Tuesday, July 31, 2018

2005 Heavy Assault Squad Snake Eyes

The 2000's brought us a great many failures within the Joe line.  The line flopped at retail several times.  Individual products could pegwarm at unprecedented levels.  And, Hasbro's commitment to making quality products was often called into question.  But, there were good times, too.  There are several figures from that era who stand apart.  Most were nice updates of more obscure character molds.  A shining example is the 2005 Heavy Assault Squad Snake Eyes figure.  All told, this is, probably, the best paint job of this 1991 Snake Eyes repaint.  While it's far from perfect, the HAS Snake Eyes figure features decent colors and a useful purpose.  

The HAS Snake Eyes is something different for the character.  While he retains the signature black color, it's not prevalent all over the figure's body.  The pants, most noticeably, are grey and blue.  (The blue is a bit too close to Cobra blue, though.)  The cammo pattern is a bit distracting.  It's the same set of paint masks as were used on the 2004 Desert Patrol Snake Eyes: just done in different colors.  The figure's upper half is the exact same as the Desert Patrol figure.  So, this Snake Eyes felt overly familiar upon its release.  Thirteen years later, those similarities remain, but they are less fresh in the collective mind of the Joe community.  

Accessory wise, this figure is terrible.  The HAS set was useful in that it dropped a ton of accessories into one set and gave collectors a quick way to gets lots of extra weapons.  But, this was also bad since most of the weapons included with the set were awful.  Snake Eyes was given a Snow Job rifle and a Major Bludd rocket launcher.  The gear was not matched to the characters in the set so you're left with a good Snake Eyes figure with no real weapons that help define his character.

The hallmark of the 1982, 1985 and 1989 Snake Eyes figures was signature gear that complemented and enhanced the figure.  While the 1991 figure featured a poorly colored gun and sword, the gear was still unique to the character.  This HAS Snake Eyes lost that personalized touch that was so evident with the weapons from his prior releases.  So, you're left to the aftermarket to outfit the figure.  Fortunately, easily found 1989 Snake Eyes weapons are a good figure for this figure.  And, if you can find them, you can get a golden version of the 1991 sword and gun from the Night Fighter Guile figure.  The figure even works with an Iron Grenadiers Uzi.  It's not great that you have to go to the aftermarket to get some worthwhile gear for a full factory release.  But, this was pretty much Hasbro's standard in 2004 and 2005 and collectors came to expect it.  (The one big upside is that Hasbro's laziness with weapons helped to spawn Marauder's Gun Runners who did brisk business during this time releasing nice weapons that were far better fits for the retail G.I. Joe figures than anything Hasbro came up with.)

For me, this Snake Eyes is an encapsulation of the early 2000's era of G.I. Joe.  He was a product made for collectors, marketed to collectors and sold to collectors.  Yet, he didn't feel like a collector geared figure.  In the end, this Snake Eyes feels somewhat cluttered.  It's a fun take on Snake Eyes and it's nice to get the character in a different mold.  But, the lack of gear and somewhat offset color scheme take away from what could have been a solid release.  Hasbro made the HAS set as cheaply as possible.  I would have rather that they dropped one figure and released 5 better figures instead of 6 figures that were all flawed.  But, that didn't happen and it left collectors very frustrated.  One of the reasons that the ARAH style exclusive sets started to fail was for that reason.  Every set had so much unrealized potential and all had one flaw that simply made no sense.  

As a mold, this figure got no use and then got a ton of use.  The first Snake Eyes to utilize the mold was released in 1991.  This figure was not carried into 1992, though, and was rather obscure for many of the early years of online Joe collecting.  The 1995 Night Fighter Guile that utilized the body was even moreso.  The figure didn't reappear in any form until 2004.  The entire body first appeared in the fall when the Desert Patrol set featured a full 1991 Snake Eyes, but painted in better colors.  Then, the head appeared on the amazing Winter Operations Snake Eyes.  (This figure is one of the top ARAH style Joes Hasbro created in the 2000's for sure!)  While this HAS figure isn't bad, the tan pants are a different look for Snake Eyes and keep this figure from being the definitive release of the mold.  In the summer of 2005, this HAS Snake Eyes appeared.  The mold was then retired.  While it might have been cool to finally get a definitive repaint of the mold in a DTC or convention release, that was not to be.  But, the mold has all good releases and there's enough untapped potential for an enterprising collector to kitbash together better figures without much effort.

The HAS set had a production run of around 16,000 pieces.  It's release window, though, did not help it at all.  The set appeared after the infamous 2005 G.I. Joe Convention.  You know, the one where Hasbro pulled the set from their display after collector backlash and claimed it was an early sample not ready for public consumption.  Mind you, the EXACT set appeared at retail just a couple of weeks later.  By the time the set was released, Hasbro had succeeded in killing off any remaining interest in the Joe property.  The sets stagnated both at retail and online.  Most collectors decided to wait the set out and see if they could get it on clearance.  And, many did.  Amazon.com blew their remaining stock out for a fraction of the original price.  The set actually sold off faster than some of the Cobra army building sets that were also clearanced.  But, that's more likely a function of Amazon having greater inventory of the Cobras (Hasbro made 20,000 of the Cobra sets during this time compared to only 16,000 of the Joe sets.) than the HAS being more popular than the Crimson Shadow Guard or the Imperial Processional.  

You don't see nearly as many loose Toys R Us six pack figures as you used to.  And, as such, you will see dealers offering this figure for around $25 and actually selling a few to impatient collectors.  If you're willing to wait, you can often get the figure for around $6, though.  And, if you want a loose set and find a lot with in there, you can get the Snake Eyes even cheaper.  Boxed HAS sets will sell in the $50 range...making $25 for just the Snake Eyes a somewhat foolish purchase.  It's a far cry from the days of $6 sets online.  But, more than a decade separates us from this figure's release and the massive overstock bought at clearance prices has now been either dispersed or lost in some former collector's basement.  

2005, Snake Eyes, Heavy Assault Squad, TRU Exclusive, 1988, Shockwave, 1992 Gung Ho

2005, Snake Eyes, Heavy Assault Squad, TRU Exclusive, 1988, Shockwave, 1992 Gung Ho

2005, Snake Eyes, Heavy Assault Squad, TRU Exclusive, 1988, Shockwave, 1992 Gung Ho, Roadblock, Crimson Shadow Guard, General Hawk, Comic Pack

Thursday, July 26, 2018

1994 Joseph Colton - Around the Web

The final mail away of the vintage line was the first character who established the G.I. Joe universe: Joseph Colton.  At the time, this figure was highly sought after and quickly became a favorite of 12" Joe collectors who wanted the character in all his forms.  Since then, the demand for this figure was sated with the massive amounts of overstock that were left over from the original mail away.  But, the figure still holds a cachet.  The fact that it's a high quality mold certainly helps it out.  He's a decently popular character.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

Joseph Colton Profile

Joseph Colton Mail Away Insert

Joseph Colton Diorama

Joseph Colton Video Review

Joseph Colton at JoeADay.com

Joseph Colton at 3DJoes.com

Joseph Colton at Retro Reaction

1994 Joseph Colton, Shipwreck, Battle Corps, Stalker, Action Soldier, 1985 Mauler

1994 Joseph Colton, Shipwreck, Battle Corps, Stalker, Action Soldier, 1985 Mauler

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

2004 Vypra (Version 2) - Ninja Strike

In the early 2000's, army building was all the rage.  Collectors army built any figure with "Viper" in the name and pretty much everything else that had a Cobra logo, too.  By 2004, though, Hasbro had finally started to catch up with army building demands of the collecting community.  By the 2nd half of the year, collectors had seen cheap Bats, a nice Python Patrol set, retail army building two pack, a Crimson Guard body mail away, the long awaited and insanely popular Cobra Infantry and a nice pack of Urban army builders and characters.  There were also ridiculous amount of army building figures, two packs and single carded figures for those who preferred the Joe vs. Cobra sculpts, too.  The calvacade of troopers didn't end as Hasbro ended the year with a Cobra themed ninja pack.  In the set were 5 army builders: 3 repaints of the V1 Stormshadow and 2 repaints of Jinx, named Vypra.

In 1998, Hasbro released the first Vypra figure.  She was a radically different repaint of Jinx and wasn't hated by the collecting world.  (The notion of Jinx as a Cobra had been inserted into the Joe mythos with an early 90's DeSimone Convention figure, too.)  She collected dust at Toys R Us stores into 2000.  By 2001, though, Vypra had taken on a new life through fan fiction, dio-stories and other medium.  The 1998 figure had gotten stupidly expensive and hard to find.  For many collectors, Vypra was annoying since they had passed her by dozens of times at retail, only to now see the figure selling for insane amounts.  No doubt, Hasbro saw this too and took advantage of a chance to get a similar character back out to retail.

As a character, though, this Vypra has no relevance to the original figure.  This character is one of a set of twins who guard the Arashikage mystic sword forge.  All but the last line of the filecard is about the swordmaster and his amazing swords.  Vypra and her sister guard the forge.  There is no mention of why they work for Cobra and wear Cobra sigils on their uniforms.  The entirety of the figure's filecard rehashes a comic book arc from about 15 years prior to the figure's release and doesn't bother to explain why these sisters share a name with another Cobra nor why Cobra owns the swordsmithery.  The sisters are also not, technically, army builders.  They are unique characters who have an army of two.  But, with as horrible as the 2000's era filecards were, there was little chance that collectors were going to head them and be content with just the two figures.

Really, the who thing is kind of silly.  But, the explanation is that it was 2004 and Hasbro was starting to give up on G.I. Joe.  The brand managers of the time hated vintage style figures and wished they would go away.  Meanwhile, the new sculpts for 2004 had backed up at retail and pretty much everyone knew the line's second coming was nearing its end.  You can see the lack of effort the team put into the products as you follow the chronology.  The 2003 Toys R Us offerings were pretty great.  The first four 6 figure pack exclusives for 2004 had great figures, but relatively poor weapon choices.  By the time these Ninjas and the Desert Strike set were released, the figures were getting as lazy as the accessories.  In 2005, the sets turned into an embarrassing mess that not even Hasbro would admit to.  So, we're left with these figures without a decent explanation of who they are or why they affiliate with Cobra.

As for the Vypra figure...I'm of mixed opinions.  At her core, seeing the mold in colors so similar to Jinx seems highly derivative and unimaginative.  Both figures could have been done in Cobra blue, all black or even white to make them more distinctive than the original character for which the mold was created.  The artistic prints on the figures, though, are fairly well done.  The masks are intricate, voluminous and in line with the character.  But, we know that paint masks comprised a huge part of every set's expense during the 2000's.  (It was actually second behind packaging costs.)  So, all of the Ninja Strike's budget went into these paint masks.  This meant that there was less money to improve Stormshadow or even include some more interesting accessories like a new set of 1984 Stormshadow gear with any of the three V1 Stormshadow molded figures in the set.

While I can appreciate the paints masks on this figure, I feel that the money could have been better spent making the whole set more appealing and enduring.  15 years later, the Stormshadow figures are all but forgotten: replaced by better factory custom figures that were free of Hasbro's limitations.  The 1988 Stormshadow isn't a release most collectors would even recall.  It was a terrible design for Stormshadow and the colors fell flat.  Had the set made a few key improvements in paint applications and included better gear, it could be held in regard with things like the Anti-Venom set where collectors still appreciate the entire effort since it was mostly done right.

One big issue with the Ninja Strike set in general is the figure quality.  For some reason, the quality slipped a bit with this set.  The figures feature tight joints, easily rubbed paint and will have frozen rivets hindering movement.  It's very noticable when you compare a figure from this set with a figure from the Urban Strike, Desert Patrol or Anti-Venom sets which produced around the same time.  Collectors of the day noticed right away.  And, more than one collector stopped buying their army since they had no desire to acquire tons of poor quality figures.  At the time, you could accomplish that far better figure releases from Funskool.

Vypra's accessories are somewhat lame.  Her weapons are a black version of the 1989 Snake Eyes sword and a pair of nunchuks from the Ninja Force era of figures.  While you can't disparage the fact that she includes ninja type weapons, the complement of gear seems haphazard and lazy.  Despite two Jinx molds in the mix, the set did not include any of Jinx's original gear.  And, since they had used her gear in 2003, we know it was available to Hasbro.  She also includes a long skirt.  Here, the paint masks really come out.  The visual of the figure wearing it helps differentiate her from Jinx.  But, the skirt is very rigid plastic and greatly hinders the figure's movement.  It's a situation where appearance reigns over function.

In the early 2000's, female figures were still seen as collector bait.  As the Joe line was short on overall female figure options, all the females that Hasbro had available saw re-release after re-release.  The Jinx mold was no different.  After the 1998 Vypra release, Jinx returned as a member of Tiger Force in 2003.  In the summer of 2004, Jinx's body was used for the Comic Pack Scarlett.  These two Vypra releases finished off the mold and Jinx never appeared again.  (For Jinx fans, though, there is also the vintage version from 1987 and two variants of Sonya Blade that use Jinx's body, but a new head and different feet on the movie version.)  While there was always more that could have been done with a vintage figure mold, Hasbro got their money from Jinx and fans of the mold have far more to collect than exists with other characters of Jinx's release year.

It's hard to get a gauge on this Vypra's pricing.  It seems you can get loose, mint and complete Ninja Strike sets sell in the $40 range.  Yet, the 2 Vypras alone will often set you back $30.  This version, alone, seems to sell in the $13-$15 range if she is complete and has the filecard.  Since the Red Ninja Vipers aren't bad and the Black Dragon Ninja has some uses, too, it seems that its far more economical to just buy a full, loose set.  Hasbro made around 20,000 of these sets.  And, while they sold out at retail during the 2004 holiday season, they were never hard to find and any collector who wanted a set or six could easily find them both in stores and online.

For me, this figure is rather insignificant.  Jinx has never really resonated with me.  And, this figure just looks like Jinx with a paint job that ate up all the development money from this set and cost me decent Stormshadow gear for the better figures.  If I want to use a Vypra, I'll use the 1998 figure since it's something different.  But, lots of collectors love this figure.  That's why they still sell for a decent premium today.  The paint masks are intricate and show what Hasbro was capable of doing when they actually tried.  But, Joe interest was dying off as 2004 turned to 2005 and sets like this Ninja Strike were part of the reason why.  The set seemed so great and then delivered so little when it actually was released to collectors.

2004 Vypra Version 1 Version 2, 1997 Scarlett, 1998, Toys R Us Exclusive

2004 Vypra Version 1 Version 2, 1997 Scarlett, 1998, Toys R Us Exclusive

2004 Vypra Version 1 Version 2, 1997 Scarlett, 1998, Toys R Us Exclusive

Saturday, July 21, 2018

2008 SDCC Cobra Commander - Around The Web

With San Diego Comic Con going on this weekend, it was a perfect time to look back at the time, ten years ago, when Hasbro dropped an awesome G.I. Joe exclusive at the show.  While this figure's body was from an Indiana Jones figure, the overall look for the early Cobra Commander worked out pretty well.

This figure isn't nearly as popular now as it was upon its release.  So, there isn't that much content on him left out there.  But, here's the best of him from around the web.

SDCC Cobra Commander Profile

SDCC Cobra Commander at JoeADay.com

SDCC Cobra Commander at CoolToyReview

SDCC Cobra Commander at HissTank.com

2008 SDCC Cobra Commander, San Diego Comic Con

Thursday, July 19, 2018

2000 Law - Around the Web

When Hasbro released the ARAHC figures in 2000, collectors were ecstatic to see Joe return to retail.  The first wave featured almost all excellent repaints of figures that collectors wanted to see.  The Law repaint is a substantially different look for the character.  I won't say it's better than the 1987 version since that release is iconic.  But, it probably is.

Here's the little of him from around the web.

2000 Law Profile

Law Dio 1

Law at GeneralsJoes.com

Law Dio 2

2002 Shock Viper, 2000 Law, Dial Tone, ARAHC, Wave V, Internet Exclusive, 1983 G.I. Joe HQ

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

1992 Eco Warriors Deep Six

It's finally fashionable in the collecting world to like the Eco Warriors.  The neon colored darlings that attracted all the collector hate in the 2000's have finally come of age where a good portion of the collecting world appreciates them for what they were.  But, despite this newfound status, the 1991 figures remain worthless, even if the designs are cool.  In 1992, though, Hasbro continued the series.  This newer wave of Eco Warrior members were just as brightly colored and equally well designed as the first series.  In recent years, zombie-mania has afflicted popular culture.  With that, the Joe world has seen great interest in the 1992 Toxo Zombie figure: despite his bright colors.  But, in a case where it appears that a rising tide lifts all boats, the other 1992 Eco Warriors figures have found themselves both harder to find and more expensive in recent years.  The 1992 Eco Warriors Deep Six is a prime example.

Absent of any packaging or media to tell me otherwise, I could see this Deep Six as a Cobra.  He wears deep blue with highlights similar to the Toxo Zombie and his face is covered by a full mask.  In short, he fits Cobra's motif.  But, this is simply a new color scheme for a Joe.  The 1992 Eco Warriors featured bright highlights, but more muted base colors.  This leads to a much more subdued look for the team and helps make the 1992 characters more useful outside of their Eco Warrior motif.  This Deep Six is darker and more detailed than even the 1989 figure.  But, he does feature an odd array of colors in addition to the dark blue.  The lime green highlights are a different choice for a figure.  But, the color works in juxtaposition to the dark blue.  It's the final color that is the most problematic.  The figure also features bright pink/purple highlights.  I'll call them pink for descriptive purposes.  Though, the color is not quite pink and has some purplish hues.  Absent this color, Deep Six is a perfectly acceptable figure.  But, with it, he has been the source of collector ridicule for two and a half decades.

Deep Six has always been a deep sea diver.  The 1984 and 1989 versions both retained this specialty.  With the 1984 figure sucks, the 1989 is one of the best redesigns of an existing character that Hasbro ever pulled off.  This 1992 Eco Warriors figure, though, doesn't fit the character's original skill set.  I see this figure as more of a shallow water/landing type figure.  The sleek suit and less bulky survival gear suggest this is a way for Deep Six to take part in the action that takes place above 5,000 fathoms under the sea.  The fact that the figure lacks an air pack or sculpted air tanks also suggests that he's not destined to remain under water for long periods of time.  (The filecard states that Deep Six wears a liquid oxygen vest to supply his breathing air.  I suppose this works.  But, it leaves the figure still too self contained to see him a long term diver who spends hours under water at a time.)

Deep Six included terrible accessories.  He features bright pink flippers.  While they can work as a part of this figure, they are also ridiculous.  For a weapon, he only includes a repainted version of the 1989 Deep Six gun: now in black.  There is a battle stand, which was a welcome addition in 1992.  The final accessory is a huge, grey dolphin.  The gimmick is that it squirts water.  So, instead of the ubiquitous water firing packs that were staples of the other Eco Warriors figures, Deep Six gets a spitting dolphin.  For a figure and character like Deep Six, I guess the gear complement isn't terrible.  But, a pack and better gun could have gone a long way towards improving the figure overall.

Originally, Deep Six's dolphin was going to be black.  A few black dolphins were carded and leaked into the market.  These "Killer Whale Deep Six" figures can fetch a pretty penny: easily over $1,000.  Really, though, the black dolphin isn't a variant: it's a pre-production piece.  But, dealers hear "variant" and instantly jump to the conclusions that any version of this figure is rare and desirable.  That's not the case.  The standard figure was fully released and is very available.  But, in the extremely unlikely event you stumble across a carded Deep Six with a black dolphin, be aware that such an item exists and is highly desirable.

While the 1989 Deep Six figure mold saw a nice run of reuses, this 1992 version never reappeared.  The Eco Warriors are a mixed bag of reuse.  Ozone and BBQ both found themselves used multiple more times in the Star Brigade subset.  The rest of the figures, though, did not reappear.  And, while a couple of Eco Warrior molds did show up again in the 2000's repaint era, this Deep Six was not among them.  It's likely that Hasbro had the mold.  But, collector disdain for Eco Warriors and the fact that both Torpedo and Wet Suit were more popular diver molds that were available likely killed any chance of a Deep Six redux.  It's too bad since the mold has a lot of potential and could have been reused in Star Brigade or as a more appropriately colored combat diver.  We'll never get to see any takes on the mold, though, and we're left with this lone example of Deep Six.

Pricing on this figure is tough.  Dealers really try to play him like it's a rare figure and you'll see complete figures offered in the $50 - $60 range all the time.  But, very few of them sell.  It seems, the real value of the figure is the dolphin.  A mint with filecard figure that's only missing the dolphin will only sell in the $5-$7 range on the open market.  That's a far cry from the dealer price.  But, a complete figure will sell in the $25 - $30 range.  So, you're basically paying $20 for a stupid plastic dolphin.  (You should note that carded figures sell around $40 and they are surprisingly easy to find, too.)  The problem is that it might take a few months to find the figure on the open market.  If money's no object, then spending big from a dealer will get you the figure today.  I prefer to wait as patience usually yields much better deals.

Personally, I don't give two craps about the dolphin.  I find the value in the figure: neon pink highlights and all.  But, seeing as how this figure has so gaudy, non traditional colors, few collectors will join me in my sentiment.  For most, he's simply a box to check once a complete figure is acquired.  I see him as a product of his era.  And, I'm far more forgiving of bright colors on characters whose specialities are underwater, piloting aircraft or astronauts.  So, this version of Deep Six works for me.  He's a sleeker version of the character who is useful in different situations than the 1989 figure.  I actually like this Deep Six better as a crewman on the Whale than I do the earlier Deep Six releases.  But, I'm often alone in this sentiment.  If you can find a cheap Deep Six, though, I recommend picking him up.  It's a fun release that offers something different that's not often found in the vintage line.  So, that's worth the acquisition alone.

1992 Eco Warriors Deep Six, Cobra Eel, Star Brigade Duke, 1994, 1993 Shark 9000 DEF

Thursday, July 12, 2018

1993 Crimson Guard Commander - Around The Web

There are a couple of 1993 figures that had excellent figure molds.  In some cases, they were molds that were done well enough that they would stand with figures from the 1980's in terms of quality.  But, they were poorly colored.  Figures like the Crimson Guard Commander have incredible potential and, with slightly different colors, would have been amazing figures.

Crimson Guard Commander Profile

Crimson Guard Commander at JoeBattleLines.com

Crimson Guard Commander at JoeADay.com

Crimson Guard Commander By Dragon Fortress

Reptil Do Ar - Brazilian Crimson Guard Commander

Crimson Guard Commander at 3DJoes.com

Crimson Guard Commander by Dashtracker

1993 Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN

1993 Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN, 1994 Metal Head, Flak Viper

1993 Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN, 1994 Metal Head, Flak Viper

1993 Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN, 1994 Metal Head, Flak Viper

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

1993 Ninja Force Banzai

I have neglected Ninja Force for many, many years.  I reviewed one Ninja Force figure in the site's first 16 years of existence.  In the next year, I finally got around to showcasing both a Shadow Ninja Figure and another member of the standard Ninja Force.  I then left them be for a while.  Now, in 2018, though, I've been on a Ninja Force kick.  The Banzai figure becomes the third member of Ninja Force to see time on the site.  A big part of this is that I've reviewed so many figures that there aren't many left to profile.  So, naturally, I end up looking at figure subsets I've neglected over the years.  But, another part is that I'm back on a neon Joe kick.  I was once among the only defenders of neon Joes.  But, as time has passed, many collectors have found the fun in the brighter releases from the 1990's.  In that time, I focused my collection on more traditional Joes for quite some time.  But, neon is back in a big way in my collection and, as such, I find myself discovering understated quality in many of the brighter character releases I've ignored for the past ten years.

Banzai, though, is a tough nut.  While Slice has some great points and is a useful figure, Banzai is...not.  The guy's wearing a hot pink costume.  The splatters on his pants give the illusion that these are his weekend paintball clothes.  And, he's bare chested.  There are some guys who can pull off the shirtless look.  But, after a while, it becomes overkill.  (And, not in the robotic Overkill way.)  But, Banzai also has his hot pink weapons against his bare skin.  You would think this would be irritating to him.  But, over time, he would probably callous and then the chafing would be less of a issue.

As a piece of action figure design, Banzai is interesting.  In 1993, Hasbro introduced plastic strands of hair onto certain members of the Ninja Force.  For Banzai, the golden locks of blonde hair that create his pony tail are an odd feature.  On a mint specimen, the hair isn't terrible.  But, a figure that saw even a little bit of use can have strands of hair that are forever out of place.  And, since the pony tail does not have a cinch on the end of it, the hair looks odd with even a few pieces flaying off from the standard design. 

As I raced to find every Joe figure I could at retail in 1995 and 1996, Ninja Force figures were the bane of my existence.  Most were available, even if all the other Joes were sold out at that store.  But, I could not bring myself to buy the Ninja Force figures.  Eventually, I caved and bought a Night Creeper.  It had some good points.  But, at the time, I was too stuck in my ways for Joe and needed a figure to be standard construction.  So, the rest of the figures (which stuck around well into 1996) were left behind time and time again as I dropped into Toys R Us stores in central Indiana and Southwest Ohio.

While the Banzai character never appeared again, his mold did get some use.  The body was reused on the Street Fighter 2 Vega figure.  As Vega's coloring is close to the 1994 Night Creeper Leader, it's a far more useful figure than Banzai.  The body appeared again in the Mortal Kombat Movie line on Johnny Cage.  Again, the coloring is far superior as he's arsenic, silver and black.  If the figures were more conducive to customization, a simple headswap from Banzai onto either of these other figures would make for a better use of the Banzai character.  But, there's really no compelling reason to do that and each of the other two uses of the Banzai mold are far better than Banzai.

While Banzai's are not popular, he has gotten caught up in the general uptick in later year vintage line pricing.  Dealers will sell him for $10 and carded versions for $20.  With a little patience, you can buy them on the open market for 1/2 that.  I'd gladly open a $10 carded figure to get a mint and complete with cardback version of this figure.  But, I'm also a completist and have an odd desire to own all the vintage Joe figures: regardless of how bad they are.  I have a nostalgic dislike for Ninja Force figures that has evolved into something like grudging respect.  I enjoy the figures for what they were and no longer despise them for what they could have been.  A figure like Banzai is never going to be anything more than a check off a list for me.  But, from time to time, it's fun to see figures like him: just for something different.

1993 Ninja Force Banzai, 1994 Night Creeper Leader, Battle Corps

1993 Ninja Force Banzai, DEF, Headhunter Stormtrooper

Thursday, July 5, 2018

1988 Iron Grenadier - Around the Web

The 1988 Iron Grenadier figure has always seemed like an updated Cobra Trooper, to me.  As the staple of Destro's new army, the figure was about the perfect way for Hasbro to make the Iron Grenadiers menacing and powerful.  The mold and colors are an excellent blend that make for a highly popular army builder.  It's nice to finally see some repaints of the mold coming out.  Here's the best of him from around the web:

Iron Grenadier Profile

Iron Grenadier Video Review

Iron Grenadier Concept Art with Unproduced Helmet

Iron Grenadier at 3DJoes.com

Iron Grenadier Pre Production at YoJoe.com

Iron Grenadier at Half the Battle

1988 Iron Grenadier, Voltar

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Zeros - Mark III

After Rarities Month, I need to catch my breath a bit.  A huge thanks to all of you who stopped by and checked out the posts.  It was my highest traffic month, ever!  Three posts from this year are now the three most viewed in the site's history.  I'm already working on more Rarities for 2019.  But, thank you for all your interest and support.

So, to rest a bit, I've gone though the site to find really unpopular posts.  Usually, I can predict which posts are going to be popular.  But, I'm not always right.  There are several profiles over the history of the site that have very few hits.  I can find many reasons why that might be.  But, if you have a day off today, you can read some of the neglected classics:

Repaints of Popular Figures:

Obscure Characters That Are Good Figures:

Popular Figures Whose Negligence I Can Not Explain:

I'll be back to my regular update schedule next week!

1985 Quick Kick, 1992 Ninja Force Slice

1985 Shipwreck, Funskool Beach Head, 1986 Devilfish

1990 stretcher, Freefall, 1991 Zap, Super Sonic Fighters, 1985 Footloose, 1986 Viper

2004 Desert Patrol Snake Eyes, Stalker, TRU Exclusive, Anti Venom Roadblock

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

2017 Muton - Red Laser's Army Custom Figure

In 1986, G.I. Joe introduced robotics to its pantheon of technological advances.  Both Joe and Cobra had skirted the edge of robotics with things like the Pac Rats and SNAKE Armor.  But, the introduction of the Battle Android Trooper brought full scale robots into the Joe universe.  I still largely believe that BATs were mainly designed as a way to have Joe destroy bad guys in the cartoon without actually killing anyone.  But, the line was crossed and full scale humanoids were now permanently ensconced on the G.I. Joe mythos.  Oddly, though, a few years earlier, the European based Action Force realm was introduced to near indestructible robots.  While they looked like 19th century era deep sea divers (they were a repaint of a deep sea diver figure), the Muton were the pre-cursors to BATs in many ways.  Since Cobra had the BATs, there really was no cry for the Muton to be incorporated into the Joe world in the same way there had been for bad guys like the Red Shadows, Baron Ironblood and the Black Major.  The Action Force Muton figure remained cheap and available and largely forgotten.  In 2017, though, Red Laser's Army produced and all red repaint of the BAT with a Red Shadows skull logo.  The figure became Muton in most people's eyes and has become one of the more popular repaints of the factory custom BAT mold.

One area where Joe never really ventured was the notion of sentient robots.  Joe had characters cloned from the DNA of long dead historical figures, monsters, zombies and space aliens.  But, the closest they came to artificial intelligence was the various enhancements that (mostly Cobra!) characters underwent to enhance their natural abilities.  There was no super smart, independent robot that was a villain on his own.  (Overkill comes close.  But, he was never really utilized.)  So, at first, this was the road I explored for the Muton figure and character.  Maybe he was a BAT that was retrofitted with better technology that gave artificial intelligence.  Maybe he was the computer cloned brain of a mad genius.  Or, maybe he was just a robot that was given the appearance of super intelligence.  None of the ideas really resonated with me.  Each seemed to cling to too many cliches.

I did, though, want to tie Muton to Red Laser.  Most collectors see Red Laser as a leader type figure since he uses the Cobra Commander body.  However, Red Laser is actually a Japanese technological genius who built his Laser Exterminator.  The fact that he would have a robot near him fits with his character.  It also gives Mutor a more relevant origin to his presence in the Red Shadows.  I see Muton as Red Laser's creation.  He started as an experiment in artificial intelligence.  But, grew into an exercise in humanoid robotics.  Red Laser found use for a robot that could move around heavy machinery and perform delicate, technological tasks without needing rest.  In time, that robot was upgraded to also protect Red Laser.  He was outfitted with armaments and greater memory.  Muton became an ever-present sight at Red Laser's side.  This allowed Red Laser access to the inner workings of the Red Shadows and kept him in contact with men like the Red Jackal (Destro) as the Red Shadows disbanded.  The criminal contacts of Red Laser were ruthless men who had the desire and the will to kidnap him and steal his ideas.  With Muton, Red Laser was safe from these plots and the evil-doers had to deal with Red Laser as an equal.

But, as this would have occurred in the early 1980's, Muton was limited.  Red Laser was able to create some programmatic intelligence for Muton.  But, Muton could only learn from his direct environment and encounters.  Muton could have information loaded into his memory and use that to help him learn from his environment.  But, as the internet as we know it didn't exist, Muton didn't have an unending repository of information from which he could draw insights or knowledge to apply to a situation.  All of this means that Muton is actually very limited.  He has the appearance of intelligence.  And, that is very intimidating.  But, his actual abilities are limited to recognizing threats to Red Laser and being able to perform repair and maintenance tasks on machines where the schematics have been preloaded into his memory.  And, as the android was a scientist's pet project, Muton is subject to breakdown and will overheat if he exerts too much processing power.

To someone like Destro, though, the technology was very enticing.  Destro had the facilities to manufacture the androids, bringing down costs and increasing the quality and durability of the machines.  Destro also realized that the intelligence aspect, of which Red Laser was so proud, was the least valuable part of the package.  The androids could just be programmed with some basic combat functions and they would then take the place of cannon fodder troops.  They would be fearless soldiers and would be programmed to repair themselves from spare parts of destroyed robots from the field.  In short, they were repeatable assets that were much cheaper and more effective than humans.  Now, he just had to get the technology and find a buyer.

Of course, this lead to Red Laser's downfall.  Red Laser wanted to build more intelligent robots.  And, he refused to give Destro access to his technology...going so far as to destroy all of his research and documentation: except for a copy hidden inside of Muton's memory.  Red Laser, though, underestimated Destro.  Destro lured him to dinner at his castle.  Here, he poisoned Red Laser's food.  Destro correctly surmised that Red Laser had not programmed Muton to deal with passive threats.  And, as the young genius lay dying, Muton overheated with indecision as it was unable to comprehend what was killing his master.  Destro was able to get the disabled robot disassembled before it could restore itself.  From there, Destro extracted the plans and began the groundwork for what would become the BATs just a few years later.

Despite this figure's popularity, it is still available for its $12 retail price.  I find the figure to be worth the price.  Aftermarket BATs behave oddly once they sell out.  Some sell for outrageous premiums over their original price.  Others, sell for 1/2 their original price.  Usually, the quality of the color scheme determines which route a figure will take.  But, there are a ton of BAT variants out there.  (I've documented 34 without really digging into all the variants of logos and nuanced colors.)  So, Muton could double on the aftermarket, once he sells out.  Or, he might stay around or slightly below the current pricing.  There are many collectors who army build this configuration.  And, many more who have bought him even though they skipped most of the other BATs.  So, the figure has some popularity.  As always, the time to buy is now.  Most factory customs either stay around retail pricing or see aftermarket increases.  So, buying at retail is the best hedge.  You'll lose on a couple, maintain on many, and win on a few more than you lose on.  So, I try to buy now and move on.  With the volume of figures that were released in 2017 and the mass coming in 2018, it's easier to stay current than it is to catch up.

Red Laser Army Muton, Red Shadows, BAT, Battle Android Trooper, FActory Custom, Bootleg, Steel Brigade, mail away, Black Major, Red Jackal, Palitoy

Red Laser Army Muton, Red Shadows, BAT, Battle Android Trooper, FActory Custom, Bootleg, Steel Brigade, mail away, Black Major, Red Jackal, Palitoy

Red Laser Army Muton, Red Shadows, BAT, Battle Android Trooper, FActory Custom, Bootleg, Steel Brigade, mail away, Black Major, Red Jackal, Palitoy, Cobra Trooper