Saturday, February 27, 2021

2002 Gift Set Firefly - Around The Web

This "poo-headed" Firefly has aged much better than many figures of his era.  While he's still not a good figure by any means, he's something completely different from other figures from his time.  The paint masks are strong, the colors are unique and his gear makes little sense.  But, that's what makes the figure interesting.  He's fun to photograph since he stands out so much.  Here's the best of the 2002 Gift Set Firefly from around the web.

Gift Set Firefly Profile

Gift Set Firefly by strikeforce_codename

Gift Set Firefly by fun_time_at_serpentorslair

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Chinese Toxo Zombie

Eco Warriors are awesome.  They have been awesome since 1991 and the fact that it took nearly 30 years for the rest of the Joe community to come around on them shows how little taste Joe collectors tend to have.  Zombies were never awesome.  They were kind of interesting.  Then, they got stupidly overexposed and are more cliche than scare-vehicle these days.  But, the intersection of the two from 1992 is awesome.  It's awesome because the Eco Warriors neon purple outweighs overdone zombies.  But, it's also awesome because the character isn't an undead.  Instead, it's a toxic mutated Toxo Viper who has lost his humanity due to a rotting body and mind.  Sure, it's a bit out into the sci-fi realm.  But, Joe has always been sci-fi, despite the best efforts of military purists to re-define it.  And, the notion of the Toxo Zombie works quite well in the context of the super-villain like Cobra.

In the mid 1990's, Hasbro produced Joe figures for release in China.  Most collectors know these figures from the Chinese Major Bludd, Flint and Duke variants.  But, there are also several other figures: some common and some really rare that were produced.  The series of figures produced in 1994 are the most common and remain easy to find to this day.  This is due to the fact that many were sold to American discount retailers in the 1990s and were actually available in the US.  There are other series, though, that are harder to find and didn't see the same US distribution.  Among these is the Toxo Zombie figure.

As a figure, the Toxo Zombie is pretty good.  The entire premise is that a Toxo Viper was mutated into something less than human.  As such, the Zombie uses the Toxo Viper's uniform and replaces parts with worn away pieces that show the rotting flesh beneath the compromised suit.  The pinkish color with light green highlights make the figure look like a bleached out Toxo Zombie who fell into terrible chemicals.  Grisly grey flesh is exposed on the figure's left arm and foot.  Some of the armor is worn away and the pants are pock-marked.  The face shield is cracked to reveal a dismal visage with pink flesh, a sunken eye and a permanent grimace of pain.  For 1992, the sculpting is amazing.  But, must of the detail is lost by lack of paint applications.  This was also common in 1992.  With a differently colored face, blackened teeth and more hollow eyes, this figure could have been a work of art.

I've long been an Eco Warriors fan.  And, the 1991 Toxo Viper is among my preferred later Cobra army builders.  It was fun to have a single Toxo Zombie around to enhance photos.  But, I never really found a lot of use in an army of them.  With a few in hand now, though, there is some fun in having a Joe or two flee from a horde of brain dead monsters who only have evil intent.  But, it's also something that has little substance.  The idea of Dr. Mindbender or Cesspool having a few of these creatures in the basement of some warehouse is fun enough.  But, making them an essential part of a Cobra army doesn't work.  With no cranial capacity left, the Zombies are just listless masses that meander around the battlefield.  You could drop one or two into a Joe base for some chaos.  But, they would also be quickly dispatched since they don't really have any abilities beyond the scare factor.

It's here that my interest in the Toxo Zombie kind of ends.  I have no real story built around them.  Instead, the purely visual treat that is the pink and green help bring some photos to life.  So, I do tend to use them with some frequency as they bring much needed life to many displays and photos.  And, for that reason alone, the figures are very valuable to me.  It's always nice to bring color to a photo and the Toxo Zombie works for that end.  Maybe if they were $10 figures, I might be inclined to pick up a few more and find something to do with them.  But, the zombie craze made all Toxo Zombies desirable and the relative scarcity of the figure has helped his inflation outlive the fad.

There are a few noteworthy features about this figure and his card.  The first is the most obvious.  This Toxo Zombie includes a gun and backpack.  They are the same weapons that were included with the Sludge Viper and Toxo Viper from 1991.  It never made sense to me that the Toxo Zombie didn't include accessories.  So, seeing them here seems more correct.  The next noteworthy detail is that the card is printed in Chinese.  In many cases, foreign cards feature stickers placed over American carded figures.  That is not so in this case.  The card is printed in Chinese, just like the more common figures that were released in 1994.  This brings up the final point.  The cardback features a 1995 copyright.  So, this figure was produced by Hasbro in 1995.  Now, we don't know if the figures were leftover stock from the 1992 run or a new production run altogether.  But, this late date is very interesting since the line had been cancelled in the US by then.

American Toxo Zombie figures have never been easy to find.  But, they have gotten much more desirable in the past couple of years.  Carded American figures sell in the $40-$60 range.  Loose figures are offered by dealers in the $30-$40 and an appalling amount of them sell for that price.  Left to their own devices, Toxo Zombies are around $25 figures on the open market, though.  This Chinese version is both somewhat common and also obscure.  You can get carded figures in the $75-$100 range.  Though, the price will ebb and flow based on the number in the market.  The figures are the same and loose versions are, supposedly, indiscernible from the American releases.  So, loose, the only real differentiating factor is that this figure would have gear (that could have been pilfered from a Toxo or Sludge Viper) and the unique filecard/cardback.  It's doubtful anyone would pay an extreme premium for that.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

2008 Headhunter BAT - Around The Web

The 2008 convention set is one that promised a lot but delivered a little.  The Headhunter Stormtroopers were pretty bad.  The Headhunters were weird colors.  And, the BATs had some issues.  For many years afterwards, all of these figures were cheap.  You could get BATs for about original cost for quite a while.  Now, though, some of the stink of the set has dissolved and you see figures from it commanding a premium, again.  This Headhunter BAT has nice colors, perfect gear and matches up quite well with just about any faction you desire.  There's not a ton of content on him out there.  But, here's what I could find.

2008 Headhunter BAT Profile

2008 Convention Exclusive Headhunter BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Metal Hawk, Power Commandoes, Lucky Bell

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

2005 Imperial Processional Baroness

 In 2004, Hasbro created the concept of Comic Book packs.  This product feature three classic G.I. Joe figures along with a comic for the low, low price of $9.99.  The main selling point of the comic packs, though, was the figures included would be updated to reflect their comic book appearance.  For the initial wave of figures, this meant almost all new heads were used on the figures.  Among the newly sculpted heads was an updated Baroness.  This design featured longer, flowing hair, an improved face sculpt and, most importantly, the ability to wear removable glasses.  Despite the ambitious attempt at re-doing a collector favorite figure, Hasbro fell a bit short with the design.  Collectors didn't really warm to it and the Baroness/Cobra Commander/Cobra Trooper packs quickly backed up around the country...even though they included a popular army builder.  As the Joe line died in 2005, Hasbro attempted to reduce costs of their Toys R Us exclusive offerings.  The figure mold choices included in the final four sets was not inspired and the accessory complement was even worse.  In the Cobra Imperial Processional set, the new Baroness head appeared again.  This time, it was atop an oddly colored body that was a shade between red and copper.  Once again, collectors ignored this Baroness design and this 2005 has fallen into the abyss of figures that have been left behind by today's collecting world.

One of the things we know about the Hasbro designers of the Joe line in the early 2000's is that they somewhat resented vintage Joe figures.  They couldn't build their resumes in the industry working on two decade old toy designs.  This was why there was far more effort spent on the JvC figures and, later, the anniversary figures than the vintage repaints could have ever imagined.  This is a big reason why the repaints of that time aren't very inspired.  At times, though, the designers got to do something new on vintage figures.  One of those items was the removable glasses for the 2004 Baroness.  In theory, this was an amazing idea.  Taking one of the character's hallmarks and turning it into a changeable part of the figure was somewhat ingenious.  But, just because you can do something doesn't always mean that you should.  And, while the idea behind removable glasses is good, the actual execution left much to be desired.  The glasses are bulky, cloudy and generally ruin the aesthetic of the Baroness's new head sculpt.  Another example is the Baroness' hair.  While her updated hair is more detailed than the 1984, compare it to the 2005 Cover Girl who was released the same year.  It's a night and day difference in what the designers were capable of creating.

The Processional set was another idea that was probably pretty good.  But, the execution wasn't great.  The figures feature and odd copperish-red color that doesn't match with any other Cobra figures in the line.  Cobra Commander and the Baroness made sense for figure inclusion.  The idea of 4 guards wasn't bad.  But, the molds combined for the guards were just a bit too offbeat.  Had this set included a Serpentor and been done in green and gold, it probably would have been substantially more popular.  Were the figures even in a more classic red, they'd better fit with other figures and be more key to collections.  As a stand alone figure, this Baroness isn't that great.  The 2002 Convention figures are substantially better and work well with more figures.  This figure can work as a cheap alternative.  But, that's about the extent of her value.  The new head isn't a perfect match for the body and I prefer the original Baroness head in every release.

Baroness' gear is crap.  The glasses are small and easily lost.  But, since most of the figures are in collector hands, they are not hard to find.  But, they really look bad on the figure and there's no real need to have them.  They are difficult to affix to her head.  And, once on, the glasses look far more like goggles than corrective eyewear.  Again, a good idea whose resources should have been spent on better weapons for the figure.  Aside from that, she includes a crappy silver pistol that was originally released with Ambush.  She can't really hold it well and it appears oversized with the figure.  Baroness never really had any great accessories.  And, this release is no different.  The entire set lacked accessories.  And, Baroness included the only firearm among the 6 figures.

The Baroness mold has a short and long history.  In the vintage line, she was released just once: in her classic black outfit in 1984.  This same figure saw packaging in European and Japanese markets, too.  In the mid 1990's, Funskool acquired the Baroness mold.  They released a figure that was a direct homage to the American Baroness for a few years.  (Funskool Baroness figures are relatively easy to find in comparison to her Funskool contemporaries.)  As some point, Funskool released Rednok in the Complan Commandos line.  This was a low quality red Baroness that is exceedingly rare.  Hasbro got the mold back in 1997.  That year, they released a nicely done blue Baroness figure.  She wasn't quite cartoon colors.  Nor was she quite Cobra blue.  But, it's a nice repaint.  In 2000, the mold was redone in black and red but released as Chameleon.  Again, this is a solid figure and the color scheme was based on the unreleased 1995 Baroness that was planned for Battle Corps Rangers.  In 2002, a crimson Baroness was released in the initial convention set.  This, and her fuchsia variant, are excellent releases.  After that, the quality dropped off.  This new head debuted in the 2004 comic pack.  This figure was also blue.  But, generally, didn't stand up to the 1997-2002 figures.  The mold died with this 2005 Processional figure.  Hasbro never gave us a true cartoon colored Baroness.  Nor did they give us a grey and black version.  In short, we got two poor Baroness figures instead of something collectors would have enjoyed.  And, the new head really shortchanged the 2004 and 2005 figures even more.

The Imperial Processional Set was a dud.  It was a dud in retail stores.  It was a dud online.  It was a dud with collectors.  And, it was a dud with kids.  It sat and sat and sat.  Eventually, sets were sold at for around $6 each.  Even at that price, it took them quite a while to finally sell out.  Even today, these sets are relatively easy to find and Baroness remains cheap.  Because the market is crazy and many buyers are dumb, you see dealers, from time to time, get between $15-$21 for a mint and complete with filecard figure.  Left to her own devices, though, the same figure will sell between $5 and $7.  If you want a Processional set, you can get a complete one for around $30 and that's probably the way to go.  Outside of the matching figures, this Baroness has little value.  For a figure that Hasbro used quite frequently in the repaint era, the quality of Baroness releases diminished after 2002.  That's too bad as the mold has potential and cartoon fans are left without a definitive version.  This figure remains just another reminder that Hasbro of that time simply couldn't get it together when it came to collector themed releases.

2005 Imperial Processional Baroness, Toys R Us Exclusive, Crimson Shadow Guard, Agent Faces, Fred

2005 Imperial Processional Baroness, Comic Pack Fred Cobra Commander, Toys R Us Exclusive

2003 Crimson Guard Immortal, 1998 Cobra Trooper, Viper, Agent Faces, Baroness, 2005 Imperial Processional, Crimson guard

Saturday, February 13, 2021

2020 Killer Moth - Spinmaster Batman Line

 Growing up, I only read Marvel Comics.  I'm really not sure why this is.  I had cut my teeth on Superfriends in the late '70's and early '80's.  But, Marvel published G.I. Joe.  And, by buying that title monthly, I was exposed to the Marvel titles of the day.  So, I guess it was just destined that I'd eventually find my way to the Avengers (West Coast was preferred though!), Spider Man and a few other hero titles.  I simply never ventured into the DC side of the business.  I remember the kids around the block having an issue of Batman where a criminal falls/jumps off a building and dies.  He then goes to hell with a giant spider in it.  That fascinated me.  But, not enough to jump on the DC bandwagon.  I didn't hate DC.  I just was more comfortable with Marvel.  

Though the years, not much changed.  I left comic super hero books behind in the '80's.  (Aside from a short run of McFarlane Spider Man titles.)  I liked Marvel heroes.  But, not enough to actually get interested in any of the Marvel movies or TV shows.  My youngest son, though, eventually took a liking to Batman.  And, due to the Lego use of the Batman character, he was enthralled with Lego Batman toys.  Even this year, he got a large Lego Batman set that he put together first thing Christmas day.  

Early in 2020, though, I came across a new line of Batman action figures made by Spinmaster.  Slowly, I got slightly interested in them.  The articulation looked good.  And, there were enough characters in the first wave to make it interesting.  Plus, they were $8 each.  In this day and age, no quality 3 3/4 or 4 inch figure line is sold at that price.  I showed them to my son.  But, he had little interest.  Lego still dominated his world.  As the poo-storm that was 2020 raged on, the line felt like something I should introduce to my boys.  I bought a couple of figures over the summer, when the toy aisles were emptying in case there wasn't stock for Christmas.  Once I had the first couple of figures, I did some digging online and found the next wave of figures coming.  There was no Harley Quinn, Penguin, Two-Face or Bane.  Instead, there was a villain I'd never really heard of: Killer Moth.  The figure was a galling palette of bright colors...exactly the type of thing that I had to find.

If you follow this blog, you know that I enjoy neon G.I. Joe figures.  While they are seeing an uptick of interest these days from younger collectors, I've been on board the neon train since the figures were at retail.  All too many action figure lines for kids try to be "gritty and real!" and feature tons of dark, drab colors.  Even the Disney era Star Wars films fell into this trap.  This leads all the figures to appear the same at retail.  You buy the same boring thing over and over.  Even among the Batman line, you see the traditional greys, blues and blacks with sparing flashes of color.  That's why this Killer Moth so appealed to me.  The bright orange, purple, green and red all recalled the visually exciting action figures from my youth and the 1990's when I started collecting.  (Look at the both the vintage Joe and Kenner Star Wars line and you'll see lots of bright colors.  Way more than you probably remember.)  

In the end, 2020 turned into a nice Batman Christmas at our house.  I picked up about 20 figures from this line due to the availability and price point.  I really wanted to get the same number of Star Wars figures.  But, there simply were not that many to be had.  Even perusing Amazon and online versions of brick and mortar retailers, there were just a few figures from the Star Wars line that my kids had any interest in.  (One of them will appear on May 4th, though.)  The thing is, in that 20 figures, there were just 3 versions of Batman, two Jokers and three Robins (I liked the Robin releases and my kids like him from Teen Titans Go!.)  There was a nice cadre of lesser known Bat-Villains to serve as foils for the heros.  Killer Moth, Firefly and Talon are fun toys that, normally, would have only appeared as a line died it's death from obscurity.  Instead, my boys get to have fun with some adventures with lesser known characters.  And, in case they want something more traditional, there is still a Joker, Catwoman and Killer Croc to fill out their adventures.

Upon opening them, my boys loved them.  The figures moved easily, had vehicles with which to interact and were in scale with the cheap military and Star Wars figures they also received for Christmas.  The volume of Batman figures allowed each boy to have their own version or two of the titular character.  But, the quantity of villains also gave each of them several figures who could fight Batman, Robin and Batwoman.  I like the figures for the same reasons.  They are toys in ways that most other retail options for action figures are not.  Within minutes of opening their figures, my boys had already divided the Robins and Batmen into Batman 1, Batman 2, Robin 1, Robin 2, etc. and played with each other for hours.  They got a Batcave as well and they worked out elaborate scenarios where the supervillains defeated the military only to face Batman.  Fun, fun times.

In general, my kids haven't been into action figures.  Lego, of course, has dominated their childhood.  But, early in 2020, I let them play with my Star Wars figures from the mid 2000's.  If you know these figures, they are among the best Hasbro ever released.  I figured them a fad.  But, they kept playing with them, building bases and, generally, establishing stories and universes that reminded me of my childhood.  This Batman line allows me to bring some other elements into Star Wars play.  The figures are compatible.  And, while Batman fighting Darth Vader seems ridiculous to an adult like me, it gives my boys the world building possibilities that I often desired as a kid.  I'm glad to see the Batman line has plans through 2021 and hope it rivals the old Kenner line in terms of longevity.  (And, I want to see a Machine Gun Joker in Spinmaster form, too.)  So far, the line has some good vehicles, a playset and a bunch of cheaper vehicles that are really just forms to get deluxe style figures into the mix.  But, having items that can interact with figures really helps keep interest up.  So, I'm looking forward to the rest of what 2021 has to offer.

The Batman line is fun because it's somewhat collectible.  There is a companion line of DC Comics figures anchored by Superman.  But, Wal Mart didn't carry it in 2020, it only had a couple of waves and the ancillary characters were pretty hard to find.  Both lines are compatible.  Along with the standard releases, though, Spinmaster included notions of "Rare" figures and "Super Rare" figures.  These were a combination of repaints or special chase figures like all golden plastic variants.  These were shortpacked in cases.  But, due to the volume of figures that shipped, it wasn't impossible to find most of the variant figures in the Batman line.  Killer Moth didn't have a variant.  But, the variant figures from the wave were often there when I found Killer Moths at retail.  (I don't go to stores in the morning.  These were all after work finds implying they had been on the shelves for some time.)  The chase figures are fun when they are something you can find.  Most companies err by making the chase figures too hard to track down and they become scalper fodder.  When they are available enough, the resellers skip them and collectors have the joy of finding something oddball.

These figures are well articulated.  The move at the head, should, elbow, hip and knees.  They don't spin at the waist.  But, the increased aesthetic of that missing articulation works out well.  The figures are somewhat comical with large feet and hands.  But, that allows them to hold gear and also stand without too much trouble.  Even the flimsy sculpts of Catwoman and Batwoman move well and allow for full posability.  Modern Star Wars figures often have stiff joints and will break before some of them will move.  None of the Spinmaster figures I own have suffered from that and they seem like better toys, even if they are not better collectibles.

The Batman line includes, mostly, three accessories with each figure.  Several of the accessories are included among several figures, though often in different colors.  The 2020 Batman figures also had most figures as part of individual themes.  This means that most figures have an accessory color variant.  And, this variant is completely impossible to determine without opening the package.  This version of Killer Moth included an orange gun, blue money case and a dark blue batarang.  The alternate version lacks the batarang and the case is silver and the gun is green.  Both figures also have removable "moth wings".  The accessories, frankly, aren't great.  They are somewhat comical and oversized.  But, they also work because there are few action figure lines that have playful gear that's both bizarre and brightly colored.  The gun works well enough with Killer Moth.  The money case is interesting.  But, it's also kind of lame since it has bills flowing out of it.  In general, the gear with these figures is fun.  But, it's not the realistic type thing you see with Star Wars or G.I. Joe figures.  It's more like larger sized Imaginext gear.

So far, Killer Moth has only shipped in Wave 2 of the 2020 Batman releases.  It's possible he could reappear in a 2021 wave.  But, it's also likely that, if he does, he'll have at least a slight repaint.  If you were looking at retail stores during the time when Wave 2 was shipping, it wasn't hard to find a Killer Moth.  But, once that wave got through the system in the early fall, the figure has been absent from retail.  As such, you'll pay around $12-$15 for a carded Killer Moth today.  I have no insight into the long term collectibility of the Spinmaster line.  Personally, I hope it's wildly successful and goes on a run to rival the Kenner Batman lines from the late 1980's and early 1990's.  But, 30 years later, most of those figures are pretty much worthless.  But, $12 isn't a lot to pay for a high quality action figure made in 2020.  (Most retail figures of this scale are around that price.)  So, even at the higher pricing, this is a figure that's worthwhile.  He's visually fun and is a good toy.  As a parent, there aren't enough action figures that are good toys.  So, that just makes this Killer Moth all that much better.

2020 Spinmaster Batman, Killer Moth, 2021 Joker, Man Bat, Target Exclusive, Batwoman

2020 Spinmaster Batman Killer Moth, Robin, Catwoman

Killer Moth, Batman, Spinmaster, 2020

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

1994 Lt. Kawalasky - Hasbro Stargate

In the 1980's, the action figure was king.  Starting with Star Wars and ending with G.I. Joe, the 1980's featured toy lines that covered the gamut from licensed properties to original ideas.  At various times, you could play with monsters, aliens, knights, mythical heroes, tv show characters, army men and pretty much any other off the wall idea that a kid could want.  But, as the decade wound down, play patterns were changing.  As the 1990's dawned, quite a few different factors converged to pretty much end the '80's toy renaissance.  Among them were the rise of all in one discount stores like Wal Mart that slowly ate away at the various regional or local retailers who were able to stock wide varieties of toys.  The Saturday morning cartoon block was replaced by cheaper live action shows and, eventually, infomercials that reduced the ability of advertisers to reach kids at an economical level.  Home video game systems had come back and were starting to attract younger and younger kids.  And, 1980's properties had grown stale.  A younger generation was captivated by Ninja Turtles and, later, Power Rangers to such an extent that other toy lines struggled to find a presence on the ever shrinking retail shelves.  

Ultimately, this lead to the demise of lines like G.I. Joe.  Like the dinosaurs that they were, though, Hasbro (and other companies) didn't really understand the changing marketplace and often tried to hold onto the last bastions of the action figure heyday.  As their in house brands ebbed in popularity, Hasbro turned to licensed properties to keep their boys division afloat.  In most of these cases, Hasbro was able to use existing tooling (usually from the G.I. Joe brand) to produce new toys at a cost that made them worthwhile.  We all know of the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat movie figures that used Joe parts.  But another, more obscure, licensed toy line also borrowed from G.I. Joe.  And, while the Stargate figures were not in standard Joe construction, the line saw some uses of recolored G.I. Joe accessories and even an iconic Joe vehicle that was retrofitted for the new toys.

Years ago, I picked up an oddly colored and modified Tunnel Rat backpack.  It was a cool green color, but had the holes for the flashlights in the top covered over.  It sat around for years until the 2004 Night Force set appeared.  I found the pack was an interesting fit for the Night Force Tunnel Rat.  So, I gave it to him, but wondered where this accessory had originated from.  I kind of figured it was from the Corps as I had Flint, Footloose and Blowtorch packs from that line which had slight modifications.  So, I didn't really consider the pack much more.  

In 2018, though, I got interested in alternate uses of Joe accessories.  This was driven from the oddball kitbashes of the Power Commandos and Kaido lines.  But, it also took me down a rabbit hole of other uses.  It was here that I found the origination of that Tunnel Rat backpack.  Hasbro had used it, and many other accessories, as part of the Stargate line of figures.  I was aware that Stargate had a modified AWE Striker.  But, I hadn't realized that recolored Joe gear was also among its reuses of existing tooling.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the few figures in the line that did include Joe gear were stupidly cheap.  But, I was also somewhat surprised to see that some of the cooler weapon repaints were not more common among Joe collections.  Through the years, I had acquired several Street Fighter Movie accessories through various dealers.  But, I had never seen Stargate weapons among the wares of those sellers.

There are 8 carded figures in the Stargate line.  There are 4 "humans" (for lack of a better word) and 4 "Egyptians".  Note that I have never seen the Stargate movie or consumed any media beyond these figures.  So, I have no idea who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  Of the figures, though, all include spring loaded launchers and missiles.  The missiles are carry over from the 1992-1994 era of G.I. Joe and have some unique colors among them.  The Egyptian figures only have gear unique to this line beyond that.  The "humans", though, feature an interesting array of recycled G.I. Joe gear.  Daniel includes the aforementioned Tunnel Rat backpack and an Annihilator weapon in black.  Skaara includes a Monkeywrench weapon in an exclusive silver.  Col. O'Neil includes a grey Bullhorn rifle.  This can be problematic as a similar weapon was included with the hard to find 2010 Convention Bullhorn figure.  So, if you see a grey Bullhorn rifle in a lot, it's far more likely to be Col. O'Neil's than the hard to find convention figure's.  Lt. Kowalsky includes a black Big Ben backpack and a green machine gun from the 1992 Gung Ho.

The Lt. Kawalsky figure from the line is my ultimate choice of figures to look at.  Not because of the figure.  (He's barely worth mentioning....)  But, because his gear is interesting on a couple of levels.  Big Ben's backpack is a very solid entry to the Joe line.  It's large, detailed and works for a variety of figures.  It's one of those generic packs that many figures can wear without being too iconic to Big Ben.  Prior to 2002, this was the only black release of this backpack.  The M-60, though, is an odd tie to an unproduced bit of Joe lore.  Kowalsky's weapon is in a dark green color.  This hue is unique to this weapon in the Stargate line.  It's a neat look.  Especially when you know that there are pre-production Joseph Colton figures that include the same weapon mold in a green color that's nearly identical to this Kowalsky release.  

And, with this color, Kowalsky takes on a different value.  I can now outfit my Colton with the green weapon and I have a reasonable facsimile of an unproduced G.I. Joe weapon from the line's dying days.  There were many weapon color variants that never actually saw production.  You see them in the sales catalogs and imagery of the time.  But, there are also bagged and carded samples of some figures which feature alternate colors.  Colton is one of them.  Few other collectors get into weirdly colored 1990's weapons molds like I do.  Most people would far prefer this weapon in black.  But, having that hook to an unproduced and pre-production piece from the vintage Joe line pushes this weapon over the top for me.  I would not have paid much more than $5 to get it.  And, loose, I'd be reluctant to pay 1/2 that amount.  But, it's a fun little Easter Egg that I can sprinkle among my photos.  Eagle eyed collectors will catch the homage.  Others will wonder from where the odd colors originated.

Lt. Kawalsky actually has a variant, too.  You can find the rifle, missiles and striker artifact in the dark green seen below or a very bright neon yellowy green.  (The variant weapon appears very close in the color to the 1994 Dialtone's weapons.)  Neither is hard to find and a random sampling shows them both adequately available for the same price.  A running change like this, though, implies that these figures likely saw a solid production run.  It's impossible to know how they stack up against the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter Movie figures in terms of numbers.  Both of those lines are harder to find, now.  But, they are also widely collected by the Joe community and both those properties have a larger fan base than Stargate.  So, it's not an apt comparison.  And, even 10 years ago, Street Fighter Movie and Mortal Kombat figures were pretty easy to find.  The ubiquity with which these Stargate figures still exist MOC, though, certainly confirms that they had an ample production run.

They also failed pretty hard at retail.  The line was not continued.  And, the amount of stock still left with KB "discount" stickers on them implies that the line was fodder for clearance bins for many years.  As 1994 and 1995 were really the beginning of the toy dealer/hoarder/speculator era, tons of overstock figures went into bins for future sales.  Depending on when the dealers liquidated, the Street Fighter Movie and Mortal Kombat figures could have been worth it.  These Stargate figures, though, are not.  They remain worthless and unloved today.  Were it not for the G.I. Joe connection, I would not even know they existed.  And, I collected for a long time before I actually learned about them and developed enough of an interest to even track one down.  

Stargate figures are cheap.  You can get them MOC for $5.  If you can find someone selling a lot of them, you might get the whole lot for $10.  Loose figures are pretty scarce, though.  The alternate construction probably causes many toy dealers to pass them by.  And, even the recolored Joe gear has almost no interest.  So, it's not even worth the time to parse that out of a box full of '90's junk action figures.  For the oddity of the green machine gun, $5 is worth it.  Beyond that, though, there's little value in the toy.  They are better put together than the garbage figures you find at a dollar store.  But, the proportions and articulation are about the same.  Collectors, though, seem to have simply forgotten about this line and, were it not for a thin connection to Joe, I would have have no idea of its existence.

Lt. Kawalski, Hasbro Stargate, 1994, MOC, Carded

Lt. Kawalski, Hasbro Stargate, 1994, MOC, Carded


Saturday, February 6, 2021

1989 Night Force Shockwave - Around The Web

Shockwave is, usually, everyone's favorite 1988 figure.  His 1989 Night Force release, though, is even more highly desired.  The darker colors really work for the mold.  So, you'll pay a substantial premium to get the Night Force figure.  But, it's kind of worth it.  This is a really nice rendition.  But, when it costs at least 10 times more than the 1988 figure, it's not a casual purchase.  Here is some of the best content on this figure from around the web.

Night Force Shockwave Profile

Night Force Shockwave by gi_joe_85

Night Force Shockwave by satanic_supremacy_87

Night Force Shockwave by dreadnokdread

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

2020 Bonecrusher - Black Major Exclusive

 In 2018, it was amazing to see the 1985 Snake Eyes mold resurrected and repainted into some new and interesting characters.  In 2019, a new set of Snake Eyes repaints started to feel a bit repetitive.  So, when it was announced that there would be 9 more new Snake Eyes figures in 2020, I didn't hold out hope for anything that would really interest.  Boy, was I wrong.  Among the series released included a solid desert Snake Eyes, an Action Force green Snake Eyes, an all grey Snake Eyes and one special figure that I hold as the single best release in all of 2020: Bonecrusher.

Red Laser has attempted skull face paint applications on figures.  And, they turned out remarkably well.  Black Major upped the ante on this idea and churned out a Snake Eyes decked out in solid skeleton print.  The reality is that the figure is far less recognizable as Snake Eyes in this configuration and the mold works well as a new character.  The paint applications are a step up from what's been previously done with factory customs and show that there is still much untapped potential for even molds that have been exhausted.  

Like most kids who played with Joe figures in the 1980's, I kitbashed new characters together out of parts of older, broken or damaged figures.  With these characters, I expanded my Joe world in many new directions.  As my time playing with toys came to end, though, I felt a need to also end the stories of many of my childhood favorites.  Some died.  But, most got to go on one last epic adventure before they disappeared into boxes in the closet for the next 5 to 7 years.  Most of these stories are lost to time.  But, a few remain with me.  One that does is an adventure that was close to the last chapter of my childhood playtime.  Here, three of my most favored characters came together for one last mission before the youngest was sent off to near certain death as he faced one of the most dangerous adversaries the world had ever seen.

My youngest brother was friends with a family that lived around the block from us.  Their boys were all younger than I was.  But, our parents became friends and we spent a lot of time at their house.  They had tons and tons of toys.  But, they didn't really care for them.  Each time we'd go over, I'd find new figures and vehicles in their basement.  While others played Nintendo, I'd dig out a pile of accessory less figures and have a battle royale among them.  While I always wanted a Joe to win, it didn't make much sense when Duke had to battle He Man.  So, I created a tournament where a winner fought until he either died or all the available opponents had been killed.  Sometimes, there would be a weapon for two lying around.  But, in these fights, characters met terrible demises as they were tossed off buildings, chopped to pieces or fried to a crisp.  These little asides, though, lead to a deeper idea in my Joe world.

Cobra had used assassins since Stormshadow.  But, hiring in outside killers meant that they could have ties to Joes that would render those contractors corruptible.  Cobra needed to develop their own cadre of murderers.  So, they built an assassins school in the mountains of Europe.  Here, young men were trained in the arts of infiltration, stealth and murder.  As the cadets neared graduation, they would join into underground killing tournaments held in basements of ancient European cities.  Here, fighters from around the world would test their mettle in various combat tournaments.  Most of these fights were done to appease gamblers.  But, for the fighters, it was a way to prove their worth.  The fights were regulated to a degree.  But, once fighters reached a certain level, the only way to make real money was to start participating in death matches.  Here, the best of the best would rise out and find riches as governments and terrorists vied for their services.  And, it was here that Cobra's initial trainees began to establish themselves as a force.

But, just as Cobra Commander was starting to count his riches for contracting these men out to the highest bidder, something went wrong.  Cobra lost all communication with their assassin school.  When they finally arrived to see what was wrong, they found all the trainees and instructors one.  This assassin, who was the prodigy among his peers, had killed them all and disappeared.  Cobra, of course, figured they could contain this.  But, they were unable to track the assassin down.  They didn't worry too much...until a few minor world governmental officials started being killed.  The assassin even managed to kill a couple of high ranking Cobras.  These assassinations attracted the attention of the world's various security agencies.  But, the Joes were not involved.  At least, they weren't until Destro contacted the Joe leader and asked for a favor.

Cobra needed the assassin killed so that he didn't turn their customers against them.  The Joe team agreed, though, because the assassin had managed to even kill multiple congresspeople.  The Joe's needed the assassin stopped at all costs.  The logical choice for the mission was Snake Eyes.  But, Snake Eyes also could not be used.  The American government couldn't take the hit if one of their top operatives failed.  They needed deniability.  So, the Joe team looked to one of my factions of characters that I had designed in my childhood: Mongoose.

Mongoose is a cliched name.  But, for a time, he was a central character to my Joe world.  I created a team of 4 characters who were a nearly invincible strike team.  They took on all the hairiest missions.  But, finally, their elder leader died during a mission.  Two members of the team, Mongoose and Blaster, felt that his death was the result of poor leadership decisions.  They became disillusioned and slowly drifted from the team and the Joes in general.  At the time of the assassin's rise, Mongoose and Blaster were shells of their former selves who roamed various trouble spots in the world, hoping to lend a hand.  The third member of their team, who had risen to be one of the highest ranking Joes, went in search of them to ask a favor in bringing in the assassin.  He found them.  But, they had no interest in rejoining the team.  And, Mongoose understood that it was a suicide mission and he was chosen because he was expendable.  They asked their former friend to help in a mission in their current land.  He agreed to do so.  For a brief moment, their original chemistry reformed and they forgot some of the baggage that now stood between them.  Upon successful completion, Mongoose agreed to go after the assassin...with the caveat that if he was successful, no other favors would ever be asked of him again.  This was agreed and Mongoose went off in search of the killer.

Soon enough, Mongoose crossed paths with the assassin.  At this point, he learned his name: Nimrod.  Nimrod was chosen as I read something at the time that associated the name with a great warrior.  (The real legend is, of course, more complicated.)  The two fought, but left in a draw.  Mongoose then began his hunt for Nimrod's home in the Rocky Mountains.  During his search, Nimrod killed more politicians, wealthy industrialists and global activists.  A worldwide hunt was set for Nimrod and intelligence agencies around the globe set rewards for his death.

Finally, Mongoose and Nimrod met at his mountain lair.  They ate a meal together and then decided they would fight to the death with only their swords.  Mongoose attempted to negotiate that if Nimrod won, he would give up his assassinations of world figures and retire to the backwoods wars of out of the way nations to sate his bloodlust.  Nimrod took this as a sign of weakness and refused.  The two then fought for three days.  They could clash, rest, hide, ambush and fight again.  Twice, Nimrod thought he had killed Mongoose.  And, on the second occasion, he had even confirmed the blood on his sword from a successful stabbing.  Mongoose, though, was only superficially wounded.  He used this, though, to lure Nimrod into a small indent in the rocks.  Here, there would be no escape as long as both men were alive.  

Nimrod fought calmly at first.  But, the tight space hindered his movement.  Slowly, he began to lose control...especially as Mongoose fought overly well for a man who was as gravely wounded as Nimrod thought him to be.  In a moment, Nimrod's sword hit a rock wall, leaving a second of exposure.  And, in this instant, Mongoose stabbed him through the heart.  Nimrod fell without a word and simply died.  Mongoose beheaded the body, buried it on the rocks and left it on the mountain.  He returned to the Joe team, told them the deed was done and then left to return to his life in the shadows.  He would never again appear for the Joes.

This Bonecrusher figure finally, after many years, fills in the gap for Nimrod.  As a kid, I played out the scenario using a crappy kitbash figure that had a Stormshadow sword.  The Mongoose figure, though, was always a Snake Eyes head and chest.  (I actually created him because my 1985 Snake Eyes's thumb broke and once I changed the all black arms, the figure could no longer be Snake Eyes.  When I replaced the Snake Eyes, though, I was so afraid I'd break him that I rarely used him and Mongoose remained my de facto version of the character for a while.)  Over the years, he had some other parts.  But, the final figure used Beach Head legs and a right arm from Thunder and left arm from Beach Head.  I know this because you can see the actual figure from my childhood below.  He wears a Jedi cloak from the 1999 Episode I accessory set.  But, that was a later addition to hide his mismatched arms.  Now, with Bonecrusher, he finally has a worthy figure to represent his final adversary.

Sadly, though, Bonecrusher figures have an issue.  The swivels are pretty loose on them.  So, they are tough to pose and, as you'll see in the photos below, the arms tend to bend out without any provocation at all.  Other than that, though, these figures are excellent quality.  The paints masks are tight, they can hold their weapons and the rest of the construction is fine.  It seems the arms for all Snake Eyes in this final series have this issue with looseness.  It was not a problem on the earlier series of Snake Eyes repaints, though.  For display, you can get around the issue for sure.  But, photos take a bit more time to set up.

Gearwise, Bonecrusher includes remakes of all of the 1985 Snake Eyes gear.  The Uzi and sword, though, are a creamy white that looks like bone.  Having a sword made of bone or ivory, though, is foolhardy.  But, the color fits well with the figure.  It's easy enough to swap out his gear for black versions available with other Snake Eyes repaints from this series, too.  There is a wolf that also has bones painted onto the body.  As with all the Black Major remakes of the 1985 Snake Eyes backpack, the sword does not fit into the slots.  They are just too small.  You can hang the sword into them in various ways.  But, they are all precarious.  Again, for display, it's fine.  But, it makes it hard to move the figure around with the sword affixed to his pack.  

Bonecrusher's are available right now.  You'll pay about $24 for one.  But, you can get them cheaper in various promotional sales or buying them as part of a set.  Supposedly, the series of figures that included Bonecrusher marked the retirement of the 1985 Snake Eyes mold.  With at least 30 repaints, that's probably good.  But, I stand by my statement that this Bonecrusher was the best figure released in 2020 and is a design that's going to hold up well in the future.  Getting a figure that could represent a character from the final days of my childhood play is important to me.  And, it fills out the last real gap to bring my childhood imagination to life.  I'd have paid a premium for that.  But, this Bonecrusher holds up under scrutiny from all collectors.  It's just a good figure and is a design that shows modern ideas can work quite well on vintage Joe molds.

2020 Black Major Bonecrusher, Factory Custom, 1985 Snake Eyes, Skull & Bones, Mongoose

2020 Black Major Bonecrusher, Factory Custom, 1985 Snake Eyes, Skull & Bones, Mongoose

2020 Bonecrusher, Black Major, Factory Custom, 1985 Snake Eyes, Repaint, 1994 Action Soldier

2020 Black Major Bonecrusher, Factory Custom, 1985 Snake Eyes, 1993 Blanka, Street Fighter, 2020 Night Force Ninja, 1984 Stormshadow

2020 Black Major Bonecrusher, Factory Custom, 1985 Snake Eyes, 1993 Blanka, Street Fighter