Over at Forgotten Figures, it’s rarities month, and Mike’s been posting a lot of very interesting items, one of which was the prototype Anti Venom Stretcher. The light blue Anti-Venom set was one of those things that was a common unproduced item of it’s time, as it was constantly on eBay, and was an affordable enough purchase that figures from it were often shown in people’s collections.
In 2003-2004, one of the most interesting things a Joe fan could do, was look at the eBay auctions originating in Macau or other semi-autonomous Chinese regions. Often there’d be some weird color variances, but the figures weren’t so much different from a retail release. However there was also numerous examples of figures that were either nothing like a retail release, and were either unproduced figures or early glimpses of what was coming down the pipe. In the early 2000s, there would be information on what wave consisted of what, with no images. So if there was a green O-Ring Rock ‘N Roll, people would quickly surmise that it would be the Comic Pack figure.
The figures that were massive variations of what we’d already seen, would often be referred to as “Midnight Chinese”. As though some Chinese factory workers were coming up with their own paint masks and colour schemes that they’d make off hours to sell for 12 US dollars on eBay. Which until I wrote that paragraph, I never realized, exactly, how absolutely stupid that idea sounded. IF (and that’s a big ‘if’) something like that was to be the case, it probably would’ve looked more like one of those strange Funskool vehicle pack-in figures where it was pretty obvious they used the Super Sonic Fighters Psyche Out mold, with the T.A.R.G.A.T. recipe.
Though to be honest, the “Midnight Chinese” or “Midnight Run” titling isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s not entirely accurate, but it’s a useful descriptor for a production level unreleased figure, that’s also different from either a previewed or alternatively released figure. It works, as usually things like the alternate Anti Venom or Urban Strike 6 pack figures would be called “Midnight Chinese”, while things like the Wal Mart Sky Patrol figures are usually referred to as “Cancelled”. Subtleties are useful, sometimes!
When we’d see these kinds of eBay auctions, people had to be quick, because some items were popular and would sell quickly (and at exhorbitant prices!), but there was also parts of the G.I. Joe fanbase, that would act in haste to try and get the auctions pulled down, all in some ridiculous attempt to curry favour with Hasbro. “THESE FIGURES ARE STOLEN PROPERTY” was up there with “GUYS HASBRO IS TRYING REALLY HARD” talking points used to defend the honour of a corporation that didn’t seem to care about it’s fans or even all that much about G.I. Joe. Mind you, after being around internet G.I. Joe fans for 20 years, I don’t blame ’em.
Of the two blue varieties of unproduced Anti Venom sets, the dark one was neither good nor all that necessary. It was too close to COBRA blue, which Hasbro had really begun to use frequently, and the overall scheme just wasn’t all that exciting. The Dark blue included a lot of colouring that just seemed off. The camouflage was done in a way to stand out, but wound up looking messy and obnoxious. In the end they were pretty ugly figures in my opinion, and I don’t think we really wound up missing anything.
The light blue versions of the Anti Venom set, was actually a much cooler take on the set, was highly different from anything that had been done. It was a fairly solid match for the vintage 1988 Shockwave, it wasn’t really until some of the factory customs started finding specific 80s figures and using them as a basis for repaints, that this idea really got momentum. Hasbro probably would’ve been better off taking cues from some of the more unique, but unheralded Joes, than what they based a lot of their ideas off of.
This version of Duke has a lot of differences from the Anti Venom Duke that was actually sold at retail. While a lot of the figures were changed, in the same manner, Duke suffered the most from the overall change in direction. The retail version was a two tone figure, with the iffy Roadblock arms painted to look like sleeves. This unproduced version, is a single colour scheme, and greatly benefits from the upper body also receiving the camouflage pattern. The camo, not only is a different look for the Duke torso, but the additional paint apps on the arms, helps obscure the fact they’re the obviously bare arms of the 1984 Roadblock sculpt.
So not only did the arms look better, this was probably the only example of the 1984 Duke design being a uniform design. The original, Tiger Force, 1997 and various repaints after the Anti Venom set, all featured the clashing shirt and pants. Since this preproduction version didn’t feature that, it shows that it was a missed opportunity, because while your milage may vary on the success of the design, it was at least something we hadn’t seen before. That was one of the biggest underlying issues of the Repaint Era, as we’d see spartan takes on vintage molds, but more often than not, being at least in spirit, something we’d already seen. For every wave 1.5 Alley Viper, there was a couple figures that were neither new nor particularly interesting takes. There could’ve been some very cool things done in the 2000 thru 2006 timeframe, but low effort releases received enough praise and or had enough of the criticism deflected, that Hasbro could continue to pump out iffy repaints of the Viper or Big Ben.
Other small differences include, the fact that the head was cast in the flesh tone, rather than having the flesh tone painted on, like the retail set did. There’s slight shading differences in the brown and olive highlights. The knife and strap on his left foot are painted differently, and his airborne pin isn’t painted on the blue version. There’s also a quick tell, with the rivets not being stained to match the sleeves. I also learned when looking at my retail Anti Venom Duke, that mine was the victim of a factory mishap, where he has two right feet (I guess Duke’s the greatest dancer).
The unreleased figures from this time frame, are overall production level quality figures, I’m sure some of them are duds from a quality stand point, but they’re not made of lower quality materials, the joints work, the paint apps are as solid as a figure that would released were, which in the 2000s was some what dodgy. This unreleased set made it all the way to production level, so it’d be interesting to hear the reasoning for the switch.
When it comes to either the retail or unreleased Anti Venom sets, I still think Hasbro should’ve gone with this unproduced version. The light blue was different, yet familiar, and didn’t step on the toes of any of the COBRA figures being released in blue during this time frame. I actually like the retail Anti Venom set as well, but it’s also something that was retroactively degraded, based on the following G.I. Joe Toys R Us 6 packs continuing to feature a similar amount of sickly green and tan. In the end, I’m glad to be able to own both figures, as this is one of the few pre-production figures I ever tracked down, mainly because it was a time where I was obsessed with the 82-84 swivel head style, but I figured I should take the opportunity I had, to own an unreleased figure, especially one of a popular character, in a design that was far different from other uses of the mold.