Thursday, August 17, 2017

1997 Stormshadow - Around the Web

I've grown to appreciate the 1997 Stormshadow figure much more.  His 1992 Ninja Force inspired look isn't overbearing.  But, is different enough from the original.  His construction and paint quality is pretty strong and he includes the full array of vintage Stormshadow accessories.  Plus, you can get him cheap.  All of that adds up to a solid figure release.

I still consider this figure "new" even though he's 20 years old, now.  But, he's held up much better than many of the later repaints and show that the 1997 Hasbro team was much more in tune with what collectors would want than their later counterparts.  There's not much out there on this guy as the bulk of the character content is focused on the 1984 figure.  But, here's what I could find of him around the web.

Stormshadow Profile

1997 Stormshadow Pre-Production at

1997 Stormshadow Dio 1

1997 Stormshadow Dio 2

1997 Stormshadow, Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Gung Ho, Short Fuse, Black Major, Bootleg, Blue Stormshadow, Ninja Viper

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

1993 Gristle

G.I. Joe's Drug Elimination Force has always been somewhat problematic in the collecting community.  The association of G.I. Joe with the anti-drug sentiment of the late 1980's and early 1990's isn't all that out of the ordinary.  Joe would have been a logical partner for the proponents of that movement.  The real issue in the collecting world is that subsets in general are not overly popular: especially one that introduced a new enemy to the Cobra/Joe/Iron Grenadier dynamic.  But, the DEF is also spared the harshest criticism because the figures that were released under its banner are some of the highlights of the 1990's era Joes.  They are well sculpted, excellently colored and include a great array of accessories.  Really, the only issue with them was the higher price point.  But, it was this price point that doomed the subset as the Joe line began its final descent into obsolescence.  So, with the figures not generating the retail interest that was needed, the 1993 DEF subset was scrapped and the figures who were to be released under that banner were instead incorporated into the general Battle Corps single carded figure line.  Among the new characters for 1993 was Gristle.

I never liked Gristle.  There was something about the figure that simply made me want to avoid him.  During my copious trips to toy stores between 1994 and 1996, Gristle was a figure who was overly common.  I found him at Toys R Us.  I found him at KB Toys.  I found him at Walgreen's.  He was so unpopular that he pegwarmed wherever Joes were sold.  Despite this, I never bought one.  The figure was simply so detestable to me that I passed him by, even going home empty-handed rather than pick him up.  Never, even as my desperation for finding new figures increased, did it occur to me to buy a Gristle figure.  Even when he disappeared from retail, I felt no pangs of regret over passing him by.  I didn't like the figure, I didn't want the figure and I wasn't going to own the figure.

By the late 1990's, though, my stance changed.  With the advent of me finding collectordom, I strove to be a completist.  So, despite my misgivings over a figure, I would, eventually, own one to complete my collection.  As I was one of the few people interested in the sparse loose figure lots that heavily featured figures made after 1990, I was able to acquire many collections: including two that contained Gristle figures.  With him in the fold, I put him out of my mind.  As the 2000's progressed, though, I became a more and more vocal proponent of the 1990's molds as preferred candidates for Hasbro repaints.  Even a figure like Gristle, whose sculpt I did not like, was well designed and would have been well suited to a modern repaint.

This lead me to another re-examination of the Gristle figure.  I thought it was possible that I'd missed a pretty solid figure in my mid 1990's resistance to the character.  But, with the figure now in hand, I found that I still wasn't impressed by him overall.  If I wanted a gritty street thug with bad hair, I had the vastly superior Headman figure for that.  If I wanted a Dreadnok wanna be, there were many options to that better filled that role, too.  The general look of the character didn't fit with any of the new Cobras who I had created.  I was always on the lookout for underutilized Cobra figures that I could co-opt to a new character of my own design.  But, I didn't feel that Gristle's look really fit with my vision of the characters I had created.  In short, Gristle still wasn't a figure that I found overly useful in my collection.

Gristle is big.  As the line progressed, Joe figures added bulk to their sculpts.  Gristle's head is exceedingly large.  This allows for the great facial detail that was designed for him, though.  His hair, glasses and face are all among the best examples of head sculpting that Hasbro produced in the vintage line.  But, it's hard to find pieces onto which the head will fit.  The rest of the body is also well done.  The chest knives and skull belt buckles are exceptionally done.  Gristle has a lot of details.  But, not so many as to take away from the quality design.

The colors, though, kill him.  The maroon and black base really aren't that bad.  While the red tone is somewhat bright: it's also in line with established Cobra colors.  The problem, of course, is the bright yellow.  It provides too great a contrast for the darker red and black and, likely, makes the red more gaudy as the brightness is drawn out by the yellow.  If you replaced all the yellow with silver, Gristle would be among the better Cobra characters from the 1990's.  He would fit with Headhunters and Headhunter Stormtroopers almost perfectly.  But, the yellow relegates him to the scrapheap of the line.

Gristle didn't get much use.  But, he has some significant variants to him.  The most famous Gristle release is from Australia.  There, Gristle was released as a member of the DEF as he was originally intended.  The only difference is the card art.  But, it's a release that has long been popular since it completes Hasbro's intentions for the character.  Gristle was also released in Brazil as Vandalo.  This figure is a bit darker red than the American figure and includes a maroon version of the Headhunter's shotgun.  It is an interesting figure that used to be pretty common but has dried up in recent years.  In 2008, the club repainted Gristle in their convention set.  This figure was colored black and arsenic.  With the painted details, it is the definitive Gristle release.  If you only want the best representation of the character in your collection, get this convention version.

Gristle is a case where being a pegwarmer in the 1990's has lead to being left behind in the 2010's.  MOC figures can be purchased in the $10 - $15 range.  Loose mint and complete with filecard figures tend to sell in the $6 - $8 range from dealers.  The unpopularity of the figure limits supply of non-dealer sales and you'll see lots of complete figures being offered at $12 or more.  However, you don't see any sales at that price.  You can get the figure for a buck or two if you're patient.  For the price, buy a MOC version of the figure.  You get the card art and the neon splendor that defines the early 1990's G.I. Joe figure.

For me, this figure has taken on an interesting place in my collection.  I still do not like the figure and it's rare that I would use him.  However, because Gristle reminds me of those days in the 1990's when I left him hanging on the pegs, he actually has some fun memories associated with him.  I recall friends from long ago rolling their eyes as I jumped over the toy aisle at a drug store when we stopped to buy booze.  I remember going to a store with my girlfriend's father and debating whether to be too obvious about looking at the toys with him in tow.  And, I recall standing in a TRU aisle with a friend and laughing at figures like Gristle and remembering when G.I. Joe was better.  The ridicule I've long had for the figure stands.  But, the memories of making fun of him now make the figure worth something to me.  I can't really recommend Gristle as he's not a figure I like.  But, he, like all the Joes from the last years, has his upside and there are collectors who have found him a good addition to their collections.

1993 Gristle, Battle Corps, DEF, Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN

1993 Gristle, Battle Corps, DEF, Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN, Countdown, Star Brigade, Headhunter, Headhunter Stormtrooper

1993 Gristle, Battle Corps, DEF, Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN, Countdown, Star Brigade, Headhunter, Headhunter Stormtrooper

1993 Gristle, Battle Corps, DEF, Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN, Countdown, Star Brigade, Headhunter, Headhunter Stormtrooper

1993 Gristle, Battle Corps, DEF, Crimson Guard Commander, 1986 STUN, Countdown, Star Brigade, Headhunter, Headhunter Stormtrooper

Friday, August 11, 2017

1995 Dr. Mindbender Concept Art

As part of the ill conceived "HasCon", Hasbro released this spectacular 1995 Dr. Mindbender Battle Corps Rangers artwork.  It is, to my knowledge, the debut of what would have been this figure's card artwork.  It has taken nearly 25 years for this artwork to come out and it's rather disingenuous of Hasbro to have held it back for a self serving convention that doesn't cater to Joe fans rather than showcase it at any of the 15 Joe conventions that have been held: many encompassing major milestone anniversaries of the brand.  That aside, though, we finally have a glimpse into what this character may have looked like on retail shevles.

From the hand painted sample of this figure that exists, we knew that the figure would be mostly purple and black.  So, the colors aren't really a surprise.  But, there are a few elements to the figure that do stand out.  The most obvious is the black version of the 1992 Wet Suit's rifle.  This is a terrible weapon and would have been a huge disappointment for this figure.  It's an odd choice for sure.  I'll discuss that more later on, though.

The next interesting part is Mindbender's hand.  In the unpainted prototype, the hand appeared to be a monstrous deformity.  On the painted figure, the hand was just purple.  Initially, I could have seen this just being a cost saving measure.  However, the artwork shows that the hand is actually a glove and the razor sharp fingernails are metal weapons built into the fingertips.  On the one hand, this is kind of a cool.  But, on the other hand, it takes away from the monster aspect of Dr. Mindbender.  The unpainted piece always conjured up a ghoulish image of a broken Dr. who was the victim of his own mad experiments.  This artwork, instead, shows a man wearing armor to enhance his fighting prowess.  It's a drastic departure from my ill formed, preconceived notions for the figure.  So, I feel that it's destroying 20 years' worth of my imagination of what this figure would have been.

The final aspect of the art that is great is that we can see Mindbender with his helmet on.  The unpainted prototype has the helmet.  But, the hoses were hard resin, despite the fact that there were holes in the back of the helmet which appeared to be for the hose ends.  This art shows that the figure was likely to have had hoses that did attach into the helmet.  It's possible they would have separate pieces.  Or, the entire helmet may have been planned to be flexible plastic like the mask on the 1994 Shipwreck.  Either way, it could have worked.

Coming back to the gun...I wonder if this Dr. Mindbender was supposed to be a diver.  My first inclination is definitely not.  He doesn't have flippers and any diver would be drawn with those.  But, the Wet Suit gun gives me pause.  and, this artwork clearly shows the mandible like helmet, much more clearly.  This is interesting because of the bug like figure that appears on the 1995 Tactical Battle Platform artwork.  As this figure is attacking the TTBP, it's obvious he is a Cobra.  He is also wielding the Wet Suit gun.  The character's head, though, is looking up with pincers.  In looking more closely at this Mindbender, it appears this is very likely meant to be Dr. Mindbender crawling out of the deep the attack the Joes.  Plus, the helmet with the hoses looks like it could be underwater breathing gear.

Now, I have no idea why Hasbro would make Dr. Mindbender (of all people!) a diver.  It is possible.  The prototype Dr. Mindbender appears to have a webbed left hand.  However, this detail is missing in the artwork.  At any rate, it makes me that much more interested to read this figure's planned filecard to see what Hasbro intended for him.

1995 Dr. Mindbender, Unproduced, Battle Corps Rangers

Thursday, August 10, 2017

1988 Hardball - Around the Web

In 1988, I bought Hardball due to his baseball connection.  In a weird bit of kismet, the day that showcased the figure, Matt Cain of the Giants threw a perfect game.  I attended my first Cubs game on August 5, 1988.  It was the first of a four game series against the Phillies that would culminate in the first night game in Wrigley Field history.  So, I'm in a baseball kind of mood this week.  So, here's the Joe team's resident ballplayer and the best of his content from around the web.

Hardball Profile

Hardball at

Hardball Dio 1

Hardball Video Review

Hardball at Joe Wiki

Hardball PreProduction at

Hardball Dio 2

1988 Hardball, 2016 Stinger BAT, Bootleg, Black Major, Red Laser's Army

1988 Hardball, 1992 Barricade

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

2001 Shadow Viper

There are good ideas and bad ideas that permeate any product that has a wide base.  If you look at any given year of the vintage Joe line, you'll see ideas that probably looked good on paper but didn't translate well to an actual toy.  Conversely, you'll see a figure that's actually really good, but has a fundamentally dumb gimmick.  But, in 2001, Hasbro was so desperate to avoid what was seen as a "mistake" from 7 years prior that they turned in a doozy of a horrible idea.  The filecard team at Hasbro working on the 2000/2001 Joe brand was laughably bad.  But, in the case of the Shadow Viper, they outdid themselves in ludicrousness.  It was almost enough to obscure the fact that they actually produced a pretty solid repaint of the more classic Astro Viper figure.

In 2001, collectors were still almost exclusively adult versions of kids who came of age in Joe's heyday of the early to mid 1980's.  There was an extreme disdain for anything neon.  And, subsets like Star Brigade were hated and ridiculed.  So, Hasbro overcompensated for this when they brought Joe back by avoiding bright colors and bringing a blandness to the line that was probably worse than the neon nineties.  Their zeal for "realism" lead to a sea of green that pretty much looked the same on retail shelves.  On the Cobra side, they didn't really try anything all that daring and most of the Cobras released were barely repaints of the already decent original releases.  But, Hasbro did offer a pretty decent selection of molds that hadn't been seen in a long time.  And, in many cases, would not be seen again.  Among these was the Shadow Viper.  This figure used the body of the 1988 Astro Viper and all his gear.  But, avoiding the Star Brigade stigma, he was not an Astro Viper.  Hasbro came up with a new specialty for the mold.

So, this gets us to the absurdity of the figure.  The Shadow Viper filecard is just terrible.  Ostensibly, the Shadow Vipers are infiltration specialists who are experts in concealment, martial arts and computer hacking.  They sneak into installations using, "a dark, powder like substance that makes them invisible to ground radar and infrared sensors".  Yes, that is their special ability.  They cover themselves in pixie dust.  Despite their stealth and martial arts prowess, the figure includes a space jet pack with protruding laser cannons.  There's no mention of that on the filecard.  Really, the whole exercise of building the character was to make no reference to the mold's origins as a astronaut.  So, they came up with a ludicrously lame gimmick and just made no mention of why the figure includes all his gear.

Collectors of the time rightly ridiculed the filecards of all the figures that came out.  They were horrible.  So, with them discarded, many collectors were fine with adding a new version of the Astro Viper to their collection.  In a time when collectors were demanding Vipers, Cobra Troopers and Officers, Crimson Guards and BATs, Hasbro ignored those pleas and offered a repainted Astro Viper instead.  With so much Hasbro focus on specialty army builders that was counter to the demand for basic troops, figures like the Shadow Viper were pretty easy to find.  It was rare for someone to buy up dozens of figures like this.  Though, there were many collectors who picked up between 6 and 10.
At the time, you'd see a few dios and such where a collector tried to fit the new figures into their version of Joe.  It was often awkward.  And, pics of massive amounts of Shadow Vipers were no where near as popular as those of the more traditional Cobra army builders.

As 2002 turned into 2003, collectors began to be more satisfied with Hasbro's army building releases.  By 2004, collectors had seen several retail releases of the Viper and Alley Viper, a mail way BAT pack and both Crimson Guards and Cobra Troopers/Officers as retailer exclusive releases.  This pretty much buried the Shadow Viper onto the scrap heap of the Cobra army.  You almost never see them in any capacity today.  And, while most collectors have at least one Shadow Viper (if not a few) it's not a figure that they like to display, use or photograph.  It's a harsh fate for a figure that's actually a pretty decent repaint.

In looking at the figure, he has the basis of Cobra royalty in the design.  The Shadow Viper uses blue, a smattering of dark red and silver to create the base for the figure.  The entire body is awash in "paint wipes" which were a method of making a figure look worn.  On one or two offerings, this technique would have been unique and somewhat interesting.  But, Hasbro used it on most of the 2000/2001 era figures and the look got repetitive very quickly.  The wipes dull the figure even more than the dark blue and red and take away the vibrancy that was the hallmark of vintage Joes.  Really, though, this is the best release of the Astro Viper mold and it's really not even close.  The only real issue with the figure is that the hoses that connect on the backpack are probably a bit too short and either won't connect or will easily pop off.  Otherwise, this is just about a perfect repaint of a mold that no one really wanted to see again.

Hasbro royally screwed up the A Real American Hero Collection (ARAHC) in 2001.  The first wave of figures started shipping in October of 2000.  These quickly found an audience and disappeared from the shelves after Christmas.  As 2001 started, Hasbro started shipping their second wave of figures.  This case featured three new sets of figures and two carry overs.  But, there was a flaw.  The cases featured 4 sets of Big Ben and Whiteout.  In fairly short order, that set began to back up.  Simultaneously, the discontinued 2000 sets started to rise in value.  Within a first months of 2001, you could get any Wave II figure you wanted, but the Dial Tone/Tomahawk and Firefly/Undertow sets that had been discontinued were $25 packs on the secondary market.  Yet, Hasbro kept shipping the same, unaltered Wave II case assortment for nearly 6 months.  This backed up the line at all but the busiest toy retailers and made Wave III relatively hard to find.  With the pipeline stopped by all the pegwarmers the line died.  Wave IV, of which the Shadow Viper was a part, found itself heavily shipped to closeout and discount stores.  Here, it sat for quite a while.  You could find Shadow Vipers still hanging around at KB Toy Works stores well into 2003.

The failure of the ARAHC was two fold.  The one bad case assortment really did the line in.  But, in general, the subsequent waves of figures weren't all that exciting.  Collectors were clamoring for army builders and remakes of classic molds.  Collectors who wouldn't have bought an Astro Viper for a penny were gobbling up Shadow Vipers because they were so desperate for anything army builder.  Yet, Hasbro stubbornly stuck to their guns for several years.  Rather than spending their resources on the figures collectors wanted, they produced pathetic repaints, tribute figures and overly specialized army builders who were packed with insipid character repaints.  In retrospect, it seems they were trying to kill the line.  And, considering how quickly the 2002 new sculpts showed up, it's not out of the realm of possibility that they were.  Yet, collectors still look fondly on that time because the figures at least, mostly, included their original gear and the coloring was decent, if repetitive and uninspired.

The Astro Viper was used for the 1988 release of the figure.  From there, it went to Brazil.  Estrela released the Astro Viper in the early 1990's.  The most interesting part of that figure is that he was part of the Iron Grenadiers subset.  But, the figure is pretty similar to the American Astro Viper and hasn't really taken on any sort of collector life.  Oddly, Hasbro got the mold back in 1993 when they released the figure in the Star Brigade subset.  Astro Viper didn't make the cut for the 1994 Star Brigade assortment, though, and disappeared until 2001.  The mold was never used again after that.  It's kind of a shame as the Astro Viper head could have been used for any number of amalgamated Cobras in the repaint era of the 2000's.  But, Hasbro lacked the vision to do anything like that.  So, collectors are left with just the few uses of the mold.

Shadow Vipers have somewhat dried up.  They aren't hard to find.  But, you won't find them with the ubiquity of some of his contemporary army builders.  Left to his own devices, mint and complete with filecard versions sell in the $4 range.  But, on good days, you can get a carded set with the Zartan for about the same price.  Most dealers sell him in the $8 range, though, and they do sell quite well at that price.  So, depending on the size of the army you want and the expediency with which you wish to build said army, you may pay a range of prices.  Considering the figure was likely to have cost you $8 at retail in 2001, either price isn't terrible.

For me, the Shadow Viper is a way to get a better set of Astro Vipers.  You get all the gear and better coloring.  The packs even work on the surprisingly solid 1993 Astro Viper, too.  You can get Shadow Vipers much more cheaply than V1 Astro Vipers so they make sense as an alternative.  But, Cobra lacks any real space vehicle.  And, as the figures don't have stands to give them the appearance of flight, it's tough to incorporate Shadow Vipers into an attack on the Defiant type display.  But, I still like the figure.  Had this figure been released in late 2000 instead of late 2001, I'd probably have more than half a dozen of them.  But, timing played a role.  Still, I've got a couple.  I just don't think about them often.  They are there, ready for duty should the need arise.  But, that need hasn't arisen in over 15 years.  And, after this profile, it might be another 15 before they come out again.  But, the Shadow Viper remains one of those forgotten niceties of the A Real American Hero Collection and probably deserves a better fate.

2001 Shadow Viper, ARAHC, Laser Viper, Astro Viper

2001 Shadow Viper, Astro Viper, ARAHC, Destro

2001 Shadow Viper, ARAHC, Laser Viper, Major Bludd