In a lot of ways, the early 2000's were the heyday of G.I. Joe collecting. The community was the largest it's ever been. Hasbro were willing to make new Joes for retail. And, the internet gave collectors plenty of places to congregate and discuss the hobby. It was one of those times where you don't realize how good it is until its all gone and you look back at the era in retrospect. Despite all the good, collectors were also their own worst enemies during this time. We would express our disdain for a product while buying it. We'd exclaim that we'd buy 100 of something...only to buy one or two when it came out. Hasbro of that time really tried to listen. The G.I. Joe brand manager was a fan and tried to engage them. But, mostly, those attempts failed. There were forces at play in the retail world that were at odds with collectors. And, collectors often didn't know what they wanted. Hasbro produced some very forgettable figures during this time. But, they also produced some gems. 15+ years later, though, some of the figures that couldn't rise up at the time have taken on new life. One such figure is the 2003 Python Patrol Major Bludd figure.
A sad fact about collectors of the early 2000's is that we didn't reward any Hasbro ingenuity. While collectors would bemoan the multitude of Snake Eyes and Duke figures that Hasbro constantly released, they would then turn around and buy them: leaving much more innovative products on the shelves. With this Major Bludd, and the entire Python Patrol set in general, Hasbro took a huge chance. Rather than go with a tried and true vintage homage, the came up with something completely different. The dark red and black was a whole new look for Python Patrol figures. But, Major Bludd, in particular, was something really new. At the time, collectors hated any Battle Corps mold. It was mostly blind hatred grounded in stereotype rather than fact. But, it was pervasive. To make Major Bludd, though, Hasbro took one good aspect of 1994 figures, Major Bludd's head, and put it to use on a new body. In 2003, the 1991 Super Sonic Fighters Zap was mostly an unknown figure and few collectors owned one. So, putting out a new Major Bludd using this body was a tremendous risk that Hasbro took to create something new for the singular non army builder in the Python Patrol set.
Collectors, naturally, rewarded Hasbro by complaining constantly about Bludd. They were upset they had to buy an extra Major Bludd to get the 5 army builders they wanted. We also complained about the Python Patrol not being compatible with vintage figures. Basically, collectors told Hasbro not to take chances like this set, again. They did so by not buying the set in droves like many had planned. While early message board boasts talked of people buying 10 or more sets, the reality is that even the most die hard army builders stopped after 5 or 6. Most collectors only bought one or two sets. And, the Python Patrol lingered at retail, even getting clearanced out online. As such, Toys R Us lowered their order of future sets. While both Tiger Force and Python Patrol had around 25,000 units produced, Toys R Us dropped that number to around 20,000 for the 2004 exclusive sets. And, the Joe sets, eventually, dropped as low as 16,000 as interest in the brand began to wane.
The lower productions runs, though, weren't a bad thing. While many collectors predicted a scalper's apocalypse with the 2004 Cobra Infantry, that never came to pass. 20,000 sets proved to be around the right number for the collector base of the time and even became too many by 2005. But, the Python Patrol's ultimate retail failure can't be blamed solely on collector apathy. Hasbro played a part, too. In 2002 and 2003, army building was the rage. Sure, you see army building today. But, it's nothing like what happened in the early 2000's. Collectors of that era army built anything released at retail and would go to great lengths to justify why they had 20 or more of some specialty Cobra. Hasbro never really understood this. Even their token army building offerings of 2002 were shortpacked in cases or forced the consumer to buy a Joe to get the army builder. Collectors were demanding some classic army builders while Hasbro turned deaf ears to their cries. The announcement of the Python Patrol was enough to make collectors happy since they had an army building set that fulfilled many desires. It didn't have Vipers or Crimson Guards. But, 5 army builders and a crappy Major Bludd for $20 was still pretty good. But, right as the set hit, Hasbro threw a wrench into collector plans.
At the 2003 G.I. Joe convention, Hasbro released news of their 2004 offerings. The year would start with a 6 pack of classically colored Cobra Troopers and Officers. If that wasn't enough, there would be a three pack of G.I. Joes in Crimson Guard disguises that would be released for the 2003 holiday season, too. And, they promised more army builders as the year went on. With this news, all collector focus fell off the Python Patrol. Why buy extras of this set when you could save that money for Cobra Troopers and Crimson Guards that were only a couple of months away? The Python Patrol set was made DOA just by the announcement that much better army building opportunities were coming. Collectors no longer had to settle for what they got since what they had always wanted would be coming to retail at long last. Even the cancellation of the Infiltrate Cobra Island Crimson Guards was enough to dampen enthusiasm as the Toys R Us Cobra Infantry was enough of a hit to offset any disappointments.
As for the figure itself, the Python Patrol Major Bludd is well done. The new Python color scheme is intricate and well executed on the figure mold. The palette of maroon, black and gold is very striking and sets a different expectation for a Cobra figure. The parts mesh together well. And, while the Zap body creates more of a heavy weapons Major Bludd than we've seen in the past, it is not out of character for Major Bludd and seems like a plausible look for him. The huge downside are the accessories, though. Bludd didn't include any useful weapons. Instead, he included a terrible rocket launcher and a gun meant to plug into a now missing backpack from the 1991 Zap figure. To say they are useless is an understatement. Fortunately, it's now easy to acquire better weapons for Major Bludd. But, he was another early example of Hasbro's lack of commitment to giving figures decent gear.
For me, though, this figure is tough to use. It looks cool. But, this Bludd doesn't really fit with the specialized troopers from his Python Patrol set. And, if I want a Major Bludd to use in other contexts, there are better figures for that role. So, this Python Patrol figure sits in his drawer, awaiting some rare occasion where he will be needed. With a few factory customs coming that use this Python Patrol pattern, it's possible that Major Bludd will find more use at some point in the future. For now, though, he's a neat figure for whom I have no use. That kind of sucks. But, there are a decent number of quality figures in the line's history who have very specific purposes and are tough to use any other time. This Bludd fits into that pattern.
After being, basically, an unsellable figure for many years, this Major Bludd has started to see some life on the aftermarket. Mainly, though, that's due to the the extremely low amount of stock that is for sale at any given time. Dealers will sell a mint and complete with filecard version for around $15. And, since there's really no other options any more, they sell quite a few at that price. Left to the open market, the figure will sell for considerably less. You just might have to wait 6 months to find one. You can also still get the figure for almost nothing if you buy a set of Python Patrol figures as a lot and then resell the army builders individually. It's a lot of work, though, to save a couple of bucks. And, the rest of the Python Patrol figures (aside from the SAW Viper) are pretty nice. This 2003 Python Patrol color scheme has also become iconic in its own right. It has shown up on anniversary figures and factory customs. So, after 15 years, collectors finally came around and rewarded Hasbro ingenuity. The long delay just cost us the line we love being a retail success.