As popular characters’ figures got discontinued, Hasbro would attempt to get them back onto store shelves, while also maintaining the constant influx of new characters. Usually it was one or at max two returning characters per year, but that changed up in 1989, with four of the years’ new releases being returning mainstays of the line. G.I. Joe has been in a perpetual state of “Old favourites and a batch of new characters of diminishing quality” for about 34 years. 1989 was the true beginning of this, and in some ways I can’t fault the line for continuing in that trajectory. Some of this is because the character assortment from 1982-1985 is incredibly strong, and the comics, the major driving force of character development in G.I. Joe, found itself doing nothing but the bare minimum with new characters after a while.
One thing that helps this version of Stalker stand out, is that he’s unique in that he is one of the few major characters in the vintage line to get an environmentally specific figure. Grunt and Clutch, not major characters in the scheme of thing, mind you, got a pair of Desert figures early, but then it was typically the 1984 Roadblock to 1986 Roadblock style of update. Stalker, got the Arctic version, paving the way for Desert Storm cash-in figures like the 92 and 93 Dukes, and 94 Flint. Despite the commonplace arctic theatre for cartoons, comics and even mail-in offers, more major characters got turned into spacemen, than guys in cold weather gear.
The 1989 Stalker mold is quite well done. This isn’t really an arctic figure, but rather a figure designed for combat in the spring thaws. It’s cold, but not bone-chillingly cold, so the toque, and gloves, and multiple layers work well, without being overkill for the environment. The jacket, is well done, because it gives off the appearance of it being a thick one, without being too long or bulky.
However, I’m going to have to express my absolute disdain for the sculpting of the toque on this figure, as whoever did it, has no idea how to properly wear a toque (knit-cap or beanie, for my American audiences). They’re supposed to cover your the top of your ears, to provide them with protection from the elements. Stalker should know this well enough, since he’s from Detroit, which is across the river from Canada. The sculpted details are fairly nice, the big knife on his ankle is very well done, and the jacket and gloves are done to look very heavy. He’s not burdened with a ton of unnecessary strapped on equipment. The bullets on the jacket aren’t overbearing, and happen to provide a nice pop of colour.
The colouring on the figure is nice, the greens, and white work well, and the hints of red and yellow are small enough they don’t overpower the figure, but keep it from being dull. Hasbro tried something new on this Stalker, by doing some heavy brown paint apps on the figure’s legs, in order to create the appearance of the mud, that Stalker has trudged through. It’s an oddity, that I don’t think worked too well, and it doesn’t look like Hasbro thought it worked all that well either, as it didn’t appear again (aside, from the 1993 repaint of this figure that uses the same paint masks)
I think the figure would’ve worked better if the “mud” had been replaced with a camouflage pattern. It would’ve kept the dichotomy of the clean and bright upper body, with the darker and busy lower, but would have given Stalker some more usability, rather than just being an “out in the field” figure. Camouflage would’ve also really harkened back to the 1982 figure, so in a way I can see why they didn’t want to re-hash that design too much, but it would’ve been a better choice than what they went with.
1989 was a year very similar to 1986, where Hasbro did a hue change, and went with overall brighter colours than those that would’ve been seen even just the year prior. It’s an interesting thing Hasbro would try every once in a while. This isn’t like 1993, where they decided bright neon colours should be added to the figures, via paint apps, but rather a change that would be seen in the shades used for base plastic colours. It’s something kind of interesting, but also not something if there was a reasoning behind doing. The colouring change in 1989, isn’t as dramatic as the one done in 1986, but there’s still an obvious difference between a figure released in 1989 vs. one released in 1988, just based on the colouring and shade choices on the figures.
The 89 Stalker is best known for his incredible assortment of accessories. The kayak and the machine gun with it are famous, but I’m not a huge fan of them, they’re so hard to use and the bright white of the kayak is fairly off putting. His assault rifle is excellent though. It’s a fairly well done sculpt, and unlike a lot of guns from ’86-onwards it doesn’t feel oversized. 1989 is a strange year as the rifles tend to be better scaled, but there’s so few of them, and none of them are coloured all that well. For some reason the colour of accessory that bugs me the most is white, they look more unnatural to me, than even all of those wildly coloured ones from the 1990s.
The figure also included a mask, which I’ve never really understood the purpose of, other than looking cool. The biggest problem with the mask, is it’s caused Stalker to have a ridiculously flat face, in order for it to fit. So it’s kind of a waste in the scheme of things.
This is a really strong figure, even if I have a couple misgivings about aspects of it. The flat face is just the cost of doing business, and the mud on the legs, is something where the designer should at least get some credit for attempting something new. It didn’t work, but Hasbro was generally pretty quick to catch on in those situations and give up on them. Where this version of Stalker finds itself to be valuable, is that he’s a true A-list character, dressed up for a cold weather setting. This is useful, because outside of Snowjob, there’s a dearth of winter specialists that have a character any deeper than “Guy from hot southern climate, who hates the heat.” It gives whatever winter team you’ve set up a little more chutzpah, since there’s a character known for reasons other than “Being whatever year’s snow guy” in the squad. One can never underestimate the importance of having access to popular and web known characters for specific environments or sub teams. Battle Force 2000, and Sky Patrol (Despite people’s claims in the early 2000s), have fallen flat with collectors, solely because they’re little more than “a group of guys”.