Wednesday, October 31, 2018

1994 Mexican Lobotomaxx - Lunartix Empire

Halloween is a fun time.  It's not something you'd normally associate with G.I. Joe.  But, as the line progressed, Hasbro was kind enough to introduce various monsters and aliens to the mythos that gives me fodder for profiles nearly 25 years later.  Most of these are tucked into the Lunartix aliens theme that was introduced in 1994.  Technically, we only have 6 members of the empire: 3 aliens and 3 Manimals.  But, there's much more.  In terms of rarities, there are 9 unproduced Manimal figures.  But, there are also three exclusive Lunartix alien repaints that were released as Mexican exclusives in 1994.  There were days when these figs were super common.  But, they have become scarce (likely due to extremely low production numbers) and desirable among collectors.  The Carcass and Predacon repaints are notorious for their drastic differences.  The Mexican Lobotomaxx is less distinguishable, but still an interesting addition to a collection.

Supposedly, the Mexican variants on the Lunartix alien figures were actually factory mistakes.  When the first samples returned from Asia, the aliens' colors did not match the card art.  So, they had the figures recolored and released in the U.S.  The miscolored figures were then packaged up and had Spanish language stickers slapped onto them before they were sold in Mexico.  I do suspect that some of these figures were actually sold in the U.S., too.  In the early 2000's, it was not uncommon to find Mexican Star Brigade figures intermingled with American Star Brigade figures when you bought from dealers. There are also factory samples of the figures with US cards that are incredibly rare, too.  But, these were among the final figures Hasbro ever produced so some ambiguity is forgiven since the guys who had given their life to make the Joe line so amazing had suddenly found themselves out of a career.

As a figure, Lobotomaxx is weird.  He's a four legged monster with a third hand on his tail.  On top of that, half of his head was removed when Predacon whacked him with a laser sword.  This detail as well as Space Shot being a Han Solo clone were likely inside pot shots at the newly acquired Kenner team that was working on returning Star Wars to retail in 1995 and would, ultimately, take the jobs of most of the Joe designers in the boys action figure division.  It also leaves Lobotomaxx as an awkward action figure.  The lower legs are actually two feet attached to one joint rather than four, separate feet.  The figure lacks the classic o-ring construction and has cut, swing joints for the hips.  A casual collector could come across this figure and really have no idea that he's from the G.I. Joe line.

But, as a piece of sculpting, the figure is an achievement.  The hands and tail are well detailed.  And, the entire figure's body features strings of veins running through it.  Lobotomaxx looks like a monster with no real ties to a humanoid form.  Thirteen years of knowledge and experience culminated in the Lunartix figures.  And, if you forgive the concept, you can see the attention to detail and quality on each character.  For this reason alone, the figures are noteworthy.  Even if their concept is too far from left field to really incorporate into the Joe mythos.

My first encounter with Lobotomaxx was in 1998.  I had just returned to G.I. Joe collecting and online resources showed off the exotic releases from 1993 and 1994 that I had never found in stores as I scoured the last bastions of Joe at retail stores.  The Lunartix aliens fascinated me because they were such a departure from the Joe I had grown up with and collectors, generally, hated them so much.  One of my first purchases at that time was a carded American Lobotomaxx.  I paid a princely sum of $15 for it.  (Remember, at the time, bagged version D Steel Brigade figures wouldn't sell for $5 and mint and complete Hardtops could be had for under $10.)  The figure than sat at my parents' house for several years while I acquired other, far cheaper versions as online supply of late run Joes exploded between 1999 and 2001.  And, that was pretty much the extent of Lobotomaxx for me.  At some point, I came across a loose sample and found the limitations of the figure weren't enough to keep it around when I had carded versions stashed away and this Mexican version remains the only loose Lobotomaxx left in my collection.

As for usage, there's not really a way to incorporate the Lunartix into the Joe world.  I had a story where the monsters were experiments of Dr. Mindbender gone awry.  As a one off idea, this can work.  You'll see a variant on that theme in the photos below.  But, it's not really a way to use Lobotomaxx as anything other than a de-humanized monster.  I suppose you could make him super intelligent as a by product of Mindbender's recklessness.  But, even that would play out rather quickly.  Really, the only use for figures like this is a conversation piece.  And, that's mostly what you see Lunartix reduced to in the modern collecting world.

There are a couple of notable differences between the Mexican and American Lobotomaxx figures.  The easiest to spot is the fact that the Mexican figure is a darker green.  However, as Lobotomaxx isn't a figure that most collectors are intimately familiar with, this detail can be obfuscated by unfamiliarity.  If you have a loose sample, the easiest way to tell them apart is the back of the figure.  While the American Lobotomaxx is clean, the Mexican figure features a silver overspray you can see in the first photo below.  This is the tell tale sign of a Mexican Lobotomaxx should you come across a loose sample in the wild.

While the Mexican Predacon figure has gotten pricey, you can still get both loose and carded Lobotomaxx figures for decent prices.  It's worth noting that the Mexican Lobotomaxx's accessories are slightly different in color from the American figure.  So, that's something to watch for.  But, you can get a figure for around $70 MOC and as low as $50 loose.  There are still lots of poorly labeled Lobotmaxx figures out there since few realize the color variant and you can get lucky to this day.  But, as American Lobotomaxx figures are $50 for a MOC figure these days, the luck only takes you so far.  For the price and the type of figure this is, I find him worth it because I'm a Star Brigade apologist.  For others, that probably isn't worth the price.  But, he's an odd duck to have in a collection for a variety of reasons and that's always worth a premium.

1994 Mexican Exclusive Lobotomaxx, Lunartix, Star Brigade, 1993 Mega Vipers, Mega Marines

1994 Mexican Exclusive Lobotomaxx, Lunartix, Star Brigade, Viper, Major Bludd, Battle Corps

Thursday, October 25, 2018

1985 Crankcase - Around the Web

I've always been a Crankcase fan.  The figure resonated with me upon his addition to my collection in the summer of 1985.  I always felt the comic underutilized him and it was disappointing to see him relegated to mop up duty.  In the European Action Force comic, he saw some additional action.  But, that was about the extent of his use.  I would have loved a repaint of the mold.  But, it was never to be.  I always felt he looked good with the 1986 Hawk pistol.  So, that's how you'll see him most often in my photos.  Here is the best of him from around the web.

1985 Crankcase Profile

Crankcase by TheOldNerd

Crankcase by SithViper

Crankcase by TroopsofDoom

Crankcase Variant by HitandRun

Crankcase by fun_time_at_serpentorslair

1985 Crankcase, AWE STriker, Mauler, Snake Eyes, 2004 Flak Viper, Nullifier, Urban Strike, TRU Exclusive1985 Crankcase, 1989 Dee Jay, 1988 Desert Fox

1985 Crankcase, AWE STriker, Mauler, Snake Eyes, 2004 Flak Viper, Nullifier, Urban Strike, TRU Exclusive

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

1989 Python Patrol Crimson Guard

There are many good repaints in the Joe line.  In many cases, a figure has a repaint that is either equal to or, sometimes, better than the original figure.  There are many bad repaints, too.  It's hard to say which more dominate the Joe line.  Mostly, the domain of badly repainted figures is defined by 1993, 1994 and the 2000's as the release years.  To be fair, there were few repaints prior to those years.  And, those that did appear tended to be in themed subsets.  In these subsets, though, you could find a poor repaint.  In the case of the 1989 Python Patrol Crimson Guard, the remake of a classic figure did not translate.  We are now left with a figure that doesn't make much sense, even if you can make a case for his inclusion in the popular Cobra theme.

In the pantheon of Cobra army building figures, the Crimson Guard vies for one of the top spots.  It's hard to see him overtaking Vipers or classic blue Cobra soliders and officers.  But, he is probably of similar popularity to the BAT.  You don't see the massive vintage Crimson Guard armies like you used to.  But, this is a function of both the fact that Hasbro offered decent enough CG repaints in the 2000's and that many collectors are content with smaller numbers of "elite" troopers and use that to offset the quantities of other army builders they acquire.  But, there is no denying the character's popularity.  So, the inclusion of a Crimson Guard in the Python Patrol makes sense.  By 1989, the figure had been away from retail for 3 years.  And, it was likely that most kids playing with Joes were aware of the character from the cartoon or other media, but did not have his figure.  So, the repaint was born.

In 1989, I was out of Joe.  I didn't buy the figures or vehicles.  Even my youngest brother was mostly done with the toys and there were maybe one or two figures who found their way into our home.  So, I didn't have much exposure to the 1989 line aside from the comic.  It was here that I found out about Python Patrol.  But, as the toys were far out of mind, I just found it an amusing sub plot in the comic.  I never really knew that there were figures of these designs, though I assumed they would not have been in the comic did they not exist in some format.  It wasn't until I started collecting again as a adult that the first Python Patrol figures entered into my collection.  The Viper became a favorite as there were few options for the mold back then.  The rest weren't really interesting.  As the years wore on, though, the Viper lost his luster and the Python Officer became the only Python Patrol figure to hold my interest.

In the early days of Joe collecting, Python Patrol were considered rarer than the original Cobra figures.  In the late 1990's, it was fairly hard to find mint and complete Python Patrol figures.  The only thing that kept down their prices was the fact that most collectors had zero interest in any figure made after 1987.  As the Joe collecting world exploded in the early 2000's, the supply of figures that were found at garage sales, in basements or comic shops helped to saturate the market with figures.  Army builders kept prices high.  But, you could find as many Python Patrol figures as you wanted.  As collectors began to soak up all the more desirable figures, it again became evident that Python Patrol didn't exist in the same numbers as the other, excellent, 1989 army builders.  So, you saw prices rise, especially as Hasbro revisited the idea a few times.  But, the subset nature of Python Patrol has always kept this team as more a group of specialists than the backbone of a Cobra army.  And, that keeps the figures more available than they probably should be...even to this day.

But, of the figures released under the Python Patrol banner, I find this Crimson Guard to be the worst.  Truthfully, the design isn't any better or worse than most of the other figures in the set.  But, since the Crimson Guard was released during the height of my childhood, I always felt they were truly elite.  As a kid, Crimson Guards were the equivalent of most Joes and could beat the Joes in battle.  The red color was a calling card and badge of honor.  With that view of the Siegies embedded in my psyche, any rendition of the mold that was anything less than perfect was going to be viewed as flawed. 

So, for this Python Patrol Crimson Guard, the yellow chest and unfinished grey face simply don't hold up.  The figure is non-descript when the original boldly redefined red as a Cobra color.  And, with no Cobra sigil on the figure, there's nothing to tie him to the iconic first version or even the Cobra organization.  So, this figure fails to really mean anything to me.  I've had this version you see in the photos since he came in a lot I acquired in the late 1990's.  I've never gotten another one as this one version is all I'd ever need.  The upside is that you could use him to get another Crimson Guard rifle if you lost the version from your original.  (The black pack is useful on Crimson Shadow Guards, too.)  But, that's about the extent of his use and I have yet to find this figure as anything other than a box checker towards a complete collection.

The Crimson Guard mold did not fare all that well.  It was used in 1985 and then for this 1989 repaint.  The mold then went to Brazil.  Estrela released a version of the Python Patrol Crimson Guard there as a figure named Tocaia.  This figure featured the upper arms of Copperhead.  But, it is otherwise very similar to the American figure.  The mold then died.  Most of the Brazilian releases contemporary to the Crimson Guard also never re-appeared.  They could have gone to India or been returned to Hasbro warehouses in Asia where they disappeared forever.  Hasbro was so kind as to remake the Crimson Guard body in 2003.  This mold was released several times.  But, it lacked the vintage head and was only repainted in red and blackFactory custom makers entered the Crimson Guard arena in the early 2010's.  This finally brought Cobra blue and black Crimson Guards into the community.  (Along with some other flavors.)  But, these figures saw low production runs and have mostly disappeared.  In some ways, the Crimson Guard being held mostly true to his roots helps to maintain the mystique of the character.  Though, I'd be lying if I said I would not have built an army of blue CG's had Hasbro released them in the 2000's.

Python Crimson Guards have a pretty big price range.  You can get mint and complete figures for around $15.  But, due to low supply, dealers will often get $30 or so for them.  Building an army can be done without breaking the bank.  But, it will take a long time to do it.  The question, though, is who wants to?  A lone CG makes for a good Python Patrol commander (a role never defined) and allows collectors to maintain just one or two in their collections.  The preponderance of yellow color limits the figure's usefulness and he's not a great choice for vehicles or the Terrordrome.  But, as he's the only Crimson Guard repaint that's really available, the figure has value.  And, with the now large quantities of Python Patrol figures that are available, it makes sense to have this CG.

1989 Python Patrol Crimson Guard, 1986 Mission to Brazil Mainframe, 2008 Headhunter BAT, Battle android Trooper, Sears Dreadnok Stinger

1991 Interrogator, 1989 Python Patrol Crimson Guard

Thursday, October 18, 2018

1989 Tundra Stalker - Around The Web

I didn't mind Hasbro revisiting some of the classic characters from the line's earliest years.  It was a great way to keep younger fans engaged with the brand's roots as well as give longer term collectors some variety in outfits for their long term favorites.  This 1989 Stalker is a perfect example of how a excellent original figure could be updated to something just as nice.  I've looked at this figure twice in the site's history.  Here's the best of the figure from around the web.

1989 Stalker Profile (2013)

1989 Stalker Profile (2003)

Stalker Video Review by Michael Mercy

Pre Production Stalker at

Stalker at

Stalker at

Stalker Video Review

Stalker by yorktownjoe

1989 Stalker, 1987 Worms, Maggot

1989 Stalker, 1988 Mean Dog, Rock and Roll

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

1993 Ninja Force Scarlett

Action figures evolve over time.  While they didn't invent the scale, Kenner's 3.75" Star Wars figures dominated the market and pretty much set that size as the pre-eminent format for the next 30+ years.  G.I. Joe, though, took Kenner's scale and maximized it.  Hasbro revolutionized the articulation, paint applications, construction quality, accessories, vehicles and playsets in that size through the 1980's.  Even within their flagship 3 3/4 line, Hasbro continued to improve the sculpting and design of the figures.  Sometimes, though, they went too far.

 As the 1990's dawned other toy companies were intruding on Joe's dominance.  Ninja Turtles were the rage.  And, other toy companies, freed from the constraints of the human form of their toys, began to increase figure size to showcase more detail and include play features that were built into the toys themselves.  Not wanting to fall behind, Hasbro's designers followed suit.  First, play features were built into accessories and included gear.  But, that wasn't enough.  In 1992, Ninja Force debuted.  These figures featured spring loaded action features that showcased "ninja" moves.  But, to achieve this new functionality, some concessions in figure design had to be made.  The Ninja Force figures lacked the back screw and waist movement that had been the hallmarks of the G.I. Joe line.  In 1993, Ninja Force went even further with the action features and accompanying construction changes.  Which lead to the 1993 Ninja Force Scarlett figure.

Let's make no mistake.  When taken in the context of 2018, this version of Scarlett is a terrible figure.  She is big, bulky, has horrible hair, a large face and outrageous colors.  In short, she is everything an action figure released in 1993 would have wanted to be and everything a collector in 2018 despises.  But, even for 1993, this figure is not great.  The blocky lower body construction looks terrible in the 3 3/4 scale.  And, it's even more out of place on a female figure.  The string hair, though, was about the best you could expect for movable hair in this scale.

The biggest use of this Scarlett is for customs.  Not so much the body, but the head often appears in custom takes on Scarlett.  The head is nicely detailed and the long hair is a fun, customizable bit that attracts talented designers to find a way to incorporate the head onto more traditional Scarlett body molds.  The size of the head makes it problematic to be placed on the 1982 Scarlett body.  But, many talented customizers have pulled it off to success.

This Scarlett's claim to fame was the comic book.  As the comic limped towards cancellation, Snake Eyes and his clan remained the focal point.  Scarlett was featured as prominently as ever.  But, she started to appear in this uniform.  The '90's artwork of many of these later books doesn't appeal to me as much as the more traditional artwork from the '80's did.  But, Scarlett's appearance on the printed panel sold this uniform and look for her as something useful.  The colors were very early 1990's.  But, having an update to her combat appearance for the first time in a decade was welcome.

Scarlett's weapons were typical of 1993 Hasbro releases.  They were all included on a weapon tree and were bright yellow in color.  She included three swords, a knife, nunchuks, two claws and a figure stand.  The weapons fit with the figure since they match some of her base colors.  In the comic, Scarlett often used edged weapons.  So, the inclusion of them here fit with the appearances of the character.  The weapons are all larger than the fine swords that I had grown up with in the '80's.  But, they worked with the slightly bulkier figures that were being produced in 1993.

Hasbro milked three releases out of this Scarlett mold.  In the same year that this figure was released, Hasbro also repainted it as the body for Chun-Li in the Street Fighter series of Joe figures.  A blue and yellow version of Chun-Li was released carded and an orange version was released with the Beast Blaster.  A third and final version of Chun-Li Xiang was released in the Street Fighter Movie Line of figures.  But, this used an all new mold and did not resurrect the Scarlett body.  All the 1993 Ninja Force figures disappeared after that aside from those that were carried over to the Shadow Ninjas line in 1994.  Scarlett never appeared again in this configuration.  An anniversary style figure was released with colors and design that were an homage to this 1993 figure.  But, for fans of an alternate look for Scarlett, they begin and end with this figure in the vintage line.

For me, seeing a figure that is so stereo-typically 1990's is a fun reminder of that time.  Ninja Force figures were the bane of my Joe buying existence in the mid 1990's since they were always left over at Toys R Us, clogging the shelves and mocking me at what the Joe line had once been.  It took months of only finding them and nothing else for me to finally break down and buy a loose Night Creeper.  The figure was severely flawed.  But, in an age when I only had around 20 figures available to me, even that Night Creeper found some use.  This Scarlett reminds me of those days: both in the frustration at only finding her brethren at retail but also in the enjoyment of rediscovering my collecting passion again.

I recently paid $6 for a MOC version of this figure.  Getting a mint, loose and complete with filecard version probably would have cost me the same after I paid shipping.  For the price, I was just going to open the figure.  But, as I looked at her, I couldn't find a reason to do so.  The figure is bad and would never appear in a photo outside of this profile.  She would sit in a bag for years.  Then, maybe, she'd end up in a display case, near the back and out of sight.  I also happen to have a bunch of 1993 Ninja Force figures still carded.  So, I'm just adding her to that collection.  Some day, I'll come across a cheap, loose version.  For now, though, there's simply no reason to open this figure up.  It's not a good Scarlett and it's actually just a bad G.I. Joe figure.  But, it's also the only incarnation of one of the three or four most important characters in the comic run after the 1982/1983 releases.  So, she has significance for that and is worth picking up for the pittance she costs.

1993 Ninja Force Scarlett

Thursday, October 11, 2018

1983 Tan Grunt - Around The Web

In 1983, Hasbro released its first repaints.  Grand Slam, the Viper Pilot and this Grunt were all newly colored rehashes of figures that were otherwise available.  It was a cheap way to get an exclusive figure into a vehicle pack.  But, it produced some of the rarer figures of 1983.

You'll note, though, that this Grunt isn't anywhere near as rare as the other two repainted figures.  This is heavily due to the fact that a well funded collector acquired untold dozens or hundreds of these figures for a diorama.  That dio never came to be and tons of bubbled Tan Grunts and regular 1983 Grunts were tossed into the collecting community where they forever altered the availability of what should be a harder figure to find.

With that, the Tan Grunt remains the basis for a team of tan Original 13 Joes.  And, there's a good deal of content out there on him because he's from a classic year and is such a different look for figures of that era.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

1983 Tan Grunt Profile

Grunt by cyko

Grunt at Memories of Toy Morrow

Grunt at Joe A Day

Grunt at JoePedia

Grunt by Hit and Run

Grunt at

Grunt by discovolante

Grunt by slipstream

1983 Tan Grunt, Falcon Glider, Airborne, Dragonfly, Zap, Bazooka, Ripcord, 1984, Fuego, Plastirama, Argentina, 2001, Locust

1983 Tan Grunt, Falcon Glider, Airborne, Dragonfly, Zap, Bazooka, Ripcord, 1984, Fuego, Plastirama, Argentina, 2001, Locust

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

1991 Cloudburst

1991 brought about a fundamental shift in the Joe line.  While sub sets had been a common thread in the yearly releases for a while, 1991 converted the line away from the traditional figures/vehicles combinations that had defined G.I. Joe since 1982.  The vehicle drivers, for the most part, were gone.   (I'm hard pressed to call the Battle Copters "vehicles".)  In their stead were three separate series of higher priced figures who were all themed together.  Eco Warriors and the Super Sonic Fighters both featured larger cardbacks and a higher price point to make the figures seem "deluxe".  The Air Commandos took the concept a step further and tossed a large glider onto a cardback that also featured a figure.  Again, these were higher priced items meant to appeal to gift givers who felt a single figure was not adequate.  The actual figures in this set of four, though, have a non traditional appeal.  They featured bright colors and fewer paint applications while also including a surprising amount of accessories.  I've looked at a couple of these figures through the years and now the 1991 Cloudburst's number has come up.

My first encounter with Cloudburst was in 1999 when I got a bagged version from Hasbro Canada.  Sadly, these bagged figures did not include any accessories.  So, it was just the figure.  I got two or three of them in my order as replacements for other figures I had ordered which had already sold out.  In looking at the figure inside his baggie, I felt no desire at all to open him.  Sans gear, the bright yellow and offsetting black design didn't do much for me...and I'm someone who doesn't mind bright colors.  But, at the same time, I acquired this figure at the same time as I got a bagged Air Devil, 1992 Ace and several classic figures.  So, he was somewhat lost in the overload of cheap greatness that the Hasbro Canada find provided.

A few years later, I returned to one of those bagged Cloudburst figures.  Again, I was not compelled to open it.  In looking at the mold, though, I did see the potential.  Cloudburst actually has an excellent sculpt.  And, were the yellow something more muted, he would be something far more desirable. But, while I might have been able to live with the black jacket with yellow highlights, the offsetting white pants just don't work in the overall ensemble.  The figure also has unpainted details that might have made a difference such as the straps holding the leg pauldrons in place.  A bit of black here might have helped to salvage the figure.  The same goes for the white gloves.  Another color here would have done much to improve my opinion of Cloudburst. 

As for use, Cloudburst has yet to find a niche in my collection.  Painted differently, he could make for a cool Starduster custom.  But, as he stands, he really doesn't work in any of my airborne capacities.  If I need a crew for the Tomahawk, Dragonfly or Retaliator, Cloudburst doesn't make the cut.  His colors don't work with the vehicles.  Considering I can make most neon Joes work in the settings, though, I suspect part of that is just personal bias against the figure as I don't, personally, like the way the colors work together. 

Gearwise, Cloudburst featured two accessories: a rifle and his goggles.  The rifle is a cool design that I first found with the 1993 Backblast and Keel Haul.  Sadly, though, it is cast in a bright red color.  The rifle is often missing from the figure, but can be found without too much trouble since it's bright and relatively large.  The goggles plug into Cloudburst's head.  Once affixed, they are far more secure than the microphones of the 1980's.  But, they still come out and are the more often missing part of the Cloudburst figure.  With the goggles, Cloudburst is more interesting.  Their blue color helps bring some additional life to the overall visual presentation.  Without them, Cloudburst feels like a cheap knock off Joes we had seen in prior years.

This was Cloudburst's only appearance.  All of the 1991 Air Commandos had decent sculpts that would have made for tremendous repaint fodder in the 2000's.  And, as the figures never appeared anywhere else in the world, they were likely in Hasbro's control.  But, that was not Hasbro's focus of that era and we missed out on useful updates to figures like Cloudburst in exchange for multiple releases of Duke, Roadblock and Snake Eyes.  All that's left for collectors are various customs and the ability of creative collectors to squeeze any life from the parts.

Cloudburst figures tend to run around $6.  You can get one with the rifle or about $10 or so.  But, a complete version with the visor and gun will run as high as $22.  The figure is surprisingly easy to find.  But, that's likely a testament to both the figure's unpopularity and the leftovers from the Hasbro Canada find.  If you can get a cheap version, Cloudburst isn't a bad figure.  If you can find some really cheap parts, he makes for great customizing fodder, too.  But, that's about the extent of his usefulness.  Skymate is so weird he's cool.  Cloudburst is not.  I'm always fond of airborne Joe specialties.  But, in this case, the figure just doesn't deliver for me.

1991 Cloudburst, Air Commandoes, 1992 Wild Bill, Battle Corps, 1990 Retaliator, Nunchuk, Ninja Force

1991 Cloudburst, Air Commandoes, 1992 Wild Bill, Battle Corps, 1990 Retaliator, Nunchuk, Ninja Force

1991 Cloudburst, Air Commandoes, 1992 Wild Bill, Battle Corps, 1990 Retaliator, Nunchuk, Ninja Force, 1988 Mean Dog, 1985 Crankcase

Saturday, October 6, 2018

1991 Big Ben - Around The Web

The first time I saw Big Ben was when a kid down the street had one.  I was out of Joes, but was enthralled by the look of the figure.  Big Ben would appear in the comic and it was cool to see him there.  Years later, when I returned to collecting Joe, Big Ben was among the first figures I wanted to acquire.  I was not disappointed in him.  Sadly, the mold was used to death by Hasbro in the 2000's and that dulled the lustre of this original figure.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

1991 Big Ben Profile

Big Ben at Joe A Day

Big Ben by Vader9900

Big Ben by Wizard of X

Big Ben by Slipstream80

Big Ben at Joepedia

Big Ben by ToneGunsRevisited

1990 Big Ben, 1991, Bullhorn, 1985 Mauler

Thursday, October 4, 2018

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor

I've talked before about timing and how it impacted the Joe line, especially in the 2000's.  The comic pack releases remain one of the more frustrating aspects of that time period.  It was a novel concept and one that found great success in other toy lines and later incarnations of Joe.  But, the original comics packs were mostly destined for clearance racks...even if the figures in them were good.  But, I still maintain that a lot of that was due to timing.  In looking at the early comic packs, they were too similar in look and feel to establish themselves at retail to non-collector toy buyers.  By the time later offerings with more diverse figures appeared, the concept was dead and collectors had moved on.  In 2005, Hasbro released one of the best comic packs in the series: issue #49 with probably the best Firefly ever made, a pretty bad Scrap Iron and a new Serpentor.  It is Serpentor who has my attention this week as the figure is well done, features some sculpting and remains true to the character.

This Serpentor interpretation is bright.  So bright that were he a 1994 release, he would be generally hated and roundly mocked in collecting circles.  In the context of a 1980's comic book coloring palette, though, this Serpentor gets a pass.  The bright yellow and pastel greens make for a visually stimulating combination of colors.  And, as Serpentor has always been kind of out there in terms of his choice of uniform, the look also fits with the character and what we perceive his taste would be.  

This version of Serpentor includes pretty much the same accessories as both other versions of the character.  You have the Cobra hood that plugs into his back like a backpack: only in bright yellow.  There is the bright yellow cape.  The cape retains some of the metallic sheen of the 2002 entry and fits the figure very well.  You then have the Roman dagger which is unique to the character.  The fresh addition in the comic pack was that Serpentor's new head could be covered by a removable helmet.  While removable helmets were a stalwart of Hasbro vintage Joe style repaints of the early 2000's, they usually had to be large to cover a head that was properly scaled to the body.  The results are figures where the helmets just don't look right.  With Serpentor, though, the helmet really worked.  It fit tightly to the head and doesn't look out of place when on or off.

The same can't be said for the head itself, though.  While this head is probably better than most of the full faced human heads that Hasbro attempted in the mid 2000's, it still has flaws.  Serpentor's hair looks like it escaped from a bad '50's movie.  And, his face is strained into a constipated scowl that's less scary than it is just funny.  Then, you have the mouthful of teeth that show Serpentor is always mid strain.  Maybe that explains why he's generally evil.  It's nice that we have an un-cowled version of the character.  But, this head isn't the best representation of a character that is as important as Serpentor is to the Joe world.

For a character of his stature, Serpentor was certainly neglected in terms of actual figures.  The 1986 figure did see a long life as a mail away figure.  So, that may have played into Hasbro's reluctance to re-imagine the character in the vintage days.  It was not until 2002 that a new Serpentor returned.  This limited edition release with the black body may be the best Serpentor figure ever released.  This comic pack figure then appeared in 2005 and that ends the entire population of released Serpentor figures in ARAH construction.  There was, though, an alternate Asian figure of this Serpentor.  He was pretty much identical to the production figure with one major difference: the alternate figure featured green hair.  In retrospect, the look is a little too much like the Joker.  But, it also fits the oddity that is Serpentor character.  While it's now nearly impossible to find, this alternate Asian release is a fun take on the Serpentor character, even if it doesn't offer anything all that spectacular.  Serpentor had no international variants.  I'd have loved to see Funskool's interpretation of the snake suit.  But, it wasn't to be.

The comic including this Serpentor figure was dead as soon as it arrived at retail.  While it was popular for a couple of weeks and even commanded a premium for a few weeks, it quickly became clearance fodder.  Standard retailers cut the pack to 1/2 price.  Then, more and more stock showed up at discount outlets, also for the low price of $5.  Many collectors picked up a few spare sets at these low prices just to have the Cobra characters for future custom fodder or for the accessories.  But, even as the market finally absorbed the retail overstock, demand for the individual figures or carded sets remained almost non-existent for nearly a decade afterwards.

Today, you can still get carded sets including this Serpentor for around $20.  It's actually kind of a pain to find the figure loose, mint and complete.  But, considering you get a great Firefly and some Scrap Iron parts along with this Serpentor for $20, it's easier and more worthwhile to just plunk down the cash and buy the carded set.  I'm glad I was able to acquire several of these figures at retail.  As the comic packs became clearance fodder, I bought way more of them than I ever should have.  But, cheap and easy to acquire Joes are a vice of mine and it turned out to be the last time Joes were ever available at retail.  So, I have no regrets.  As for this figure, it's solid.  If you only have Serpentor, this would not be the version I'd choose.  But, as he's cheap, this guy is worth the acquisition, if only to have something different for the Serpentor character.

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor, Zartan

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor, Stormshadow, Cobra Imperial Guard

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor, Crimson Shadow Guard, Toys R Us Exclusive, Black Major, Factory Custom, Bootleg, Gold Head Steel Brigade, Mail Away