Tuesday, October 12, 2021

1983 Zap - Random Photos of the Day

The 1983 Zap is a fun figure.  His brighter green helps him stand out among the original 13 Joes.  And, his antiquated weapon actually works in the context of the Joe team.  He wasn't a figure that I really had when I was a kid.  Both his thumbs broke on a straight arm version within hours of his opening.  But, I've kept this figure intact for two decades and still enjoy him more than most of the early Joe figures.

Sadly, the brittleness of Zap has lead to his extreme expense in modern times.  Before he was a $100+ figure, I had a lot of fun getting him out for photo shoots.  These days, though, I'm more careful as a simple slip would cost me way more than this figure is worth to replace.  So, the 1997 Zap has become the proxy for this original figure.  But, here's some pics of him back when the figure was still a reasonable acquisition.

1983 Zap, Bazooka Soldier, Silver Pads Grand Slam, 2008 Crimson Cobra Trooper, Black Major

1983 Zap, Bazooka Soldier, 2000 Locust, Dragonfly, Platirama, Sokerk, Fuego, Ripcord, Argentina

1983 Zap, Bazooka Soldier, Rock and Roll, VAMP, 1982, 2017, Outlaw, Red Laser Army

1983 Zap, Bazooka Soldier, Trip Wire, Funskool Bomb Disposal, Plastirama TNT, Blowtorch, Argentina

Saturday, October 9, 2021

1989 Snake Eyes - Around The Web

The greatest sin of the 1989 Snake Eyes is that he's not the 1985 Snake Eyes.  That doesn't mean, though, that this is a bad figure.  Far from it.  For younger collectors, this is often their vision of Snake Eyes.  And, I'll argue that this version best meshes Snake Eyes' Commando and Ninja personalities into one design.  My personal story on this figure is detailed in the first link.  It explains why this figure is difficult for me to really adopt as an iconic Snake Eyes.  There's tons of great content on this guy out there, though.  So, enjoy!

1989 Snake Eyes Profile

1989 Snake Eyes by thedustinmccoy

1989 Snake Eyes, 1985 Flint

1989 Snake Eyes, 1985 Flint

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Rarities - Funskool Calcium Sandoz Croc Master

In my profile of the Funskool Croc Master figure, I mentioned a Calcium Sandoz repaint of him done in dark colors.  Well, here it is.  The figure is actually a very dark green with black pants and golden eyes.  The overall ensemble is an amazing look for Croc Master and would have been one of the more sought after repaints had it been a standard carded Funskool release.

Sadly, this figure only exists in the Calcium Sandoz construction.  So, he has those odd, blocky, straight arms.  They ruin what would otherwise be an amazing figure.  The color palette, though, almost makes up for it.  I love the golden eyes as they brighten the figure's face and help offset the dark undertones.  In general, this look is in line with Croc Master's character.  But, it also brings something more sinister to the table.

It appears this Croc Master doesn't include the whip.  But, he does have the crocodile.  Were these figures attainable, it would be worth it to swap the arms for some bare arms from another figure to make a really solid Croc Master repaint.  But, at several hundred dollars these days, that's not really a viable outlet for a different take on Cobra's Reptile Trainer.

Funskool Calcium Sandoz Croc Master - Dark Green

Funskool Calcium Sandoz Croc Master - Dark Green

Saturday, October 2, 2021

1991 Heavy Duty Around The Web

Heavy Duty was not originally meant as a Roadblock replacement.  But, because he was used as such in the 2000's, many collectors wrote off his figures.  His original release in 1991, though, should not be disregarded.  It's one of those figures that's of excellent quality, but understated and not the star of his release year.  His gun rig is ridiculous.  But, that's what makes the entire figure fun.  But, giving him different gear also shows that the mold can be useful.  Here's the best of the 1991 Heavy Duty from around the web.

Heavy Duty Profile

Heavy Duty by thedustinmccoy

Heavy Duty by strikeforce_codename

Heavy Duty by playfulmonkeycosplay

1991 Heavy Duty

1991 Heavy Duty

1991 Heavy Duty

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

1994 Metal Head - Random Photos of the Day

Metal Head is a very underrated Cobra.  His 1990 figure is a great look.  But, his 1994 update is even less heralded by collectors.  I have always more associated this figure with the Metal Head character simply because I found it at retail a few years before I was able to acquire a 1990 figure in an old collection.  I do feel, though, that this figure perfectly captures the character of Metal Head (as such as he exists).  The terrifying grin is a first for a Joe figure and brings an element of madness to the figure.  For a villain who likes to blow things up, that's terrifying.

Through the years, this figure has held different roles.  The gun from Raven_Viper back in 2000 is always attached to the original figure that I acquired at retail.  And, is now more a part of the figure than any accessory included with him.  Sadly, the 2005 repaint didn't really live up to this 1994 version.  And, the fact that the mold was available for a better 2000's repaint is just another lost opportunity.  I'll forever appreciate this figure, though.  And, he constantly appears in photos for that reason.

We did get a repaint of this Metal Head in 2005.  But, it didn't surpass this original coloring of the mold.  I would have liked this guy repainted in an homage to the 1990 figure.  But, the black, silver and purple makes for a visually striking figure.  His gear kind of sucks.  Which is why I've keep the resin weapon with him for two decades.  

There's a country of origin (COO) variant on Metal Head and you can find figures made in China or made in Indonesia.  Otherwise, the figures are identical.  But, it's something for variant hunters to be aware of.  Other than that, not much was done with this figure.  Hasbro having the mold prevented international repaints.  At least there's one alternative out there on the convention figure to give the mold some life.

This guy pops up in my photos quite a bit because I both like the figure and you don't see him all that often.  I have a nostalgic connection as he was one of the few Cobras I was able to find at retail in the mid 1990's.  So, he found a role and has filled it for a long time, even after figures acquired around the same time have fallen out of favor.  That's a tribute to the figure's quality.  Not everyone appreciates this Metal Head.  But, I've found him extremely useful and he remains a mainstay in my photos to this day.

1994 Battle Corps Metal Head, 1992 Flak Viper, 1987 Maggot

1994 Battle Corps Metal Head, 1992 Flak Viper, 1987 Maggot, 1993 Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN

1994 Battle Corps Metal Head, 1984 Zartan

1994 Battle Corps Metal Head, Flint, Stalker, Viper

1994 Battle Corps Metal Head, 1992 Talking Battle Commander Stalker, 1987 Cobra La Royal Guard

Saturday, September 25, 2021

1983 Stalker - Around The Web

Stalker is one of the most visually distinctive members of the Original 13 Joes.  His character is just below Snake Eyes as one of the most important in the G.I. Joe franchise.  And, fittingly, there's a lot of content out there on the original release of the character.  Sadly, original Stalker figures are getting brittle.  So, there's more risk when you take one out for a photo shoot.  But, the original is worth it as he brings life to any photo.  Here's the best of the 1983 Stalker from around the web.

1983 Stalker Profile

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

1993 Outback

Outback was a popular character from 1987.  He got a great run in the comic.  His figure, though, got just one repaint in the Toys R Us exclusive Night Force set.  Six years after his original release, Hasbro resurrected the character.   At first glance, the new Outback design was a radical departure from the minimalist survival expert from 6 years prior.  But, at his core, this new Outback reflected an alternate look for the character and a gave kids and collectors a way to use Outback in more diverse ways.  The figure still retains some of the survival aspects of the original.  But, he now has more trappings.  And, he features some design elements that rarely appeared in the Joe line.

At some point in 1995 or 1996, I found one of these Outbacks at retail.  While the figure didn't match the Outback I knew from 1987, the look was solid enough to warrant purchase.  Once in my collection, though, I did not use the figure as Outback.  Instead, this figure became an army builder of combat engineers.  It was a role I felt was missing from the Joe line.  And, it served a purpose in my collection at the time.  These characters would be part of a convoy and would be called upon to fix damaged vehicles, solution a way to cross a river or gorge and might even have to improvise a weapon that was capable of defeating an unforeseen enemy.  The characters were part soldiers and part Mr. Fix-Its.  But, that was a perfect way to create tension and conflict within the Joe team.

Often, the engineers were only mildly trained soldiers.  Sure, they had been through basic training and could use weapons.  But, after that, they were almost exclusively focused on technical expertise.  As such, they weren't much use in a firefight.  But, they took up valuable space in the convoy that might have been better utilized with another machine gunner or hand held artillery trooper.  On the occasion where engineering expertise was needed, though, the script flipped.  Here, the engineers would bark orders at the combat troops, asking them to do basic tasks.  Tasks that they often didn't understand.  This would frustrate the engineers and they'd often end up accidentally exposing themselves to enemy fire when they went to do something themselves.  Once the engineer was dead, the Joes had to figure a way out of a situation without their technology.

In the years since, though, this Outback hasn't been all that important.  From time to time, I'd break him out to join some other more brightly colored 1993 releases in a photo shoot.  Though, I'd often reach for the Eco Warriors variant instead.  But, I still only see this figure as an engineer.  I don't consider him Outback.  The 1987 sculpt is just too iconic.  But, at the same time, this 1993 figure is just too strong to ignore.  So, even after 25+ years, this figure remains, primarily, in the specialty I set for him when I first acquired him at retail.  There's some value in that consistency.  And, as this figure looks good with a variety of vehicles, he also remains relevant as a vital part of any motor pool.  

The 1993 Outback mold is well sculpted.  He has a canteen and knife on his chest.  And, the figure has a bit more bulk than those from the '80's.  He has some odd wrappings on his forearms and blue trim on the top of his boots.  (According to the filecard, these are Outback's personalized wool hiking socks.)  To me, these things make him unique.  To others, they make him weird.  Neither is right nor wrong.  It's just how you perceive the figure.  (And, I'd wager that most collectors who grew up in the '80's view them as weird while those who came of age in the '90's find they give Outback character.)  The cargo pants aren't overdone, but are nicely detailed.  The main calling card of the figure is the head.  The black hard hat is a feature rarely seen on Joes.  (Hardtop and Tollbooth are the only other two who come to mind.)  So, it's appearance gives this Outback a distinct look.  The face is well sculpted and the bright orange beard that was Outback's calling card is still there.  It's just a bit better trimmed this time around.

Outback's weapons are red.  Sadly, he was given a decent accessory tree.  But, all the weapons were red instead of something more useful.  (In the 1993 Toy Fair Catalog, though, Outback was featured with purple weapons.  The hue that appears in the photo was never released with any figure.  You'll note the weapons on Outback's card art are a light purple instead of the deep red included with the figure.)  While I wasn't a huge fan of alternatively colored weapons in the 1990's, I was able to find a use for them and my Outback used the red Hit and Run rifle right from the minute I opened him off the card.  The red Big Ben rifle would occasionally see use.  But, often, I'd give it to a spare 1994 Viper if I didn't have a second 1994 Flint black version of Ambush's rifle for him.  Outback also had a red version of the Ambush rifle.  But, for some reason, I never really used it.  He was rounded out with a red battle stand and the requisite blue spring loaded missile launcher with two missiles.

Outback was used three times.  The first release was intended to be part of the Eco Warriors sub team.  But, when that concept was cancelled for 1993, the rainbow colored figure found its way into the standard Battle Corps line.  Hasbro quickly changed the paint job, though, and released this more subdued Outback later in the year.  Around 1995, the best version of the mold was released in Brazil.  The Marfim figure is a great combo of green and gold and lacks many of the more distracting colors.  In the late 1990's, carded Marfim's were an Ebay staple and you could get them cheap.  Then, the figure disappeared for about a decade.  When new ones started popping up in the 2010's, the $30 price tag was now over $100.  And, Marfim figures have not fallen in the decade since.  It's too bad as Marfim shows this mold's value.  It's also sad that Marfim was released in Brazil with the Headhunter and Gristle molds.  So, Hasbro had it available for a convention set in the 2000's.  But, they never delivered the mold again.  Just think how great it would have been to get Outback in ARAH form during that time!  Even this mold would have been welcome.  But, it was not to be.

Like all 1993 figures, Outbacks have gotten a bit harder to find and a bit more expensive in the last two years.  While dealers will ask $20 or more for a mint and complete with filecard Outback, the reality is that carded versions can be had for $25 and you can get the loose, mint and complete figures for around $12 without too much trouble.  Just the figure will cost about half that.  There's enough supply that you don't have to wait too long to get a version of this figure.  So, that helps make the decision to acquire one.  I have long found this mold to be of value: whether you use it as Outback or a new character.  For older collectors who grew up with Outback's scraggly mountain man look, seeing this figure as Outback might be a harder sell.  But, the mold is strong and the price is still right for this figure.  So, it probably doesn't hurt to pick one up regardless of your feelings about this new look.

1993 Outback, Battle Corps, 1994 Mexican Lobotomaxx, Lunartix Alien, Star Brigade

1991 Snake Eyes, 1993 Outback, Battle Corps

1993 Outback, Battle Corps, 1992 Flak Viper, 1991 General Hawk

1993 Outback, Battle Corps, 1994 Mexican Lobotomaxx, Lunartix Alien, Star Brigade

Saturday, September 18, 2021

1990 Rampart - Around The Web

Rampart is one of those figures that you just don't remember.  When you see him, you realize that he has a lot of potential.  But, it's rare to see him in action.  And, even I hadn't photographed one in nearly a decade and a half when I pulled him out for this Around the Web feature.  It's just not a figure that really grabs you and demands your attention.  That doesn't mean it's bad, though.  Rampart has a lot of fun features and exhibits a very unique sculpt.  But, a later release year that also contained a ton of better figures keeps him obscure.  Still, I was able to find some nice content on him out there.  

1990 Rampart Profile

Rampart by ironman3719

Rampart by thedustinmccoy


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

1990 Sky Patrol Altitude

I have never really been a Sky Patrol fan.  I'm not sure why.  But, even in my heady collecting days when I bought any and everything, Sky Patrol was never a focus.  In fact, until the acquisition of this figure, I actually owned more Brazilian Patrulha do Ar figures than I did of Hasbro Sky Patrol.  Even looking at everything I've ever owned, the two series are tied and I've even owned more of the unproduced 2003 Sky Patrol Wal Mart figures than I have 1990 Sky Patrol.  For some reason, Sky Patrol wasn't something I actively sought out.  And, due to their general release type and scarcity, they were not something that often appeared in lots of 1990's figures that were the staple of my acquisitions back in the early 2000's.  So, I have not had occasion to really examine Sky Patrol in quite a while.  

Recently, though, I came across some Sky Patrol figures at a local haunt.  I could choose between an Airborne and a Altitude.  While I've long wanted Airborne due to his distinct look, the Altitude figure was in better shape, the same price and fully complete.  So, I went with Altitude and didn't look back.  Once in hand, I found the figure a nice addition to my collection.  The newly sculpted head for the character was very distinct.  His colors are muted, complementary and not often seen on vintage Joes figures.  And, the mold chosen for his body makes sense in the context of his specialty.  In short, he's a solid figure that expands my collection in a different direction than most of my neon-heavy acquisitions.

All of the Sky Patrol figures were repaints of pre-existing vehicle drivers who were given new heads.  Some of the bodies chosen were Joe and some were Cobra.  It was a cheap way for Hasbro to make new figures that included expensive accessories like the parachutes.  The unifying theme of the figures was that they all included chrome colored parachutes that were packed into repaints of the 1985 Parachute Pack case.  Along with the new heads, each figure included an array of unique accessories.  The calling card, though, were the unique helmets that were given to each figure.  No two figures got the same helmet, but all the characters wore them to give the team a modicum of uniformity.  Each figure also included new weapons.  Some were better than others.  But, all were distinct to the Sky Patrol theme.  The end result was that parents were asked to pay a premium price for a product that appeared new and an adequate value.  Even for collectors of the day, the radically different paint schemes on the bodies as well as the elapsed time since their last use helped make the Sky Patrol figures all feel new and worth the extra price.

The Sky Patrol figures, though, lack a real uniformity in their appearance.  While the chrome parachutes tie them together, each figure is individually colored.  Skydive and Static Line share blue and silver hues.  But, the blues are drastically different and Static Line features some off white.  Airwave is cast in tan and pea green.  Airborne is all grey.  Altitude and Dropzone both feature brown.  But, Dropzone's is offset by grey instead of Altitude's green.  In short, the figures look less like a subset as they had previously existed in the Joe world and more like a group of individuals who shared a specialty.  There's enough complementary colors that you can kind of see them together if you really reach for a theme.  But, that also allowed for any kid who just got one of the figures to be able to find a special place for him without feeling cheated that he didn't have the rest of the team.

In thinking about Sky Patrol, it hit me that there really isn't a breakout character among the members.  This struck me as odd.  But, in other subsets, the popularity of a figure is usually determined by the popularity of their original release.  (Think Tiger Force Flint or the Python Patrol Viper.)  Figures like Cesspool, Headhunter and even the Star Brigade Roadblock have found some breakthrough success.  But, they are the exception rather than the rule.  All of the Sky Patrol figures remain about equally difficult to find, in same price range and appear with the same frequency in old collections.  That's probably due to them being packed at equal ratios as well as all being good guys.  Were there one or two Cobra villains in the subset, I'm sure they'd command premium prices over the Joes.  

Altitude pretty much sums up the uses I find for Sky Patrol figures, though.  He looks great in the Tomahawk.  Though, I also suspect he'd fit in nicely with both the Razor Blade and Dragonfly.  As part of the helicopter crew, his flight suit makes sense.  The helmet is icing on the cake for this role.  But, I can't really see Altitude as a ground trooper.  I'd much rather give his gear to a different figure for that role.  Altitude's colors work better for ground missions than some of the other Sky Patrol figures.  But, he's still a stretch.  So, it's likely that he'll simply man one of my choppers.  Here, his colors will work and he'll fit within a specialty.  I like figures like this because not everyone on the Joe team can be all things.  The point of an elite unit is that they have extreme specialists who are the best.  A guy like Altitude might lead a team through a high altitude parachute jump.  But, once on the ground, he was sort of a tag-along.  He had a role and did it fantastically.  But, once that's done, there's less use for him.

About half of the Sky Patrol weapons are awesome.  The other half are not.  Unfortunately, Altitude falls into the latter category.  His weapon is just inane.  He includes a small pistol that looks like the kid brother of the 1987 Blaster's gun.  It's lame and uninteresting.  Then, though, it takes a turn to the absurd.  Altitude's gun has a slot where a blast shield affixes to it.  Then, a missile affixes to the blast shield.  So, Altitude's little pistol becomes a missile launching bastion of death.  Of course, if he uses it in his right hand, Altitude will be the one dying.  In this direction, the blast shield would protect Altitude's gloved hand and covered arm.  All of the blast from the missile rocket, though, would be directed straight into Altitude's uncovered chin.  I guess it works as a left handed weapon (like the Alley Viper's rifle).  But, the whole set up is just bad.  The engineering to make a three piece weapon was rare in 1990, though.  So, it represented a step forward in Joe accessory design.  The design was just not very good.

Altitude uses the mold from the 1986 Slipstream figure.  Neither this body nor the new head sculpted for Altitude were ever used again.  (There is a red Slipstream from Italy named Jet Man.  But, it's likely that figure was created from a Hasbro Slipstream instead of them actually having the mold.)  It's a shame.  As, the Sky Patrol heads would have been a fun way to update some repaints in the 2000's.  But, Slipstream being both a Joe and a pilot makes him a perfect choice to get the repaint treatment in Sky Patrol.  Altitude having a flight suit with built in survival gear works for a guy who would jump out of airplanes at high altitudes.  And, the coloring is different enough that it's not completely obvious that Altitude and Slipstream share the same body.  (The fact that Slipstream isn't a very popular figure also helps!)  All of the Sky Patrol figures were colored well enough that the mold sharing isn't overly obvious.  But, Altitude, in particular, brings new life into an existing mold that didn't have a great paint job the first time it was used.

The last oddity about Sky Patrol is that they were released in a year that also saw a paratrooper released in the standard carded line.  Freefall debuted in 1990.  In terms of design and gear, Freefall is probably a superior release.  But, he didn't include a working parachute.  If you bought Sky Patrol figures in 1990, the only Joe aircraft on the shelves were the Locust, Mud Fighter and Retaliator.  So, the repaint of the 1986 Night Raven in the Sky Patrol line was the only real airplace for Sky Patrol.  And, a super sonic jet isn't really the type of thing that drops highly skilled paratroopers behind enemy lines.  But, were I a kid in 1990, I wouldn't have let the lack of planes stop me and I'd have found ways to insert a Sky Patrol figure into a situation, even if all I had was a single jet pack.

Dealers will sell mint and complete Altitudes in the $60-$80 range.  The higher end of the range usually includes the filecard, too.  Left to open pricing, Altitude is about a $45 figure.  That's not terrible in this insane market.  Especially when you consider the high price of Night Force and even Tiger Force figures.  Sky Patrol has always had its following.  And, you don't find high quality, complete figures like you used to.  Altitude is one of the stronger colorings for the subset.  And, his helmet isn't bad.  Really, after acquiring him, I wondered why I haven't gone after figures like Altitude before.  I buy Cobra army builders that cost more than a Sky Patrol figure.  So, there's no excuse to not own more.  Maybe it's time for me to accept that, enjoy the concept and finally go about finishing my Sky Patrol collection.

1990 Sky Patrol Altitude

1990 Sky Patrol Altitude, 2017 Sightline, Red Laser Army, Factory Custom

Friday, September 10, 2021

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

2006 Tommy Arashikage

No single product better encapsulates the 2000's era releases of vintage Joe molds than the #26 comic pack.  On the surface, this was a highly requested item by collectors of the time.  It featured three of the most popular characters in the Joe mythos and illustrated a pivotal scene for all of them.  Yet, at the end, the figures used parts that had appeared multiple times in just the Comic Pack sets alone.  And, the new parts still featured issues that kept them from really being perfect.  In short, the figures have a distinctive look of 2000's era Joe releases that helps separate them from vintage figures and the anniversary look that would immediately come after them.  At the time, the Vietnam pack was well liked.  But, all of the focus was on Classified and Stalker.  The final member of the pack, Tommy Arashikage, was somewhat derided and left behind.  Now, 15 years later, though, I better see some of the value in Tommy, even if the figure remains flawed.

Hasbro had a nice parts library available to them in the 2000's.  Instead of engaging it, though, they stuck with the same pieces over and over.  Big Ben, Firefly and Red Star all found tons of uses...to the point where their parts got stale.  Another greatly overused figure was the 1984 Roadblock.  His parts appeared commonly.  And, they make up the bulk of Tommy.  The Roadblock torso mold is odd as it was designed to show muscles at a time when the sculpting quality wasn't quite ready for that challenge.  So, it's always been a bit top heavy.  And, that continues with Tommy.  The fact that Tommy has this massive bare chest, but is still wearing sleeves really is an odd look.  The web gear doesn't hide his chest, either.  So, it can't cover the sins of poor parts choices.  Hasbro never spent much effort finding and making quality figures from obscure or unused parts.  So, the Comic Packs got repetitive quickly.  And, this Tommy was somewhat swept under the rug by collectors of the day who found the Roadblock torso and legs overused.

My biggest issue with the figure is the skin tones.  Hasbro really struggled with skin tones in the 2000's.  And, that is evident on Tommy.  The main mistake they made, though, is that they attempted to match painted flesh on the head and lower arms with plastic flesh on the chest.  The result is that Tommy's head and arms are slightly different colors than the chest.  And, as the arms use flesh paint, it is globbed over hands, making them difficult to use without rubbing the paint away.  There is really no reason for the heads and arms to be painted.  The other details on each piece required paint masks.  So, casting the head and arms in the same plastic as the chest would have made the figure more cohesive.  And, frankly, more useful as you wouldn't be so loathe to risk damage to the figure just by putting his gun in his hand.

Tommy's head isn't perfect.  Hasbro could not get the ARAH heads quite right in the 2000's.  Most were terrible.  But, as the Comic Packs progressed, the sculpting did improve.  The real value in Tommy's head, though, is the tied bandanna on the back.  While the head is still too large to really fit the ARAH figure body from two decades prior, the bandanna is a nice piece of work.  It features multiple paint masks of greens and brown.  And, the front and sides are somewhat smaller, denoting it being covered by hair, before enlarging into two flowing ribbons emerging from the knot at the back.  It is sculpting and painting beyond anything seen in the vintage Joe line and is the hallmark of the Tommy figure.

Frankly, the quality is the Comic Pack figures has proven to be terrible.  From massive discoloration on blue and white figures, to mis-shapen hands right out the package, the Comic Pack figures have not held up well.  To make matters worse, Tommy has a design flaw that leads to his chest cracking at the neck.  Even carded figures will feature this affliction.  Tommy is not alone in this design flaw as it appears on many Comic Pack, TRU and even JvC sculpt figures from that era.  The 2000's plastic is performing badly over time.  So, finding a truly mint Tommy will take some doing.  And, it's still pretty likely that the crack will form, even when the figure is locked away in proper storage.  

Tommy's accessories are pretty nice.  He includes a bow, quiver and 2 arrows that were sculpted for ninja releases during the 2000's era.  The quiver works well when slung over his arm.  But, the Roadblock torso and the web gear that are also included with the figure really prevent it from being worn over the shoulder as the 2004 Ninjas do.  The final accessory is a repaint of the 1992 Shockwave rifle.  All of Tommy's accessories are grey.  And, that grey color is unique to this comic pack.  As there were Tommy figures available as overstock from Asia, you often see figures with incorrect, black weapons from other, earlier figures.  (It should be noted, though, that the Vietnam figures' weapons were also available as overstock from Asia and some people have large quantities of spares in the right color.)  So, pay close attention to the accessory color when you purchase a Tommy to ensure he has the proper gear.

In the 15 years since this figure was released, it has aged better than some of his contemporaries.  But, that's mostly due to the cohesiveness of the #26 set and the need for all three figures to be present in a collection.  I still rarely use the figure.  And, he really doesn't appear all that often in other photos or dios.  (Classified, though, does.)  On some level, though, this figure works on a few different levels.  Sure, you can have it be a time-period-bound Tommy figure.  Or, it can be someone new to the Joe team who brings some additional skills.  Honestly, I can also see the figure as an updated and more useful Quick Kick, too.  The fact that ignored Tommy for so long allows him some latitude in my collection as I see him as something new where I can start a new character.  And, while the figure isn't perfect, few releases in the 2000's were.  And, I'm more forgiving of the limitations of the repaint era now that it's more in the rear view mirror than the vintage line was when this figure was released.

When Hasbro released this set, it was readily available.  In fact, it was part of the overstock that went to Toys R Us stores.  For a while, this pack sat on the pegs with the other, less desirable sets.  Then, rather suddenly, they were gone.  This Vietnam pack was simply absorbed and never really hit clearance prices.  The other Comic Packs that were contemporary to it then followed suit.  And, more than a few collectors of the time were suddenly left without the set and none available at retail.  And, as few collectors stockpiled this set like they did the earlier sets that were blown out as cheaply as $3 per pack, there wasn't collector overstock to help.  It's likely that this pack was produced in similar numbers to the Oktober Guard packs.  But, as collectors hadn't abandoned the line in early 2005, there was more interest and they saw a smaller retail window.  

Dealers price Tommy around $50.  But, they don't sell for that price.  Due to low supply it seems they can move them for a $40 price tag with figures at open pricing going as low as $30.  In general, Tommies seem to be more expensive than the Stalker figure from the same pack, but less than the Classified figure.  If you don't have a set, it's no longer cheaper and easier to just buy a carded set and open it, though.  You'll pay $250 for that privilege.  For the money, this figure isn't worth it.  It's easily the worst figure in the set.  And, there's far better figures for the money that are way more worthwhile acquisitions.  But, for the right price, the figure is an interesting conversation piece.  And, the general ambivalence to this figure from the community means you can get something that will give your photos some distinction.

2006 Tommy Arashikage, Storm Shadow, Comic Pack #26, DTC, 1988 Sgt. Slaughter, 1994 Action Soldier

2006 Tommy Arashikage, Storm Shadow, Comic Pack #26, DTC, 1988 Sgt. Slaughter, 1994 Action Soldier

2006 Tommy Arashikage, Storm Shadow, Comic Pack #26, DTC, General Hawk, Duke, HAS, Oktober Guard, Stormavik

2006 Tommy Arashikage, Storm Shadow, Comic Pack #26, DTC, 1986 Claymore, TRU Exclusive, Mission to Brazil

Saturday, September 4, 2021

1991 Grunt - Around The Web

 The 1991 Grunt is not a good figure.  The head is atrocious.  The chest is bad.  And, the colors leave much to be desired.  He doesn't even include good gear.  In short, he's one of those figures that just missed on every cylinder.  But, that's really what makes him compelling.  The figure is so out of place that he's recognizable and really helps bring a photo to life.  There's some fun content on Grunt out there.  

1991 Grunt Profile

2003 Funskool Grunt

1991 Grunt by Slipstream80

1991 Grunt by tituslester32

1991 Grunt by gen_liederkranz

1991 Grunt by jogunwarrior

1991 Grunt by gijoebarcelona

1991 Grunt by thedustinmccoy

1991 Grunt, 1993 Flak Viper

1991 Grunt, 1993 Flak Viper, 1986 Roadblock

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

2002 Mirage - Wave 2

In 2002, the brand new sculpting style of the JvC figures debuted.  And, unsurprisingly, collectors hated it.  The lack of o-ring was just unforgivable at the time.  Hasbro, trying to save face, quickly announced that they'd be moving to an o-ring construction starting with Wave 2.  However, this meant that Wave 2 of the line would be delayed.  To both fill in the retail gap as well as appease collectors, Hasbro quickly threw together Wave 1.5.  This was a wave of repainted vintage Joes that featured two popular army builders.  Collectors accepted this bone that was thrown to them and enjoyed the wave.  Shortly thereafter, Wave 2 appeared.  Again, Hasbro had tossed two collector themed backs into the case assortment.  Along with newly sculpted JvC figures, there was a repainted Alley Viper/Big Ben and Viper/Mirage pack.  While only 1 per case, each figure was available in ample quantities for collectors of the age to get their fill.  Of course, the focus was on the army builders.  And, collectors tended to ignore and even loathe the Big Ben and Mirage figures.  But, once again, Hasbro had thrown a couple of underappreciated gems into the line.  And, the 2002 Mirage from Wave 2 is one of the better repaints of the 2000's.

In the summer of 1986, I moved all my toys out of my room and into our basement.  My parents weren't big on air conditioning and the basement was much cooler in the hot summer months.  Here, I created the first aspects of a larger Joe world.  When I moved my toys back up to my room in the fall, I had a very different approach to the Joe vs. Cobra conflict.  Among the new additions to my world were "commandos".  Essentially, these were nameless, faceless cannon fodder minions of the Joe team.  The named Joes were "warriors" who were excellent at their jobs and rarely died.  Commandos, though, ranged from semi-competent to outright terrible in their performance.  Thousands upon thousands of them perished against Cobra.  Who, now equipped against a more equal adversary, was far more effective.  The problem, though, was which figure to use as this army builder?

At first, I put together a lame kitbash of unloved parts leftover from broken figures.  These guys were terrible and died often.  I didn't want to make any of my good Joe figures these army builders as I liked all of my characters.  Flash and Grand Slam would be appropriated for the army builders of a 3rd faction who aligned with Joes.  And, eventually, I made the 1983 Ace a "Special Missions Commando" and the Mission to Brazil set figures followed as "Special Forces Commandos" (Leatherneck), "Diver Commandos" (Wet Suit) and Science Officers (Mainframe).  Years later, I even made the 1994 Shipwreck a "Special Commission Commando" who was a group of soldiers just below the Joes who would, eventually, see promotion into the Joe ranks.  But, for the basic commando, I was still stymied.

As my collection grew in the late 1990's, I tried various figures as this basic trooper.  But, none would stick.  Finally, in 2000, the blue Dusty with red beret became my default Commando.  It was a figure that didn't really work as Dusty, but was amazingly cool.  And, it was easy and cheap to army build.  The main issue with that figure, though, is that he had no armor and was relatively unadorned with gear.  In 2002, though, the first Mirage repaint was released.  This figure looked like someone that I could use as my commando character.  He was well colored, was covered in gear and armor and had a decent weapon.  Plus, he was packed with a Viper so I'd definitely end up with a few of them.  And, within a few weeks of me starting up a small squad, Mirage became my default Commando figure.  When this more olive version was released in the fall, he just joined the ranks as a different coloring of the same character.  And, to this day, Mirage figure represent army builders in my collection.  They are more advanced than "greenshirts".  But, still find themselves getting wasted by Cobras at various junctions.

In the early 2000's, Mega Marines were not a popular subset of the Joe brand.  There were some collectors (like me!) who advocated that the molds were excellent and would prime candidates for a repaint.  But, we were a minority.  Someone at Hasbro, though, agreed that Mega Marines had some potential.  Aside from Mirage, we'd eventually see the Mega Viper, Monster Blaster APC, Gung Ho, most of Clutch and even parts of Blast Off in the repaint era.  Only the Cyber Viper and the larger sized monsters did not see any type of re-release.  No other subset of figures got as much attention as Mega Marines did.  Yet, it still feels that the subset didn't live up to its potential.  Mirage certainly did.  But, it still seems as if all the figures could be repainted again without being too redundant.  But, as a whole, collectors rejected the Mega Marines repaints and didn't find them as compelling as excellent molds redone in more muted colors should have been.  It was probably too soon.  And, if Hasbro had released the Mirage repaints in 2018 instead of 2002, they'd have been much more popular.

Mirage's paint scheme is actually pretty good.  His legs are the same green as the torso from the Wave 1.5 figure.  So, you can kitbash a few different combos of Mirage figures together to make different sets of army builders.  He has a G.I. Joe tampo on his right shoulder.  I'm not a huge fan of this.  But, the logo is crisp and shows how far paint masks had come by 2002.  The torso is olive.  But, being offset by the brighter green and silver makes the common color less noticable.  Mirage's head features the clear goggles.  While there's still many details left unpainted on the figures (grenades, ammo, wires and hoses, etc.), it's got enough details to showcase the mold's quality.

Mirage's gear is kind of generic.  But, he has a few weapons that help detract from the blandness of it all.  It seems that Hasbro lost the molds to the weapons trees that were endemic to the 1993 and 1994 figures.  And, while the trees were reused a lot, Mirage's gear was less often seen and seemed to fit well with him.  But, fortunately, the 1992 General Hawk rifle is also a very nice fit for the mold.  The Big Ben rifle is a tougher sell.  It is definitely Big Ben's.  So, seeing it with other figures is less impressive.  And, it was ended so overused by Hasbro that it lost any of it's wow! factor.  The knife is fine.  Some people will give to the Viper instead of Mirage, though.  So, it's up for debate if the figure is complete without it or not.  The most noteworthy factor about these weapons, though, is that they are a unique graphite color.  There is a sheen to them not seen in other gear.  And, this coloring is specific to this version of Mirage.  So, when looking for a complete figure, be sure to ensure that the rifles and knife are the correct color and not the silver and black versions which were released with several different figures during this era.

Today, this Mirage remains in his original role.  I pull him out occasionally for photo shoots.  But, usually, he's in the background, supporting the main subjects of the photo.  I have him on standby, though, and available for when the situation calls for his presence.  My kids actually found a few of this figure sitting out a couple of years ago.  They played with them for a few days.  But, they managed to break the crotch on one of the figures.  This is a rarity for the 2000's era softer plastic.  But, they figured out how to do it.  Their handling of the figure also showcased the fragility of the o-ring design.  They handle modern Star Wars and Spinmaster Batman figures with no breakage.  But, even Joes designed for more flexibility didn't withstand their play.  So, there's an upside to some of the modern designs.  

Mirage was overused by Hasbro.  After his vintage release in 1993, the first repaint in Wave 1.5 debuted around May of 2002.  This Wave 2 version followed in the early Fall.  In 2003, Hasbro released another Mirage with the Hoverstrike vehicle.  This awful toy featured the best Mirage who incorporates colors from the other figures and features yellow goggles that were omitted from the Wave 1.5 figure.  Then, in 2005, Hasbro dropped Mirage into the Winter Operations set.  On the surface, Mirage seemed an odd choice.  But, the actual figure was made clear to showcase Mirage's purported abilities that match his codename.  As something different, the Winter Ops figure is pretty strong.  But, 4 releases in 4 years was a bit much and collectors never wanted to see Mirage again.  I'll argue that Mirage never had a bad version of him released, though, so collectors have a lot of fun stuff to find for the character.

In this age of stupid G.I. Joe prices, Mirage remains a hold out.  Even with a highly popular Viper repaint, you can buy carded figures for under $25.  Dealers will sell mint and complete with filecard figures in the $8-$12 range.  But, if you can find one left to the open market, it will go for half that price.  Be wary as this Mirage includes Graphite colored accessories that were exclusive to the Wave 2 figures and not the more common silver version of the 1992 General Hawk rifle.  But, as the price of this figure remains low, there's no reason for anyone to be missing him in their collection.  Had this figure been released in 2019, he'd be hugely in demand with massive aftermarket spikes.  But, the collectors of 2002 weren't quite ready to admit that later Joe molds and characters had merit.  So, we can be grateful that we got figures like Mirage while also lament that other figures weren't popular enough to warrant an updated repaint.

2002 Mirage, Mega Marines, Wave 2, Palitoy, Action Force, European Exclusive, Shadowtrak, Red Shadows, Cobra Trooper, Black Major

2002 Mirage, Mega Marines, Wave 2

2002 Mirage, Mega Marines, Wave 2

Saturday, August 28, 2021

1994 Windchill - Around the Web

The Blockbuster was one of the last big toys I ever found at retail in the '90's.  As I had quit buying Joes in 1988, the Windchill figure included with it were new to me.  So, Windchill became a huge part of my very small collection that I had at the time.  All these years later, he still holds a sentimental spot just due to the prominence he gained during that time.  There's unsurprisingly little content on him out there.  But, he's a fun repaint the Blockbuster is a toy every collector should own.  Here's the little on the 1994 Windchill from around the web.

Windchill Profile

1994 Windchill, Blockbuster, 1993 Mail Away Snow Serpent

1994 Windchill, Blockbuster, 1994 Snowstorm, Battle Corps

1994 Windchill, Blockbuster, 1993 Snowstorm, Battle Corps

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

2018 Skullbuster - Red Laser's Army

Red Laser's Army is no more.  But, in just a couple of years, they gave us a large number of figures.  Some were great.  Some were not.  Some were just out and out bizarre.  But, they offered a different approach to factory custom figures that I appreciated, even if I didn't like some of the designs.  While I tackled a large number of the figures I really like here, I haven't really looked at the middle tier of Red Laser Army releases.  In here are a bunch of good, but sometimes forgettable figures.  During the release window, Red Laser released all his figures at once.  As such, it was easy for some releases who used similar parts and paint applications as the standout figures to fall by the wayside.  Such is the case with the Skullbuster release from 2018.  This is a perfectly strong figure.  But, it's also somewhat bland and disappears into the drawer filled with other 2018 factory customs.  But, it deserves another look.

The Skullbuster character debuted in 2002 in the JvC era.  He was a repainted Range Viper done up in purple and designed to be a Skeletor homage.  Honestly, the purple gave him character and made him one of the better releases of the repaint era.  It was great of Red Laser to resurrect the character and give him another look using parts from the first few years of the Joe line.  Rather than keep the purple motif, though, this new Skullbuster was given a base of grey with black highlights.  While this choice stripped the figure of the panache that drove the value of his original release, it also allowed this character to be used with standard Cobra equipment and figures that match his construction style. 

As a character, there isn't much to Skullbuster.  He has appeared in a few 2000 and later items.  But, for the most part, he's a character that doesn't offer too much.  For me, the character's introduction in the Mardi Gras color scheme defines him.  So, it's difficult to see the same character in this grey figure with 1983 construction.  I've talked in other profiles about the early Cobra leaders that, eventually, all had to be killed by Cobra Commander.  Having Skullbuster be one of the rare ones who survived to later years would help Cobra continue to recruit new commanders.  His being relegated to the Range Vipers was a way to show that loyalty could be rewarded without putting him too front and center into Cobra's operations.  

But, I don't like that approach.  Instead, I see this Skullbuster as a freelancer that Cobra used from time to time.  He was not in the 1978-1983 timeframe, but more from 1982-1986 or so.  Here, he worked with Cobra much like Firefly or Major Bludd.  But, he just did various jobs for them.  He was a mercenary and not a tactician or strategist.  So, if Cobra Commander needed to move plans for a missile system out of the country, he could count on Skullbuster.  If he wanted to plot a coup in a third world country, Skullbuster would not be part of the plans.  But, this helps explain Skullbuster's survival.  He later joined Cobra in a more combat oriented capacity as he wanted the stability and Cobra could offer him safe harbor on Cobra Island.  In this way, Skullbuster's lesser rank makes more sense since he earned it through tenure.  He's not a great leader.  But, is a great fighter.  And, the Commander rewarded him accordingly with the Range Viper command. 

Skullbuster's parts combo used common Red Laser pieces of the time.  One drawback of Red Laser's big bang approach to figure releases is that the reuse of parts was very noticeable.  At the time of his release, Skullbuster joined several other figures with a black and grey color scheme.  Some had cammo pants that were nearly identical to Skullbuster's.  Asa Negra featured a skull face logo (done in gold with a red visor) on a body that also used grey as a base.  In addition to all these new characters, Topson was also released at the time and he also featured the grey cammo scheme that exists on Skullbuster's lower half.  You see the same parts and colors used over and over again.  The ostensible purpose was to make matching teams.  The real reason was to use the same color plastic and paints to cut costs.  But, all together, the mass release helped to obscure Skullbuster.

It's likely that Skullbuster would have been more popular had he been released 6 to 8 months after Shadowtracker and not with the other grey and black figures.  But, after a few years, the proximity of the releases gives me a chance to go back and review items like Skullbuster that I missed.  The figure uses the head and legs from Snake Eyes with arms and chest from Rock and Roll.  The waist is a standard piece based on the classic 1983 waist.  The parts combo works well together.  And, the figure is accented by dark grey cammo on the pants as well as silver bullets on Skullbuster's chest and a silver bomb on his left leg.  In all, the presentation is strong.  Grey bases are not common on in the vintage Joe line.  The Stinger Driver being an early example helps set this figure in that timeframe and allows for his use with vehicles of that era, too.  Skullbuster is, easily, the best Red Laser figure using the grey and black theme and he works far better with other Joe figures than most of the others.

The Red Laser introduced some new additions to his accessory complement in 2018.  But, they also continued the tradition of being relatively light.  The lack of packs and helmets hurt a lot of figures.  But, the overall accessory allotment was fine for a $12 figure.  Skullbuster included a grey pistol that originated with the 1986 Lifeline and a grey rocket launcher.  I'm not sure if this is a replica of a Joe accessory (Horrorshow) or a Marauder, Inc. design.  It's very nice, though.  I've always hated the Lifeline pistol.  It's too big and too thin.  I'd have much rather gotten a 1986 General Hawk pistol or a Chuckles gun.  But, I suspect that the influence of the "anti-repo" crowd influenced this decision as they hold large numbers of Hawk and Chuckles weapons that are valuable on the market while Lifeline weapons are not.  I'm not big on the rocket launcher for this character and prefer either a grey M-60 to match the bullets, a grey Stalker M-32 or a grey Mac-11 from Mutt.  I would have liked a pack with Skullbuster with shells to make the rocket launcher more viable.  And, a helmet would have differentiated the skull print on his face.  But, grey helmets exist that can be given to the figure.  The upside is that the figure's color scheme works with many of the Battle Gear weapons that Hasbro released.  But, this is most likely coincidence rather than part of the design.

The quality on Skullbuster is very high.  The figure has tight paint masks (which is instrumental on a figure with black and silver highlights) and good colors.  The joints of the figure are tight and allow it to hold poses.  They are not too tight to hinder movement and posing, though.  The hands on the 2018 Red Laser figures are much better able to hold weapons.  This is a huge upgrade over the 2017 set.  And, it makes the 2018 releases seem closer to vintage Joes.  There are no gaps in the figure's parts and the mold is solid.  In short, this figure is about as close to a vintage Joe figure as we've seen from factory custom makers.  As with all factory customs, though, there are duds out there and it's possible that others may have different quality.  But, Skullbuster is tight and that just makes him that much better to have around.

Pricing on this figure is tough.  It was not one of the most popular releases when it debuted.  But, it wasn't one of the least popular, either.  With a little looking, you should be able to find one in the $20-$25 range.  But, dealers will charge a lot more.  So, be patient and don't give in to gougers.  At the $12 introductory price, this figure was a good deal.  At double that, I'm not sure I'd indulge in his acquisition.  Shadowtracker is a much better representation of the skull face paint.  And, there are better uses of the Rock and Roll chest, too.  But, Skullbuster does fit nicely with some other Red Laser Cobras.  And, he's a good match for Hiss Tanks and Stingers, as well.  There's value in that, especially if you want to have a large force of figures using the same construction style.

2018 Red Laser's Army Skullbuster, Cobra Vehicle Drivers, Cobra Trooper C, 2020 Wal Mart Retro Hiss Tank

2018 Red Laser Army Skullbuster, 2002 Mirage