Saturday, October 31, 2020

20th Anniversary Key Moments - European Force

 In 2016, I offered my first ever Rarities Month.  This showcase of rare and oddball items from the Joe world was a huge hit.  And, the most popular post of that figure year was of the European Force knock off figures.  I had first discovered these figures in the early 2000's.  And, in 2016, I was surprised to find that over a decade later, there still wasn't much information on them out there.  With the publication of my first European Force article, though, more information came to light.  I found more photos of them.  And, within a couple of years, discovered that a select few European collectors were hoarding them and not sharing photos so that they could buy up the European stock for cheap and sell it privately to American collectors at a huge mark up.  Seems Joeluminati shit isn't limited to American collectors.  Now, I've done a European Force write up four out of five of my Rarities Months.  And, each year, they are very popular and I get messages from collectors remarking how they had never seen these figures before.

And, with this post, I'm done with my 20th Anniversary retrospective.  This has been a weird year.  G.I. Joe returned to retail.  But, even a "retro" offering was nothing more than a disappointment to vintage Joe fans.  Despite that, you could make a case that the Classified series is the hottest collectible of the year.  The movie is delayed.  But, it also seems no one cares about that.  Prices are up, but they're also down.  You can get deals and also quadruple your money with a lucky retail find.  So, in short, I have no idea where the community is going.   I suspect 2021 will bring more clarity.  Until then, I soldier on....

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

2004 Desert Patrol Stalker

From 2003 through 2005, Hasbro produced exclusive packs of vintage style Joe figures for Toys R Us.  These packs were 6 figures (aside from the first set) and were priced at $20 per set.  They were designed to appeal to collectors, but also be interesting to casual consumers who were looking for a gift at a targeted price point.  I am both an ardent supporter and harsh critic of these figure releases.  I loved that we got vintage style Joes.  But, in almost every case, the actual figures that were released left something to be desired.  In looking back a the sets now, I see that many of them had one or two great figures.  But, those were offset by an equal number of terrible figures.  This dichotomy lead to me overlooking many of the figures in these sets from a review standpoint.  In the 16 years since these sets started shipping, I've looked many members of these sets: mostly Cobras, though.  For the Joes, I usually hit one or two sample and then move on.  For the Desert Patrol set from 2004, I've only reviewed the Snake Eyes figure.  And, that was a half hearted pseudo profile.  The highlight of the Desert Patrol has had to wait more than 15 years to get a moment in the spotlight.  But, the Stalker figure from this set is one of the best toys that Hasbro produced during the repaint era and deserves some praise.

It's not 100% true that this figure has waited so long to appear on this site.  In late 2005, the unproduced version of this figure (with white skin and blonde hair) was one of my entries.  That profile was mostly about the rare oddity of the figure, though.  It didn't touch on the overall quality of the Hasbro release.  When looking at this Stalker, though, it really only has a single flaw: the unpainted mustache.  Hasbro was terrible at painting facial hair.  I suppose this was a function of them either attempting to make the figure distinct, or just trying to save a fraction of a penny.  The upside is that a missed mustache is easily fixable.  But, I'm not someone who enjoys altering things on a figure that should have been done right the first time.  But, the rest of the figure is such high quality that I will overlook a small flaw.

The Desert Patrol set was released in a flurry of Joe activity.  Starting in 2002 and continuing through 2004, Hasbro flooded the second half of the year with heavy releases.  They would release two figure waves in the first six months of the year and then bombard the market with three or four additional waves, exclusives and vehicles in the 3rd and 4th quarters of the year.  This made sense from a retail perspective since holiday purchases drove toy sales and Joe, at the time, was geared towards kids and their parents.  For collectors, though, this left some choices.  In the final months of 2004, collectors had not only retail two pack army builders that were released, but a TRU exclusive VAMP set with three vintage style figures, the KB Toys exclusive Operation Crimson Sabotage, but also a TRU exclusive Ninja Strike set that brought about the long awaited return of the 1984 Stormshadow mold.  In short, if you had a limited budget, the Desert Patrol set was the most likely candidate to skip.

And skip the set many collectors did.  The allure of army building cheap Crimson Guard, Hiss Tank and Red Ninja armies was simply too much.  Many collectors pinned their hopes that the Desert Patrol sets would be sitting around well into 2005 and they could acquire them at their leisure.  But, that didn't really happen.  While 2004 saw a slowdown in Joe sales overall with the Venom Vs. Valor theme, the product moved very well over the Christmas holidays.  As 2005 dawned, most of the Desert Patrol sets were sold out at Toys R Us stores and many collectors were left either without the set or scrambling to find a trading partner who had a spare they'd give up for army builders.  This left the sets as rather sparse items on the secondary market.  And, the Snake Eyes figure and this Stalker quickly began to command premium pricing, even as the other figures in the set were mostly worthless.

Stalker himself, though, is well worth the hype.  The figure uses the 1992 Duke body with the 1989 Stalker head.  It's a combo that works wonders.  The 1992 Duke body is excellently made.  But, the details of it were heavily lost in the tan and gold combo.  On Stalker, the raised details are painted in a darker brown/grey color that heavily offset against the light tan base.  The pistol is a nice black that showcases it on the figure's chest.  The grenades are painted in silver and green to also bring out the details that were always present but not always highlighted on earlier uses of the mold.  The cammo pattern is intricate and well done.  The 1992 Duke arms used to have super short sleeves that really kind of ruined him.  Stalker abandons that theme and has bare arms with these odd silver rings around them.  They are somewhat bizarre.  But, far superior to the super short sleeves from 1992.  Stalker also features a yellow tattoo on his right arm.  It's somewhat disconcerting and the figure would be better without it.  Especially when you consider that tight paint applications like that tattoo probably cost more to make than an additional weapon or backpack per figure.  I'd have much rather foregone the tattoo and gotten more accessories.

The Toys R Us sets featured terrible accessory choices.  Of the sets, only Python Patrol and the Anti Venom set really featured any of the figures' original gear.  The remaining sets contained a hodge-podge of common weapons that Hasbro used with many other figures.  The Desert Patrol set is among the worst gear offenders.  It contains no backpacks, no weapons originally included with the figures and a few weapons that were mostly released with Cobras of the time.  Other sets at least included a ton of superfluous gear.  So, while the weapons weren't great, there were a lot of them.  The Desert Patrol just included a handful of weapons.  This Stalker only includes one rifle.  It is a remake of the 1992 Shockwave rifle.  So, it is an excellent weapon and it looks great with this figure.  It's rare that a figure including just one rifle would have the best gear from an entire set.  But, that's the case with this Stalker.  Fortunately, it was easy to get spare black backpacks at the time that could be given to the figure.  Many found other weapons for the top figures in this set.  But, I appreciate the rifle that was included and use it as Stalker's only weapon to this day.

The legacy of the Toys R Us figure sets is complicated.  Looking back, there were more misses than hits.  But, when Hasbro did get it right, they really produced a great figure.  This Stalker, to me, is the highlight of the repaint era.  There are few figures who can stand up to his combination of different parts, paint applications and quality.  (Most who do are also convention releases...with a higher bar.)  But, this figure doesn't look like the 1992 Duke, even though they share the same base color.  The amazing paint applications help distinguish this figure from his predecessors.  And, it shows that just slight changes to a parts and excellent paint could make for amazing figures.  Sadly, though, Hasbro didn't do this often enough.  So, figures like this Stalker are the exception rather than the norm for the 2000's era Joes.

Desert Patrol Stalkers are somewhat tough to find.  The set only saw production of around 16,000 units.  Dealers will routinely sell mint and complete figures in the $13-$18 range just due to lack of other options.  But, left to his own devices, you can still get the figures for around $5.  You may have to wait for several months, though.  In my opinion, though, the figure is worth the higher price.  It's an excellent version of Stalker.  But, it's just a great figure in general and may be the best desert figure Hasbro ever made.  I'm very glad I picked him up and have him to this day.  The rest of the set isn't that important.  But, this Stalker is one of the highlights of the 1997-2010 repaint timeframe.

2004 Desert Patrol Stalker, Toys R Us Exclusive, Night Force Tunnel Rat, Black Major, Snake Eyes, Funskool, Night Force, 2019

2004 Desert Patrol Stalker, Toys R Us Exclusive, Night Force Tunnel Rat, Black Major, Snake Eyes, Funskool, Night Force, 2019

2004 Desert Patrol Stalker, Toys R Us Exclusive, Night Force Tunnel Rat, Black Major, Snake Eyes, Funskool, Night Force, 2019

2004 Desert Patrol Stalker, TRU, Toys R Us Exclusive, Desert Patrol, 1990 Bullhorn

Saturday, October 24, 2020

1983 Breaker - Random Photos Of The Day

 Breaker was my first Joe figure.  I got him the day after I had received the RAM for my birthday.  It was a fitting match considering Breaker was on the box art of the RAM and that bit of kismet foreshadowed how Joe would come to work out in my life.

The fact that Breaker didn't come with a weapon was a bit of a pain.  But, his communications gear more than made up for it.  And, once the 1983 Battle Gear set came out, I had plenty of weapons from which Breaker could choose.  (I always gave him one of the Uzis.)

Breaker doesn't see as much usage these days.  There are better communications troopers that came out later.  And, Breaker never got a real update.  (That 1997 figure doesn't count.)  So, he's pretty left to HQ fodder and random memories of the figure that started it all.

1983 Breaker, 1982, Snake Eyes, Stalker, Steeler, VAMP Mark II

1983 Breaker, 1982, Snake Eyes, Stalker, Steeler, VAMP Mark II, Grand Slam, Flash

Thursday, October 22, 2020

1991 Incinerator - Around The Web

The Incinerator is one of those figures that everyone needs one of.  After a single figure, though, the value of additional figures diminishes.  He looks great and the orange and red are visually striking.  But, you don't really need more than one once you have him.  The notion of a bad guy flamethrower makes more sense than it does as a Joe specialty.  And, this figure screams flamethrower.  The Funskool version is also pretty good.  I found a surprising amount of content out there on this figure.  So, here's the best of the 1991 Incinerator from around the web.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

1987 Persuader

Many collectors like to pretend that G.I. Joe is about realistic military operations.  It's not.  G.I. Joe is just a comic book with super heros and super villains that happens to be set in a military unit.  From the beginning, Joe contained sci-fi elements and was far more than the traditional green army men who were cheap, WWII homages that kids got as gifts at the grocery store.  Joe dipped heavily into science fiction from the beginning.  And, that only continued through the rest of the line's run.  Right smack in the middle of it all sits the Persuader.  It's a tank with laser cannons.  But, G.I. Joe is realistic military!  Just look at the olive drab!  But, that was the genius of Joe.  It combined traditional military with science fiction fantasy and wrapped it around a group of super villains.

That aside, though, the Persuader is a toy that has some limitations.  But, it's still a lot of fun.  The Persuader gets a pass from me because of its release date.  1987 was my final year playing with Joe toys as a kid.  So, the new releases from that year got both special attention since they were new, but also retained their relevance since they were the final memories that were packed away.  The Persuader filled the role of utility vehicle.  At the time, Havocs were the Joe's heavy weapons that were most effective against Cobra.  But, they had limitations such as non-swiveling weapons and their tracks made them slower than the ultra fast Cobra STUNS.  So, the Persuader was the answer.  It was lighter and quicker than Havocs.  And, the turret could track and destroy the fleet STUNs.  

The Persuader, though, had other value.  I saw a mine sweeper on the front of the tank.  So, the Persuader often lead any Joe convoy to sniff out any explosive booby traps Cobra might have buried on the road.  The Persuader's driver (always Backstop!) was also relatively protected as exposed vehicle drivers go.  So, taking the point made a lot of sense.  The missiles were rarely used and tended to be more for battlefield disruption and chaos than any actual targeted destruction.  It was the cannon that did in most STUNs.  And, the smaller cannon above the driver was effective against Dreadnok Trikes that made up the remainder of my Cobra mechanized cavalry.  

As 1987 progressed, though, I found limitations in the Persuader.  The heavier cannons made it less effective against Cobra infantry.  Even the smaller cannon didn't really make sense for this purpose.  I found myself wanting something with different weapons.  I drew up pictures of a Persuader inspired tank that, instead of large lasers, featured heavy machine guns on the turret.  The design was intended for anti infantry use.  And, after I had that vision in my head, the real Persuader seemed a disappointment.  But, before the Persuader could disappear from my collection, my youthful days of playing with Joe ended.  At the end of 1987, I packed all my toys away and never played with them in any meaningful way again.

As a design piece, the Persuader is a substantial step below the similar price point vehicles from prior years.  First off, the cannon on the turret is bigger than the cannon on the Mauler.  It seems silly for this to be the case.  And, that poor proportion throws off the entire tank.  Beyond that, though, the Persuader is plain.  Earlier vehicles always included little things like removable panels, superfluous accessories or super details that make them jump to life.  The Persuader lacks all those things.  In 1983 and 1985, Hasbro made vehicles that included tow ropes.  For the Persuader, the tow rope is a molded detail on the tank's body.  Little things like this make the Persuader feel cheap.  It lacks the panache of earlier vehicles and definitely seems a bit out of place among its peers.  

The Persuader pictured below is mine from my childhood.  I've never upgraded the toy as I've never had reason to.  This one sat in my parents' attic for years.  But, survived relatively well.  The only real issue is the broken tow hook.  I still remember the incident that lead to this damage.  I had attached the Road Toad to the Persuader's hook.  I had a few figures and was going to take the whole setup to a different room.  As I didn't have enough hands, I picked up the Persuader and found that the tension on the Road Toad's hitch was enough to hold it in place.  So, I held the Persuader with the Road Toad locked onto the tow hook.  As I walked, the hook snapped, the Road Toad fell to the floor and my Persuader was permanently damaged.  Oddly, I wasn't too broken up over it.  Usually, such breakage on a Joe vehicle doomed that toy to the bottom of our toy box.  But, the Persuader hung around after that trauma and continued to serve in the final convoy adventure that my friends and I had before I packed up my Joes permanently and didn't really play with them again.

The Persuader was reissued as part of the Night Force subset.  The black body seems cool.  The orange accouterments certainly diminish it a bit.  There are some international releases, too.  The most famous is the Plastirama release from Argentina.  This release isn't popular due to any significant variation.  It was just widely available in the early 2000's when large quantities of Plastirama overstock were imported to the U.S.  Through 2002, it was easier and cheaper to buy a MIB Plastirama Persuader than it was to buy a mint and complete with Backstop Hasbro Persuader.  The market has ironed out those inefficiencies in the past 17 years, though.  There's really no reason for the vehicle to return.  It's fun enough.  But, the coloring of the original is fine and the mold's limitations are with the giant cannons, not the palette.

You can mint and complete Persuaders for about $20.  Many of those will even include a mint and complete Backstop.  In this era of dumb Joe pricing, the Persuader remains the rare bargain.  But, that's heavily a testament to the vehicle's lack of popularity and overabundant release year.  The Persuader isn't a great G.I. Joe toy.  But, for the price, it is good enough to serve a purpose.  Talented customizers can do a lot with the vehicle and they remain cheap enough to cut one up and see what can happen.  It's good that there's still a few affordable G.I. Joe toys.  And, of them, the Persuader is probably one of the best of those that remain.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

1991 Super Sonic Fighters Zap - Around The Web

The 1991 Super Sonic Fighters Zap is an example of how an original character should be updated.  The figure is easy to see as Zap.  But, he's also updated in a dramatic way that helps him blend with later figure releases.  He is excellently colored and includes a pretty solid array of weaponry.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

1991 Zap Profile

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

1984 Recondo - Thin Green Stripe Variant

Summer's in my childhood were spent visiting relatives.  We'd often take several weeks and go see my aunt and uncle or my grandfather.  It was a way for my mother to spend time with us, get a small vacation and take care of familial obligations all at once.  The upside is that I got to spend time in different towns each summer.  The downside is that all of relatives' homes were dreadfully boring.  They didn't have much in the way of toys and, in the cases where my cousins did have toys, the New York school year went much longer than ours and we'd be in their neighborhood while they were still in school.  The result is that, when we went shopping, I was usually able to get a toy or two to alleviate boredom.  In the summer of 1984, the figure that sticks out in my mind was the 1984 Recondo.  I found him at a K-Mart in Chillicothe, Ohio.   They had two figures: Recondo and Ripcord.  But, all of Ripcord's gear had been ripped out the package.  So, Recondo it was for me.  

With the figure in hand, I returned to my aunt and uncle's house and spent hours playing with Recondo and the Mountain Howitzer out in their front yard.  They had a bit of an incline that sloped away from the concrete driveway.  So, the Howitzer was perfectly positioned to rain down upon the enemy.  But, for some reason, I had no enemy figures with me.  I had not brought many toys with me on the extended trip.  So, my time was spent with these two toys and my imagination of the great things Recondo would do once I got home.  And, when reunited with the remainder of my collection, Recondo did become the great figure I had imagined...for a time.  Eventually, the figure got old and worn and I lost interest as newer figures entered my world.

Some time in late 1985 or early 1986, I began making my first custom Joes.  I took figures that were old, or broken and concocted new characters from the existing parts.  I created a new Joe leader, a few of his loyal soldiers and a group of 4 distinct warriors who became the focal point in my world's battle against Cobra.  Three of these four consisted of figures made from Snake Eyes, Footloose, Barbecue, Flint and Bazooka figures that had been upgraded after I had lost accessories or broken a thumb or crotch.  The fourth figure, though, was different.  Using a Recondo chest and Grunt head, this character was the wiser, older sage of the group.  He was the mentor to the younger fighters and was the one who guided them through their adventures.  But, one of the thumbs on this figure snapped.  And, I had no replacements.  With this, the character died.  And, in doing so, caused a rift to develop in the group.  With no older leader, the most capable began to do things on his own.  Eventually, he would rise to #2 on the Joe team.  The other two, eventually, broke down mentally.  Unable to fight any longer, they disappeared.  Occasionally, they would reappear.  But, for the most part, the death of this character destroyed the most potent force that the Joe team had against Cobra.

One of the reasons that I used Recondo parts, though, was because I had upgraded my Recondo figure.  And, after Recondo's comic appearances in 1985, I needed a good Recondo to take up the role as he was portrayed in the comics.  His original comic run was just too memorable to allow the figure to wallow in obscurity.  And, with this newfound importance, Recondo remained a vital part of my Joe team until the figure got worn from overuse and was replaced by newer releases.  

For me, Recondo's gear has always been both a disappointment and one of the highlights of the line.  As a kid, Recondo's pack was the pinnacle of backpack design.  It was full of survival gear and had the handy, practical and cool handle to give it both function and pizazz.  I painted up my Battle Gear versions of his pack to showcase the details that were sculpted into it.  Any time a team was going into the wilderness, at least one member of that team needed to be wearing a Recondo pack.  It was necessary.  (I REALLY wanted the pack to work for Ripcord.  But, for some reason, Ripcord's plain shirt and the pack didn't work for me.  These design mismatches didn't bother me on scores of other figures.  But, it did for Ripcord.  I'm weird.)  Recondo's rifle, though, was more problematic.

I'm not sure why, but Recondo's gun never clicked for me.  While it was decent enough with Recondo himself, the gun didn't transfer to other figures.  To this day, I can't see the rifle with anyone other than Recondo.  It just looks out of place with any other figure.  Conversely, though, I also find it tough to see Recondo with any weapon other than his original.  In the photos below, I attempted a couple of different weapons with Recondo to see if they clicked.  The M-32 from Stalker is OK.  But, it seems too small against Recondo's larger forearms.  Ripcord's rifle seemed great in theory.  But, I'm afraid of it snapping this Recondo's 36 year old thumbs.  So, it's posed in ways to showcase it with the figure, but not with him actually using it.  In the end, I'll stick with Recondo's original weapon as it's just a perfect match to the figure.

Recondo appeared around the world.  The original version was released in the U.S. as well as Europe.  From there, it went to Brazil where Estrela released him in a slightly darker green as Leopardo.  Auriken then released a similar figure in Mexico.  Recondo parts were used for the original version of Starduster, before being quickly replaced.  The Tiger Force Recondo appeared in 1988.  And, then, nothing.  Well, not entirely nothing.  Recondo joined Flint and Spirit as figures who appeared on the cardbacks of Plastirama figures that were released in Argentina.  However, none of the three were ever produced.  Many of Recondo's contemporaries later showed up in India as Funskool releases.  But, Recondo never appeared again after the 1980's.  The mold was highly requested in the 2000's, but never came to be.  While Recondo's sculpt had a lot of potential for later repaints, the two main flavors (original and Tiger Force) are both excellently done and leave collectors with high quality examples to track down.  Factory Custom makers have redone Recondo's chest for various Starduster figures.  But, they have yet to use it outside of Starduster repaints.

There are a few Recondo variants.  The timeline of when each was released seems unclear.  From the best I can tell, the thick stripe "brown" variant (the brown is actually an olive green) was first.  Then, the paint masks changed to a thin brown version.  Then, there are two bright green versions, a thick stripe cammo and this thin striped cammo.  It should be noted that Leopardo from Brazil uses the thin cammo paint mask.  It's likely that some of the variants were mail away exclusives and some may have been heavily released in Europe, too.  In my experience, the thick stripe bright green cammo figure is the toughest to find.  But, I've only looked casually.  So, other's experiences may vary.  Please comment on your findings in the comments below.

Growing up, I had only the brown cammo versions.  I didn't know these alternate designs existed until well into my collecting career.  But, even in my time of mass acquisition, where I had several Recondos, I never acquired anything other than the brown cammo figure.  So, finding this thin, green version was nice.  I didn't have to pay a premium for it.  And, the green gives the figure more flair.  He seems more like a jungle fighter than a more desert figure like the brown cammo version does.  It should be noted that the color of Recondo's leg cammo should match the color of the wristwatch on his left hand.  If they do not match, you have a kitbash that was put together from different figures.  This consistency remains constant across all the Recondo variants.

Nicely conditioned and complete with filecard Recondos sell in the $25 range with dealers getting up to $35.  There are times when certain leg color variants will get hot and sell for much, much more.  In short, Recondo is one of those iconic Joes that everyone needs to own.  But, the variants remain the realm of diehards who really love the character.  For me, any look will do.  But, after owning one figure for more than three decades, it was nice to get a new version of a childhood favorite...even if the differences were subtle.  Like most relatively popular '80's Joes, I'm glad I got my Recondos before 2018.  While he's great, he's also a lot more expensive than when I fleshed out my collection.  But, like obscure foreign releases, these variants give an old favorite some new life.

1984 Thin Green Stripe Variant Recondo, Red Laser Army Shimik

1984 Thin Green Stripe Variant Recondo, Red Laser Army Shimik, Mail Away, Steel Brigade

1984 Thin Green Stripe Variant Recondo, Red Laser Army Shimik, Mail Away, Steel Brigade, Bombadier

1984 Thin Green Stripe Variant Recondo, Red Laser Army Shimik, Mail Away, Steel Brigade, Bombadier, Black major, Starduster, Action Force, Palitoy

Saturday, October 10, 2020

1997 Alley Viper - Random Photos of the Day

 The 1997 Alley Viper is my favorite repaint of the character.  The classic Cobra blue combined with the black equipment and gold and white highlights create a visually stunning figure that also fits with many classic Cobras.  Over the years, I've profiled him twice and done an around the web feature.  Despite that, I enjoy getting these figures out for photos.  I'm not 100% sure that there isn't a dark gold/light gold color variant on this figure.  It seems that some have different sheens.  But, I can't be sure that it's not just wear.  Here's a few random photos I've taken over the years.

1997 Alley Viper, Toys R Us Exclusive, Rage, 1985 Flint, Bazooka, Skeres, Midnight Chinese, Cobra Officer

1997 Alley Viper, Toys R Us Exclusive, Rage, 1985 Flint, Bazooka

1997 Alley Viper, Toys R Us Exclusive, Rage

Thursday, October 8, 2020

1987 Tunnel Rat - Around The Web

Tunnel Rat is one of those characters who was always popular.  The great design and Larry Hama connection has kept him near the top of the pantheon of Joe characters.  In recent years, he seems to have taken on even more interest as all of his versions tend to command a premium over contemporary figures.  But, with no real bad versions, that's somewhat understandable.  Due to his popularity, there's tons of great stuff on the 1987 Tunnel Rat out there around the web.

Tunnel Rat Profile

Tunnel Rat by the vintagetoylife

Tunnel Rat by steelbrigade

Tunnel Rat by gijoe_rama

Tunnel Rat by gijoe_rama 02

Tunnel Rat by rj_vintage_toys

Tunnel Rat by billykessler

Tunnel Rat by gi_joe_85

Tunnel Rat by specialmissionforce

Tunnel Rat by steelbrigade

Tunnel Rat by fuerzatigre

Tunnel Rat by kushviper

Tunnel Rat by nostalkid

Tunnel Rat by _toyler_

Tunnel Rat by strikeforcecodename

1987 Tunnel Rat

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

2005 Crimson Firefly

In the final months of 2004, collectors were being inundated with both massive amounts of information about the Joe line and also an influx of unproduced figures from Asia.  At times, it was difficult to discern between the two.  And, as new figures would appear from Asian sellers, collectors struggled to determine if they were unreleased figures or if they were paint schemes that would appear in upcoming retail releases.  Sometimes, it was easy as figures like the Wal Mart Sky Patrol figures were known to be cancelled.  Other times, it was tougher.  In the fall of 2004, an odd Firefly appeared for sale.  It featured the exact same paints masks as the 2004 Urban Strike Firefly.  But, the blue was replaced with red.  At the same time, collectors were pretty sure that there would be a Crimson Guard Toys R Us set released in early 2005.  But, there was no way that Hasbro would be dumb enough to include Firefly in an army building set.  And, there was also no way that Hasbro would ever release a figure in the same paint masks in such close proximity.  But, in late 2004, collectors didn't really know how close the retail Joe line was to cancellation.  And, in one release, two truths that collectors believed about Hasbro were shattered and the first warning shot of the line's demise was quietly given when this Crimson Firefly appeared in the 2005 Toys R Us Crimson Guard sets.

Looking at that information now, it seems obvious that the Firefly would be part of the Crimson Guard set.  We knew the Crimson set was coming and we knew this Firefly in red appeared right before the set's official announcement.  Marrying the two seems elementary.  But, again, collectors still (despite all the evidence to the contrary) held Hasbro in high regard and didn't think there was any way that the slowly becoming hated Firefly mold would be released another time so close to the 2004 version.  But, that's exactly what happened.  

In the early 2000's, Hasbro decided that every Cobra figure could use a red repaint.  And, while collectors made fun of the red divers, armor troopers and ninjas, we also bought them up in spades.  Collectors of the era amassed every red army builder and loved the painted characters to accompany them.  So, finally seeing Firefly in some semblance of the color was both expected and relatively normal for that time.  Unfortunately, this color scheme didn't really match many of the brighter red figures who had been previously released.  So, while good, this Firefly didn't match up with many existing figures.  

In 2005, I lamented that Firefly's inclusion in the Crimson Guard set made no sense.  And, all these years later, it still doesn't.  Hasbro deliberately split up Tomax and Xamot so that collectors could army build the sets.  There was no other reason for it.  But, despite that collector friendly move, they then included Firefly.  In 2005, Firefly had already been done to death.  And, there was another version on the way.  So, Firefly, even in a good color scheme, was a detriment to the set.  The sets would have been relatively cheap to make since one figure mold was included 4 times.  (There weren't even rank or skin color variants like we'd seen on the Operation Crimson Sabotage or the Cobra Infantry Set.)  And, even though Firefly reused paint masks, those masks were intricate and would have been expensive to duplicate.  So, why, then, did Firefly appear?  Hasbro has never given us a good explanation.  My theory remains that Firefly was a last minute addition to the set when the club decided to use the Crimson Guard Immortal body mold for the 2005 Convention Destro.  (Meaning that figure screwed collectors twice!)  But, this is pure speculation based on the mold's appearance in the same year, Hasbro's willingness to appease the club and the club's general lack of caring about their ill effects on the collecting community.

In the second half of 2003, G.I. Joe could not stay on the shelves.  Retailers sold out and Hasbro had to pull extra stock marked for online dealers and smaller retailers to fulfill the orders coming from Wal Mart, Toys R Us and Target.  In January of 2004, though, the retail boom suddenly ended.  The first wave of Venom vs. Valor instantly backed up around the country.  This was likely a storm of overproduction combined with post holiday fatigue.  As 2004 wore on, interest picked back up and Joe sold well enough.  But, not well enough to really sustain the line.  The 2005 theme, Robot Rebellion, was abandoned and Hasbro let the line trickle out before pulling the plug in the summer of that year.  Through this, though, the Toys R Us 6 packs usually performed differently than the retail line.  Strong collector interest and lower production runs really helped those.  But, even with this, the 2005 sets lingered.  Both the Crimson sets and the Greenshirts were available in Toys R Us stores well into the fall.  It turned out that collectors didn't really need 100 Crimson Guards.  Instead, they were often content with the 8 that it took to get one Tomax and one Xamot set.  But, even these small amounts meant leftover Fireflies.  And, this Firefly was a common figure, often discarded for peanuts to customizers or kids during the mid 2000's.

If you look at this figure, the paint details are amazing.  The Urban Firefly had seven colors combined into convention level paint masks.  This Crimson Firefly has the same.  Lost in the sea of red and black are splashes of green on the grenades and some details on the figure's legs.  The reality is that this figure doesn't have the full level of color that the 2004 version did.  But, the intricacy of the cammo pattern and the more visually distinctive colors help to obscure that he's missing little bands of silver.  And, the pattern is distinctive enough that many people don't even realize that the paint masks are the same as the 2004 figure that was barely six months old when this Crimson version was released.

The figure included the standard Firefly gear of: rifle, pack, tool case, battle stand and walkie talkie.  I can't really call Firefly's communications device a cell phone considering it was designed prior to 1984.  But, walkie talkie is clunky.  So, I use phone or walkie talkie interchangeably with Firefly.  The accessories in the Crimson Guard set weren't bad and made sense for the figures.  That was a rarity in the TRU sets.  The fact that Firefly almost always got his original gear was a rarity in the 2000's, too.  Few figures saw multiple releases with their full array of gear.  And, figure's that had been recalled from India (like the Firefly mold) almost always had new accessories instead of their classic inclusions.  One thing that has helped all the Fireflies of this time retain some relevance is that they didn't get the generic accessory allotments that were so common.  It makes Firefly feel more connected to his vintage roots: back when a figure's gear was as much a part of the character as the figure itself.  

As for this figure, he's rather obscure in my collection.  In looking for photos of him, I found some from around the time of his retail release.  But, few others.  The Urban Firefly and the Comic Pack version are just too well done.  They take up the Firefly appearances in photos.  And, as Crimson Cobras aren't a thing I tend to do too often, there's rarely occasion to break this figure out.  But, the truth is that this figure has held up well.  Now that we're 15 years since his release, the pain of seeing constant Firefly repaints has passed.  And, we're really seeing which figures from the repaint era have staying power.  This isn't the best Firefly repaint from that time.  But, even (arguably) the third best version of the character from the era is better than a lot of other figures released contemporarily.

Having someone like Firefly in crimson is nice since you can use him in different ways.  He can work with the Baroness from 2002.  Though, matching him to the Imperial Processional is tough to do.  The figure, obviously, works with Crimson Guards.  And, as I have helmetless CG's with "Fred" heads and Faces heads to act as high ranking Cobra officials, Firefly melds with them, too.  In short, this is a useful Firefly, but not an essential Firefly.  If you're tracking down the character, there are other releases to snag for your collection first.  But, getting this figure does more than just check a box for a complete collection.  It offers you something useful and, even, a bit fun.  Had this figure seen a different avenue of release, it would have been held in better regard at the time.  But, the fact that it's found some popularity today speaks to the solid design.

Firefly had too many uses to get into.  There's the original version, the 1998 winter release, the 2000 woodlands figures, the eye gougingly bright 2002 BJ's figure, the Tiger Force Wreckage, 2 convention releases, the Urban figure, this one and then the 2005 Comic Pack release.  If that's not enough, there's a Funskool version from India and his parts were used on a Complan Commandos figure, too.  His torso was to have been used for a Steel Brigade figure in the 2000's.  But, that never got to full production.  There's even an alternate, green Firefly from the unproduced version of the BJ's set.  In short, there's a Firefly for every season except the desert.  Collectors were sick of the mold before 2005 and Hasbro used it twice more that year.  So, it not appearing again wasn't an issue.  Now, I'm sure some fun things could be done with the mold in terms of coloring.  But, I'd take hundreds of other factory custom parts before I'd want to see Firefly return.

For many years, this Firefly was worthless.  But, the influx of new collectors in recent years have driven prices of common sets through the roof.  Now, dealers can get $22-$25 for this figure.  And, with few for sale, open market prices are pretty much the same.  But, here's the thing.  You can still get boxed Crimson Guard sets for around $60.  The 4 Crimson Guard figures tend to sell for around $10 each.  And, either Tomax or Xamot is $15.  So, buying a boxed set and opening it up is, far and away, the better option to get this figure.  If I had to track this guy down today, I just wouldn't.  The Urban Strike and the 2005 Comic Pack figure are far better.  And, for weirdness, the 2002 BJ's Firefly is better, too.  But, like all the Firefly figures out there, the paint job works.  He's not a great figure.  But, he's different, doesn't appear all that often and showcases the quality of one of the line's iconic figure sculpts.  It sucked to get him as a toss in that was included with an army builder in lieu of a Crimson Guard Immortal.  But, 15 years later, the figure holds up well enough.

2005 Crimson Firefly, 2003 Agent Faces, Black Major, Steel Brigade, GHSB, Gold Head Steel Brigade, Sky Patrol, Red Laser Army

2005 Crimson Firefly, 2003 Agent Faces, Black Major, Steel Brigade, GHSB, Gold Head Steel Brigade

2005 Crimson Firefly, 2003 Agent Faces
2005 Crimson Firefly, Toys R Us Exclusive, Red Ninja Viper, Stormshadow

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Terror on the Tundra Mail Away Promo

In looking back on my early days as a collector, I often wondered why I didn't order any mail aways from Hasbro.  From 1992 through 1995, I had money, a checking account, plenty of flag points and a desire to own more G.I. Joe figures.  Yet, I never ordered any mail away items.  At the time, Hasbro offered a combination of classic figures and vehicles from my childhood along with a ton of new figures that, even back then, were really cool and desirable to me.  My lack of interest in these items, though, is quickly refreshed when I look through a booklet like the Terror on the Tundra promotional offering from 1992/1993.  While the booklet features tons of great toys, the prices seem overly exorbitant for the time.  For someone on a budget, it was far cheaper to buy figures and vehicles at retail.  In time, my view on this would evolve.  But, we'll get to that....

The Terror on the Tundra promotional booklet is different from many other promotional inserts because it is an actual booklet.  Traditionally, Joe vehicle inserts and catalogs had been fold-outs.  Terror, though, is a glued booklet of 4 pages with a fold out order form on the back cover.  

1992 Terror on the Tundra Mail Away Pamphlet, Ninja Viper, Gold Head Steel Brigade, 1992

The first pages when you open the booklet show the golden Serpentor figure and the 1983 FANG.  In 1992, both of these were long gone from retail.  And, Serpentor's bold look was sure to appease some kids who weren't old enough to have seen the toy on store shelves.

The adjoining page showcases some lesser items: the Battle Bear and Pac Rats.  I was never a Battle Bear fan.  I always found the toy brittle and too small to really be fun.  The front skis really limited it as something that could transition out of the arctic.  Pac Rat, though, were even worse.  I never got more than one of the Pac Rats as a kid as I had zero interest in them.  They couldn't interact with figures and just didn't look that cool.

1992 Terror on the Tundra Mail Away Pamphlet, Ninja Viper, Gold Head Steel Brigade, 1992, 1986 Serpentor

1992 Terror on the Tundra Mail Away Pamphlet, Ninja Viper, Gold Head Steel Brigade, 1992, 1986 Serpentor

The next pages include two great toys.  The Cobra Wolf is one of the best designed Cobra vehicles.  The limitation of the front skis as I mentioned on the Battle Bear didn't come into play here since the vehicle was that good.  For the Wolf, I either redid my entire adventure in the arctic, or I'd have Cobra airlift a Wolf onto dry land where it could still use its weaponry.  If you mailed away for this Wolf, you'd have likely gotten the mail in variant.  The most notable difference is the black missile door...which looks kind of odd.  But, this is the source of the harder to find variation.

The Adder came out past my time as a Joe collector.  So, I never had one.  But, it's a solid toy that should get more press.  Some day, I'll buy one just to showcase here.  

1992 Terror on the Tundra Mail Away Pamphlet, Ninja Viper, Gold Head Steel Brigade, 1992, 1986 Serpentor

Then, we see the worst and the best offering in the mail away packet.  The micro vehicles are terrible and not something I'd have ever wanted.  Above, them, though, is the mail away, no cammo variant Slugger.  This remains one of my grail pieces since it's so stark a difference versus the retail toy.

The big dog, though, is the Whale.  I can assure you that I did ponder buying a new Whale to replace the two heavily worn versions I had in my possession during the 1990's.  The whopping $29.95 price tag, though, was a turn off.  Back then, that was 5 hours of work before taxes.  

1992 Terror on the Tundra Mail Away Pamphlet, Ninja Viper, Gold Head Steel Brigade, 1992, 1986 Serpentor

1992 Terror on the Tundra Mail Away Pamphlet, Ninja Viper, Gold Head Steel Brigade, 1992, 1986 Serpentor

The final pages of toys feature the iconic Hiss Tank and some figures.  The Hiss was a staple of any Cobra army.  And, it's long mail away life has helped ensure ample supply of Hiss Tanks even to this day.

The figures are notable for a few reasons.  Everyone's eyes turn to the Ninja Viper.  This aqua green Stormshadow repaint has become a figure du jour among the nuveau collector set.  But, really, this is a somewhat boring redo.  Had this figure been red, it would be a $500 purchase today.  But, it's not.  You will notice the pre-production figure, though, that has his mask painted in.  We'd see this first on the 2000 Firefly figure and this detail would have helped distinguish this figure from the classic Stormshadow mold.  But, this paint application was removed before the figure went to production.

The Iceberg and Hawk, though, are more interesting.  Hawk included a 1991 Cobra Commander gun.  And, Iceberg included the 1990 Rock Viper rifle.  Bagged, both figures are incredibly hard to find today...even harder than bagged Ninja Vipers.

1992 Terror on the Tundra Mail Away Pamphlet, Ninja Viper, Gold Head Steel Brigade, 1992, 1986 Serpentor

1992 Terror on the Tundra Mail Away Pamphlet, Ninja Viper, Gold Head Steel Brigade, 1992, 1986 Serpentor

And, then finally, we see the coup de gras: the Gold Head Steel Brigade.  I cared so little about the Steel Brigade figure that I never noticed that this version in the Tundra booklet was different.  The figure was simply too expensive to ever hold my attention.  That seems dumb, now.  But, were this figure not rare, few would care about it.

1992 Terror on the Tundra Mail Away Pamphlet, Ninja Viper, Gold Head Steel Brigade, 1992, 1986 Serpentor, GHSB

Look at these prices.  It doesn't seem right that a set of 3 Pac Rats was cheaper than one figure.  But, that was the oddity of the mail away premium.  You'll note the free Micro Figures poster with a purchase of $15.00 or more.  There's a pull out showing the poster that I didn't bother to photograph as I have that little interest in micro figures or vehicles.

1992 Terror on the Tundra Mail Away Pamphlet, Ninja Viper, Gold Head Steel Brigade, 1992, 1986 Serpentor, GHSB

To say that I had no interest in mail aways is a bit overstated.  After the onslaught of POTFII toys in 1995, I began to take collecting a bit more seriously.  I tracked down the final figures and vehicles that I could find at retail.  As those began to dry up, frustration set in.  In the wasteland that was late 1995/early 1996 retail, I looked at the mail away booklets again.  Thinking I could finally use up some old flag points, they seemed an outlet to get new toys...even if they were more expensive than I would have liked.  Alas, though, the clock had run out.  Every promotional item I owned had expired in 1995 at the latest.  So, when I finally came around in my desire to buy up mail aways, the ability to do so had aged out.  At one time or another, I thought of simply sending in a filled out form and a check to see what would happen.  Maybe there were still figures left.  I never did this, though.  I'm not sure why as it would have been a "nothing ventured-nothing gained" scenario.

Knowing what we know today, had I mailed in an expired form, it could have gone either way.  If Hasbro still had stock, they might have sent something.  Clearing out a warehouse was better than returning money.  But, in 1994, Hasbro did clear out their mail away warehouse in northern Ohio.  Almost all the bagged mail away figures from the 1990's can be traced to this event.  (A grocer in Ohio bought a ton of bagged G.I. Joe figures and sold them for .99 in their stores.  They're harder to find now, since the price tags wear off.  But, you can still find tons of bagged figures with those old grocery price stickers on them.)  So, it's unlikely that Hasbro would have had any stock left to sell.  G.I. Joe collectors in the late 1990's reached out to Hasbro to see if they had any old stock left over.  But, they did not.

The reason collectors did reach out to them, though, is the same reason that I still might have had a chance at getting something from an expired form: the Hasbro Canada find.  In 1999, collectors learned that Hasbro Canada did have a massive amount of old mail away figures and vehicles that were overstock from the mail in premiums from a few years before.  Once this news broke, collectors quickly filled out the forms, mailed in their checks and awaited full packages of bagged Cobra Officers, Thunders, 1992 Air Commando figures, Crankcases, Motor Vipers, Strato Vipers, Sky Hawks, Nitro Vipers, Keel Hauls and Firebats (to name a few of the items....).  They arrived to great fanfare.  And, again, to this day, almost all of the bagged samples of those figures can be traced to the Hasbro Canada find and the last hurrah of vintage retail Joes that collectors could find.  

In the days of $700 Gold Head Steel Brigade figures, balking at paying $7.50 for one seems foolish.  But, 25 years ago was a very different time.  Even into the early 2000's, bagged version D Steel Brigades were $5 figures.  And, it was not uncommon to find a GHSB included in a lot of undesirable neon figures that collectors of the day avoided like the plague.  Many of my fondest memories of childhood involve getting a package of mail away Star Wars or G.I. Joe figures in the mail.  So, not spending a modest amount to relive that experience seems odd.  (I did partake in both the Han Stormtrooper Fruit Loops promo and the Spirit Ben Kenobi Lays promos shortly after the Joe premiums expired.)  But, I was a college student instead of a kid.  And, it was cheaper and easier to just go to the local TRU to buy a new figure or two.  So, I don't hold too many regrets.  

Like pretty much all Joe paperwork and promotional items that were included with standard figures and vehicles, the Terror on the Tundra packet is worthless.  Dealers sell them for $1.50 and it's probably not worth their time to do so.  You'll often find them in bags of cheap one-price-fits all catalog boxes at various collectible stores.  The booklet is common, undesirable and cheap.  Which, isn't bad.  It's kind of funny to know how expensive these figures were back in the early '90s and compare it to how ridiculously expensive figures like the Ninja Viper are in the 2020's.  But, it's also kind of sad.  Booklets like this hearken back to when Joe was a fun toy line that was accessible to everyone.  Now, it's becoming a hobby that prices out many newcomers.  Joe collectors have always found new heights of snobbery for a hobby that's focused on the 2nd most common boys action figure line ever made.  2020 has just made that worse.