The Mauler, simply put, is the most popular Joe tank ever produced. It's sleek design, realistic color and desirable release year all add up to one of the greatest Joe land vehicles ever produced. The Mauler is a collector favorite and has been among the most requested re-release items of the various Joe resurgences. For me, the Mauler is a childhood favorite. It was my main Joe armored vehicle for the bulk of my long ago adventures. And, it managed to survive fairly intact through that period of my life and into adulthood. Despite all of this, I do feel that the toy has some limitations and, in some ways, the Mauler's reputation far exceeds it's actual play value. But, even today, I find the Mauler a staple of my photos due to the cool design, excellent color and general popularity of the vehicle.
My introduction to the Mauler came in the 1985 Joe vehicle pack in catalog. The tank looked great and was a huge upgrade over the disappointing MOBAT. I then have no real memory of finding the Mauler or seeing it at retail until the fall of 1985. It's possible I just don't recall seeing something that I couldn't buy at the time. Or, it's possible that some vehicles didn't ship until later in the year. (I have distinct memories of vehicles appearing after figures. But, it could just be that they either sold out more quickly than figures or retailers didn't order them until it was closer to the holidays.) But, somehow I knew that the Mauler was out at retail in the fall. I finally found a Mauler at a local Service Merchandise store. The notion of Service Merchandise seems quaint now. But, at the time, it was a powerful retail presence. I went to the local store, filled out the form and waited for my Mauler to come down the conveyor belt so I could pay and take it home.
Once in my hands, I experienced my first pang of disappointment. The Mauler box didn't have the glossy photo of the toy on the back. This was par for the course with Hasbro's larger toys. But, I had some expectation that the Mauler would be small enough to have the full photo. I opened the toy in the front seat of my mom's car. As soon as the box was open, the box photo was forgotten and I was enthralled by the tank I found inside. I put it together in the car on the drive home. I opened the bagged Heavy Metal figure, lost his mic instantly, and then found it again on the carpet of the car. By the time we got home, the Mauler was assembled and ready for action.
The Mauler remains my definitive Joe heavy armor. While the design and toy have limitations, it remains the best tank Hasbro made for the vintage Joes. The look is sleek while the weapons are useful and powerful. All of the constraints of the MOBAT are gone and collectors are left with a toy that resonates 35 years after its release. The tan color was something that I thought would be somewhat off putting at first. But, the color was different from the military drab green that constituted the majority of Joe vehicles release up until that point and it brought a bit of diversity to the ranks of the Joe armor without being too far off from the "realistic" standard that the line tended to adhere to at the time. It also ended up making the Mauler even more distinctive and, seemingly more important with the unique color.
The Mauler's main feature is its sleekness. The tank isn't very tall. Or, at least it seems that way due to the lower profile of both the body and the turret. It isn't the blocky mess that was the MOBAT. And, due to that, it's much more aesthetically pleasing. The base, though, is just a rectangle with the turret placed on top. But, Hasbro did so much with that rectangle that you lose sight of the simplicity of the design. The turret and base fit together seamlessly. The removable side panels that shield the treads help disguise the inner workings of the toy and add needed depth the tank. But, they are so well disguised that they don't detract from the look of the Mauler, either.
The Mauler's accessories and parts are what make the tank. At its core, the tank includes few pieces. But, each is so well thought out that the entire ensemble suffers for a single missing piece. The turret is adorned with smoke grenade launchers on each side. As a kid, these provided extra attacking weapons for the tank. But, they were more of a last resort type weapon than anything that could be used proactively. There are two antennae on the back of the turret. While seemingly superfluous, they both raise the profile of the Mauler but also give it the air of realism that was the hallmark of early Hasbro vehicle designs. The main cannon raises nearly a full 90 degrees: making it much more realistic and useful than the MOBAT. And, two figures can sit atop the Mauler's turret, allowing for a full crew of 4 figures. Alas, the molded seats and pegs aren't the most graceful perches for 1985 figures and the idea of their usefulness was far greater than their practical usage.
The lower half of the tank looks like there are few parts. Aside from the mudflaps: which form an integral part of the tank's look while also not really serving any play purpose, there is the tow rope. The tow rope is one of the more valuable parts of the tank as it is often broken or missing. As a kid, I found the look of the rope on the Mauler to be necessary. But, the practicality of the actual toy was proven futile with the same item from the Wolverine from two years prior. The Wolverine's rope snapped when I tried to use it in any capacity. So, I was more cautious with the same accessory on the Mauler. The multitude of broken and missing ropes now, though, prove I was the rare child who did that. The rest of the pieces on the main body of the tank are the aforementioned side panels, removable engine covers, two removable storage panels and the cockpit doors. That's it. (To this day, I check inside the storage panels of every Mauler I find since all the kids I knew hid Heavy Metal's mic in there and you never know what you'll find. In the early 2000's, when Heavy Metal's mic first skyrocketed, a dealer bought up tons of Mauler shells in search of mics lost inside the tank. He found a couple. But, after 15 additional years, that's probably much more difficult these days.
As a kid, the Mauler dominated the less powerful Cobra armor. One of the patterns that later developed in my adventures was that Cobra vehicles had to be fast since they couldn't overpower a Mauler. So, speed driven quick attacks became the hallmark of the Cobra mechanized infantry. (The STUN really cemented this home.) The Joes had the more powerful weapons and armor. But, the Cobra vehicles were so fast that they were tough to hit. Maulers might take out a few HISS Tanks. But, enough would get through, drop off off their pair of infantrymen, and escape that Cobra remained a threat in the face of superior firepower. Despite this, the Mauler endured many battles with Hiss Tanks, STUNs and Thunder Machines...usually winning out.
My last real memory of the Mauler occurred in the mid 1990's. My childhood Mauler had survived relatively intact. One night over winter break, an old friend came over. We started digging through old toy boxes in my basement and found all the old G.I. Joe vehicles. We pulled them out, set them up and used the missile launchers from my adult collecting time frame 1990's figures to have a mini battle: just like old times. It was one of those times when you could forget that you were supposed to be too old to have fun and we were able to capture a fleeting feeling of being a kid again for just a few minutes. After that night, I rescued my old Joe vehicles from the basement and started taking better care of them. Most have since been replaced. But, that night proved to me the value of collecting something and retaining that link to a simpler time.
The Mauler was also a popular export around the world. After the American release, the tank showed up in both Mexico and Brazil. The color is a bit lighter than the American tank. But, the general idea is the same. These releases had the motor removed. The altered body mold was then used for a Slaughter's Marauders Equalizer in 1989. The real story begins after the Joe line's vintage run ended. In 1997, the Mauler was planned to be the 15th Anniversary line's flagship release. It was going to be colored in military green. But, Hasbro could not find the mold. So, instead, they repainted the Cobra Rattler into the planned color and released it as the A-10 Thunderbolt. In 2007, the club attempted another Mauler release. There were going to be two tanks: one Joe and one Cobra. However, there was an issue and the tanks weren't ready in time for the convention. So, just the drivers were sold. A few months later, it was announced that the Mauler mold was damaged and could not be re-cast. So, the tanks were cancelled. Despite fan demand, Hasbro never remolded the vehicle during the anniversary era...despite them updating several other, less popular vehicles. Part of the Mauler's mystique is tied to it's vintage only release and the fact that every attempt to return it collectordom has spectacularly failed.
With popularity comes expense. And, the Mauler is pricey. A mint and complete with all parts and unbroken tow rope tank will run anywhere between $110 and $125. Even a tank with just the launchers and mud flaps will top $80. Individually, the tow rope will sell for $40 and the smaller antenna will fetch similarly high prices. Even shells that are missing all the attachments will sell for $30 plus shipping. So, there's really no deals to be had unless you can find an uninformed seller or acquire one as part of a larger lot. I'm not sure if I'd pay anywhere near that for a Mauler if I didn't have one. It's a fun toy that holds a lot of nostalgic value for me. But, it's also something that has limitations as a toy. So, the high price tag would be tough to justify. I'm just glad I don't have to make the choice.