Thursday, April 29, 2021

1983 Steeler - Random Photos of the Day

 Steeler was the only original 13 Joe team member I didn't own as a kid.  Now, though, he's one of the few that I find unique enough to still use in many photos.  He's a fun figure who's far more at home in the Slugger or Mauler than the craptastic MOBAT.  I love the subtle differences between his chest holster and Clutch's and wonder why Hasbro went to so far as to make a distinct chest piece for a driver sold with the highest price point vehicle. 

Here's various photos I've taken of Steeler over the years.  He still holds up pretty well.  I don't actually have any of him with his proper headgear.  I'll need to fix that at some point.

1983 Steeler, MOBAT, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Original 13 G.I. Joes, Wolverine, General Hawk, Red Laser Army, The General, Black Major, Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Dragonfly, Crimson Guard, Sightline

1983 Steeler, MOBAT, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Original 13 G.I. Joes, Wolverine, General Hawk, Red Laser Army, The General, Black Major, Steel Brigade, Mail Away

1983 Steeler, MOBAT, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Original 13 G.I. Joes, Wolverine, General Hawk, Red Laser Army, The General, Black Major, Steel Brigade, Mail Away

1983 Steeler, MOBAT, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Original 13 G.I. Joes, Wolverine, General Hawk, Red Laser Army, The General

1983 Steeler, MOBAT, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Original 13 G.I. Joes

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

2017 Commando - Red Laser's Army Factory Custom

At this point, there are more factory custom figures than there were vintage Joe repaints in the 2000's.  Which is to say: there's a ton of them out there.  Some, like logo variants, are barely noticeable and only fall onto the radar of the most meticulous variant hunter.  Others, obscure army builder repaints or off color designs meant for fun, may be off-putting.  The classic army builder repaints, of course, remain popular.  The last bastion of the factory custom is the "near-Hasbro" figure.  These are designs that look like something Hasbro might have created.  In some cases, these figures are based on early prototypes or unreleased concepts.  In the case of the Commando figure, the figure is based off of a coloring for Snake Eyes that appeared in an early Joe sticker set.

Everyone knows Snake Eyes.  The masked man in black has been a staple of the Joe line since 1982.  Supposedly, he was all black to save money on paint applications.  Through the years, Snake Eyes retained his black look.  And, the repaint era was filled with black Snake Eyes figures with various painted highlights.  One look we never got was Snake Eyes in a more militaristic uniform that better matched his other original team members.  On a sticker sheet produced in the line's earliest years, Snake Eyes appeared in green camo, bare hands and a black mask.  It's a profound departure from the traditional Snake Eyes appearance.  It was not something Hasbro mined as the dumped repaint after repaint of Snake Eyes into the marketplace in the 2000's.  So, finally seeing a figure based on this concept in 2017 seemed massively overdue.

Red Laser's take on the Commando design definitely delivered.  The main drawing point is the green, brown and black body.  Commando features a light green shirt that is broken by brown straps.  His pants are an intricate camo pattern featuring a light and dark green.  The figure's head is black, true to Snake Eyes.  But, the real detail is almost hidden.  Commando's head is not a single color.  Instead, it is a charcoal color with black goggles.  This little detail gives the figure much more depth without being too overbearing like many of the Hasbro repaints of this head would tend to be.  He's rounded out with black boots and pistol as well as a charcoal grenade.  In short, the figure is extremely well colored for a factory custom and looks like it could have been something that Hasbro had made.

One of the sticking points I have about this figure is the uncovered hands.  Sure, the sticker upon which he's based didn't have gloves.  But, there are times when accuracy to source material and the aesthetics of a good toy collide.  Master Collector was notorious for this and they diminished more than a couple of their releases by staying with a detail that was accurate, but looked bad.  Commando has the same issue.  It's weird to see a guy who's entirely covered except for his bare hands.  You can come up with all sort of practical reasons why the ungloved hands work.  But, they still look out of place.  And, this figure would have been perfect had his hands been painted black or charcoal to match his mask.

One of the great points of the Red Laser releases is that they were based on unproduced, pre-production or just weird, offbeat designs from other Joe media.  This allowed for a set of figures that meshed well with vintage figures.  The limited parts library didn't much matter in 2017.  But, it did get somewhat limiting by 2018.  Figures like Commando and the General are releases that simply belong in every collection as they are so different from anything Hasbro released.  Sadly, Red Laser is no more.  I'm always a fan of more vintage Joe releases.  So, having multiple partners who produced Joes was a nice way to get some variety.  With Red Laser out of the picture, it's unlikely we'll see more figures who can expand the 1983-1984 Joe style mythos.  It's very unfortunate.  But, I'm grateful for the figures we did get as guys like this Commando will always have a home in my collection.

Commando's gear isn't great.  The 2017 Red Laser figures didn't feature a ton of accessories.  And, much of what they did have was repetitive.  Commando had a nice complement of weapons, though.  He included a black version of Recoil's rifle, a black Airborne backpack and pistol and a knife.  I believe the pistol and knife were based on Marauder, Inc. gun designs.  But, please correct me in the comments if that is not accurate.  While this gear seems good on the surface, the reality, though, is that Commando can't really hold any of it.  The pistol and knife have large handles.  And, the rifle is too large for the figure's hands, too.  All of the Red Laser figures from this era have very tight hands.  And, as they are not made of the pliable plastic from the 2000's era Joes, the thumbs can break if weapons are forced into place.  Most collectors have resorted to shaving down the weapon handles so that these figures can hold them.  I have yet to take that plunge.  But, Commando gets less usage than he might otherwise since it's very difficult to pose him with weapons.

Quality wise, Red Laser figures are pretty solid.  They are not vintage Joe quality.  And, the lack of pliable plastic hands is an issue that plagues many figures in the set.  But, the joints are tight and feel like a real toy instead of a fragile collectible.  The figure poses well and will stay in place.  Factory customs have always been a mixed bag of quality where some figures are pretty solid and others will have issues.  Commando seems one figure that is usually pretty good.  There weren't a ton of quality complaints on the 2017 Red Laser offerings.  So, you can buy with a bit of certainty that the figure won't fall apart or have floppy joints unless someone has used it to death.

Commando was one of the more popular 2017 Red Laser Army releases.  He would sell out from time to time and disappear for a few weeks before a few more would pop up again.  Now, though, he's long gone from original sellers (at least in bulk) and appears for sale infrequently.  As such, he's gotten expensive.  You can still get him under $40 if you spend enough time looking around.  That's not terrible for a new version of Snake Eyes that is in colors you don't see anywhere else. But, it's also a lot when you consider what else you could get for the money.  But, Joe pricing is still pretty high and probably heavily inflated.  Low production number items, though, don't tend to flow back into the market in great abundance, though, when there's a correction.  I'm happy to have purchased this figure upon his release.  With factory customs, you sometimes win and sometimes lose with that strategy.  But, it ensures you get the figures you want.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

1989 Payload - Around the Web

The original Payload mold was only used twice in the US and both releases are frustratingly hard to find.  While the 1987 original figure is probably better, this 1989 release is pretty solid.  The colors work for an astronaut.  Hasbro wanted to release the figure on a single card as part of the 1993 Star Brigade.  But, that black and green paint job was never destined to be since Hasbro couldn't find the mold and repainted the 1992 BBQ instead.  There's not tons of Payload content out there.  But, some guys have done some pretty cool stuff with the figure over the years.  Here's the best of the 1989 Payload from around the web.

1989 Payload Profile

1989 Payload by BackyardJoes

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

1993 Star Brigade Countdown

Some memories fade in time.  But, working through all the details I do recall, I'm able to confirm timelines of many of my post childhood Joes.  What I do remember about the 1993 Countdown is that I found him over spring break when I was home from college.  I also remember that I emptied out a jar of change and paid for this figure in quarters at the local KB Toy Works that was at the Lafayette Square mall in Indianapolis.  Remembering that the weather was nice helps me place this as a 1995 purchase. That also jives with my recollection of him being among the first figures I added to my collection around this time.

Countdown's color scheme is just poor.  The blue flightsuit is too close to Cobra colors.  (And, the plastic Hasbro used is REALLY susceptible to discoloring.)  The white and red mesh well enough.  But, the figure is busy without being put together.  The 1989 and 1994 paint jobs tie the mold together much more tightly.  The yellow accessories exacerbate the problem.  The figure just seems noisy.  It's hard to pair him with other figures for photos and he seems out of place in most vehicles.  While the mold is strong for an Astronaut, the more subtle paint choices on the other releases are far better options with the Crusader or Defiant as well as any other Joe aircraft.

The paint job obfuscates the quality of the Countdown mold.  The space suit is sleek and the helmet is a tight fit without being detrimental to the paint on the figure's head.  It's a look that's instantly recognizable as an astronaut.  But, also somewhat futuristic and modern.  In short, it's a perfect look for an astronaut on the G.I. Joe team.  The holstered pistol and various canisters on the body work for a military spaceman.  Sadly, though, without a backpack, Countdown's survival in space would be severely limited in time.  1989 Countdown packs work well enough and were common to find back in the early days of Joe collecting.  But, the lack of a pack was one of the reasons why this figure found himself an earth bound fighter pilot instead of an astronaut in my Joe world.

This Countdown no longer serves any real purpose in my collection.  I have better Countdown figures to display and use in photos.  The only reason this figure holds any value to me is because he was one of the figures I had early in my return to collecting as a young adult.  I was a broke college kid who bought this figure in change because the price was right and, at the time, any figure that had a removable helmet and could be used as a pilot was in my wheelhouse.  So, Countdown quickly found himself in the Razorblade.  Here, he was a nameless, faceless pilot who was blown to bits, incinerated, flatted upon impact or drowned in the ocean when his aircraft was destroyed.  But, this was short-lived.  First, Countdown's colors didn't really work with the more military themed paint job of the Razorblade.  But, second and more importantly, Ozone was more fun to play with.  His smaller helmet allowed for greater head movement and, by proxy, much more brutal death scenes.  So, Ozone became the pilot du jour in the Razorblade and Countdown fell out of favor...never to return.

Twenty five years later, this Countdown's place remains the same.  While I love Star Brigade, the 1993 Countdown isn't really part of that equation.  The Countdown character is the 1994 figure.  When I look at this 1993 version, I do remember the times when I had only he and Ozone as pilots.  But, my memories are mostly of Ozone due to his far better death scenes played out with the less limiting fit of his helmet.  I tried Countdown as a deep sea diver.  But, the 1993 Payload worked better for that.  And, I added the 1989 Deep Six to my collection relatively quickly in the late 1990's.  So, this Countdown sat, unloved for many years.  While I still have a carded version, this loose figure is starting to discolor due to neglect.  It's a sad fate for the figure.  But, kind of analogous to his history in my collection.  

Countdown's accessories are not great.  The reason they're not great is because they are bright yellow.  Really, the weapons included with the figure are excellent sculpts.  But, in bad colors, they lose all their value.  Countdown's main rifle is a re-sculpt of the 1992 Cloudburst rifle.  I have little recollection of this yellow release.  Instead, all the memories of this weapon being introduced into my collection are from the 1993 Backblast's black version.  The gun is large.  But, I find it a nice complement to 1993 era figures.  Countdown also has a huge rocket launcher.  I've never really liked it as it's a bit outlandish.  But, the weapon can have some uses.  There is also a nice, slim knife.  In black, it's pretty good.  In yellow, it's not.  Countdown is completed with a figure stand and the requisite spring loaded missile launcher.  In black, this gear would have been cool.  But, in yellow, it's not.  You can get this same weapon tree in an interesting green color with the Funskool Countdown figure.  While it still doesn't really mesh with the 1993 Countdown paint job, it has more uses with other 1993 figures.

Countdown had a nice history.  The first version of the figure appeared in 1989.  This release was silver, white and blue and is one of the nicest astronauts Hasbro ever made.  The red, blue and white 1993 release is drastically different.  The 1994 paint job is grey, green and blue and is a striking figure that's easily on par with the 1989 release.  Hasbro then sent the mold to Funskool.  They started producing a Countdown in India starting in the late 1990's.  There are a few variants of this figure: mostly slight color shadings and differences in eye paint.  Countdown's head appeared in some of the Funskool marketing incentive figures, too.  Collectors have three major paint variations they can track down.  And, one Funskool figure that is based on this 1993 paint job.  That's a lot for an astronaut.  Of course, I'd take another repaint of the mold.  But, this will never happen and I'm content with what we actually got from Hasbro.

The 1993 Star Brigade figures actually share a general look.  Countdown shares the red and white with Roadblock and the red and blue with Ozone.  The colors aren't a perfect match.  But, they show more uniformity than other late subsets.  Payload is the only outlier.  Though, his blue 1994 variant would kind of fit with the team.  The real oddball of the series, though, is the cardbacks.  The 1993 Star Brigade featured the first generic card art in the line's history.  Instead of each character getting their own artwork, the packaging features an Astro Viper and the mold that was supposed to be Payload.  (Hasbro couldn't find the 1987 Payload mold.  So, the 1992 Eco Warriors Barbecue was tapped for the character instead.)  Even the cardbacks featured photos of the actual figures instead of thumbnails of the card art.  (Though, the green Payload on early cardbacks is either airbrushed or a photo of a handpainted sample.)  The Armor Tech Star Brigade figures did get unique card art and appear as artwork on the cardbacks.  But, Hasbro was about saving money as the line limped to the end.  1993 Star Brigade would be joined by the Shadow Ninjas in 1994 as the only U.S. Joe releases with generic card art.  The entire series suffers for this as the cards are generic and not that eye-catching.  The 1994 Star Brigade series is one of the nicest looking subsets in the line.  1993 Star Brigade might be the worst.

High quality carded 1993 Countdowns run around $18 or so.  But, there are lots of off condition carded samples available that tend to sell in the $10 range.  This is about the same price you'll pay for a mint and complete with filecard Countdown.  Figures that aren't complete will run about $5.  In short, loose 1993 Countdowns remain one of the really cheap options for Joe collectors.  But, this red, blue and white version is, easily, the worst paint job for this sculpt.  So, his pricing makes sense.  While I love Star Brigade figures, I'm not fond of this Countdown.  All of his other versions are better.  This figure, though, does still have a connection to me though his time of purchase and his existence in my collection when my pickings were slim.

1993 Countdown, Star Brigade, Ozone, Battle Corps, 1994 Beach Head, 1988 Desert Fox

1993 Star Brigade Countdown, Mega Marines Clutch, Mudbuster

1993 Countdown, 1990 Freefall, Star Brigade, 1995 P40 Warhawk, Sgt. Savage

1993 Star Brigade Coundown, Headhunter Stormtrooper, Gristle, 1986 STUN

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Mastim (Brazilian Exclusive Mutt) - Around The Web

I'm a sucker for classic Joe figures that had very slight repaints in other countries.  Mutt is no exception.  This Brazilian Mastim features darker greens than the US Mutt and a more sunburned skin tone.  The most notable change, though, is that this Mutt is missing his trademark badge on his chest.  Estrela removed this feature of the Mutt mold and forever altered the appearance of every subsequent release of Mutt.  I was able to tap into a vibrant community of Brazilian Comandos Em Acao collectors and found some solid content on Mastim out there.  It was nice to see the figure gets love in his native land.  Here's the best of the Brazilian Mastim from around the web.

Mastim Profile

Mutt Around The World

Mastim by the atticagazette

Mastim by LimaFettVinicius

Mastim by comandos_em_acao_gijoe

Mastim by dennis.rodrigooliveira

Mastim by brincango_com_meus_joe

Mastim by viniciusfettlima77

Mastim by comandos_em_acao_gijoe

Mastim by octaviopessao_

Comandos Em Acoa Review

Mastim by comandos_em_acao_gijoe

Estrela, Brazil, Mastim, Mutt, 1984, Funskool Beach Head

1986 Mastim, Comandos Em Acao, 1984 Mutt, Junkyard, Brazil, Brazilian, 1997, 2020 Black Major, Snake Eyes

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

1991 Super Sonic Fighters Rock and Roll

In 1989, Hasbro rebooted a few of the original 13 characters from the Joe line.  Snake Eyes and Stalker were the big two.  But, they were joined by a new take on the Rock and Roll character, too.  Rock and Roll was both an upgrade over his original figure as well as an homage that kept a few basic premises that made the character unique back in 1982.  It was a perfect blend of design that was matched with solid colors and an amazing contingent of accessories.  In 1991, Hasbro also introduced a line of figures called the Super Sonic Fighters.  These figures were repaints of existing molds that included a super expensive electronic backpack.  One of the molds selected for this series was the 1989 Rock and Roll.  This time around, he was given new accessories and darker, richer base colors.  The figure was destined to join Falcon and Law (from the prior year) as amazing repaints of classic molds.  Hasbro, though, added a fun little perk to Rock and Roll.  They tripped him out in orange highlights.  The bright color was a harbinger of things to come and was used to draw the eye of potential customers to this higher priced (and more profitable) Super Sonic Fighters figures.

In the comic book, Rock and Roll's 1989 look was introduced in a dark green ensemble.  It's a repaint that Hasbro should have made.  And, if you look beyond the orange of this 1991 repaint, you see that Hasbro was so very close to delivering on that artistic license from Marvel.  The figure's shirt is a rich evergreen color that is rare in the vintage line.  His pants are brown.  Sans orange highlights, this combo would have been a great update for Rock and Roll that would not have treaded upon the 1989 version.  Hasbro, though, did include bright orange highlights.  And, while they might have somewhat ruined what could have been the perfect Rock and Roll, they also give the figure some personality.  The orange allows this figure to stand out and be seen.  Brightly colored Joe figures tend to photograph well.  And, this Rock and Roll is no exception.  The neon highlights help showcase the figure's quality and pull him out of a drab background.

I'm a fan of neon Joes.  I love them because they are eye catching toys.  Joe was never about "realistic military!".  It is superhero fantasy set within a military framework.  And, figures like Rock and Roll fit into that.  This guy lugs around a massive machine gun that he can fire standing up as well as a mortar that's thicker than his waist.  His original design had him with pistol grip double barreled gatling cannons that were fed from an ammo pack on his back.  He was a superhero archetype right from the beginning.  So, having him in colors that are bright and eye catching fits with that motif.  When you are larger than life, realistic rules no longer apply.  And, in this context, Joe makes a lot more sense.

My biggest issue with this figure is not the orange highlights.  Instead, it's the amount of unpainted details on the figure.  The 1989 Rock and Roll suffers from the same fate.  This figure sculpt is covered in bullets, buckles, belts and pouches.  None of which are painted.  So, you lose much of the sculpt's amazing details as they obscured by being the same color as the figure's base pants, shirt or orange harness.  The legs, especially, are under-detailed.  Rock and Roll's legs are covered in bullets and straps that, if painted, would have raised this figure to another level.  Instead, they are lost in the sea of brown and collectors miss out on the amazing sculpting that covers this entire mold.

By 1989, I was done with Joe.  I bought no figures and even my youngest brother had mostly moved on.  But, I was buying the comic.  And, as I was bored each day in my first period Spanish class, I'd often write up adventures for Joe figures that I did not own.  Rock and Roll was the one who most stood out.  I thought his gear was awesome and his new look was perfect for a character from my childhood.  When I started collecting as an adult, a mint 1989 Rock and Roll was among the first figures I tracked down.  This orange figure, though, never entered my mind.  

In 1999, I was about the only person scouring Ebay for lots of figures from the 1990's.  Most collectors of that time believed the line ended in 1987 but would allow for Hit and Run and Shockwave.  Even the vaunted 1989 army builders were not overly sought after.  In one of these lots, I managed to pick up an entire set of mint and complete with filecard Super Sonic Fighters figures.  I paid less than $2 per figure for that lot.  It was a great time.  I was enamored, though, with Falcon.  And, Road Pig was terrible enough to draw my ire in and early profile.  Rock and Roll, though, fell into the back of my 1991 drawer and never escaped.  His weapon appeared with my 1991 Grunt as I thought it a better fit for that figure.  But, Rock and Roll never appeared in any photos and was completely lost.  In 2009 or so, I sold the figure in a lot of junk.  But, for some reason, I kept his accessories and filecard.

Over the past few years, I've been slowly rebuilding the collection I sold.  While I lament the rare stuff that's now too expensive to ever re-acquire, I've found that finding figures like this Rock and Roll can be a challenge, too.  Mostly, that's because I'm cheap and refuse to pay for figures.  But, also, I can take a while to find figures like Rock and Roll from sellers who have enough other items I want to be able to justify the shipping cost.  (I never pay to ship just 1 figure.)  But, as I track down each of the unchecked boxes in my database, I get to rediscover some gems like this Rock and Roll figure.  It's doubtful I'd have such glowing things to say about him had I kept the original figure that had weird, pink residue on his head.  But, in the hunt, I found value and this figure has captured my attention now, for several months.

Rock and Roll's accessories are his calling card.  The figure includes the massive sonic backpack and a green cone that serves as a weapons stand.  He includes a brown mortar and machine gun.  The mortar is good if you have it set in the stand.  But, it doesn't work on its own.  The best weapon, though, is the machine gun.  It's an excellent sculpt that's just the right size.  The color is fun and unique to the line.  For some reason, though, the brown plastic on the weapons is very soft.  As such, the weapon handles scuff easily.  I'm not aware of any other weapons in the vintage line that are as soft (except, maybe the 1985 Shipwreck's gear).  So, it's likely a function of the plastic color.  Rock and Roll does not include his shotgun from the 1989 figure, though.  This weapon does appear on the card art.  And, in India, the Funskool version of this figure does include an exclusive version of the shotgun.  So, it was likely a last minute omission from this figure.

There are three versions of this Rock and Roll sculpt.  The 1989 figure is the best.  He has the best weapons and the best colors.  This orange figure is great, too.  But, if you can only buy one, get the 1989.  In the mid 1990's, Hasbro sent the mold to Funskool where they released the figure in Sonic colors.  This mold went out of production after a couple of years and is hard to find.  The story then gets interesting.  Funskool returned the mold to Hasbro in 1997.  In 2001, Hasbro wanted to include a version of this Rock and Roll with the 2001 HQ.  Hasbro had the mold, but then could not find it.  So, they went with the 1994 Flint mold instead.  But, then, Hasbro sent the mold BACK to Funskool.  Funskool, not really sure why they got it back, decided they would release it again in 2003 or 2004.  But, the Funskool line was cancelled before they could do that and this Rock and Roll is left with two figures that never came to be.

Dealers will sell complete Rock and Rolls for upwards of $40.  But, you can buy carded versions for that price.  Mint and complete with filecard figures will cost you about $20, with a few deals here and there.  If you sacrifice the filecard, the price for mint and complete figures falls by half.  For that price, everyone should have this figure.  The gun is worth it alone.  But, the dark green color with the bright orange is just a vibrant look that is great for photos and just looks fun.  If the figure wasn't orange, but black, this figure would probably be more than double his current price.  For a figure that's kind of scarce, though, the pricing on this guy is still affordable and makes him a very worthwhile pickup.

1991 Super Sonic Fighters Rock and Roll, 1988 Muskrat, Funskool Chuckles

1991 Super Sonic Fighters Rock and Roll, Funskool Lady Jaye, 1985

1991 Super Sonic Fighters Rock and Roll, 1989 Downtown, 1994 Action Marine

1991 Super Sonic Fighters Rock and Roll, 1994 Flint, Battle Corps

1991 Super Sonic Fighters Rock and Roll

Saturday, April 10, 2021

1993 Col. Courage Around The Web

Col Courage is not a figure I ever thought I'd like.  He wasn't someone I really wanted in the 1990's.  But, upon owning a version of the character, I realized that he's not a bad figure at all.  He's like Alpine, Blowtorch and even Crazylegs in that he's a solid figure who blends into the background.  In hand, you realize how good he is.  But, otherwise, he doesn't much enter your mind.  Despite that, there's a nice assortment of content out there on Col Courage for collectors to enjoy.  Here's the best of the 1993 Col Courage from around the web.

1993 Col. Courage Profile

1993 Col Courage by tituslester32

1993 Col Courage by Nekoman

1993 Col Courage by jogunwarrior

1993 Col Courage by thedustinmccoy

1993 Col Courage by g.i.boyz

1993 Col Courage at Snoova's Corner Cafe

1993 Col Courage by recondo martin

1993 Col Courage by ToneGunsRevisited

1993 Col Courage at

1993 Col Courage by jogunwarrior

1993 Col Courage at Half The Battle

1993 Col Courage, Battle Corps, 1990 Sky Patrol Airwave, 1990 Bullhorn, 1984 VAMP Mark II, 1993 Mail Away Spirit Iron Knife, 1988 Night Force Falcon

1993 Col Courage, Battle Corps, 1990 Sky Patrol Airwave, 1990 Bullhorn, 1984 VAMP Mark II, 1993 Mail Away Spirit Iron Knife

1993 Col Courage, Battle Corps, 1990 Sky Patrol Airwave, 1990 Bullhorn, 1984 VAMP Mark II

1993 Col Courage, Battle Corps

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

1987 Crystal Ball

 Crystal Ball sucks.  Yes, I'm starting this profile with that base statement as there's really no way to otherwise place this figure into a proper context.  He's probably one of the worst Joe figures ever made.  Along with his classmates of Raptor and Big Boa, he fulfills the triumvirate of terrible.  It's hard to understand how Cobra's villains went from Zartan, Firefly, Scrap Iron and Stormshadow to Crystal Ball in just three years.  But, you can see the progression in both 1985 and 1986 that lead to the class of 1987 being the worst crop of Cobras Hasbro ever released in a single year.  

As an idea, Crystal Ball probably had some merit.  A guy who can "read" minds as a means of interrogation would be very useful.  While torture has merits a means of extracting information from prisoners, the social connections that can be formed by a con man to his marks can be even more powerful.  To this day, top notch hackers rely on social engineering to sneak into their targets.  The marks are often unaware of their complicity until it is too late.  Tying him to the Romani superstition of a seventh son of a seventh son gives Crystal Ball that supernatural backstory of a supervillain and made him more interesting to kids of the '80's than a smooth talking friendly guy who gets you to spill your innermost thoughts.

In the collecting community, Crystal Ball really only has two niches.  He's either a joke figure who's played for laughs.  Or, he's a Dreadnok.  In the context of a Dreadnok, Crystal Ball probably works best.  Dreadnoks were societal outcasts.  And, few groups have been historically marginalized like the Romani.  It's easy to see someone like Crystal Ball falling in with this crowd...especially if he had a useful talent like parting rubes with their hard earned money.  So, even today, you'll often see a Crystal Ball figure posed with the Dreadnoks.  And, in this context, he works relatively well.  His costume looks like the ragtag, homemade ware that someone on society's fringes would wear.  The fur collar is ridiculous.  But, it also is the type of ostentatious flair that is found among the Dreadnoks.  His shield is entirely impractical.  But, is the type of MacGuffin device that would distract locals while the Dreadnoks picked their pockets or robbed their cars.

Crystal Ball entered my childhood collection near the end.  But, as it was the end, even a figure with limited appeal found a role.  While I relegated Crystal Ball to one of my brothers, I did appropriate the figure as a viable enemy.  Crystal Ball's value, though, was defensive.  His shield was indestructible.  As I was a fan of the Captain America comics around the time of Crystal Ball's release, it's no secret where this idea came from.  I didn't, though, see Crystal Ball's shield as an offensive weapon like Cap's.  Instead, Crystal Ball would lead Cobra Troopers into battle.  He would block the bullets with his shield with the Vipers lined up behind him.  In other cases, he'd act as a body guard for Cobra high command since his shield could protect them from anything.

These uses are, of course, patently ridiculous.  But, it was a way to use someone new at a time when I was so engrossed in Joe that some classic characters became stale.  It was, though, a way to appreciate the shield accessory, too.  In time, reason won out and Joe gunners would just aim for Crystal Ball's legs.  Then, he's quickly fall and his shield was useless.  It was sometimes useful against Snake Eyes or Stormshadow swords.  But, those were more one off adventures instead of being part of my ongoing story line.  So, Crystal Ball faded away.  And, when it was time to pack up all my Joe figures for posterity, Crystal Ball was among those who were left out for my youngest brother to destroy.  He simply held no value to me.  In the mid 1990's, though, this manifested itself different ways as Crystal Ball joined in with other unloved figures to form roving bands of criminals who would be tracked down and captured by Joe security forces.

Crystal Ball's filecard was written by Stephen King.  King's son, Owen, was a G.I. Joe fan.  And, in thanks for King's contributions to Crystal Ball, the Sneak Peek character's real name is Owen King.  It's a neat little bit of history for the Crystal Ball figure.  But, even that hasn't translated into long term interest in the figure or character.  You get the horror references in Crystal Ball's character.  But, it makes him a bit goofy.  With a better design, the character might have worked.

Crystal Ball looks like Vincent Price.  While such a reference is likely lost on anyone under 30 or so, Price was an iconic enough celebrity at the time that Crystal Ball's resemblance to him further boosted Crystal Ball's horror credentials.  The figure's red eyes were a bit of weirdness that gave Crystal Ball more of a supernatural flavor.  And, while this wasn't an avenue I explored as a kid, it was one that many others used as their basis for Crystal Ball's character.  

In looking back at the Crystal Ball figure, though, there is a lot of quality work that went into him.  He's a perfect example of a figure doing everything right, but still not working.  Crystal Ball's headsculpt is probably the most detailed work Hasbro did on a face at that time.  He textured two-toned hair is a nifty bit of work for 1987.  His gritted teeth showcase exceptional detail.  While his open chest doesn't do much to make Crystal Ball work, the lattice string that holds it together is a nice little detail.  The rest of his outfit is finely detailed with gold paint.  As an example of toy engineering, Crystal Ball really showed what was possible with the Joe line.  The problem, though, is that the character is just too bizaree and the entire ensemble is just too out there to really land within the context of G.I. Joe.  Starting in 1987, G.I. Joe got a bit weird.  And, there were even more bizarre concepts that were proposed but didn't come to be.  Crystal Ball shows that even when these ideas were excellently executed, they were not going to resonate with kids of the day (and their later, adult collector selves) in any meaningful way.

Crystal Ball had two uses.  Hasbro produced this figure and the mold was then sent off to Brazil.  There, Estrela release a Crystal Ball figure that is very similar to the US release.  The mold never appeared again.  For years, customizers used Crystal Ball's parts to make various creations.  The small build of the figure allowed many of his parts to be used for female customs with decent effect.  There really aren't parts on the figure that would have lent themselves to repaints.  Sure, some wacky orange, yellow, blue and purple Funskool release would have been awesome.  But, Crystal Ball is really a one and done figure mold and character.

Because the current Joe market is dumb, you'll see mint and complete with filecard Crystal Balls sell in the $20-$25 range.  Which is WAY too high.  With a little patience, you can get one for $15, though.  Loose figures can be had for even less.  Carded figures sell in the $80 range, which is about the cheapest you'll find a carded 1987 figure.  Crystal Ball is not a popular figure, though.  So, it's pretty likely that this is a figure who's price will plummet when the collectible bubble bursts.  If you don't have a Crystal Ball, it might be worth it to wait out the market.  

1987 Crystal Ball, 2021 Cobra Swamp Trooper, Black Major

1984 Zartan and Chameleon, 1986 Thrasher, Sears Exclsive Dreadnok Ground Assault, Stinger, 2001, Funskool Zartan, 1987 Crystal Ball, 1991 Overkill

Saturday, April 3, 2021

2018 Red Laser Shimik - Around The Web

 In 2018, Red Laser's Army released this Shimik figure.  He was a long wanted character in my collection and having a chance to get this figure with swivel arms was an opportunity I just could not pass by.  Sadly, Red Laser's Army has ceased to be and figures like this will not continue.  But, we got some great figures over the years.  And, collectors are far better off with figures like this Shimik being available.  There's not a ton of content on the figure out there.  You will see that a few people who do like him, though, use him frequently.  Enjoy the best of the Shimik figures from around the web.

Shimik Profile

Shimik by thedustinmccoy

Shimik by Slipstream80

Shimik by c3pestro

Shimik by atticagazette

Shimik by Slipstream80

Shimik by atwooddan

Shimik by atticagazette

Shimik by Slipstream80

Shimik, Red Laser's Army, Factory Custom, Bootleg, Argen 7, Plastirama, Argentina, 1984 Spirit, Steel Brigade, Mail Away

Shimik, Red Laser's Army, Factory Custom, Bootleg, Argen 7, Plastirama, Argentina, 1984 Spirit