1989 saw the advent of the first set of repainted Cobras. Python Patrol brought back a slew of classic Cobra molds, including the best army builders of the first few years of the line. The Python Viper is a figure I actually consider better than the original. But, I'm not a fan of the 1986 Viper. So, mine is a minority opinion for sure. There was a time when Python Patrol figures weren't that hard to find and would sell for less than the original versions. But, now, their single year of release has left them harder to find than the classic Cobras. There's lots of fun stuff using the Python Viper out there.
Saturday, February 26, 2022
Thursday, February 24, 2022
It's hard to believe that we now get some new G.I. Joe news about once per month. Today revealed a whole bunch of new 6 inch figures. But, those aren't anything in which I have interest. So, instead, I'll focus on the meat of the new info today: the ARAH anniversary homages.
The first new reveal was additional images of the upcoming Cobra Trooper and Cobra Officer 2 pack. There's really not much unexpected here. It's the same Trooper and Officer we all know and love on the cardback inspired by their vintage design. The set is now $41.99 and goes up for pre-order today. The only real reveal is that they will include a mortar, stand and green bazooka so you can kind of recreate the JC Penny Cobra 3 pack that very few kids actually owned and few collectors actually care about.
In this case, the homage part actually gets in the way of something useful. The bazooka would be MUCH better in black or blue plastic. In green, it just looks like you stole the bazooka from a Zap because you lost the Cobra Trooper's rifle. The club used to do this type of stuff where they'd sacrifice quality so that something would be a "proper" homage. I'd rather have a weapon that looks better and is more useful than something that references a release so obscure that it wasn't properly documented until like 2015. Maybe we'll get lucky and get another darker green, A-1 bazooka, too.
Next up is the reveal of the filecard and code-name for Ace's co-pilot in the Skystriker. The new character is named Fail-Safe. As names go, it's better than what Hasbro cooked up in the early 2000's. And, the filecard isn't bad as it's focused on his specialty. It's more believable that someone is an expert in one aspect of training than also believing he's perfect at everything.
The final reveal is the one I struggle with. I don't really care for the Transformers. But, they had a bunch of G.I. Joe crossovers, so I understand the fascination with them. And, as Transformers is a much larger brand than G.I. Joe, combining the two helps bring in some additional fans to buy Joe toys. But, in this case, if you want a brand new Baroness figure, you have to spend $89.99 and also get a transforming Megatron. Sure, he turns into a full sized Hiss Tank that can hold figures. But, it's not a toy in which I have interest. And, you can be sure there are a ton of Transformers fans out there who have no interest in paying an additional $20 for a Baroness figure.
But, there's lots of interest in stuff like this. While I don't, personally, care for it. This will sell a lot better than a Baroness and a Retro Hiss Tank mold for $50. And, I ended up buying one. You'll note that Baroness will come carded in the box. So, you'll have to get one for a full carded collection. This isn't scheduled to ship until January of 2023. Maybe it will come earlier. But, it will be a while before we see it in hand.
Tuesday, February 22, 2022
In 1989, G.I. Joe toys were nothing but a memory. While you can read my shameful story of the 1989 Snake Eyes to see how he came into my possession, the only other 1989 figure that was acquired by even my younger brothers was a 1989 Scoop figure. After dominating our house for 6 years, G.I. Joe was done. That didn't mean, though, that I wasn't keeping and eye on the brand. While visits to toy stores were far fewer and there were scant opportunities to check out the retail releases, I was actively buying the Joe comic. And, as such, I had a knowledge of the new figures and characters that would be released that year. While the Cobras of 1989 now gobble up most of that year's attention, it was the new Joe figures that most intrigued me. Downtown, Stalker, Recoil and Backblast all looked like amazing figures to own. But, it was a new version of Rock and Roll that really captured my imagination and remained a figure that got away...kind of.
I worked out an entire backstory for this new version of Rock and Roll. I imagined he was older and had destroyed his knees on a mission. As such, he was still strong, but unable to carry his heavy gear on foot. So, Rock and Roll had to be supported by a vehicle. His preference was the APC as he could carry his large weapons and plenty of ammo. I created all of this in the back row of my Spanish class. I had enough background in the language to easily pass my first year. So, I spent my time writing down mission specs and story outlines in a notebook instead of paying attention. I had pages and pages of notes. It was a way to build a creative outlet for me since playing with toys was pretty much something I could no longer do.
In 1989, I went full in with baseball cards. I had a couple of friends who collected and we were focused on finding Ken Griffey Jr. cards or the Bill Ripken Fuck Face error card. (I remember my two friends calling me and boasting they'd found a box of Fleer with the error at a local store and hidden them. They bought them the next day and didn't get a Ripken. But, I'd pull one from an overpriced pack at a card show later that year.) My collecting impulses and focus were spent on collecting cards instead of playing with toys. It's something that has dogged my life. I need something into which to throw myself for entertainment and distraction from boredom. It was toys, then sports cards, then rugby and then this website. As I've found this year by year, chronological accounting of the Joe line tedious (and, I'm only at 1989!!!!) I do think I'm starting to drift into something new. I'm not sure what that will be, yet. And, when I do, I always usually keep a finger in the pot of the hobby left behind.
1989 was a reboot year. There were 10 standard carded G.I. Joe figures (the other 7 were Cobras). Among them, though, were 4 updated designs of existing characters: Rock and Roll, Stalker, Snake Eyes and Deep Six. I argue that Downtown could easily have been a new Short Fuse and Backblast a new Zap. And, I'll go so far to suggest that Dogfight could have been a new Wild Bill. It seems that Hasbro was making at attempt to maintain some of their relevance with a stream of existing characters to supplement their new releases. We know that 1987 was a turning point for the brand and that 1988 took on some different forms to hide some of the brand damage done in 1987. So, it is possible that 1989 was a way to get the brand back on track. And, I will admit that it was a strong strategy to keep a disinterested teenager around. New looks for some of my favorite characters was a strong enticement to stay connected to the brand. Even if it wasn't enough to get me to actually buy any figures.
Once I fast forward a few years, though, I was back to collecting as an adult. I had money to spend and the internet offered many opportunities to buy items I had always wanted. One of my top priorities when returning to collecting was to acquire a 1989 Rock and Roll. I hadn't been able to own one as a kid. But, I wasn't going to let that opportunity pass me by as an adult. And, I sought out the figure early in my online buying days. While there were a few Rock and Rolls for sale as individual figures, it was far more cost effective to get one in a lot. Back in the late 1990's, most lots that were for sale featured most mint and complete figures that were taken care of in someone's childhood. You could get them for $1.50 to $2.00 per figure and the lots were full of army builders, mail aways and other goodies. I sought out a lot with Rock and Roll, bought it and had the whole world of post 1988 Joes opened up to me. Rock and Roll was the gateway to exploring the later years of the line. And, I spent my early collecting years not rebuying toys from my childhood but, instead, buying up the Joes I had never owned. It was counter to the thinking of the time. But, to me, something new was always better than something I had owned before.
As a new sculpt, this Rock and Roll is gorgeous. It is the true to the original character with the blonde beard and heavy machine guns. But, the 1989 design brings a whole new element to Rock and Roll. You can argue between he and Stalker as to who was the better upgrade in 1989. But, both were near perfect ways to bring a character from 1982 back to life in 1989. You'll notice that Rock and Roll has wrinkles sculpted around his eyes. It shows a weariness from stress and age that you'd see in an old warrior like him. This new depth in his facial expression helped mold the character I created for the new release. The figure, though, has some issues. While the entire body is covered in amazing sculpted details, Hasbro didn't choose to paint most of them. The only thing that discerns this Rock and Roll from the sparsely painted 1988 releases is the camo pattern on his legs. His chest and leg details, though, are left to blend into the base plastic color of torso and thighs. It's a shame as the details would have popped with some silver, brown and black paint. But, the cost of Rock and Roll's accessories likely diluted the budget that was available to him for additional paint masks.
When it comes to accessories, Rock and Roll is fully decked out in his heavy machine gunner role. He includes a nicely sculpted, but largely useless, shotgun that affixes to his right leg. It's a neat detail. But, something that's difficult to get the figure to hold. He then includes an ammo backpack. It's not greatly detailed, but works for its purpose. It has tabs on the left and right that are used to attach the two straps of bullets to the pack. These flexible, grey pieces then connect to tabs on the underside of Rock and Roll's dual machine guns. He has two of these weapons, one for each hand, and each weapon has two barrels positioned beneath a neatly designed pistol grip. Rock and Roll is a walking wall of firepower. Oddly, he does not have a right and left weapon. Each of his two machine guns are the same. This makes attaching the bullets somewhat awkward. But, the overall size and bulk of whole setup is tough to use and the bullets easily detach in play. So, it's easier to just take Rock and Roll with one gun and his pack.
The Rock and Roll mold had three uses. After this 1989 version was released, the mold was repainted in 1991 for the Super Sonic Fighters line. This orange highlighted figure features excellent base colors and is a fun addition to a Rock and Roll collection. Hasbro then sent the mold to India where Funskool released a figure very similar to the 1991 version for a few years. After that, the mold kind of moved around. Funskool returned it to Hasbro sometime in the 1990's. Hasbro planned to use it for the 2001 Headquarters pack in figure. But, for some reason, they returned the mold to Funskool before they could do so. Funskool didn't really know why they got it back. But, they planned a new repaint of the 1989 Rock and Roll for a late 2003 or early 2004 release. Sadly, the Funskool line was cancelled before that could happen and there were no more uses of this mold. There's tons of repaint potential in the sculpt, though. Maybe Hasbro can revisit it in the 2020's.
1989 Rock and Roll figures are very common. He must have been owned by nearly every kid in 1989 as they are easy to find today. While his ammo belts aren't always seen, they aren't rare by any means. Mint and complete with filecard Rock and Rolls are about $15-$20 figures. If you sacrifice the ammo belts, though, you can get them for under $10. That's a travesty for a figure of this quality. But, it's also nice since newer collectors can get an excellent upgrade on a classic character for a cheap price. That's getting harder and harder to do. There was a time when I had more than half a dozen of this figure. While those days are gone, the lone sample remains a vital part of my collection and has specific memories from two different eras of my collecting journey.
Saturday, February 19, 2022
Tuesday, February 15, 2022
In 1988, I was done with toys. I did buy a Tiger Force Roadblock, Hardball and Hit and Run. All of them were bought very early in the year, probably January or February. After that, though, I was done and didn't buy another Joe until the summer of 1990. My younger brothers, though, continued to acquire new Joes. And, they ended up getting most of the 1988 lineup before the year was said and done. It is likely that my younger brother got the Tiger Force Lifeline around the same time that I got the Tiger Force Roadblock. I have some memories of stealing some time to play with the figure. So, it probably entered our home early in the year before my interests fully turned elsewhere.
Right out of the gate with my acquisition of the 1986 Lifeline in the early part of that year, the character simply didn't exist. While Lifeline had a fun little run in a few comics, he didn't make much of an impact. His figure, though, did. I quickly made Lifeline an army builder. Here, he could die or exist in multiples. It was a good way to make use of a figure that was awesome while not tying him into a character that had some limitations. I explained away the red uniform with the idea that even Cobra had some rules and they would not shoot anyone dressed in red as they were a medic. However, if the Joes were going on a secret mission or infiltration, the red would give away the rest of the team. So, these missions would go sans medical support. When Tiger Force Lifeline appeared, though, I had a solution.
The Tiger Force figure became my "field medic" who could travel with an elite unit in the field. The risk was that the medic could be killed. But, that was an acceptable risk since the more valuable field troopers could get medical care in the field. The higher odds of completing a mission were well worth the loss of a few additional medics. And, this also explained the pistol. I had always envisioned the 1986 Lifeline's pistol as a flare gun. The large size just didn't work as a regular pistol. With the Tiger Force version, though, the figure had need for a weapon. So, the pistol was just that. I didn't have the medics as combatants, per se. But, they could defend themselves and any wounded soldier they were tending.
One of the things that makes no sense on Lifeline is that he's both wearing sunglasses and also has a pair of same colored goggles on his head. This redundant eyewear seems to be a thing in 1986 since the Viper also featured random goggles to cover his visored eyes. The upside, though, is that it makes the helmet look cooler since it has more details. And, I do like Lifeline's glasses since they allow for anonymity and make the figure more believable as an army builder.
Lifeline features a relatively subtle Tiger Force color scheme. While his shirt is yellow, it has enough orange in it to make it drastically darker than the yellow used on Lightfoot. His pants, though, are a nice pea green. They are a near match for the same green color used in Night Force that debuted later in the year. The offsetting grey and brown highlights and details work very well with both the yellow and green. While the figure is probably too bright for some, I find it a workable look for a solid mold.
Lifeline's gear is rather spectacular. The Tiger Force version includes all the gear from the 1986 original. The gear is mostly recolored with the pistol now being black. The case is a nice green color. The mask remains black while the silver radio back from the original is now also cast in black. The ensemble perfectly matches the new colors on the figure. I always felt that Lifeline's air mask was the best mask in the line. And, for years, it was a staple of every pilot figure that helmed the Skystriker, Dragonfly or Skyhawk. Having a second shot at it with Tiger Force was well worth the price of a figure.
1988 brought about the first real repaint wave with Tiger Force. While Hasbro had repainted molds since 1983, they had always been one or two figures here and there. Hasbro had also introduced new sub sets as part of the 1987 line. While the Renegades and Cobra La were one off single packs, the introduction of Battle Force 2000 brought about the first notion of a themed sub group. But, Battle Force 2000 were all new figures. The advent of Tiger Force in 1988 married the themed sub group to repaints of original figures. Tiger Force included a large number of classic characters and brought back Roadblock, Duke and Flint for a generation of kids who still saw reruns of the cartoon but had no way to acquire figures of the major players on their TV screen.
Later in 1988, Hasbro would double down with the Toys R Us exclusive Night Force figures. From there, the repaint train had fully left the station. 1989 saw both Python Patrol and Slaughter's Marauders. 1990 cooled it a bit as Sky Patrol was the only subset. And, while the bodies of all the figures were reused molds from prior years, each of the figures included a new, unique head and brand new accessories. The remaining four years of the Joe line all included subsets. And, they were always a mix of new figures and some repaints. The Joe line of the 1990's has a reputation of being subset heavy. And, from 1992 through 1994, it is. But, the value of repaints and how they could make good profits for Hasbro started in 1988 and the future sets owe their legacy to Tiger Force.
I've already said that I was done with toys in 1988. But, the truth is that it was not by choice. I didn't organically outgrow action figures. Instead, I bowed to peer pressure and hid my toys away to be more acceptable for my age. I got into baseball cards in very late 1987. And, I was keen to buy a ton of cards in 1988. But, the summer of 1988 was very dry with a drought hitting my area. So, lawn mowing was not as lucrative as it had been the prior year. With money a bit tighter, I was less likely to branch out and spend some money on a toy. (I was able to bike to a toy store or two where I could have them by myself.) So, I spent my money on baseball cards.
But, as 1988 progressed, I lost more and more interest in G.I. Joe. Not having the figures available to me lessened my enthusiasm for the product. And, for a few months in late 1988, I even stopped buying the Joe comic that had been a monthly purchase since 1984. After a few months, though, I got back into the comic. But, I have an odd gap of a few issues even in my comic collection today from the late 1988 issues from when other pursuits grabbed my attention and money for a bit. By early 1989, I had figured out how to balance my still flickering interest in Joe with other, more age appropriate hobbies. But, again, the money to support sports cards, Nintendo games, comics and toys was just not something I was prepared for, yet. That would change in 1990. But, those are stories for coming weeks. The biggest takeaway from 1988 was that a forced break did nearly end my interest in the property.
Lifeline had three uses from Hasbro. The original 1986 red version also saw release in 1991 in the same colors, but with new legs. This Tiger Force repaint was release as the filling in the sandwich in 1988. However, there are also two international versions of Lifeline that were also based on the Tiger Force coloring. In Brazil, a nearly identical color scheme to the Hasbro figure was released as Paramedico. This is a fun release for the slight color differences as well as the card art that has the "RESCUE" on the medical case changed to "SOCORRO", even though the actual case remains unchanged. Funskool released a Lifeline figure for many years. There are a variety of variants for Lifeline. But, they are all loosely based on the Tiger Force color scheme. Funskool Lifeline was sold by US dealers for many years. But, people now drastically overpay for the common versions from the early 2000's. Hasbro never got the Lifeline mold back. They released the character twice in the Repaint Era. But, each time, he had a different mold. There's lots of Lifeline variants to track down. But, really, there are just Tiger Force derivatives and the red uniform. The mold could have used another repaint. But, you can't really say that it was wasted.
Tiger Force Lifelines are odd to price. The figure is actually very common and you can find a ton of them at any given time. But, he is often incomplete. And, the figure's crotch is notoriously brittle and snaps often. Dealers routinely sell mint and complete with filecard figures in the $50 range. There's a good amount of them available in the open market, too. But, most of the mint and complete with filecard figures will reach nearly $50 at open pricing, too. It's rare to see such an alignment between dealer and market prices. However, where it gets weirder is that you can find complete figures around $20, too. They're not as common as the $50 sales. But, about 30% of the figures you find go cheap. So, take your time to find a Tiger Force Lifeline as deals are out there.
Saturday, February 12, 2022
Dreadnoks are not my favorite theme in the Joe line. And, after the 1985 series, the Dreadnoks took a drop in design. But, for some reason, I really like Zanzibar. I think it's a remnant of him being an important figure in the final year of my childhood. The idea of a pirate is somewhat cliche'd and doesn't make a lot of sense in the context of 1987. That doesn't prevent him from fitting into the 1987 Joe line. And, until about 2018, the Zanzibar profile was among the top 10 profiles that ever appeared on this site. So, he has a bit of popularity.
There's some good content using Zanzibar out there. Check out the links and enjoy the best of Zanzibar from around the web.
Tuesday, February 8, 2022
1987 is the year of the G.I. Joe Movie. Not knowing that was going to be a thing, though, left the year with some oddball releases. The weirdest was Cobra La. The three figures simply made no sense in the context of G.I. Joe. But, their case mates were more traditional. The Slaughter's Renegades were three new characters who were supposedly aligned with Sgt. Slaughter. They were a ragtag outfit cast with misfits. When I found the set, I had to buy it right away. Though, this was, probably, a function of the fact that I already had all of the 1987 carded figures. Upon opening, I found Taurus and Red Dog difficult to use. I wasn't overly fond of their figures. But, Mercer had no such limitations. For some reason, I gravitated to the figure. And, quickly, Mercer became one of the most used figures in my collection.
Mercer features some odd design choices. You can forgive the random silver armband on his right bicep. But, some others are less so. His pistol on his chest features a massive handle. Yet, the rest of the weapon is comically small. It's like a Looney Tunes mockery in reverse. He's then also wearing two belts. Now, often you can get away with this as one is a holster. But, Mercer's are both around his waist and don't appear to have any function other than just adding a detail for detail's sake. He features bare arms and bright blue pants. His design is very emblematic of 1987 as that was a year where Joe was both traditional military and outlandish superhero/villain at the same time.
Mercer's gear is solid. He includes a black version of Footloose's backpack. As a kid, I always gave him the brown Recondo pack. I felt that pack was too contrasting to Taurus to actually be his gear. Since the color better matched Mercer, I gave it to him. In recent years, though, I've come to appreciate the black on Mercer. It does blend well with him. Mercer's gun was one of my childhood favorites. It's a massively overlong pistol with a silencer. I saw this as a super powerful weapon when I used Mercer in my final Joe playing days. His weapon needed the silencer since it was so loud from the extra powder needed to generate the power of the weapon. I often had Mercer use the weapon two-handed for this reason.
Mercer did not get much use. He was released in the Renegades three pack. Then, a short while later, he was released on a single card in Europe. The upside is that this release proved the right gear for Mercer. After that, Mercer never appeared again. As Red Dog showed up in India in 2001, it's possible Mercer was there, too. The club remolded a new Mercer head based on the 1987 figure in 2006. It's not as nice as the original. On one hand, it would have been cool to get a Mercer repaint. But, at the same time, some of Mercer's charm is that he's an odd duck who's never appeared in any form other than this color scheme.
1987 was a weird Joe year for me. I knew I was starting to age out of buying toys. But, at the same time, I was full bore into buying them as I had a lot of money from mowing lawns and free time to play with them. When I found the Renegades in the summer, I had already bought all of the single carded figures for the year. So, I didn't really hesitate in picking them up. They had the Cobra La set, too. But, I had no idea what the heck it was. The G.I. Joe Movie didn't air in my market in early 1987. In fact, it was only at Christmas time that year that the kids down the street said they had seen it and it included celebrity voices, etc. They described Cobra La and I simply didn't believe them that there was a movie. What they said was simply too ridiculous to be true. At some point in 1988, though, I became aware of the movie either on a local station or through some other means. All my friends had told me was true. And, I was glad to have moved on from the cartoon for that reason.
1987 was also my final year playing with toys as a kid. I bought 3 figures in early 1988 and was done. I probably hung on too long. While most every kid in my class played with Joes in 1985, it was down to myself and about four others in 1986. By the end of the year, they were all gone, moved on to other things. So, I spent many lonely afternoons in my room, listening to the radio while I came up with complex stories for my figures. (To this day, I'll hear some deep cut of 1987 pop on an oldies station and it will trigger old memories of that room and the adventures I had.) Really, the year of 1987 is one long soap opera that lead to a massive battle. In the fall of that year, I put my toys away. A few key figures would stay under my bed for a bit. But, after some of my friends happened to see the shoebox in which they were stored, I was done with Joe. My figures went into plastic baggies and were stuffed into a solid, red Lego container that we had. I then buried that in my closet. I then focused on more "acceptable" collectibles like sports cards. I approached that with the same gusto as G.I. Joe. But, Joe wouldn't leave. I still bought the comic. And, I'd sneak a glance at the toy aisle to see the new Joes every now and again. But, I wouldn't actively collect G.I. Joe again for another 6 years.
When I started up again, though, I had my original Mercer available. He was one of a handful of figures stored in a shoebox. As he was complete, though, I found him useful. And, I paired him with the 1992 Wild Bill as well as a beat up 1990 Stretcher I found for $1 at the Trader's World flea market in Dayton, Ohio around 1995. This trio made up a crime force that was wanted by both Cobra and the Joes. In the end, only poor Mercer wasn't actually working for the Joes. So, he got the shaft while his partners in crime ended up working with the Joes on their most lucrative assignments for many years. As these were my early collecting years, I have nearly forgotten that Mercer was part of the trio. And, the value of having just a handful of figures has been lost as my collection has grown. It's nice to look back to simpler times and the fun you could have with limited resources.
Mercer figures are not rare. And, as he's the only Renegade to not feature gold paint, he's less prone to wear than his packmates. Still, though, you often find him with scuffs on the massive silver pistol handle as well as wear to his hair and silver elements. Dealers sell mint and complete with filecard figures in the $30 range. If you are willing to sacrifice the filecard and wait a bit, though, you can actually buy all three Renegades for about the same price. Left to the market, Mercer is about a $15 figure. But, again, you can often buy sets of all the Renegades for less. So, shop around. 1987 was a massive Joe year and figures were produced in huge quantities. So, there are lots of options to acquire a Mercer before you spend double his value from a dealer.
Saturday, February 5, 2022
1986 upped the ante for oddball Cobra villains. Dr. Mindbender was no exception. He introduced the color purple as the primary Cobra color. (Sure, Tele Viper had some. But, Mindbender made it his centerpiece.) And, his lack of shirt would come back on several characters in 1987 when things got really weird.
Mindbender, though, is a character who transcends his figure and is generally beloved by collectors. They forgive his ensemble due to his release year and importance in the comic book story line.
There's some good stuff on Dr. Mindbender out there. So, check all the links below.
Tuesday, February 1, 2022
In the spring of 1986, I was looking at new figures in the toy aisle at a local Target store. There were two other kids there. One of them mentioned how cool the BAT was. The other kid was in awe as he had never seen one aside from the cardback and marveled that the first kid had one. I simply couldn't fathom this conversation. 1986 was full of awesome figures. And, the BAT was not one of them. In fact, I had relegated the BAT to my younger brother as I thought it was a terrible figure and awful character. But, here were these kids, my contemporaries, loving the BAT and thunderstruck at how cool the design was. Fast forward 13 years and I was again flabbergasted to find the huge amount of collectors who simply loved the BAT. It was something I could not comprehend...especially as these same people wrote angry rants about "brightly colored" figures and Eco Warriors as a concept. It made me realize that many Joe collectors can't see beyond their childhood conceptions. (Star Wars fans proved this in 1999, too.) And, it also showed that maybe I was a vast minority in thinking the BAT was just terrible.
Bats are a cop-out. There is no other reason for them to exist besides being cheap, exploitative fare that the Joes could wantonly destroy in the original cartoon. There was no death in the cartoon and BATS made for a convenient way in which war could be sanitized. No messy human trauma needed to be dealt with. Instead, a bunch of lame looking robots could be blown up with laser guns while a bunch of colorfully dressed super hero tropes ran around screaming a pathetic catch phrase. As you might be able to tell, I'm not a big fan of Bats. I was not a fan of them in 1986. And, I remain cool to the original figure's intentions and design. I am more accepting of the sleeker 1991 BAT sculpt. But, I still struggle with a character who was designed simply to be cheap cannon fodder.
It is the Bat design, though, that features the most intricate look at what the figure should have been. Originally, the Bats were designed as cyborgs. You can see this in their humanoid form, the fact they wear clothes and, if you look closely at the card artwork, it appears their flesh elbows were among the last elements to be edited out of their final design. Cyborgs have issues, too. But, at least you are still fighting something that's partially human. Mindless automatons aren't all that much fun because they do one thing. Once you figure out their programming, they are easily defeated. People are much more complex and act unpredictably under stress. As such, you can develop far more complex stories around human interactions than you can around a bunch of robots walking on a battlefield.
I also struggle with collector love of the Bats while they also dismiss bright colors from the 1990's. The Bats are bright yellow. For some reason, though, this is forgivable. To me, this figure's coloring is equally ostentatious to that of the 1991 Bat. But, few will agree with that assessment. The Bat gets a pass. And, that freedom is entirely derived from the Bat's early release year. Had this character debuted in 1991, no one would care about him. And, I find it difficult to simply let blind nostalgia dictate my tastes. You can like something because you loved it as a kid. But, you also need to be honest in your adult assessment of that release and realize that the 1986 Bat is closer to Star Brigade than it is the Original 13.
For me, the entirety of the Bat's usefulness was summed up in one throw away sentence on their filecard. Bats tend to burst into flames when hit from behind. So, Bats were quickly beaten by one person getting behind them and then just shooting them in the back. As a kid, I'd even have Sgt. Slaughter get behind them and turn them into fireballs by hitting them with his "swagger stick". They were laughable and useless enemies. Their inability to think made them more of a liability than an asset and their most valuable usage was to cover a Cobra retreat and slow down the Joes in their pursuit back to Cobra's hideout.
As a kid, my entire play pattern was designed around interpersonal interactions. The Joes had to outsmart the Cobras and vice-versa. Battles had objectives and fighting did not occur without a purpose and an end game. Wanton destruction was rarely useful. A bunch of unthinking robots could cause carnage. But, that carnage was boring unless the Joes were overwhelmed and had to devise a complex solution to escape. But, that didn't often play out. Bats were useless in small, commando type engagements. And, in a base attack setting, Bats just got in the way of more capable Cobra Troopers and Vipers who were better trained and more focused on the results of the battle. A robot didn't care if it destroyed the computer banks full of the Joes' secrets. Vipers did and realized they would pay a worse price for demolishing an objective than if they just failed to achieve it.
Between 1983 and 1985, the Joe line took massive leaps forward in terms of design and execution each year. Aside from swivel arm battle grip in 1983, the individual figures introduced new colors and more complex accessories to the line. 1984 went further. The figures were bulkier, featured even more enhanced sculpting and introduced vibrant colors that surpassed even the 1983 releases. The 1984 accessories were taken to another level as now had air masks, swords, walkie talkies, binoculars and complex builds like both Scrap Iron's table and Stormshadow's backpack. Animal companions joined the line. The Baroness and Spirit brought hair that was a separate piece from the head. And, Zartan with his color changing skin gave a new feature to action figures. 1985 went further, again. Hasbro introduced a new, balled head that allowed for greater range of movement. The static wires and hoses that were easily broken parts of earlier weapons were replaced with generic rubber hose. Alpine, Shipwreck and the Crimson Twins included ropes. And, Hasbro introduced the first cloth piece attached to Dusty's head.
All of this is important because, in 1986, that innovation really stopped. The newest offering in 1986 was that Serpentor and Dr. Mindbender included cloth capes...something Kenner had done since 1983. While the 1986 line is strong, it didn't feature that leap forward like the prior three years had seen. You can make a case that the BAT is the most innovative figure of the year. While his backpack is intricate, it's a relative of what was done with Stormshadow and Snake Eyes from prior years. The lenticular sticker was also new. But, it wasn't something we saw often, again. A couple of accessories featured it in 1988 and then the 1991 BAT had one. That's about it. The removable lower arm with interchangeable pieces is probably the most innovative change for the entire year. It was neat and worked for a robot. But, again, we only saw this on robot figures going forward. (Can you imagine the frustration if every Joe released from 1986 onward had removable hands? There'd be no complete figures in the wild today and replacement hands would be big business.) Nothing else from 1986 really stood out, though, as something new.
After 1986, the Joe line was stagnant for a long time. There were individual innovations in figure and accessory design. And, we did see changes in the amounts and quality of gear included with each figure. But, it wasn't until spring loaded accessories debuted in 1991 that there was another fundamental shift in the line. I'd argue that the spring loaded gear was the last innovation that moved the line forward. As, things like weapon trees and repaints were heavily cost saving measures instead of ways to make better toys. One key element of the Joe line is that a figure from 1985 is pretty much indistinguishable from one made in 1994. The construction and parts were the same. There was some improvements in individual sculpting. But, starting in 1986, the Joe line didn't push itself to introduce anything really new. You can effectively argue that the line was, pretty much, perfect and didn't need improvement. And, the fact it lasted 8 more years is testament to that.
The BAT saw three uses, all of which are pretty similar. The Hasbro release has two distinctive colors of yellow for the figure's highlights. One is more yellow. The other is more orange. They seem to exist in about similar quantities. Once Hasbro was done with the mold, it went to Brazil where Estrela released the Roboid figure. Again, this paint job is similar to the Hasbro release. The final use of the mold was in India where Funskool released a Bat for a short time in the mid 1990's. This figure features very bright yellow as well as a different sticker. Hasbro got the mold back when they recalled key pieces for the 1997 Joe releases. However, the Bat mold had some damage and only the legs appeared again when they became the de facto parts used for 1997 and later Vipers. The head was resculpted in 2008 and released in a Convention set. Collectors lamented the lack of 1986 Bat repaints for many years. Black Major released some Bats in the 2010's. They don't exist in the same numbers as his early Cobra Troopers. But, he did hit some of the key colors. Red Laser released repainted 1986 Bats until 2018. Black Major created a new Bat mold in 2022 and will be releasing a panoply of colors that are sure to sate some Bat demand.
So, BAT pricing is dumb. It's not as dumb as it was in middle 2021 when mint and complete BATs were routinely selling for $110 or more each. But, you'll pay $70 to $80 for a mint and complete BAT these days. Fortunately, Black Major is revisiting the BAT in 2022 and there will be many flavors of BATs available for cheaper prices. And, you can be sure that Hasbro isn't going to miss a chance to get a vintage style BAT out in whatever ARAH anniversary line they put together. I hated Bats when they were $15 each. And, I don't really care for them at 5 times that price, either. But, I know that I am about the only collector who doesn't like them. So, I accept that and realize that others will enjoy the character greatly. And, despite my personal desires, I could only encourage Hasbro to release more and more BATs as the demand for well done originals will likely never be sated.