Tuesday, March 31, 2020

2003 Overkill

In the early 2000's, collectors wanted army builders.  Hasbro, to an extent, understood this.  While the JvC line had offered a nice run of army building figure, the vintage repaints that were interspersed in the waves left collectors wanting.  Sure, we'd seen Vipers and Alley Vipers.  But, the colors weren't great, they lacked decent gear and they were packaged with Joe figures that raised the price.  (Though it also made the army builders much easier to find.)  In early 2003, Hasbro finally seemed to get it and they took chance on the first real online exclusive in the Joe line's history: the BAT Pack.  For $15, collectors got 5 army building figures and one character.  You can be sure that single character caused more consternation than the 3 black BATs caused joy.  Such was the way of the collecting world at the time.  But, the Overkill figure was a welcome repaint that showcased a mold that was, in 2003, foreign to most collectors.

The BAT pack was a failure.  And, this Overkill is a big part of the reason why.  Had he been colored in more traditional BAT colors, it's very likely that collectors would have warmed to him.  But, in the early 2000's, collectors didn't tend to like molds from the 1990's.  And, they certainly didn't want to see anything that dared to take a chance in terms of color.  Overkill's third strike is that he was a character included in an army building set.  In short, there was simply no way collectors would like him.  And, most didn't even give the figure a chance.  But, did he deserve this fate?

In 2020, it's easy to look back at an obscure mold colored in bright blues with a red head a neon green torso as a fun bit of kitsche.  In 2003, when collectors were "super duper serious!!!!", this was an abomination that was written off as Hasbro not getting us.  But, both things can be true.  Hasbro was still trying some fun and offbeat ways to be creative.  And, collectors punished them for it.  At the same time, Hasbro simply didn't listen to collectors at all.  Had they done so, this Overkill might have been less ostentatiously colored and would have better fit with the BATs.  Had the Inferno BATs been the only oddball offering in the BAT pack, it might have fared a little better.  But, that's all ancient history at this point.  And, this Overkill stands as one of the few brightly colored figures from the 2000's.

Overkill included his original complement of accessories.  The only missing piece is the huge talking backpack that was the gimmick for the original release.  The pack is a giant burden that limits the figure.  So, it's absence isn't an issue.  (Though, the pack did have a place for Overkill to store his extra hand attachment.)  Overkill has a blue hand, a black rifle of some sort and a black claw attachment.  The black color is nice and is actually a better fit for the 1992 figure.  But, the design of the weapons is just as bizarre as the design of the figure.  So, it fits.  But, it's also somewhat out of place in the entire Joe line.

Overkill does have a hidden feature.  Inside his chest are a set of .50 caliber machine guns.  (According to his filecard.)  Prior to 2003, the presence of these guns was known to a small percentage of Joe fans.  Overkill was just so obscure and his 1992 release so far outside the "acceptable" window of collecting that most collectors had no exposure to him.  This 2003 version was good in that it showcased the design of this figure to a new generation of collectors.  For a time, vintage Overkill figures were somewhat sought after.  But, that quickly died out as the ire directed at the 2003 release boiled over and the character fell into ill-repute as Hasbro began to recycle him into the JvC line while other fan favorites were ignored.

I've told the story of the BAT packs before.  Hasbro wanted to sell 10,000 of them.  And, that was the likely production number.  But, online dealers simply weren't large enough to handle that many.  And, those who went all in were left with unsold BAT packs for years.  Hasbro liquidated their overstock to Amazon (who was the distribution arm for ToysRUs.com at the time).  And, eventually, to liquidation brick and mortar stores.  (Tuesday Morning stores carried leftover BAT packs for like $6 for a while.)  Being the only single figure in the pack, though, means that Overkill is actually quite scarce.  If there are only 10,000 of him (any other figure would be lower) then only convention figures and the infamous 2002 Wave V have lower production runs.  But, since nobody cares about this figure, his availability isn't an issue: even 17 years later.

These days, mint and complete Overkills will run you between $5 and $10 depending upon how long you want to wait to get one.  The figure was the least desired of the pack and army builders of the era (who often had 10 or more total sets) usually sold or traded away extra Overkills just to clear out space.  Overstock figures were available from Asia for a long time, often in large lots.  And, they hung around forever since no one wanted them.  For the price then and, even, the price now, though, this is a fun figure.  Overkill isn't overly represented in the collecting community and he's rarely seen in photos or displays.  This version is not really any better or worse than the original release.  So, it's a nice supplement to the Talking Battle Commanders figure.

2003 Overkill, BAT Pack, Mail Away, Funskool, Law

Thursday, March 26, 2020

2000 Wild Bill - Around The Web

One of the releases that's getting lost to time is the 2000 release of Wild Bill.  As he was done in a color more traditionally associated with Cobra, many collectors have forgotten this figure even exists.  But, he and the Locust were excellent repaints and were a cheap way to pick up a Dragonfly repaint at the time.  Obviously, there isn't much content out there on this Wild Bill.  Here's what I could find.

2000 Wild Bill Profile

2000 Wild Bill at JoeADay.com

2000 Wild Bill by Albafica

2000 Wild Bill by Slipstream80

2000 Wild Bill at coolgijoestuff

2000 Wild Bill, 1983 Dragonfly, Funskool Flint, Black Major, Alley Viper, ARAHC, Factory Custom, Bootleg

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

1987 Road Toad

My childhood Joe memories are vast.  I spent copious amounts of time playing with my toys and use them as a proxy to recall places, events, feelings and emotions from that time of my life.  I've mined those memories for nearly two decades to tell tales of the joy these toys have brought to me.  In looking back at the items from my childhood, there are items that simply took ahold of me and became hugely important to my adventures.  In some cases (Hovercraft, Hydrofoil, Skystriker) the reason for the toy's importance was obvious.  But, there were smaller items that appear insignificant and unimportant that also became vital to my collection at various points in time.  Battlefield playsets were an excellent way to augment my Joe headquarters.  Even stupid items like a rope walker became a pivotal plot point on afternoon when the Joes had to pursue Stormshadow across a city.  The driving force of these toys is that many of these small, cheap playthings were given the same attention to detail and care in design as went into larger, more profitable vehicles.  That consistent quality is one of the key factors that drives the legacy of the Joe line.  In the spring of 1987, one small vehicle that seemed rather dumb appeared on the market.  I picked it up as it was the only new item on the shelf of Toys R Us one day.  But, once in hand, the Road Toad found a niche as a vital part of any Joe mission.

The story of the Road Toad really begins with the S.L.A.M.  As a kid, I loved Star Wars.  A friend of my father's had recorded the movie on HBO sometime in the very early 1980's and given the tape to us.  I watched the movie at least once a month, maybe even more frequently, for years.  I loved the final battle sequence.  And, after dozens of viewings, I saw all the small details of the Imperial gunnery stations and wanted to expand upon that idea in various play scenarios for both Joe and Cobra.  The introduction of the S.L.A.M. brought a new element to this dynamic.  The S.L.A.M. was a cool toy that could hold two gunners (a feature I loved) that had powerful cannons and was even armed with missiles.  It became a quick favorite.  But, it had a fatal flaw I couldn't get past.  The S.L.A.M. was supposed to be self propelled and even included a tow hook to drag other trailers behind it.  This didn't make sense to me and I couldn't get my head around the S.L.A.M. driving around a battlefield.  I felt it needed to be towed, like the Whirlwind before it.  The toy was limited because I couldn't haul it behind my existing vehicles.  So, the S.L.A.M. was a disappointment.  Then, the Road Toad entered my world.

At its core, the Road Toad is meant to be a tow truck.  It could serve as a battlefield recovery vehicle or mechanic's platform, too.  But, really, it's a cheap, thin, glorified tow truck.  But, this was exactly the type of thing that the Joe line needed.  While big combat vehicles were the core of the toy line, having options for some support vehicles took Joe to another level beyond any other toy line of the era.  The Road Toad wasn't meant to be the focal point of play.  It was designed to interact with other vehicles and bring a different element of play to G.I. Joe.  Of course, it was armed so that you could use it in combat if it was the only vehicle you had.  But the real fun was that kids now had a way to deal with disabled, captured or destroyed vehicles (read as broken toys!) in a more realistic way.

For me, the Road Toad quickly became a central part of any story.  I was big on defining both capabilities and limitations for my toys.  So, a VAMP could tow a heavy weapon.  But, that slowed it down considerably and left it exposed to enemy attack.  This meant that heavy weapons like a S.L.A.M. had to be towed by Maulers or Havocs.  These larger, armored vehicles were not always available.  Nor, were they always practical.  So, the Road Toad was invented to help out smaller vehicles.  My Road Toads would be synched to the engines on the VAMP that was towing them.  The Road Toad would then augment the VAMP's power while it was towing a S.L.A.M. or H.A.L.  It would even allow a VAMP to tow a disabled Mauler or Havoc.  In short, the Road Toad was designed to allow VAMP's to keep their speed while also allowing them to haul weapons to places where a Havor or Mauler could not go.  But, even when a Havoc was tasked to haul a heavy trailer, the Road Toad would be included.  

There were a few reasons for this.  First, the Road Toad provided the crew another vehicle that could move.  So, if the main vehicle's engine was damaged or destroyed, the Road Toad still gave the crew a working vehicle to aid their escape or objective.  Second, the Road Toad brought additional capacities into the convoy.  It had a tow hook that was far more versatile than the standard hitches on the big vehicles.  (The rope was dropped down into a hole on more than one occasion to pull out a stuck crew member.)  It also brought some additional firepower.  While the Road Toad only had a small, mounted twin gun, that gun could elevate almost 180 degrees and could swivel 360 degrees.  This was hugely beneficial to something like a Havoc where the main guns only pointed forwards and the smaller guns also had limited range of motion.  The Road Toad could serve as back up anti-aircraft weaponry for vehicles that were designed to be anti-armor or anti-infantry.  The final reason was more a pet peeve of mine as a kid.  To me, the value of the Joe line was the figures.  I always lamented that few vehicles could carry more than a basic crew into battle.  This became more of an issue as the line evolved and characters from 1986 and, especially, 1987 started including more accessories.  There was simply no place to store all these items on most vehicles I had.  The Road Toad introduced some additional storage space on its platform.  Sneek Peek's telescope was a staple of the deck.  Fast Draw's missile rack was another.  And, in rare cases, additional Joes would ride on the platform, holding onto the rope strung from the winch to the back.

The Road Toad's life was short and forgotten.  It was only released by Hasbro and never saw any international releases beyond Hasbro controlled territories.  While it would have been nice to get a gun mount that wasn't orange, the rest of the Road Toad's colors were well done enough that there's no real reason for a repaint.  In the 2000's Hasbro kind of shied away from items like the Road Toad.  But, truth is, items like the Night Landing Craft were just as silly as the Road Toad.  They were just poorly executed.  While collectors of that time would have left a repainted Road Toad to rot on the shelves, I would have enjoyed at least one more take on the little platform.

Road Toads are cheap.  Boxed versions can be had for around $20 or so.  Loose versions can be purchased for as little as $5. The missiles are easy to lose and the gun is easy to break.  But, that's about it.  You can even supplement the include short rope with something longer if you're so inclined.  But, there's not much to the Road Toad and the cheap modern pricing also pretty much insists that every collector own one.  For me, the Road Toad is the quintessential toy.  It's fun to play with, has lots of uses and really makes no sense.  But, it was these little items that allowed for so much latitude in the vintage Joe line and are the primary reason why it still resonates so well today.

1987 Road Toad, Dodger, Battleforce 2000, 1994 action Sailor

1987 Road Toad, Dodger, Battleforce 2000, 1994 action Sailor, Rumbler, Knockdown, Sneak Peek, Backstop, 1983 Wolverine

Thursday, March 19, 2020

2006 Operation Flaming Moth Shipwreck - Around the Web

Sometimes, a simple repaint creates a fig for the ages.  In the case of the 2006 Operation Flaming Moth Shipwreck, what should have been a mundane repaint brought new life to the character and gave collectors a great update to two vintage molds.  The combo of Cutter and Shipwreck gives collectors a version of a classic character that no longer looks like a reject from the Village People.  Collectors have adopted this version as a de facto original and made him a popular visage for the Shipwreck character.  Here's some of this figure's best content from around the web.

Flaming Moth Shipwreck Profile

Shipwreck by magoage

Shipwreck at JoeADay.com

Shipwreck by Flint

Shipwreck at Generals Joes Reborn

Shipwreck by cyko

Shipwreck at JoeBattleLines.com

Shipwreck manning the USS Flagg by Flint

2006 Operation Flaming Moth Shipwreck

2006 Operation Flaming Moth Shipwreck, 1986 General Hawk

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

1986 Dreadnok RAM - Sears Exclusive

My dad was a Sears junkie.  He would go to the store and browse the various aisles like I peruse toy web sites today.  He had no real intentions of buying most of the items he saw.  But, I'm sure part of him thought that if he won the lottery, he'd buy up every tool, yard gadget and electronic device in the store and those items would somehow provide him with a modicum of satisfaction...even if he never used them.  The upside to this was that when the family was at the mall, my dad would take my brothers and I to Sears while my mother would shop in the other department stores.  In our local store, the toys were located right next to the tools.  So, he could wander those aisles while we would drool over the toys.  My main memories of spending my time at Sears are not only looking at off Joe brand toys like Rambo, Sectaurs and even the Temple of Doom toy line but also seeing the Sears G.I. Joe exclusives and holding the boxes, memorizing the details of toys I didn't really have hope that I would own.

All that longing, though, paid off.  In 1985, I found the Sears SMS under the Christmas Tree.  It quickly became one of the staples of my Joe adventures and survives, to this day, in relatively good shape.  In 1986, my younger brother opened the Dreadnok Air Assault.  I had seen this at the store, but wasn't overly fond of it.  (I had hated the FANG as a kid.)  Within a few presents, though, I discovered the Dreadnok Ground Assault as one of my flagship gifts.  This was something I had wanted since my 1986 era Cobras were wanting for additional ground vehicles.  It was quickly opened up and joined my collection as one of the few new pieces that arrived in the 1986 holiday season.

The Dreadnok RAM, though, didn't find use in the Cobra arsenal.  By late 1986 and early 1987, my original RAM was long relegated to a super glued mess that no longer worked at all.  The Silver Mirage sat in a junk pile due to the low quality and general frustrations I had when playing with it.  So, a mostly green RAM seemed like a better fit for the Joes than the Dreadnoks: characters I didn't really use any longer.  At the time, I had a slew of custom characters that I had cobbled together from parts of broken 1984, 1985 and 1986 figures.  One of these was a combo of Flint's head, Footloose's torso and Snake Eyes' legs.  (I forget the arms.  I think they actually changed a few times as I snapped thumbs.)  This character, named Thunderbolt (how original...) was the principle warrior in my collection.  He wore Flint's backpack but carried the Ripcord rifle from the Tactical Battle Platform.  His primary specialty was fast attack and his signature move was riding a motorcycle with reckless abandon into a battle.  His cycle of choice?  The Dreadnok RAM.

Perched atop the RAM, Thunderbolt would ride into the fray to save the day for the Joes time and time again.  He would both use the gatling gun sidecar and exclude it, firing his weapon with one hand while he drove the cycle with the other.  This personal transport became as much a part of the character as the figure, his rifle and the ammo he found at the bottom of the "waterfall" that was my grandfather's concrete front steps on his Buffalo, NY home.  In very short order, the Dreadnok RAM became his and his alone.  I kept pretty good care of my toys in 1986 and 1987.  But, this RAM had some pieces break due to heavy usage.  It shows how important the cycle was to one of the most integral toys in my collection.  When it came time to pack my toys away in early 1988, the Dreadnok RAM was packed with the Thunderbolt figure and kept safe while the Stinger was tossed in a box and left to the exposure in the attic of my parents' home.

Today, though, Thunderbolt is long gone...dispatched to simple memories.  The Dreadnok RAM has, instead, found itself the primary ride of the Brazilian Relampago figure.  The greens of the RAM and Stinger mesh nicely with the vintage Python Patrol figures.  Python Troopers and Officers are the right match of mold year for the Stinger and man it very well.  Relampago is a motorcycle rider.  So, his assignment to the RAM is a natural fit.  And, having a relatively rare figure ride a relatively rare motorcycle seems like an additional bonus.  But, due to the fragility and rarity of both the cycle and the jeep, I rarely use these items any longer.  It's just too dangerous to take them outside and risk breaking a three figure part on the toys just to get a photo that will get a few likes and then disappear forever.  So, this RAM and the Stinger remain boxed up and rarely venture out into the wild.  I hope to someday change that and get a nice set of photos fully showcasing the Python Patrol's symmetry with this set.

One of the calling cards of the Dreadnok exclusives was that they changed color.  For a kid in 1986, this seemed really cool and fun.  Once you owned the vehicles, though, you realized that the reality of the color changing ability was limited.  If you didn't take the toys outside, you wouldn't know they changed color.  And, if you did take them out, they would change into the other color and stay there for quite a bit of time before slowly fading back.  In short, it was a dumb gimmick, but it sold toys.  What it also did, though, was leave a legacy of super brittle and easily discolored plastic.  Dreadnok vehicles that are stored relatively well will still have broken parts due to the fragility of the aging plastic.  The color changing parts will turn dark if you're lucky.  But, more commonly, they take on a yellowish brown hue that renders the vehicles useless.  Supposedly, there is a variant on the RAM where parts can be in different colors.  I still believe that much of this is a function of plastic deterioration.  But, the variants are officially listed, legit and are something for the truly sadistic collector to track down.

Every Joe collector who grew up in the '80's has a favorite retailer story.  There is an entire subset of collectors who track down vintage cardbacks with specific price tags that denote the retailer of origin.  I recall peg after peg of figures at department stores, specialty retailers, hardware stores, mom-and-pop shops, niche providers and the multitude of chain and independent toy stores that used to dot American malls.  If you had asked people back then to forecast the retail environment 30+ years out, it's doubtful that anyone would come close to the apocalyptic space that is 2020's retail stores.  All of the small, regional, local and even national stores have long since been consolidated, merged or forced out of business due to changing consumer habits.  Old price tags and retailer exclusives like this RAM are memories of different times.  While I doubt we'll ever see a toy renaissance like the 1980's again, the reality is that today's retail simply couldn't support it.  In the '80's, there were dozens, if not hundreds of outlets in which your ideas could be sold.  Today, if Wal Mart and Amazon pass on your product, you're left with either a really cheap product that can be sold at discount stores or a really expensive niche product that's marketed to a small, affluent group.  Neither of these will ever lead to the mass adoption of a toy line and we'll never again see the culture of a youthful generation defined by hugely popular toys.

As I think back about those trips to Sears with my father, I wonder what memories my kids are forging now that they are entering the same age brackets as I was when Star Wars and G.I. Joe dominated my experience.  I also now better understand why my dad would not mind sitting in Sears for an hour or two, the kids safe, nearby on a Saturday afternoon.  There are days I'm happy to buy the week's groceries, just to get out of the house for an hour's peace.  I'm saddened that there are no longer toy stores where I can take my boys to look and browse for new playthings.  But, that experience was a big part of my childhood.  They will have a chance to experience something different.  And, I'm sure that there's some activity we do today that I consider innocuous that will burn deep memories in them and be their happy nostalgia at some point in the future.  I only hope that they're able to share those thoughts with me so we can relive them together.

I was prepared to talk about how expensive Dreadnok RAMs are.  However, I was not prepared for exactly HOW expensive they are.  Mint and complete motorcycles will sell for over $200 with most reaching $250.  Just the cycle with a broken kickstand will run you well over $100.  Simply put, that's insane for something like this.  Sure, the toy is relatively rare and time hasn't tended to be kind to the brittle and discoloring plastic.  But, the toy is also limited and not something that is essential for a collection.  But, the Dreadnoks are popular.  The RAM is popular.  And, collectors are gladly overpaying for harder to find vintage toys these days.  Personally, I'd never pay anywhere near that for this cycle.  But, I have the luxury of having both one from childhood and one from a pre-insanity priced adult collector purchase.  So, that certainly colors my view of the current pricing.  Having the toy as a kid certainly has left this item as a vehicle that I'm glad to have...just for the nostalgia.  Without that, it's value would be limited to me.

1986 Sears Exclusive Dreadnok RAM, Stinger, Python Patrol, Trooper, Officer, 1989, Relampago, Gatilho, Estrela, Forca Naja, Brazilian, Brazil, Cobra Trooper, Cobra Officer

Sunday, March 15, 2020

20th Anniversary Key Moments - Escorpiao Voador (Cobra Flying Scorpion)

As 2001 progressed, foreign figures became a bigger part of the site.  But none made such an impression as the Escorpiao Voador figure from Brazil.  In August of 2001, Brazilian figures were mostly unknowns.  Few collectors cared about them and those who did usually ended at the Cobra Invasor or Cobra De Aco.  The later run figures popped up for sale from time to time.  But, they rarely made a splash in the Joe world.  Few collectors really considered loose foreign figures as integral parts of a collection and photos of them out in the wild were simply unheard of.  Slowly, that changed.  And, I like to think I played a part in that transition.

The Flying Scorpion is an interesting concoction.  The legs from Scoop and chest and arms from Recoil work well enough.  The Cesspool head, though, gives the figure a more serious appearance.  Making the character black, though, completely changes the look of the head and makes this figure appear not as a repainted kitbash, but something completely new.  Unfortunately, in hand, you see that the head is a bit large for the body and isn't a perfect fit.  Little quality details like this can gnaw at you for a while.  But, taken as a whole the figure looks like it was created as a single release rather than parts of many others.

And, it was this look that drove me to find this figure.  In the summer of 1994, I sketched out several Cobra characters who would dominate my post vintage Joe world.  As I tracked down the ghosts of the retail line, I was able to apply some of the newly released figures to those characters.  But, the flagship character: the Cobra who would become Commander and lead the organization to great glory, was a character I could not pin to a figure.  None of the releases I was finding were worthy of such a noteworthy part of my Joe lore.  When a collector's offhand comment about this recolored Cesspool head caught my attention, I discovered the figure that would represent the future of my Cobra hierarchy.  Within a few months of searching, I tracked down a MOC figure.  I waited a long month for the Brazilian post office to get the figure to me.  And, upon his receipt, sliced open the bubble and the most important character in my Cobra command structure was finally represented in plastic form.

The Flying Scorpion has yet to disappoint.  Over the years, I've found that he's rarely someone I photograph, though.  This is partially due to the fact that his helmet was deteriorating inside the bubble of the figure I opened only 7 years after his retail release.  It's also due to the fairly brittle nature of the figure.  I'm afraid I'll snap a thumb or crotch should I pose the figure in the wrong manner or try to force an accessory into his hand.  So, he's only appeared in a handful of photo shoots in the site's history.  Despite that, though, the spectre of the figure looms large over the entire site as he remains one my most famous profiles and a figure that remains associated with this site to a great extent.

In the nearly 20 years since I showcased this figure, he's gone from a $30 MOC figure to a $200+ loose figure.  High quality loose samples are few and far between.  Carded samples have gotten even scarcer.  Collectors have made him a staple of their custom efforts.  And, he even appeared in a convention set.  (Though, it was a pretty tame anniversary style figure.)  He remains one of the most popular foreign characters and many people are willing to shell out large sums of money for him due to the uniqueness of the figure and his distinctive appearance within the Cobra ranks.

Though the years, my various sites have seen a fair share of traffic.  I'm never the top Joe site.  And, even in the site's heyday of 150,000+ hits per month, it wasn't close to the top 5.  But, enough people stopped by to reach the various Flying Scorpion profiles that I do take credit for popularizing him (and his companion, the Abutre Negro figure!) in the Joe world.  That's probably quite a bit of hubris talking.  But, the ensuing popularity of this figure is something that I feel responsible for.  Even today, the original Flying Scorpion profile remains one of the most popular posts on the entire site.  The reality is that I was just the first to showcase the figure.  Had I not, someone else would have since the figure is of excellent quality.  But, if the Flying Scorpion is my legacy to the collecting community, I can consider my time here a success.

Escorpiao Voador, Cobra Flying Scorpion, Brazil, Estrela, Patrulha Do Ar, Sky Patrol, Black Major, Cobra Invasor, Red Shadows, Palitoy, Abutre Negro, Black Vulture, Shadowtrak

Thursday, March 12, 2020

1994 Razor Blade - Around The Web

I bought the Razor Blade near the end of Joe's remnants being at retail.  I bought it out of desperation to get a new Joe toy.  But, I found a gem.  The colors, design and quality were all on par with the vehicles from my childhood.  To this day, it's a great toy and a lot of fun.  But, due to the late release year, there's not much content on this thing out there.  Here's what little I can find on the Razor Blade from around the web.

1994 Razor Blade Profile

Razor Blade Commercial

Razor Blade Unboxing Video by HCC788

Razor Blade at YoJoe.com (silver box photos)

Razor Blade by Flint

1994 Razor Blade, 1991 Updraft, Viper

1994 Razor Blade, 1991 Updraft, Viper, 1985 Flint, 2002 Big Ben

1994 Razor Blade, 1991 Updraft, Viper, 1985 Flint, 2002 Big Ben, 1993 Ace, General Flagg, Stalker, Beach Head

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

1989 Slaughter's Marauders Spirit

In all the time I have been reviewing G.I. Joe figures, I have only looked at two members of the Slaughter's Marauders subset that was released in 1989.  Part of this is that there were only 6 members of the team released in the U.S. and only two real international variants of the figures that exist.  (Both of which are very similar to the U.S. releases.)  Another part is that the figures are relatively obscure, break easily and are not significant upgrades over the figures' original designs.  The penultimate part is that Slaughter's Marauders has not really taken off in the collecting community like Tiger Force or even Sky Patrol have.  The final element is that while the paint jobs on the Slaughter's Marauders have merit, they quickly blend together and lack the complementary cohesion of a Tiger Force or Python Patrol.  All of this isn't to say that the figures are bad.  In fact, they have a lot of merit and can be extremely useful in many situations.  In cases like this Spirit, they are drastic departures from the figure's original paint job and give collectors a diverse way to use the character.

All of the Slaughter's Marauders figures were made by Estrela in Brazil.  Hasbro did this due to the molds being in Brazil.  But, also to test additional production capacity should they ever need it.  The result, though, is that the Slaughter's Marauders figures have extremely brittle plastic.  (They match with the quality of all the Estrela releases and are a great way for a modern collector to experience Brazilian quality prior to taking the plunge into Estrela exclusive figures.)  You see an extremely high frequency of broken thumbs and crotches on Slaughter's Marauders figures...even if the rest of the figure shows almost no wear.  Spirit is a notoriously brittle release, though.  His rifle's large handle and the thinness of his crotch piece make him even more susceptible to breakage.  Three decades removed from his release, this has manifested in a figure that has become tough to find and even tougher to accessorize and pose due to fears of his thumbs snapping from just giving him his rifle to hold.

The Slaughter's Marauders color scheme is very close to being the perfect forest team.  Their base colors of brown, black, dark green and light green are an excellent way for them to blend into forested environments.  Alas, there is an outlier, though, as the final color in their palette was a unique blue.  The color isn't Cobra blue, but is odd enough that it takes away from the figure's realism.  Fortunately, Spirit joins Footloose and Low Light as the figures with the least amount of the color and its appearance on the figure's accents help keep this Spirit fairly militaristic.  The blue gloves, boots and undershirt can be a bit off-putting.  But, the figure's general color tones are well done and rarely otherwise seen in the vintage line outside of the Marauders subset.

Spirit features all new paint masks from the original figure.  The multi-tonal shirt and pants give the figure some depth...even if the reality of the clothes is a bit odd.  The biggest change, though, is that Spirit is missing his eyebrows!  I'm not really sure how a paint mask like this could be overlooked.  But, it happened.  And, it gives this figure an eerie face that doesn't seem quite right.  (Sadly, this missing paint mask was also carried forward to the European Spirit figure.)  It's the main detraction on this figure and it takes what would, otherwise, be a top notch repaint and knocks it down a few pegs.

The other difference is Spirit's skin tone.  The Olhos de Fenix figure that was originally released in Brazil featured a more sunburnt skin tone.  (The same tone was seen on other figures, too.)  This Slaughter's Marauders figure has pasty white skin...a stark difference from the mold's prior use in Brazil.  But, it's also more in line with the skin tone that was used on the American release in 1984.  Making Spirit's skin so blanched is an odd choice for a character who wears clothing so tied to his heritage.  It's not likely that this was anything more than a function of the plastic mixture since all of the Marauders figures with exposed skin have matching flesh tones.

The Slaughter's Marauders Spirit has a few interesting packaging differences from the 1984 original.  First, the card art is reversed.  Instead of holding his rifle in his right hand like he is on the 1984 card, the 1989 release shows him holding it in his left hand.  The artwork is just a mirror image.  What's interesting, though, is that this reversed image is unique to the Slaughter's Marauders Spirit.  The Ohlos de Fenix figure, also released in Brazil, features the original orientation.  And, the subsequently released European Spirit also matches the positioning of the 1984 figure.  Barbecue, Footloose and Mutt also feature reversed card art.  While Low Light's orientation matches his original release.

In addition to this, Spirit's filecard was changed.  Gone are the references to how poor Spirit was when he grew up.  Instead, his Marauders card refers to the beauty of his homeland.  It's an odd omission and one that somewhat changes your view of the character's upbringing.  Also gone is the reference to Spirit being a Shaman.  He is now a tough warrior.  This change fits with the Hasbro narrative.  As the line progressed, every character needed to be the toughest, baddest or best trained good guy or the most evil, vile and terrible villain.  Characters were pushed to the extremes to make them appear larger than life and fit with the hero and villain narrative.  But, the filecard differences paint two different pictures of the same character.

The Slaughter's Marauders Spirit includes all of the gear from the original Spirit, but in different colors.  The rifle and pack are now black.  However, as they are made in Brazil, they are not the same as the black accessories that accompanied the European Exclusive Spirit figure.  So, be aware of that.  The loincloth is now black with brown paint to better match the updated paint masks.  And, Freedom again makes an appearance.  Once again, though, the Freedom is different from the more common 1984 Freedom due to his manufacture in Brazil. The rifle and backpack are a pair that really require each other due to the ammunition in the pack matching that which appears in Spirit's rifle.  But, the full complement of gear is necessary for Spirit and makes the figure feel far more useful than just a loose figure with no weapons would.

When I took my Spirit out of his bag, though, I found yet another example of the inferior Brazilian plastic.  Back in 2001, I wrote about how the soft plastic used for Escorpiao Voador's helmet was "melting" inside the still carded figure's package.  To this day, it has an oily residue on it.  I've found the same residue on my Slaughter's Marauders Junkyard.  And, I have now found it on Spirit's loincloth.  These figures have been stored in moderate temperatures and away from sunlight for many years.  But, the plastic is still degrading.  I now have to keep the loincloth separate from the figure to prevent it from damaging any other parts.  This is just the beginning.  Spirit's loincloth is over 30 years old, now.  And, these toys were never intended for such long use.  But, if you haven't checked your Marauders figures in a while, it's probably a good idea to look over the softer accessories and see if this degradation is happening to you, too.

Spirit traveled around the world.  Aside from the U.S. release, he was also released in Brazil and Mexico.  Both of these figures are similar in coloring to the 1984 Hasbro version.  Estrela produced the Slaughter's Marauders figures in Brazil for Hasbro.  But, Spirit was not among the Brazilian releases of the Marauders figures.  (Sgt. Slaughter, BBQ and Low Light were the only three released on Brazilian cards.)  Spirit did appear on the cardbacks of late run Plastirama packaging in Argentina.  But, he was never actually released there.  In the early 1990's, Spirit, Mutt and Low Light were all given back to Hasbro and were put into production in the European market.  Low Light kept the Slaughter's Marauders theme, though has exclusive to Europe coloring.  Mutt and Spirit, though, were given radical redesigns.  The Euro Spirit is black and red, but uses the same paint masks as the Slaughter's Marauders version...right down to the missing eyebrows.  It's very likely that Hasbro had access to Spirit in the 2000's but either never looked for him, or didn't care enough to produce a new version.  It's unfortunate as the mold could have been given at least one more really nice repaint.  But, Spirit collectors have three major paint variants and two additional country of origin variants to sate their Spirit appetite.

Mint and complete Slaughter's Marauders Spirit figures run about $40 these days.  Dealers will charge up to $60 and even get it from time to time.  (Especially if the figure has the filecard.)  In the case with this Spirit, the value is in an unbroken figure as the brittle plastic makes intact thumbs and crotches a tough find.  You can get most of the accessories (aside from Freedom) relatively cheaply.  The Slaughter's Marauders figures, in general, have taken off in price in the past few years as the frequency of broken figures and general lower production runs of the figures have become more evident.  The coloring of this figure works for a more militaristic version of Spirit.  But, the look isn't as iconic as the 1984 original.  As a Spirit fan, though, I find a great deal of value in both versions.  They serve different purposes and are different enough to warrant owning both.  And, with all versions of Spirit now being fairly expensive, the only reason to choose one over the another is personal preference.  I find value in having different looks for classic characters.  And, the Slaughter's Marauders paint job on Spirit is a nice way to have a solid look for the character that is less often seen than his more famous original design.

1989 Slaughter's Marauders Spirit Iron Knife, Funskool, Flint, India, Brazil, Estrela, Sgt. Slaughter, Cobra Officer, Viper, 2004, 2006

1989 Slaughter's Marauders Spirit Iron Knife, Funskool, Flint, India, Brazil, Estrela, Sgt. Slaughter

Friday, March 6, 2020

2004 McDonald's Snake Eyes

Before Hasbro gave us official 5 POA GI Joe action figures by way of the GI Joe:  Retaliation drivers, we got a glimpse of things-to-come thanks to McDonald’s. 

In 2004 McDonald’s produced GI Joe Happy Meals.  Some came with hyper deformed vehicles and some came with figures.  For the figures, McDonald’s safely stuck to major players, using Cobra Commander, Duke, Dr. Mindbender, and Snake-Eyes.  These characters were all released in 1:18 scale (or just slightly smaller).

You might consider this a Happy Meal pack-in toy, and not a true action figure.  I respect that.  Viewing this is an action figure might be generous.  Either way, I’m approaching this review as if it’s simply a low POA figure.
When I reviewed Dr. Mindbender over two years ago, I liked the figure.  Despite its low POA count, it brought something new to the table for Dr. Mindbender, in terms of pushing the uniform even further towards “mad scientist” than even the New Sculpt figure had.
Plus I’m very forgiving of the low POA format.  I enjoy the Retaliation Clutch figure, too.  
But today, dear reader, you can put away your hate daggers.  I have to give McSnake-Eyes a thumbs down.  It doesn’t accomplish anything with its design.   

If this Snake-Eyes were substantially new or a progression in some way, I’d say good things about it.  The bandaged head/sunglasses design would have been defendable, though not appropriate for a Happy Meal.  The Invisible Man-esque Snake-Eyes is now the last comic book design we haven’t seen translated to plastic in one format or another aside from customs.    
In all fairness, Happy Meal Snake-Eyes is well sculpted, sidestepping the issue of almost no articulation.  The proportions are musculature are more realistic than the contemporary “real” Joe figures of the New Sculpt era.  The pose is very fluid, with our favorite mute ninja commando in a wide-set foot stance with dramatically posed arms.  The headsculpt is very unique, with an interesting design and clean lines, but it looks more like something Alan Davis would have drawn for a character in Excalibur (timely!) than Hasbro or Marvel would have made for a Snake-Eyes design.
The head doesn’t move, but the way.  It is technically a point-of-articulation, but it will not move at all.  It’s locked in place.  Its craning-forward head/neck, which does work with the intended body, isn't even usable for customs unless you’re trying to make a scoliosis Snake-Eyes.    

The detailing throughout the uniform is good, but most of it is recycled from NS designs.  The gi top, webgear, and tall boots are all things seen before.  One detail we hadn’t seen is the backwards S on the belt buckle, creating the appearance that Snake-Eyes battles Cobra AND literacy. How did this nugget of stupidity get through quality control?  Maybe it’s supposed to be a snake and not an S?  I don’t know.  

None of the sculpted gear on Snake-Eyes is definitively weaponry.  No knives or grenades or firearms.  I understand that this is a McDonald’s toy, but at some point McDonald’s should have realized that the character IS a soldier, after all.  One leg has what is probably a sheath on it, but that’s as close as it gets.    

The figure came with a compass backpack.  Sorry, I don’t have one to show, but it didn’t help the overall appearance anyway.  As a Happy Meal pack-in, Snake-Eyes included no weapons or other gear.  

There’s also the issue of the color.  Taking a cue from the ’82/’83 figures, Snake-Eyes is molded in a solid color.  Black might have been too dismal a color for a Happy Meal, so McDonald’s went with a medium grey.  Not charcoal.  This is a grey that registers for Firefly, but not for Snake-Eyes so much.  These pack-ins were loaded with paint applications, but Snake-Eyes could’ve used a few touches of black here and there.   

I can’t say that I despise this figure.  It gets a thumb down from me, but not one backed with animosity or nerd rage.  More of a meh.

2004 McDonalds Snake Eyes2004 McDonalds Snake Eyes

Thursday, March 5, 2020

1993 Bazooka - Around The Web

1993 brought many classic characters back to retail.  Not all were great.  But, some were.  Bazooka falls somewhere in the middle.  This design is pretty well done.  The colors aren't great.  But, they have potential.  Overall, this figure can be Bazooka or it can be forgotten.  And, Bazooka seems to have fallen into the hole of figures in the line that collectors ignore.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

1993 Bazooka Profile

1993 Bazooka by Slipstream80

1993 Bazooka at JoeADay.com

1993 Bazooka by gi_joeisthere

1993 Bazooka by vulcan

1993 Bazooka by jogunwarrior

1993 Bazooka by gi_joeisthere

1993 Bazooka by tituslester32

1991 Badger, 1993 Bulletproof, Bazooka, Mega Marines Gung Ho

1993 Battle Corps Bazooka, Backblast, 1985 Bomb Disposal

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

1994 Major Bludd

In the past four years, I've looked at a lot of G.I. Joe figures.  If you asked me which years received the most of my focus, I'd have easily put 1994 as one of the most popular years.  Only, this isn't the case.  Since September of 2015, I've only profiled 5 1994 releases.  While I have taken hundreds of photos and done a ton of Around The Web features on 1994 figures, I have taken an in depth dive on just five.  (In the same time frame, I've reviewed 18 1993 releases.  So, that's the primary year of late run vintage Joes for me.)  This is far fewer than I would have thought.

I didn't really hunt G.I. Joe figures at retail in 1994.  It wasn't until 1995 that I really started scouring stores: seeking out the ghosts of a now cancelled line.  And, while it was easy to find some figures at stores, it was pretty much impossible to find many specific characters.  Cobra army builders, lower production run repaints and the second series of the 1994 figures were all difficult to find.  Few stores were still getting shipments of G.I. Joe figures.  (Though, there was warehouse overstock that flowed through into 1996.)  If a case was put out, it was usually just one case and the same figures sold out first each and every time.  Major Bludd was among the figures that I never found.  He was a classic character in a decent design.  So, he sold out while other Joes and even a few Cobras were left behind.

The general consensus in collecting circles is that the traditional color for Cobra is blue.  The classic blue color is supplemented by crimson and the entire Cobra organization is based on blue and red.  However, that really isn't the case.  In reality, the main Cobra color is actually purple.  If you look at the carded figures released between 1982 and 1994, I find 10 primarily blue Cobra figures and 16 primarily purple Cobra figures.  Now, to be fair, purple become more prominent after 1986 with a big surge in the 1990's.  And, blue is the basic color of the Cobra Trooper, Cobra Officer and Viper: figures who comprise the backbone of many Cobra armies.  But, the truth is that purple is a more prevalent color among Cobra releases than blue.  And, it should get more credit as the main color of Joe's primary antagonist.

My first real interaction with this figure was not with the figure itself.  In 1999, I managed to acquire a prototype of an unreleased 1995 Battle Corps Rangers figure.  The seller offered up a resin copy of this Major Bludd figure for a paltry additional amount.  So, I took him up on on it.  This unpainted torso, arms and head (it didn't include the legs since they were reused from the 1991 Toxo Viper) introduced me to the hidden blade in Major Bludd's arm.  It also, though, forged an odd visual treat that I wish were actually true.  On the unpainted figure, the raised bumps of Bludd's eyepatch looked like a crude skull.  While that may be a bit too "pirate-y" in 2019, it worked as a cool Easter egg on the figure in 1999.  When I finally acquired a production figure, though, the optical illusion from the resin colored test was exposed.  The dots on the eyepatch are just additional details and don't, actually, lay out like a skull.  But, for a few months, I thought this figure was much cooler than he actually turned out to be.

Bludd's character has always been among the most fascinating for me.  His Australian origin seemed exotic in 1983.  Unfortunately, Australian stereotypes infiltrated with his 1994 filecard and make his birthplace more of a joke than it was originally meant to be.  But, looking back at Major Bludd's original card art from 1983, you see the roots of a truly dangerous man who would have made for an excellent villain.  He wears tons of dogtags (that I believed he took from defeated enemies), had been in prison and wore the requisite bad guy eyepatch.  So, he had all the trappings of a classic villain.

One of the line's on Bludd's filecard that stands out is that he's wanted for war crimes in Rhodesia.  This is a holdover from Bludd's original 1983 filecard.  I find this fun, though, because Rhodesia ceased to exist in 1979 when the Rhodesian Bush Wars finally ended.  It's very possible that, in 1983, Bludd would still be a fugitive from the war that had ended less than half a decade earlier.  But, by 1994, it seemed very dated.  This was a likely relic of the fact that by the time I learned about Africa in school, all the maps and globes had been updated to show Zimbabwe in lieu of the old Rhodesia.  So, the Rhodesian reference felt like something from a lifetime ago.  But, it also shows motivation for Bludd to join Cobra as they could offer protection from the governments who wanted to bring Bludd to justice.  The fact that the reference still exists on 2000's era releases, though, dates the character (much like the Vietnam references for Stalker, Snake Eyes and Duke) but also provides an interesting history lesson for those so inclined.

As a figure, though, this Bludd leaves me a bit cold.  I grew up with the brown Major Bludd.  And, as he was one of my childhood favorites, I've found it hard to accept non-traditional colors for the character.  In looking at the various Bludd figures available, there are many options for a brown motif using all of Bludd's major molds.  This particular figure's mold (only the arms, head and chest are new, his waist and legs are from the 1991 Toxo Viper) was never reused in its entirety.  But, the head appeared on the 2003 Python Patrol Major Bludd and again on the 2006 Convention Major Bludd figure.  As the head was sculpted for this chest, I think the 1994 use of the head is the best.  But, you can get the look for Bludd on other figures that aren't as...purple.

Major Bludd's gear was not great.  First off, the weapons included with the figure were all red.  While brightly colored weapon trees were the norm in 1993 and 1994, they were still disappointing.  The upside is that the red gear actually goes well with the figure.  But, they are still red.  The worse part, though, is that Bludd's weapons tree includes a series of lackluster weapons.  The Rock Viper rifle is too big to be useful.  The 1992 Destro's pistol never really worked for me.  (And, I considered it Destro's unique weapon since I actually had a 1992 Destro figure.)  Voltar's weapon is best left forgotten and is one of my least liked gun designs in the vintage line.  (Thanks for the comment on the Voltar weapon!)  It was nice the Bludd got a knife.  But, since he had the sculpted blade affixed to his arm, the bladed weapon seems a bit redundant.

While there are no variants on the 1994 Major Bludd figure or his gear, there are variants for the card upon which he was released.  The early 1994 cards emulated the 1993 card layout.  The filecards were full sized and more akin to those from the 1980's.  The weapons tree was horizontally oriented and the bubble, basically, stretches across the entire cardback.  Later releases, though, spruced up the figure presentation.  The weapons were now vertical and the bubble was smaller.  These were, likely cost cutting moves.  But, they also cleaned up the presentation of the figures on the shelves.  Bludd's later filecard was reduced to a more baseball card sized version that had truncated text and removed some of the bullet points describing Bludd's uniform and gear.  Some variants of the filecards and cardbacks can be more desirable than others.

Major Bludd figures are both not as expensive as contemporary releases and also not nearly as available as they were a couple of years ago.  Right now, mint and complete figures will sell in the $17 range when left to open pricing.  But, because dealers haven't caught up to the lower supply of 1994 figures, yet, you'll see dealers offing the figure for $12 or so.  At the same time, you can still get a carded figure for under $20.  So, that's probably the best way to go.  Also, since Bludd's gear sucks, missing it isn't a big deal.  And, you can get loose figures for $5 without too much trouble.  So, just getting the character makes a lot more sense for a budget minded collector.

1994 Major Bludd, Viper, Battle Corps, Lunartix Alien, Lobotomaxx, Mexican Exclusive, 1993 Firefly, Beach Head

1994 Major Bludd, Viper, Battle Corps, Lunartix Alien, Lobotomaxx, Mexican Exclusive