Monday, March 4, 2024

2003 Black Dragon Trooper - Convention Exclusive

If you collect ARAH style Joe figures, 2003 is kind of the lost year.  In 2002, Hasbro produced 2 full waves of ARAH style figures.  Plus, there was a gift set as well as army builders and oddball characters that were included in the standard retail line.  2004 saw the proliferation of the Toys R Us 6 figure sets, vehicle/figure combos and the arrival of the Comic Pack figures.  2003, though, was actually somewhat sparse when it came to classic style Joe figures.  There were the two, initial, Toys R Us sets.  And, TRU got quite a collection of exclusive vehicles that also included classically styled figures.  There were a bunch of mail away and online figures.  But, retail saw just two figures included in standard waves.  And, due to the massive upswing in the line's popularity in late 2003, those weren't around for very long.  Also lost in the year is the 2003 Convention set.  While the 2002 set was lauded for it's for it army building centric design, the 2003 was condemned for it's focus on characters and more obscure mold reuses.  And, even today, it remains the most obscure Convention set.  Which is easy to see when one of the best figures released that year is a repaint of the 1988 Ferret figure that was repurposed into the Black Dragon Trooper.

The 1988 Ferret figure is weird.  The mold is bizarre. And, the colors are banal.  You'd be hard pressed to find it in any photos on my site.  And, I don't even own one any longer.  But, seeing it repurposed for a new army builder in 2003 wasn't terrible.  Collectors weren't sick of the mold.  But, when the figure was first shown, many collectors couldn't even place the original figure who had used the mold: such was the obscurity of the original Ferret.  But, this was also where the figure failed.  In 2003, collectors were not aware of the sea of army builders that would be debuted at the 2003 convention.  And, as such, the collecting community was still full throated shouting that they wanted more of the classic army builders like the Vipers, BATS and Cobra Troopers.  So, seeing a figure in classic Cobra colors but using a mold that most couldn't even place was a disappointment.  After getting classic Vipers in 2002, there was an expectation that convention sets would always be excellently colored uses of staple army building molds.  When the script shifted, collectors weren't pleased.  And, there simply wasn't much excitement over the 2003 sets as an army in the box that collectors felt they deserved.

The one thing you can say about the 2003 Convention set is that it, probably, leaned too hard into the obscure aspect for the mold choices.  And, instead of making just good figures, the set ended up with an abundance of unappreciated molds that collectors really didn't care for.  While the 2002 Convention set quickly appreciated on the second hand market right after its release, the 2003 did not.  In fact, you could even get many figures in from the set for less than their original cost for a bit.  In time, the Falcon and Lady Jaye found some appreciation.  But, generally, the set was just discarded.  Collectors put it away in their closets and just left it there.  Even today, about the only content that exists on this are the remnants of the 2003 Joe community that you can find on a select few remaining fan sites.  People just don't use the figures.  And, for the newer collectors who don't own the figures, there's little desire to track them down.

I don't really have a specific purpose for the Black Dragon Trooper.  He's, pretty much, just a figure that I use as a humble brag in the background of photos of other, blue Cobras from that era.  He can be heavily armored.  And, with 2001 Fast Blast Viper gear, he might make for an interesting take on a HEAT Viper.  But, I think his best use is with a 2001 Shadow Viper backpack so you can pigeon hole the figure into Star Brigade.  In this capacity, the oddball chest piece works as space survival gear.  And, the weird helmet is more forgivable.  But, really, I've never seen the figure as anything other than a checkbox to complete my collection.  I had one back at the time of his release.  But, ended up selling it.  It was only through a random (and cheap!) find at a local shop that I bothered to re-add him to my collection.  And, really, the only reason I did so was because convention figures were starting to rise in price and I figured I could at least use him in a profile.

The figure's true purpose is one I've never bothered to explore.  Convention filecards were laughably bad. They weren't bad in the over-produced way that adults tend to write filecards, now.  No, they were just terrible.  The Black Dragon faction was the first stand alone idea that the club put together.  For some reason, a ninja had to have a force of heavily armored troopers.  It made no sense.  And, as the Black Dragon Ninja didn't really jive with fans of the era, the entire concept was mothballed away.  While we got a retail Black Dragon Ninja in late 2004, it had no relevance to the 2003 convention figures.  Maybe the convention filecards try to make a story of all this mess.  But, in the end, there's two out of place figures in really nice coloring that collectors can use however they please.

The paint applications on the Black Dragon Trooper are well done.  The blue color is rich and vibrant.  It is offset by strong gold accents that break up the black base.  The figure even features grey boots: adding another color to the palette and making this figure feel more substantial than retail releases of ARAH  molds from the same time period.  But, really, while the colors are great, they also allow the mold's weakness to show through.  1988 tends to be a weird villain year with lots of figures who have oddball and unexplainable details.  And, the Ferret is the poster child for the silliness that 1988 sometimes offered.  The welder's mask beneath a a bouffant helmet is still just that.  It's mystifying but indifferent.  And, that sums the figure up as a whole.  He looks fine.  But, he's still just so obscure and bizarre that you aren't compelled to own one.

The Black Dragon Trooper's weapons are just a recycled 1993 weapon tree.  However, since collectors of 2003 were still VERY anti-'90's, the club actually took the step to remove all the weapons from the tree and only offer them as loose accessories.  This is too bad because weapon trees are awesome.  But, it was also nice because it ensured that every weapon was already loose and we don't see hundreds of these figures with an unused weapon tree behind them as the default sales mode.  The chosen weapons are one of the stronger "Cobra" trees from that era.  It features the 1991 Incinerator flamethrower (a personal favorite), a 1988 Voltar rifle, a 1988 Toxo Viper weapon and a 1990 Rock Viper rifle.  I don't care for the last three weapons.  But, I like the Incinerator weapon well enough to call the accessories good enough.  2003 was the final year that black weapons were included with convention figures.  The club switched to grey in 2004 under the false pretext that "people" were worried about mistaking the much, much rarer convention accessories for the easy to find originals.  The figure also includes a 1992 Gung Ho backpack and a clear figure stand.  This was the last set that ever tried to use weapon tree molds with a figure.  And, the sets were better for it since the trees didn't really match the aesthetic of the later convention figures.

The 2003 Convention figures were very affordable...up until the latest boom in Joe prices.  And, while the 2003 figures lagged their peers in value for a while, you'll now only find these figures at premium pricing.  Black Dragon Troopers seem to sell in the $40-$45 range.  But, you'll more often find dealers trying to still get $70.  For a Convention figure, that's actually not too bad of a price these days.  But, it's a far cry from the $15-$18 this guy would have cost you just 5 years ago.  The general malaise towards the 2003 set and the specific disinterest in the Ferret mold combine for one of, if not the, cheapest Convention army builders that's left.  I can't say, though, that he's worth it.  The Black Dragon Trooper is a fine figure.  But, you don't need it.  He's a great companion piece to an army.  But, a squad of 12 of them seems like overkill.  He's just one of those figures who exists but everyone seems to have completely forgotten.

2003 Black Dragon Trooper, Convention Exclusive, Ferret, 2004 Flak Viper, Nullifier, Urban Strike

2003 Black Dragon Trooper, Convention Exclusive, Ferret, 2004 Flak Viper, Nullifier, Urban Strike

2003 Black Dragon Trooper, Convention Exclusive, Ferret, 2004 Flak Viper, Nullifier, Urban Strike

2003 Convention Exclusive Black Dragon Trooper, 1993 Mail Away Spirit Iron Knife


  1. He has the legs of Star-Viper, too.
    I dunno. There was like this thing that anything outside of the 1982-1986 years could be repurposed as something new. I'd have been fine with Ferret V2 or Star-Viper V2. And when they did the IG set, Ferret wasn't part of it.
    The colors on the Trooper are decent, but we are have the gold helmet again...which just make this say FERRET V2. They could've recolored Ferret in HISS Driver colors and had it with the HISS 2.

    I think BLACK DRAGON as a concept was a dud, and that's part of why you don't see this figure a lot. IIRC, "Black Dragon" originated from some 12" cardback story from the late 90's/early 2000's, where they wouldn't make any GI JOE enemies besides some adventure team monsters and maybe WW2 Axis. So we have Ferrets led by a generic looking ninja dude. And so what? How many enemy ninjas can we stomach? Later, they make them even more part of Cobra in the ninja 6 pack, yet also a named guy for Ninja Battles who is...a barely recolored new sculpt Iron Grenadier. Why keep linking the IGs to this rogue Arashikage guy?

  2. Back when I re-entered the 3 3/4" collecting world in 2016/2017 I immediately began going through year by year to find figures from the 2000s era with the softer more forgiving plastic. For most of my first year back into the 3 3/4" I was buying mostly MOC 92-94 Battle Corps figures to open up and the 2000s era figures. The thought of aging plastic really bugged me at the time but it's something I accepted as I got more and more into the hobby. At the same time I became very interested in the 2000s convention exclusives. I think discovering the "Tanks for the Memories" 2007 set really sent me down the convention rabbit hole (I ended up getting 6 or 7 figures from that set).

    Eventually I came across the Black Dragon Trooper and just viewed the figure as an updated Ferret. I had a growing collection of Hiss tanks and other Cobra vehicles and thought he would make a good vehicle driver. His somewhat bizarre design does not lend himself to being much more than a solid vehicle driver in my Joe verse and the way he was re-purposed for Black Dragons made zero sense to me. I believe I bought 4 or so of these figures back in 2017 and ended up selling them off for in order to acquire figures from the original 82-94 ARAH run.

    The irony in this figure for me is that I decided to build up an Iron Grenadier army in 2021/2022 and I wanted some Ferrets to serve as vehicle drivers for the IG vehicles I acquired. Last time I cared to check the original 88 Ferret was going for around 30 dollars a figure which is to steep a price for me. I kick myself sometimes for offloading the small collection of Black Dragon Troopers that could have served the exact same role. My impulsive collecting habits have a way of coming back to haunt me from time to time.

  3. I actually obtained this guy first, than the original Ferret, and finally a D.E.M.O.N. that i completely restored. This figure looks impressive as an independent mercnary who takes on extremely dangerous missons....for a hefty price. Oddly enough, (or maybe not), the Black Dragon trooper looks really out of place in a D.E.M.O.N. cockpit. Overall though, I really like this toy and it's one of my favorites for soom reason.

  4. I cannot believe the prices now for convention figures. I was around collecting at the time and it seems there was always overstock available. very few of the these convention figures are good enough to collect and none are must haves for a collection. so whovever is out there paying 400 bones for a tiger force beachhead, a figure disliked and maligned at the time, I simply cannot understand you.