Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Red Shadows Shadowtrak - European Action Force Exclusive

Everyone knows about the repainted G.I. Joe vehicles that were incorporated into the European Action Force line.  There are two lost gems from this line, though, to which G.I. Joe collectors pay little attention.  The first is the excellently sculpted weapons that were exclusive to the European line.  The second was the Palitoy exclusive vehicles that were created to accompany the figures.  It is the vehicles to which this profile is dedicated.  And, while there are are several exceptional Palitoy exclusive vehicles that were released, I find the Shadowtrak the one example that most fits with an American Joe collection.

The Shadowtrak was affiliated with the collector favorite Red Shadows faction of the Action Force line.  And, while it was designed for use with the 5 points of articulation Palitoy figures, the similar 3 3/4" scale G.I. Joe figures also work with the toy perfectly well.  The vehicle is also cast in red and charcoal black: giving it a wonderfully vintage G.I. Joe feel.  While you can tell the Shadowtrak isn't a Hasbro release, a casual observer would definitely mistake the vehicle for something straight out of Cobra's earliest years.

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina, Sears Exclusive, SMS, ASP

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina, Sears Exclusive, SMS, ASP

The Shadowtrak has about the same footprint as a Hiss Tank.  It is much lower in height, though.  And, despite the appearance of a lot of area for figures, the vehicle only actually holds two individuals: one in the driver's seat and one in the rear facing gunner's station.  For some reason, the driver's seat folds down to create a larger space in the vehicle.  But, since the driver is now precluded from sitting at the controls, the seat doesn't seem to serve much purpose beyond being one of those little nuances of a toy that make it appear to do more than it actually does.  You can put the driver in a prone position with the seat down, making the Shadowtrak work much like the 1987 G.I. Joe Low Crawl Vehicle.

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina, Sears Exclusive, SMS, ASP

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina, Sears Exclusive, SMS, ASP

The Shadowtrak is well armed.  It includes 2 mounted machine guns.  They can be configured differently around the Shadowtrak's various post holes.  You have have them forward facing or as weapons for use by the rear facing gunner.  If you can find either reproduction machine guns or extra originals, you could easily double the armaments for the Shadowtrak.  It also features two small missile caps on the side mounted bars.  Just the tips are removable and they are somewhat small and can often be missing from Shadowtraks found in the wild.  There's also an antenna that fits into the posts and can be moved around to fit your tastes.

Among the parts included with the Shadowtrak is a removable tow hook.  The hook isn't the standard G.I. Joe hook introduced in 1982.  It is just a single spike.  The upside is that is more versatile than the Hasbro designed hook that was really engineered to only be compatible with other Joe toys.  The downside, though, is that it's not standard Joe height.  Neither an ASP nor the SMS can be affixed to the hook as it sits too high: which is a shame as they both are great companion pieces.  But, as neither design was given to the Red Shadows, you can see why the precision of the hook with all Joe vehicles may not have been as much of a concern.  The Laser Exterminator, though, does fit onto the hook.  So, this makes the two Red Shadows vehicles perfect companions for each other.

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina, Sears Exclusive, SMS, ASP

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

The Shadowtrak was first released by Palitoy in 1983.  That version was released in a window box.  Around 1984, the packaging was changed to a card box, more similar to G.I. Joe vehicles from the U.S.  The vehicle itself, though, is a modified release of the Action Force AF5 vehicle that first appeared around 1982.  This vehicle was a flying car that included a lot of snap on accessories.  The body was used again on the Cosmic Cruiser around the same time as the Shadowtrak was released.  The versatility of the mold is shown by these three releases.  You will note there are a lot of unused holes on the Shadowtrak.  On the surface, these allow for the owner to configure the guns and antenna in different combinations.  But, they also allowed for Palitoy to get more uses out of the base body mold without the toys appearing to be just straight repaints.  This is both a marvel of engineering and design as well as a genius way to get more out a single toy mold.  Hasbro really never took this approach.  To a causal observer, the AF5, Shadowtrak and Cosmic Cruiser would appear to be different toys.  But, the use of the removable parts helped to obscure the fact that the base body was used several times.

It also allows you to move the guns and antenna around and set the Shadowtrak into different configurations. I love vehicles with rear facing weapons as you never know when the bad guys will start chasing you.  But, it's also practical to have the weapons forward facing for attack positions.  With the Shadowtrak, you can move the guns around to your preferred setting depending upon the situation.  It's a neat little detail that gives the vehicle more flexibility without sacrificing too much aesthetic.

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

The Shadowtrak included a driver named Red Vulture. Red Vulture was a straight re-release of the single carded Red Shadow figure with a minor difference.  Red Vulture has black gloves painted on his hands.  It's easy to remember that the driver is wearing driving gloves.  There are instances where the vehicle included the standard Red Shadow figure, too.  Fortunately, the vehicle being designed for a 5 points of articulation figure doesn't preclude vintage Joes from fitting inside it just fine.

Shadowtraks are both easy and hard to find.  In the U.S., there are few people who sell them.  Those who do, want inordinate amounts for them.  You'll often see opened box samples offered for $100 or more.  They don't sell at that price.  However, if you can find sellers in Europe or, especially, the UK, the prices fall precipitously.  You'll often see mint and complete Shadowtraks in the $30 or so range from non U.S. sellers.  Unfortunately, many of them will not ship to the United States.  If you can find one who does, the shipping isn't terrible as the vehicle isn't overly large and is relatively lightweight.

While we don't know for sure what happened to the Action Force toy molds, it's a pretty safe bet that they no longer exist.  When Hasbro acquired Palitoy in the early '80's they shifted Action Force away from the Palitoy proprietary molds towards repainted Hasbro molds.  Then, the forfeited the repaints and just released American toys on Action Force cards.  These transitioned into differently logo-ed G.I. Joe cards and boxes and the Action Force roots slowly faded away.  It's doubtful that Hasbro had any incentive to save the Palitoy molds.  They could have sold them off or licensed them out like they did with G.I. Joe.  But, this would have likely cut into Joe's international revenue stream and there was little incentive for Hasbro to compete with its flagship toy line.  So, the molds have been MIA since these releases.  I'd have loved for a few of them to have popped up in the 2000's.  But, since Hasbro didn't know where most of its own molds were, it is unreasonable to think they had access to the old Palitoy offerings.

For me, the Shadowtrak is an excellent way to expand an early Cobra army.  You have seen mine outfitted with Crimson Cobra Troopers from factory custom Joe makers.  They are a perfect match for the look and feel of the Shadowtrak and allow me more flexibility when putting together a Cobra convoy using figures and vehicles from prior to 1985.  On top of that, the vehicle fits the Cobra aesthetic.  It's kind of odd and loaded down with lots of weapons that may or may not make sense.  But, that is Cobra to a "T".  The Shadowtrak is a nice addition for a Laser Exterminator and looks good among other Cobra vehicles.  It offers anti-infantry capabilities that were lacking on the Hiss Tank and Stinger.  And, the different configurations lend themselves to army building Shadowtraks without them all appearing the same.

The Shadowtrak has opened the door of Action Force vehicles to me.  There are a wide variety of Palitoy offerings (mostly on the good guy side, though) that look very cool and fill a niche that Joe could use.  The problem, of course, if that some of them are very hard to find in good condition and complete.  While this Shadowtrak can be affordable, many of the other Action Force exclusives are less so.  But, the additional value this item brings to my collection far exceeds it's monetary cost.  I'm not really sure how I went so long without a Shadowtrak: especially when you consider they were rather common from U.S. sellers in the early 2000's.  But, I have the Shadowtrak now and it's become a vital part of my collection.

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

1984, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Crimson, Black Major, Red Laser, Red Jackal, Plastirama, Ninja Ku, Argentina

Thursday, October 26, 2017

1988 Destro - Around The Web

I've always thought of the 1988 Destro as a perfect upgrade of a classic character.  They made him different enough to stand out.  But, he still retains enough of his original personality to know that this is Destro.  As such, I've always been fond of the figure, even if he lacks some paint details.  However, I've found that many collectors don't share my fondness for the mold.  There's surprisingly little content on the figure out there.  Here's the best I could find around the web for a figure that I quite enjoy.

1988 Destro Profile

1988 Destro at ARAH Gallery

1988 Destro Pre Production at YoJoe.com

Destro Dio 01

1988 Destro at JoeBattleLines.com

Destro & Despoiler Video Review

Destro Dio 02

1988 Destro, Despoiler, M Bison, Street Fighter Movie

1988 Destro, Despoiler, M Bison, Street Fighter Movie

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

1984 Clutch - VAMP Mark II Driver

All G.I. Joe vehicle drivers have to live up to Clutch.  I state this as fact only for the simple reason that, in the fall of 1982, Clutch was the coolest figure that my brother got for the birthday that introduced G.I. Joe into our lives.  While he was a vehicle driver, the awesome factor was mostly driven home by the complexity of his design and the fact that his chest was not shared with other figures from the time.  So, it is my own bias that puts Clutch as the standard for vehicle drivers.  But, through the line's early years, vehicle drivers often showcased designs that were equal, if not superior to, most of the carded figures from the year.  As the original Clutch's chest was not shared with other figures, Hasbro had less chance to recoup their costs from his design.  So, in 1984, when they produced an updated VAMP, Hasbro took a bit of a cheap way out and gave kids a newly repainted Clutch as it's driver.

As a kid, this Clutch was the only Clutch who really saw use.  Both of the original VAMPs from my childhood were acquired in 1982.  So, the standard Clutch figures were both straight arm.  By 1984, straight arm figures were used for parts or cannon fodder since they couldn't measure up to the swivel arm versions.  So, the only real representation of the character for me was this Clutch release.  And, as a kid who read the comic more and more as 1984 wore on, I simply had to have a Clutch figure.

Clutch was one of those characters that simply stuck with you.  Larry Hama did a great job with Clutch's development.  And, as Clutch remained a mainstay of the comic for many, many years, it's likely that he was a favorite of Hama's.  Clutch was the guy who everyone should hate.  He was slightly misogynistic and completely full of himself.  But, he did it in a way that people liked him.  Scarlett felt that Clutch was relatively harmless and that made his swarm charming.  It's difficult to create a character like this.  Usually, the dichotomy is too much and the character ends up actually being unlikable.  But, Clutch retained his comic popularity and is a collector favorite to this day.

The VAMP Mark II is a solid vehicle.  It didn't live up to the VAMP in my childhood.  But, it was OK and served its purpose.  All of the original Joe vehicle drivers really just "fit" with their vehicles.  As such, Clutch was really the only choice to drive the updated VAMP.  Putting anyone else behind the wheel would have been disingenuous to the character and to the kids to associated the two together.  So, in this case, such an early repaint was entirely forgivable.  And, since I didn't have a good version of the original, it was an excellent way to keep Clutch in my collection.

As the VAMP Mark II didn't last all that long in my collection, I often found this Clutch figure other vehicles to drive.  There weren't many desert vehicles back in 1984 and 1985.  But, Clutch was the perfect driver for my APC.  This vehicle lacked a true driver.  So, Clutch was a good choice, especially if his jeep was out of commission.  In 1985, my younger brother got a toy jeep (non-military) that was a golden brown color.  It was slightly too large for Joes.  But, the fit well enough.  Clutch and Dusty had many an adventure in that jeep.  Clutch was Dusty's personal driver for the few weeks when Dusty was my newest figure and was the main focus of my play.

Like all the pre 1985 Joes, though, Clutch's days were numbered.  Starting in the second half of 1985, I became much more careful with my figures.  While I still played with them: I was more cautious and conscientious about keeping my figures nice.  The Joes who pre-dated this turn in my mindset found themselves on the outside looking in as the newer, nicer versions of figures became my focal point.  But, by 1986 and into 1987, the reality was that Clutch was dated.  He was a smaller, less detailed sculpt than the new offerings.  And, I was heavily swayed by recency in my collection so the newer figures always took precedence over the older models.  So, Clutch went into a box and became an afterthought.

When I first started up Joe collecting as a adult, though, Clutch was one of the first figures I sought out.  I remembered him vividly from my childhood.  A friend of mine at the time, who was only casually interested in G.I. Joe, could still recite Clutch's filecard: more than a decade since he had last read it.  That was the impression the Clutch character left behind.  So, now, both the original and this desert Clutch are vital parts of my collection.  You will often see them around as background characters in photos.  They may be driving a VAMP or other vehicle.  But, they may also be involved in general combat duties.  I'd viewed Clutch as a field trooper since day 1 of Joe in my life.  So, he remains more than just a driver to me.

Despite this early repaint, Clutch didn't see too much use.  After the original release and this 1984 repaint, the mold disappeared for about a decade.  Both the VAMP and VAMP Mark II were staples of release around the world with notable variants in Brazil.  Yet, Clutch didn't make the journey.  In the early 1990's, though, Clutch finally reappeared with his jeep when Funskool released their version of the VAMP.  There are several versions of the Clutch figure: all in various shades of green with a few instances of the Clutch body with a Short Fuze head: but with black hair.  The Funskool figures are very hard to find: especially in good condition.  But, they are very similar to the U.S. release and don't offer anything outside of different shades of what we already got through Hasbro.  Both the VAMP and Clutch appear to have gone out of circulation in the mid 1990's.  That implies that Hasbro may have gotten his mold back when they re-acquired the Funskool figures that made up the bulk of the 1997 and 1998 Toys R Us exclusive figures.  But, the Clutch mold was either not among the returns, was too damaged to be used again, or simply dropped into a Hasbro warehouse where it was forgotten again: never to return.

I'd love to see a factory custom Clutch.  While the Clutch character could be repainted into Night Force, Tiger Force and every other sub team imaginable, his parts would have other potential.  (If you want to see the potential for Clutch repaints, check out Chad and Matt's Clutch customs.)  Clutch's chest and arms could be combined with Cobra Trooper waist and legs and a Hiss Driver or Cobra Officer head.  This would be a great Cobra driver for Stingers or Hiss Tanks.  Again, the repaint would lend itself to a panoply of colors.  The head could be used for new Breaker or Rock and Roll figures.  Or, repainted into a color the head never appeared in and used to make a new figure in early Joe style.  In short, the possibilities are endless.  Hopefully, one of the factory custom makers is listening.

In the vintage line, Hasbro really didn't do too much with repaint until the very end of the line.  Sure, there were Tiger Force, Night Force and Python Patrol.  But, they were always supplements to the main figure line rather than parts of it.  As an adult collector, I lament the fact that Hasbro didn't do the entire original 13 in a desert scheme to make a variant, unified team.  As a kid, though, I probably would have hated it since I would have lost out on other figures.  (Though, getting the gear I had lost from the original figures would have been a welcome perk.)  In the collector era starting in 1997, though, Hasbro really had no reason to not revisit the original 13 Joes and do some sort of specifically themed team.  The 1997 Stars and Stripes and the comic packs from the mid 2000's were the two closest attempts.  But, the Stars and Stripes was more about getting the molds out to appease collectors.  The comic packs were closer.  But, the odd greens and mix matched parts from different eras created a mis-match that's probably worse than the Stars and Stripes set.  I keep hoping that factory custom Joe producers will look to bring some desert variants of original 13 Joes into the fold. More and more parts are available.  And, I'd love a tan Flash, Grand Slam, Hawk, Stalker and the rest.  But, since I've played with and collected Joe since 1982, I have a more nostalgic bent to these original figures and my preferences may not play well in a larger market.

The desert Clutch is about middle of the road as far as Joe figures go in terms of price.  Mint and complete with filecard figures can be had for $10.  But, dealers will charge $20 and you'll see more sell at that price than they should.  But, you don't see as many desert Clutch figures as you used to.  And, the lower supply leads to more dealer sales.  For $10, this figure is a no-brainer.  You buy him and move on.  He's a great companion to the Tan Grunt and his parts can be used in conjunction with that figure to make a perfect Tan Breaker, too.  When these guys were cheaper, they were desired for the custom possibilities.  Now, though, they are desired for the figure itself.  Collectors like Clutch and they like his desert repaint.  It's awesome to get an iconic character in environmental themed colors.  It's just too bad we didn't see a few more of the early Joes get this treatment.

1984 Clutch, 1982 VAMP, 1997 Grunt, 1984 Thunder, Zap

1984 Clutch, 1988 Desert Fox, 1983 Rock and Roll, Steel Brigade, Mail Away

1984 Clutch, 1988 Wild Card, Mean Dog, VAMP Mark II
Clutch doesn't take kindly to Wild Card stealing his parking spot.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

1995 POTFII Boba Fett

While I quit buying Joe figures in 1988, I never really left the hobby.  Aside from a few month hiatus from the comic, I was still acquiring something related to G.I. Joe every month.  At the end of 1992, I bought a few figures at retail, again.  I'd check the toy aisle on various shopping trips.  As I was in college, though, those trips were infrequent at best as my primary focus was on college life.  In 1995, though, that changed.  The driving force behind my newfound interest in toys was the retail return of Star Wars figures.  Hasbro's newly acquired Kenner division returned the classic franchise to 3 3/4" figure form in the latter part of 1995.  At first, I was not a fan of the bulky, oddly posed designs.  Slowly, though, nostalgia took over and I wanted the figures.  I picked up a few odds and ends as I found them in the sparse retail environment of my college town.  My girlfriend of the time bought me all the ships for my birthday.  But, she had not been able to find any figures.  This would be the theme of Power of the Force II's retail beginnings.  Over Christmas of 1995, I went home where a friend of mine had found 4 figures that I didn't know existed: Princess Leia, Luke X-Wing Pilot, Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett.  He had found them for a huge mark up at the local FAO Schwartz store.  Otherwise, these figures simply did not exist at retail.

As the calendar turned to 1996, my frustration with retail Star Wars continued.  I managed to find a solitary Luke X-Wing at a K-Mart on my way out of Cincinnati in early 1996.  But, there was no sign of the figure I most wanted: Boba Fett.  After failing for months to find him, I decided I was going to buy one from a second hand dealer over spring break.  I had my dad stop at a local comic shop on the drive home from school.  There, the store had a carded Boba Fett for $6.95.  I had planned on paying up to $8 for the figure.  So, I didn't balk at the inflated price and purchased my first Boba Fett figure since my childhood.

I sent away for a Boba Fett mail away in 1979.  My parents actually went to buy a new figure to get enough proofs of purchase.  His arrival in the mail marked the first package of toys I had ever received.  I played with the figure constantly...even taking him on a family winter trip to Pokagon State Park in northern Indiana.  Here, I forgot my original Boba Fett figure.  The fact I remember where and when I lost figure (37 years later!) shows how important he was to me.  (On a side note, if you find a vintage Boba Fett in the Pokagon lodge lost and found, it's probably mine.)  In time, another Boba Fett showed up in our vintage collection.  I'm pretty sure both my brother and I had our own.  So, the adventures continued despite that early loss.

My acquisition of this figure in 1996 brought Fett back into the fold.  And, this figure was light years ahead of the other options from the time.  The added bulk of the POTFII figures made more sense within the context of Fett's armor.  Plus, Fett being a later release, he benefited from the lessons learned of the less than stellar Luke and Han that came before him.  Plus, I was willing to be forgiving for a character that I so wanted to be in my collection again.  The added details of the backpack, cape and Wookie scalps and his updated rifle were exactly what I wanted out of a modern Star Wars line.  The panoply of colors looked like they walked right out of the movie.  But, then again, in 1995, we only had VHS copies of the movies that played on old, pre-HD TV sets.  Even the internet was so nascent that there was little reference material for the character available and most of that was either a blurry screencap or low resolution scan of an old trading card or magazine.  So, the nitpicky details that doom this figure today were less obvious upon his release.

As 1996 progressed, I picked up a couple of extra Fett figures.  I also bought the Shadows of the Empire repaint in a two pack with IG-88 when I found it at the Oxford Wal Mart while I waited to get an oil change so I could drive half way across the state to attend my cousin's wedding.  I really couldn't get enough of the mold.  At the time, Star Wars was a novelty.  People my age grew up with it and were starting to carry that love into early adulthood.  The Special Editions were still months away.  And, the Prequels were just a pipe dream.  The all Star Wars/all the time world we live in now was simply unfathomable.  And, because of that, Star Wars was still something that was somewhat fringe.

At the height of my Star Wars collecting days in the late 1990's, I probably had half a dozen or more of these figures.  I had a couple loose.  I had an orange carded version, the green carded version, the freeze frame carded version and multiples of many of them.  I fancied myself a "serious" collector even though I really didn't buy everything and I collected some of these items just to brag I had them.  In 2007, it came time to move my Star Wars collection.  I was back buying figures at retail and was upgrading all of the old POTFII era figures.  In my zeal to remove the clutter, I got rid of everything: often for about 1/5 of what I had spent at retail for it: nostalgia be damned.  A decade later, I had pangs of regret.  This was driven by the fact that I now had young kids and those early POTFII figures would be great for them as they were indestructible, cool and worthless.  I managed to find a bag of high quality figures at a local thrift shop.  I only bought the bag as it also had a high quality, unbroken 1982 Straight Arm Snake Eyes figure in it.  But, Boba Fett returned to my home.  The fig below belongs to my boys who enjoy playing with him and I don't have to give Hasbro $8 for a crappy 5 POA figure they made in 2017.

There was a time when Boba Fett figures were rare, expensive and popular.  People would pay huge amounts for this figure if he had one of the glove paint variants or the right cardback.  The mid 1990's were a silly time when it came to collecting toys.  But, Boba Fett is probably the most popular character among collectors and Hasbro obliged not only by releasing this figure many, many times: but also constantly making new and better Boba Fett molds.  As such, calling this figure worthless is an understatement.  Mint on Card versions of this Boba Fett sell for under $5.  (Though lots of dealers will sell a few for $10.)  Loose versions aren't easy to find because who wants to handle a figure for a buck or two?  And, frankly, if you're going to buy a Boba Fett figure to show off, there are dozens of better figures made subsequently that are equally easy to find and cheap.  This figure was in production for years and was shipped in many case assortments.  Hasbro was actually really good at keeping high demand characters on the shelves in 1997 and 1998: before the bottom fell out of the market.  But, seeing this figure again reminds me of why I loved it so two decades ago and why I also got rid of it when better Fetts came along.  It was fun, though, to recollect those mid 1990's toy runs.  It was a great time in my life and this figure reminds me of that.

1995 POTFII Boba Fett, Darth Vader, AT-AT, Kenner

1995 POTFII Boba Fett, Finn, Millenium Falcon, Kenner, The Force Awakens

Thursday, October 19, 2017

1983 Major Bludd - Around the Web

The 1983 Major Bludd figure is one of the iconic Cobra characters from the earliest years of the line.  His unique look, cool name and fun accessories added up to a villain for the ages.  This original release of Major Bludd works perfectly well with the other contemporary Cobras of the time.  Though, he is a bit out of place when posed with later figures.  But, being a classic character means there's lots of content out there on him.  Here's the best of Major Bludd from around the web.

Major Bludd Profile

Major Bludd Review at Whenitwascool.com

Major Bludd at JoeADay.com

Major Bludd at ARAH Gallery

Major Bludd At 3DJoes.com

Major Bludd Video Review

Major Bludd Pre-Production at YoJoe.com

Major Bludd at JoeDios 1

Major Bludd at JoeDios 2

1983 Major Bludd, 1984 Cobra Stinger, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Black Major, Crimson Trooper, Snow Serpent Trooper, Desert Trooper

1983 Major Bludd, 1984 Cobra Stinger, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Black Major, Crimson Trooper, Snow Serpent Trooper, Desert Trooper

1983 Major Bludd, 1984 Cobra Stinger, Bootleg Cobra Trooper, Black Major, Crimson Trooper, Snow Serpent Trooper, Desert Trooper

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

1991 Ozone - Eco Warriors

Time heals all wounds.  Or, so they say.  In 1991, Hasbro released the Eco Warriors figures.  As collectors came online a few years later in the late 1990's, they generally hated the concept of neon Joes and, in particular, hated the Eco Warriors for being the harbinger of the bright colors.  Well into the 2000's this opinion remained true.  But, as the calendar turned to the 2010's, the stance began to soften.  This was due to the fact that many hardliners (those who felt the Joe line ended after 1987, or even 1985) had either left the hobby or had decided the later vintage Joes weren't bad since they had nothing else new to collect.  But, it was also due to an influx of younger collectors for whom the neon years had defined their childhood Joe experience.  While I won't go so far as to say that Eco Warriors are now popular, they are accepted and collectors find some value in them.  In looking back at the molds used in the Eco Warriors subset, they still exhibit the same high quality sculpting and design that Hasbro retained through the vintage Joe line's entire run.  This brings us to Ozone: an excellent addition to the Eco Warriors ranks and the subject of today's profile.

Ozone is known to me as an Astronaut.  The first time I came across the figure was in the spring of 1995 when I found the 1993 Star Brigade version of Ozone, Countdown and Payload for $2 each at a KB Toy Liquidators on the West side of Indianapolis.  The mold looked like an astronaut and it seemed perfectly reasonable to me that the figure was new to the Star Brigade assortment.  As collecting resources came online, I found that Ozone actually debuted two years earlier as part of the Eco Warriors assortment.  As I liked my 1993 figure, I made it a point to find an original Ozone figure.

In the late 1990's, though, finding figures from the 1990's on the second hand market was actually kind of tough.  Not too many kids had gotten to the point of selling their figures.  So, it took a good amount of time before I found a lot that included a complete Ozone.  Once in hand, though, I found that I still got more use out of my later Ozone releases.  The blue and yellow color was visually appealing.  But, I was more interested in Clean Sweep as a new acquisition.  And, as I was familiar with Ozone from Star Brigade, I had difficulty in seeing the original release of him in the Eco Warriors light.  Plus, the figure I got was very stiff.  So, he was difficult to fit into the Razorblade (my aircraft of choice at the time) which limited his display use.

Ozone's design is very strong.  His distinctive visage is one of the highlight.  The figure itself is named after a Hasbro designer of the time named David Kunitz.  The helmet is tight fitting and well placed without being a true danger of rubbing off the head's paint.  The rest of the body is somewhat bulky: befitting for a figure who would be wearing lots of protective gear.  He has lots of armor bits around that add depth to the mold, but really can only be explained away as aesthetic choices.  Ozone features an array of 6 neon green grenades on his chest.  They provide a visual break to the blue and yellow background.  And, they are a nice complement to the neon green accessories.  The overall color scheme works well despite the non-traditional bright colors.  Sure, Ozone is blue.  But the hue would never be mistaken for Cobra.

Ozone's accessories are a mixed bag.  His helmet is awesome.  It fits well and is in scale with the rest of his body.  The water squirting backpack is, essentially, the same as the device included with the other Eco Warriors figures.  For the time, it's a solid toy.  But, the weapon and hose are large and can easily snap thumbs.  The sniffer is a cool device.  However, in my first Eco Warriors lot I acquired, the sniffer was placed into the bag with Clean Sweep.  I never bothered to look up each figure since all the figs in the lot had their correct accessories.  So, until 2016, I considered this piece of gear to belong to Clean Sweep.  I've always seen it as an extension of the nice pack and controls setup included with that character.  So, seeing this vacuum gun with Ozone still seems odd to me.  But, the quality and oddity of the weapon remains the same regardless of which figure you have use it.  The bright green is a nice offset from the subtle blue and yellow of the figure.  So, I find it very aesthetically pleasing: even if it is very bright.

The Ozone mold got a lot of life.  Hasbro created it for the Eco Warriors in 1991.  It was then released in two variants as part of Star Brigade in 1993: a tan and a brown version.  Hasbro recolored Ozone into a dark brown and included him as a shortpacked figure in the second series of 1994 Star Brigade figures.  The mold then appeared in India around 1999 or 2000.  There, Funskool released a Star Brigade Ozone based on the 1993 American release of the figure.  There are a few variants of the Funskool figure to track down as some have different arm construction or differing shades of grey coloring.  Funskool still had the mold in 2010.  As such, it's more possible that Ozone's mold still exists.  Though, it's doubtful that he'll ever appear again.

Mint and complete with filecard Ozone figures are cheap.  While dealers sell them for $10, you can get them with the filecard for around $6 without too much difficulty.  You can still get carded figures in the $25 range without too much searching, too.  So, while the figure isn't as hated as it once was, it's still not loved by collectors.  However, for the price, Ozone isn't a bad buy.  The colors are different and vibrant.  The mold is solid.  And, the character is a relative blank slate that can be incorporated into any collection with no media baggage.  You can use the figure in a variety of settings and the panoply of later colors allow for some diversity when using the character.  Personally, I don't mind either Eco Warriors or brightly colored Joes.  I've been this way for 20 years, now.  But, the nostalgia of the neon years is strong with me as it was when I actively became a collector.  So, the value you derive from an Ozone figure may differ quite a bit.  But, I'm glad to have this guy in my collection.

1991 Eco Warriors, Ozone, Countdown, Outback, 1993, Star Brigade

1991 Eco Warriors, Ozone, Countdown, Outback, 1993, Star Brigade, 1991 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, tracker, Clean Sweep, Mercer

1991 Eco Warriors, Ozone, Countdown, Outback, 1993, Star Brigade, 1991 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, tracker, Clean Sweep, Mercer

1991 Eco Warriors, Ozone, Countdown, Outback, 1993, Star Brigade, 1991 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, tracker, Clean Sweep, Mercer

Thursday, October 12, 2017

1994 Ice Cream Soldier - Around the Web

For a bright neon figure with a terrible code who was released in Joe's final year: there sure is a lot of content around the web for Ice Cream Soldier.  It seems he's kind of the poster child for all that went "wrong" with the last years of the line.  But, the mold is still decent and the bright colors are kind of fun.  Here's the best on the 1994 Ice Cream Soldier from around the web.

Ice Cream Soldier Profile

Ice Cream Soldier at JoeADay.com

Ice Cream Soldier Video Review

Ice Cream Soldier at 3DJoes.com

Ice Cream Soldier Pre Production at YoJoe.com

Ice Cream Soldier at Half the Battle

1994 Ice Cream Soldier, Flamethrower, 1993 Mirage, Mega Marines, Outback, Eco Warriors, Mud Buster

1994 Ice Cream Soldier, Flamethrower, 1993 Mirage, Mega Marines, Outback, Eco Warriors, Mud Buster

1994 Ice Cream Soldier, Flamethrower, 1993 Mirage, Mega Marines, Outback, Eco Warriors, Mud Buster

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sigilo - Plastirama Quick Kick (Argentina)

The character of Quick Kick never really appealed to me.  Despite first appearing in the classic 1985 series, I never found the figure all that interesting.  As such, through the years, I mostly ignored Quick Kick's existence.  I acquired a complete one in an early lot of figures I bought and never really thought much about him.  However, as I turned towards foreign Joes as the major growth area for my collection, I found that Quick Kick had a large contingent of international releases.  Again, though, I heavily avoided these: spending my time acquiring figures I liked more instead.  In time, though, I realized that I would "need" to get the Quick Kick variants at some point.  So, when I found a dealer selling several Plastirama figures I was missing from my collection: I went ahead and added the Argentine version of Quick Kick (named Sigilo) to my collection.

Quick Kick was never really important to my childhood collection.  There's a few reasons for that.  The first is that his look was just too far out there.  A guy with bare feet and bare chest was tough for me to really get behind.  The second was that he only included a sword and nunchuks as weapons.  Had he been released in 1984 as an enemy to Storm Shadow, I might have found Quick Kick more interesting.  But, with the 1985 Snake Eyes as Storm Shadow's foil available the same calendar year, Quick Kick never stood a chance.  The final reason is more trivial.  But, one of my friends simply loved Quick Kick.  He was annoyingly attached to the figure.  (I suspect it was because he could not find the 1985 Snake Eyes at retail.  So, he didn't have Storm Shadow's natural enemy.  I recall him ordering Snake Eyes from either Sears or JC Penny's: getting several figures he already had since he couldn't find the figure he wanted at retail.)  He had Quick Kick out duel Snake Eyes.  This, to me, was ludicrous.  And, it helped sully the Quick Kick figure for me.

Yet, I did find uses for Quick Kick.  One of my favorite Special Missions adventures centers around Quick Kick and Stalker being trapped by South American terrorists.  From stories like this, I found that Quick Kick could have some value.  Yet, I found the figure constraining.  So, in time, Quick Kick joined the legion of nameless, faceless minions who would represent enemies of both Joe and Cobra.  He might be a radicalized student, a dissident or just a general terrorist.  He was joined by my broken figures, Dreadnoks and other knock offs in this role.  He also served as a stand in for Viet Cong soldiers during the time I was obsessed with "The 'Nam" comic book.

Beyond that, though, the figure never found a place.  Even as an adult, Quick Kick hasn't grabbed my attention.  I have few photos of him on the site and he rarely even makes a background appearance.  If I'm rattling off the 1985 lineup, Quick Kick will be the one figure I forget: even over the obscure Listen & Fun Tripwire.  The bare chest and feet don't really lend themselves to much usage.  And, Quick Kick's lack or firearm further limits his value.

The main differences between this figure and the American release are subtle.  Sigilo's (the name means Stealth) skin tone is definitively pinker than Quick Kick's.  That's the most noticeable difference.  He has a red belt with silver pockets.  These work better than the American colors and are more unifying in appearance since they also tie with the silver wrist gauntlets.  If you come across a loose Sigilo in the wild, he's different enough that an experienced collector will instantly recognize him as being different from the American figure.  But, he's still similar enough that he doesn't really bring anything to the Quick Kick character that you don't get from the Hasbro version.

Sigilo's accessories are the same as Quick Kick's.  The Plastirama backpack is a shiny black color.  (It's the common color of many Argentine accessories.)  The sword and nunchuks are still silver and are functionally indistinguishable from the Hasbro versions of the same gear.  Quality Control for these Plastirama figures can be spotty, though, and it's not uncommon to see carded Sigilo figures missing the nunchuks. The black pack is something different for the figure, but isn't really enough to be interesting.  But, at least the figure contains the full complement of gear.

Quick Kick was quite the world traveler.  Despite that, though, he never really got an interesting variant.  After his release in the U.S., Quick Kick appeared in Argentina and Brazil.  The Estrela release from Brazil is notable because Hasbro actually had Estrela produce a large quantity of Quick Kick figures that were made available to North American collectors via Hasbro Direct.  So, anyone who had a later mail away Quick Kick figure actually has the Brazilian variant.  Despite this major difference, these mail aways remain remarkably cheap.  Though, massive amounts of overstock were put into the collecting community that helps sate demand.  From Brazil, Quick Kick migrated to India.  There, Funskool produced a Quick Kick figure for many years.  Like both the Brazilian and Argentine versions of the mold, the Funskool figure is a very similar to the American release.  There are a few very difficult to find variants of the Funskool Quick Kick, the most famous being a version with a light pink sash.  It does not appear that Hasbro got the Quick Kick mold back from Funskool in the 2000's and it could still be there.  Frankly, I'd go for at least one variant of Quick Kick that gave us a substantially different visual from the other figures that were released around the world.  But, that's never going to happen, now.

In the early and mid 2000's, mint on carded Sigilo figures were ubiquitous on online auction and dealer sites.  They would sit, unsold for $10.  If you were patient, you could get them for half of that.  Sgto. Slaughter, Alado, Fuego and Sigilo comprised a quartet of completely undesirable figures that collectors ignored.  Slowly, though, the supply of all the Plastirama overstock has dried up.  These days, MOC Sigilos are around $25 figures.  Loose, they will run around $15 or so.  That's still pretty cheap.  But, there are tons of Quick Kick figures out there and most of them are similar enough that once you have one, you have them all.  But, you simply don't see Sigilo (or any of the once easy to find Plastirama figures) with the frequency you did just a decade ago.

If you are a foreign figure junkie like I am, this is good since you can still get a foreign variant for really cheap.  If you don't really care, it's good, too, since this Sigilo doesn't really offer anything you don't get with the regular Quick Kick version.  Since I'm still not a Quick Kick fan, this Sigilo just sits in a box with some other Plastirama figures.  He's fun to display with Sgto. Slaughter and Alado from time to time.  But, I rarely have occasion to pull him out and use him on his own merits.  Quick Kick is a character that's never resonated with me and the figure has kept him buried in my collection.  Having a foreign version of him is kind of fun.  But, in the end, this Sigilo is still constrained by the same issues as the American figure.  For those who like Quick Kick (and, he has a lot of fans) that's a good thing since it allows them more ways to collect a figure they enjoy.  For me, though, this figure checked a box and that's about the extent of his value to me.

Sigilo, Quick Kick, Argentina, Plastirama, Cobra Mortal, Cobra De Hielo, Ice Cobra, Stormshadow, Black Major, Bootleg

Sigilo, Quick Kick, Argentina, Plastirama, Cobra Trooper, VAMP Mark II, 1985, 1983, Dusty, 1984

Sigilo, Quick Kick, Argentina, Plastirama, 1985, Worms, 1987, General Hawk, 1997, Lifeline 1986

Sigilo, Quick Kick, Argentina, Plastirama, 1985, Worms, 1987, General Hawk, 1997, Lifeline 1986

Thursday, October 5, 2017

1985 Eel - Around the Web

The 1985 Eel is about as classic a Cobra army builder as there is.  Hasbro never released a Cobra diver that came close to the immortal grey original.  The fact that he wasn't repainted ad naseum has helped keep the figure undiluted and left him as pertinent today as he was in 1985.  Through the years, I've had tons of content regarding the figure.  Here's all of that plus some other content from around the web.

1985 Eel Profile

Eel Diorama 1 - The Landing

Eel Diorama 2 - Eels in Training

Eel on Instagram

Hombre Rana - Plastirama Eel from Argentina

Eel Diorama 3 - Helping Hand

Eel Video Review

Eel Diorama 4 - Through the Looking Grass

Eel at 3DJoes.com

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

2017 Red Lasers Army Sightline

I did not know Gary Head.  I was a member of a forum where he was active.  But, our peak collecting timelines did not really overlap.  I occasionally read about one of his finds: the most lasting for me was the alternate heads for the 1982 Joe team.  But, right as he came into the collecting world, I was heavily on my way out.  In his time, though, he made quite a mark on the Joe world.  Between developing a strong bond with many Hasbro employees (not an easy task) and keeping abreast of the modern line, Gary was a huge presence in the Joe world.  His untimely death left a void for the community as a hole, but also his many friends in particular.

So, due to his unique stature in the community, Hasbro decided to release a tribute figure to Gary in 2015.  The figure, named Sightline, featured a unique grey and red color scheme that was fairly uncommon in the Joe world.  Collectors enjoyed the figure.  But, being only available as an anniversary sculpt figure, the official release also left many collectors without a tribute.  Enter Joe DeClassified.  This group managed to obtain Hasbro's permission to produce a Sightline figure in vintage Joe style for the 2017 G.I. Joe Convention.  Factory custom figure maker Red Laser was brought in to provide the actual figure based on a design from noted customizer Chad_Ghost.  The result is an excellent homage to the figure that was an homage to the man.

2017 Sightline, Gary Head, Gary Goggles, Red Laser's Army, Bootleg, Factory Custom, 1997 Zap, 1985 Mauler

Quality wise, this figure isn't bad.  But, it has one glaring problem.  The figure's backpack will not fit into his back.  It's not even close.  You will Sightline's pack affixed to a Hasbro Steel Brigade figure in the photos below.  So, the pack's peg is just about standard size to work with vintage figures.  (It's a bit loose, but not so much as to render the pack useless.)  The issue is the screw hole in Sightline's back.  It is simply way too large for any pack to fit.  You can get around this with fixes like electrical tape.  But, I'm not a big fan of having to "fix" figures out of the box.  New stuff should work with no issues.

The Sightline figure includes some solid accessories.  He starts with a charcoal colored version of Recoil's rifle.  This weapon was available with the most common Steel Brigade figure and has long been a collector favorite.  It works with this figure.  Though, it is becoming overused by the various custom figure makers due to that popularity.  He also comes with the aforementioned black version of Duke's backpack.  (I always differentiate Duke and Airborne's packs since Airborne's has the cross on the inside and Duke's does not.  They are different molds, though they appear the same from the front.)  Where the figure gets interesting is that he includes a 1982 style Joe helmet.  It was rare to see a V1 Snake Eyes figure with a helmet.  (He was only ever released with one when he appeared as the first version of the Funskool Street Hawk figure.)  But, his head was designed to wear one.  In addition to the helmet he has a red 1982 style visor.  It is a never before seen color and is a welcome addition into the accessory fold.  I need to try it on a Flash or Grand Slam figure to see how it works.  The figure also includes a filecard and a a trading type card with fan made artwork.

Sightline uses parts remade from the V1 Snake Eyes, Flash, Trip Wire and Airborne.  They are a solid group of parts that also lend themselves to the 20 or so additional figures that Red Laser debuted at Joecon in 2017.  There is a bit of a color mismatch between the legs and the chest caused by a factory mixup.  But, the general appearance of grey, black cammo and red is a stark difference from most offerings using 1982 through 1984 molds.  You can set Sightline on display with Snake Eyes and, if Sightline is wearing his helmet, you don't feel that the figures tread upon each other.  For that reason alone, the Sightline figure is an excellent companion to to the early Joe team since he brings a color palette not otherwise seen.

If you attended the 2017 G.I. Joe convention at Disney in Orlando, you could get a Sightline figure for free as a special attendee bonus from the Joe DeClassified team.  There were around 1,000 figures made.  Each person who got a figure registered so that no one got more than one.  There were some bonus figures hidden around the convention area, though, that enterprising collectors could find.  Poor convention attendance, though, left DeClassified with around 400 remaining figures.  As of now, they are still working on how to distribute those figures as their permission from Hasbro to use the Sightline name stipulated that the figures could not be sold.  Most collectors have, so far, honored the implied agreement that these figures not be sold.  But, some have been.  And, since there are so many collectors who have not yet had a chance to acquire the figure and who desperately want it, the few sales that have occurred have fetched prices in the $100 - $125 range.

It's likely that those prices are unsustainable.  For one, some of the 400 remaining figures will get into the collecting community through toy shows or other means.  This will reduce demand.  But, in time, this figure will fall into more obscurity.  There are simply so many factory custom figures being produced at this time (There's well over 50 that have debuted in the first 6 months of 2017 alone!) that fatigue will start to deter collectors.  Once the figure is replaced as the "it" item in the collecting community, interest in him will fade.  As the figure is distinctive, he will retain more popularity than many other figures.  But, there's also nothing stopping repaints of this figure in similar colors or other homages from additional sources.

If you collect vintage Joes, it's been a rough decade.  There has been, basically, nothing to buy outside of a handful of convention sets.  And, those are nearly a decade away now, too.  Fortunately, enterprising collectors like Red Laser and Black Major have filled the void.  While we only saw a few molds produced during the early years of the factor custom game, 2016 and 2017 have seen the ante upped with classic Joes, immortal Cobra army builders and a plethora of new figure designs that have allowed a vintage Joe collection to expand in ways Hasbro simply could not deliver.  I look at what the factory custom producers have done and they have made more "must-have" figures for me than Hasbro made from 2000 - 2007.  That's amazing and shows that had Hasbro listened to collectors during that time, they might have achieved much more success.

For now, though, it's a good time to be a vintage Joe collector again.  There's lots out there to buy: much of it geared squarely for collectors based on their long unfulfilled wish lists.  Sightline is one of those figures that I didn't realize I wanted until I got one.  I can't thank Wowboy enough for his generous gift of this figure to me.  Sightline brings something missing to my collection and helps add visual diversity among the figures who comprised the formative years of my childhood.  He helps breathe new life into toys that have been staples of my life for 35 years now.  It saddens me that Hasbro isn't able to tap into that passion.  But, guys like Red Laser and Black Major have.  And, all our collections are better for it.

2017 Sightline, Gary Head, Gary Goggles, Red Laser's Army, Bootleg, Factory Custom, 1997 Zap, 1985 Mauler, 1984 Roadblock, Viper, Stinger Viper, Eel Viper, Recondo

2017 Sightline, Gary Head, Gary Goggles, Red Laser's Army, Bootleg, Factory Custom, 1997 Zap, 1985 Mauler, 1984 Roadblock, Viper, Stinger Viper, Eel Viper, Recondo, Steel Brigade, Mail Away, VAMP, HAL

2017 Sightline, Gary Head, Gary Goggles, Red Laser's Army, Bootleg, Factory Custom, 1997 Zap, 1985 Mauler, 1984 Roadblock, Viper, Stinger Viper, Eel Viper, Recondo, Steel Brigade, Mail Away, VAMP, HAL

Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Sightline, Gary Goggles, Red Laser Army, Bootleg, Factory Custom

Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Sightline, Gary Goggles, Red Laser Army, Bootleg, Factory Custom, Crimson Guard, Black Major, Dragonfly, 1983

Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Sightline, Gary Goggles, Red Laser Army, Bootleg, Factory Custom, Crimson Guard, Black Major, Dragonfly, 1983, Rock and Roll