Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Rarities and Oddities Month - 2022

June will once again be Rarities and Oddities month.  I've got a fun batch of items for this year.  And, unlike previous years, I've already done all the work and the posts are ready to go.  So, I won't peter out like in years prior.  I've got foreign figures, oddball knock offs, unproduced 1995 items and a surprise or two.  So, stop in about every other day in June to see the new Rarities post and check out what's easily this site's most popular month every year!

Kaido, Dr. Zargov, European Exclusive

1983 Flash, Bagged, MIB, Mail Away

Monday, May 30, 2022

2004 Anti - Venom Sgt. Lifeline

If you follow G.I. Joe's resurgence in the 2000's, you can see a progression.  In 2000 and 2001, Hasbro discovered there was a nostalgic market for figures.  In 2002, they re-imagined the brand, put a bunch of resources into it and found a general market for their toys.  In 2003, the Joe brand hit it's second stride.  The figures were drastically improved, produced in abundance and hit the market just at the right time.  In 2004, Hasbro kept up the improved designs.  But, retail interest was cooling.  By 2005, Hasbro knew the end was near and the innovation and quality of the releases began to slide.  The last retail releases where ghosts of the toys released only two years earlier.  Nearly 20 years later, though, some of these figures have held up better than others while some that were somewhat ignored have found new life among more recent to the hobby collectors.  The Anti Venom set, though, found some interest fairly quickly.  Within a couple of years, they were about the only Toys R Us figures that sold above retail.  And, in the years since, the Anti Venom figures have gotten expensive.  The Lifeline figure that was included with the set features a great mold and awesome accessories.  But, it's hard to see him as Lifelin.

The Anti-Venom set has held up pretty well over the years.  Of all the Toys R Us exclusive G.I. Joe figures, the Anti-Venom has the strongest lineup top to bottom.  While there are individual figures in other sets that are way better than the best AV figure, no other sets hold up as well when taken as a hole.  Part of this is that the AV set included almost all the original accessories for the figures that were included.  This little detail alone is enough to elevate the set over the anonymous weapons that dominated the Night Force, Desert, Greenshits, Winter Ops and HAS sets.  But, the figure molds in the set were also, at the time, not heavily overused.  Roadblock, Barricade, Mutt and Charbroil were all the first time we had seen those molds return.  Duke was overdone.  And, Stretcher hadn't appeared with his original head.  So, the set seemed fresher than many of the releases that brought the same molds we had just seen back again.

It seems that this figure went through many machinations before the actual production figure was settled upon. Early in the development stages of the Anti-Venom set, the figures were to be cast in a dark blue hue. This color was too close to Cobra's traditional look. But, of the figures that were designed in that design, the Lifeline figure had the head from the 2002 Side Track instead of the Stretcher head. From this design, the Anti-Venom morphed to a lighter blue color scheme. This was less traditionally Cobra, but wasn't a great color on most of the figures. In this set, though, Lifeline had an African-American Stretcher head and may have been planned to be Stretcher instead of Lifeline. Finally, Hasbro settled on the tan and green version for production. The head was painted in caucasian skin tones and made Sgt. Lifeline instead of Stretcher.  Sadly, the production head was painted in flesh paint instead of molded in flesh colored plastic like the pre-production figures were.  With the plastic heads available in different colors, you really see how much better they are than painted skin tones on a figure's head.

For me, it's always useful to have a medic who is in field colors.  While red medics are great, I have always liked to have some diversity so that the medics who tag along on missions aren't brightly colored give aways to the Cobras looking to kill the Joes.  This Lifeline works for that.  But, even in that capacity, I don't use the figure all that much.  I still see this mold as Stretcher.  So, it's tough to shake that notion and see this figure as anything too different.  But, Lifeline features an abundance of paint applications and a nice complement of colors that aren't really seen outside of the Anti Venom set and the 2005 HAS figures that used the same upper bodies as the 2004 AV figures.

This Lifeline includes all of Stretcher's gear.  Just like the 2001 Side Track, this 2004 figure is enhanced by including the full array of gear meant for the figure mold.  The one thing that the Anti-Venom set did better than any other set (save the 2003 Python Patrol) is that it included the original gear meant for the figures.  So, we got Barricade's proper rifle, Roadblock's array of 1984 weapons and Charbroil's flamethrower and pack.  With Lifeline, we got the sled, windshield, control stick, backpack, antenna, flare gun, hose and the tiny communicator that, did it not connect to a hose, would be a $40 accessory.  The windshield this time around is black, giving it a different appearance than the clear shielded versions that were previously released.  Lifeline was the only figure in the set to not include a Steel Brigade helmet adorned with his name.  The hat on the figure's head precluded the helmet's usefulness.  So, he was the lone figure to omit it: and is better for it as he's not anonymized by the uniformity of the helmets.

The Stretcher mold saw a bit of use in the modern Joe line. Despite only appearing in 1990 during the vintage years, Hasbro liked the mold and brought it back in the 2000's. In 2002, the entire body and full accessory complement was used on the Side Track figure from Wave V of the A Real American Hero Collection. This figure, though, featured a new, caucasian head and got a different name. This version of the mold with another character change and the caucasian head was released in 2004. At the end of 2004, the head appeared again, only modified for a desert theme, in the Toys R Us exclusive Desert Patrol set.  Sadly, we never got a proper Stretcher repaint.  And, it seems a bit out of place to have Lifeline wearing his uniform and using his gear.  I didn't like that Stretcher was erased as his character was strong and there was simply no reason for Side Track to exist in 2002 nor was there any reason that this Lifeline could not have used the full 1994 Lifeline mold.  

It does appear that the fervor for the Anti-Venom set is starting to subside.  While dealers will ask (and sometimes get!) $60-$80 for a mint and complete figure, the going market rate is about $20.  You can get just the figures for 1/2 of that price, too.  Lifeline's probably among the less desired Anti-Venom figures.  So, that plays a role.  And, you will wait a while before find a high quality, complete sample sold at market prices.  But, you will find them, eventually.  If you're missing the set, it's probably still easier to buy a carded set and open it.  The tape will turn yellow with time and the package will come apart.  So, you get the pleasure of knowing you aren't destroying something that time will eradicate, anyways.  In the end, though, you don't need this figure.  Stretcher is better and either the 1986 or 1994 Lifeline figures are way better renditions of the character.  And, even the Tiger Force figure from 1988 is a more useful combat appearance than this 2004 figure.  I'd never pay the going rate for him.  But, I also don't have to make that call since I got him at retail.  So, my opinion of the figure may not match the approach that others wish to take with this Lifeline.

2004 Anti Venom Lifeline, Mutt, Toys R Us Exclusive

2004 Anti Venom Sgt. Lifeline, Comic Pack, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Stretcher

Saturday, May 28, 2022

1989 Python Officer - Around the Web

I have always been a fan of the Python Officer.  Sure, he's the Cobra Trooper mold.  So, I have always used him as a Cobra Trooper instead of an officer.  The Python pattern is relatively subtle on the figure, though, and that makes him more useful as something beyond just a sub team member.  I have always used him in conjuction with the repainted Dreadnok vehicles.  I've found he works as a nice complement to the green colors.  Being a popular figure, there's lots of great content on the figure out there so check all the links to see some of the best work done with the Python Officer.

Python Officer Profile

Python Officer vs. Vibora Cart Artwork

Python Officer by thedustinmccoy

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

1986 Thrasher

I don't really know what to think about Thrasher.  He was among the first 1986 figures I acquired.  And, he was terrible.  His design, head and accessory were such a drastic departure from 1985 that I thought he must have been an early figure and the later releases that year would be better.  Alas, as far as vehicle drivers go, I was wrong.  And, Thrasher was perfectly exemplary of the quality that the 1986 vehicle drivers would feature.  Most of them had overly large noses and heads.  None came with cool gear like the '85's.  And, none of the them really stood out as a figure that deserved a single carded release.  All these years later, my opinion of Thrasher remains unchanged.  And, for a figure that entered my collection at the height of my Joe world building, he is conspicuously absent from my stories.

There are people who love Thrasher.  While Road Pig gets the most association with Mad Max, Thrasher's look is also out of derivative post apocalyptic fiction.  The oddball armor, bare midriff and green streak in his coiffed hair, though, don't create a particularly compelling design.  The paint applications and colors used for Thrasher, though, are pretty good.  And, it's a shame that he's one of the more adorned 1986 vehicle driver figures.  He features layers of color and painted details that do tie him more to the 1985 releases than the spotty paint mask drivers who would follow through the year.  In addition to his grey and black motif, Thrasher features green, brown and silver.  It's a solid array of color that bring life to the mold's details.  If Thrasher's shirt was not torn off, the figure would probably be more amenable to me.

The 1985 vehicle drivers are known for their accessories.  The figures included amazing weapons that were the envy of several single carded figures.  1986, though, did not follow this path.  Most of the drivers did not include any accessories at all, further downgrading them from the previous brethren.  Thrasher, though, was one of the few who did include an accessory.  Sadly, though, it's an oddball lacrosse stick with a spiked ball instead of a net.  It's a silly weapon.  Though, it's made worse by the fact that the handle is incredibly thick and did not feature a natural grip.  To this day, I have never successfully put the stick into Thrasher's hand.  Others have done it.  But, I can't bring myself to risk it.  Especially for a weapon that's simply useless.

As my only Cobra land vehicle available as 1986 started was my old Hiss Tank, Cobra found themselves at the mercy of Joe's superior mechanized capabilities.  So, with the introduction of the Thunder Machine, it made no sense to have it be a one off vehicle that was manned by a named crew.  So, in short order, the Thunder Machine was driven by old, beat up Cobras and was an army building, anti-infantry vehicle that rode in support of the Hiss battalions.  When the STUN entered my collection later in the year, it simply joined a now formidable Cobra force.  But, the Thunder Machine was not part of the Dreadnoks.  It was Cobra.

Of course, this left Thrasher as the odd man out.  And, I had no use for the figure.  But, he was part of the inspiration for the bands of "punks" that inhabited my Joe world.  These were people who lived in the ruins and debris fields left by the massive battles between Joe and Cobra.  They were not affiliated with either faction and they were dangerous to each.  They survived by salvaging machines and weapons from the discarded battlefields.  They sold these to 3rd party merchants who sold them back to Joe or Cobra.  The punks were based on a throwaway line in an issue of Savage Tails that was passed around my classroom.  I only remember that the good guys blasted their way through a nuclear winter wasteland.  The "punks" became my wild card.  Often, Joes or Cobras would have to scrounge debris fields for missing comrades or lost intelligence.  Here, they'd run into punks.  

The punks were savage and could be formidable fighters.  They had access to large caches of weapons.  And, they'd use them to soften up their quarry before they'd finish the job in brutal, face to face combat.  I built an entire society for these people.  Some of them were runaways from the cities and towns surrounding the battlefields.  Others were born into the life.  And, some, like Buzzer, were disaffected intellectuals who found the allure of such raw brutality too much to resist.  So, Thrasher would embody some of the punks.  It was rare that they would win a skirmish.  Even if they killed a few Joes, a larger force would come in and annihilate them.  But, it was a way to get some use out of poor figures like Thrasher and also liven up the Joe vs. Cobra dynamic and provide diversions from the standard story.

Thrasher had just the one release in the vintage line.  As the Thunder Machine made its journey around the world and was released in various countries, Thrasher didn't follow.  He was completely MIA until 2004 when he appeared in a convention exclusive attendee set with Zanzibar.  This red Thrasher repaint showed that there wasn't much redemption for the mold.  And, it sat unsold, for years...only selling out when it was offered on clearance.  On the heels of the convention figure, though, Thrasher showed up in the first series of DTC Comic Packs in 2005.  This figure got a new head.  It also got blue pants which discolor worse than the plastic used in 1985 on the original 3 Dreadnoks.  He was an odd choice and that Dreadnok Comic Pack was also clearanced for $3 after it had sat around, collecting dust in the warehouse for a few years.  So, Thrasher got way more than he deserved.

I'm not alone in disliking Thrasher.  He is one of the few cheap Joe figures left.  High quality figures can be had with no effort for $10.  And, mint and complete with filecard versions top out at $15.  In this market, that's about as cheap as figures come.  Honestly, though, I'd avoid Thrasher even at those prices.  He just offers nothing.  But, for Dreadnok fans, he is one of the few members of the team.  So, that alone makes him somewhat desirable.  And, the Thunder Machine is a staple of any Dreadnok collection.  So, you need a Thrasher for that.  But, the overall package of the figure is just off from the original design of the Dreadnoks.  But, again, my opinion of the figure is not shared by all. So, your personal value from the figure may vary from mine.

1986 Thrasher, Drednok, Swampfire, Zarana, Zartan's Sister

1986 Thrasher, Dreadnok, Monkey Wrench, Cross Country

Saturday, May 21, 2022

2005 Sgt. Misha - Around the Web

Back in the summer of 2019, I profile Sgt. Misha from the 2005 Comic Pack.  At the time, you could get a carded version of the figure for $20.  And, loose, mint and complete figures were under $10...if you could find them.  Now, Misha's a $50 loose figure!  That seems just absolutely nuts to me.  But, at the same time, Misha is a really well done release that is unique, well colored and includes both the newly sculpted, high quality head and accessories.  The Hasbro production quality from that era does leave something to be desired since the figure has small hands and will break if not handled carefully.

Misha, though, represents much of what was great about the Comic Packs.  It took Hasbro too long to find a recipe for good releases among those sets.  But, when they did, Hasbro was capable of making some great looking figures.  But, Misha also represents much that was wrong with the sets as his globby hands, brittle plastic, reused parts and useless rifle attest to.  In the end, I think he's a pretty solid figure.  But, certainly not worth $50 and is an easy skip at that price.  

As pretty much all the Misha's produced went into collector hands, there's a decent amount of content on him out there.  Some of the reviews from the time that this Comic Pack was released are still out there and it's interesting to see how sentiment towards this figure was at the time of his release versus how we view it now.  

2005 Sgt. Misha Profile

2005 Sgt. Misha by Slipstream80

2005 Sgt. Misha by Flint

2005 Comic Pack #101 Reviewed at General's Joes Reborn

2005 Sgt. Misha by gen_liederkranz

2005 Comic Pack #101 Reviewed at JoeBattleLines.com

2005 Sgt. Misha by sithviper

2005 Sgt. Misha by theplasticeyeball

2005 Sgt. Misha by ToneGunsRevisited

2005 Sgt. Misha by Slipstream80

2005 Sgt. Misha by gen_liederkranz

2005 Sgt. Misha by robstoycollection

2021 Eagle Force Riot Commando, Zica Toys, 2005 Sgt. Misha, Comic Pack, Oktober Guard

2005 Sgt. Misha, 1988 Mean Dog, Oktober Guard, Comic Packs, DTC

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

1993 Star Brigade Invader

Confession time.  I kind of like the Cobra Pogo.  1987 was the last year I played with Joes as a kid.  And, the Pogo was one of those weirdo vehicles that I could incorporate into my world with a little imagination.  In short order, it was a rather effective weapon against the Joes of the day.  At least, until the Joes were able to start recognizing its movement patterns and were better able to swat them from the sky.  But, I had a lot of fun with the Pogo for several of my final months of toy-using childhood.  So, when I found a repaint of the Pogo sitting on the shelves of a local Big Lots at some point in the mid-1990s, I was interested in it.  However, as I still had my childhood Pogo (a bit worse for wear, though) and the new repaint did not include a pilot figure, I simply couldn't pull the trigger to actually buy this new version.  That was unfortunate.  As, the 1993 Star Brigade Invader is not a bad toy at all.

Even in 1987, I recognized the Pogo as a take on the classic Star Wars escape pod that C-3PO and R2-D2 used to crash on Tatooine.  That connection to the sci-fi saga helps carry the design over into Star Brigade where the Invader is no longer a terrestrial weapon.  But, instead, something that Cobra can use in space.  As a kid, the prime feature of the Pogo that was so valuable was the rotating and elevating dual gun that's attached to the rocket booster's rotating base.  It was rare for a Joe vehicle to have a gun mounted with such an array of movement.  And, the 1987 Cobra Commander became an expert at maneuvering the weapon to hit pretty much any target once the Pogo was off the ground.  This feature carries over the Invader and offers it the same flexibility that made the Pogo valuable.

The Invader was among the final vehicles from the Joe line that I would see at retail.  It, the 1994 Manta Ray and the Armor Bot hung around local Big Lots stores well into 1995.  (It's possible the Razor Blade did, too.  But, since I bought one of those, I may have blocked it from memory since I already owned one.)  I didn't buy the Manta Ray or the Invader because they didn't include figures.  And, as my money was stretched thin, I wasn't about to waste it on vehicles with no driver.  I skipped the Armor Bot because I still think giant robots are boring and the figure was Armor Tech which was another line I had no interest in at the time.

In the ensuing years, I had ample opportunity to acquire all of these vehicles.  Even the massive Armor Bot was available sealed in the box for below retail price for more than a decade after I left it sitting at retail.  This Invader, though, is the first of those small, driverless late vehicles I've acquired.  I still don't find them all that interesting.  And, were it not for a cheap, local find, I'd not have this Invader.  In my hands, though, I'm now happy to own it.  Cobra has precious few vehicles that look decent with the 1993 Star Brigade figures.  But, the Invader's colors somewhat blend with both the Astro Viper and TARGAT from that year.  

As a kid, the Pogo was a quick strike weapon, usually helmed by Cobra Commander.  It would hop into a battle, shoot a bunch of Joes, fire off a missile or two and then fire off the rockets on the underside to quickly slip away.  It wouldn't win a battle on its own.  But, it would soften up a Joe defense and create general chaos while the main Cobra attack force bore down on the target.  From time to time, the Joes would shoot down the Pogo.  Cobra Commander's armor kept him alive and suddenly the Cobra objective would shift from destroying the Joe base to rescuing Cobra Commander.  In the end, they'd always rescue him and he's go off to plan another assault.  I originally had the Pogo be unique to the Commander.  But, in time, others would operate it.  And, they'd often meet their doom as the Joes were better able to take them out.

The original Pogo from 1987 was relatively well made.  The basic design, though, lent itself to the toy's legs falling off, especially as you mimicked the jumping movements that defined the device.  The 1993 Invader, though, is worse.  First, it uses gold plastic.  (Well, it's kind of a copper/gold color.)  Gold plastic from the 1990s is notorious in how brittle it becomes over time.  As such, Invaders tend to feel somewhat flimsy.  And, I'm extra cautious in using it.  The legs are much less stable than the those of the Pogo.  But, I have to wonder if that's a feature of my sample versus a universal problem.  But, in total, the Invader feels like it will fall apart if used too rigorously.  And, even the neon hoses feel like they could snap under the smallest amount of pressure.  As we're at a point where most collectors either display their toys or keep them packed away, the lower quality probably isn't as much of an issue.  But, it's definitely something you notice with the Invader.

Hasbro was all about saving money in 1993 and 1994.  So, their use of an existing vehicle mold was that surprising.  The fact that the Pogo, of all things, got a repaint while the Mauler did not really doesn't seem fair.  But, the Pogo mold fit into the Star Brigade motif.  So, we got this second paint job six years after the original release.  The Invader was also released in Europe.  The most notable thing about this release, though, is that it did include a pilot figure.  A 1993 green and black Payload figure was included with the Euro pogo.  He was made a Cobra to match the affiliation of the Invader.  But, the figure is the same as the US release.  The Invader didn't make it to India and never appeared again.  But, for such an oddball item, you can't say that it wasn't properly used.

Invaders remain available and cheap.  The Pogo isn't popular.  And, a brittle gold and neon green version is less so.  You can get boxed samples between $20 and $30.  Dealers will sell a lot of mint and complete loose versions in the $20-$25 range, too.  If you can find one at market prices, it will run you $10-$15.  The upside is that there are a lot of replacement parts for the Invader available.  So, if you get an incomplete version for cheap, it's possible to complete it.  Cheap Joe items are getting harder and harder to find.  So, it's definitely worth seeking out an Invader before they inexplicably also get expensive.  

1987 Cobra Commander, Techno Viper, 1993 Star Brigade Invader, Pogo

1987 Cobra Commander, Techno Viper, 1993 Star Brigade Invader, Pogo, Funskool TARGAT

1993 Armor Tech Star Brigade Destro, Invader

Saturday, May 14, 2022

1993 Star Brigade Payload - Around the Web

The 1993 Payload was my first exposure to this figure mold.  I found him on clearance at a KB Toy Works that used to be at Lafayette Square Mall in Indianapolis.  Once in hand, he better filled a role that I had devised from my final childhood days.  So, in time, I army built the figure.  His gear is bright pink and kind of sucks.  But, I gave him the dark blue versions of his weapon tree that came with the 1993 Muskrat.  Since then, I've changed is weapon out quite a bit.  But, the 1987 Psyche Out pack remains a constant.

I consider this the best paint job of this mold.  Part of that is nostalgia tainted glasses and the other part is just pure enjoyment of the simplicity of the colors.  Oddly, pretty much all the 1993 Payload visors have yellowed.  Yet, the clear visors on the 1994 Black and Blue figure remain crystal clear.  At this point, I can't recall if maybe Payload's visor was supposed to be an off color.  But, finding a clear one is now pretty much impossible.

Being Star Brigade, there's not a ton of content on this figure out there.  But, what does exist is pretty good.  So, explore the links below and leave comments for the creators if you like their work.  

1993 Payload Profile

1993 Payload by the Dragon Fortress

1993 Payload by relena_warcraft

1993 Payload by Slipstream80

1993 Payload by gen_liederkranz

1993 Payload by dashtacker

1993 Payload by Slipstream80

1993 Payload by thedragonfortress

1993 Star Brigade Payload, 2001 Sub Viper, 1994 Ice Cream Soldier

1993 Star Brigade Payload, Headhunter, Headhunter Stormtrooper, General Flagg

1993 Star Brigade Payload, 1987 Sea Slug

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

1989 Night Viper

I did not buy any G.I. Joe figures in 1989.  I was simply out of the game.  I did swipe a 1989 Snake Eyes.  You can read that story in his profile, though.  But, even my younger brothers were pretty done with G.I. Joe.  My youngest brother got a Scoop figure.  But, that was it.  None of the other 1989 figures existed in my collection.  In 1990, my brother got a Bullhorn figure.  But, I was not only now old enough to drive myself to stores, I also had a full time job providing, for the era, a good deal of spending money.  I usually worked 3:30 to midnight with a thirty minute lunch.  There was only one store close enough to drive to, buy something and get out.  It was a nearby Kohl's.  

While they still had a hefty toy department and full selection of Joe figures and vehicles, the end was near as the entire stock they had was from 1988 and 1989.  But, among these figures, I had the pick of the litter.  While I had dreamed of getting a Rock and Roll or Downtown, there was another figure that caught my eye.  I had never really seen the Night Viper figure.  But, here, in front of me, the green and black Cobra was something completely new to me.  And, he included a great looking rifle (with a strap!), a face shield and a backpack that looked like they'd make for a perfect addition to my collection.  I bought the single Night Viper and snuck him into my house when I got home from work after everyone was asleep.  Here, I opened the figure and found he was everything I wanted him to be.

What I did not want, though, was for my younger brothers to find the figure.  They had a bad habit of pawing through my room when I was not home: looking for toys I had stashed in the closet.  They had found the purloined 1989 Snake Eyes.  And, they would take him from the red Lego case in which I stored my saved Joes that was buried in the back of my closet.  With the Night Viper, I had opened the package carefully, to preserve the bubble.  I had an old, paper, Banana Republic bag that was on the top shelf of my closet, above the reach of my siblings.  So, I put the Night Viper card into this bag.  It stayed there until 2013 when my mother moved out of the house.  Yet, I don't know what happened to it after that.  I can't imagine me throwing it away.  But, it's not in my collection any longer.  It was probably put into a box of comics that I ended up giving to my nephews.  But, it was a shame for it to survive so long and then disappear after I was a full time collector.

The figure, though, was a different story.  First, I tried putting him the Lego case.  But, of course, my youngest brother found him in due time.  Avoiding the questions of the figure's origin, I tried hiding him under my bed or among the boxes of baseball cards that now adorned the shelves in my room.  In time, my brother forgot about him.  With the figure in hand, though, I came to a realization.  I no longer really had the capacity to play with a toy any longer.  I would pull out the Night Viper from time to time.  But, I'd mostly just look at the exquisite detailing and design that went into him.  I really didn't have the capacity to act out adventures with him any longer.  That was probably the turning point for my transformation into a collector instead of viewing Joes as toys.  

That didn't mean, though, that I appreciated the figure any less.  In fact, he was something I really enjoyed due to his overt quality.  Despite that, though, I didn't buy any more Joes until the end of 1992.  The allure of sports cards was too great and my disposable income from my teenage years went to those.  As the card market has exploded even moreso than the Joe market since 2020, it's probably a break even choice as to which was better.  But, I would have enjoyed 1,000's of dollars of retail Joes more than I do the boxes and boxes of commons that once filled an entire closet.

In the late 1990's and early 2000's, though, I got lucky with Night Vipers.  I was one of the few people specifically looking for lots of 1989 - 1994 figures back then.  And, I'd get a lot of collections for under $2 per mint and complete with filecard figure.  I was able to get several Night, Alley and HEAT Vipers in these lots.  As the Funskool figure became available, the price on Hasbro Night Vipers dipped a bit.  And, I was able to fill out a squad of them.  Even during my great purge in 2010 where I liquidated my massive armies of 1989 Cobras, I kept my squad of 6 Night Vipers, even though I had another 8 of the Funskool versions.  The figure was too cool to get rid of.  And, I figured that I'd one day have a way to display the figures to finally fully appreciate the mold's greatness.

With the Night Viper, less is more.  The figure is just two main colors: green and black.  There is a bright green Cobra logo, a gold belt buckle and flesh around the eyes.  The minimal paint masks, though, work due to the intricacy of the figure's sculpt.  Whereas you don't tend to see great paint wear on Night Vipers, that's more than made up for by the the oft-broken pegs that hold the rifle on the figure's leg or the visor on the figure's head.  Both of these parts are brittle and get broken very easily...even when the figure was new.  I still don't know why a rifle with a strap that allows it to be held over the shoulder or across the backpack needed to also he holstered on the Night Viper's leg.  But, it's a great little detail that added to the figure's mystique.

Accessory wise, the Night Viper was well equipped.   Along with the aforementioned rifle and visor, the figure also included a backpack and a monocle.  The backpack is small and compact.  It's purpose isn't entirely clear.  But, that's the joy of a figure like this.  It allows you to make the pack whatever you want or need.  The monocle is the most lost accessory on the Night Viper.  And, many that were affixed to the peg on the figure's visor were snapped off, with the peg forever trapped in the monocle's hole.  With all the brittle features and one easily lost accessory, it's a miracle that so many Night Viper's survived childhood playtimes.  But, they did.  And, collectors are better for it as we have another awesome army builder available to us.

The Night Viper did not have much of a life.  Hasbro released the figure in 1989 and 1990.  In 1992, the Night Viper's body was used for the oddball kitbash Heli Viper figure.  As it was in purple and red, few people even really consider that it was the Night Viper that comprised most of that figure.  From there, the mold went to India.  Funskool started producing Night Vipers around 1995 and produced them through April of 2004.  At that time, the mold was returned to Hasbro.  They then used it as the body for the ill fitting 2005 Iron Grenadier.  The final use was the 2006 Operation Flaming Moth Night Viper.  It was green, expensive and not really a hit with the collector community.  The mold then died off.  Around 2017 or 2018, though, Black Major produced Night Viper figures.  These exist in 20 or more color combinations.  And, now, collectors can get Night Vipers in pretty much any color scheme they would want.  Black Major didn't really suck all the demand for the Night Viper out of the community, though, and I'm sure that any release of the Night Viper in the Pulse era would be embraced by the collecting world.

1989 Night Vipers got super expensive in the early 2000's.  It was first Cobra army builder to break $30 for a mint and complete specimen.  But, slowly, the massive quantity of Funskool Night Vipers sated the army building demand of the collecting world.  By 2003, the price of a complete Night Viper was under $15.  In 2022, though, the stupidity of the Joe world has also caught up with the Night Viper.  Incomplete figures will fetch $30.  Dealers will sell an appalling amount of mint and complete figures for more than $50.  And, in the event you can find a mint and complete figure left to open pricing, it will still usually cross over $40.  But, as the cheap Funskool figures have been absorbed, there's no longer an alternate outlet for those who want a Night Viper army.  

1989 Night Viper, 1989 Track Viper, 1988 Cobra IMP

1989 Night Viper, 1983 Hiss Tank, Wild Boar, 1989 Aero Viper

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

2022 Stormshadow

So, it finally happened.  After a decade with no classic G.I. Joe releases, Hasbro finally acquiesced and bowed to the "retro" market pressure to create some new figures.  Only, they didn't create new figures.  Instead, they recreated two classics from the vintage line.  Sure, they are 100% new sculpts.  But, they are designed to mimic the original in nearly every way.  We can have different opinions as to if this approach is what collectors really want.  But, early sales showed that remakes of the 1983 Snake Eyes and 1984 Stormshadow, even at $20 per figure, were in line with the market's desires.

At its core, this is the 1984 Stormshadow.  It includes all the Stormshadow gear and is a nearly identical representation of, arguably, the Joe line's most famous sculpt.  There are differences with the most notable being the skin color, plastic type and the painted face on the figure.  With white figures, it's great to a brilliant version that hasn't discolored.  But, Hasbro's plastic from the 2000's is notoriously yellowing with aplomb these days.  So, there's no guarantee that Stormshadow won't face the same fate in 15-20 years.  But, until then, collectors get a mint Stormshadow figure whose thumbs won't snap and who doesn't look like he either peed himself or left his clothes out in the blowing desert sand for too long.

At some level, it's great to have a high quality V1 Stormshadow that I'm not afraid to use.  I have lots of fond memories of the original figure from childhood.  And, I'd love to recreate some of those moments in updated photos featuring a pristine figure.  So, this 2022 Stormshadow gives me that opportunity.  The problem, though, is that this figure, once in hand, felt like it had all been done before.  I got excited for a new Stormshadow in 1997.  Then, again in 2004 and 2005.  And, again in 2016-ish when the first factory customs appeared.  And, that's one of the main problems with a 100% homage line.  While it's awesome to get a carded Stormshadow for less than a car payment, the figure itself offers nothing that anyone with a collecting history doesn't already have in spades.  So, while the idea of Stormshadow is great, I've found that mine has been sitting in a book case, lying on the shelf since a few days after I got him.  Once in hand, the novelty wore off since there is nothing novel about the figure.  

It's extremely rare that any new figure into my collection isn't used in a photo within a week or two of acquisition.  Yet, I had to make a special set up just to get this figure into a photo for this profile.  I didn't have the urgency to do something with him since I have so many other options for this look for Stormshadow that I have acquired in the past 25 years.  And, that really sums up this figure in total.  If you've never had a V1 Stormshadow, this figure is awesome.  If you have multiples of the various releases of this mold over the years, though, it's blase.  I have no beef with Hasbro choosing this figure and Snake Eyes as the maiden releases for the line.  They make sense.  But, they aren't as exciting to me as if they were something new.  The upside, though, is that often means I'll find great value in these figures at some point in the future when I "rediscover" them after their newness has faded away.

The packaging of the figure is nice.  The cards are a bit flimsy.  And, even shipped inside the extra, special box, many collectors found the cards warped or bent when they removed them.  There was a small contingent of online butthurt about the international packaging.  But, as usual, it was a small group of people making a lot of noise about something they bought anyways.  For some reason, though, Hasbro didn't pack all the figure's accessories inside the card bubble.  Instead, there are a few of them tucked into a paper towel that is stuffed inside the bottom of the box.  

What has been interesting to watch has been the reaction to the Super 7 3 3/4" figures.  These 5 points of articulation releases have found some success.  They have a built in market.  But, at the same time, they have released nearly 50 figures in less than a year.  And, many of them are brand new characters and sculpts that have never been released anywhere.  Compare that to Hasbro where we know of a whopping 7 o-ring figures for 2022.  And, so far, only 2 of them are anything different than 100% homages to the original Joe release.  I'd love some of the diversity and fun that Super 7 offers in their line to slip into the Pulse line.  I doubt it will happen unless the o-ring line really takes off.  But, even then, the oddball and obscure new figures would be few and far between.

So, what do we call these?  Joe eras have been odd as there are often competing figure styles that can't fit under one definition.  I see the vintage o-ring era of Joe as 1982-1994.  The repaint o-ring era then spans from 1997-2011.  (And, there were precious few of them after 2006.)  This isn't the same as the JvC era which runs from 2002-2007 and features figures from that sculpting period.  The 25th Anniversary era runs from 2007-2016 and covers the figures in that sculpting style.  With Classified, it's easy.  It's just the Classified era.  But, that doesn't work for these o-ring retreads.  Personally, I'll classify them as the Pulse era.  We have yet to see any of the o-rings really appear outside of Pulse.  And, it's a good way to denote that these figures, while sharing a common sculpting style with the vintage and repaint eras, are completely new and appeal to a different type of collector than existed in 2000 and 2004.

Technically, this is the only use of this Stormshadow mold.  As it's all new, it has just this one appearance, so far.  I'd love if Hasbro were to make a red Satan homage or even fill in the all too obvious missing Cobra Blue Stormshadow.  But, I'd rather see repaints like that in an army building boxed set that offered a lower price point.  With sparse releases announced, so far, it's unlikely we'll see anything more from this mold for a while.  But, Hasbro's not really in the business of letting cheap repaints pass them by.  So, if the line holds out for a few years, it's pretty much a guarantee we'll see this mold dusted off, repainted and re-released in some form.  I'm OK with some repaints in the line.  If it means we get more frequent releases, they can be a good thing.  And, even with the 2000's era Hasbro repaints of the mold and the multiple releases done by Black Major, there's always something that can be done with the original Stormshadow that will attract collector interest.

Within fairly short order (a few weeks or so) the pre-orders for Snake Eyes and Stormshadow sold out.  This lead some to think the figures were going to be aftermarket superstars.  But, on the day that the pre-orders shipped out, Pulse restocked with figures that could be ordered that day.  At first, it seemed likely these were just leftovers from credit card declines and things like that.  But, the set stayed in stock for days, then weeks and then months.  In fact, you can still buy it from Pulse for original price, now.  What does that mean?  It's hard to tell.  The Cobra Trooper/Cobra Officer 2 Pack that is exclusive is also still available for pre-order.  And, while Pulse has sold out of the Hiss Tank/Baroness set, this was a shared exclusive that can still be ordered from other retailers for retail price.  So, the o-ring revival is either not as popular as the Classified series, or is produced in such greater numbers that it hangs around.  (My money is on the former, though.)  I'm not sure how that will play out in future months.  We know we're getting some additional figures.  And, the Skystriker's success will likely lead to another o-ring Haslab in late 2022 or early 2023.  

But, with figures not selling out, it does make you wonder if there really is a long term future in the format.  But, as we've seen with bizarre and collector oriented figures in the Star Wars line, Hasbro will milk something even for just a handful of releases each year.  That being said, it sucks to pay $20 for a brand new from the manufacturer figure.  Sadly, most vintage Joes that are mint and complete are heading for that threshold, though.  I don't know how this figure will play to the market in coming years.  We know there is a correction on the horizon.  But, we've also seen very common Toys R Us figures from the 2000's now command just ridiculous prices.  So, those who missed out on this figure might pay out the wazoo for this Stormshadow in 2037.  Or, there may be no market at all.  But, really, you can't get any high quality version of this mold with the full array of Stormshadow accessories for under $20.  So, there's no reason not to buy him now while he's still available.

My final verdict on these figures is that they are fine.  The toys are quality.  The designs accomplish their goal.  The price is too high.  And, there is too much packaging that I end up paying for.  But, we have vintage style Joes available, again.  This time, so far, Hasbro seems to be taking the line seriously and not treating it with the disdain that they did in the early 2000's.  So, that's a huge plus.  And, while I'd love more frequent releases, the $20+ price point keeps me content with fewer figures for now.  If we got back to the days of 50 or 60 new releases per year, the financial weight would be too great.  I'd love an option where collectors could buy duplicates in baggies, sans all the extra packaging.  And, we could save a few bucks.  But, toy openers are becoming scarcer.  So, there's probably little incentive for Hasbro to do this.  I do hope for some new paint jobs or even new sculpts to join the line.  And, as we've seen with the Skystriker, there might be at some point.  So, for now, I'm content.  All is well.  The line could be a little better.  But, it could also be a lot worse.  The Hasbro team seems to be aware of what collectors might like.  I'm just not sold that there's enough of us left to really drive this line to be anything other than sporadic nostalgia.

2022 Stormshadow, Hasbro Pulse, 1997 Baroness, Toys R Us Exclusive

2022 Hasbro Pulse Stormshadow, MOC, Carded