Collectors went nuts over the Operation Crimson Sabotage and built impressive armies.  While this was happening, though, parents found the TRU VAMP set a decent value and pretty much cleared out TRU stores of the sets, even as collectors were banking on them being clearance fodder in 2005.  Despite the apparent success of the sets, though, Hasbro never revisited the idea.  It's likely that 2005 brought the death of the line too quickly and retailers lost faith in the brand.  (Surprisingly, the Operation Crimson Sabotage sets actually hit KB clearance centers and collected dust for a while.)  So, we were left with just the two sets.

The VAMP/Whirlwind set was the lesser of the two.  While I would argue that the VAMP is generally as popular as the Hiss Tank, the version released in this Toys R Us set was only based on the vintage design and was a full on repaint of the 2001 Desert Striker jeep.  It included a new, larger roll bar, opening hood and mounted machine gun on the dashboard.  The upside of the machine gun is offset by the hood detracting from the sleekness that defined the original VAMP.  But, the colors were good.  While the military green of the early 2000's had been far too overused on figures, it hadn't really been used on vintage Joe vehicles.  Getting a darker green VAMP was nice, even if the design wasn't as strong as the originals.  The Whirlwind was a surprising throw in.  It hadn't been seen in many years and was a toy that many appreciated.

As a kid, my mother didn't let my brothers or I have toy guns.  This rule really wasn't much of a rule.  We had at least three Han Solo blasters between 1977 and 1983.  We played with Star Wars figures: most of whom included a weapon: usually a blaster.  And, of course, we had mountains of G.I. Joe toys which were all built around military conflict.  My friends brought their toy guns over and we played with them all the time.  (I carried a very real looking pistol in a holster inside my jacket as my "character" in these adventures.  I'd go to the local drug store and buy candy with it and my friends and I would run around the neighborhood, in and out of people's yards brandishing toy guns that looked very legitimate.  I shudder to think of the response if kids today tried that with the toy weapons we had in the '80's.)  When my friends weren't around, though, and I wanted to play guns, I had to get inventive.  One of the more creative ways to get a gun was to co-opt a G.I. Joe toy.  The FLAK was the first victim.  By removing the base, you had a decent enough toy gun to shoot with your brothers.  The next year, the Whirlwind also proved useful.  Taking the gun bracket off left you with something small enough to fit in your hand.  The double barrels kind of reminded me of the guns from The Black Hole.  We had two or three Whirlwinds at the time, so it was easy to have two of the weapons available.  That really is my main childhood memory of the Whirlwind, though.

This version of the Whirlwind is pretty good.  It's a dark green, but so was the original Whirlwind toy.  So, it' doesn't bring much new to the table.  But, this was a great way to re-appreciate the Whirlwind mold.  It's incredibly detailed and has a few play features that are kind of fun.  (I once took a Whirlwind seat and affixed it to the back of the VAMP to have a gunner's chair.  The VAMP cannon doesn't really have enough clearance between it and the base, though.  So, it looked better with the chair empty than with it filled.)  The opening ammo panels are still there and the entire toy is already covered with factory applied decals.  You have the excellent 1983 design with the folding wheels to form a base, 360 degree swivel, front blast shield, and control display for the operator to sight his targets.  There's just a lot going on in a very small package.  But, that the joy of using 20 year old molds at the time.  You got the benefits of '80's budgets without having to reinvent the wheel.

The overall boxed set was nice, but not spectacular.  The VAMP and Whirlwind complement each other nicely and look decent in the packaging.  The set included three figures.  Pathfinder, the first, was pretty much the exact same figure that was released with the AWE Striker in 2001.  The only differences is that the VAMP figure's belt buckles aren't painted and the VAMP version included a full set of his vintage accessories in black.  The figure is worth getting for these alone.  Big Brawler was the second figure.  All Brawler figures are lame and this is no exception.  Had it been Salvo or Outback who saw release, collectors would have been more interested.  Brawler was just a figure to ignore.  The final figure, Chief Torpedo, was a nicely done amalgamation of Muskrat and Wet Suit.  It's the highlight of the set for sure.  For a collector, the boxed set displays nicely.  Generally, it's just a good value for three figures, a jeep and a playset.  Had this idea been tried a year earlier, we might have been able to see a couple more concepts put into production.  There were so many small vehicles that never saw re-release in the 2000's that we know Hasbro had access to.  It would have been worth it to see a couple of these, even if meant reprises of the ASP or Whirlwind.

In the fall of 2004, this VAMP set sold slowly.  Collectors were mostly interested in both the Operation Crimson Sabotage set that was being offered by KB as well as the Cobra Ninja 6 figure set from Toys R Us.  Many collectors, figuring this set would linger forever, passed it by in order to acquire more of the popular army building sets.  When the dust settled from the 2004 Christmas season, though, these sets had pretty much sold out throughout the country.  Many collectors were then left to turn to the sparse secondary market to get a set.  As such, this set has actually appreciated on the market and will cost quite a bit more, today.  MIB sets sell in the $55 to $65 range with loose sets with the figures selling for a little less.  If you can find a loose set with no figures, it will be cheaper.  But, those are few and far between these days.

But, there really is no reason to have this version of the Whirlwind in lieu of the vintage version unless you are a completist.  The colors are close enough and the vintage one meshes with more vehicles than does the modern interpretation.  This version is also more expensive and harder to find than the original.  It would have been cool to have gotten a grey or all black version rather than something that is so close to the easily found vintage version.  But, it was also nice to see a vehicle that hadn't seen a retail release in the U.S. since 1988.  These two vehicle/three figure combos were a great concept.  At the time, collectors really didn't appreciate this VAMP and Whirlwind as army builders were their focus.  13 years later, though, the value we were given was tremendous and seeing a vehicle or two in this format, with three figures, is not something we'll likely ever see again at a price point close to $20.

2004 Whirlwind, Toys R Us Exclusive, TRU, 1987 Fast Draw, Dodger, 1992 DEF Mutt

2004 Whirlwind, Toys R Us Exclusive, TRU, 1987 Fast Draw, Dodger, 1992 DEF Mutt

2004 Whirlwind, TRU Exclusive, 1985 Bazooka, Tollbooth

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Diorama - Swamp Base

At my old house in Indiana, there was a ditch behind the fence that would pool water after rainstorms.  In the early spring, one of the rains left a nice puddle of clear water.  It was there for a couple of days, so the grass got waterlogged and the leftover fall leaves gave the whole scene a swampy look.  I went out for a pretty elaborate set up.  But, it was very cold that day.  My fingers froze in the cold water as I set up the figures.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Imperial Death Trooper - Black Series

This figure is actually named the Imperial Death Trooper.  Yes.  Death Trooper.  The implications of this are both that this character is really good at bringing death and, by extension, standard Imperial troops are rather incapable of ending someone's life.  Both things appear to be true in Rogue One.  But, we'll get to that later.  The name of "Death Trooper" though is overly wrought and cliched.  Dressing them in all black makes them a caricature of themselves and their name even more over the top.  But, this is Star Wars and Star Wars names have a long history of terribleness (Elan Sleazebagano?!?)  so you can forgive the unoriginality of this one.  The reality is that the Death Trooper is a collector geared character and toy that delivers in his design.  He has been omnipresent in Rogue One marketing and appears often in the film, even while not being part of any real plot points.  In the end, they exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to create cool action figures that will be snatched up by kids and, more likely, collectors.  There are many versions of the character available.  But, I'm a 3 3/4" collector and focus on those releases.  The Black Series figure brings a design that is closer to the adult collector in me than the kid in me, and that's where I begin.

I've been around long enough to remember when super articulated Star Wars were just called Star Wars figures.  There were no special series or releases.  Incredible quality figures were just part of the standard retail line.  But, that's no longer the case.  A few years ago, Hasbro began a strategic change to their Star Wars marketing.  Their standard retail line offered figures with fewer articulation points and "kid friendly" accessories.  To appease collectors who wanted more articulation and realism from their toys, Hasbro created the Black Series of figures.  The connotation was that these toys would be super articulated and movie accurate.  However, to justify these "improvements", Hasbro also gave the Black Series of figures a substantial price increase so they cost about 50% more than the standard, retail releases.  The upside is that there is still a series of collector themed figures available.  The downside is that it's a smaller, niche line at a premium price point.  But, if you are a collector, there are some really nice figures that are part of the Black Series.

My general take on Star Wars figures is that if something is good enough, then I'm satisfied with it.  This saves me from buying the same character outfit over and over again.  I have one version that's good enough for me and I don't need to spend time and effort on the "best" version of a character design.  But, I got spoiled in the late 2000's.  At that time, Hasbro produced hundreds upon hundreds of new figures and characters.  For the most part, each of these figures utilized the best methods of sculpting available at the time.  While not all super articulated, they were substantial improvements over the 1990's figures and many were nothing short of spectacular.  As such, seeing Hasbro revert to vintage style articulation (granted, with modern sculpting, though) seemed like a step back and really turned me off to Star Wars figures in general.

Having a smaller selection of figures and characters available in the a super articulated series, though, is somewhat nice.  The line is small enough to collect and large enough (in movie years) to provide a nice cross section of figures and characters.  In the case of Rogue One, the Death Trooper character appears in the Black Series and as a 5 POA figure a 2 pack in the regular series.  (The basic figure is also available in a retailer exclusive gift set.)  So, the only, initial, options for the figure are higher priced items.  A single carded 5 POA figure will be hitting any day now, too, though to give army builders a cheaper alternative to fill out displays.

The official word from Hasbro is that rising wages in China are the driving force behind the massive price increases for Star Wars figures.  Since it takes about the same amount of a labor to build a 3 3/4" figure as it does as 6" figure, that has also been a reason why Hasbro shifted scales.  The bigger figure uses marginally more materials and can be sold at a higher price point, making people feel they got their money's worth.  Ostensibly, rising foreign wages isn't a bad thing.  (Hasbro is moving their manufacturing from China to Vietnam to take advantage of lower wages there.)  But, the short run effect is that we now have easier to assemble 5 points of articulation (POA) figures at one price point and another series of super articulated figures at nearly double that price point in the same scale.  I'm not sure I buy this, entirely.

While I do firmly believe that rising labor costs are a factor in the sudden increase in Star Wars figures, it is not solely responsible for the change.  If it were, we'd see this type of pricing across all toy lines from all companies.  Instead of that, though, we've seen licensed products continue to rise in price while other, in house brands have been less affected.  I suspect that a lot of the pricing issues are due to increased licensing costs.  The owners of the Intellectual Property have figured out that they really control the toy market now since brands without big media tie ins find it tough to establish a foothold in the market.  (Even Hasbro's in house G.I. Joe brand was affected when the movie required licensing payments that raised the cost of figures at retail...and killed the line.)  Knowing that, the rights owners are demanding more in licensing revenue and Hasbro has no choice but to agree and pass those costs on to the consumer.

Death Troopers are, supposedly, the creme de la creme of the Imperial Army.  They are a crack team of 6 who support Director Krennic in his evil missions.  They wear special gear and carry special weapons.  In a lot of ways, they are the decedents of the Clone Wars era Arc Troopers.  In Rogue One, they appear to have one real advantage of the standard Stromtroopers:  they can actually aim their weapons.  In Rogue One, Stormtroopers are a new level of incompetent.  Hundreds of them can not stave off a small band of Rebels.  Yet, once the Death Troopers show up, these previously mighty good guys are quickly dispatched.  This is all done by the Death Troopers walking out of the transport in broad daylight and simply crouching down a bit and actually hitting the targets at which they are shooting.  Oddly, the Rebels, who appeared to be crackshots against standard Stormtroopers and the toy friendly and otherwise unnecessary Scarif Stormtrooper suddenly can't hit the broadside of an AT-AT.  I'm sure there will be a handy EU explanation like the black armor deflected light and made them hard to hit or it contained special disruptors that affects those tho attempt to shoot them.  But, if that's the case, why wouldn't the Empire (who can spend untold sums of wealth on superfluous Star Destroyers, TIE Fighters and pocket pens for their officers) simply give this gear to more of their Troops?  A few extra bucks on each trooper would have spared them the first Death Star for sure.  I'm sure the Empire's version of Excel could put together a quick cost benefit analysis that would justify the expense.

As such, the characters are completely unnecessary.  They fill no purpose in the plot other than looking cool and being visually distinctive from standard Stormtroopers.  But, this is OK.  Star Wars toys exist because we buy them.  I don't need dozens of Stromtroopers any more and won't buy them.  But, I'll buy a Stormtrooper in different colors and different gear that appears in a movie, or a cartoon, or could have simply existed.  On that level, the Death Troopers work.  We've seen black Stormtroopers before.  So, the notion isn't new.  (The first showed up in a Marvel Comic back in the late '70's/early '80's.)  Even TIE Fighter pilots have been black since the first film.  But, the are interesting to see on screen and provide a nice contrast to Director Krennic's white officer's uniform. Having them appear paves the way for more specialized Stormtrooper units to appear in future films, regardless of their time period.

Plus, this is a damn fine figure.  Really, it's awesome.  Not just in design, but construction and execution.  The benefit of armored characters is that the armor is designed so humans wearing it can move on screen.  As such, it's much easier to hide joint and articulation on armored figures than standard clothes wearing humanoids.  That alone lends this design to toy form.  But, the overall construction is excellent.  The figure can hold is weapons with no issue and his joints move freely and easily without being too loose to pose the trooper.  The figure can be posed pretty much any way you wish.  The combination of Boba Fett rangefinder, Arc Trooper gear, new color and slightly new weapons leave this figure a visual feast.  There's a lot going here and you can set him up to highlight the various details of the mold.

This particular version comes decked out in pauldrons, grenades and web gear.  This is a different configuration than you see in other Death Trooper releases where the character is just wearing the special armor.  The gear is removable, but I haven't attempted to take it off.  It appears the single carded 5 POA Death Trooper either also uses this full regalia or a newly sculpted version of it.  The figure includes two weapons: a rifle and pistol.  It would have been nice for the pistol to fit into a holster.  But, no such accessory is included with the figure.  The rifle is interesting enough.  It's reminiscent of Imperial blasters, but new and "exciting" as it does feature a very small paint application in faint red on the rifle's side.  Only getting web gear and two weapons with a $13 figure seems like a rip off.  But, this figure matches what you saw in the movie and is high enough quality that the lack of superfluous gear can be forgiven.

Death Troopers are guaranteed sellers.  Stormtroopers in black with more gear?  I don't think you could have come up with another easier best seller to Star Wars fans.  Hasbro planned their releases well.  Death Troopers are only, initially, available as ~$13 Black Series figures or as a 5 POA figure included in a ~$15 figure two pack.  There will be an $8, 5 POA figure available at some point in 2017, though.  But, with just the two initial options, collectors have made the Black Series figure very popular.  They aren't instant sell outs like some Black Series figures were.  But, they usually disappear very quickly.  It will be interesting to see if the movie makes them more or less desirable.  If Hasbro were handling Star Wars the same way they were pre Disney, I would expect a refresh wave of figures in the middle of 2017 that would bring more Death Troopers, First Order Troopers and other greatest hits of the Black Series to stores for collectors to catch up.  But, that doesn't seem to be the type of thing that the Disney era Hasbro team is either willing or able to do.  That doesn't mean we won't see this figure again.  His story timeline makes him a candidate to appear in the Han Solo movie or other, one off Star Wars projects.  Lots of retailers like Star Wars toys gift sets for the holiday selling season, too.  These are often repaint and repack fodder.  So, there's a good chance we'll see this character in 3 3/4" form again.  We just don't really have a good idea of where or when.

I passed on the Death Troopers, initially.  But, after seeing the movie, I liked the design more.  But, the main reason I got one was that I found it the Sunday after seeing the movie: when I was still on the excitement high from the theatre experience.  So, I bought a Death Trooper and a Krennic.  I liked them in the movie and their looks do fit with the majority of my original trilogy collection.  I see myself getting sucked back into Star Wars again.  As of today, I want an Admiral Raddus and bought a K-2SO, TIE Fighter Pilot and Darth Vader for my kids.  It's a slippery slope I've been down many times before.  At some point, it will end.  But, you can be sure it won't be before I've snatched up at least one of the young Lando Calrissian figures that will appear in 2018 or so.

On the one hand, seeing new Star Wars films is awesome.  On the other hand, so much new material will, eventually, become blase.  A film a year will slowly deteriorate the specialness of the saga and will, likely, dilute it.  We're over a decade into the super hero renaissance in film right now.  While there have been some misfires, the overall genre is still going strong.  There's a chance that Star Wars will just fit into this cultural zeitgeist and will roll along sans issue.  But, the appeal of Star Wars for me was that it was limited.  You had to fill in the story gaps with your imagination and toys.  Constant films will negate that and it's unlikely that my kids will grow up with the same wonder for the Star Wars universe as I did.  But, that's OK.  I will get to see some more stories on film.  Some will be good.  There will probably be several that are really bad.  But, we already have that dichotomy in the Lucas era films.  In the meantime, I'll find what I enjoy and buy toys to fill in my collection where they make sense.  My days of ever being a completist are long gone.  And, the days of even buying the majority of a new film's characters are over as well.  But, here and there, I'll cherry pick items that I find appealing.  This Death Trooper fits that criteria quite well.  In a decade's time, he may be as antiquated and irrelevant as many of the Clone repaints I bought back in 2006 and 2007.  But, those retain some value due to the memories of their acquisition and their general timeframe.  Worst case scenario, I know the same will always be true of this Death Trooper.

2016 3 3/4" The Black Series, Wal Mart Exclusive, Imperial Death Trooper, Rogue One, Star Wars

2016, Rogue One, Imperial Death Trooper, Director Krennic, Black Series

2016, Rogue One, Imperial Death Trooper