Tuesday, May 22, 2018

1987 Maggot

Timing plays an interesting role in life.  The time you were born heavily dictates your experiences and people who are, in the grand scheme of things, the same age, have vastly different formative experiences due to just a couple of years.  1987 was the final year that I played with Joes as a kid.  As such, many of my favorite 1987 figures get a pass on their flaws due to this nostalgic bent.  The figures I didn't like are more harshly judged than they are due as I feel they cheated me of something better at the end of my time to enjoy childhood play.  I look at the Joe line, though, and wonder how my view of it would be colored had things gone differently.  If the Iron Grenadiers had been introduced in 1987 instead of the odd lot of Cobras we did see, would they be the reason I collect and Cobra be an afterthought?  Had Shipwreck been released in 1987, would he be a laughingstock like Big Lob instead of the beloved character he is today?

Timing is crucial.  But, I think to attribute success or failure just to timing is lazy and irresponsible.  Part of timing is understanding the market you are trying to penetrate and putting a product out there that will attract the customers.  Sometimes, you are right.  And, sometimes, you are wrong.  Throwing things at the wall will always fail.  But, some of the best timed items still fail, too.  The 1987 Joe line was an example.  It was designed around the G.I. Joe movie.  But, that failed and was relegated to obscurity.  Rather than being a beacon for toy sales, it was an unknown afterthought that left many consumers struggling to understand some of the toy choices in the aisles that year.  Despite that, though, the 1987 Joe line still did quite well.  Many of the designs have withstood the test of time and have fallen into the second tier of Joe popularity with more than a few who have pierced the top tier as well.  Among the better toys from 1987 was a vehicle that, when reviewed in depth, was about as weird as anything else released that year.  But, the Cobra Maggot has managed to remain relevant and is still the best Cobra heavy gun that Hasbro ever released.

In a lot of ways, I consider 1987 my heyday of G.I. Joe.  I had bought figures in 1982, gotten distracted by Star Wars and come back full time in 1983.  I found the comic in 1984 and really started to grow my collection in 19851986 introduced far more characters that allowed me expand my Joe forces in a way that they could better match up against the Cobra legions.  In 1987, though, I was at the height of my storytelling and it's these adventures which hold the vibrant memories.  1987, though, was also the end of my Joe adventures as I moved on to other things as the year ended.

But, in the year of 1987, I packed in a lot of play.  I had friends down the street who had a massive G.I. Joe collection, too.  Our backyard was primed for Joe adventures with many different places to play that had been "kidscaped" into Joe optimized settings.  And, I had a ton of figures from several years that were all in good shape and relatively complete.  In short, there was nothing really left wanting from a kid's play perspective.  With all those forces coming together, my Joe world evolved heavily through the year.  The primary catalyst for this was my acquisition of new toys.  I was mowing lawns and making plenty of money right as the new vehicles started hitting.

Usually, my course for Joe vehicles was smaller vehicles that had no driver in the early part of the year, vehicles that included drivers in the early summer, and, finally, I'd pick up the larger and slightly more expensive vehicles in the late summer early fall: leaving the flagship toys for my birthday and Christmas as the year ended.  The Maggot followed that pattern as I added it to my collection in the late summer or early fall.  It immediately became on of the stalwarts of my Cobra forces.  The front end of the vehicle could take out infantry as well as light vehicles.  The main cannon, though, was capable of destroying Joe bases.  And, as they could be fired from miles away, Cobra didn't have to be all that close to the Joes to wreak massive havoc.  In short, the Maggot could destroy the Joes while defending itself against the quick strike teams who would dispatched to destroy them.

Cobra had some nice vehicles.  They didn't get nearly as many as the Joes did, but their slate of mobilized weapons was fairly impressive.  They started with the Hiss Tank, went to the Stinger and then got aquatic with the Moray.  They went fast in 1986 with the STUN.  In 1987, Cobra got some heavier artillery.  Their main, new weapon from that year was a three part vehicle/playset that was, at its core, a giant cannon on wheels.  The Maggot brought a new level of inter-operability to Joe toys and showed some of the influence the success of the Transformers was having on ancillary toy lines.

For me, I mostly used the Maggot as separate vehicles.  If the entire 3 part mechanism was deployed, it saw use as a mobile command station where Cobra bigwigs could coordinate a battle.  The front part of the Maggot was used in conjunction with Hiss Tanks and STUNs to attack Joe bases.  The heavy cannon was capable of taking out Joe vehicles up to VAMPs and the smaller gun was useful against infantry.  Without the huge cannon in tow, the engine car was fairly fast and mobile: making it a formidable foe against the Joe forces.  I didn't often use the heavy gun.  I had my Joe bases dug into heavily fortified areas where it was difficult for the artillery shells to hit anything valuable or do any damage to the natural defenses.  It was a lazy way out.  But, having Cobra bomb Joe into oblivion wasn't that much fun when they could have a full frontal assault on a base that provided hours, if not days, of play possibilities.

One of the Maggot's great details is hidden.  On the back of the front tank is an engine cover.  Such things were commonplace on early Joe vehicles.  They were little things that enhanced the realism of the toys, even if they didn't make a ton of practical sense.  The details hidden under the Maggot's cover, though, were a bit different.  Here, you actually see the shells that would load into the rotating cannon on the other side of the car.  Usually, the notion of ammunition for the weapons on Joe vehicles was left to the imagination.  Here, though, the designers took an extra step to showcase how the large cannon would get its ammunition.  The fact that it's hidden is somewhat amazing.  No modern toy would take lengths to hide such detail.  It's a fun little Easter egg that is just another example of how the Hasbro designers made the Joe line so amazing.

1987 Maggot, 2001 Laser Viper, ARAHC

Maggots are somewhat tough to price for a couple of reasons.  First, the Worms figure can add quite a bit to the value.  If the driver has his antenna, you'll pay a premium for it.  (Though, in many cases, you're paying for the antenna and getting the Maggot for free!)  The radar dish on the gun is also easily broken.  A loose, mint and complete vehicle will run you about $25.  But, you'll toss in another $12 or so for shipping.  So, finding one locally for $35 is still a good deal.  If the radar dish is broken, the price falls precipitously.  You can get nicely conditioned Maggots in the $10 range and even cheaper if you find bulk lots.  And, note that there are a lot of reproduction radar dishes on the market as well.

To me, the value of the piece in in it's display capabilities.  Having something like the radar dish is only mildly important to me, especially on subsequent Maggots used for army building.  Sadly, though, mine have started to discolor.  But, that's a function of too many years stored in a hot garage.  But, this weapon still holds a place of prominence for me since it was the last great Cobra vehicle I bought at retail.  It would have made for an amazing repaint in the 2000's.  But, that never came to pass.  I suspect that some of the Maggot's disinterest among collectors is due to the non traditional Cobra colors and the bright yellow highlights.  But, this leaves a great toy as a relatively affordable option for collectors to use to augment their Cobra forces.

1987 Maggot, 2001 Laser Viper, ARAHC

1987 Maggot, 1992 Flak Viper

1987 Maggot, 1993 Flak Viper, Battle Corps

1987 Maggot, 1992, Flak Viper, Battle Corps, 1986 STUN, 1994 Metal Head

1987 Maggot, 1986 Serpentor, 2003 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Mail Away, 2006 Overlord, Convention Exclusive

1987 Maggot, 1986 Serpentor, 2003 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Mail Away, 1987 Techno Viper

1987 Maggot, 1986 Serpentor, 2003 BAT, Battle Android Trooper, Mail Away, 1987 Techno Viper, Motor Viper

Thursday, May 17, 2018

1986 General Hawk - Around the Web

While Hawk has always been the Joe team's commander, it was not until 1986 that he actually got a figure worthy of his rank.  The 1986 Hawk figure is a perfect rendition for the newly promoted general.  He is iconic and classic and remains a personal favorite of mine.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

1986 Hawk Profile

Hawk at Instagram 01

1986 Hawk Pre Production at YoJoe.com

1986 Hawk Video Review

General Hawk on Instagram 02

1986 Hawk at 3DJoes.com

Hawk at Half the Battle

Hawk at Icebreaker's HQ

General Hawk on Instagram 03

1986 General Hawk, 1982 JUMP, Jet Pack, 2017 Sightline, Red Laser Army, Cobra Viper

1986 General Hawk, 1982 JUMP, Jet Pack, 2017 Sightline, Red Laser Army, Cobra Viper

1986 General Hawk, 1982 JUMP, Jet Pack, 2017 Sightline, Red Laser Army, Cobra Viper, Outlaw, Black Major, Cobra Mortal, Stormshadow, 2006 Shipwreck, Operation Flaming Moth

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

1986 Cross Country

The 1986 vehicle drivers were, in general, not a great crop of figures.  This is partially due to the fact that the 1985 vehicle drivers were easily on par with the standard carded figures not only in terms of quality, but also accessories.  Hasbro took a step back with the drivers in 1986 and didn't offer a great assortment of designs.  And, by and large, the 1986 releases were also devoid of any accessories.  It's not a stretch to say, though, that Cross Country is the worst release of the bunch.  His head and nose are large.  His colors palette is not overly complementary.  He lacks paints applications on many of his details.  In general, the overall presentation of the figure is somewhat terrible.  And, oh yeah, he is an homage to soldiers of the Confederate army.

The 1985 vehicle drivers, for the most part, included individual accessories.  These guns, helmets and tools helped to make those figures extra special.  As such, I was expecting the 1986 crop of drivers to have the same level of gear.  The first figure I acquired that year, Thrasher, did include an accessory.  So, that lead me to assume that the rest of the '86 vehicle drivers would as well.  So, when I acquired Cross Country on May 25, 1986 (I remember the exact date because my dad and younger brother were going to the Indianapolis 500 that day.  The race was rained out, though.  My mother took me to Toys R Us after I had called to confirm they had a Havoc and had them set one aside for me.  I opened the Havoc and Cross Country in front of our picture window in the living room, watching the rain that would postpone the race fall.), I was shocked to learn that he didn't have a weapon.  So, this was an immediate strike against him.

The bigger issue with Cross Country, though, is that the design just isn't that good.  I remember being distinctly disappointed with the character as soon as I pried him from his bubble.  His color scheme is not all that interesting.  His chest is bright green.  It is offset by white sleeves, grey pants and a red shoulder pad.  While the mold seems to have a lot going on, it's not cohesive.  And, that's what does in the color scheme, too.  The design lacks a theme that ties it together and makes sense.  Cross Country has a lot of colors all combined into the character's uniform.  But, those colors are neither complementary nor sensical.

The latter half of 1986 and 1987 were my Joe heyday.  The stories from that time are the reason I'm a collector today.  And, while I enjoy figures from all era, it is the guys from this time who have the most powerful childhood memories associated with them.  Yet, Cross Country does not.  The Havoc is pretty much the de facto Joe vehicle for me since it was on the few nicely conditioned land vehicles I had from this era.  Pretty much all of my memories for Joe missions from this time revolve around a Havoc in some way.  But, Cross Country was not part of the story.  He drove the Havoc because I needed someone to operate it.  Dial Tone or the Mission to Brazil Dial Tone always manned the second seat in the cockpit as I needed a communications officer on every mission and the figure's pack actually fit on the figure when he was laying in the seat and the canopy was closed.  If the Havoc was compromised, though, Dial Tone would escape.  But, Cross Country usually perished in the crash.  It was annoying to have to find a weapon for the figure.  But, mostly, he just wasn't much fun to play with.  There were so many better 1986 figures that Cross Country simply faded away and was about the only figure from that time who didn't get a major characterization and ample use by me.

So, let's get into the controversial stuff.  Considering that Cross Country was designed with mid 1980's sensibilities in mind, his homage to the Confederacy must be taken in context of that era.  The General Lee had been a recent TV icon.  It was a different time for race relations in the United States.  And, it's not like the Joe line does't have an abundance of other racial and ethnic stereotypes on its roster.  But, even taking the period of his design into consideration, Cross Country is still overly problematic.  First, he is a member of the U.S. military who is paying direct homage to an army that killed over 350,000 soldiers of the U.S. military.  You would think that some military commanders might take issue with that.  Secondly, though, you look at the Joe team's diversity.  A character like Stalker, who was a gang leader in Detroit, could very easily take issue with Cross Country's choice of homage.  Roadblock, who was from the deep South, would have been born during the Civil Rights movement and would have been told stories of discrimination by all his closest relatives if he had not lived it himself.  Roadblock might have something to say to a guy wearing a flag that was used to oppress his family.

All of this would lead to divisiveness on the Joe team.  That's not something that I see Hawk tolerating.  Now, you can make the case that Joes are the best of the best and won't let personal differences get between them.  That's a valid viewpoint.  However, Joes were quartered in close proximity.  They lived in secret bases for long stretches of time.  As such, inter-personal issues would be something that the commanders would need to anticipate and quell before they boiled over.  This is where Cross Country becomes problematic to me.  His specialty is not so technical that there wouldn't be a large section of other soldiers with similar skills and expertise.  So, the baggage he would bring is not something I see the Joe brass wanting to deal with.  Cobra was enough of a problem that introducing personnel issues would just be foolish.  (And, you can make a good case that Cobra and the confederacy would be brothers in arms against the U.S.)  So, I really don't see a reason for someone like him to be a Joe team member.

After this initial release, Cross Country went missing for nearly 20 years.  In 2002, though, it showed up in India where Funskool released the character using this vintage head, waist, upper arms and chest.  It is a terrible figure: chock full of terrible colors and poor quality.  But, for this reason, it is also awesome.  The Funskool version features a thick, painted on mustache to add to overall bizareness of the release.  It also, though, included a full tree of vac metallized weapons.  It is the only figure in the world other than Super Trooper to feature the silvery, metallic finish.  They are awesome and most of the reason why a once hated foreign release has gotten very difficult to find and expensive in recent years.

Dealers will sell mint with filecard Cross Country figures for around $10 or so.  And, the figure will move at that price.  But, left to the open market, this is about a $5 figure.  Without the filecard, you can get them as cheap as $3.  The reality is that Cross Country is not a good figure.  The mold is odd, the colors are bad and the head is atrocious.  So, the pricing befits the figure's quality.  Since the Havoc is a quirky vehicle that was released during the cartoon years, though, it's a staple of most collections.  So, to drive it, most collectors have a Cross Country figure.  That leads to the low demand since most everyone who wants the figure has had ample opportunity to get one.  And, since the figure isn't that cool and his parts aren't very useful, you are left with an example of failed design.

1986 Cross Country, Havov, 1985 Mauler, 1987 Dodger, Battle Force 2000, Leatherneck

1986 Cross Country, HAVOC, 1985 Bomb Disposal, Beach Head, Funskool

1986 Cross Country, Havoc Driver, Clutch, 1984, 1983 APC, Thunder, Bazooka

Thursday, May 10, 2018

1989 Long Range - Around the Web

The 1989 Long Range figure isn't one you see all that frequently.  He's fairly odd, poorly colored and not a figure that collectors have really taken to.  But, that oddity kind of makes the figure fun.  Plus, he's got a cool little pistol that can be tough to find.  There isn't really a tone of content on him out there.  But, here's the best of Long Range from around the web.

Long Range Profile

Long Range at JoeDios.com 1

Long Range at JoeADay.com

Long Range at JoeDios.com 2

Long Range Pre Production at YoJoe.com

Long Range at JoeDios.com 3

Long Range at JoeDios.com 4

1989 Long Range, Snake Eyes, Quick Kick, Sigilo, Plastirama, Argentina

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

2002 Gift Set Exclusive Undertow

2002 was 16 years ago.  When Hasbro released the 2002 8 figure Gift Set pack, the 1986 series of figures were 16 years old.  Those '86 figures were considered vintage and were already commanding premium prices.  In 2018, though, the 2002 figures are still considered "modern" and most of them sell for a pittance.  That's the difference when a toy line only depends upon original, childhood adopters of a property to continue it's relevance. Hasbro's 2002 releases were a mixed bag.  At the time, they were trying to mix both JvC style figures along with vintage style figures in the retail offerings.  This lead to some great figure pairings as well as some clunker ideas.  One of the ideas that wasn't a great success was the 8 figure Gift Set that was given mostly to the BJ's Wholesaler line of stores.  (A few other chains were able to get some, but BJ's was the primary reseller.)  The set featured 8 vintage molds.  But, the character selection, accessory choices and packaging left many collectors dissatisfied.  Looking back, the set had some really nice repaints.  It had some really bad figures.  And, it had this all red version of Undertow.

Simply put, this figure makes no sense.  I can get behind a crimson diver as a general idea.  Hasbro, at the time, was hell bent on repainting every Cobra army builder in red.  And, while boring, it somewhat works to establish a cohesive army. But, this Undertow is just bright.  The red is so stark that there's nothing to break up the color in any way.  You just see this eye gouging red.  Under the water, the color might be more muted.  But, that doesn't help when the toy would be out of the water.  The grey highlights are too dull to really distract from the overall redness of the mold.  There's nothing to break the figure up and showcase the mold's details.  It's just a mass of color with no defining characteristics.

The biggest atrocity with this Undertow, though, was the figure's accessories.  Undertow did not include any dive gear...including his mask.  So, this figure is just meant for use on land.  If you can find some spare 2000 Undertow masks, they work great on this 2002 version.  But, those are not easy to find, either.  So, you're really left with a diver with no way to dive.  In addition to this omission, Undertow includes a massive Sound Attack chainsaw based on the 1985 Buzzer's weapon.  It's big and clunky and, again, makes no sense.  The figure also includes a black 1985 Snow Serpent backpack.  It's nice to get this pack in a color that can be used outside of the Arctic.  It doesn't work for Undertow.  But, it nice for use with the 2004 Cobra Troopers who lacked decent gear.  The final weapon is a 1992 Destro pistol.  I've never really liked this weapon. (Which is ironic as it was a huge draw when I first saw the 1992 Destro at retail.)  But, at least you can make a case that this weapon works with the figure.  Finding decent gear for this Undertow is nearly impossible.  And, the figure really isn't of the quality that justifies spending that kind of time and effort to outfit him correctly.

For me, this figure never really held any significance.  I had all the Undertows I wanted from the 2000 retail release.  I had no desire for a crimson version.  And, the lack of gear certainly doomed the figure.  As I was a completist at the time (more obsessively than I am, now) I wanted the figure and acquired him to check him off the list of figures I needed.  But, that was the end of my thoughts in regards to this Undertow.  The main thing this figure brought up was how the Undertow mold seemed a lot cooler than it is.  On the surface, the figure looks cool.  But, he's a poor man's Eel at best.  Even the Hydro Viper has substantially more personality than Undertow.  It's not that Undertow is bad.  It's just that other divers are better.

Looking back, though, this figure actually holds a lot of associated memories.  2002 was a pretty fun time to be a Joe fan.  The community was vibrant with many active communities: all with their own personality.  It was easy to find a place for any collector to fit in and be able to contribute.  Hasbro released a ton of toys to retail.  So, there was constant news about upcoming releases.  The community was engaged because there was a lot of content being created: be it by fans, licensees or Hasbro themselves.  The Joe convention turned into a mostly 3 3/4" affair in 2002.  In short, fandom came of age.  Must of the nonsense that would pop up in later years had yet to rear its head.  Collectors, generally, helped each other out.  Personally, I had a lot of friends from the collecting world.  It was, in my opinion, the best time to be a collector as vintage was plentiful and cheap and Hasbro was making some effort at getting products collectors wanted into their hands.  Even the divisiveness of the JvC sculpting style changed didn't have the long term detrimental effects that the switch to anniversary sculpts did in 2007.

The Undertow figure had a decent life.  He first appeared in 1990.  That figure is probably the best Undertow.  His grey, black and red coloring hearkens back to the 1985 Eel and works well in Cobra aquatic vehicles.  The 2000 version is also very nice.  The paint wipes can be problematic.  But, the blue coloring is a decent repaint of what was an obscure mold at the time.  During the 2000 release window,  the Undertow mold was changed.  Originally, the hose from the mask connected to a peg on the figure's chest.  It was then changed to a hole in the air tank.  It is not known why Hasbro did this.  But, all future releases of Undertow featured this mold change.  This 2002 release is far and away the worst.  The Undertow head was used for both the 2001 and 2002 Fast Blast Viper figures.  Then, in 2009, the club produced an Iron Grenadiers Undertow figure that was painted in the style of the 2005 Iron Grenadiers convention set.  It's an interesting figure and works well with his intended associates.  (It also has a red mask that might work with this 2002 version, but I've never attempted to see how close the colors actually are.)  But, the Iron Grenadiers lack any underwater vehicles so that Undertow version stands as a display type item more than a valued part of an army.

Upon his release in 2002, the Undertow got a bit expensive.  Collectors were bonkers over anything army builder.  And, as Undertow was somewhat difficult to army build (being part of an 8 figure set with only 2 army building figures), he commanded a premium for a while.  But, between 2003 and 2006, Hasbro released tons of better army builders.  And, large quantities of this figure became available from Asian sellers for a fraction of the cost of a local figure.  This dropped the Undertow's price to a couple of bucks or less for a figure.  Now, though, must of that surplus has dried up.  And, because the figure's accessories kind of sucked and so many of the figures were brought in from Asia, it's actually kind of a pain to find a mint and complete with filecard figure.  When you find them, though, you'll only pay around $6-$8.  That's still a lot for a figure that has terrible gear and isn't all that useful.  But, as a oddity of the era and a reminder of the army building craze that defined 2001 through 2004, this Undertow has a quaint charm.

2002 Gift Set Undertow, 1990 Decimator, 1987 Sea Slug

2002 Gift Set Undertow, BJ's Exclusive, 2000 ARAHC Undertow