Tuesday, March 30, 2021

1994 Stalker - Neon Highlights

 As I hunted down the last bastions of vintage G.I. Joe at retail in the mid 1990's, I used both cardbacks and catalog inserts to tell me which figures I should expect to find.  What these reference materials didn't tell me, though, was the multitude of repaints that also existed on figures.  Some differences, like the 1993 blue and orange vs. the 1994 black and grey Snow Storm were obvious.  Others, like the slightly fewer painted black details on the 1994 Shipwreck were harder to spot.  It was not until online references really got completed in the late 1990's that I was fully able to understand the vast amount of variants and paint differences that exist among figures produced between 1992 and 1994.  Some of these repaints are good, some are bad and most are just...there.  That is the case of this 1994 Stalker.  My experience with the figure from retail was the black and green version that's one of the best figures from the 1990's.  But, the other version...this original release with neon painted highlights also exists.  With a better Stalker figure available, this neon version is easy to skip.  But, it's a quintessentially 1990's toy and that's what makes it fun.

It's no secret that I love this design for Stalker.  He was among the first figures I ever profiled on the site back in 2000.  And, I took another pass at him in early 2013.  Both of those times, though, I focused on the black and green figure.  The base colors are a perfect match for vintage Night Force and, when not overdone, make for a good figure.  I don't want every figure in this color scheme.  But, getting one of the four or five most important characters in the Joe mythos in that scheme was important.  In black, Stalker can better match up with vintage Snake Eyes figures and even meshes well with other figures from 1985 or 1986.  That's a rarity for figures sculpted in the line's final years.  But, it shows how good work that's true to a character can transcend year.

To me, this Stalker perfectly captures the essence of the character as he evolved in the comic.  Here you have Stalker as a powerful fighter.  But, you also see him more out of his Green Beret specialty and more of a urban, covert operative.  This Stalker would take on missions like Borovia and live to return.  He could also fight Cobra in the streets of the U.S. while better blending into the background.  In short, he seems a more commando version of Stalker.  And, for a guy who palled around with Snake Eyes, Stormshadow and Scarlett, that seems like a role to which he's be best suited.  

I found the 1994 Stalker figure at retail.  Mine, though, did not have the neon highlights.  But, quickly, this figure became one of my favorites.  The excellent weapons and sleek design made him on the best figures I found at retail in the mid 1990's.  And, 25 years later, the figure still remains a popular choice for my photos and dios.  Part of that is holdover from him being one of the top two or three figures I had available to me.  But, another part of it is that the figure is just solid and works well in a variety of scenarios.  You know the figure is Stalker, too, and that's a huge help when working with such an iconic character.

In 1994, Hasbro started to experiment with the Joe figure design.  As such, newly sculpted figures like this Stalker have more heft to them.  It was an attempt to slowly upsize the figures to better stand tall against the larger figures that were dominating retail of the mid 1990's.  The most noticeable aspect of this figure is his large torso.  Seeing that Stalker is wearing a tactical vest helps to explain this away.  But, the real issue is that Stalker's arms are lower on his shoulders.  Big shoulders started appearing in 1994 and would have gone to even more extremes in 1995.  When posed with 1993 and 1992 figures, this Stalker's proportions are less obvious.  But, when stood next to 1985 or 1987 figures, the design changes are notable.  The Joe line always evolved.  From swivel arms to ball heads, Hasbro was contantly improving the figures.  By the 1990's, though, the "improvements" were no longer about leading the market and making the best action figure available.  Other properties had surpassed Joe as kind of the retail toy stores.  And, Hasbro spent effort trying to keep up with other companies while still trying to maintain some semblance of connection to the 12 years of toys that preceded the 1994 run.  The result is that this figure doesn't work all that well with many vehicles from the 1980's.  And, for many collectors who grew up in Joe's early years, the proportions seem off enough to dismiss these late figures.  When you understand the evolution of the line, though, that is forgivable.  And, a good figure is a good figure.  This Stalker delivers on that.

In the Star Wars world, the right Country of Origin (COO) stamp on a specific figure can be the difference between a $10 common and a $100+ rarity.  In the Joe world, there are COO variants, too.  Generally, collectors don't much care.  This is due to the size of the vintage Joe line, the obscurity of the differences but also, most importantly, the fact that most Joe COO figures seem to be evenly distributed.  So, it's not materially harder to find one over another.  Most collectors are oblivious to the fact that most of the 1994 Joe line features COO variants.  In the middle of the production timeline, Hasbro moved manufacturing from China to Indonesia.  There doesn't appear to be much, if any, difference in the figure's materials or paint.  But, their is a unique COO stamp for each country. 

With this Stalker, though, it appears that both variants were made in China and this yellow version also saw production in Indonesia.  Longtime collector theory has been that the extra paint applications were removed to save money.  However, the first Stalker figures released on the horizontal cards had no highlights.  The neon highlights started appearing on later Chinese figures that were on the vertical cards.  (There are no highlight figures available on these same cards.)  Then, the highlights carried over to the Indonesia factories.  It's possible that these paint applications were added to make the figure stand out more at retail.  Maybe they were trimmed for initial cost but then added back in later as more production runs warranted additional resources.  It would be interesting to get a final answer from the Hasbro team of that era.

So, there are really three versions of the Stalker figure: no highlights with China COO, yellow highlights with China COO and yellow highlights with Indonesia COO.  For the record, the figure in the photos below is an Indonesia version.  With multiple production runs, it's difficult to know how common one figure is over the other.  Since no on really seems to care, I have no idea if any of the variants are actually harder to find than others.  In my experience, it's hit or miss.  One of my five 1994 Metal Head figures, one is from Indonesia.  But, at the same time, 9 of my 13 1994 Vipers originated there.  So, more work would be needed to truly understand if there's any material difference in availability for one over the others. 

In looking at Stalker's card art, it seems that Hasbro may have had more intended for this figure, though.  You will note that the card art is two tone.  But, in the artwork, Stalker is definitely wearing a vest.  It looks as if the original artist intended for Stalker's short sleeves, grenades, v-neck and turtle neck to also be green.  These changes would have added a tremendous amount of depth to the figure since the well detailed chest is lost in the sea of black color.  Had these colors been applied, the figure's weird neck would be resolved and the too dark chest would have been broken up so you can better see the excellent sculpting of the figure.  It's too bad these weren't the changes that were made to the figure for it's final releases.  Even in a color other than the green to match the legs, these details being changed would have made this figure better stand out among the greats of the line.

Sadly, this Stalker had a short life.  There were the two versions in 1994 and that was it in the vintage line.  In 2002, Hasbro surprised the collecting world when the figure's body re-appeared in the infamous Wave V of the A Real American Hero Collection.  Sadly, this figure was given a new, terrible caucasian head and was colored in drab green.  Again, none of the body's details were painted and the Sidetrack figure is just a pasty blob of green plastic that's been completely forgotten by the collecting world.  Despite Hasbro having access to Stalker, they never repainted this figure again.  The 1992 Stalker appeared in 2003.  And, the 1989 Stalker appeared partially in 2004 and fully in 2005.  Frankly, I can't argue against any of these uses.  Both of those molds are good and worthy of repaints.  I couldn't justify choosing the 1994 over one of them.  Though, this mold's place was in the 2004 Night Force set.  And, replacing the terrible Roadblock figure with this Stalker would have been a great improvement in the set and given this mold a new lease on life.  But, that didn't happen, this mold was criminally underused after being teased and collectors are left with a great example of a figure whose potential was never realized.  But, that's the story of the 2000's era Joes in a nutshell.

One of the great attractions of this figure to me was the fact that he included black weapons.  While the dregs of Joe retail didn't really allow a collector to be choosy, my wallet of time did.  And, as such, I had certain rules for purchasing figures.  Anyone with black weapons was at the top of the list.  So, when I found this Stalker, his weapons were the final hook that landed me.  Getting a childhood favorite character in a cool color scheme in an updated design that was true to his character and included an array of well colored weapons was simply too much.  I bought the figure right away.  It's likely I never found another, though, as I'm sure I would have picked him up for the weapons alone.  Stalker includes the standard black MP-5 inspired weapon from the 1991 Tracker, a version of Muskrat's shotgun and machete, a black stand, a black version of the 1991 Grunt's terrible weapon and the requisite spring loaded missile launcher and missiles.  The launcher is pretty strong, which was fun the one time I used it.  For 1995 me, the shotgun was great, the MP-5 was amazing and the machete was useful.  The launcher went into an Air MOAB shoe box: where it still sits today.  The awful Grunt weapon found use among old, beat up figures who made up roving gangs of thugs that the Joes would beat up on when I needed them to kill some random bad guys who weren't Cobra.  25 years later, this guy's weapon assortment isn't as good as the 1994 Flint or 1994 Shipwreck's.  But, it holds up well enough and the MP-5 is Stalker's iconic weapon whenever I break out this mold.

Pricing for this figure is all over the place.  Dealers ask upwards of $50...trying to cash in on naive collectors who think the yellow highlights constitute a late run, hard to find variant.   You can get mint figures for around $5.  Near complete versions will run $10 or so.  You'll see some mint, complete with filecard versions fetch high prices.  But, many of those are sold by pseudo dealers who always get way over market for their wares.  But, there's plenty of affordable options and market pricing seems to be between $12 and $15 for a mint and complete with filecard figure.  The upside is that you can buy a loose figure and easily complete him from other figures, too.  For cheap, this guy is a must own.  If you're going to pay a bunch of money for a 1994 Stalker, buy the non-neon version.  It's better, easier to find and, usually, a bit cheaper.  But, as an oddity or something just different enough to attract attention, this neon highlight version has a lot of merit, too.

1993 Flak Viper, 1994 Stalker, Neon Highlights, Made in Indonesia, COO, Variant

1994 Stalker, Battle Corps, Metal Head, Flint

1994 Stalker, Battle Corps, Metal Head, Flint

Saturday, March 27, 2021

1986 Mission to Brazil Wet Suit - Around The Web

Despite this figure being the best Wet Suit version that's available, much of the content that's available on him is relatively new.  But, the orange and blue Wet Suit figure is more photogenic.  And, the orange accessories do clash with this silver figure.  So, it kind of makes sense that this version was ignored for many years.  I had this figure as a kid and wish I had more photos of him as he's a great version.  I just don't have much occasion to get divers out into the water.  I keep waiting for a rainy day when I also have time to get a photo.  It will happen at some point.  Until then, enjoy the best of the 1986 Mission to Brazil Wet Suit from around the web.

1986 Mission to Brazil Wet Suit Profile

Mission to Brazil Wet Suit by wigramjoe

Mission to Brazil Wet Suit by thevintagetoylife

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

1986 Roadblock

 Hasbro started repainting figures right away in 1983Grand Slam, Grunt and the Cobra Trooper all got the repaint treatment.  But, in those cases, the figure used was the same as the original release.  In 1984, Hasbro scupted a new head for the Hooded Cobra Commander figure.  In 1985, though, Hasbro released a new Snake Eyes...marking the first time that an existing character got an entirely new look at retail.  This continued in 1986 when a new Roadblock debuted.  From the small pictures on the back of cards, this Roadblock looked like a great update.  He was big and strong and carried his trademark heavy machine gun.  But, then, I found the figure at retail.  Quickly, all excitement for Roadblock drained away and I pawned him off on one of my brothers so that the figure still came home, but I was able to get someone much better.

The reason for this sudden deflation was that this Roadblock just isn't all that visually exciting.  He features heavy use of light grey, white, green and red.  In short, it's a combo that's tough to love.  He has super short sleeves that were meant to show off his massive arms.  But, they make the figure look silly.  The tactical vest that the figure is supposed to be wearing really didn't translate well into the finished figure.  While this Roadblock has more girth to coincide with his massive physique, the whole package just seems off.  It's not a look befitting a machine gunner and it's definitely a downgrade from his 1984 look.  And, when you compare this figure to Rock and Roll's 1989 upgrade, it's night and day.

As such, this Roadblock got little use during my childhood.  The 1984 figure, even with broken accessories, managed to stay more relevant.  The fact that the 1986 weapons didn't work with the 1984 figure, though, was just another nail in the 1986 figure's coffin.  My only real memory of this Roadblock is with a cheap molded plastic military dump truck that we had.  The thing was big and could hold a lot of figures.  So, it got use.  As it had no weapons, though, its play value was limited.  So, I punched a hole in the top of the dump bed that went over the drivers and put Roadblock's machine gun in this new slot.  Here, it helped keep Cobra at bay while the Joes unloaded troops or gear to the battlefield.  But, even in this instance, it was rarely Roadblock who manned this weapon.  It would have been used by the team in the truck and Roadblock was almost never among them.

The colors on Roadblock are interesting.  Prior to his release, these colors were pretty much unknown to the Joe line.  But, Attica Gazette pointed out an interesting connection between Roadblock and the 1986 Cross Country figure.  Basically, they use the same color scheme.  The greens are the same.  They feature heavily on greys.  And, both figures feature black and red highlights.  It's odd that two figures from the same year are so similar in appearance.  Maybe Hasbro just needed to use up the green plastic they ordered.  Or, maybe the color scheme tested well among the focus groups.  However, the similarity in their color schemes can not be coincidence and was surely a conscious choice by the design team.  

Overall, my opinion of this figure is heavily influenced by my childhood feelings about the release.  The disappointment from 1986 still colors my views of this Roadblock even 35 years later.   Many other collectors, though, love this look for Roadblock.  It is bigger and more formidable than the 1984 figure.  And, that's something that many collectors really enjoy.  As such, you saw this look for Roadblock return in the anniversary figure series in the late 2000's.  And, it has reared its head again in the 2020 Classified series.  It's definitely an iconic look for Roadblock.  The fact that I don't really like it puts me squarely in the minority of collectors.  But, my tastes in figures have always skewed somewhat against the grain.

Roadblock just included two pieces of gear.  For 1986, this light assortment was not unusual.  Eight carded figures released this year include two or less accessories.  For many figures, though, the smaller allotment was fine as the gear was excellent.  For Roadblock, though, the gear was lackluster.  This time around, Roadblock got a taller tripod that allowed for better posing with the figure.  His machine gun is large and bulky...in line with the character.  While the detailing on the weapon is solid, the accessory is still overly large and doesn't look all that good.  The weapon has a bipod sculpted, but it doesn't work.  Seeing as how working bipods were long established in the Joe line, it seems like an oversight.  Roadblock was among the first Joe figures to include silver accessories but this isn't enough to really make them stand out.  After the excellent set of gear that was included with the 1984 Roadblock, the 1986 complement just seemd weak.  There are people who love the gear.  But, as a kid in 1986, I was disappointed as I didn't feel the weapons lived up to the Roadblock character.

The 1986 Roadblock didn't get a ton of use...in a way.  In other ways, it did.  Hasbro released this Roadblock in 1986 and 1987.  In Japan, Takara repackaged 1984 Hasbro Roadblocks onto cards that used the 1986 Roadblock artwork...a weird juxtaposition.  The mold then disappeared until 1997.  That year, the body was used (with a 1986 Hawk head) for Rock and Roll.  That release isn't a great figure.  But, it was also the last time that Roadblock's chest was used.  Hasbro repurposed the 1984 Roadblock mold in 2001, 2002 and 2004.  They then switched to the 1992 Roadblock mold.  Despite the 1986 Roadblock's legs and waist becoming a staple of Comic Pack figures in 2004 and 2005, Hasbro never actually repainted the entire 1986 figure.  And, that's a shame.  Molds that had limitations the first time around really should have gotten a second chance.  This mold would have been amazing in the 2004 Night Force set or repainted to look like the 1984.  But, it was not to be.  And, this 1986 figure is the only coloring of this mold for Roadblock that's available.

The 2020 surge in G.I. Joe pricing (and collectible pricing in general) has affected this Roadblock.  You see massive amounts of mint and complete figures selling between $22 and $26.  But, this Roadblock is a super common figure.  And, his oversized accessories were rarely lost and are also overly easy to find.  A little patience will still yield you a mint and complete version of this figure for around $10.  That's still probably more than this Roadblock is worth.  But, it's a fair price in today's market for a classic release year version of one of the most popular characters in Joe history.  

1991 Grunt, 1993 Flak Viper, 1986 Roadblock

1986 Roadblock, 1991 Snake Eyes

1986 Roadblock, 1992 Talking Battle Commanders Stalker

1986 Roadblock, 1992 Talking Battle Commanders Stalker

Saturday, March 20, 2021

1990 Captain Grid Iron - Around The Web

Captain Grid Iron is a silly figure.  His premise is ridiculous.  The yellow pants are ostentatious.  And, his accessories are just so far out there that there's no justification for their existence.  Despite all that, this figure isn't terrible.  He is fun.  And, modern collectors have taken to him and complete versions are substantially more expensive than they were seven years ago.  There's a solid amount of Captain Grid Iron content out there.  So, it seems he has his fans.  Plus, the figure photographs very well.  Here's some of the best Captain Grid Iron photos and articles around the web.

1990 Captain Grid Iron, Risco, Plastirama, Argentina

1990 Captain Grid Iron, Risco, Plastirama, Argentina

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

S.O.S. - Platirama Doc (Argentina)

I really like the Doc figure.  I liked him as a kid.  I still like him as an adult.  As a collector, the figure is excellent and perfectly suits Doc's specialty.  Despite this, though, there has been just one Doc feature in over 20 years of my looking at figures.  For some reason, he just never was able to capture my attention for additional photos.  Among early Joes, Doc's appearance in the background of photos is very rare.  And, all of this is in spite of the fact that Doc has multiple foreign releases.  While each of those foreign variants have differences from the American Doc, they retain the same, general, color scheme and don't deviate from his specialty.  In the case of the Plastirama version of Doc from Argentina, though, a lone feature allows the figure to stand out and be, in some ways, the best version of the Doc character.

In the early comic, Doc appeared quite frequently.  Usually, he was performing as a doctor, though, so his appearances were short.  But, they were always poignant.  Doc having to leave Scarface behind to be blown to bits in issue #19 of the Marvel Comic had to be a gut wrenching decision.  Even if someone is evil, doctors take oaths to save their lives.  It's a small moment from the comic that was never really further explored.  And then, Doc died.  Of the Joes who were killed in the comic, Doc was probably the most non-sensical.  He was a somewhat major character and had no logical replacement on the team.  Doc's death didn't hit me as hard as Breaker and Crankcase because they were figures who were more important to me.  But, it was still shocking to see him gunned down.

As a figure, this Plastirama version is visually distinctive from the American figure.  While Brazilian and Mexican Doc figures have a tan that's close to the Hasbro figure, this Argentine release has a much brighter tan color for the entire figure.  It makes for a visually distinct version of Doc.  In addition to the brighter tan, this SOS figure also has silver sunglasses.  Again, the silver is much more eye-catching than the traditional green sunglasses.  And, they offer a quick visual clue as to this figure being from Argentina.  The silver glasses are really the calling card.  And, as all the figures use the same mold, you can swap the head from an SOS with an American Doc for a nice upgrade.

Doc's overall figure isn't all that distinctive.  He's just wearing a shirt with some pockets.  In the early days of Joe collecting, you'd often see Doc's torso taken for use as civilian figures since it was so plain looking.  But, for a doctor, that's just fine.  Doc doesn't need an elaborate uniform to fit with his specialty.  The color and cross help set the figure out as a non-combatant.  And, the relatively simple uniform helps establish Doc as someone who supports the Joes rather than joins them on the front lines.  As a kid, I kept Doc in my HQ for this reason.  Here, he could be a doctor to Joes who were brought in with serious injuries.  Lifeline did the field patchwork to keep them alive long to get to Doc's skilled hands.  And, in adventures where Doc was wounded or captured, the peril in which injured Joes found themselves created all the tension and adventure.

The Plastrirama SOS includes the same cadre of gear as the American figure.  There is the medical helmet cast in a brighter tan color.  I always assumed the two canisters on the helmet were medicine.  But, they could be bandages or other medical supplies.  Plastirama liked this helmet, though, and reused the mold in blue for TNT, silver for Backstop and yellow for Antorcha.  SOS then includes a slightly glossy black flare gun and his stretcher.  (As with all the Plastirama overstock figures, though, the actual weapon may vary and you can find SOS figures with Footloose's rocket launcher as well.)  The stretcher can be in either a green or grey color.  Back in the days of common Plastirama figures, neither color seemed common over the other.  Though, modern collectors may pay premiums for a color they are missing.  SOS figures were also available in COPS boxes and those may contain all sorts of superfluous gear, too.

Doc saw a good amount of use.  He was released in the U.S., Argentina, Mexico and Brazil.  In Brazil, though, his arms were swapped out for Blowtorch's and you can tell the Estrela figure from the bands on his arms.  (The Auriken figure from Mexico uses the same construction.)  After that, though, he disappeared.  Oddly, Doc's stretcher appeared with the Action Force APC in Europe.  An Action Force green colored Doc would have been amazing.  Even a redo of him in red and white to match Lifeline would have been a great repaint.  But, none of these came to be.  Doc was probably underutilized for that reason.  And, not even the character made a return with a new mold.  While Doc wasn't the most exciting figure, he served a purpose and every kid I knew had uses for a medic in their Joe world.

In the early 2000's massive quantities of carded Plastirama figures were made available in the US.  S.O.S., though, was among an assortment of figures that saw lower numbers imported.  And, as such, he was never really as ubiquitous as Satan, TNT or Sokerk.  But, even in those days, you could still buy all the carded S.O.S. figures you wanted for under $10 each.  Slowly, though, the S.O.S. stock dried up.  And, he joined figures like Antorcha and Coyote as characters that got somewhat tough to find.  These days, carded S.O.S. figures don't show up like they should.  And, you might pay upwards of $50 for a good, loose and complete figure.  That's probably too much.  The figure isn't as rare as the  dealer wants you to believe.  And, while the silver glasses are awesome, they aren't worth a huge premium over the American figure.  But, if the price is right, this is a figure that brings some life to the Doc character and provides a nice variant to a character who was somewhat underrepresented in Joe toys.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

1987 Rumber - Around The Web

 In 2000, I bought a large lot from a Canadian seller.  Back in those days, pictures were scarce and most large lots were guys trying to get some beer money.  The lot had a ton of great stuff in it: a Starduster, Cobra MSV gas cans, and even an entire set of 1989 Cobra army builders that the seller hadn't mentioned.  Also included were not one but two Rumbler figures.

At first, this was great.  Rumbler was pretty hard to find and you almost never saw him online in the sparse photos of the day.  But, upon receipt of him, I also realized the figure wasn't great.  And, were he not rare, people would absolutely hate him.  In the ensuing two decades, I've tried to find uses for Rumbler.  But, he's pretty bland and isn't all that interesting in photos.  Rumbler does feature the two tone chest and the green gloves for color contrast.  But, they are hard to see and only captured in photos with good lighting.  Like lots of relatively hard to find figures, there's a bit more content out there on Rumbler than there would be on figures of similar quality who aren't hard to find.  Here's the best of Rumbler from around the web.

1987 Rumbler Profile

1987 Rumbler by flint

1987 Rumbler by thedustinmccoy

1987 Rumbler by scarrviper

1987 Rumbler at JoeADay.com

1987 Rumbler by Hit and Run

1987 Rumbler at Action Figure Adventures

1987 Rumbler at mizak23

1987 Rumbler, Crossfire RC, 1991 Super Sonic Fighter Falcon, 2003 Toy Fare Scarlett, 1993 Monster Blaster APC, Mega Marines

1987 Rumbler, Crossfire RC, 1986 Mission to Brazil Leatherneck, 1985 Mauler MBT

1987 Rumbler, Crossfire RC, 2005 Iron Anvil, Convention Exclusive

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

2002 Funskool Law

 The A Real American Hero Collection (ARAHC) was Hasbro's resurrection of the G.I. Joe line in 2000.  But, though mismanagement, changing corporate priorities and general ineptitude, the line died at retail in 2001: less than 18 months after a strong debut.  Now, while this sounds like a failure (it was!) it should be noted that in 2002, Hasbro shifted to a new style of Joe sculpting.  As they felt that they were finally done with vintage G.I. Joe sculpts, Hasbro shipped off some recently used molds to Funskool.  Funskool quickly put some of these molds into production.  Collectors of the era were not overly thrilled as these new Funskool figures used molds that had, in many cases, pegwarmed in the U.S. and were generally loathed.  But, in a couple of cases, Funskool made something fun and slightly different.  One such example is the 2002 Funskool Law.

At its core, this Funskool Law is almost identical to the 2000 ARAHC release.  The brown color is very similar.  The white shirt is the same.  The big difference is that the figure's vest is also brown instead of the blue from the 2000 figure.  But, the biggest change is that Funskool painted a bushy mustache on Law's face.  When images of this figure debuted, the mustache quickly became the joke du jour.  It was a silly addition that made no sense.  But, it also was enough of a feature to allow collectors of the era to enjoy the figure as someone new.  (In the early 2000's, collectors had a lot of "rules" about Joes and who could be a character in their collection.  It seems odd, now.  But, it was a function of the fact that most collectors were new and had not had a chance to build up several versions of each Joe, yet.)  The fact that the figure quality was pretty good certainly helped, too.

I've always been a Law fan.  (I have never been an Order fan and don't really care for the dog as an accessory.)  Back in the winter of 1987, I took a few Joes out in the snow.   We had this battery operated 6 wheeled vehicle and two Law figures.  I gave one of them a Grunt M-16 from the accessory pack and had them be the bad guys who were chasing my Joes through the snow.  I don't know why that adventure sticks out so much as I never used Laws as bad guys again.  But, it was the start of seeing Law not as a character, but as a nameless, faceless army building MP who could be working for the Joes, working with the Joes or working against the Joes with some juggler.  It was a great way to get more mileage out of the Law figure.  And, as I was able to acquire more and more Law figures, the role of law enforcement grew in my collection.

There was a time when I had more versions of Law than any Cobra army builder aside from the 1993 mail away Snow Serpent.  While that's no longer the case, Law still retains a strong presence in my collection.  Having extra police around is always a useful thing.  And, figures like Law do allow for army building as well as realistic reasons for these figures to exist in multiples and all look alike.  And, with figures like law enforcement, the fact that they are supporting the Joes, but not the creme de la creme the military has to offer still remains within the realm of possibility.  So, often, my childhood play would revolve around the Joes capturing some Cobras, handing them over to the police, only for the Cobras to escape the lesser qualified personnel.

The value in figures like Law is that they were useful as quick filler stories when I had 20 minutes before school or just a few minutes between brushing my teeth and having to turn out the light.  The other upside is that corrupt law enforcement was always another angle to take.  So, Law figures might be fighting the Joes because they had been bought off by Cobra.  Or, more likely, they were working under the orders of a corrupt general who convinced them the Joes were the enemy.  A diversion from the standard Joe vs. Cobra dichotomy was a welcome fresh breath at times and was just another reason why I was able to focus only on Joe toys as a kid and never get bored.

The Funskool Law's gear is not good.  The figure does not include any of the excellent gear from the Hasbro releases of Law.  (The helmets on my figures are after market additions from spare 2000, 1987 and 1990 Law figures.)  Instead of his uzi and nightstick, this Funskool Law gets a terrible 1989 Deep Six weapon.  The real calling card of the gear, though, is the mission cards.  By 2002, G.I. Joe sales in India were sluggish.  In an effort to revive the brand, Funskool tried several different accessory gimmicks.  Along with the decoder cards from Law, there was an inkpad with Grunt, play-doh grenades with Metal Head and a parachute with Wild Weasel.  All of these were attempts to increase sales.  But, they didn't really work as Funskool stopped producing new figures in 2004 and was mostly done with G.I. Joe by 2005 or so.  The mission cards would be fun for a kid for about 2 minutes.  After that, they are just clutter.  But, when you know why Funskool created them, their inclusion makes more sense.

During their Joe run, Funskool had some rules to follow from Hasbro about certain figure designs.  In cases where the Funskool figure looks similar to an American release (like this Law), that meant that Hasbro cared about the character and wanted a uniform look across all figure releases.  In cases of radical departure from the source material (like, say, Big Brawler), Hasbro didn't care about the character and let Funskool do whatever they wanted to the figure in terms of color scheme.  This is why you'll see an odd mix of Funskool figures where some are true to their roots and others are bright diversions that heavily stray from any existing view of a character.  

Law had a good run.  The figure was released in 1987 and got an awesome repaint in the Sonic Fighters series in 1990.  The figure was rumored to be one of figures to be included in a desert themed 1998 repaint of the original G.I. Joe Headquarters.  But, Hasbro could not make that happen.  So, instead, Law appeared in 2000 as an inaugural member of the A Real American Hero Collection.  He was carried over to Wave II of that line in 2001 and quickly backed up at retail around North America.  Hasbro shipped the mold off to Funskool where this figure debuted in 2002.  No major variants of Funskool Law have been found and the mold died in India...not even returning in 2009/2010 when Funskool launched a small resurgence line of Joes to accompany the G.I. Joe movie.

A few points on the figure.  The card art, shown below, features law with a Beach Head rifle and an unidentified pistol.  The Beach Head rifle was a piece of gear that was always welcome and it's a shame that this Law figure didn't include it.  The other point of note on the figure is the black armband.  On the US figure, this is emblazoned with an "MP" to denote Law's specialty.  The Funskool figure, though, just features a black armband that makes it appear that Law is grieving for the loss of some Joe team mate.  It's one of those things that doesn't seem all that important upon first glance.  But, once you see it, the black armband becomes a defining feature of the figure.

Funskool Laws were somewhat popular at the time of their release.  While 2000 Laws were still hanging around if you looked hard enough, the reality is that the figure is a solid army builder and collectors of the day did buy up items that could be used in that capacity.  So, while many of Laws contemporary releases have climbed to triple digit purchases, Law remains cheaper.  But, that doesn't mean inexpensive.  You can get carded Laws for $50-$60 which is a dozen times higher than the retail cost from 2002 - 2005 or so.  Loose figures sell in the $20 range.  But, finding them complete can be challenge since he includes so much paperwork.  For those prices, buy extra 2000 Laws and hand paint a mustache on some.  You get a better figure with a head of about the same quality.  And, you get better gear to boot.  But, as an oddity, the Funskool Law is a good way to expand your Joe police force.  You just need to get them some better gear.

2002 Funskool Law, 1986, AVAC

2002 Funskool Law, 2000 Wild Bill, ARAHC

2002 Funskool Law, 2000 Wild Bill, ARAHC, 2001 Funskool Desert Scorpion

2002 Funskool Law, 2000 Wild Bill, ARAHC, 2001 Funskool Desert Scorpion, 2005, Comic Pack Ripper, Dreadnok

2002 Funskool Law, MOC

2002 Funskool Law, MOC

2002 Funskool Law, MOC

Saturday, March 6, 2021

2003 Crimson Guard Immortal - Around The Web

The 2003 Crimson Guard Immortal is a solid repaint.  It's different enough to stand on his own.  And, he's not so bizarre that he's too out there to be enjoyed.  During the heyday of Joe collecting in the early 2000's, this figure was rather popular.  Now, he's seen less often just due to his obscurity.  I had to go way back to find much of this content on him.  And, old-timers like me will see many names from collecting ages long gone.  I hope that much of the now 15 year old material that remains is saved from destruction.  There was so much excellent Joe content back in those days.  Now, you see less and less of it.  And, some of the extravagance that made for excellent shots has been lost.  Enjoy this trip down memory lane, though!

2003 Crimson Guard Immortal Profile

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Arctic Assault - Action Force Exclusive

In the early 1980's, the European toy company, Palitoy, created a series of toys based on military adventure.  The fact that they coincided with G.I. Joe may have been insider industry knowledge or just pure coincidence.  But, the two lines debuted close enough together that the timing is a bit suspect.  The European line, though, featured 5 points of articulation, in the style of Star Wars figures that dominated the marketplace.  (And, coincidentally, were distributed in Europe by Palitoy.)  The line featured a fully integrated assortment of vehicles and playsets that augmented the figures.  And, in the second year, also featured a well thought out and developed bad guy.  In short, had G.I. Joe articulation (and Hasbro marketing muscle) not changed the landscape of action figures in 1982, it's possible that Action Force may have had a very different history.  But, Joe won the military action figure wars and the original Action Force line has become a bit of a cult favorite among Joe collectors.  For my look at Action Force in general, I chose the Arctic Assault figure as the subject of this profile.

Had I acquired this figure after August of 1983, I would have hated it.  At that point, G.I. Joe had taken hold and was now the only figure type that I really wanted to play with.  Prior to that, though, this figure would have found a tremendous home among my Star Wars figures.  Frankly, this figure is closer to the Hoth Rebel Commando that I always wanted than the vintage Star Wars figure is.  He would easily have joined my Hoth forces and fought against the AT-AT and Snow Troopers.  Now, he is also compatible with the current Star Wars figures that were available at retail just a few years ago (and, sometimes, still are!).  The 5 points of articulation figures that Hasbro has been peddling for the past couple of years are pretty much the same quality as Action Force figures.  Frankly, it would be kind of fun to see a 5POA line of Action Force inspired homages.  But, only if they retain the uniqueness of the originals and aren't a niche, kickstarter type thing.  You can see how the Arctic Assault figure stands up with a Hovertank Pilot released in 2017 below.  There's really nothing other than the '80's style eye paint that would tell you one figure is about 35 years older than the other.

The figure itself is very detailed.  The suit is bulky (befitting arctic insulation) and is adorned with pouches, pockets and a detailed belt.  The boots are solidly sculpted, too.  The head features a comm device that is sculpted to the face (one less little accessory to lose!) as well as sculpting showing a helmet with a skull cap/hood underneath that exposes the figures's face.  The design was substantially stronger than what Kenner was doing at the same time with their Star Wars figures.  And, the added paint applications and accessories would have really made Action Force stand out among toys on the pegs in 1982.

For me, the real value in Action Force figures are the accessories.  The early figures all featured weapons exclusive to the Palitoy line.  While the backpacks are over the shoulder harnesses in the mold of the Kenner Star Wars accessory packs, the guns look very similar to Hasbro weapons.  The weapons are excellently detailed and scaled to work with Joe figures.  As such, I find they are a great way to accessorize Joes with different weapons that you don't see all that often.  Action Force featured weapons in a few different colors, too.  So, you get additional diversity from those changes.  The later Action Force figures featured recolored G.I. Joe weapons.  While the light blue Uzis aren't all that interesting, the black Zap bazooka from the Red Shadows figure is.  The whole line features an array of gear that is an excellent supplement to the Joe line.  And, since the figures tend to be inexpensive, you can acquire the gear for cheap prices to outfit Joes.

The Arctic Assault figure includes a few different items.  The first is a silver version of the SA-80 rifle that was common in the Action Force line.  This is significant as silver is a logical color for weapons that is very distinctive.  One reason for that, though, is because Hasbro didn't use silver as the color of their weapons very often.  Silver accessories didn't appear in the Joe line until 1985.  And, it wasn't until the 1990's that it become even somewhat commonplace.  Seeing the color on an early weapon really brings distinction to it.  

Aside from the rifle, the figure also includes a white backpack and a white ladder.  The back is bulky and well detailed.  The fastening plastic straps are a design that works well, but also doesn't tend to withstand long childhood playtimes where they are taken off and put on again over and over.  They also hinder interchangeability as not all of them fit on all figures in the line.  The Hasbro design of the peg in back of figures allowed not only for greater uniformity and compatibility, but also lessened the wear on functional points of the accessories.  And, it was a solid step forward...even if the straps on this pack are more realistic.  The pack has a cargo slot into which fits a folding ladder.  I'm not sure of the intent of this piece of gear.  But, the fact that it folds up is pretty cool.  As a kid, things like toy ladders were necessary when playing on the stairs.  So, it's a cool addition to the line and the type of thing you don't really notice until you get one in hand.

Like most Palitoy offerings, this Arctic Assault figure's mold was used several times.  Aside from this white and blue winter offering, you can get the figure in desert camo or all white.  If you look on the package of the Arctic Assault, there is a version of the figure painted in green cammo carrying a black SA-80.  I can not find that this figure was ever released.  If you have knowledge of it, please let me know.  There are many variants in the Action Force line in terms of the way the faces are painted and even the cammo patterns.  So, keep your eyes open for those, too.  The head appears on a couple of other figures (notably the Naval Assault figure) as well.  There are lots of reused body parts in the Action Force line.  But, they experimented with different arm positions and such to a much greater extent than Kenner ever did with the Star Wars line.  And, you can find familiar pieces used in a variety of unique ways.

While Action Force does have it's pricey figures, the line is, in general, very inexpensive to collect.  (As long as you steer clear of the Hasbro G.I. Joe repaints, that is!)  Palitoy created a line for Western European children.  In 1982, the target populations for Palitoy's line in Europe and Hasbro's line in the U.S. were about the same.  So, this explains the large volume of toys that were made, sold and survive to this day.  Plus, Action Force only lasted for about three years before it, basically, became rebranded G.I. Joe.  So, the target market for Action Force childhood collectors is much smaller than that of G.I. Joe. As such, you can get mint and complete figures like this Arctic Assault figure for around $10.00.  Dealers will sometimes get $20.  But, incomplete figures are nearly worthless.  In lots, these go much cheaper and you're more likely to get the accessories.  You can usually find European collectors with spares, too, who might be willing to trade for Joes.  If this style of figures is something interesting to you, the cheap price makes them an attractive acquisition.  For me, they are fun additions to a collection.  But, they are not something I'm looking to complete.  But, getting a few spare accessories is a good way to arm some Joes with new weapons that look like they could be from the vintage line but definitely aren't.

Action Force Arctic Assault, Red Shadows, Palitoy, SAS Machine Gunner

Action Force Arctic Assault, Red Shadows, Palitoy, SAS Machine Gunner