Sunday, May 31, 2020

Rarities and Oddities - 2020

Tomorrow kicks off the 2020 Rarities and Oddities month.  Last year was lame.  This year should be a little better as I've got several items queued up for the entirety of the month.  This is my fifth year doing this and there's lots of past posts to catch up on if you haven't seen them.

As my standard disclaimer, these items are photos I've acquired through the years from public auctions or old postings that are long gone.  I'm not a fan of the secretive nature of the social media forums that require membership and have lousy search functions.  They hide some of the hidden past of the line in plain sight.  Some don't agree with my approach.  But, I feel that sharing rare pieces of the Joe line is really what this hobby is about.  

Through the years, I've gotten hate mail of all sorts.  Most are guys who are still "writing articles" that, years later, have yet to appear.  One guy told me that presenting a series of figures that wasn't 100% complete would "mislead" collectors.  He was one who said he'd be publishing a "real" article soon.  Haven't seen it three years later....

I hope you enjoy this year's celebration of all things weird, odd and rare in the Joe world.  And, if you have something you'd like to share, get in touch with me.  I'll gladly host anything you write with your byline so that more awesome knowledge is shared with the community at large.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Black Major Viper Pilot

Factory Custom figures generate a lot of passion in the Joe world.  Collectors, in general, fall into three camps.  The first is the anti-everything guys.  They just hate the notion of factory customs and don't want any to exist.  These collectors usually either see themselves as "defenders of Hasbro" (like Hasbro cares!) or they are "serious collectors" who believe that toy collecting is a pursuit on par with feeding the hungry in terms of its value to society.  This group is extremely small, but overly vocal.  And, they have created echo chambers in large segments of fandom to reinforce their unpopular opinion.  

The second faction is larger.  They are collectors who are OK with factory customs that are of figures Hasbro never released.  But, are not OK with figures that reproduce Hasbro designs.  These guys are fine with a Crimson Cobra Trooper.  But, go apoplectic over a Cobra Blue trooper that is an homage to the 1983 release.  The final and, fortunately, largest group are collectors who are fine with the customs and are happy to have them available.  The customs fill in gaps that Hasbro never addressed while also offering them the ability to army build or simply acquire figures that they would otherwise never have a chance to own.  For this profile, I'm going to review a figure that tends to really piss off two thirds of these groups: the Black Major Viper Pilot.

There are multiple production runs of the Black Major Viper Pilot.  The sample I'm reviewing is from the first production run from around 2009, 2010 or so.  This is notable because the figure features a mold that is slightly smaller than the production Hasbro figure.  And, as such, the peg holes in his feet will not accommodate any figure stand pegs.  More importantly, the figure can not wear a backpack.  This seems innocuous until you realize that this also means that he will not work with the Cobra CLAW or even the classic glider.  This leaves this Viper Pilot as a ground trooper.  (Though, he can work in the FANG.)  But, that's not a terrible fate.

Like everyone else, I use the silver logo Viper Pilots as squad leaders for the Cobra Troopers.  Unlike most collectors, though, I'm not a big fan of the Cobra Officer mold.  So, I actually have more Viper Pilot derivatives than I do Cobra Officer figures.  So, for me, Viper Pilots are more important since they really represent the leadership of the Cobra army's backbone.  They serve as the field commanders for the more common red logo-ed Cobra Troopers.  Even in cases where other types of troopers are in the fold, the Viper Pilots retain command.  He looks really good leading a pack of 1986 Vipers.  But, due to the fragility of the original figure, I rarely take him out for use.  This Black Major version, though, has found himself a nice stand in when I want to use a slightly different classic Cobra trooper without risking damage to a vintage Joe that's hard to find.

The Viper Pilot included no accessories.  But, through the years, you will often find Black Major Viper Pilots offered with either the black AK-47 or the classic Dragunov sniper rifle.  It's nice to get a weapon with the figure just because my main use for him is as a leader for the red logo'ed Cobra Troopers.  You can assign the weapon to him or not. But, due to Black Major, these weapons are now both relatively easy to find and cheap on the secondary market.  They are not close to the vintage weapons and are easy to spot.  So, no worries on that front.  But, you can now get access to high quality weapons for the Viper Pilot that were once overly desirable and expensive.

Some people hate figures like this.  I love it as this figure is easy to distinguish from the original but still lets me use a Viper Pilot without worrying about dropping my original when I want to get a photo of him in action.  It's a placeholder that lets me use the figure.  Many will scoff at this as a valid reason for wanting a figure like this.  Mostly, though, those collectors are only worried about the value of their collections.  While they'll claim that customs like this Viper Pilot drive down prices, most of the evidence proves the opposite is more likely true.  Collectors who are willing to drop major money on a Viper Pilot aren't going to spend less since this figure is available.  Instead, more collectors have access to the Viper Pilot and can expand their collections.  This is a good thing.  

The intent of these figures is not to deceive.  It is to expand.  You'll note that no one really gets up in arms about this figure because none of the big collectors were able to buy up hundreds of loose Viper Pilots in order to corner the market.  They only got mad at Starduster because there's a few guys who have dozens and hundreds of that figure stashed away to pay for their retirement or some other bullshit.  I find that anyone who says they're looking out for you in the community is actually looking out for themselves while keeping you a potential future customer for their overly marked up goods.

We are now in an era where mint Hasbro Viper Pilots are $150 to $175 figures.  In this market, that's actually kind of light as gem Viper Pilots are actually harder to find than Stardusters.  But, it's still a super pricey figure and one that, due to its fragility, doesn't lend itself to anything other than careful display.  Black Major Viper Pilots, though, have also become harder to find.  Despite there being two separate production runs of the design, you don't find them all that often anymore.  You'll see some being offered at astronomical prices.  But, they don't sell.  This is, probably, around a $30-$50 figure and you might be able to find him cheaper...especially if you're doing a bulk buy.  At 20% the cost of an original, this is a good way to get a cool update to the classic Cobra Trooper in your collection.  But, it's still a price that I find high for a factory custom figure.  But, the Viper Pilot holds a mystique over the collecting world.  And, you tend to pay for mystique...even if the figure does't otherwise warrant the price.

Cobra Trooper, Viper Pilot, 1982, 1983, Black Major, Factory Custom, Palitoy, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Stinger, 1984, Cobra Commander

Cobra Trooper, Viper Pilot, 1982, 1983, Black Major, Factory Custom, Palitoy, Red Shadows, Shadowtrak, Stinger, 1984, Cobra Commander

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

2005 Cobra Imperial Guard - Around The Web

The 2005 Cobra Imperial Processional set was an odd duck.  In the general sense, it was OK.  The idea behind the set was strong.  But, the colors were weird and the accessories weren't great.  The set was quickly relegated to clearance and collectors were able to acquire these figures for about $1.00 per figure for a good long time.  Today, the set hasn't taken off.  But, it's still a lot more expensive than it was during those clearance days.  Here's the best of the Imperial Guard from around the web.

Imperial Guard Profile

Saturday, May 23, 2020

20th Anniversary Key Moments - 1985 Snow Cat

In early 2003, I decided to look at the first vehicle on the site.  At the time, I was running low on figures to talk about.  And, as I had managed to get a few pictures out in the snow, I thought something like the Snow Cat made for a great way to show off some of the weather inspired photos I had managed to get. The Snow Cat was also a favorite vehicle from my childhood that survived relatively unscathed.  So, I did a little write up on it and vehicles were now part of the items I reviewed on the site.

But, the notion of vehicles was short-lived.  In the early years, I only looked a few.  And, in pretty much every case, I was not satisfied with the work I had done and felt the profiles were lacking.  As all my collection was boxed up in late 2003 and didn't get opened until 2005, vehicles fell the wayside and there were very few of them for a long time.

As a kid, vehicles were fun.  But, while Hasbro and many kids felt that vehicles were the driver of the line, I felt that they were a nice supplement to the figures.  While I'd play with vehicles inside, it was rare to take more than one outside.  And, even when I did, it was the figures who got the use and the vehicle became more of a piece of the landscape than a driver of the action.  I recall taking a box of vehicles to my grandparents' house and not playing with any of them since it was more fun to hide figures in their various gardens.  So, while vehicles were important, they were also secondary to the characters and actions of the figures.

In recent years, though, I've grown to appreciate vehicles more.  For a very long time, they were dirt cheap.  In many cases, you'd pay more for shipping a vehicle than you would for the toy itself.  (There were exceptions, of course.)  So, that made some of the vehicles I'd long neglected more attractive.  And, as I've added them, I've had more occasion to write about them on the site.  In the past few years, I've profiled more vehicles than ever before.  And, I've been more satisfied with the results, too.

Now, though, my vehicles are boxed up, again.  And, once again, I have no real indication of how long they will simply be cardboard prisoners in my garage.  I have a few that I want to review.  And, at some point in the next two years I'll get to the long awaited BUGG profile.  But, for now, I'll try to find some time to look at whatever's at the top of a box that I can get out for a quick photo shoot.  The Joe line is so diverse in vehicle offerings in terms of purpose and size that they are a line unto themselves.  

1985, Snow Cat, Alpine, Frostbite, Funskool, Iceberg, 1989 Scoop, 2003, Tiger Force, Dial Tone

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Tocha - Brazilian Blowtorch

The 1984 Blowtorch is one of my favorite molds.  I have tracked down any and all international variants I can find.  There's something about both his specialty and gear that just capture my attention.  So, when I had a chance to pick up a Brazilian release of the character, I jumped at it: despite the fact that the figure is nearly identical to his American release.  Each new Blowtorch variant I own takes me back to a spring day in 1984 when my friend bought one at the local Children's Palace.  For the life of me, I can't remember which figure I bought that day.  But, my friend got Blowtorch and, from then on, I wished I had gotten one.  So, to this day, I try to fill that void with obscure releases like the Brazilian Tocha figure.

The biggest difference of the Tocha figure versus the Blowtorch figure is the skin tone on the head.  Tocha has a slightly darker complexion than Blowtorch.  His skin is more sun burned looking.  It's common on many Brazilian figures.  But, it helps to differentiate the South American figure from the American release.  Aside from that, the figures are very similar.  There are subtle differences in the red/orange paint the color of his leg pistol.  But, that's about it.  Basically, Tocha is Blowtorch and vice versa.  Owning one or the other really brings nothing new to the character other than subtlety that is often overlooked in photos of a popular character.  

The notion of Blowtorch's specialty is somewhat interesting.  By the time of Blowtorch's release, the United States military hadn't used flamethrowers in more than half a decade.  Blowtorch's specialty was obsolete before the Joe line was even an idea.  But, Blowtorch wasn't about being up on current military hardware.  Instead, Blowtorch was a throwback to the grandfathers who were veterans of World War II and Korea and even the fathers who served in Vietnam.  They had seen flamethrowers.  So, seeing a toy on the shelf would be a nostalgic trip for them to introduce their sons to military toys.  Blowtorch wasn't alone in this.  Zap's specialty was with a weapon that was almost 20 years out of service when he came to be.  But, both of these figures triggered memories for those who would most likely buy the toys and get their sons hooked.

This juxtaposition of the Joe line being both a nostalgic throwback with roots in World War II and also a modern, technological military force is interesting.  You had both a bazooka trooper and a laser rifle wielding trooper in the first wave of figures.  Blowtorch's contemporaries, though, featured less of this.  The rest of the 1984 series is pretty traditional military fare in terms of specialties even if the actual appearance of the figures is out of the realm of realism.  It was not until 1986 that the line went with more technology and less of the romantic idea of a foot soldier that was mostly obsolete after the early 1970's.  

My fascination with Blowtorch is heavily tied to my memory of the original figure from 1984.  Aside from my friend's acquisition of him, my main memory of him is that my youngest brother was the one in our family who got one.  And, that meant that the figure was not long for the world.  Within short order, Blowtorch's mask was ripped and his flamethrower destroyed.  Without those two pieces, the figure lost value.  Fortunately, the flamethrower appeared in the 1985 Battle Gear pack.  The mask, though, did not.  Somewhere, I still have a Blowtorch helmet that's streaked with black residue from electrical tape where I tried to take the mask on to the helmet.  Obviously, it didn't work.  But, that lasting feeling of not being able to enjoy a nice, complete figure from childhood continues to color my feelings of this figure to this day.  And, I have half a dozen variants of Blowtorch in my collection for this reason.

Tocha includes most of the gear from the 1984 Blowtorch figure.  The mask and backpack are, basically, identical to the U.S. versions.  The flamethrower is a darker green than the U.S. version and matches the "Brazilian Green" that's seen on most of the Estrela figures from the same era.  (See Spirit, Recondo and Ripcord.)  The biggest difference is the helmet.  Tocha includes a yellow version of the 1982 helmet.  Personally, I prefer the Blowtorch helmet since it's designed to better hold the mask and gives the figure's head an appearance of more girth.  It's weird to see the classic helmet in a bright, vibrant yellow.  But, it works on Tocha and, with the mask affixed, isn't all that different in appearance from Blowtorch.  At some point, I need to put an 1982 visor on the helmet for a completely different look for Blowtorch.

Blowtorch saw release in a few different countries.  While the Hasbro release did show up in Europe, it was the same as the US figure.  The international variants start with this Brazilian release.  The mold then appeared in Mexico where Auriken also released an exclusive Blowtorch.  It is similar to the Brazilian release, but is noticeably different when compared side by side.  The final releases occurred in Argentina.  There, Plastirama released Antorcha: which was a similar release to the American Blowtorch.  There were then two significant repaints of the mold.  The first was TNT which is done in blue, silver and yellow.  The second was Backstop which featured green highlights and a silver mask.  The mold then disappeared.  I'd love for factory custom makers to take up this mold as it could be done in various Action Force themes as well as some homages to post 2001 Blowtorch colors.  It's doubtful that will happen.  But, this mold has a lot of potential left in it.

Pricing on Tochas varies greatly.  There isn't a huge supply and most of the figures still originate in Brazil where shipping prices add a great deal to the overall price.  With patience, you can find really nice versions in the U.S.  But, you'll easily pay $50-$80 for a nice, complete version.  If you're not an international Joe fan, there's no reason to really own this figure.  You get everything you need from the American Blowtorch at a fraction of the cost and with higher quality.  For me, though, I really enjoy the Blowtorch mold and feel it was heavily underutilized.  So, having a chance for a figure that has even slight differences is worth the extra price.  But, that's unlikely to be a popular sentiment.

Blowtorch, Tocha, Brazil, Estrela, Palitoy, VAMP, Panther, SAS, Shimik, Red Laser, Odin, Factory Custom

Blowtorch, Tocha, Brazil, Estrela, Palitoy, VAMP, Panther, SAS, Shimik, Red Laser, Odin, Factory Custom, Starduster, Black Major

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

2005 Stormavik (Oktober Guard) Around The Web

The 2005 Oktober Guard figures were under produced.  At the time, Hasbro admitted that they had over estimated demand for the first two waves of Comic Packs.  And, as those packs were still on clearance around the country, they reduced the production run of wave 3 to help stock clear out.  Sadly, that wave included the Oktober Guard figures.  Collectors of the day were very easily able to acquire the figures at retail...for about a month.  After that, the figs dried up and and the molds were never seen again.  The figures in the wave are not perfect.  But, they are the best Oktober Guard figures Hasbro released.  Stormavik has long been my favorite Oktober Guard character.  His figure was, like the others, good enough for a $3.33 figure in 2005.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

2005 Stormavik Profile

2005 Stormavik by dreadnokdread

Thursday, May 14, 2020

1991 Eco Warriors Clean Sweep Around The Web

The Eco Warriors figures feature some of Hasbro's best work of the 1990's.  They are detailed and feature incredible head sculpts.  They also have great helmets to obfuscate that fact.  Clean Sweep, though, is the best of the bunch.  He just fits together and works in several capacities.  I'd have loved a red/yellow or silver repaint as a firefighter.  But, such thinking never appealed to Hasbro even though they likely had the mold available to them in the 2000's.  Once upon a time, this was an obscure figure that no one really owned.  Now, there's some good content on him out there.  Enjoy the best of Clean Sweep from around the web.

Clean Sweep Profile

Clean Sweep by thedustinmccoy

Clean Sweep by xxteam_cobraxx

Clean Sweep by ScarrViper

Clean Sweep by Total_Madness_Customs

Clean Sweep by g.i. ussr

Clean Sweep by toysandtomfoolery

Clean Sweep by nostalkid

Clean Sweep by strikeforce_codename

Clean Sweep by ToneGunsRevisited

Clean Sweep by thedustinmccoy

Clean Sweep by nostalkid

1991 Clean Sweep, Eco Warriors

1991 Eco Warriors Clean Sweep, BAT, Battle Android Trooper

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

1984 MANTA

One of the hallmarks of 80's toy lines was the mail away premium.  Kenner was famous for it in the vintage Star Wars line.  And, Hasbro followed suit in the Joe line by offering Cobra Commander and Major Bludd as early bird mail away premiums.  In early 1984, Hasbro upped the ante.  Not only did they offer Duke as a mail away figure, they added in a little vehicle, too: the MANTA.  This windsurfer was exclusive to the mail away premium and never sold at retail.  At the time, I found the MANTA a terrible toy that had zero value to my collection.  But, three and a half decades later, the MANTA's engineering has impressed me.  And, the idea of a small, self contained toy is far more interesting to me since such things really no longer exist in the toy world.

The MANTA debuted in G.I. Joe #18 in the fall of 1983.  This is one of the sources of many false memories for me.   Prior to this profile, I would have sworn that the MANTA was a 1983 release.  It appeared in the comic.  All of the artwork on the mail away paperwork features Stalker and Zap.  And, even on the blueprints, you only see an original 13 styled figure.  The fact that it debuted with the Duke mail away, though, also plays into this.  I got my first Duke very early in 1984.  (I recall a day shortly after his arrival as we didn't have school and my friend wanted me to bring my new Skystriker and Duke over to his house.  But, our garage door was frozen shut and my mother had to boil water to get it open so she could drive me over to my friend's home.)  So, it's likely that the MANTA first entered my collection early enough in 1984 that I still associate with 1983.  But, regardless, the toy is considered a 1984 item.

The MANTA, itself, if pretty simple.  You have a two part mast, a boom, the sail, a machine gun, the front and back of the board, two outrigging supports, an outrigger and a missile.  That's it.  Well, not entirely.  There's also a big backpack that opens up so that you can take the MANTA apart and store it on a figure's back.  It's an ingenious little add on to the overall sailboard that makes the MANTA more portable since it can be affixed to any figure from that era.  The idea of a take apart toy that could be carried around was new to the Joe line.  The MANTA's opening backpack was a natural extension of Destro's backpack that had debuted the prior year and it showed that the backpack idea could be expanded into greater functionality.  The problem with the take apart idea, though, is that the toy then fell apart easily.  You couldn't actually take it on water as the board would split and the entire thing would sink.  Even playing on land, the board would separate as you moved it across the carpet.  So, the versatility of the design also limited the play value of the toy's intended purpose.

So, the MANTA sucks.  Well, not really.  But, for me, the entirety of the MANTA's affect on my Joe collection was forged in 1984 when we got at least one and maybe as many as three MANTA's.  Within days of arriving in our home, the sails were ripped to shreds...never to be used again.  The machine gun remote control never made it off the sprue.  And, the rifle itself had broken at least one thumb on a figure.  On top of that, if you tried to play with the toy, it crumbled to pieces with just the slightest use.  It was awful and a waste of the toy.  Now, that was my experience.  It's almost certain that other collectors had different experiences with the MANTA and may even consider it a classic piece of the Joe armory.  But, the extent of my childhood memories of the MANTA was trying to tape the sail together enough that I could use it to sail across the "lake" in our toy room.  (We had this ancient, circular carpet that had a while center.  This was effectively used as a water feature for a great many adventures.)  Every time I pulled it across, the board would separate, the sail would fall and the Joe who was manning it would drown in frustration at a toy that simply didn't work for me.

The only real use I had for the MANTA was for the rifle which was included with it.  To me, it seemed like a version of Stalker's rifle on steroids.  And, I often used it as such.  The larger muzzle meant that the weapon was more powerful than most other rifles.  It could be used to shoot down planes or tear up Hiss Tanks.  I imagined it fired flaming bullets that would burn through Cobra armor and lead to flaming deaths for Cobra operatives who were unfortunately enough to be caught in its path.  But, the rifle also had limitations.  The handle was large and broke more than one thumb of early figures who I deigned worthy of wielding it.  In time, the rifle became something that was carried along in the APC as a source of additional firepower.  But, I came up with stories of why it wasn't used.  As a Joe grabbed it, a Cobra sharpshooter would snipe it from his hand, rendering the weapon useless.  Other times, it would jam.  Or, I'd just use with a figure who already had a broken thumb and who was about to die in a blaze of final glory as the flaming bullets streaming from the weapon would betray his location and the Cobras would quickly dispatch him.  That was the entirety of the MANTA's value in my childhood....

My childhood disappointment with the toy even went so far as to me never acquiring one as an adult collector.  It simply wasn't on my radar and I never had anything more than a few spare parts show up in various lots I bought over the years.  Now, though, I'm finding a new appreciation for the MANTA and what it brought to the table.  It's a fun toy and a marvelous piece of engineering.  The MANTA is also an excellent example of how the Joe line covered all the bases for kids in the 1980's.  You had big aircraft, small aircraft, big boats, small boats, big land vehicles and small land vehicles.  The MANTA was a way to get a toy that could be played with on water and interact with just a single figure.  You didn't need a massive collection to enjoy it.  For budget conscious parents, the MANTA offered a way for them to get their child a relatively cheap gift that would show up in the mail.  It offered the price point diversity that made the Joe line far more universal that it otherwise would have been.

The MANTA was one of the very few items that never had a retail release.  That was part of what made Joe special.  You could get most of the stuff at retail.  But, a few items were reserved for the mail away program.  And, that helped to engage kids by encouraging them to save their packaging, paperwork, inserts and flag points so that they could get the exclusive items.  If you partook in mail away premiums, you would even get special mail away advertising encouraging you to buy more items through the mail order program.  In the '80's, Hasbro Direct was big enough to act as its own company.  And, in many ways, the manner in which is used data was a pre-cursor to how big online retailers work today.  Hasbro got a list of interested customers from the kids who bought mail away figures.  They then targeted them with additional advertising to get them to buy more.  The only difference between them and anyone who advertises on Google was that they used the mail to conduct business instead of the internet.  But, the core concepts of finding and retaining customers are largely the same.

The MANTA was only released as a mail away between 1984 and 1987.  After that, it disappeared.  Hasbro found a way to integrate the Parachute Pack into the general retail line in later years.  I find it odd that they didn't do the same with the MANTA.  A deluxe figure with the MANTA packed in would have been right up Hasbro's alley in the late '80's and early 90's.  I'll speculate that the vinyl sail was the high cost culprit that precluded the MANTA's return.  But, non traditional materials didn't seem to affect the Target Hit and Run or Sky Patrol.  It's doubtful that the MANTA was unpopular as they are extremely common today: indicating lots of kids had them.  There were some overstock MANTAs given away at an early G.I. Joe convention.  So, Hasbro did have at least some overstock.  But, we never had the chance to see the MANTA return.  While it's doubtful I'd have bought a MANTA in the '90's did it not also include a figure, I would have loved to see a repaint in orange and blue to match the 1986 Wet Suit figure.

Mint and complete MANTAs are not expensive.  Specimens sold with the blueprints run in the $10-$15 range.  If you don't mind a snapped rifle remote control, the price cuts in half.  The sail is notoriously easy to rip.  So, be mindful of sails that look good but have small tears.  For the price, the MANTA is really kind of a must buy.  It meshes will with early G.I. Joe figures and is a fun little item that can make for a good display piece.  Personally, I appreciate a second chance at the MANTA.  It works well with classic figures from my childhood and is something that otherwise doesn't exist in the line.  It's fun to look back at something that was disappointing to me as a kid and find that it does have some redeeming qualities today.  That allows me the wonder of discovering a new toy of my youth all over again.

1984 MANTA, Mail Away, 2001 Wet Suit

1984 MANTA, Mail Away, 2001 Wet Suit, Funskool Beach Head

1984 MANTA, Mail Away, 2019, Night Force, Snake Eyes, Black Major, Bootleg, Factory Custom

Thursday, May 7, 2020

1986 Mission to Brazil Leatherneck - Around The Web

The Mission to Brazil set is a mixed bag.  Dialtone and Mainframe feature some weird colors.  Claymore is OK, but still looks like a cartoon giraffe.  Then, you have Wet Suit and Leatherneck.  Both figures have a case of being better than their original releases.  G.I. Joe didn't get too many environmentally themed repaints in the vintage line and this Mission to Brazil Leatherneck shows that might have been a bad thing.  The colors work well with the mold.  All that's missing is a backpack in a better color.  (That would be solved in 1989.)  Here's the best of the Mission to Brazil Leatherneck from around the web.

Mission to Brazil Leatherneck Profile

Mission to Brazil Leatherneck by specialmissionforce

Mission to Brazil Leatherneck by WigramJoe

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A Real American Hero Collection - 20 Years

20 years ago this week, we learned that G.I. Joe was returning to retail with the A Real American Hero Collection.  We didn't have much info at the time.  But, within a few weeks, we learned the roster and then saw initial mocks ups of the figures.  Collectors of the day were overjoyed at Joes coming back.  And, the enthusiasm carried over to when the figures finally showed up in October of that year.

What's more amazing to me is that when we learned about Joe coming back in 2000, 1982 Joes were only 18 years old.  Really, Joe had only been gone from the vintage run for 6 years.  Now, it's been two decades since Joe's "return".  These figures are older than the original Snake Eyes was when he appeared.  Yet, these figs still seem somewhat new...if only because they were released to a burgeoning collector community that would see exponential growth in the next 18 months as tons of early 20-somethings discovered they could collect their childhood favorites.

Through the years, I've reviewed many of the first wave of releases from the A Real American Hero Collection.  I've got a few more coming up in 2020 and 2021, too.  In no particular order:

2000 Undertow

2000 Dialtone

2000 Law and Order

2000 Chameleon

2000 Dusty

2000 Lamprey

2000 Wild Bill

2000 General Tomahawk

This series of figures has aged relatively well.  The colors in the overall collection got redundant in 2001 and beyond.  But, in general, the 2000 series of figures was the best overall set of figures that we saw in the 2000's and later releases devolved in some way or another.  It's hard to believe these figures are now that old.  But, time marches on....

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

2005 Snake Eyes - Comic Pack

Snake Eyes is the most popular G.I. Joe character.  He has been since the vintage days.  Whether he's your or my personal favorite isn't really relevant as he is the one character on which the brand hinged and will continue to hinge for some time.  Depending on your age, various versions of Snake Eyes embody his iconic look.  I spanned two looks for Snake Eyes, his original the fabulous 1985 re imagination.  But, could I only choose one, the 1985 would be the Snake Eyes for me.  That has left me less enthusiastic about the multitude of interpretations of the Snake Eyes character that were based on his 1982 design.  It's not that they are bad.  It's just not a figure that has overly relevant to me and is a look that I consider inferior to the Commando/Ninja from a few years later.  In the 2000's, though, Hasbro make many attempts to perfect the original Snake Eyes release.  Various paint applications and different accessories a degree.  In 2005, Hasbro tried something different.  They sculpted a new head for the classic Snake Eyes design and attempted to release an update of something that had been done many times in recent months.  And, they were relatively successful with the 2005 Comic Pack Snake Eyes.

Hasbro's idea of selling multiple G.I. Joe comic packs was really ingenious.  Packaging three figures from a comic and including the comic so that kids could see their figures in action and offering it all for a cheap price was a feat that deserves more recognition.  The reason, though, that the products are less heralded than their sheer innovativeness suggests is because the execution and timing of the releases was less than ideal.  The packs quickly stagnated as they repeated the same basic colors over and over again.  This was a function of the failed notion of chronological release.  By the time Hasbro got around to some more eye-catching color schemes, the line was dying at retail and comic packs were instant pegwarmers.  The final wave of retail Comic Packs, though, produced some truly nice figures.  Included with a reprint of the most famous Joe comic book of all time (issue #21, Silent Interlude) was yet another Snake Eyes.  While the basic trappings of an oft released theme were there, the figure also included a new head and produced a figure that's better than you remember, but still short of iconic.

By the time of this figure's release in 2005, we had seen five prior releases of Snake Eyes that were based on his original appearance.  (They all had differences, but were designed as homages to the classic original.)  There was really only so much that Hasbro could do to keep the solid black body and update the smattering of details on the Snake Eyes mold.  So, the reality is that this sixth release wasn't all that different from a plethora of figures already on the market and heavily concentrated in collector circles.  The green grenade had not been seen before.  But, the only real calling card for this figure was that Hasbro sculpted a new head for Snake Eyes.

In the 2000's, Hasbro struggled with new heads.  Their early attempts were all balding, pasty guys who looked more like sad, middle aged collectors than hardened military.  The heads were bulbous and out of place.  With the comic packs, Hasbro's detailing improved substantially.  But, they still had issues finding the right scale.  Most of the 2004 Comic Pack figures had pre-production variations where the heads were smaller or larger than the production release.  But, in 2005, Hasbro started to hit their stride.  The Firefly head from one of this Snake Eyes's wave mate releases breathed new life into an incredibly stale mold and produced the best Firefly ever made.  Serpentor was equally excellent, even if he was a bit different.  But, this Snake Eyes head falls somewhere in the middle.  It is cool.  But, it's not something that's spectacular and it doesn't really bring a new visual to the entire character.  Part of that is that Hasbro didn't paint the head.  Giving even just the goggles a splash of grey or metallic blue would have gone a long way towards showing off the head's details.  But, in all black, the more defined face is obfuscated and Hasbro's efforts are washed away.

The Comic Pack figures, in general, were better accessorized than the figures in the Toys R Us exclusive 6 packs.  But, they were still lacking the definitive gear that was iconic to many of the early characters. This Snake Eyes, though, has some really decent gear.  Of course, he includes the classic Uzi.  As this was central to the Snake Eyes character and prominent on the comic cover, it was an imperative inclusion.  Snake Eyes also includes a sword.  It is a JvC era repaint.  But, the version included has a silver painted blade, giving it great depth.  The accessory is in scale with the figure and works quite well with him.  The final accessory is a grappling hook.  As a kid, I loved rope based accessories.  And, that fondness carries over today.  So, I place a great deal of value in the grappling hook since it would have been one of my most beloved accessories had it appeared during my childhood.  Again, the hook is properly scaled and is a fun add on to the figure.

Hasbro started using softer plastic on hands and arms in 1997.  By 2005, though, the material had gotten overly pliable.  As such, Snake Eyes's hands stretch out upon the slightest pressure.  The upside is that you can easily move them back into position with a slight squeeze.  But, the simple act of holding his gear will cause the hands to pry open and it's difficult to get the figure to hold a solid pose with his weapons for very long.  We've seen discoloration on the softer plastics from this era that were colored blue or white.  While we don't have much to worry about in the coloring department with this figure, it's unknown how this soft plastic will hold up over time.  Granted, if it lasts 50 years, we'll all be too old to care that it's breaking down.  But, the soft, pliable material can be surprising on the first encounter and is something to note on this figure.

Personally, I kind of like this Snake Eyes.  The metallic paint highlights are kind of nice and the green grenade adds just enough color to the figure.  The new head is good and gives a different look for a character that could otherwise be done to death.  Sadly, the soft plastic, awkward waist and flimsy limbs detract from the figure a bit since he can be a pain to hold a pose.  But, that's a small complaint.  The upside with a character like Snake Eyes is that he works in many different photos and settings.  So, having a variety of looks for him helps to blend him in and not get as stale as other figures who have less variation in their releases.  During this figure's release era, it was a sad disappointment to see Snake Eyes in what seemed like every release.  But, at least Hasbro tried a few different things with him and there are enough differences among the figures for each to offer just a bit of diversity to photos of the character.

Snake Eyes figures based on the 1982 original are a dime a dozen.  Aside from straight arm releases in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, the swivel arm figure had an European exclusive in the Action Force line and several variants that were released by Funskool in India.  But, starting in 1997, Hasbro did the character to death.  The basic premise was released twice in 1997, twice in 2003 (though one was purple and was very distinctive), once in 2004 and this figure showed up in 2005.  The new head never appeared again.  I would have loved a repaint of this figure based on the comic cover where he was cast in yellow and orange, as if he were bathed in the light of his muzzle flash.  While it would be a figure of limited use, it would have also been a great homage figure that made more sense than many of the releases based on the classic design.  Despite all these releases, we only really got a cartoon version of the figure that was anything other than a black with differently colored highlights release.  Hasbro could have done the cover homage figure, or, at least, a figure based on the Snake Eyes sticker where he had camo pants.  But, better takes on Snake Eyes would come in the anniversary line starting in 2007.  It's just vintage collectors who got the shaft.

Despite the figure's long tenure at clearance, it has now found a second life on the aftermarket.  Carded figures tend to sell in the $40 range.  And, mint, loose and complete figures range from $10 to $15, depending on whether the figure has his filecard or not.  I consider that a lot.  But, this figure was also released 15 years ago.  And, I would not have balked at paying $10 for a high quality and popular 1990 figure back in 2005.  But, me remembering these figures rotting on the pegs for $5 each colors my perception of the figure.  And, for collectors who were not around in 2005, the fact that this guy was a remarkable pegwarmer is irrelevant.  All that matters is current availability and you don't see these figures with the frequency that you used to.  It could be that they have been spread around.  But, more likely, guys who have half a dozen of this figure sitting in a fodder bin have no idea that this once clearanced figure is now somewhat desirable.  But, that's the story of the 2000's era Joes in a nutshell.

2005 Comic Pack Snake Eyes, Z Force, Action Force, Z Cycle, Skeres, Midnight Chinese, 2004 Nullifier, Flak Viper

2005 Comic Pack Snake Eyes, Z Force, Action Force, Z Cycle, Skeres, Midnight Chinese
2005 Comic Pack Snake Eyes, Stormavik, Oktober Guard, DTC

2005 Comic Pack Snake Eyes, Z Force, Action Force, Z Cycle, Skeres, Midnight Chinese