Meeting of the Minds

Meeting of the Minds

Friday, July 6, 2018

JoeCon 2018, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

I have made it to JoeCon in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  While I haven't before mentioned here that I'd be attending and the whole thing just came together in the last few weeks, there isn't much of a story involved besides the fact that the issues of money, time off, and drive sharing became settled with my significant other.  The Wife agreed it would be a good idea for me to attend the Con while she spent those days in a classy hotel room equipped with a Jacuzzi with us both of us spending a few other days together absorbing the sites and history of the area.  All it took was diverting funds from paying down a few debts.  In the end, it was a decision well worth it for the experiences it provided.

I'd never been to any sort of convention before and didn't know what to expect.  Right off, I was surprised by the sheer number of those attending as well as the number of couples attending with their children.  It made me feel old, but it also made me feel validated since, at times, this hobby makes me wonder if I don't suffer from Peter Pan syndrome.

After waiting in line for the better part of an hour, the time spent passing my eyes over others who waited also for their turn to buy entry, I arrived at the place where the lady who was directing the queue moved me over to a counter where entry was purchased.  During the wait, I saw a lot of people who dressed in some pretty amazing costumes or who had very interesting printed shirts wait in line with me.  The Line was long enough to have folded back along itself, so I got to see a lot of people further ahead in the line passing before me.

Twenty five dollars bought me entry into the convention.  I didn't elect to purchase entry into the autograph line because I'm not an autograph hound and didn't have anything appropriate for autograph.  The most prominent figures providing autographs this day was Kirk Bozigian and Larry Hama.  I'm sure if given the opportunity, I would have asked them a dumb, how did Larry get an acting gig in the 4th season M*A*S*H episode, The Korean Surgeon?

Seriously, I wanna know!

The first place they usher you to is the exhibitor's hall.  There they take your ticket and stamp your hand for re-entry.  Thereafter you pass into a giant room of chaos and bliss where you can write your name and email address on a piece of paper given to you at the admission desk, then place it into a big, golden raffle wheel for some drawing for what, I cannot remember...

I forgot to put my name in the first time around the hall because I was a bit bamboozled by the chaos number of tables and presentations positioned about.  It was loud and crowded, though no one mobbed or shoved.  I had luckily taken the advise of bringing along a backpack, ready to place my purchases in, but after roaming around for awhile, I elected to not make any for the time being.  I just couldn't get my head into it because there was so much. I had assembled a few priorities in my mind days ago, but couldn't get a proper feel for them.  I left the exhibitor hall and continued down the large corridor towards where other events were happening.

Working my way down the corridor, I passed two other conventions that were happening before spotting signs for where the GI Joe panels were taking place.  The first one I arrived at was the last half of "GI Joe: Behind the Scenes of Live Action Commercials".  It was conducted by Kirk, and you can see it here..

After this panel, it was my extreme fortune to find the three face-men of GI Joburg: Steven, Rob, and Paul.  I sat down by Steven as the next panel came on and stayed until about half way through before the itch to go back to the sales floor got me.  I met up several times with one or more of this trio over the course of those last two days granted to those who payed only General Admissions.  It was a blast that I will never forget.

I don't know how descriptive I want to get of my encounters with others whom I was familiar with at Con......well, I only knew of them from their channels and media and none of them knew who I was.  I will say that the JoeBurg team is as real as it gets.  While I treated this more like a vacation, they saw it as a pilgrimage and their enjoyment of the event was infectious.  I'll be honest, my interest in GI Joe as a hobby can rank as rather tepid at times and I have a lot of varied interests.  It as very good to talk with people about GI Joe.

As for the sales floor, my take, mediocre.  I went in without enough of a plan and left paying a bit too much for one or two things, and bought something I'm not sure I really need.  It wasn't even Joe..

Some highlights though:

There were quite a few Tactical Battle Platforms around.  Paul was looking for one and I joked that Joburg's video series may have boosted their prices.   A sad irony!  I saw Stephen nab his Mauler in the closing hour from a dealer back in the corner next to Larry Hama's table.  He's quiet the operator and talked a tough vendor down on a Mauler, but wouldn't cinch the deal until he raced for some batteries to make sure all the electronics worked.

I was surprised by the lack of vintage Sky Strikers, I only saw one or two and I thought the asking price was too much for the condition they were in.  There were a few vendors who never got to get all their stuff out, I regret not knowing that before the end or else I might have inquired about something more on the complete end of the scale.

One thing I was looking for and didn't find were loose aircraft from the Saratoga playset.  Other than that I did score a bunch of things from the loose, discount bins, helping me build my vintage collection up considerably.  Most of them lacked any accessories, but for the most part I'm happy just matching them with random weapons I happen to have, etc.   

Yo Joe!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Chap Mei Harrier

The Harrier jump jet is one of the most unique warplanes in history.  Thanks to a small frame, a powerful engine and thrust nozzles, it is capable of basing in forward areas where other jets cannot by virtue of its ability to take off in short distances and then land vertically.  It is notoriously difficult to fly with a very high accident rate, yet the harrier has still acquitted itself well in a number of engagements from the Middle East to the defense of the Falkland Islands and remains an important piece of United States Marine Corps weaponry.  
What we are going to explore is how a toy Harrier created by Chap Mei stacks up to its contemporaries: its features, its good points, and it’s bad.  After reviewing it from a play and collector’s angle, I’ll try to assess how it fits into the forces of GI Joe.

Presented for your viewing today is yet another rare bird that presently isn’t in stores and is also a rare find on eBay.  Released under the branding, Force: Hot Military Equipment , from a company called Weihau Plastic Toys Co., LTD is their version of the AV8B Harrier 2.  The package includes the jet, a motorcycle, and two figures with an abundance of accessories.  Missing is an actual name or branding for the jet itself in any of the documentation or packaging, so we’ll just surrender to convention and call it the ‘Harrier’.

Up in the corner of the box is what appears to be the brand name.   I had never heard of Weihau prior to looking it up for this review and the company logo is almost unnoticeable, though the name of the line - Force: Hot Military Equipment - has the normal prominence you would expect to see on a box containing a toy.

Going to the brand’s website:  currently, this toy is not listed anywhere there, though it is not atypical for far eastern toy manufacturers to have websites that are scant on information, especially on past products.   Doing a little bit of research, it is apparent this toy was manufactured by Chap Mei and has been sold under a few different brands, including Soldier Force.   It certainly looks like a Chap Mei product.

Last things about the box:  The back shows four figures, but the set comes with only two.  Likewise with the three sprues of weapons and equipment, the set only comes with one, however.

Before getting to the jet, I’d like to introduce you to the figures and accessories that come with it.

These two figures feature five points of articulation, a blocky structure, un-sanded corners, and a haphazardly applied paint job.  Moreover, I had to break the pilot’s leg off to get him out of the cockpit as they were pinned against the sides due to the figure’s wide leg stance (it was easy to replace).  This stance helps them stand on their own, which is a big plus.  However, with limited articulation the figures are locked in half-committed action poses with no chance of variation.
The figures come with a few things, one being a rather fragile palm tree which I find to be an odd inclusion given that there is nothing else to suggest a tropical theme for this set.  I broke mine and I don’t remember exactly how, but I do remember that it didn’t take much.
In the set we have an arrangement of weapons and tools, all but one of which is set into one sprue, requiring manual removal.  They’ll still have some flash when they are cut from the others, but you can sand it down.  In fact, the entire set could use a little trim on the edges of each plastic part; more on that later.

There really isn’t anything special about the motorcycle included, to collectors it’s one of those things that it’s “just there”.  It should be noted that being present has tons of value from a play perspective since the 3.75-inch scale is all about toys interacting with other like-sized toys.  Having even a humble motorcycle to complement a jet can add a significant amount of play value.  So this is a boon for play value, but it offers collectors nothing by itself. 

When examining the bike, there appears to be something missing.  On both sides of the vehicle there are two slots, probably where a gun pegs in other releases of this mold.  In this set there is nothing included that would fit in them, so they are just there.  On a positive note, the bike is more than just a hunk of plastic, but not much more.  Rather, its’ a couple hunks of plastic with separate parts for the rear tail pieces, front lights, handle bars, and there is even a working kick stand.  The wheels are plastic and the front fork does not steer

A significant flaw is that it is simply too large for the figures it comes with or GI Joes of all eras.  No figure really sits well on this thing, even though GI Joes with their superior articulation squat more believably upon its seat.  The seat itself is not shaped in any way that would keep the figure from sliding around and there is no place for feet or legs to secure themselves.  The only means of keeping a figure on the bike is hoping it can grip the handlebars.  

 It’s not terrible as a toy, but nor is it as nice as the GI Joe RAM.  It certainly wouldn’t feature as a showpiece in anyone’s collection.  Though kids might find it useful, I could honestly do without it. 

Some toys are things where the features and quality stand out to you first thing and you only find the flaws after some examination.  This thing is completely the opposite.  The rough edges  were tolerable in the accessories by virtue of them having only marginal value in the first place, but the sloppiness of construction carries over into the jet itself and certainly detracts from the aesthetics is a very significant way.  Furthermore, this rendition of the harrier is like all Chap Mei toys, blocky.  The leading and trailing edges of the wings are squared-off slabs, the tanks and launchers on the wings are molded into the body and are non removable, and the wing tanks themselves are hollowed out and missing the bottom half.  The wing mounted landing gear while vastly oversized compared to the real thing, are a saving grace and work well both functionally and visually.  The struts lock in the up and down position reliably and the plastic wheels do turn.

Moving from the wings to the body, problems continue.  The pieces all fit together at rough edges, and there are places of significant panel gap.  What I expect are supposed to be bulges for the gun pods the real plane can be equipped with are molded into the body at divergent angles.  Obviously this was done for ease of manufacturing, but it does detract from the design.  It’s hard not to notice when you are eyeballing the guns at a target while trying to line up a shot on enemy forces. 
The camouflage pattern is something of a mystery.  After looking through images of various national patterns, I was not able to determine which camouflage pattern might have been used as a template.  It may just be some random colors drummed up at the factory.  Who knows, maybe there are intellectual property concerns with camouflage, as inane as that sounds. Whatever it is, it is an eyesore.  The black, desert tan and forest green colors, along with the red markings on the ailerons clash in an unpleasant way, at least for me it does.  Traditionally, the AV8B Harrier II has sported dark greens and grays, and certainly a two-toned approach in these more muted colors would have looked nicer.   

There are a lot of toys that aren’t that tough, but this one is tough, mostly.  The body seems to be made of an ABS plastic similar to the recycling bins designed to survive a strike from errant road traffic.  It surface is the same rough, micro pitted surface you see in this type of plastic.  Contrast it to the smoother, shinier plastics used in vintage GI Joe toys and you’ll see there is a noticeable difference in the quality of appearance.  However, I this ABS is a lot more difficult to break and will likely better retain its resiliency with age better as well.  While I’m sure the aim of the manufacturer of these toys was not longevity but costs, yet it remains that there is a trade-off that may interest collectors no matter how unintentional it was.

The only fragile part of the airplane itself is the canopy.  On my style of Harrier, it is perfectly clear and smooth, as well as more fragile.  It attaches into the body using two tabs with bumps that fit into groves in the body, and these tabs are prone to failure.  Mine actually has due to a fall the toy suffered.  The good news is that I was able to repair it with common superglue in a way that is hardly visible.  It should also be noted that as sloppily the construction of much of the plane is, the tab on the front of the canopy that holds it closed actually has a nice fit. 

The lack of decent removable ordinance on this toy is disappointing, and is made even more frustrating by how bad the permanently attached fuel tanks and rocket launchers are.  While the black rockets themselves are removable, it takes some doing and it is not really worth it once you get them out.  The real harrier can carry many different types of munitions, and being stuck with a couple hollow-molded wing tanks and blocky, crummy rockets is a real let down.    Even the molded in gun pods on the bottom are wonky, as they both point off to the sides. 

The cockpit is ample size for most GI Joe figures, both modern and vintage.  However, the bow-legged nature of the set's own figure make them a tight fit in the pilot's set -so tight that when I first tried to take the pilot out of the plane, i had to break its leg out of its socket to do so.

The cockpit lacks a whole lot of detail, but the rivets on the canopy are a nice touch.  The seat looks good and functions well at holding joe-sized figures, but there is no flight stick or control panel molded anywhere.  This is a mild disappointment.  

Right now, it isn’t available.  It is a rare sight on eBay and when it makes an appearance, it commands hundreds of dollars.  Here is one such recent auction.

Given the funky look of the camo pattern of my Harriers, for all I know the Soldier Force scheme may be the more desirable.  However, it’s still going to take quite a bit of cash to come into possession of one of these in any livery.  Lucky me!  The two that I bought for retail prices from some online store who had them listed on clearance.
Keep in mind that this toy could show up in shelves in some department stores at any time, or it could never show up again and I know of no source that would be able to tell us otherwise.  Brands like Chap Mei and Power Team Elite are not a comprehensive like GI Joe or Star Wars that enjoys the support of media, a substantial following, convention presence, and product announcements.  With brands like this, prices on the secondary market generally fluctuate with how long it’s been since a product was last seen on shelves. 

Molten monkey harrier. 

Several years back a company called Molten Monkey expressed plans for its own brand of GI Joe compatible toys.  One of those involved in this new company was Ron Rudat, one of the principle designers for Hasbro during the A Real American Hero days. I remember there being a lot of excitement around the prospects of some of the designs they had been sporting in concept art several years ago.  The Toys would have been created under the brand “SK Omega”, and among the drawings was a Harrier-like jet called the “Javelin”. 

I think that thing would have been really cool given all the good work that Rudat has done for the line.  Easily, it would have been far superior to this toy.

Keep in mind.  This thing is dead.  How dead?  It is exactly “we created this Facebook page but haven’t given so much as a five second status update in seven years” dead.  That’s pretty much as dead as it can be.  So why do I bring it up?  Because I thought it was a notable bit of harrier-toy history, because there may be people who remember SK Omega and were wondering what happened to it, and because I like to torture you all with things hard or impossible to obtain.
 You are welcome.

General Capabilities:

As a short takeoff/vertical takeoff and landing jet that is used in forward airbases, close to the action the Harrier has fits into the GI Joe mold very well as a fighter/attack aircraft to put near the front lines, ready to go at a moment’s notice.  Whereas the Marine Corps utilize it for air-to- ground missions, GI Joe would use it more liberally in the air-to-air role as well as a light bomber, and why not? It is a world where helicopter vs helicopter vs jetpack battles are common enough, it’s a foregone conclusion.  The Harrier is an aircraft who sits on a line between the capabilities of the much lighter Skyhawk, and the more heavily armed Rattler, and fills a role similar to the Black Dragon VTOL .  

Do you need it?  At these prices, unlikely.  A far easier alternative for the GI Joe team would be the Retaliation Night Hawk which has some of the same problems (bottom hollow missiles).  Still, there are a lot of fans of the Harrier who collect Joe and currently apart from the Merit 1:18 which is certainly not a toy, there is really no other alternative.

Quality/Apppearance:  D
Pros – good size, tough construction.  Has proper landing gear and wheels.
Cons - Rough construction with gaps between parts.  Hollow parts, mediocre paint, and blocky wings.  Not the best detail. 

Play Value/ Accessories:  D
Pros – Covers all the bases for the basics necessary for an decent toy aircraft: landing gear is retractable, wheels move, and clear canopy opens.   
Cons – No removable ordinance.  Other accessories and figures are nothing to write home about. 

Final Grade: D+
Despite grading below average in all of the fundamentals, there is a certain amount of charm that I find the Harrier has, probably because it’s a Harrier, so I’ve decided to push its final grade up a notch.  This toy isn’t for everyone, but it is a nice thing to have if you like Joe-scaled planes.