Tuesday, January 31, 2023

1993 Eel

I have written many times of my experiences relating to 1993 and 1994 Joes at retail.  My late arrival to the hunt coupled with the dawn of adult collectors left me interesting finds at retail.  While Joe characters were relatively easy to find, Cobra characters were a rarer find.  The rarest find of all, though, was an army builder.  In the standard carded series of Joes. I only found the 1993 Crimson Guard Commander and 1994 Viper at retail.  (I didn't look for Armor Tech figures.  And, you could get various Ninja Force Night Creepers, too.)  The remainder of the Cobra army builders were long gone by the time I realized that I needed to buy every Joe at retail that I could find.  

The 1992 basic carded line of Joes was only 12 figures.  That's incredibly small.  But, a lot of the volume was made up for by the 19 figures released in the DEF, Eco Warriors, Ninja Force and Talking Battle Commanders series of figures.  Of those 12 standard carded figures, though, 8 of them were remakes of classic characters.  General Flagg was the first figure using a popular name from the comics.  So, there were just three new character released that year.  This rehash was, likely, a response to various market forces as well as a way to keep familiar character names on shelves as the line sputtered a bit towards its ultimate demise.  Among the re-imagined characters is the classic Cobra Eel.  This character, who debuted in 1985, was the de facto Cobra Frogman and remained popular in the comics.  It was also one of the best figures Hasbro ever created.  So, any new design had a high bar to clear.

The 1992 mold, though, didn't quite deliver.  Bright colors aside, the general design simply wasn't up to par with the 1985.  The figure had a lot of potential.  But, many of the design points didn't translate into the actual toy.  In 1993, the Eel was among 9 of the 12 1992 figures who got an repaint in the initial Battle Corps line.  (Big Bear, the 10th 1992 to repainted, was only available as a mail away.  Destro and Duke didn't get the repaint treatment (likely because they both had new figure molds for 1993) but would both make up for it in the repaint era (1997-2006) as each mold was used multiple times.)  The 1993 Eel is neither better nor worse than the 1992.  In fact, they are incredibly similar in appearance with the main difference being a purple body suit instead of a blue from 1992.  Both figures, though, suffer from differences between design and production that make a big difference.

In looking at the Eel card art, you can see that the figure was originally intended to be wearing a yellow vest with exposed wet suit appearing under it on the figure's stomach.  The production figure is a wall of yellow from the neck to below the belt.  Had the stomach been painted to match the wetsuit colors, the Eel would have a visual break on his torso that would have given him more depth.  The omission of this paint application makes the figure seem two tone and more fits with cheaper brands than the paint depth that was the hallmark of Hasbro's G.I. Joe line.  The artwork also features bare hands.  In this case, I'm glad the designers went with gloved hands.  I was never a fan of characters who are completely covered save their hands.  It's odd that you'd go to the lengths to protect your eyes and face, but not your hands.  So, in this case, the figure is better for the change.  

The final two details are different.  In looking at the figure's head in the card art, you see that he was planned to have black fangs descending from the figure's visor.  This would have been a great way to bring some additional color to the figure and break up the sea of yellow.  These were dropped, though, and the figure seems a bit unfinished without them.  The final aesthetic are the protruding fins on the figure's arms and legs.  These rigid plastic details were meant to both be pliable wet suit fins, but also "hull slashing" weapons that were capable of ripping steel.  On the figure, the hard plastic works for the latter purpose.  But, it also gives the figure a bit of bulk that can be limiting when using him in Cobra aquatic vehicles.

I use 1992 and 1993 Eels interchangeably  They are a bright and fun way to give Cobra's underwater force a bit of super villain menace.  The 1985 Eel is the militaristic appearance for the specialty.  The 1992/1993 figure is just another way for Cobra to instill fear in their enemies.  My main usage for them is as a crew for the 1988 Cobra Bugg.  The yellows, blues and purple fit with the colors on the Bugg.  And, that vehicle's oddball appearance is a great match for the futuristic, sleek look of this Eel mold.

There are also notable differences in the 1992 and 1993 Eel filecards.  The 1992 Eel calls back to the 1985 figure and the training described on the original filecard.  For 1993, though, that bit of history is gone.  It's replaced with a line about the newly released DEF Shark DF-1.  (Which would be renamed to the Shark 9000 for retail release, an odd continuity gaffe.)  The 1992 Eel filecard also refers to the mechanical shark that was included with that release.  As that accessory was omitted from the 1993 figure, all references to it have also been wiped away.

The 1992 Eel included an array of accessories that both made sense and were totally ridiculous in a 1990's G.I. Joe way.  He included flippers and a spear gun.  The calling card, though, was a silver "robotic" shark that shot missiles.  This was a clever way to include an odd spring loaded launcher.  The 1993 figure, though, was stripped down and includes a common array of generic weapons on a red tree.  The 1993 figure does include flippers...which were kind of necessary.  But, after that, the weapon tree includes a red version of Rock Viper's rifle, Voltar's gun, the Toxo Viper "sniffer" and the Incinerator flame thrower.  None of these really make sense for an underwater trooper.  And, aside from the flamethrower (which can kind of function as a super villainesque rifle) don't have much usefulness.  The 1993 Eel also included a yellow spring loaded launcher that was also included with the Crimson Guard Commander and Cyber Viper.  While the launcher was common among a few figures, the red version of this weapon tree was unique to the 1993 Eel.  

The 1992 Eel mold got three uses.  Hasbro released the 1992 and 1993 figures.  The mold then showed up in India.  Funskool produced an Eel that was based on the 1992 coloring for many years.  He is one of the few Funskool army builders who remains relatively cheap and available today.  But, that figure badly discolors and it's getting harder and harder to find Funskool figures that remain mint.  Hasbro did not get the Eel back in 2003.  This is too bad as a repainted 1992 Eel mold in 1985 colors would have been a solid entry in a Toys R Us set.  That didn't happen, though, as Hasbro was still afraid of '90's molds at the time.  There are lots of customs of this Eel out there in various color schemes (Copperhead, Secto Viper, '85 Eel, etc.) that show the mold still had some potential.  But, it was never fulfilled.

1993 Eels are kind of hard to find.  All of the 1992 repaints that appeared in 1993 seem to exist in lower quantities than the rest of the figures from that year.  And, even back in the days when collectors disdained neon figures, it was hard to come by a 1993 Eel in a lot or collection.  These days, mint and complete 1993 Eels will run you between $17 and $20.  You'll see a couple of them shoot up in price when sold by "elite" dealers.  But, there's enough available at the market rate to fill out a nice squad at any given time.  With carded figures running in the $30 range, it doesn't make sense to overpay due to impatience.  Just the figures, though, will run you under $10.  And, in the right lots, can still be had cheaply.  As the figure doesn't include any real gear that's essential, building armies of incomplete figures is a viable way to get a fun group of figures.  

1993 Eel, Interrogator, Muskrat

1993 Battle Corps Eel, 1994 Action Sailor

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Funskool Streethawk

The G.I. Joe collecting world of 2023 is vastly different from that of 2003.  You'd expect 20 years to make a difference.  And, many of the changes we've seen are things that were unforeseen back in the early years of this century.  The one change that's the most baffling to me, though, has been the meteoric rise of the 2000's era Funskool figures.  These were sold by every dealer under the sun in 2001 through 2005.  Untold thousands of them flooded the market.  Collectors who wanted them were able to buy all that they could ever desire.  Those who didn't want them still usually ended up with some as they were so ubiquitous in lots and trade fodder.  Despite this, Funskool figures from that era are now overly expensive for their availability.  In general, though, the more popular Funskool figures from the early 2000's remain the cheapest.  While, the most garish figures that were unliked at the time of their release have gotten substantially more expensive.  There is one exception, though.  And, that is the Funskool Streethawk figure.  He's become the most expensive figure from that era, even though he was among the most popular figures of the time.

Streethawk has a few reasons for his exceptionalism.  The first is that he was only sold with the Streethawk motorcycle.  He was still a carded figure.  But, the inclusion of the cycle meant that new Streethawks would cost you $7 or $8 each as opposed to the standard $4 per standard carded Funskool figure.  Streethawk was also a character.  While this particular version shares a lot in common with the TARGAT mold and can be used as such, most people still saw him as a unique character.  So, even though he was about the same cost as a Hasbro retail army builder at the time, not as many people army built the figure since they were good with a single version of the character.  These two aspects combined to reduce sales on the figure as opposed to, say, the Night Viper.  But, Streethawk was still a common site in the collections of the early 2000's.  And, dealers would even sell out of Streethawk figures from time to time.  Everyone may have only had one or two of them.  But, everyone had at least one.

If you had told 2003 me that a handful of the common Funskool figures available at the time would be worth more than $100 each just 20 years later, my first guess for the figure would have been Super Cop.  But, Super Cop was also only available for a few months, cost $13 or more to buy at retail and was more of a one off warehouse find than a figure Funskool had in production.  So, if I'd thought about it, the only other real options would have been a couple of the very late, 2004, releases that collectors ignored.  Or, this Streethawk.  He was popular during his time.  And, he has a bit of crossover appeal to Streethawk fans.  (Yes, they exist.)  He was more expensive to acquire than other figures.  So, army building wasn't as common as it was with other figures.  All of these factors would have made him a good candidate.  But, at the same time, I doubt that I'd have believed any of the figures from that era would reach the prices we see on them today.  And, I'd have probably gone with someone like Stormshadow who also tended to sell out from time to time and wasn't a figure people army built.  But, his later inclusion in the common Russian series helped to curb his appeal.

In the end, the TARGAT body versions of the Streethawk figure are not rare.  There are tons of them in the collecting community.  But, like the Satan figure from Argentina, the figure's popularity drives the price moreso than the rarity.  Everyone wants a Streethawk.  And, that drives the $100 price tag.  You're not buying a rare figure.  You're buying a popular figure.  But, that's why there's both supply and demand elements to pricing.  The figure's popularity drives the price.  And, that popularity has held steady for more than 20 years, now.  So, this figure isn't a fad that will be subject to collector whims like some other joke or meme figures that have risen in price in recent years.

Black and silver are a rare combination in the vintage Joe line.  The only figure who uses only those two colors is the 1989 Snake Eyes.  (The 1993 Cobra Commander and 1994 Action Sailor are close, though.)  Because of that, figures like Streethawk stand out.  It's not an overdone combination of hues.  So, the figure works as part of Cobra and as a stand alone figure who is affiliated with the enemy faction.  The black complements many other figures.  So, you can use Streethawk with everything from classic blue Cobras to the more brightly colored enemies from the 1990's.

Streethawk includes just the black visor.  This part was omitted on the bagged vehicle driver figures, though.  The visor adds a lot to the look of the figure and is somewhat essential to the figure's overall appearance.  As he was never really available without the motorcycle, though, you could consider a complete figure to also include the black and silver RAM.  I find the motorcycle is my more used part of this toy as I use it all the time with a variety of figures.  But, most people consider the figure complete with just the visor and the motorcycle a separate part.

The upside to Streethawk is that he's a blank slate that anyone can use as they please.  He can be a recolored TARGAT, an astronaut, a motorcycle driver or anything else your mind can conjure up.  I've always seen him as a villain since he uses a Cobra mold for the majority of the figure.  I created a character for the Spearhead chest variation of this figure.  But, I see this TARGAT version as something different.  Really, I don't have a defined role for the figure.  I don't use him all that often in photos.  So, those don't even provide much of a clue as to his true purpose in my collection.  Most people seemed to view Streethawk as a Cobra or other villain.  But, the figure is an empty canvas that everyone can use differently.

There are several variants to the Streethawk figure.  The first figure released was a swivel arm 1983 Snake Eyes repaint with a black helmet.  This is not an easy figure to find and remains very pricey.  The second version introduced the TARGAT head.  But, it was on top of a Spearhead body.  The Spearhead chest version is also pretty hard to find and commands a hefty premium these days.  This version features TARGAT's head, arms and chest.  It's the third variant and probably exists in lower quantities than the fourth variant which just added in TARGAT's waist.  That waist change was made in late 2001/2002 so most Streethawks that were sold by dealers featured it.  But, it's so subtle that many people pass over it in their quest to just get 1 version of the character.  There are also some upper arm variants that may have originated from Funskool vehicle drivers.  And, I'm sure that if anyone could get a group of 100 Streethawk figures, they'd find some additional variants.  That's just how Funskool worked, especially on figures that were in production for a decade or more.

Here's the bad news.  Funskool Streethawks are now hard to find.  Carded versions of the TARGAT chest figures fetch over $200.  But, due to low availability, loose mint and complete figures with their motorcycle will run in the $150-$200 range, too.  Dealers will get up to $300 for the same set.  If you can find just a figure with the visor, you'll pay in the $100-$120 range.  That's a lot for this figure.  But, surprisingly, all black figures outside of Snake Eyes were uncommon in the vintage Joe line.  So, the coloring is distinct and really meshes well with a variety of Cobra scenarios.  Personally, though, I've had the figure for 20+ years and I don't use him all that often.  So, there's no way I'd pay $100 or more for one.  Heck, back in the Funskool heyday, I wouldn't pay $7 for a second one.  But, that's part of the reason why this figure is expensive today.  He's a cool design.  But, an easy pass for me at his current pricing.

Funskool Streethawk, 2005 Crimson Shadow Guard

Saturday, January 21, 2023

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor - Around The Web

Every now and then, I come across an incredibly popular figure.  You may not know it from the price or availability.  But, you find that figure shows up in tons of online content.  Such is the case with the 2005 Serpentor.  There is a ton of content using the figure out there.  But, this makes some sense.  The original Serpentor uses gold plastic and is now at a point where posing him takes on tons of risk of breakage.  The 2002 repaint has all but disappeared from the online community.  So, this 2005 version remains the most viable figure to use for the ever popular Serpentor character.  

I found tons of great content on this figure out there.  So, take some time and review them through to the end.  Each click will open the link in a new window to make it easy for you.

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor Profile

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by fun_time_at_serpentorslair

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Nekoman

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Outrider

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by slipstream80

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Leonardo T Dragon

2005 Serpentor by tycondrium23

2005 Serpentor by thedustinmccoy

2005 Serpentor by SilentDusty

2005 Serpentor by ToneGunsRevisited

2005 Serpentor by flatline

2005 Serpentor by Outrider

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by thedustinmccoy

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by manetoys83

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by mondotoybox

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by slipstream80

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Outrider

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by octaviopessoa

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by ToneGunsRevisited

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Swindle

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by dashiellerfairborne

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Dragonrider1227

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by sithviper

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Flint

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Slipstream80

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Leonardo T Dragon

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by silentdusty

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Lava Boss

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Outrider

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by Flint

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by corpscommandercody

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor by thedustinmccoy

2005 Comic Pack Serpentor, #49, 1984 Zartan

2005 Comic Pack #49 Serpentor, Cobra Processional Baroness, Crimson Shadow Guard, Fred, Toys R Us Exclusive

Monday, January 16, 2023

Flak Viper - Where in the World

There are figures of which I am an irrational fan.  The Flak Viper is one such figure.  In the early and mid 1990's, the Flak Viper mocked me from the cardback of every figure I was able to find at retail.  I could not find him anywhere.  As Joe disappeared, I figured my chances of ever owning the figure were gone.  Fortunately, that was not the case and I was able to build a nice army of Flak Vipers as a collector.  But, the figure still fascinates me.  I can't get enough of the mold and love all his color combinations.  The two vintage releases and the two repaint era releases offer two very different takes on the mold.

The Flak Viper mold debuted in 1992.  It and the 1993 repaint are well done.  But, they are also identifiable as originating in the 1990's.  The two 2000's repaints, though, avoided many of the trappings of army builder repaints from that time.  Usually, Hasbro overdid it and the repaints were good, but had some minor issues that prevented them from becoming iconic.  But, with the Flak Viper repaints, Hasbro kept it simple and there's a Cobra blue and black repaint along with a desert themed figure.  They are well done.  

The first release of the Flak Viper is the 1992.  The debut of the sculpt showcased solid design and decent gear.  The primary colors are a bright blue and green.  They are offset with a grey sash and pants.  

1992 Flak Viper

The following year, Hasbro repainted the figure.  The base of the figure is the same.  However, the blue highlights have been replaced with orange. While the figure is bright, the orange is kind of fun.  This is my favorite version of the figure just because it's odd, bright and unique.  

1993 Flak Viper, Detonator

The Flak Viper had another use in 1993.  Toys R Us got an exclusive set of Dino Hunters figures.  It was an absurd idea but capitalized on Jurassic Park. The Flak Viper's contribution is that his backpack was modified with holes that allowed it to be held by a mount.  The pack was colored in light grey.  You can still find the packs matched up with Flak Vipers from time to time.  Though, it was much more common a few years ago.  

1992, 1993, 2006, 2004, Flak Viper, Nullifier, Operation Flaming Moth, Street Fighter Movie M Bison, Dino Hunters,

In late 1994 or early 1995, Hasbro used parts of the Flak Viper again.  This time, the Street Fighter Movie Edition M. Bison figure included a silver version of the Flak Viper's rifle.  The silver was a cool look and a great color for the weapon.  It wasn't really a nice match for the 1992 or 1993 figures.  But, it turned out to be a great match for the later uses of the mold.

2004 Nullifier, Urban Assault, Flak Viper, M Bison, Street Fighter Movie

The Flak Viper mold then disappeared for a decade.  In 2004, the entire Flak Viper mold appeared in the Cobra Urban Strike set: this time under the name of Nullifier.  This figure is colored in Cobra blue with black and brown leather highlights.  It's the best paint job on this mold.  It's only drawback was the lame accessories.  The figure didn't include any of his original gear and only came with generic weapons from the 2000's.

2004 Nullifier, Flak Viper, Cobra Urban Assault

In 2006, the final version of the Flak Viper appeared in an Operation Flaming Moth set.  This desert version was a nicely done update to the Flak Viper and was the type of repaint that made sense for Hasbro to do.  While not as nice as the 2004 release, the desert version is useful in it's own right.  The best thing about this version was the return of the full complement of Flak Viper accessories.  The black rifle and pack are also great since they work with the 2004 version, too.

2006 Flak Viper, Range Viper, Operation Flaming Moth

The Flak Viper never got exclusive use anywhere else in the world.  The 1992 Flak Viper was released in Europe on exclusive cardbacks.  The figure is the same, though.  The Flak Viper mold is relatively unique in that it's a mold whose potential was fulfilled.  

1992, 1993, 2006, 2004, Flak Viper, Nullifier, Operation Flaming Moth, Street Fighter Movie M Bison, Dino Hunters,

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

2001 ARAHC Big Ben

This arctic Big Ben is the figure that killed the ARAHC line.  It was released just before Christmas in 2000.  But, within just a few months, this Big Ben and his pack-mate, White Out, would ruin what had been an incredibly promising start to a Joe resurgence at retail.  It's not this figure's fault, though.  The reality is that he is an amazing update to a a character who was incredibly obscure at the turn of the century.  But, things conspired against him and a series of bad decisions by Hasbro turned this promising repaint into one of the greatest pegwarmers of all time.

In 2000, collectors fell into two camps: those who felt the line ended after 1985 and those who felt it ended after 1987.  It was nearly impossible to find loose figures made after 1989 as the kids who collected them had yet to really come online.  As such, figures from 1990 and beyond were all but unknown.  One of the reasons I started my site in late 1999 was because I felt that figures from the final years of the line deserved a place that would spotlight them so more collectors would become aware of their quality.  So, when Hasbro pulled out some molds from the 1990's as repaints for the new line of Joe figures at retail, it was, for many collectors, the first time they'd really paid any attention to the figure molds or characters.  And, in the case of Big Ben, they found a decent sculpt with great gear and a useful character.  And, loose 1990 Big Bens weren't exactly common at the time.  So, for many collectors of the day, the ARAHC repaints would be their first interactions with these molds.  While there was some grumbling by the most militant of Joe collectors about the later mold inclusions, they were, generally, welcomed by the community since they seemed like new figures instead of just a standard repaint.

Now, we get to the meat of why this figure destroyed Joe's chances at retail.  In 2000, the first wave of the ARAHC figures saw a modest launch.  They were sold at Toys R Us, KB Toys, and Wal Mart.  I do not recall if K-Mart picked up the first wave.  But, Target definitely did not.  However, the first wave sold relatively well.  While it was never hard to find from October through December of 2000, it also didn't back up very much with the exception of the Cobra Commander/Chameleon two pack.  

The reason those Cobras backlogged, though, was because they were 3 to a case.  So, their overabundance was the result of a deliberate choice by Hasbro to try and help stave off demand.  Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were also 3 per case, but they sold more quickly.  The remaining figure packs were all 2 per case.  As the waves sold through, the Cobra Commander and Chameleon pack was the only real pegwarmer.  But, if you hit a few Wal Marts or Toys R Us stores in a given day, you'd find every pack from the wave.  

The strong sales both got other retailers (most importantly, Target) to start carrying the line and also expand the retail space allotted for the figures.  So, Wave 2 (it should be noted that Hasbro named the waves with Roman Numerals.  So, from here on out, I'll refer to them by that nomenclature.  This only slightly matters because there were nearly two Wave 5's released in 2002.) quickly started hitting retailers.  And, it hit in force.  Stores got shipment after shipment of them.  And, for a while, they sold pretty well.  But, here's where two fatal flaws in Hasbro's logic converged to kill the line.

In 2001, interest in G.I. Joe surged.  The combination of greater internet access, more children of the '80's coming online, a new comic and even the broader acceptance of buying online at places like Ebay lead to an uptick in interest that still hasn't been matched by the 2007 Anniversary figures or even the Classified 6" series of figures.  Hundreds of new collectors came online every month.  And, they were eager to buy up the memories of their childhood.  Hasbro, was all too willing to meet the demand for these new figures.  The problem was, though, that Hasbro stopped making Wave I cases.  And, as such, only shipped Wave II cases in 2001.  And, the Wave II case breakdown was pretty bad.  It had three new 2 packs: Duke and Sidetrack, Major Bludd and the Rock Viper and Big Ben and White Out (a 1983 Snow Job repaint.)  The figures were all fine.  The case was rounded out with the carry overs of Snake Eyes/Stormshadow and Dusty/Law.  To get to 12 figure packs per case, Hasbro decided to include 4 Big Ben/White Out packs per case.  No other figure pack saw this case ratio.  And, it was baffling.  Sure, Snow Job was popular.  But, in 2001, mint and complete Snow Jobs that were pristine white were still cheap and plentiful.  And, no one really cared about Big Ben.  So, the fact that they got the massive overpacks instead of the army builder was an odd choice.

And, it quickly proved disastrous.  After a couple of months, Big Ben/White Out packs were falling off the shelves of most retail stores.  While the other figures in the case weren't hard to find, you'd often only find a couple of them.  They weren't pegwarming that badly.  Just the extra Big Ben/White Outs were the problem.   But, here's where everything compounds.  For whatever reason, Hasbro didn't have a Wave III ready to go.  So, Wave II cases shipped for 6 months.  With nothing to take their place, the mountains of Big Ben/White Outs grew and grew.  Only, now they were joined by all the other figures in the case, too.  After months of not finding anything new, many casual buyers moved on.  And, the pegwarmers got worse.  By the time Wave III finally shipped in June of 2001, its production run was reduced as there wasn't room at the stores for too many new figures.  Wave III sold well enough.  But, it also wasn't around for very long.  Hasbro dumped Wave IV to discount retailers just a couple of months later and the ARAHC was scrapped.  Wave V was cancelled at retail and became online only.  (At least one pack was cancelled out of this wave.  And, while gate keeping dickheads liked to decry the rumor of a Crimson Viper, the fact that one appeared in a Convention set in 2002 lends credence to the theory that the figure had retail origins.)  

Wave II cases started appearing at regional and overstock retailers.  And, by early 2002, you could still buy all of the figures you wanted from Wave II for about $5/pack all over the US.  But, as hard as it is to believe, the situation in Canada was actually worse.  Canadian retailers got the same case ratios.  But, the figures pegwarmed even harder there than they did in lower latitudes.  Collectors did their best: many buying dozens of Rock Vipers they didn't even really want.  But, the avalanche of Big Ben/White Out figures was simply too much.  Retailers lost faith in the brand.  And, more importantly, they completely lost faith in vintage style Joe repaints.  They felt something new was necessary and that the old molds simply didn't have any more retail life in them.

Looking back, one simple tweak could have saved Hasbro from much of this.  Hasbro had three packs that were out of production in 2001.  And, at the time, the Firefly/Undertow pack would rise as high as $75 on the aftermarket.  General Tomahawk/Dialtone easily fetched $35.  There was huge unmet demand for the discontinued packs since so many new collectors had joined the community after they had disappeared from retail.  (The 3 per case of Cobra Commander/Chameleon helped keep their demand lower.  But, even tossing in 1 of them would have solved a lot of backup.)  Had Hasbro just updated the case ratios to include 2 each of those figures instead of Big Ben/White Out, we likely have a very different history of retail Joe releases in the early 2000's.  But, we also know that Hasbro had plans to scrap the vintage style figures very early on.  And, the retail failure may have given them cover they desired to ensure the transition from vintage figures to the JvC went more smoothly.  (It didn't.)

It was an unjust fate for this figure, though.  I'll argue that this Big Ben repaint is one of the more sensical and useful repaints that Hasbro produced in the 2000's.  Big Ben's sculpt was always bulky.  And, it looks like he's wearing a cold weather jacket.  So, painting in white for use in snowy environments was a natural progression and showed a bit of insight by the Hasbro team of the time.  The gloves on his hand are about the only flaw as they are colored in a way that you can call them gloves.  But, at the same time, they are close in color to Big Ben's face.  So, it also kind of looks like he's bare handed.  But, that's a small quibble with an otherwise strong color scheme.

The coloring on this figure is difficult to determine.  He was always more of a creamy, off white color than a pure white figure like most of the vintage Arctic figures were.  His pack and satchel, though, are bright white.  As the 2000's plastic is discoloring at an alarming rate, it's difficult to determine just how off white this Big Ben should be.  One of the photos below was taken in 2002.  In it, he looks whiter than the figure is today.  But, this could be a function of the overexposed flash that I used when I took the photo two decades ago.  So, be mindful of the coloring on this figure when you look to acquire one.  The upper arms are going to be the first to go and you can see a slight difference between them and the rest of the figure in the newer photos below.  But, the figure always had a cream-ish hue and was never pure white.

One other oddity on this Big Ben is that he features an AT logo on his arm.  This is an homage to Adventure Team.  Except, there's nothing documenting that fact.  So, there's no real reason for this to appear on the figure aside from the Hasbro executive at the time desperately trying to tie the 3 3/4" line to the 12" line of his youth.  It was a hail Mary to attract 40-something aged collectors who had grown up with the 12" line instead of exclusively catering to the burgeoning 20-something collecting demographic that was quickly dominating any Joe online forum.  It's an interesting anachronism.  But, it's also a vivid example of why vintage Joes never made a proper comeback.  They were always made to appeal to everyone except the kids who grew up with them and made the brand so powerful in the 1980's.

Early photos of carded sets featuring this Big Ben showed him including a bi-pod for his rifle.  However, this accessory was removed late in the process and never shipped with any Big Ben that was produced in the 2000's.  This is unfortunate.  As, in my view, the bi-pod fundamentally changes the visual representation of this rifle.  It really made no sense why this wasn't included.  Especially, since 2002 Big Bens included an XMLR rifle that more than offset the cost savings of the bi-pod's exclusion.  It seems the photos of the carded sets with the bi-pod have been lost to time.  Otherwise, Big Ben included all the gear of the vintage figure: a rifle, huge backpack, satchel and grenades.

For me, this figure remains bittersweet.  I was so excited to find one at Christmas in 2000.  I even wanted to take him to snow in the mountains to get some photos of him.  But, just a few months later, the figure was just the bane of my existence as it was everywhere.  And, it was just painful to see the hatred the figure got from a frustrated collecting community when, pegwarming notwithstanding, the figure was actually a spectacular repaint of one of Hasbro's premier designs from the '90's.  This figure was also further diminished when Hasbro released two more decent Big Ben repaints in 2002 and yet another one in 2003 and continued to use his chest and other parts on figures through 2005.  Big Ben overkill helped bury this figure.  And, after two decades, some of that stink still persists despite the actual figure's overall quality.

Dealers now try to sell this figure for up to $30 or more.  You'll see them selling carded versions in the $40 range.  But, on the open market, the carded set is about $20.  If you can find complete figures, they are likely in the $10-$12 range, which seems high.  For a figure that pegwarmed for so long as as hard as it did, these prices seem out of whack.  But, this Big Ben is also a pretty strong figure.  So, some collector interest also makes sense.  If you're a fan of arctic Joes, you need this Big Ben as it's a solid addition to a winter team.  His history as a retail disaster is behind him and for younger collectors who don't recall piles of him at every store, you can look at the figure on his own and appreciate it for the quality repaint it is.

2000, 2001 Big Ben, ARAHC

2000, 2001 Big Ben, ARAHC, Mirage, 2002, Skullbuster

2000, 2001 Big Ben, ARAHC

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

2022 Super7 Ninja Ku

Lots of energy has been spent on the Super7 G.I. Joe figures.  You still see the stale takes about them on various forums.  A few key points.  Hasbro is neither making nor not making 3 3/4" figures because of the Super7 figures.  Super7 fills a completely different niche in the collecting market than Hasbro.  These figures are designed for a specific type of collector.  So, things like articulation doesn't matter.  When I was a kid, I'd have loved a single figure type that encompassed multiple licensees.  Instead, figures from different IP's were not compatible and I ended up gravitating to the single property that offered the most diversity in play, which was G.I. Joe.  Super7 solves this by covering many different properties and putting them into a single, unified format that is based on the most popular standard of vintage toy: Kenner Star Wars figures.

I've seen Super7 figures described as not quite action figures but also not quite art pieces.  And, that's an apt description.  The sculpting is well done.  The paint masks are tight.  And, the plastic quality is far superior to Hasbro's current materials.  I have no concerns about the figure falling apart or breaking.  Sitting up on a shelf, the figure looks great.  It's meant as a display piece.  But, it doesn't come with the massive price tag of busts or statues.  They are a cheaper alternative for people who want to display pop culture characters but not spend too much and have a bunch of items that really don't look like they belong together.

Interestingly, Target has carried the carded waves of Super7 figures in the US.  So, both casual collectors and even just toy buyers can come across them at a retail store.  To make the figures enticing, though, Target case assortments include 1 homage figure to an obscure foreign release.  The first was Funskool Snake Eyes.  And, his appearance just showed how little the casual Joe collectors who joined in the pandemic actually care to know about the line's history.  Many derided it as "neon".  And, when it was pointed out to them that it was a vintage design from India, you got no further response.  That figure was followed up with Satan and, finally, this Ninja Ku.  The upside is that the figures are simple repaints of existing molds.  So, they aren't expensive.  But, they offer just something a little extra and make the overall Super7 offerings more diverse.

It's been about 18 months since Super7 announced the launch of their line and showcased photos of the first wave.  While that seems like a lifetime ago, the reality is that they've accomplished an amazing amount in a short period of time.  Since the launch, we've seen 4 basic waves of figures.  In addition, there are supplemental waves of army builder variants as well as some other, special, offerings.  From the beginning, Super7 has made it a point to include some things that are not available in any of the o-ring lines.  (Some of them might exist in Anniversary sculpts, but not all.)  Their focus has also been heavily cartoon centric.  This is a welcome update from the club dominated era of Marvel comic or bust.  And, it better represents fandom as it's always been an, at best, 50-50 split between comic and cartoon fans.  Comic fans just tended to be older and then quickly set up gatekeeping mechanisms to prevent the cartoon fans from getting too loud a voice.  (And, it was this way even in the beginning when Zartan's Domain was the most popular Joe website online and the club went so far as to fake Hasbro legal documents to attempt to discredit it.  Funny how that's been forgotten in the past two plus decades....)

But, in the first four waves, Super7 has offered: a cartoon Baroness, Kwinn in full Eskimo regalia, sailor army builders for the USS Flagg, Bazooka in a parka, Shock Troopers and GameMaster figures from the cartoon, a javelin wielding Lady Jaye, a Cobra blue V1 Cobra Commander with helmet (the fact Hasbro can't make this figure is just embarrassing), Cobra Factory Workers, female engineering troops, a proper Cover Girl with blonde hair, Cobra Paratroopers from the cartoon's opening sequence along with greenshirts in multiple flavors and female Cobra Troopers.  Just for fun, they've tossed in a sled with figure from the cartoon, some glow in the dark releases, tons of cartoon specific repaints of major characters, a couple of fun cartoon meme classics and Satan, Funskool Snake Eyes and this Ninja Ku.  Really, what they've done reads like a wish list from every fan who was online in the early 2000's: when things like this still seemed possible from Hasbro.  

Truth be told, I don't want Hasbro to be this prolific since just keeping up with one of everything would cost thousands.  But, Super7 seems to have found a way to keep new product coming out and providing fans with characters, paint jobs and oddball surprises that they like.  Sure, you see pictures from Toys R Us Canada with a whole wall of these figures just hanging there.  But, they seem to move well enough at my local Target store.  The fact that Hasbro has only released 6 carded figures in slightly less time makes you realize that the o-rings obscurity is a function of Hasbro's disinterest.  Especially when the figures Hasbro has made could be turned to simple, but highly desired, repaints with minimal effort.  I'd love a proper Hasbro Satan and Ninja Ku.  Cobra Troopers and Officers could get multiple color schemes that would be fun.  And, the fact that we don't have a proper dark blue Cobra Commander after 40 years just makes it seem that Hasbro simply doesn't care.

From what I've read, Super7's success rate with new characters and paint jobs is heavily a function of one of their high level executives being a legit G.I. Joe fan.  So, he's making the things he wanted when he was a kid.  Hasbro has lacked that brand insight since the vintage days.  They had a guy who was a 12" collector.  But, that's the closest we've seen.  Even the Classified team seems to have no personal connection to G.I. Joe as a plaything.  And, that's why we don't see fun and innovative stuff from them.  (And, the few times they do create relationships with collectors, they pick the same types of people: one dimensional collectors whose view of the line is stuck in 1984.)  So, you can bag on Super7's 5 POA model.  But, you can't attack them for the way they've approached the line.  Had Hasbro chosen the same figures and paint jobs from Super7's first four waves for the ARAHC back in 2000, the collecting community would be very different.  But, they didn't.  And, we're in a place now where crumbs are the best we can expect.

I only paid $5.49 for this figure as it was on clearance.  The Target exclusives have a different DCPI and were clearanced while the remainder of the figures stayed at the standard retail price of $17.99.  You see the $8.99 on the price tag.  And, I was fine with paying that price.  At $9, I'd probably buy a few of these figures.  With the quality and the gear, that price would be in line with the Spinmaster Batman and other DC figures.  The super heroes, though, have more articulation and include some low quality accessories and cloth capes.  At the $9 price point, I find the value between the two figure types to be equal.  The Star Wars Retro figures have risen from $10 to $12.  But, those have massive production runs, the Star Wars licensing fees and a gargantuan collector base.  But, $20 seems to be the current sweet spot for collector pricing.  We seem to pay it...for now.  We'll see what 2023 holds.

Ninja Ku includes quite a few accessories.  His complement is based on the 1984 Stormshadow contingent.  He has two swords, nunchucks a bow and wears a backpack.  The pack is hollow so you can store some of his gear in there.  I hang the nunchuks over the pack so there's room for the bow.  I have trouble getting the gear into his hands as they are somewhat stiff.  But, this is a me problem and hasn't been an issue for others.  

I really don't have a long term prognosis for the value of this figure.  I'm not familiar enough with Super7's other products to know if they tend to appreciate with time.  I'm sure some of the more popular licenses may have gotten more expensive.  But, I don't know how the G.I. Joe figures will age.  The first wave has been heavily clearanced at many retailers.  And, you can find later figures with some discounts.  But, there are a lot of characters in the line that can't be acquired in any other way.  So, those are the ones that will probably be the most desirable in the future.  

For me, these figures are interesting.  They are not something I wanted.  And, at their price tag, not something I'm likely to get into moreso than a figure or two that I can get cheap.  If these were in the $8 range, though, it's likely that I'd have many more of them, maybe even a full set.  But, that's not the model that's being sold.  Instead, these figures are a great way for collectors to scratch the itch on characters or color schemes that Hasbro will simply never do.  And, as a supplement to a collection, these figures aren't bad.  We pay more than $20 for a new o-ring figure and have to have it shipped to our homes.  So, being able to get some of these for that price is less out of whack for the market that I like to realize.  But, I do recommend that collectors try one of these, at least on a figure that you'll never otherwise see in production.  They're not vintage Joes.  They aren't meant to be.  But, they are a way to fill some holes in your collection and get some figures that will otherwise never exist.

Ninja Ku, Ninja Black, Argentina, Plastirama, Super7, ReAction

Ninja Ku, Ninja Black, Argentina, Plastirama, Super7, ReAction

Ninja Ku, Ninja Black, Argentina, Plastirama, Super7

Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Top 10 - 2022

2022 has been a weird year.  My post engagement plummeted from the highs I'd see even in 2020 and 2021.  This seems odd since o-ring Joes finally returned.  But, that return was pretty quiet and even army builders and figures matched up with Transformers are not selling out.  We're seeing prices on non-high end items fall, some down more than 30% from their pandemic highs.  Retail is stagnating for all collectible toy lines.  Though, I do think part of that is just too much shipped too soon after months and months of nothing new showing up.  But, the pandemic surge in home bound hobbies is over.  And, the fallout is going to take years to fully understand.

Personally, though, I've finally hit the beginnings of burnout.  I've been posting over twice a week on this site for over 7 years, now.  With nearly 900 posts since 2015 the reality is that I've run out of things to talk about.  Sure, there are figures I've never profiled.  But, most of them are either more expensive than I want to pay.  Or, they are so similar to things I've already covered that there's little reason to showcase them.  

But, I've also gotten a bit stagnant.  With thousands of photos under my belt, I find that I've done a lot and am heavily gravitating towards using the same figures over and over again.  While that repetition works well on a platform like Instagram, it's not as useful for this site to talk about the 1985 Flint every other week.  When I get inspired, I do get the photos I want.  But, I'm finding that those sessions are fewer and farther between, even though I now have access to all my vehicles and playsets.

All of this has lead to malaise.  And, is going to lead to a reduced volume of posts in 2023.  I still expect at least one per week.  My drafts folder is over 500 posts large.  So, I have a ton of content left to post.  I just think it will be slower.  You can be sure that I'll profile at least a couple of the Skystriker figures when they drop.  And, I never really know what I'll find in my travels during the year.  But, the days of 100+ posts per year are done for at least 2023 while I see if I recharge.

The top 10 posts of 2022 were dominated by a single theme: new releases.  3 of the top 10 posts are profiles of 2022 releases.  There are 3 Rarities posts in the top 10, too.  But, they got like 1/3 of the page views that a standard Rarities post used to get back in 2017 through 2019.  There's a few surprises in here.  But, people like to read about the newest stuff.  

So, here are the top 10 posts of 2022:

10. 1991 Cesspool - 356 page views

This was my second Cesspool profile.  And, the uptick in interest in 1990's releases definitely manifested with this write up.  Cesspool might be the best new Cobra character released in the '90's.  And, he got some attention.

1991 Eco Warriors Cesspool, 1992 Destro, 1997 Baroness

09. 1991 Snake Eyes - Around the Web - 385 page views

I knew that the 1991 Snake Eyes had a lot of younger fans.  But, I had no idea how many of them there really were.  Around the Web posts typically do 150-180 page views.  So, this did more than double that: showing the popularity of this figure.

1991 Snake Eyes, Night Creeper, 1990

08. Rarities - The Great 2021 Ninja Commando Lot - 388 page views

In late 2021, some guy on Ebay posted up a huge lot of late run G.I. Joe figures.  He wasn't sure what he had.  But, it turns out that it was the largest lot of unproduced 1995 Ninja Commando figures ever found.  Someone won the lot fair and square.  But, butthurt aftermarket sellers messaged the seller with higher offers.  And, in 2022, the figures were sold in market priced lots after the seller figured out what he had. So, there are now dozens of additional loose sets out there.  So, don't overpay.  But, do check out the lot and see what was found.

1995 Unproduced Ninja Commandos, Budo, Flint, Knockdown, Stormshadow, Road Pig

07. 1990 Bullhorn - 394 page views

Bullhorn was one of my earliest profiles.  So, I went back to him 22 years later and it turns out that a lot of people really like him.  Again, there's a lot of interest in 1990's figures from younger collectors who grew up with them.

1990 Bullhorn, 1985 Flint

06. 2022 Duke - 395 page views

Here we find the first of the 2022 Hasbro Pulse figures.  Duke is probably the weakest figure due to the poor face paint.  But, he also has the best accessory complement.  And, being new, people stopped by to check him out.

2022 Duke, Hasbro Pulse, Cobra Commander

05. 1987 Mercer - 395 page views

Mercer was yet another retread profile as I had looked at him in the site's infancy.  But, he proved to be very popular.

1987 Mercer

04. Rarities - Remco S.I.T. Figures - 401 page views

This post is probably my favorite of 2022.  I never knew about these guys until I did some research into a figure that my buddy Darkwise found in a lot.  It lead me down a rabbit hole of really interesting figure designs that were among the later Remco releases.  These figures are tough to find, especially in good condition.  But, the series is full of fun characters that easily fit with Joes of the era.


03. Rarities - Power Commandos 2022 Update - 421 page views

Power Commandos tend to do pretty well when I write about them.  And, the 2022 update on the figures and the actual order in which they were released climbed to the third most popular post in 2022.

Power Commandos, Lucky Bell, Mummy Mask,

02. 2022 Stormshadow - 459 page views

Stormshadow and Snake Eyes were the first Pulse figures released in 2022.  I wasn't too high on them.  But, the Stormshadow has its uses.  And, enough people were interested to read about him to bring him in as the second most viewed profile of the year.

2022 Stormshadow, Stinger, Hasbro Pulse

01. 2022 Cobra Officer - 515 page views

And, the most viewed profile of the year was the 2022 Cobra Officer.  People like army builders.  Though, they haven't liked them enough to sell through Hasbro's stock.  But, it was my most viewed post of the year, even if it's pretty much the exact figure from 40 years earlier, just with newer plastic.

2022 Cobra Officer, Hasbro Pulse, Black Major, Cobra Commander, Cobra Trooper, Stormshadow

In all, the year was kind of "meh".  While the Pulse releases were exciting, the final products didn't break any new ground.  I do think they'll age better than we think, much like the 2000's figures have.  But, they still don't really generate excitement.  We'll see how the Skystriker figures do.

I'm not hugely optimistic that we'll see any new o-ring figures in 2023.  Supposedly, there was going to be a third Transformer crossover with a 1983 inspired Destro.  And, there are now reports of a transforming Thunder Machine with Zartan and Zarana.  But, both of the other Transformers have stagnated at retail and Amazon reduced the Baroness by 35% or more to try to move the leftovers.  And, the remaining production run of the Stinger still hasn't shown up.  I do think we'll another o-ring Haslab in 2023, likely after the Skystriker has shipped.  Joe has been one of the few Haslab bright spots since 2021.  So, I think we'll get another shot at one.

I'll talk a bit about Super7 figures in January as I have my first one and really like how that line is approached as compared to Hasbro's handling of the 3 3/4" scale.  Maybe I'll finally finish the Bugg profile I started in 2017 and haven't gotten around to cleaning up.  And, maybe I'll get to kvetch about the Transformers crossovers some more.  

As always, thanks to you all for stopping by.  We'll cross 1,000,000 page views in April or May next year.  That's a huge milestone for the site.  I appreciate everyone who stops by to read, browse and even comment on the content here.  If there's something you'd like to see in 2023, let me know.  Until then, I hope your 2023 is better than your 2022!