Twenty years ago this month, the Funskool Crimson Guard figure debuted. At the time, the Joe collecting community was large, vibrant and extremely army builder focused. This created a perfect storm of collector desire matching up with a potential release. Once the figure appeared at stores, it quickly sold out, despite dealers of the day over-ordering in anticipation of unprecedented demand. Large armies appeared in various collecting forums and the figure appeared to have made an inroads in ways that no Funskool army builder save the Night Viper had done. Time, though, has left this Funskool release a forgotten relic of the army building era. Gone are the days of cheap access to this figure. And, newer collectors see little need for a figure that is inferior to the American version while still costing about the same as one.
In 2001, the Joe world was on fire. Collecting forums sprouted up frequently. And, many were able to grow quite large. Aside from the larger retail presence Joe started seeing in early 2001, there was also a new comic book. This fueled the fire, especially as the comic publisher opened a forum that quickly became the most visited Joe community online. In those early days, collectors were relatively collaborative and tended to all be in the same place. Most of us were relatively new to collecting and had a shared childhood duration that was heavily focused between 1982 and 1987. The community always had things to discuss since every Joe topic had yet to be beaten to death. And, more importantly, there was constant news being released about Joe: be it new Hasbro toys or some new comic. This Crimson Guard Immortal figure, though, was the first new Funskool figure announcement. When YoJoe.com started selling Funskool figures in February of 2001, every offering seemed new. When SmallJoes.com came online a few months later, there was one new figure, the 1991 General Hawk, but photos of him surfaced during the website preview and his discovery was malaise rather than anticipation. The Crimson Guard Immortal, though, was announced to the collecting world before he would appear for sale anywhere. Images followed the announcement. Then, the figure appeared.
Upon the CGI's release, he followed a pattern that would appear on highly popular Funskool figures of the day. He'd initially sell out almost instantly. Then, when more stock arrived, he'd last a few days. After that, the figure was a solid seller, but rarely sold out. Collectors who had anticipated triple digit CGI's in their collection found themselves not fulfilling that boast. First, the figure itself has some limitations. Orange and yellow gear combined with the golden head and spotty 2001 era quality on the initial figures all helped to temper some collector demand. But, the bigger factor was that right around the time of this guy's release, Hasbro also released the Laser Viper and Fast Blast Viper. It was followed with the less popular Shadow Viper before Hasbro announced the sculpting change for G.I. Joe figures that debuted in 2002. In short, the CGI quickly became old news in an era when Joe updates were fast and furious. In time, you saw more and more collectors saying they "should" get some more CGI's. But, since the figure was always available, there was no hurry. By the time Hasbro's heavy army building releases relented in 2005, Joe interest faded away with them. And, despite having been out of production for a few years, CGI's were still available at retail prices at Joe dealers all over the internet.
In some ways, this was a sad fate for this figure. The Funskool CGI is pretty solid and a nice replacement for the harder to find and rather brittle Hasbro CGI. Even the off color accessories aren't really that bad since you can limit the figure to his silver launchers and they match his silver accents quite well. In the days of cheap army building, there were only 4 or 5 options that surpassed the Funskool CGI that had any kind of legs. And, as this figure was many collectors first exposure to the CGI mold, it had the added value of expanding some people's vision of the Joe line past figures that were made prior to 1988. The comeback for this figure is that he remains relatively cheap and easy to find, even while all the other 2001-2004 new Funskool releases have gotten hard to find and even rather expensive.
In general, the Funskool CGI is pretty similar to the Hasbro figure. The red is a deeper maroon color and is not a match for the crimson red of the 1991 figure. The Indian version also has much more silver paint used to accentuate the mold's highlights. The biggest visual difference is the golden paint on the figure's head. There's no real reason for this paint application to exist. And, the gold paint isn't as great a match for the figure as the silver. And, a silver head would have probably worked better for this figure's overall appearance. But, in general, the Crimson Guard Immortal is a pretty solid design that fits with other 2000's era army builders.
The Crimson Guard Immortal has a short history. The original figure was released in the U.S. in 1991. From there, the figure was released in Europe, too. Some European examples, though, have a 1990 Rock Viper head instead of the head originally intended for this mold. This is a rare figure. And, large numbers of fakes were produced in Asia around 2010-2012. They were bagged and still float around, passed as originals, with alarming regularity. The CGI's gear was also recolored and released with a 1991 General Hawk in Europe, too. It's possible that the Rock Viper head CGI's are a function of the fact that the CGI head appears on the 1993 Create a Cobra mail away figure, too. The mold was meant to go to Brazil. Estrela cardbacks feature a figure named Flagelo, using the CGI mold. But, this figure was never actually produced. (An American CGI is incorrectly listed as Flagelo in some early international Joe guides.) Funskool then got the mold that went into production in 2001. Funskool CGI's can have gold painted bullets on their left leg, silver painted bullets or unpainted (black) bullets. The silver and black are the harder variations to find. Funskool dropped a final production run of CGI's in April of 2003, right before they returned the mold to Hasbro. Most of these were bagged, but are the highest quality CGI's that Funskool made.
In 2003, Hasbro quickly got the mold into production and released it as the driver of the KB Toys exclusive CAT Tank. This blue version was different. But, wasn't overly popular with collectors of the day. In 2005, the body mold was used for the convention exclusive Destro. It's an odd look for Destro. And, again, didn't make for a really popular figure. The mold then disappeared...never seeing use either the Crimson Guard set from 2004 or the Crimson Shadow Guard from 2005. Hasbro getting the mold back seemed like wasted opportunity...especially since it removed the Funskool CGI's from production. But, the ubiquity of the Funskool figures has helped soften that blow.
The Crimson Guard Immortal mold has a lot of life left in it. A Cobra blue repaint seems a no-brainer. But, a black and silver paint job to match the Shadow Guards would also be a hit. Alas, these are never to come from Hasbro. In the late 2010's, though, a factory custom maker floated the idea of CGI repaints. Spec sheets appeared that showed the CGI in a variety of colors. Among the excellent blends of classic Cobra colors were also some oddball items with the CGI painted up as Boba Fett and Darth Vader. I'm not sure of the board appeal of something like that. But, I'd have probably bought at least one Boba Fett CGI for the curiosity of it all. As of 2021, though, these figures have yet to materialize. They may be pipe dreams at this point. But, they do show that the mold still garners some collector interest and many realize the untapped potential of the design.
So, in an odd bit of irony, the huge popularity of the Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal has made him one of the cheapest Funskool figures to acquire in the 2020's. Today, you can get MOC figures for around $20. Loose figures are harder to come by and tend to sell for similar prices. But, since dealers imported massive amounts of Crimson Guard Immortals in the early 2000's, there's lots of them available today. Now, figures that were ignored by collectors of the early 2000's have gotten hard to find and, in some cases, stupidly expensive. The Crimson Guard Immortal, though, remains relatively affordable. We're two decades removed from the days of buying all of them you wanted for $4 each. But, because so many collectors did, there's lots of them out there. And, the collector demand got lots of toy dealers to also buy up overstock as Funskool liquidated the last of their Joes in the mid 2000's. So, now, we have a figure that's much more common than other figures who were ignored in the Funskool heyday.
That's good since these CGI's are still attainable for a new collector. But, at collector prices, the usefulness and desire to army build these guys fades away. You don't see too many Funskool CGI's in photos these days. There are just better options available and few collectors who came of age in the post Funskool collecting landscape ever paid the figures attention as an army building option. I still love this figure, though. He reminds of a great time in the Joe collecting world. He also reminds me of the silliness that pervaded that era, too. I stick around because figures remind me not only of childhood but also of collecting related events that were relevant to young adulthood, too. It's weird to realize that this figure was released and I first reviewed it prior to 9/11. But, that just shows how much of an impact Joe continues to have on my life.