1994 Blackstar

As 1994 is the infamous year that “killed” GI Joe, there are many figures from that year that are well known for their goofiness. The Lunartix aliens, Shadow Ninjas, and the unfortunately named Ice Cream Soldier are all examples of figures that a lot of GI Joe fans know, but in a fairly negative way. Blackstar is in my opinion, possibly the most obscure Cobra character ever made, and he’s not a terrible figure, either. Unlike the other guys, he’s just not outrageous enough to stand out.

When people look at 1994 figures, only what’s stupid or silly stands out to them. Anything that’s less than that falls between the cracks, which leaves figures like Blackstar being severely overlooked. Additionally, his bio is one that leaves him somewhat poorly defined as a character. It refers to the Blackstar as some sort of space mercenaries, but then to this figure as “This particular Cobra Blackstar”. It’s a little confusing as to if he’s a generic soldier or a unique character, but I suppose that’s up to the owners imagination. In either case, it’s another element adding to his obscurity.

The most redeeming quality of this figure is his sculpt. He has a very detailed and cool looking chest and helmet, albeit the details are lost somewhat amid the black plastic. His legs are reused from Barricade, and I think it’s fair to say they’re a decent match. His head was later reused for a Joecon Steel Brigade figure, but it would have been nice if Hasbro could’ve done something with the entire mold in better colors.

Speaking of colors, the figure has an only passable palette. There’s a decent combination of yellow, neon green, silver and black, colors that aren’t terrible, but really do the sculpted details no favors. Sans the green, it’s the same scheme as the 1986 BAT, so as a Joe fan I think the colors are at least forgivable. The BAT’s sculpt was more simplistic in the black areas though, so it didn’t suffer from obscuring it’s own details in the way Blackstar does.

His accessories are also rather poor, even for a late 90‘s figure. Blackstar includes a unique, backpack mounted missile launcher and a black Rock Viper pistol. The Rock Viper pistol looks better in black and does have a rather spacey look to it, but other than that the lame launcher is all you get. I suppose he’s a pilot of some sort, so the lacking parts can be overlooked, but still.

Ultimately, Blackstar is useful as a blank-slate Cobra. His background is poorly detailed and his character is nonexistent, so it’s easy to use him as anything you like. He could pass for a next gen BAT, a spare Eco Warrior, or he could even look really good paired with the V2 Alley Viper. He has an excellent look that could easily work in a number of different ways.

Like a lot of 1994 figures, he’s pretty hard to find, and his value tends to vary greatly. Some, especially partless or in lots, go as low as around $6, but others edge towards upwards of $30. This figure could add a lot of novelty to a collection when you find him on the cheaper end, however, he’s certainly not worth paying an exuberant amount for.

GI Joe Blackstar Star Brigade 1994 arah Hasbro toy

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2004 Cobra Officer (Comic Pack)

Amid waves of excellent Cobra trooper repaints from The Black Major and a few from Hasbro, there’s bound to be some figures that become overlooked. One such figure is the Comic Pack Cobra Officer, a figure that was rather well appreciated at one time, that has now fallen into otherwise obscurity.

Army builder mania was still strong in 2004, and Cobra Troopers that had been absent from the GI Joe line since it’s reboot were staunchly demanded. That year the popular Cobra Infantry Forces set was released and quickly sold out, leaving plenty of demand for another Cobra Trooper/Officer release, which came in the form of the comic packs. Mind you, most collector’s vastly preferred the Infantry Forces to these figures, but it wasn’t uncommon to see where people had army built these back then.

The figure makes some unfortunate mold changes from the Cobra Infantry Forces Officer that hurt it comparatively. The Thunder arms from that figure have been swapped for V1 Roadblock’s, and the waist has been changed to Roadblock’s as well. The arms, while being seen generally as a poor replacement, aren’t horrible. Likewise, I feel the waist works reasonably well, but the question that remains is why they would switch parts in the first place. It’s possible the entire part recipe was made in error for this figure given the penchant Hasbro had for such mistakes at the time. If my memory serves me correctly, the head was intended to be the new sculpt from the Infantry Forces set and was swapped due to a miscommunication with the factory.

The detail is fairly good on this figure with a few subtle touches I like rather well. On the sides of the helmet there is a Cobra sigil, and a good amount of silver detailing on the buckles and buttons of his web gear. Combine that with the vibrant, comic-based colors of the figure and you do end up with both a fairly unique and moderately attractive figure. A downside here is that the paint you do get is rather thick and poorly applied, a sad quality issue that is hard to overlook in some instances.

It’s almost not even worth mentioning the parts for this figure, as like most figures from this era he includes a small group of poorly chosen parts. The Baroness riffle that nobody likes, the large AK47 from Red Star, and the V3 Dusty pistol. This is a load out of parts ranging from decent to awful and it’s the same parts that a few too many figures included. That Dusty pistol was packed with more than twenty figures through that era!

All in all, this is a figure with a few flaws that was a mediocre stand-in for the vintage version back in 2004. Nowadays however, there’s so many Cobra Trooper/Officer repaints that this one has ended up with somewhat of it’s own niche, one that it really used to not have. The bright colors and mold changes make him very different to the vintage figure and there’s certainly no bootlegs that resemble him, so he provides something different in his own way. If you look around for him, you can get these for $5 a pop, sometimes less. For that much, it’s an alright figure to have around and provide some variety to the collection.

cobra officer comic pack 2004

Cobra Officer V3 2004 GI Joe comic pack ARAH

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Python Patrol Copperhead

Among the more strange repaint ideas Hasbro came up with during ARAH, Python Patrol Copperhead was one of the most unusual. An oddball vehicle driver from the early years of the line, revisited in new colors for the Python Patrol. Personally, I’m really charmed by oddball repaints like Python Patrol Copperhead, and as a figure I think he has some strong qualities. At the same time, he’s also somewhat flawed.

Copperhead is a cool character. A gambler who fights to pay off his debts to Cobra, it’s an interesting choice that helps flesh out the organization and break away from the generic radicals and Mary Sues there were a lot of. Despite this however, he’s never been very prevalent in too much of the GI Joe mythos. According to Half the Battle, Copperhead had a measly two minutes of screen time in the Sunbow episodes, and appeared for a little more than four minutes in Operation Dragonfire. With all that said, it certainly made him an obscure choice for a character that Hasbro could bring back.

The figure is rather colorful and attractive. A few of the Python Patrol figures didn’t receive flattering interpretations this pallete (such as the Python Guard), but thankfully Copperhead is mostly green and black with some yellow and red details. There are some issues with his deco, however. Noticeably, there’s no Cobra symbol on this version of the figure, which just seems somewhat strange to me. Second, his waist. His waist is a solid, unpainted piece of yellow plastic. It certainly looks odd and sadly is a mar on an otherwise great looking figure. It seems understandable that budget constraints might’ve stopped them from painting this piece, but it would’ve been better if at least it wasn’t yellow.

Unlike V1 Copperhead, Python Patrol Copperhead includes some parts. He included both the m-16 and backpack from V1 Leatherneck in black. The backpack is a nice sculpt and I enjoy it’s inclusion with Copperhead, however, the M-16 is a piece I don’t enjoy so much. The sculpt has always felt overly bulky to me, and the grip is also really long and looks weird. On the brightside, at least it’s a real gun he can hold well.

On another interesting note about this figure: his filecard is slightly rewritten. Originally, it was “presumed that Copperhead is native to or otherwise intimately familiar with the Florida Everglades.”. For Python Copperhead, they changed it to the “rain forests of the Amazon basin”. This version also explicitly states he is indebted to Cobra and not simply working for them to pay a different debt, though amusingly one could assume this to mean he’s actually racked up more debts between figure releases. Either way, these small filecard revisions really showed how much care Hasbro was putting into line and characters at the time.

These days Python Copperheads can go for a lot. For a complete figure they range between $12 and $18, which seems like a little more than I paid for mine, but the market is pretty dry at the moment so that could be why. Despite that I think this is a pretty good figure, I think one’s enjoyment of him is entirely dependant on what you think of the Python Patrol. If you love the Python Patrol (like I do), he’s a must have. Howver if you dislike them, the figure doesn’t provide much over the original.

Python Patrol Copperhead ARAH GI Joe Cobra vintage figure Hasbro Python Patrol Copperhead GI Joe Cobra vintage figure ARAH Hasbro

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Tiger Force Tripwire (1988)

When it comes to Tripwire figures, there’s a few everyone talks about. The original, for obvious reasons, but after it the most popular seems to be the Funskool figure and Listen & Fun Tripwire, for their rarity and exotic qualities. Rarely spoken of, however, is the Tiger Force version of the toy.

The Tiger Force was an odd mixture of characters for a Joe team. You have your A-tier stars, like Duke, Flint and Roadblock mixed with stranger choices like Lifeline, Frostbite and Tripwire. Frostbite feels hard to reason, but Tripwire seems like a good fit for the team. Given that the Tiger Force does their combat in jungle locations, there’s ample opportunity for booby-traps and IEDs. There really isn’t a better team Tripwire could have been placed in, so while he’s odd, he does fit in.

The figure itself is attractive and interesting without pushing it. He’s predominately brown, with a lighter green shade on his helmet, gloves and belt. The orange tiger camo pattern is limited to his body gear, which certainly stands out a bit, but also prevents the figure from appearing too bland. He also features some gray and silver details that are minor, but do highlight some of the nice sculpted details that might be missed on the original version.

For parts, he includes the same mine detector, mines and backpack as the original only in black. Black parts never seem like a bad thing, although on such a colorful figure I sometimes think the green backpack is actually a better match. Like with the original, these are fun parts that make up a good amount of the figure’s charm. The mines give him something to do, but they can also be placed as traps during play, by him or Cobra. I think they certainly make up for the lack of a weapon given how much fun they could provide. The mine detector is also a great part. It’s usage is straight forward, but the variety it provides gives it an appeal that was common in the early Joe line.

This figure seems to fetch around $8 to $12 at the moment, which is a pretty fair price. Sans parts you can even get this guy around $4 which really isn’t bad if you already have a few other versions of Tripwire with his parts. For that much, it’s a fun figure to have around and displays nicely with the rest of the Tiger Force.

Tiger Force Tripwire GI Joe V3 1988 ARAH

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1991 Mercer

Although 1991 gave birth to some of the worst GI Joe vehicles in the line, the figure assortment was nicely different. Amid cool new figures like the Crimson Guard Immortal, Desert Scorpion and Red Star, you also had some rather decent updates of a few older characters. A few of these updates like the Cobra Commander from that year were rather questionable, but in my eyes Mercer at least is a solid upgrade over the original.

The original Mercer is a figure I have mixed feelings over. His head looks goofy to me, his colors aren’t great, and his identity as a character feels permanently tied to the Renegades. V2 Mercer has a cool and fairly distinct head sculpt, great colors, and as his filecard states he “Recently transferred into the main body of the G.I. Joe team”. I feel like this figure represents the character in a more interesting way and stands better on his own.

Mercer’s sculpt is one of the best parts of this figure. His vest is adorned with straps, buckles and a lot of good details. His pants are also well detailed and bear a strong resemblance to the legs of an 86′ Viper, which is another nice touch the original Mercer didn’t have. Another interesting part of this figure is the arm with a metal sleeve on it. I don’t really know why he wears this, but the look is very cool. When I was kid, this detail was the one I was the most fond of, as I thought he was a cyborg.

His weapons are also pretty interesting at the very least. For a long time, I had thought his larger gun was something the designers of the figure had just made up. Turns out, it’s a real gun called the Calico M960. It’s supposed to be a submachine gun although it appears they upscaled it somewhat generously. His smaller gun is a laser riffle that’s a bit less interesting than the Calico, but can look charming when paired with certain figures. Lastly, he also came with a backpack mounted missile launcher, a rather boring requisite part I have no sentiments of.

As far as I’m concerned, this Mercer is one of the better figure’s from the nineties. Which is good too, as he’s common and readily available. A complete example can be easily acquired for less than $10 from a dealer, and if you forego the guns, the figure usually only runs a few dollars by himself. That’s not much for a figure that’s so nice generally.

GI Joe ARAH vintage figure GI Joe ARAH vintage figure

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Funskool Tiger Force Lifeline

Weird is a synonym for Funskool, and like any other Funskool figure, Tiger Force Lifeline is pretty strange. If his colors were based upon the original 1986 Lifeline, I imagine this would be a mostly mundane release, but that is not the case here.

Lifeline is a favorite figure of mine, like most of the figures from 1986. It was a year of figures with fun gimmicks that provided interesting roles for GI Joe and Cobra. Tiger Force Lifeline provided an interesting version of the character in team specific colors that were also a fun alternative to the original. This version however, looks almost nothing like either of those toys.

The colors are very bright on this figure, palette wise they resemble the 1993 Cyber Viper more so than Tiger Force Lifeline. The differences are exacerbated if you look at the green chest variant I’m showing here. Compared to the Hasbro version, the Tiger stripes have far less definition and look almost more like cheetah spots. Interestingly, there’s some red paint applications on his pouches that the American release never had. It’s pretty nice they painted them, although I think the red on top of his other colors actually serves to make him look even gaudier.

He includes the same parts as the Hasbro release omitting the oxygen mask, albeit in worse colors. Now his case is solid orange, while the gun and backpack are flat grey. Really nothing much to see here, but at least he has most of his original parts, which you can’t say for every Funskool figure. With that said, I don’t think you’ll miss these parts very much if you get one from a vehicle pack-in as I did.

This figure is a novelty, if you want something exotic and foreign looking he does the job well. However, Funskool figures have become something you have to hunt for if you want one at a remotely fair price. Back in the day, I got this figure for something akin to $1, but these days Funskool figures commonly sell for $15 to $20. For that much, it feels hard for me to justify figures like this, but that’s only because I can remember the way things used to be in terms of Funskool pricing. Still, this figure’s appeal is limited to his novelty as a brightly colored international variant, so unless you think that’s cool he’s an easy pass.

GI Joe action figure vintage international variantGI Joe action figure vintage international variant

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1989 Rock & Roll v2

I think I’ve said before 1989 is a real hit-or-miss year, at least in my opinion. You’ve got classics like the Night Viper and Recoil on one hand, and on the other you have Downtown and figures like this guy. But, of the 1989 figures that I like less, Rock & Roll v2 isn’t really that bad, though I maintain my reasons for lamenting him.

In my collection, the original 1982 look for the first thirteen will always be their “true” appearance. However, a handful of the characters like Rock & Roll and Stalker were lucky enough to get some redesigns for those that might’ve desired to see the characters in a way that gave them more personality and looked more unique. This figure succeeds in that way right from the start, now breaking up his solid green outfit with a more detailed tan shirt and camouflage pants. It’s an interesting look, though I think I’d appreciate it more if the colors were a tad more desaturated.

The sculpt on this figure leaves me ambivalent at points. Elements are perfect, the shirt and cap are nicely detailed and there’s a bit of muscular definition in the arms that looks good too. I’ve never been able to really think his face looks much like Rock & Roll however, and the figure is just a tad skinny feeling to me, which also doesn’t seem appropriate to the character. The detail is there and it’s certainly not a bad sculpt; it just doesn’t strike me as the character however.

The weapons are also something I have mixed feelings on. Starting with the bad, his akimbo double-barrel mini-guns are absolutely absurd, and put bluntly I hate them. Beyond the ridiculous concept, the figure looks far too busy holding both of these, with the thick ammo belts then connecting them to his backpack even more so. His last accessory really makes up for the other lackluster parts, that being his lever-action riffle. It’s a little hard to hold, but it’s an excellent sculpt with a lot of detail. I particularly like the little scope on the gun, it has so much more personality than the bizarre sci-fi mini-guns he comes with. It also can be stored on his leg, which is a fun gimmick although it does detract from his appearance a bit.

This version of Rock & Roll isn’t particularly costly. It seems like one that’s complete can easily be acquired for around $10, and he’s rather common in lots too, where you can get him for even less. I used to not like this figure very much, but he’s great for variety and easy to get by chance if you look around. In the past I’ve swapped his legs for a pair of Salvo’s which looks pretty good and does well to balance his proportions as you can see in the second photo below.

Rock & Roll V2 GI Joe ARAH Rock & Roll V2 GI Joe ARAH

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2004 Cobra Viper, Valor vs Venom

In the summer of 2007, I’d finally got into Joe collecting upon falling in on the 25th Anniversary hype. I had flirted with the brand prior, but my tastes being focused mainly on 80‘s Joes left me with little to catch my attention until that point. Seeing pictures of the toys on the Internet had me hunting all over my town for anything I could find. Alas, I had no luck finding any GI Joes that summer, except for a smattering of leftover Valor vs Venom toys. One such toy, was the 2004 Cobra Viper and Alley Viper two-pack.

At first I hesitated given they weren’t “modern era” style figures. I may have even passed on the set once or twice only to find it still hanging there a month later at that same Big Lots. Disappointed at my lack of a growing GI Joe collection, I bought them just to have something new.

By no means were these my first “new-sculpt” figures that I had acquired, so I knew somewhat to expect from them quality wise. With that said, the Alley Viper was solidly disappointing and a garbage figure, but it’s not the subject of this writing. The Cobra Viper, was actually pretty satisfying. For a Valor vs Venom figure, the proportions of the sculpt are pretty decent, and he has standard articulation with no issues. With that said, the figure has no obvious issues from the outset so that’s certainly a good thing.

The color scheme of this Viper is probably his most distinguishing aspect. It’s rather unique and a bit unlike any other colors ever used on a Viper. The shade of dark red that comprises most of the figure bears a passing resemblance to the 1997 Cobra Viper, but only slightly. He also sports a fair amount of purple, which ties in well with the other dark colors. The black visor is another interesting color choice that sets him apart quite a bit from the standard Viper look, which is nice.

The accessories leave something to be desired, arming him with a measly G36 riffle and generic combat knife. To improve his load out, I’d usually arm him the the scorpion pistols from the Alley Viper since that figure had no value anyway and the accessories were wasted on him. The last part included with this figure was some sort of two piece “pod” as Yo Joe! refers to it. I have no idea what this is or what purpose it’s supposed to serve. As far as I know it was only included with this release and was never reused. I spent a lot of time trying to figure it out when I got this figure, but could only guess it was a crate of some sort.

Overall, he’s a good figure that could have used some better parts. I think if the Joe vs Cobra and Spy Troops lines had started with sculpts of this quality, the collecting community might not hold the era in such low regard as they do today.

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1990 Vapor

My earliest childhood with GI Joe was strange to say the least. I had a handful of my own figures, mainly clearance priced 1994 figures that were lingering on pegs into ‘97. For the most part though, I mainly experienced the brand through my brother’s collection and through reruns of the Sunbow cartoon.

I was very opinionated about my brother’s collection. For the most part, I hated the lot of what he had, mainly because it consisted of oddly colored 90‘s figures and not any that looked like the guys I saw in the cartoon. With that said, a few figures always tickled my fancy regardless of if I knew the character or not, Vapor being one of them. This guy struck me as some kind of psychopathic, murderous cyborg who was immune to reason and overall a really though fight for some unfortunate Joes who might encounter him. I liked coming up with exaggerated villains like that…

As such, I have some rather fond memories playing with this guy despite his otherwise obscurity. I mean, really, if you just look at the figure you really have to ask yourself what on earth he is. His filecard is rather vague, saying little to nothing about his character. It’s not even totally clear as to if he’s a generic or a singular person, but I see him as the later.

Vapor has a decent sculpt. My favorite parts are his head and the Cobra symbol buckle on his chest. Nothing too remarkable other than that, but these are at least some decent focal points that give the figure a memorable appearance. As you might expect of a vehicle driver, Vapor has a slight lacking of too many painted details. The ugliest part of the figure is his solid red waist that gives him that “underwear on the outside” type appearance.

I like his colors a fair bit, being mostly grey with some red and black for details, and silver on his head. It’s a bit different, but his appearance looks somewhat cohesive with the A.V.A.C.’s, which is good. He was repainted only once into the Air-Viper for the 2003 Joecon, a decent figure although it’s colors arguable lack the contrast of Vapor’s. For that reason I think this one is the better of the two versions.

Overall, he’s a mildly interesting pilot and Cobra to come from the 90‘s. Given how saturated the line is with different Vipers, Vapor is refreshing change of pace. I’ve never used him in many dios, but he’s certainly worth using more.

1990 Vapor GI Joe 90's ARAH Hurricane Cobra

1990 Vapor GI Joe 90's ARAH Hurricane Cobra

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1986 Monkeywrench

Monkeywrench is a weird figure. By far, he’s the most forgettable Dreadnok and his accessories don’t fulfill his role as an explosives expert. Despite this, he’s not my least favorite Dreadnok, in fact, I actually rank him higher than a number of other’s including Road Pig and Zandar. He does have flaws, but they don’t ruin him as a figure.

As a sculpt, I find Monkeywrench to be rather impressively detailed. The grenades, patches, pistol, the weird red ties around his legs, it all contributes to a fairly detailed look, at least compared to other early Dreadnoks. I think the only thing I dislike about the sculpt is the size of his head. It’s a bit small, but really I think it just looks worse when compared to other vintage figures that have larger noggins. Still, it’s an inconsistency that hurts him when displayed with many of his contemporaries.

The worst thing about this figure is his accessories. The only thing he comes with is a grey, trident launching harpoon gun. The character mainly deals with explosives, and yet they just included this random piece of junk with him. This weapon is one of the most boring, useless parts in the entire ARAH toy line, it definitely doesn’t add anything to Monkey Wrench here. Personally, I have a tendency to equip him with a grenade launcher, usually the one from ROC Heavy Duty.

I think a big draw to this figure is just his usefulness as a generic Dreadnok who looks pretty good. He’s easy to throw in a diorama with just about anyone. He never really did get much character development, appearing only briefly in the cartoon and not doing much of substance in the comics either. It’s easy in that regard to use him as pretty much anything you’d like.

So for all things considered, Monkeywrench is probably one of the best fillers you can get to pad out your Dreadnok ranks. He goes well with almost anyone and can be acquired at fairly cheap prices. He’s not a strong figure or character that stands well on his own, but he fills his own niche nicely.

1986 Monkeywrench Road Pig GI Joe ARAH 1986 Monkeywrench Road Pig GI Joe ARAH

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