Thursday, April 5, 2018

Toys ‘R’ Us: A Eulogy

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  We are gathered here to pay respects to a dear friend.  A friend who has been with us from birth, childhood, and even when we had children of our own.

Ok, I think you probably get the idea by now.  Toys R Us is dead, much like its competitors before it.  It will find space in the retail mausoleum between Lionel Play World and Kay Bee toys.

Lots of bloggers will try to find reasons for the demise.  Was it Amazon, or just bad management; was it kid’s “screen time” with iPads and video games.  I will throw my hat into the ring with my own explanation.

A ToysRUs store from 1988 is pretty much organized the same way a store in 2018 is.  Some item categories are moved around or expanded, but essentially you could blindfold someone and they would navigate to where they want to go without bumping into anything.  Familiarity is good, stagnation is bad.

A friend of mine recently posted a picture on his Facebook page of a ToysRUs store in Houston, on Westheimer to be precise.  The trash can out front was overflowing with its contents spilling out on the ground.  I have visited this particular store back in 2016 and the same trash can was barfing out refuse the same way even back then.  The store was in rough shape and the floors didn't seem like they had been mopped in a while.  The ToysRUs in Goodyear, AZ always had an overflowing trash can out front as well.  Parents aren’t going to want to spend too long in a toy store with the sanitation level of a 3rd world country.  Strike two, ToysRUs.

This one is for collectors, and some parents too.  When was the last time you went to ToysRUs and found exactly what you were looking for?  Don’t worry, I’ll wait while you try to remember.  I am prepared to wait a long time for an answer.  For the past decade, I would say, the shelves at the world’s number one toy store look like the streets of Detroit.  Empty.  That vinyl envelope that holds those slips of paper you take up to the register to buy something big is usually empty too.  No one wants to drive all over to find that one thing your kid wants.  A collector doesn’t want to spend their free time driving around just looking for disappointment either.  Strike three, ToysRUs, you’re out.

For Us GI Joe Collectors

It has a been a year or two since our favorite American hero has been spotted on the shelves at ToysRUs.  Sure, there may be those Funko style big head things, but those have a very niche following.  That leaves True Heroes or Sentinel 1 toys.  Let’s not forget the Animal Planet line either, with all its customs potential.  Numerous collectors have used them to fill gaps in the Joes vehicle roster.  There was the awesome C130 cargo plane, a destroyer, a submarine, a deuce-and-a-half truck, CH53 helicopter, and scores more over the years, all made by Chinese cheap toy maker Chap Mei.  We don’t know if another retailer will sell these offerings.

Most GI Joe collectors have one or two other lines they love to collect as well.  Marvel Legends figures (in the 4" style) have always been hit or miss at TRU.  If stores had them at all, the supply was usually limited to Hyperion, the super powered peg warmer.  The Hyperion clog often meant stores did not order the following waves of figures, so you ended up missing out on Lady Deadpool (yes, years later) because they were holding onto that stock, and not selling them out to Ross or the TJX companies.  Don't even get me started on Star Wars (although most of that is Hasbro's doing).

Remembering The Way it Was

During the summers, when my parents were working, I would stay with my grandparents (See my previous article about the basement wars).  Multiple times a week, my Grandma would spoil me with trips to ToysRUs.  I had to wait what seemed like an eternity for her to do her hair so we could go.  I remember sitting through countless episodes of Sale of The Century, while saying "Are you done yet?"  Yes, the staff at Westridge ToysRUs knew who we were after a while.  There was a seemingly endless supply of GI Joe on the shelves then, as well as just about every other toy.  Sure it was different times, but it seemed like the company prided themselves on customer service and keeping shelves stocked.  Back then, they truly were the world's number one toy store.

The Future

After the doors close for good on ToysRUs, there will be no more dedicated toy retailer in business.  Except for smaller independent operations, you know, those expensive places where you bought your kids that Melissa and Doug wooden stuff, the only choice left are multi department retailers.  There are rumblings of an investor who wants to bring back Kay Bee toys by the end of 2018, but there is just not enough information out about that yet.

Kids are growing up quicker than ever, and seem like they are done with toys by the time they turn 8.  Is it that they are more enamored with video games, or are the toy lines not compelling enough to spark their interest?  Do kids care about articulation, or is it just collectors shunning the lame figures of today?

Have you been into a Target lately?  They are about as sloppy as ToysRUs is at keeping their shelves full.  They don't care though, they have a million other things to keep shoppers in the stores.  Walmart is only slightly better.  Some stores are well stocked, and others are almost always empty.  I think it depends on the priorities of the store manager.  For the GI Joe enthusiast, Walmart carries Lanard's "The Corps!" line, which has been derided in the past for their cartoonish action figures.  Lanard is the only game in town now when it comes to mass market, 4" scale military figures.  The articulation has been improving, with ball jointed hips and other advancements.  They have always done vehicles very well.  You can buy a small battle tank for about $5, meaning you can build some serious firepower with just $20 and some change.  You just can't compete with that.

The Final Word

Efforts have been made to try and save the company from the hangman at the 11th hour.  They have all failed (except in Canada, where the company was in better financial health).

The world has changed.  Our shopping habits have changed.  Kids have changed.  Change is sometimes not a pleasant process.  ToysRUs is expired, but GI Joe will be back.  When the new film comes out in 2020, I am sure there will be some product to go along with it.  If the film never gets made, I would expect to see a smaller, collector focused line being offered online, perhaps through a partner like Amazon or Big Bad Toy Store.

Way off topic, but I mentioned in the previous paragraph about the GI Joe movie never getting made. A few years ago, I made a prediction that the superhero movie genre will eventually collapse in on itself.  It hasn't happened yet, but with the deluge of these movies that have been released in the last 10 years, the public, with their short attention spans, will grow weary of them.  Now, GI Joe aren't superheroes, per se, but I would include them in that genre.  If the genre fails, GI Joe will not get made.  2020 is two years off... keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Hiding A Hobby - GI Joe and High School

The 1990s were a crazy, crazy time for GI Joe.  As sales declined, it seems like Hasbro was trying everything to attract younger consumer’s allowance money.  Enter the years of bright neon colors, wacky sub-teams, and those spring-loaded projectile launchers.  Most long-time collectors stopped buying, mostly because they were getting older.  For someone like me though, I stuck it out because I loved GI Joe that much, I was willing to accept what they were slinging on the shelves.  I always rationalized the neon colors in my own way.  In my GI Joe universe, thermal imaging and night vision were advanced enough to render camouflage uniforms obsolete and Cobra Commander used the colorful uniforms for unit identification, reducing friendly fire.  Ok, I have thought way too hard about this.

I admit it.  By the standards of society, I was probably too old to be ‘playing’ with GI Joe.  My Freshman and Sophomore years of high school were spent carefully hiding my secret.  If word got out, I would be a pariah, just a step above leper status.  My social status was already as low as it could go.  One classmate of mine almost let the cat out of the bag in science class though, saying something to the effect of “You still play with GI Joe!”  I gave out a muted denial, and it seemed like no one was paying any attention anyway.  That was a close one.

Thankfully, I was not alone.  My best friend was also a GI Joe fanatic.  For the sake of anonymity, I will change his name to Willy Fletcher.  Willy and I would scope out Toys ‘R’ Us for the new product while garnering stares and dirty looks from parents and employees alike.  I will never forget the time that Willy and I were ditching a suspicious manager at a Toys ‘R’ Us location.  He was stalking us all through the aisles my friend and I would infuriate him by hiding around the end caps. 

The battles, oh the battles were awesome.  Being older and having watched 14 years of television and movies contributed to awesome plots and subplots.  There was lots of double-crossing.  Death was everywhere.  My friend and I managed to work in the Kenner Aliens line into the GI Joe world.  They gave a lot of grief to the Mega Marines.  Dr. Mindbender got approval from Cobra Commander to use the Xenomorphs as soldiers against GI Joe.  When the Xenomorphs were too much for even the Mega Marines to handle, Duke and Hawk would team up with a couple of M-60s and shoot ‘em up good.  When Kenner released the Predator figures, the Predators tried to hunt down Joes and Cobras, with little success.  Duke had an ongoing feud with Chuckles, who was working as a double agent giving intel to Cobra.  I spent hours creating extensive fist fights between Duke and Chuckles.  God only knows how many teeth were lost and bones were broken between the two of them.  Cobra Commander even managed to become mayor of a major American city by rigging the election, although he only held office for a week before being deposed by GI Joe.

Nevertheless, the battles continued, all the way through 1994.  Two big things happened that year.  I started a new high school and got my driver’s license.  I started to lose interest a little bit.  By the time 1995 rolled around GI Joe was no longer in stores and I was busy driving around with my friends. 

Kids these days have it good.  Geek culture is now mainstream and accepted.  No one would bat an eye these days if you wore a Captain America tee shirt to school.  In the ‘90s, if you wore a shirt like that to school, it would probably end in a wedgie.  I am happy that kids in high school today are free to collect their Funko Pops and wear their anime gear proudly.  I like to think that our generation laid the groundwork for the acceptance of geek culture.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Photo Session Time!

I decided that when it came to my "Joetography" I was slacking!  Here's a new photo shoot, starring some of my custom figs.

- Battle Damaged Duke
- Female Cobra Trooper Corporal
- Gaucho from Action Force
- Neo Viper Leader (He needs a good code name)

Please check Duke's pulse.

A figure in the shadows... Neo Viper Leader.

In this part of the city, Cobra controls the streets.  The police won't even respond to calls  here.  

There's no glass ceiling in Cobra.  Corporal Smith wants power just as much as the guys do.

Neo Viper Leader.  Arrogant.  Confident.  Brutal.

Corporal Smith senses something.

Gaucho pops up from behind the parked Stinger.  A brave move?  Or a risky one?

This might be the last stand of Gaucho. 

Duke has had a very bad day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

No Joe, 2016? An Analysis of The Future Of GI Joe

A few days ago we received some disheartening news, there will be no new GI Joe line in 2016 from Hasbro.  No, nothing at retail, no Internet only offerings, no retailer exclusives... nothing!  So, it looks like the only product available to us will be FSS 4.0, which we were already expecting, whatever the SDCC exclusive will be (most likely Stiletto), and the Joe Con offerings.  Well, that is better than nothing, but it still sucks that we can't hop down to Toys R' Us or Target and pick something up for under $20.

Hasbro has a grand plan in their "shared universe."  As you probably know, this will combine a struggling GI Joe with M.A.S.K., Micronauts, ROM, and Visionaries.  Where the *bleep* is C.O.P.S. Is there not room for the Central Organization of Police Specialists?  What would mesh better with GI Joe and M.A.S.K. than C.O.P.S.?  After all, Beachhead's grandson is on the C.O.P.S. team.   As for the other properties, M.A.S.K. is long overdue for a comeback and will mesh well, with VENOM possibly being a subsidiary of Cobra. ROM The Space Knight looks like it could be cool, if done right (the caveat for pretty much anything).  Micronauts has some potential, but they will really have to try hard to sell it to the casual movie goer who doesn't remember the original line.  Visionaries, again will probably be a hard sell, even to the nostalgia crowd, as there is little to no fan fervor out there for it.  How do the tired, worn out Transformers movies factor in to it?   The point of all this is that it will probably be a while before we see GI Joe product on the shelves, while they retool for the "shared universe."

And what would GI Joe look like as part of this "shared universe?"  Will it return in its 4" glory or will it follow the Marvel properties as a 2" product?  Or will it follow the Star Wars model of limited articulation, but have a hard-to-get Black series?  I know, too many questions, and not enough answers.  I doubt even Hasbro has the answers at this point.

What's a GI Joe collector to do?  How do we get our fix?  I have a few ideas.

1.  Go To JoeCon - This may be our last chance to enjoy the camaraderie of the Con and our last chance to get those exclusives.  The club is ending all memberships on December 31, which could mean the club is not going to be around come 2017.  It is a real shame.  The club was great at getting us those off-beat characters that would not have a mass retail appeal.  On the other hand, they have had their issues, including the great credit card hack scandal (of which I was a victim).

2.  Get Whatever The SDCC Offering Is - All speculation is that the SDCC exclusive will be Stiletto, the winner of the fan vote from last year.  The easiest way will probably be eBay, which means heavy mark-up.  Then there is the HasbroToyShop route, which usually turns out to be a nightmare.

3.  Customize, Customize, Customize - Snap up whatever 50th Anniversary stuff is available and use them as fodder for customization!  If Hasbro isn't going to make Joes this year, I'll make my own!  Make your own characters or recreate the classics.

4.  Fill In The Gaps - Chances are, you don't own ever piece of GI Joe ever made.  Well, pick up the stuff you missed.  Maybe there is a vintage figure you have been putting off buying?  Or is it time to delve into the vintage international offerings?  There is lots of stuff out there to collect.  Get it while the getting is good!

5.  The Start-Ups - Thanks to Kickstarter and GoFundMe, we have had lots of new lines hit the Internet.  Marauders Task Force has given us some awesome offerings, and their female line, the Valkyries should hit the mail by summer.  Time to add some troop builders to your Joe or Cobra forces!  If Hasbro doesn't want our money this year, we'll give it to someone else.

I have high hopes that the GI Joe brand is in good hands.  Mark Weber seems confident and capable as the brand manager and I can only hope he doesn't have his hands tied by executives who want to pinch pennies.  We have had our "product pauses" before, and GI Joe always seems to return.  You can't keep a good man down for long!

Monday, January 25, 2016

3D Printing - Customizing to the Third Power!!

It is a technology in it's infancy, at least on the consumer level.  3D printing is finally becoming somewhat affordable to the average GI Joe fan.  Even though it has its limitations, it is something that every customizer should look into.

There are a billion different models out there to choose from.  Some you have to build yourself.  On Black Friday last year, had on special the XYZprinting Da Vinci Jr 1.0 for a mere $250 (on sale from $349).  At that price, it was worth taking a chance on (considering it was less than a GI Joe Convention set)!

The Da Vinci Jr 1.0 is aimed at consumers, but I would recommend having some modicum of tech savvy to operate it.  After a few initial prints, I had to make some adjustments to the x and y axis.  It also has a habit of making some strange clicking sounds.  After reading online, this appears to be a shortcoming of this model having to do with the stepper motor that feeds the filament slipping.  I also had an issue with the printer not recognizing the black filament as a valid spool (it uses RFID to sense that you are using an official XYZprinting filament spool).  I simply returned it to amazon for a new spool, and that seems to work just fine now.  Each filament spool costs around $25-$30, and so far, I have not run out of filament.

While all this sounds kind of negative, once you get past the shortcomings, it is a great tool.  I have printed endless GI Joe scale weapons.  With a 3D program, you can design your own stuff to print.  I use Strata Design 3D SE 7, which is easy to use.  A free online 3D program called Blender is also useful, but definitely has a huge learning curve.  Some people use Google SketchUp, but I am not a fan of the interface.

So what have I printed so far?  Tons of GI Joe scale weapons, helmets, and diorama pieces for my collection.  Need a desk for General Hawk?  Design it and print it!  My Wayne Manor playset was missing a chair, so I took some measurements and printed one of those too.  The possibilities are endless.  I would love to scratch build a vehicle using exclusively 3D printed parts.

A sampling of some of the weapons I have 3D printed so far.  There are some resolution lines on the finished prints, which can be sanded, if you so choose.  It doesn't bother me that much.
Some of my designs are on Thingiverse, you can find them here.  Feel free to print them as much as you want.

Keep your eyes open!  Other printers will start to come down in price, and even some that can scan as well as print.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Basement: My Fortress Of Solitude (A GI Joe Memory)

One of my best memories from way back when, was the epic GI Joe battles that took place in my Grandparent’s basement.  At first, I was afraid to go down there.  It was dark with wood paneling and thick red carpet, remnants from when my Uncle made it his bedroom.  As I got older, I found it a great place to let loose with my Joes and not have to worry about making a mess in the more heavily occupied parts of the house.  I could open up the shutters to the window wells and let in more light from the outside.  

My Grandparent’s house was an old farmhouse built in 1909.  As some of you know, a house that old is rare in Arizona.  When my family bought the land in the 1940s, they expanded the farmhouse, adding extra bedrooms and the infamous basement.  My Grandpa grew up there, my Mom and Aunt and Uncle all lived there as well.  I spent lots of summers, weekends, birthdays, and holidays in that yellow farmhouse.  

Anyway, back to the GI Joe aspect of it.  The stairs leading into the basement were a frequent site of many bloody battles.  I used to pretend it was a steep hillside, where each side would fight and die to capture an inch of territory.  The Condor would fly over and bomb GI Joe positions (I would have to be careful not to lose the red bombs in the deep red carpet).  The Joes would be teamed up with A.J. Moon and his Battlecopter (from Bronze Bombers).  Up in the “sky”, the Night Boomer would be dogfighting the Condor, while the Dragonfly would unload its armaments on the Mamba.  I could spend hours doing this, until Grandma called me to lunch and a rerun of the Andy Griffith Show.

Courtesy:  Bronze Bombers were a GI Joe-like line aimed at African-American kids.  I was probably the only white kid who had this.  A.J. Moon was a great addition to the GI Joe team, and bailed out his fellow soldiers many times.  He disappeared some time after the Basement Battles.  If only I knew back then how much these were selling for on eBay now!

The biggest and most fantastic battles took place in the main room of the basement.  One day, in the midst of intense combat, I had a great idea.  I took inspiration from Tomax and Xamot’s zip line handle accessory and decided to make a network of zip lines all across the basement.  Grandma’s sewing notions were pressed into action and before you knew it, cables were strung everywhere.  I fashioned gondolas from boxes used to store player piano rolls and binder clips I “borrowed” from the farm office.  The piano roll boxes could hold quite a few figures.  So years before Jon Chu thought to put a high-wire battle into the Retaliation movie, I had my Joes dangling from thread in the basement.  The gondolas would slide down the thread and the Joes and Cobras would be shooting at each other.  Every so often, a Cobra Trooper would fall to his doom (great falls were one of my favorite ways of killing off Cobras).  Meanwhile, the Locust and the FANG would be playing a game of cat and mouse, desperately trying to avoid tangling themselves in the “cables.”  Air superiority operations were launched from the green felt of the antique pool table that no one played on.  I played this scenario out many times, luckily my Grandma didn’t care how much of her black thread I used and no one seemed to miss the binder clips from the farm office.

I don’t remember when exactly the Basement Battles ceased.  Possibly when my Grandparents built a new house on the property and moved into there.  I had a few battles there, mostly the Joes versus Megatron in the spare bedroom.  It wasn’t the same.  Gone was the privacy of the basement, my fortress of solitude.  The new spare bedroom was not the best battleground.  It was filled with too many porcelain dolls and every surface was covered by a nick-nack of some sort.  Plus, I was growing older and the battles were fewer and fewer.  

As a father to a 5-year-old girl, I love to watch her play.  Her Barbie Dreamhouse is a constant “dolly party” as she calls it, where Bratz party with the Equestria Girls and Doc McStuffins.  I see in her the imagination that I had and I hope she looks back on her “dolly parties” just as fondly as I remember the Basement Battles.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The HAVOC: A Military Oddity

(another in my series of fictional histories of GI Joe vehicles

Never has there been a more controversial military vehicle.  Both military experts and fans alike are equally divided as to whether they love it or hate it.  There are questions regarding its safety and survivability.  All issues aside, the GI Joe team has made a success out of the HAVOC.


The HAVOC did not start out as a military design.  It was developed by Trakker Industries in 1985.  The company had developed a lightweight hovering air vehicle and needed a mobile platform to transport and service it.  The main vehicle was designed around the airborne vehicle.  Trakker considered fielding it with Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (MASK), but shelved the idea in favor of more disguised designs.  He offered it up to GI Joe to field test it and it turns out they loved it!


The HAVOC is classified as a reconnaisance vehicle.  In its main usage, the truck part of the vehicle stays well away from danger and launches the air vehicle to get a bird's eye view of troop movements or do some artillery/air strike spotting.  The weapons mounted on the tracked vehicle were designed mainly as defensive in nature.  The 2 large recoilless cannons next to the driver's seat have excellent range and have been put to work as tank killers and light artillery pieces.  The HAVOC has been found to be very effective in hunting down and destroying HISS tanks.  In another role it was not designed for, the HAVOC has served as an armored personnel carrier, carrying soldiers in the armored compartment where the air vehicle is usually housed.  The HAVOC has been used in transport roles where a standard deuce and a half truck would be in a disadvantage due to its wheels.  The tracked design of the HAVOC gives it traction on all terrain.  


The sub-team Sky Patrol needed a ground based vehicle in addition to the various aircraft they already employed.  The HAVOC was a natural for this role and had the added bonus of the hovering air vehicle.  The only difference between this vehicle and the original HAVOC are cosmetic; the Sky HAVOC having a highly polished, chrome style finish.


The HAVOC II is nothing more than the Snow Cat re-deployed in non-arctic environments.  It is painted green instead of white.