Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Top 10 Spring Loaded Accessories

Starting in 1991, Hasbro began to move the standard Joe accessories in a different direction.  Instead of leaving them the static pieces from 1982, they began to incorporate more action into the toys.  At first, it was simple kid interaction where you could flick a missile.  But, soon, it evolved into a series of spring loaded action features that allowed for kids to have their figures interact through propulsion.  While I title this article spring loaded accessories, that's just because the spring loaded pieces dominate Hasbro's offerings.  But, there are a few other gimmicks in the 1990's that are worthy of inclusion as they added interactive elements to G.I. Joe action figures without forcing the figures to be something incompatible with what came before.

So, you will not see Ninja Force on this list as those features were limited to the figures.  You won't see Sky Patrol, either, as the parachutes only worked with proper preparation and was designed as a stand alone toy that was commandeered for Sky Patrol.  This list covers 1991 through 1994 as those were the years when the action feature accessories were dominate.  And, while older collectors tend to revile this gear, the reality is that there are some amazing toys in here that are both tons of fun to play with while also being in line with the look and feel of the Joe line from the decade prior.

10. 1994 Lifeline Grappling Hook

I'm a sucker for grappling hooks.  As a kid, I loved them.  But, I never got any that actually worked.  So, things like Alpine's grappling gun were left to imagination.  Which, was fine.  But, there were times it would have been cool to have actual hooks that could shoot up and grip something.  Enter the 1994 Lifeline.  His grappling launcher is huge and his two pronged hook is, too.  But, you can tie a rope to it and shoot it at rocks, walls or plants and it might actually stick: just like the real thing.  That's  enough for me to view it as an essential accessory.

1994 Lifeline, Eco Warriors, 1991 Ozone

09. 1991 Eco Warriors Squirt Guns

Among the first of the action feature weapons are the Eco Warriors squirt packs and guns.  Instead of using a spring for their action, these packs can draw up and hold water that is then expelled from the nozzle of the gun when you press on the soft plastic container that is held in place by a harder plastic frame.  For Eco Warriors, this made perfect sense.  And, the water was used in conjunction with the figures as they would change colors when water of hot or cold temperature hit the special paint on the bodies.  The self contained squirt gun was a solid design.  The guns are pretty large, but not so much that they aren't usable.  But, the weapons are very useful and a lot of fun to have around.

2002 Mirage, JvC, 1991 Ozone, Eco Warriors

2002 Mirage, JvC, 1991 Ozone, Eco Warriors

08. 1992 Duke Bronco Launcher

So, this toy is dumb, stupid, lame and incredibly fun for any kid in 1992.  Who wouldn't want a missile launcher that a figure can ride?!?  This piece is an integral part of the 1992 Duke's card artwork.  And, it translates very well into the actual toy.  The only downside is that the brown tripod is made of plastic that has turned to glass.  I literally had one crumble to dust, yes, dust, in a box of other launcher parts.  I didn't know what all the dirt was until I found one intact foot.  The one in the photo below spidered all those while lines just from me gently trying to insert the peg into it.  So, using it today isn't overly practical.  But, man, this is just a stupid idea that made for an iconic piece for Duke.

1992 Duke, Barricade

07. 1992 Destro Disc Launcher

The 1992 Destro disc launcher is another one of those ideas that actually kind of works as a toy.  It's similar to Scrap Iron's missile table.  But, this one shoots discs.  The fact that they actually shoot, though, helps sell the idea of the weapon.  The disc launcher looks like something a comic book supervillain would use.  And, Destro is as close to that trope as the G.I. Joe line tends to get.  So, it's a perfect match of character and weapon.

1992 Destro

06. 1992 Firefly Top Spinner

This spinner is also ridiculous.  But, as a toy, it works well.  You can set up a bunch of figures on a hard floor and let the ripcord fly.  The top can then knock over the figures.  Hours of fun!

1992 Firefly, Headman

05. 1991 Cobra Commander Drone

So, this thing is either a radio controlled surveillance drone or a buzz bomb depending on which part of the card you read.  But, any way you look at it, this is a little drone with a spring loaded launcher.  The drone is laminated plastic with cardboard pieces.  It's a neat little idea that worked out.  The launcher features a powerful spring.  It is mounted on a bi-pod and is meant as a stationary weapon.  The idea of a drone was rather innovative back in 1991.  So, it's inclusion is akin to things like the JUMP showing up in 1982.  

1991 Cobra Commander, 2005 Convention Metal Head

1991 Cobra Commander, 2005 Convention Metal Head

04. 1992 Eel Robo Shark

Full disclosure: I don't much care for the robo-shark.  In general, I think robots are dumb.  And these things are a pain in the ass for anyone who, like me, tends to army build 1992 or Funskool Eels.  The sharks are huge, sharp and just a pain to store away.  With that Andy Rooney moment past me, though, what kid in 1992 would not have loved a robot shark with a moving tail that shoots a missile out of its mouth?!?  This is the exact type of over the top ridiculousness that Cobra would have created in their descent into super-villainy.  

And, to top it off, the toy is amazing.  It's full of detail.  The tail moves and the mouth opens.  And, it can then shoot a spring loaded missile out of the creature's mouth.  To top it all off, the shark is also a backpack that affixes to the Eel to be used underwater!  Really, this has a case to be number 1.  But, what's a list without some controversy?  And, personally, I find the Flak Viper's missile backpack to be much more useful than the robo-shark.  But, I'm an adult who was in college when this came out.  If I'd have gotten it when I was 9, there's a good chance this is my favorite toy ever created.  So, if you're going to refute me in the placement of this piece, come with some good anecdotes of how it fit into your play and was a major part of your childhood. :)

1992 Eel, Cobra Eels, Robo Shark

1992 Eel, Cobra Eels, Robo Shark

03. 1992 Cutter Grappling Hook

I'm kind of cheating as there are two grappling hooks on this list.  But, as I said for Lifeline, I'm a sucker for grappling hooks.  As a kid, I used them not just as tools used to scale mountains, walls or buildings.  They were also Batarang type weapons that could be used to apprehend and tie up villains.  I'd use them between vehicles to either tether boats or even just capture an enemy vehicle that was about to outrun the good guys.  For me, the grappling hook was my irrational childhood dream toy because I got one when I was about 9 and it locked in the idea of a hook on a rope that could be used as a tool in most any situation.

I rank Cutter's hook higher for a couple of reasons.  It came first.  So, it has that going for it.  But, more importantly, Cutter's hook has four prongs.  This made it much more likely to actually catch onto something.  I have memories of being a kid and tossing Alpine's grappling hooks into a pile of rocks.  When the figure went to use it, the hook wouldn't catch anything and it would slip out, sending Alpine to his doom.  I had weird rules where if a rope didn't catch, then the Joes couldn't use it.  (I actually had a little, metal four pronged hook that was attached to a long length of white string.  I used this since it worked more often than the Hasbro toys.)  Cutter's hook is comically large.  But, that's what makes it fun.  If the hook hit anyone, it would kill them.  But, honestly, that's a plus in my book.  

In doing this article, I noticed that the tripod for Cutter's launcher looks the same as that included with the 1992 Duke.  The white plastic isn't nearly as brittle as the brown, though.  

1992 DEF Cutter, Eco Warriors Deep Six, 1993 Shark 9000

02. 1994 Star Brigade Cobra Commander Suction Cup Walker

The 1994 Star Brigade Cobra Commander includes this oddball harness that's attached to a suction cup walker.  It actually works, though.  And, that alone makes it the 2nd best action accessory in the line.  It's a marvel of engineering and also a fun toy.  It's like those old wall walkers you got for birthday prizes except that it's high quality and a lot of fun.  Everyone should have one of these.

1994 Star Brigade Cobra Commander, 2003 Tiger Force Dial Tone, Toys R Us Exclusive

01. 1992 DEF Mutt Net Launcher

You really can't go wrong with this contraption.  It is a massive net launcher.  The launcher is fairly large.  But, it stands by itself and looks like something that would launch nets.  The best part is that the included net is massive.  It's large enough to cover an entire figure with plenty left over.  The four corners of the net are anchored.  The top two are attached to the firing missiles and the bottom two corners have weighted balls to hold down the net.  The net is perfect as a stand alone toy and the launcher just adds more play value.  The only downside is that the weight of the four anchors limits how far the launcher can shoot the net.  But, of all the action play features that Hasbro released, this is the best.

Here is a video from corpscommandercody showing the net in action.

1992 Mutt, DEF, 1993 Gristle, BBQ, Eco Warriors, Barbecue

1992 Mutt, DEF, 1993 Gristle

This list is my own.  And, while all of these have their merits, I'm sure you have opinions of ones I overlooked, deliberately omitted or just plain ignored.  So, please let me know your favorites.  These were not the toys of my childhood.  So, my appreciation of them is based on what I think I would have liked as a kid and, more importantly, what I really like now.  So, seeing how kids of the day actually felt about them and which were their favorites is definitely something I'd like to hear about.  

Saturday, August 27, 2022

2005 Oktober Guard Horrorshow - Random Photos of the Day

Back in 2005, Hasbro warned collectors that the case of Comic Pack figures that included the two highly anticipated Oktober Guard packs were going to be hard to find.  The 2004 Comic Packs had bombed and were clearance fodder all over the country.  And, Hasbro still had unsold stock that would eventually find its way to Dollar General stores.  Add to that the early spring release date when toy ordering was typically lower and you had the potential that these figs were going to be in short supply.  And, they were.  

But, for about 6 weeks in the spring of 2005, you could find the Oktober Guard figures.  After that, they were gone.  And, while series from before and after the Oktober Guard sets kept showing up at clearance outlets for years, the Oktober Guard never did.  And, as such, the figures got relatively expensive in short order.

The sets were pretty good.  While the parts selection wasn't overly inspired, Hasbro did a pretty good job with it.  Horrorshow, though, was the most drastic.  Not only did he have a new head, but he featured a new torso, arms and waist.  Horroshow's trademark bulk was missing from the figure.  But, the overal look of the character came through.  Oddly, the mold was never used again and Horrorshow got just this one release.  

Now, this is a $100 figure.  That's probably too much.  But, it's what you're going to pay to get the character into your collection.  I don't tend to use this guy as often as I probably should.  But, here's a few random shots from the past couple of years.

2005 Oktober Guard Horrorshow, Stormavik, 1987 Persuader, 1988 Tiger Force Lifeline

2005 Oktober Guard Horrorshow, Stormavik, 1987 Persuader, 1988 Tiger Force Lifeline

2005 Oktober Guard Horrorshow, Comic Pack, Red Laser Army Hollowpoint, 2017 The General

2005 Oktober Guard Horrorshow, Comic Pack, Red Laser Army Hollowpoint, 2017 The General, Anti Venom 2004 Mutt

2005 Oktober Guard Horrorshow, Comic Pack, Red Laser Army Hollowpoint

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

1995 Sgt. Savage Iron Stormtrooper

There was no greater letdown than walking into a Big Lots store in 1995 and, from afar, seeing the glint of a massive display of G.I. Joe packaging only to, once closer, realize that the entire wall of toys was not A Real American Hero figures and vehicles but Sgt. Savage.  Sgt. Savage was Hasbro's post ARAH foray into larger format figures.  And, it did not go well.  Floor to ceiling walls of them went up at discount and close out stores all over the U.S.  But, the figures weren't really discounted enough.  And, many of them hung around for quite a while, teasing people like me who were hoping to stumble across the occasional ghosts of the ARAH line that would pop up from time to time.

On the surface, the Savage line should have been successful.  But, it suffered from trying to be too many things to too many people.  In 1994 and 1995, toy collecting was becoming a thing among adults.  The drivers of it, though, were the 40 year olds who had grown up on classic 12" G.I. Joe figures from the 1960's.  While some of them were attuned to the smaller version of Joe that was introduced in 1982, many older collectors had also disregarded it as it wasn't the toy line of their youth.  Sgt. Savage tried to toe the line between kids of the day who wanted larger action figures and the burgeoning adult collecting scene who wanted gritty military realism to shape their collectibles.  Sgt. Savage was Hasbro's attempt to appease both.

And, as is often the case with overly ambitious projects, Savage failed to meet either of its goals.  Kids just weren't into a World War II inspired toy line when they had Ninja Turtles, a great line of Kenner superheros lead by Batman and the newly introduced Power Rangers to attract their attention.  While adult collectors swooned over the Joe Kubert packaging artwork, the toys themselves weren't what they were looking for.  Sgt. Savage introduced a larger figure buck to the franchise and the 3 3/4" figures grew to 4 1/2".  On top of that, the construction was altered and the o-ring did not appear.  Honestly, the o-ring wouldn't have been a big issue had the new figure line been 3 3/4".  All this change, though, left Savage stuck in the middle with no fans to be found.  The toys were instant clearance fodder and dominated the toy aisles at regional and national discount stores for years.

As for the story of the toy line: it was a Captain America rip off.  I mean, it was such a blatant rip off that I'm not sure why Marvel didn't sue.  Maybe if Savage had become a bigger hit.  But, the characters were archetypes and they lacked the panache of the recently cancelled 3 3/4" Joe line.  The good guys blended together and the bad guys were watered down Nazis.  The problem with this is that once you base your villain on the Nazis, you have to make them worse than the Nazis.  And, that's pretty hard to do without either making the story far too dark for kids or having to delve into cartoonish super-villainy.  So, Savage went with super villains.  General Blitz created a doomsday device and went with cybernetic henchmen to spare the kids of the gory death of war.  The filecard of the IRON Stormtrooper specifically mentions that they are thawed out Nazis that were given cybernetic enhancements.  There's no real reason why.  But, we are left with an army building bad guy.

There really is only one reason to own this figure: the black trenchcoat.  I've looked at the coat before.  It was released in white with the Street Fighter Movie Edition Dhalsim figure.  A black version was also released with the Mortal Kombat Movie Shang Tsung figure.  But, the easiest way to acquire the coat is with this Iron Stormtrooper.  As the coat was designed for 3 3/4" figures, it is a tight fit on the Iron Stormtrooper.  But, once removed, it works perfectly as an accessory for Cobra Commander, Dr. Mindbender or even Destro.  Cloth accessories were extraordinarily rare in the vintage Joe line, even as Kenner started to perfect them in Joe's opening days.  So, having a way to get one that doesn't cost a ton (see Serpentor's capes!) is nice and allows you some customization potential with some of your higher up Cobra figures.

Really, the only interesting thing about the Sgt. Savage toy line is that it has a few pieces that were designed for the cancelled 1995 G.I. Joe line.  The IRON Panther tank was originally a toy for the Battle Corps Rangers.  The Arctic Stormtrooper includes gear that was planned for the 1995 Frostbite figure.  The Cryo Chamber from the Cryo Freeze Sgt. Savage was originally a mini-sub for the 1995 Dr. Mindbender.  There are other examples as well.  In 2007, the club co-opted a bunch of Sgt. Savage accessories and included them with the convention exclusive figures.  The weapons meant for 1995 Joes fit relatively well.  But, the larger weapons developed for Sgt. Savage were grossly oversized and look out of place.  But, they also meant that all of the Sgt. Savage molds were likely available if anyone wanted to lose a bunch of money by resurrecting the line.

When looking at the Iron Stormtrooper's gear, you also see some limitations.  While his weapons are meant to be based on historical gear from the World War II era, they fail in that they are just oversized, even for this larger figure body.  If you look at the machine gun, rifle and pistol in the photos below, you will see that the weapons are excellently detailed.  But, they are extremely large.  It's unfortunate as, had they been scaled to the Savage figures, they might have had a little more value for standard 3 3/4" Joe figures.  The Stormtrooper also includes 3 hoses that affix to holes in his body as well as some stick grenades.  The grenades can work with smaller Joes.  But, the rest of the gear will just shatter thumbs if you try to use it with vintage Joe figures.

There's not much else interesting about the Iron Stormtrooper mold.  Sans coat, the body is really pretty lame.  He's wearing a brown shirt. (Not subtle with the context there, were we, Hasbro?)  And, he's covered in some silver details that are meant to convey robotics.  The exterior hoses imply that he's be pretty easy to stop since you could just slice the hose and he'd lose some important function that the hydraulics provide.  The best part of the figure is probably the head.  He has a silver microphone over his mouth, though.  So, the head doesn't really look robotic or cybernetic.  The 1993 Cyber Viper did a much better job of conveying that the character was a cyborg.  As a bad guy, this figure is fine.  With the coat on, though, his articulation is limited.  And, without it, he's much more boring.  Non of the Sgt. Savage characters really had any demand for a return in the nostalgia drenched club figures that reused anniversary Joe parts.  Even a G.I. Joe Extreme character made into that line.  But, Savage was shut out and it's probably for the best.

One key point of Sgt. Savage figures is that they use softer plastic than 3 3/4" Joes.  The hands are more pliable and the overall plastic quality is softer.  This allows for the larger weapons to not be an issue with the figure's hands.  It's also an interesting update to the plastic Hasbro had used since 1982.  The 1997 G.I. Joe repaints featured some softer plastic that made the hands more pliable.  But, they are not as soft as the Savage figures.  It may be that the size of the Savage figures allowed for the softer plastic as the size allowed for its use.  But, it's an interesting update to the material quality, especially as Hasbro was still using the more rigid plastic for Street Fighter Movie and Mortal Kombat figures at the same time they were producing Sgt. Savage figures.

The upside to the Iron Stormtrooper is that he's a decent enemy design.  The 1982 Cobras (as well as Imperial Stormtroopers) were heavily based on Nazi tropes.  In time, Cobra moved away from that imagery.  This Iron Stormtrooper brings back the memory of the greatest evil the modern world has ever known.  While the filecard doesn't mention Nazis, it specifically calls out that they are enemy soldiers from World War II.  And, were the figure in the classic G.I. Joe scale, collectors would have long globbed on to this figure and made him a key part of the rogue's gallery of Joe villains.  The robotic nature of this character also allows them to be killed with less guilt than seeing standard humans being mowed down in combat.  But, it's also a design that collectors tend to love for their armies.

The verdict on Sgt. Savage is that it was trying to get kids interested in World War II toys because that's what many of their dads and grandfathers had grown up on the 1960's.  The marketing material and even filecards are full of references to the 1940's that no 9 year old would pick up on.  The entire concept was done to fulfill what was perceived as a void in the toy market.  It was a void that the green wave of 1982 Joes filled quite well.  But, that line didn't get so stuck in the past.  Sure, there was a bazooka guy decades after the weapon was retired.  But, you also had jet packs, lasers and other things that pulled kids in without burying them in historical fiction that required a knowledge of 50 year old pop culture references to really understand.  And, the 1983 Joe line moved forward in a way that didn't mire it down with realism.  The Savage line went the other way and we're left to wonder if the 1995 A Real American Hero line might have come to pass if this pet project of Savage hadn't gotten in the way.

Dealers will sell carded Iron Stormtroopers for $20-$25.  You can get carded versions in the $10-$12 range, though, if you're willing to wait.  The massive overstock of Sgt. Savage carded figures that used to pervade online marketplaces and local antique malls/flea markets has largely been absorbed.  So, the once frustratingly ubiquitous carded figures have gotten less common.  Most are locked away in boxes in comic and toy shops or sheds and basements of older collectors from the late 1990's and early 2000's.  They are awaiting the day the figures get pricey.  But, that's unlikely to happen...even in the stupid Joe market of 2022.  If you can find a loose, mint and complete Iron Stormtrooper, it will run you under $10.  So, just buy a carded version if you want one or an army of them.  

1995 Sgt. Savage Iron Stormtrooper

1995 Sgt. Savage Iron Stormtrooper

1995 Sgt. Savage Iron Stormtrooper

Saturday, August 20, 2022

1997 Cobra Rage - Around The Web

In 1997, this Cobra Rage repaint was not appreciated.  Collectors just could not wrap their brains around Hasbro choosing a vehicle that debuted in the 1990's as the representative release for Cobra.  Surely, a Hiss Tank or Stinger or even STUN would have been a better choice?  Collectors went so far as to steal the Alley Viper out of the Rage boxes at Toys R Us so they didn't have to buy the vehicle.  What they missed, though, is a superb addition to any Cobra army.

The 1997 Rage features classic Cobra colors and is a substantial upgrade over the 1990 Rage.  It was fully outfitted with all the accessories of the original but now included an awesome Alley Viper repaint, too.  While it was pricey for 1997, the Rage was worthy of addition to any collection.  And, within a few years of its release, collectors came around on it and the Rage was, well, all the rage for a short while.

Now, we're left with a great repaint that is 25 years old.  Yes, that's right.  25 years old.  Yet, I can still see these sitting in my local TRU store back then.  And, passing them by to pick up POTFII figures.  Fortunately, though, I did get one.  I just don't use it as often as I should.  So, I do hope to rectify that in the near future.  In the meantime, here's the best of the 1997 Cobra Rage from around the web.

1997 Cobra Rage Profile

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

1983 Grunt

I want to say that I hate Grunt.  However, that is unfair.  The reality is that I don't care about Grunt.  At all.  As a figure and as a character, Grunt has never been particularly relevant to me.  I'm not sure why this is.  While not the most interesting of the original 13 Joe figures, he's not the least interesting, either.  In fact, it his general blandness where he's neither great nor bad that is the cause of my indifference to the figure.  All of that, though, doesn't belie Grunt's place in Joe history and his importance to the fledgling line back in 1982.

My first encounter with Grunt was during my brother's infamous birthday in October of 1982.  He got most of the carded Joes along with the VAMP and HAL.  As the figures were opened and each kid took one to play with out in the front yard, the only thing I found interesting about Grunt was his backpack.  I quickly grabbed it, affixed it to Clutch's back and moved on.  It's likely that Grunt's thumb was quickly broken in those early days.  But, I have no real memories of Grunt at all beyond his pack being stolen for my "super" Clutch figure.  I can still recall the day that pretty much every original Joe character entered into my collection.  My only real recollection of Grunt was finding pieces of one buried behind bricks in our front yard after we had entombed him in 1982.

Grunt was so inconsequential to me that it wasn't until a year later when my brother acquired the Falcon Glider and the Tan Grunt that I paid any attention to the original figure.  I noticed the silver knife on the Tan Grunt's chest.  I loved this paint detail and it was enough to make the Tan Grunt interesting to me.  By that time, most of our 1982 straight arm Joes were broken and had been tossed in a box.  I thought there was no way I'd have missed the silver knife on the original Grunt or else I would have liked that figure better.  I dug the dirty and broken 1982 Grunt torso out of a box of broken and discarded Joes.  To my dismay, the original knife was silver, too.  I had just missed it.  But, even with this new bit of information, I didn't feel the need to go out and get a new swivel arm Grunt that was then available.  I just shrugged it off and largely forgot about Grunt for a long time.

In the comic, the Grunt character didn't begin as all that interesting, either.  His early runs are not memorable and he was overshadowed by Clutch, Rock and Roll and Hawk.  Heck, even Short Fuse got a few memorable lines.  But, this lack of defined story helped Larry Hama do something with Grunt.  He left the military to go to college.  He then aided the Joes in a few story lines and, ultimately, returned to the team.  (Though, his awful 1991 figure isn't really representative of his look during the transition.)  So, the Grunt character that I know is mostly based on the late 1980's story arc for Grunt and his interaction with characters from that time of the book.

My experience with Grunt, though, tends to be unique.  There are a great number of collectors out there who count Grunt as their introduction to the Joe line.  He was supposed to be the standard American fighting man and his appearance on Joe product packaging of the early '80's indicated this.  So, Grunt was often the figure chosen by adults for gifts or treats.  So, you'll see him occupy high slots on many collector lists.  While I'd rank Grunt firmly in the lower middle of the original releases, he remains a hugely important part of many people's collections.

Grunt's enduring legacy was that he was the "face" of G.I. Joe in 1982.  In fact, many kids assumed he was "G.I. Joe" himself.  Grunt's iconic artwork appeared on most of the Joe promotional material.  He was used as the background for merchandise that wasn't tied to Hasbro's 3 3/4 figure line.  Grunt represented the American fighting man.  And, his look was used to convey that fact.  And, that may be part of the reason that Grunt isn't all that interesting as a toy or character.  He was meant to represent the everyman.  And, everymen are bland by design.  Extreme character traits alienate them from their base.  So, they are just there.  Grunt provides a connection to soldiers from prior wars and allowed an entry point for parents and grandparents to introduce G.I. Joe to their kids.  So, he was hugely successful in that regard.

As a figure, though, Grunt is well done.  Not only does he feature more paint applications than most of the other carded 1982 designed Joes, he also has nice accessories.  The figure has brown, black, silver and green paint to accentuate the figure design.  (And, note the bright green pockets.  Neon was part of the Joe line since 1982.)  And, he includes a helmet, backpack and classic M-16 rifle.  If you were a kid in 1982 without the story that would come, there was little to differentiate Grunt from most of the other figures hanging on retail shelves.  But, for me, Grunt lacked the "it" factor.  Stalker, Snake Eyes, Rock and Roll and Flash were all must buys.  While I didn't much care for Scarlett, she was memorable.  Zap and Short Fuze were interchangeable and not all that interesting.  Breaker's gear pushed him ahead of Grunt.  When you add in vehicle drivers, Hawk is non-descript.  Clutch is awesome.  Steeler is right behind him.  And, if you like Flash, you kind of have to like Grand Slam.  Caught in the space between good and bad leaves Grunt as forgotten.

There is an interesting anecdote about Grunt.  At one time, there was a person who wanted to make a massive military diorama.  He would choose to only use 1983 Grunt and 1983 Tan Grunt figures to comprise the humans in this endeavor.  It never came to be, though.  And, in the mid 2000's, tons of Grunts who were still in their bubbles, but had the rest of the card torn away became available.  (A monstrous supply of Tan Grunts still in the bubble became available, too.)  It's not known if this person got the figures from Hasbro or just bought them at retail.  But, it's an interesting story and the reason why you'll still find bubbled Grunts on torn away cardbacks to this day.

As with all the original 13 Joes, Grunt was a world traveler.  The straight arm figure was released in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.  His parts were used for exclusives in Argentina, too.  The swivel arm figure was repainted in 1983 and appeared through the years in various mail aways, catalog premiums and promotions.  Hasbro reformed most of Grunt in 1997 for inclusion in the Stars and Stripes set.  But, after that, Grunt didn't really appear.  His shared chest appeared a in the 2000's in comic packs and convention sets.  But, a repainted Grunt character never did.  Grunt's comic pack release was a new head on a repainted 1994 Action Series body.  (It's a cool figure, but not an homage to this Grunt.)  While I don't really miss Grunt repaints, there's no reason he didn't appear later in different colors.  But, there's enough Grunt releases from outside the U.S. and U.S. releases repaints to keep the Grunt collector busy for quite a while.

As Joe prices have risen drastically since the fall of 2017, the early Joes have been heavily caught up in the tidal wave.  Beware figures with the incorrect rifle.  Grunt's rifle is unmistakable, but many dealers will still put an incorrect version with the figure to command a premium.  Mint and complete Grunt figures sell between $35 and $45 with some dealers even getting $70 with far too much frequency.  But, the figure is very prone to discoloration, paint wear and joint degradation.  This does mean, though, that you can get slightly off condition figures for cheaper prices.  But, we're long past the days of cheap Grunts making up a slew of greenshirts for a casual collector.  Grunt is still cheaper than many of the more popular members of the original 13.  But, I'd never pay those prices for one since the figure just doesn't resonate with me.

1983 Grunt, Scarlett, Rock and Roll, VAMP, Clutch, RAM

1983 Grunt, 1997 Snake Eyes, 1984 Slugger

Saturday, August 13, 2022

2000 Undertow - Around The Web

The A Real American Hero Collection debuted in 2000.  At the time, it was an amazing assortment of figures.  The lone Cobra army builder, though, was the oddly chosen Undertow.  At the time, he was an obscure figure that not many collectors even owned.  But, that made him desirable as the new releases showed collectors just how great the Undertow mold was.  And, the colors that were chosen carried over to the Lamprey and Sub Viper, too.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

2000 Undertow Profile

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

2005 Crimson Guard

In 2003, Hasbro showcased brand new Crimson Guard bodies that were supposed to debut on both the Agent Faces mail away figure as well as the Cobra Island Infiltrate set.  At the time, collectors were desperate for new, cheap Crimson Guards.  Despite the Infiltrate set's cancellation, collectors found Agent Faces enough of a acquisition to sate their desire for bigger and better armies.  In late 2004, Hasbro released Operation Crimson Sabotage: a boxed set of two vehicles that also included three new Crimson Guard figures.  This set was primed to explode on the secondary market.  But, just as it started to take off, rumors of a coming 2005 Crimson Guard set were confirmed.  Collectors backed off the Sabotage sets and geared up for the coming 6 pack.  And, it did not disappoint...too much.  Hasbro released a set with four Crimson Guard figures.  They included decent enough gear.  Hasbro even went so far as to break up Tomax and Xamot so that there were, technically, two sets and collectors could get more army builders for their money.  (Oddly, though, each set also included a Firefly which negated the savings on the Tomax/Xamot split....)  The figures themselves were repaints of the 2004 Crimson Guards and were replete with all the benefits and detriments of the existing figures.

As a figure, this Crimson Guard is OK.  Considering that vintage CG's at the time of this set's release were $20-$25 figures, collectors were fine with getting an inferior version since the cost per figure was under $3.50 each.  The figure's body and legs are fine.  But, the arms can be problematic.  The 1992 Duke arms were meant to have super weird and short sleeves.  On the CG, the design just looks a bit bizarre.  The arms also don't fit flush at the figure's side.  So, they flail out a bit and make the CG look like an overzealous body builder.  The bare heads are fine.  They are rather non-descript.  But, they work in that context.  As they are a 2000's era sculpt, they lack the details and personality of vintage designs.  But, it's a masked bad guy so the countenance doesn't require that much attention to distinct facial features.  With the helmet on, the figure's flesh colored neck is exposed...kind of ruining the overall aesthetic of the character.  Were the mask fully painted down the figure's neck, this would be solved and the appearance would be more in line with the 1985 figure.

The paint details on the figure are well done.  The cords on the figure's right arm are painted gold and the other insignia on the figure's chest have a burnished silver color.  The brighter silver from Agent Faces on these details are much better.  Each figure in this set uses the same head.  The figure has an odd red hair.  There are variant heads available in the Sabotage set.  And, even the Shadow Guard heads can be used to give the figs some diversity.  The Cobra logo is somewhat understated. The figure lacks the arm insignia from the Operation Crimson Sabotage figures.  But, features plenty of silver and black details that would have made mint figures impossible to find had it been a vintage figure.  CG's, in general, don't require too much paint.  Their red color is their calling card.  But, the vintage silver Cobra logo pops on the figure.  They faded yellow logo on these 2005 CG's lacks that distinctive flair.

Collector reaction to these figures was generally positive.  But, it was also understated.  In 2003, collectors were army builder obsessed.  In 2004, though, some of that desire started to sate.  By the time these figures showed up in 2005, Crimson Guard fatigue was setting in.  Collectors had ample opportunities to get similar figures in 2004.  So, the pent up demand that had met the Cobra Infantry no longer existed for the CGs.  Collectors liked the figures.  But, with their helmets on, the CG's lost some of their mystique.  Many collectors opted to leave the helmets off altogether since the figures looks good without it, too.  But, while many collectors of the era bought double digit Cobra Infantry sets, they reduced their purchase of the CG's.  Many collectors reported only two to four sets in their collections.  The fact that Hasbro released army building "Greenshits" as the Joe companion set to the CG's also sucked away a bit of the army building dollars.  But, the set really didn't offer anything that collectors couldn't get elsewhere.  And, quite a few collectors skipped the set and just picked up a spare Tomax/Xamot set from one of the army builders who was looking to recoup some costs.

The Crimson Guard figures all included accessories that were OK.  All four figures in the set included the same gear.  This was both helpful from an army standpoint but also frustrating in that there was no diversification among the figures.  What was odd, though, was that Hasbro outfitted the CG's in infantry style gear: gear that was far better suited to the 2004 Cobra Infantry set which had featured awful weapons.  Each figure got a black version of the 1991 Dusty's pack as well as the AR-15 inspired rifle that had debuted in the JvC series of figures.  This gear is nice and the rifles fit with the CG figures.  But, I've never figured out how "elite" troopers wearing bright red uniforms would have use for long term field mission gear.  The figures also included a removable helmet.  While neat in theory, the practical effects of the helmet is that the figure's head is overly large when wearing it and looks disproportional.  It would have been great had Hasbro resculpted the original CG head (they had already redone the body...) and used it on at least 2 of the guardsmen in the set.  While they were at it, redoing the original CG rifle seems like a small request.  And, I'd have gladly sacrificed the packs to get a better homage to the original rifle.  But, considering it was 2005, I'm glad the gear somewhat works for the figures as it was far better than what subsequent sets would see in terms of accessories.

Toys R Us initially ordered ~25,000 units of their ARAH style Joe sets.  However, slow sales on the Tiger Force and Python Patrol set got them to reduce the orders to ~20,000 units per set starting in 2004.  Again, though, the Joe sets sold slowly and they were further reduced to ~16,000 units before the end of the year.  The Cobras, though, remained at the 20,000 set level.  So, we know that there were 20,000 Crimson Guard sets produced.  What we're not 100% sure of, though, is if Hasbro produced 20,000 of both the Tomax set and the Xamot set.  Or, if they produced 20,000 total sets.  Based on the shelves at the time and the availability of figures today, it seems far more likely that there were just the 20,000 total sets made: 10,000 sets for each twin.  But, with 4 Crimson Guards per set, that's still 80,000 Crimson Guards that were produced and is why the figure remains relatively available and affordable even in the 2022 marketplace.

Hasbro got almost all they could from this Crimson Guard remake.  It was released as Faces in 2003, Crimson Guards in 2004 and 2005 and as the Crimson Shadow Guard in the late summer of 2005.  Despite these four uses, though, three were in nearly identical red and the fourth featured six figures all in black.  Hasbro missed the totally obvious and easy blue repaint.  Had the Firefly in the Crimson Guard set been replaced with a blue CG, it would not have lingered at retail for months.  But, Hasbro wasn't able to get decent Cobra Trooper/Officer repaints to collectors and failed with the CG's as well.  In the early 2010's, factory custom makers redid the 1985 Crimson Guard and finally filled in some of the coloring gaps.  But, these figures saw lower production runs and aren't really all that common any more.  Fortunately, new CG runs were released in 2021 and many colors have become much more available.

In 2005, the Joe world had considerably slowed.  And, as such, the Crimson Guards lingered at retail.  You could still find sets well into the summer of that year.  Online sets, though, sold out relatively quickly.  Collectors liked the figures.  But, the general malaise of the collecting world combined with the earlier releases of Faces and Operation Crimson Sabotage helped temper demand and keep the CG's as very attainable for quite a while.  These days, Tomax, Xamot and even Firefly are relatively desirable and command a premium.  But, individual CG figures do not.  However, here's what I wrote in 2017 when I started this profile:

While boxed sets fetch around $40 and the dealers will get around $10 for a mint and complete figure, the Crimson Guards sell for under $5 each when left to the open market.  

Even in the rapidly cooling collectible market of 2022, though, these figures are a lot more expensive.  Loose, mint and complete Crimson Guards sell in the $11-$13 range depending upon buying them in lots or individually.  Boxed sets run around $100.  Dealers tend to get around $20, though, for the same figure.  But, those prices are falling and you're seeing many of them starting to sit at that level.  

There are so many options for figures like this and there are better Crimson Guards available.  So, that leaves these figures rather undesirable and something that the modern collector can still army build on a budget.  There's not many figures left like that.  But, you can find them.  Personally, I'd wait out the market a bit before paying $13 for a sample.  But, you never know which figures will stand tall against the dropping prices and hold up.  The main thing is that this figures are OK.  If you can find 2021 factory customs for similar or lower prices, they're probably a better option.

2005 Crimson Guard, Toys R Us Exclusive, 2004, Operation Crimson Sabotage, Hiss Tank, ASP

2005 Crimson Guard, Toys R Us Exclusive, 2004, Operation Crimson Sabotage, Hiss Tank, ASP

2005 Crimson Guard, Toys R Us Exclusive

2005 Crimson Guard, 2004 Operation Crimson Sabotage, Tomax, Xamot, Firefly, Hiss Tank, ASP

Saturday, August 6, 2022

1985 ASP - Around The Web

The enduring legacy of the G.I. Joe line is that it had something for everyone.  If you had all the money you could ever want, there were massive, expensive playsets for you to buy.  But, if you only had a couple of bucks, you could still get a figure or a small vehicle/playset.  The upside, though, was that the quality of the toy didn't change as you spent more money.  An inexpensive item like the 1984 ASP features all the play value and sturdy construction of the larger, more expensive vehicles.  It's fully compatible with more expensive toys and was even designed so that it could interact with other vehicles or stand on its own.  This genius allowed the line to be for everyone.

As for the ASP, it's a great toy that's essential to a Cobra army.  It provides anti-aircraft protection while also giving kids a way to use that tow hook on the HISS Tank.  It looks good, holds a figure and matches the color scheme of the early Cobras.  Here's the best of the 1984 ASP from around the web.

1984 ASP Profile

Canadian Exclusive ASP and Stinger Set

1984 ASP by Otto the Otter

1984 ASP by jogunwarrior

1984 ASP by gen_liederkranz

1984 ASP by icebird

1984 ASP by scarrviper

1984 ASP by 1977starwarskid

1984 ASP by hobieshinobi

1984 ASP by Formbx257

1984 ASP by jogunwarrior

1984 ASP by HCC788

1984 ASP by Otto the Otter

1984 ASP by tycondrius23

1984 ASP by gijoe_guy

1984 ASP by jonita_rodriguin

1984 ASP by sintechness

1984 ASP, 1989 Python Patrol Officer, 1986 Viper, 2022 Black Major Bats, Battle Android Trooper

1984 ASP, Assault Systems Pod, 1993 Mail Away Snow Serpent

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

1992 Nunchuk - Ninja Force

Ninja Force was once among the most hated concepts in Joe.  Collectors who grew up in the '80's held special disdain for the subset.  They had aged out of the comic, cartoon and toys by the time Ninja Force came around and felt it didn't live up to their standards of what G.I. Joe should have been.  For younger collectors, though, Ninja Force was a fun way to interact with their toys.  And, as they have aged into the collecting community we've seen opinions shift.  While many old timers still treat Ninja Force as second class figures, younger collectors both enjoy and embrace the releases for what they were.   We've seen some Ninja Force designs be incorporated on repainted molds of popular characters.  And, we even saw them introduced in the anniversary style of figure.  The original team, though, has a very complementary color palette that makes them stand out.  And, in the case of Nunchuk, his coloring really should have made him more popular among the older collector base.

In the early 2000's, I wanted to profile Nunchuk.  At the time, not too many collectors were well versed in post 1990 figures.  And, I felt that Nunchuk was the type of figure that might catch on with those who generally ignored late line releases.  His basic color scheme of green and black combined with his solid, but de-identifying headsculpt seemed a recipe for a figure that might some cachet from the pre-1988 only crowd that defined that era of Joe collecting.  But, I never got around to showcasing Nunchuk.  And, my interest in him diminished as well.  I don't really remember why.  Though, I suspect that part of it was that I was acquiring figures very quickly in those days.  And, I likely found limitations when I went to pose the figure for possible photos.  So, two decades later, I am finally taking a look at Nunchuk.

As a figure, Nunchuk isn't bad.  He's fairly straightforward with just green and black coloring.  The body sculpt, though, is well detailed, even if the sculpting is obscured by the lack of painted details.  The main aspect of the figure, though, is that he's not all that bulky.  As such, Nunchuk actually works quite well with figures from a larger variety of years than the rest of the Ninja Force figures.  The slim design is aided by the lack of ancillary colors and Nunchuk very much feels like a figure from an earlier time in the line's history.

Aside from the coloring and slim body, Nunchuk is a solid look for a figure.  He is fully masked.  And, it's done in a less intrusive style than other Ninja Force members.  It helps ground Nunchuk in reality.  He's not some multi-generational ninja master wearing centuries old familial heirlooms.  He can just be any guy in a mask who is trying to keep his identity a secret.  He's Beach Head or Snake Eyes.  He's just marketed as a ninja.  But, with his colors, kids could use him in different ways and not be 100% tied to the Ninja Force mythos.

One of the reasons why I never got around to profiling this character 20 years ago, though, is the same reason I've run out of things to say about him, though.  While Nunchuk looks cool at first glance, he is tough to use.  The non-standard Ninja Force construction limits the figure.  And, there are so many better figures to choose for an obscure forest or jungle mission that I rarely find the need to pull Nunchuk out of his drawer.  The figure is really neat.  But, once you have him, his value is tough to extract.  He does look great in duels with Slice and Dice.  But, that's a pretty niche use for Nunchuk.  And, that kind of sums up Ninja Force as a whole.  There are amazing figure ideas in the series.  There are classic characters.  But, you lose out on those because of the construction and general ninja malaise.  If I want a ninja on a mission, I'm taking Snake Eyes.  So, any others are relegated to subservient positions and rarely find use outside of photos regarding their specific subset.

Nunchuk featured a rarely used cloth headpiece.  This design feature debuted on the 1985 Dusty.  But, it was not used again until the 1991 Desert Scorpion.  It was then used with Nunchuk and never appeared on any other figure.  (The 1994 Shadow Ninjas Nunchuk featured it, too, though.)  It's an interesting design choice that works fairly well.  The figure's head is actually two pieces that are glued together to hold the cloth swath in place.  The glue has held up remarkably well and only the most beat up Nunchuks will feature split heads.

One of the great, but underappreciated, aspects of the vintage Joe line was how figures were designed to not only be cool on their own, but also blend with other figures from their release year so they stood out on the shelves.  Vintage Hasbro would never have released 18 figures in varying shades of green after 1982.  They knew that this wasn't a key to retail success.  And, while you see great examples of this from 1983 through 1994, it is even apparent in the small subsets like Ninja Force.  In 1992, various subsets would have been placed on the pegs together.  So, even these groups of 5 or 6 figure had to feature some color diversity.  And, the 1992 Ninja Force delivers that.  You have the stand out red and purple of Slice and Dice.  Stormshadow is white with black.  Dojo and T'Jbang do share blue and yellow, though.  But, you then have Nunchuk to break it up.  It's an interesting contrast of bright and dark colors.  But, they are all vibrant and eye-catching.  The Ninja Force figures look great when displayed as a team...even if they aren't a collector's cup of tea as a concept.

Nunchuk didn't include many accessories.  But, sometimes less is more.  And, in Nunchuk's case, the weapons are well done.  He includes the requisite black battle stand.  He then includes a nicely designed black sword.  It is much larger and bulkier than the swords I grew up with in the 1980's.  But, frankly, it still works.  It's not too large.  And, it's a perfect opponent for the Cobra weapons in Ninja Force.  His last accessory is a pair of nunchuks.  The filecard refers to them as having an unbreakable chain.  And, for those of us who experienced the horror of snapping Stormshadow's or Quick Kick's nunchuks in two due to the weak plastic between the handles, the toy is a marked improvement.  While not "unbreakable", the plastic link between the handles is stronger.  The nunchuks don't hand as naturally as their earlier brethren.  But, they also don't break.  As a fun aside, had the Joe line survived to 1995, the Ninja Commandos would have included nunchuks with an actual piece of string between them.  It would have given the best of both worlds in terms of appearance and strength.

As far as molds go, Nunchuk didn't get a ton of use.  There is this 1992 figure and he was then repainted in 1994.  That year, Nunchuk was included in the Shadow Ninjas.  The translucent, purplish figure was among the final Joes made.  But, that was the extent of his use.  (Ninja Force and Shadow Ninjas were released in various countries and there are cardback variants.  But, all the figures are the same as the standard US releases.)  Hasbro likely had all the Ninja Force molds during the 2000's.  And, they used a couple.  But, the collecting world wasn't ready for a full on Ninja Force redux.  And, honestly, Nunchuk stands out due to his military coloring.  So, there's no real need for another repaint of him.  Sometimes, Hasbro used the molds just enough.

Loose Nunchuks are about $5 figures.  Mint and complete versions sell for under $15.  But, dealers sell a lot at $20+.  With a little patience, Nunchuk remains a solidly affordable figure that's worth acquiring.  He fits with a lot of Joes from earlier years and can be added to a vehicle crew for a slightly unique take on a Joe team.  But, he still has non-standard construction and that does limit his value in a collection.  But, for a pittance, he's a worthy acquisition.  You can easily add him as a member of a combat team and can use his colors as a way to make a photo stand out without sacrificing common colors.  But, as this figure hasn't taken off in the Joe resurgence of the past four years, it's unlikely that he's ever going to find anything other than obscurity among the collecting world.

1992 Ninja Force Nunchuk, 1998 Cobra Trooper, Toys R Us Exclusive

1992 Nunchuk, Ninja Force, Stormshadow

1992 Nunchuk, Ninja Force, Stormshadow