I just got back from Solo. The theatre was small and mostly empty. But, considering I spent $25 for a ticket, popcorn and a soda, I can get why. It was nothing like the Rogue One premiere where the theatre was packed and there was a full line to get in. I suppose one divisive movie between them will do that. But, I left the movie very happy. It felt like a big, warm hug to Star Wars fans. It was comforting, familiar and didn't take any risks. I've seen a lot of concern about Alden Ehrenreich and whether he could pull off Han Solo. I think he did and he did it well. I had no issues believing he was Han at all. So, with the general out of the way, we'll go to specifics. If you don't want spoilers, don't read any further.
The Solo movie was full of "fan service". But, I didn't feel it was done in a bad way. From Tobias Beckett being the man who killed Aura Sing to Bossk being mentioned as a possible partner to a Clint Howard cameo to a Two Tubes being part of Enfys' gang, you got the familiar feeling of Star Wars. I do, sometimes, feel that so vast a galaxy is too small with all the names being bandied about. But, that's part of what works for a fandom.
Things I liked:
Han. Alden Ehrenreich did a great job taking over the character. He and Chewie worked great together and that's really what sells the film. Since the main story is about their bond, their interactions had to work for the movie to work. And, it did. Seeing Chewie join Han at the controls of the Millenium Falcon was great and, fans got that moment that kind of lets you forget some of the controversial things the sequel trilogy has brought.
Enfys Nest. Enfys coming back and being sympathetic to the Rebellion is an interesting take. The character worked for me and she and her gang become someone who can tie to the Rebellion in later films. They didn't leave the movie where it was if there were no plans for Enfys to return at some point. You can make the case that she joins up with Saw Gererra's gang later through the Two Tubes appearance. Plus, the coaxium makes for an interesting bargaining chip Enfys has with the Rebellion.
Chewbacca. Chewie is fleshed out as a character and actually does stuff. He fights, he shoots, he flies and he's able to interact with Han in a way that's believable and relate-able. My only issue was with the fact that a member of Enfys' gang appeared to be holding a bowcaster. Checkov's gun basically requires Chewie to get that bowcaster at some point. But, it didn't happen. I don't why that bothers me, but it's little things like that I will hold on to.
The Empire. The Empire plays a small, almost insignificant role in the movie. I like that. It shows there are things happening in the galaxy outside of the Empire's control, even if their spectre is ever-present.
Things I didn't like:
Lando. I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but I thought Lando's character was poorly done. Donald Glover did a great job. I swear his first line in the movie was Billy Dee Williams' voice. My problem with Lando, though, is that he seems like a poser through the entire movie. Sure, he's cool and has swagger. But, in the end, he comes off somewhat douchey and lame. He doesn't actually do much in the movie. The Lando of the original trilogy was cool and full of charm. But, he was also a capable leader, fighter and pilot. He did things that backed up the swagger. Donald Glover captured the essence of the character. But, the writers did Lando no favors and he's largely a non-factor in the film. They could have left him at the first card game and the movie would not have been materially different.
Wookies. I thought the Wookies on Kessel were too much of a homage to the apes from Planet of the Apes. I'm sure there's a touching homage somewhere in there. But, they looked like a nearly different species from Chewbacca. They had drastically different faces and moved like the Apes. It was great to see the Wookies in action for a bit. But, I thought the tribute was a bit overdone.
And, the big reveal.
You all know by now that Ray Park reprises his role from nearly 20 years as Maul. According to the credits, there is no Darth title. He is just Maul. I suppose getting cut in two by a Jedi warrants a Darth Demotion. He's come back in the cartoons. And, everyone knew he didn't die even though Lucasfilm did everything they could other than toss him into lava to let fans know he bit the dust in 1999. But, seeing him back works for me.
It works in the sense that we know the Kenobi movie is likely to happen. Kenobi doesn't really work with any established villains. Thrawn really needs to survive to the post Death Star II world since that's where he was introduced. You can't have a major stand alone movie about a hero who has to live without the big bad biting the dust. Thrawn would notify the Empire of Kenobi's existence, thus wiping out Vader's discovery of him in A New Hope. Kenobi vs. Jabba could work...except Jabba has to live, too. But, putting Maul out there is huge for Kenobi. You have a villain with a huge vendetta against Obi Wan. And, they've now established that Maul's not part of the Empire...eliminating that little plot problem. In short, they established the perfect protagonist for the next stand alone movie that will likely occur in the same timeframe.
The Red Dawn concept is interesting. You have these massive criminal syndicates operating within the Empire. But, Moloch's control over the Stormtroopers on Corellia shows that the Empire has issues with corruption and that the Emperor's control over the far reaches of his empire may not be as tight as he would like. Red Dawn allows for some interesting stories to come out and can use people like Boba Fett as possible players. Qi'ra was a decent character, too. Having her go evil at the end is nice since she's still out there. She's not, necessarily, after Han. But, I could see her popping up in other movies: especially if she's in control of the organization now.
In short, I enjoyed Solo. Not nearly as much as Rogue One. I'll watch Rogue One whenever it's on. With Solo, I might watch it if it pops up on Netflix. But, I'm not likely to buy it On Demand or on DVD. It's a perfectly good movie. It's fun and breezy. But, the stakes are low and there's nothing overly emotional about it. Sure, a couple of characters die. But, you have no real attachment to them. The ending of Rogue One gets me every time due to it's powerful narrative. Solo has none of that emotional grip that sets a film permanently into your conscience. In that regard, it's very Marvel-esque. It's a spectacle that's a joy to watch before you move on to something else. That's not a bad thing. And, it's probably what Star Wars needs right now.
I get the impression that a lot people want this movie to fail for various reasons. I'm not sure why other than the fandom is now so divided that there's no way it will ever come back together. It's funny to think that all the Episode I references are two decades old and the kids who saw that film in the theatre are in their thirties, now. Those massive age gaps are the reason why the new Star Wars adventures can be divisive. But, Solo was clearly for the old time fans and it's worth the price of admission if you happen to be one.
The 1992 DEF series of figures were actually quite good. The molds were solid and the colors were realistic. Even the accessories were useful. But, the higher price point lead to retail malaise and the series was cancelled after one year. But, we're left with a great set of figures. But, being late releases, there's not a lot out there on the Joe members of the team. That's heavily a function of the fact that the Joe existing characters had iconic, earlier versions that are probably better than the DEF renditions. But, the DEF holds some under-appreciated gems. Here's the best of the DEF Mutt from around the web.
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 1985. 1986 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Eco Warriors were popular enough to get two years of releases. There was a third year of Eco Warriors figures planned, too. But, Hasbro decided to end the sub set and they moved the figures into the standard Battle Corps line. Both Snow Storm and Outback were originally released in their Eco Warriors colors before being changed to their Battle Corps incarnations. This version of Outback is bright and tough to use. He doesn't really fit the Eco Warriors theme and would have been the only member of the team to not have his face covered by some sort of helmet. He works as a vehicle driver, though. Here's the little I could find of him from around the web.
In a lot of ways, the early 2000's were the heyday of G.I. Joe collecting. The community was the largest it's ever been. Hasbro were willing to make new Joes for retail. And, the internet gave collectors plenty of places to congregate and discuss the hobby. It was one of those times where you don't realize how good it is until its all gone and you look back at the era in retrospect. Despite all the good, collectors were also their own worst enemies during this time. We would express our disdain for a product while buying it. We'd exclaim that we'd buy 100 of something...only to buy one or two when it came out. Hasbro of that time really tried to listen. The G.I. Joe brand manager was a fan and tried to engage them. But, mostly, those attempts failed. There were forces at play in the retail world that were at odds with collectors. And, collectors often didn't know what they wanted. Hasbro produced some very forgettable figures during this time. But, they also produced some gems. 15+ years later, though, some of the figures that couldn't rise up at the time have taken on new life. One such figure is the 2003 Python Patrol Major Bludd figure.
A sad fact about collectors of the early 2000's is that we didn't reward any Hasbro ingenuity. While collectors would bemoan the multitude of Snake Eyes and Duke figures that Hasbro constantly released, they would then turn around and buy them: leaving much more innovative products on the shelves. With this Major Bludd, and the entire Python Patrol set in general, Hasbro took a huge chance. Rather than go with a tried and true vintage homage, the came up with something completely different. The dark red and black was a whole new look for Python Patrol figures. But, Major Bludd, in particular, was something really new. At the time, collectors hated any Battle Corps mold. It was mostly blind hatred grounded in stereotype rather than fact. But, it was pervasive. To make Major Bludd, though, Hasbro took one good aspect of 1994 figures, Major Bludd's head, and put it to use on a new body. In 2003, the 1991 Super Sonic Fighters Zap was mostly an unknown figure and few collectors owned one. So, putting out a new Major Bludd using this body was a tremendous risk that Hasbro took to create something new for the singular non army builder in the Python Patrol set.
Collectors, naturally, rewarded Hasbro by complaining constantly about Bludd. They were upset they had to buy an extra Major Bludd to get the 5 army builders they wanted. We also complained about the Python Patrol not being compatible with vintage figures. Basically, collectors told Hasbro not to take chances like this set, again. They did so by not buying the set in droves like many had planned. While early message board boasts talked of people buying 10 or more sets, the reality is that even the most die hard army builders stopped after 5 or 6. Most collectors only bought one or two sets. And, the Python Patrol lingered at retail, even getting clearanced out online. As such, Toys R Us lowered their order of future sets. While both Tiger Force and Python Patrol had around 25,000 units produced, Toys R Us dropped that number to around 20,000 for the 2004 exclusive sets. And, the Joe sets, eventually, dropped as low as 16,000 as interest in the brand began to wane.
The lower productions runs, though, weren't a bad thing. While many collectors predicted a scalper's apocalypse with the 2004 Cobra Infantry, that never came to pass. 20,000 sets proved to be around the right number for the collector base of the time and even became too many by 2005. But, the Python Patrol's ultimate retail failure can't be blamed solely on collector apathy. Hasbro played a part, too. In 2002 and 2003, army building was the rage. Sure, you see army building today. But, it's nothing like what happened in the early 2000's. Collectors of that era army built anything released at retail and would go to great lengths to justify why they had 20 or more of some specialty Cobra. Hasbro never really understood this. Even their token army building offerings of 2002 were shortpacked in cases or forced the consumer to buy a Joe to get the army builder. Collectors were demanding some classic army builders while Hasbro turned deaf ears to their cries. The announcement of the Python Patrol was enough to make collectors happy since they had an army building set that fulfilled many desires. It didn't have Vipers or Crimson Guards. But, 5 army builders and a crappy Major Bludd for $20 was still pretty good. But, right as the set hit, Hasbro threw a wrench into collector plans.
At the 2003 G.I. Joe convention, Hasbro released news of their 2004 offerings. The year would start with a 6 pack of classically colored Cobra Troopers and Officers. If that wasn't enough, there would be a three pack of G.I. Joes in Crimson Guard disguises that would be released for the 2003 holiday season, too. And, they promised more army builders as the year went on. With this news, all collector focus fell off the Python Patrol. Why buy extras of this set when you could save that money for Cobra Troopers and Crimson Guards that were only a couple of months away? The Python Patrol set was made DOA just by the announcement that much better army building opportunities were coming. Collectors no longer had to settle for what they got since what they had always wanted would be coming to retail at long last. Even the cancellation of the Infiltrate Cobra Island Crimson Guards was enough to dampen enthusiasm as the Toys R Us Cobra Infantry was enough of a hit to offset any disappointments.
As for the figure itself, the Python Patrol Major Bludd is well done. The new Python color scheme is intricate and well executed on the figure mold. The palette of maroon, black and gold is very striking and sets a different expectation for a Cobra figure. The parts mesh together well. And, while the Zap body creates more of a heavy weapons Major Bludd than we've seen in the past, it is not out of character for Major Bludd and seems like a plausible look for him. The huge downside are the accessories, though. Bludd didn't include any useful weapons. Instead, he included a terrible rocket launcher and a gun meant to plug into a now missing backpack from the 1991 Zap figure. To say they are useless is an understatement. Fortunately, it's now easy to acquire better weapons for Major Bludd. But, he was another early example of Hasbro's lack of commitment to giving figures decent gear.
For me, though, this figure is tough to use. It looks cool. But, this Bludd doesn't really fit with the specialized troopers from his Python Patrol set. And, if I want a Major Bludd to use in other contexts, there are better figures for that role. So, this Python Patrol figure sits in his drawer, awaiting some rare occasion where he will be needed. With a few factory customs coming that use this Python Patrol pattern, it's possible that Major Bludd will find more use at some point in the future. For now, though, he's a neat figure for whom I have no use. That kind of sucks. But, there are a decent number of quality figures in the line's history who have very specific purposes and are tough to use any other time. This Bludd fits into that pattern.
After being, basically, an unsellable figure for many years, this Major Bludd has started to see some life on the aftermarket. Mainly, though, that's due to the the extremely low amount of stock that is for sale at any given time. Dealers will sell a mint and complete with filecard version for around $15. And, since there's really no other options any more, they sell quite a few at that price. Left to the open market, the figure will sell for considerably less. You just might have to wait 6 months to find one. You can also still get the figure for almost nothing if you buy a set of Python Patrol figures as a lot and then resell the army builders individually. It's a lot of work, though, to save a couple of bucks. And, the rest of the Python Patrol figures (aside from the SAW Viper) are pretty nice. This 2003 Python Patrol color scheme has also become iconic in its own right. It has shown up on anniversary figures and factory customs. So, after 15 years, collectors finally came around and rewarded Hasbro ingenuity. The long delay just cost us the line we love being a retail success.
In the early 1990's, the Kellog's cereal company wanted to do a G.I. Joe promotion. They tied it to their Rice Krispies brand of cereal. The result was a mail away offer where you could get a "free" G.I. Joe figure if you ate enough cereal. The figure offered was an exclusive version of Lifeline. The figure was based on the 1986 figure and colored the exact same way. But, there is a major mold difference. Gone are the original legs from the 1986 figure. They were replaced with the legs from the 1985 Frostbite figure. The created an unique variant of Lifeline and an interesting modification for modern collectors to track down.
Kellog's had an aversion to guns. As a company, they didn't want to promote guns on any of their promotions. Why they chose to partner with a military themed toy line, then, seems rather odd. But, Hasbro was game to accommodate Kellog's wishes. So, they offered a medic figure as the premium. And, they modified to the parts used so that the gun and knife on the legs of the original Lifeline were now gone. This was the only reason for the parts change in the figure's construction. A few years later, Kellog's aversion to weapons appeared again. In 1996, Kellog's offered an amazing (for the time!) Han Solo in Stormtrooper Disguise figure as a promotion for their Fruit Loops cereal. The figure was sculpted to hold a two-handed blaster based on the Stormtrooper rifle. But, Kellog's would not allow the weapon to be used. So, Hasbro nixed the blaster and the figure just came with a helmet. Finally, in 1998, the blaster appeared with a Princess Leia figure. The Han Stormtrooper was a figure that I was happy to finally get in 1996. So, when I see this Lifeline, I associate him with that Stormtrooper figure and it always brings a smile to my face.
Lifeline's purpose in my collection has mostly been as a nameless, faceless army builder. The non-descript head with the molded helmet and green glasses helps fit his aesthetic into that role. So, having a slightly different version of the figure isn't a bad thing. I've always seen Lifeline as a field medic: often in the line of fire when trying to save a fallen comrade. So, having him not be a character was conducive to the purpose I found for the figure. There would be times when the medics would perish when trying to reach their victims. Other times, they would be force to fight as Cobra overran their position. But, mostly, they were guys doing a job that was extremely dangerous and very unrewarding. I had more than a few medic characters who struggled with the fact that so many men they tried to save ended up dying. It was a simple fact that medics were doomed to witness the final moments of life for many of the wounded to whom they tended.
In 1991, it wouldn't have been out of the ordinary for there to have been a box or two of Rice Krispies in the house. It was a cereal my family ate. And, as there were three boys in the house then, we ate a lot of cereal. I'd like to think that if I'd seen this figure being offered as a mail away, I'd have remembered it...even if I wouldn't have sent away for it. But, as I already had a good Lifeline, it's possible that I did see the premium and simply ignored it since it was for a figure I already owned. Either way, this isn't a figure that was ever overly enticing since I had the original figure and that version was solid. But, I miss the days when cereal boxes would have decent mail away toys. The fun of sending away for something and then pining for weeks while you waited for it to come was a right of passage for any kid of this era.
Aside from the mold change, this Lifeline version also came with fewer accessories. Obviously, the pistol from the 1986 was missing. But, more importantly, the oxygen mask from the original figure was also absent. To me, the mask is what makes Lifeline and it's one of my favorite accessories in the entire Joe line. Seeing Lifeline without it makes the figure seem far lesser to me. I'll buy a beat up Lifeline with a mask over a perfect figure with no mask. The mail away version only included the white medical case and the silver backpack. This gear is decent enough. If I had no knowledge of the 1986 figure when I acquired this version, I would think the gear solid. But, knowing there are accessories that are not included makes this figure seem cheap. It should be noted this figure also has no filecard. He was just bagged. While it's almost guaranteed that any filecard that would have been included would have been identical to the 1986 text, the fact that it's missing makes this Lifeline even more of an oddball.
The Lifeline mold got good use. Hasbro released him in 1986 and then this 1991 variant. In 1988, the original mold was colored in Tiger Force colors and released on a single card in that subset. The mold went to Brazil where Estrela released the Tiger Force Lifeline as Paramedico. After that, the mold went to India. There, Funskool released several variants of the figure in the late 1990's and early 2000's. The basic premise was based on the Tiger Force release. But, the colors are much brighter. There are various color variants of the Funskool Lifeline, with some being rather hard to find. After that, the mold disappeared. Hasbro was good at getting medical themed figures into the early 2000's Joe repaints. But, they were Stretcher and the 1994 Lifeline molds. It would have been cool to see one more repaint of this figure, just because all of the other versions are rather extreme in color. But, I'm also just fine with the uses we did get of the mold.
Massive amounts of overstock mail away Lifeline's found their way into the collecting world. As such, a mint and complete figure will run you about $5. You can still get bagged versions for under $10 and there are even sellers who offer them in bulk. At these prices, there's no excuse for a collector to not own a high quality version of this figure. One thing we've learned through the years, though, is that, eventually, common bagged overstock will get absorbed. Bagged Steel Brigades used to sit unsold for $5. Interrogator/Major Altitude packs were practically given away. Even the multitude of common figures from the Hasbro Canada find have pretty much disappeared. Some day, that will happen to the Lifeline figures, too. It's doubtful it will anytime soon. But, there's really no scenario where these figures get more common and cheaper than they are today. So, if you want one, act now.
For me, this figure is an inferior version of the original Lifeline. And, since even the originals remain relatively cheap, there's no compelling reason to get this figure (other than to "complete" a collection) over the original. As a piece that tells an interesting story of the line, the figure has merit. But, the value ends there. The unadorned legs and lack of air mask leave this figure as lesser than the original. But, I am a sucker for offbeat, slight variants. So, that's why I have the figure. The nice thing is that he remains cheap. That alone is enough to warrant this figure a second look if he's missing from your collection.
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