Friday, May 10, 2024

2004 Night Force Short Fuze

In 2003, Hasbro continued their successful partnership with Toys R Us in regards to the G.I. Joe line.  TRU had been the savior for the 15th Anniversary figures in 1997.  And, they had managed to gain a few exclusive products as Joe expanded to full retail based on the success of the short re-launch.  The two partners found a successful formula releasing packs of vintage figures that were repaints of classic molds, but bundled into a theme.  Tiger Force and Python Patrol were the first two attempts to re-capture the magic of the late 1980's and both were relatively successful.

As 2004 neared, Hasbro found that its plans for mail away and internet exclusive army building sets had failed.  So, they moved those planned offerings to TRU exclusives.  Hasbro also then moved to a strategy where they would release both a Cobra and a Joe set at the same time.  To match the first Cobra army building set, Hasbro resurrected Night Force (itself a Toys R Us exclusive last seen in 1989) and created a new design for the members that first began appearing at retail in January of 2004.  The set featured 4 molds recently returned to Hasbro's control from Funskool, another paint job of the 1984 Roadblock and a figure mold that hadn't been seen in 14 years: Downtown.  Only, this Downtown repaint was not the Downtown character.  Instead, it was a re-imagination of Short Fuze.  The Joe team's original mortar soldier had returned.

Short Fuze is, arguably, the most forgotten original Joe.  Grand Slam will come up from time to time.  But, his relatively hard to find Silver Pads figure gives him some collecting cachet.  It's rare to find someone who really views Short Fuze as their favorite character.  He had little relevance in the comic and didn't appear again as an action figure in the vintage line after his original release.  Collectors' focus on the original 13 Joes during the early 2000's, though, helped raise the profile of even the most obscure characters from the line's earliest years.  This helped get a new Short Fuse to retail stores in 2004 and another in 2005.

I will argue that Short Fuse is the best figure from the Night Force set.  That is based, though,  on the criteria that this is the best use of the Downtown mold.  Flint, Beach Head, Roadblock and Tunnel Rat all had better paint jobs in the vintage run.  Action Man/Tracker is the only contender.  I degrade him, though, because Action Man cost us a proper Night Force Tracker that would have been the jewel of the set.  So, Short Fuse is left as the de facto winner.  But, that's bittersweet because no one cares about getting the best Short Fuse.  And, without proper gear, the figure loses much of his value.  And, with that, you have the problem with the Night Force set as a whole: it didn't really offer anything to collectors.  Some figures were nice.  But, they all had a litany of problems.

One of the main criticisms of Hasbro's attempts at making o-ring figures in the 2000's was that they didn't go with anything. The 2004 Night Force set is unlike the 1988 and 1989 sets in nearly every way.  The figures neither match nor complement each other.  So, each offering has to stand on its own.  In some ways, this isn't a bad thing.  And, it has allowed certain figures from the 2000 to become relatively popular as their own thing.  But, it was a detriment at the time of the release.  Collectors had accepted the new look for Python Patrol because it did match the vintage Python Patrol vehicles.  And, few people really collected Python Patrol in 2003.  But, Night Force was a different animal.  Even collectors who had sparse collections often had a couple of vintage Night Force figures.  They were the most popular vintage subset.  So, getting a new team of them that didn't match the originals was a let-down.  

Despite selling rather briskly upon its release, the Night Force set quickly started to languish.  Despite showing up at brick and mortar Toys R Us stores in mid January of 2004, you could still buy all the set you wanted come December of that same year.  2003 had ended with G.I. Joe as one of the most popular retail toy brands.  But, all that momentum was lost with the advent of 2004.  There are reasons for that which were far beyond Hasbro's control.  The result, though, was that Night Force rotted on the shelves for a full year.  Collectors had ample opportunity to acquire it.  And, most collectors of the time did buy one.  But, without the army building aspect and with a couple of figures that collectors didn't really care for, there was simply no reason for anyone to acquire additional sets...especially since pretty much every Toys R Us in the country always had ample options of Cobra sets also available at the same time.  

The reported production run of the Night Force set was around 20,000 sets.  That far outpaced the collector base of the time.  But, the scarcity of available sets now is a function of the set's lackluster popularity among collectors of the day rather than any actual rarity.  There are the same number of Night Force sets as there are Cobra Infantry sets who were released at the same time.  The disparity in individual figure pricing is a function of every collector buying as many Cobra Troopers as they could afford while leaving spare Night Force sets behind for someone's grandmother or uncle to buy as an unwanted gift for a child in their life.

The Night Force accessories were atrocious.  In many ways, this set was the beginning of Hasbro just not caring about figure's gear.  We had seen some of this with the 2003 Tiger Force set.  But, it was forgiven since the important figures had their original accessories.  Night Force did not.  And, this Short Fuse, despite being 100% associated with being a mortar trooper, only included a black update of the 1991 Big Ben's rifle and a pistol originally released with Tomax & Xamot.  I'll argue that the Tomax pistol is the 2nd worst weapon from the 1980's era of Joe behind only the 1984 Baroness rifle.  But, it's also iconic to Tomax and Xamot.  So, Short Fuse's gear was absolutely worthless.  The only upside is that 1989 Downtown gear was cast in black and was relatively available in 2004.  So, it was easy to get proper gear for this figure...even if that was an unnecessary burden from Hasbro.  Frankly, the poor gear kind of ruined the set.  The figures included needed their basic gear to really make sense.  And, Hasbro stripped away much of the characterization of the included figures by giving them generic accessories.

Despite all these misgivings, though, this Short Fuse is still really nice.  On his own, he works as the best mortar trooper in the entire Joe line.  You just have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get him there.  But, the presentation, colors, paint masks and quality are all close to excellent.  If this figure existed as a stand alone figure, everyone would have loved it.  And, despite collectors tending to punish Hasbro for good figures that were of minor characters and obscure molds, sentiment regarding Short Fuze in 2004 was generally positive.  The colors were nice and the overall package was nice enough that collectors could recognize quality: even if the figure was never used and didn't appear in many photos or dios of the time.

In writing this profile, I realized that I harp on the negatives of this figure.  Yet, overall, I still have a favorable impression of him.  In the early 2000's (and, to a lesser extent, today) collectors fell into 2 large camps: "haters" who hated anything Hasbro did and "suck-ups" who believed Hasbro could do no wrong.  The ration middle ground didn't exist in significant numbers.  Because of this, Hasbro simply didn't listen to collectors or try to engage them in any way.  Neither Hasbro, nor the few people they did interact with, really understood what collectors wanted.  And, they never asked in any meaningful way.  In fact, the few times they made comments that they thought were absurd proposals, they found themselves quickly backtracking when collectors actually liked those ideas.  It scared the Hasbro teams of the time that they were so out of touch with their consumer.  But, by 2004, the writing was on the wall that the line was dying.  And, the revolving door of brand managers proved that Hasbro knew it was a sinking ship.  I often wonder what would have happened if there had been, at the time, a real fan club capable of communicating with Hasbro.  The answer is we'd have probably seen figure designs and releases more like the Anniversary offerings starting in 2007 instead of the haphazard and unrelated toys we actually got.  I don't know, though, if that would have extended the brand's retail life.  But, we would have gotten a lot more figures and vehicles that would be held in high regard today.

The 2004 Night Force flows in and out of popularity.  If you time it right, you can snap a figure or a set for a good price.  But, that's getting harder to do with  tight supplies still holding over from the pandemic collectors retaining their now-forgotten acquisitions.  As such, this figure is a whopping $30+ purchase these days.  Dealers and open auctions seem to be in line with this price.  Personally, I find that ridiculous.  But, until supply loosens up, we're going to see premium pricing on superfluous figures from the post-vintage era.  I find this the best paint job of the Downtown mold.  But, he's certainly not worth current pricing and will  be an underwhelming addition to your collection for that price.  I do wish we'd seen more molds like Downtown's used in the 2000's.  But, collectors both then and now value the repaints of classic characters far more.  So, you can't fault Hasbro's logic...even if I don't agree with it.

2004 Night Force Short Fuse, Short Fuze, Toys R Us Excusive, 2004 Comic Pack Steeler, 1985 Armadillo

2004 Night Force Short Fuse, Toys R Us Exclusive, Anti Venom Mutt


  1. Looking at those accessories, it's a classic example of the kind of baffling choices they would do back then. I mean, surely a designer didn't just reach his hand into a tub of parts and include whatever he blindly picked up right? The Joes here are mostly equipped with AK's, Tomax/Xamot pistols and Firefly parts, including his Kedr-B. Maybe it was supposed to be like stolen gear, hence the excess of Warsaw guns? So random.

    Like a lot of 90's Joes, the TRU figures and comic pack figures were plentiful and undesired just a few years ago. I poked around on completing my set of these, so I wound up never getting Flint, Roadblock or Beachhead since the colors didn't speak to me that much. Now the prices are too high and I can't justify it... Ugh.

    On his own this Short-Fuze works pretty well. It bothers me that he doesn't have a helmet, but honestly Downtown's helmet wasn't all that great, sorta looked like some kinda head gear for a martial-arts class. Teal, orange and caramel brown was a mixture of colors I found completely unappealing on Downtown, so really anything helps salvage the mold a bit, even if the 2000's NF pattern wasn't the best.

  2. I never could put my finger on why this set bugged me, but you nailed it perfectly. It didn't compliment or contrast with the vintage version of NF. It really bugs me when you can see a designer's attempt to put their own stamp on a brand rather than honor it's past.

  3. Such a strong mold. But never had good fortune in the coloring department.

  4. At the time I was very disappointed with the Action Man figure. I agree that a NF Tracker would have awesome. I can't believe the prices on all of these TRU sets. lately. All the "fake" collectors/ flippers of the COVID era gentrified toy collecting.

  5. I did like this figure and this set when it was released. The gear didn’t bother me at the time but I can see why it is an issue now. The Hasbro people running the brand truly didn’t have a handle on this line back then, and I maintain that the so-called Club did far more harm than good. I can only imagine what kind of sets might have been made in the absence of the club, with even one person in charge who gave a damn

  6. I still have my original Night Force set from 2004. Needless to say I was pretty excited when originally finding this set as it incorporated my favorite sub team with some of the more iconic figures from the original ARAH run - Beach Head, Flint and Tunnel Rat. By that time I did already have enough of Roadblock as he was released many times with his Double Blast iteration being my favorite. I even liked Action Man, as he became more of a para-rescue guy in my joe verse, dropping down to extract down pilots behind enemy lines or in the water. Now that I have a Tracker in my collection it would have been cool to just release Action Man as Tracker but that's a very small gripe with that figure selection.

    Short-Fuze (Downtown) was certainly a cool addition, even back then I felt that his inclusion was a nice out of no-where addition. I've always had a strong affinity towards this figure and thought of him as more Downtown than Short-Fuze. He's an improvement on the 89 Downtown in terms of the colors used although the accessories certainly go to the original figure. I always appreciated Hasbro utilizing the 89-91 figure molds in the early 2000s.

    As I have been reading this blog as well as Attica Gazette and the Viper Pit I certainly do find myself agreeing with all three of you along with the comments about the COVID/Post-COVID collecting landscape. Although many who picked up the hobby during COVID have done so for their genuine interest in their past, it has certainly led to after-market sellers really inflate the market and thus make the hobby much less attainable and enjoyable. I do say that fully realizing that my ARAH O-ring collecting days are pretty much behind me with the exception of a few "grail" items that have skyrocketed in cost over the past 4 years.

  7. The combination of the all-new colors schemes, silly body paint and the lack of any of the character's original accessories is why the pack kinda sucks...still. There was like 3 of the crimson twin guns in the 6-pack. WHY?? Barring using the original accessories (we know Roadblock's at least were available), they had better recently used weapons they could've chosen, like "Shock Viper" assortment, the SEAL Shipwreck/Sidetrack set. But Twins, big ben and Firefly seemed to be the default favorites for the set.
    I still see this figure as Short-Fuse. The "green shirts" help kill the Downtown head's appeal, if it had any.
    But at least the Infantry set had better weapons than the Night Force 6-pack.

    1. ""I meant I still see this figure as Downtown." Even Hasbro's got be confused.