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.