No Man Left Behind
Following the successful launch of Action Force in 1982, Palitoy soon got to work to develop a scenario back-story for the toy line to clearly create the boundaries of the good guys and the bad. The second series launch in the summer of '83 brought a new terrorist movement to the imagination, The Red Shadows. Led by the maniacal Baron Ironblood, they were intent on one thing, total world domination. The United Nations scrambled global combat units to counter this threat consisting of four teams, The SAS, The Z Force Heavy Brigade, Q Force for nautical operations and Space Force for the eyes and ears above planet Earth. However, unknown to most collectors for almost 25 years, there was a fifth UN team that never saw a full toy release and whose active service exploits were never covered by the comics.
For the past 30 months I have been in pursuit of information relating to the later days of The Palitoy Toy Company. This journey started with Star Wars toys, but along the way a few other boys toys have wormed their way into the research. In the summer of 2008 I was pointed to an avenue that would provide an insight into Action Force that had never been seen before by its collectors. After some exchanges of e-mails and the promise of sharing my research notes, I was given access to what can be best described as the leftovers from the offices of Palitoy at the point of collapse in 1986. A visit to the premises led me to a very large basement vault full of racking and cardboard boxes full of toys.
It would be important to highlight at this stage that the toys featured in this article do not belong to a collector and will neither be available for sale as they are owned by the UK State Museum. Their purpose is to enable everyone to enjoy their collections, explore the cultures that created them and to inspire those who shape contemporary design. For those completists out there, please take this on the chin and just enjoy the knowledge. During my first visit I soon spotted an Action Force figure I had never seen before, this particular box contained some pre-production parts and some vac-moulds, which led me to believe it was a pre-production piece. The figure was within a bag and labelled 'Special Weapons F, Scientist (Boffin)'.
I soon joined BFTB and my thoughts were confirmed when no other member had heard or come across the figure before. Boffin
Much speculation soon followed. Who was he? When was he released? What is the logo? Was he packed with another toy? Was Boffin the codename? I was not able to answer all the questions, but I was determined to try and find some answers. A second visit was arranged and running against the clock I set about to try and find answers. What I discovered was more than I was hoping for, a further 3 unproduced figures all based on the Series One Ground Assault figure. Each one was contained in a similar bag to Boffin and labelled all with 'Special Weapons F' and their codename.
Further searching produced a 5th member to the team, one which had been seen before, but no-one knew for certain where this figure came from and had always remained a mystery. The figure was a grey, red and yellow repaint of the GI Joe Flash figure. During the second series of Action Force, Palitoy issued repainted GI Joe characters with some of its vehicles. 'Bombardier' was labelled to be scheduled with the Mobile Missile System. The toy was issued to SAS eventually without a figure, but had originally been issued with a figure in the GI Joe toy line.
All of these examples pointed towards them being members of a 5th unproduced team, Special Weapons Force. There may well have been other vehicles and figures earmarked for Special Weapons Force, but at the time of writing, the team would have been comparable to Q Force in its launch size. It is also worth noting that the Ground Assault style figure never saw a release in the initial Series 2 range. This style of soldier was perhaps considered too futuristic for the other teams, but fit within the Special Weapons premise. As to why the team never made it to production is open to more speculation, maybe 5 teams were too many? Maybe Special Weapons or the science angle was just not exciting enough. Maybe the lack of action figure diversity led to the halt. Whatever the reason, 25 years later they make a welcome return to the fold... no man left behind.David Tree
. BombardierHistory of the "Mystery Figure" and the "Bombardier"
It has been nearly a decade since the mysterious "Gray Flash" figure was introduced to the GI Joe community. My purpose was to find answers to its origin. This is the story behind the mystery figure and the Bombardier discovery.
I found the mystery figure in September, 1999 at the Whiz Bang toy store just outside of Orlando, Florida. Just getting to the store was a chance event since it was a 2 hour trek and I had never been there before. As soon as I purchased it, my search began with the store owner, Mike Herz.
For those who don't know, Mike is an icon in the GI Joe world. Mike was one of the early promoters of Hasbro sanctioned GI Joe conventions, from 1994 to 1997. Mike had many contacts inside the creative world of GI Joe and acquired tons of prototypes from former employees. His best explanation of its origin was that it likely came from Kirk Bozigian, Hasbro's Vice President of boys' toys. Mike purchased bulk lots of GI Joe items from Kirk and the mystery figure was thought to be among those items.
It has been a long road these past 10 years of searching. I assumed it would be difficult finding out its origin. But I had no idea how hard. I needed help - so I created a contest!
Back in 1999, the landscape of the collecting world was very different. There weren't nearly as many GI Joe websites or books as there are today. At least there was enough reference material to rule out any us release of this figure. So that left two basic answers. Either it was a prototype, or an international release figure. Prototype knowledge was still in its infancy. The international information wasn't very plentiful either. There was only one good website and one 16 page booklet that covered international Joes. After a year of searching for more archives, and asking all the contacts I had made, I knew it was time to involve the Joe community as a whole. Thus, I created the mystery figure contest
Solving a mystery such as this wouldn't be easy. But I never factored in how many false leads would send me on wild goose chases. There have been approximately 80 different people who have written me over the years. Many were duplicate leads, suggestions, or guesses. Those boiled down to about 20 different answers. The 3 most likely theories were as follows:A) Prototype 1983 repaint.
While Hasbro was switching over to the swivel arm battle grip, they might have been toying around with the idea of changing up the colors to boost the number of different looking toys in their arsenal. A logical reason, since repaints happen on a quarterly basis in some toy lines of today... including GI Joe!B) Unreleased Listen 'n Fun Flash.
I believe there is even a picture of a mock up original 1983 Flash circling the net.C) International Variant.
Since this figure is fully factory painted, this gave reason to think it was released outside the US. Many signs pointed to the European Action Force release. Mostly because the mystery figure's colors have the same motif as Palitoy's earlier creations. And it just wasn't logical for Mexico, or the South American countries to have a swivel arm version of Flash.
One of most interesting responses was from a person who thought the mystery figure was the replacement for Payload on the European Defiant playset. He said the mystery figure was pictured in the promo poster of a store chain (Toys R Us?) that was giving away the Defiant as a promotion. That played well with me since it was of a European descent and being a promotional item, that might have explained why I had never seen another one. But as you can see, it is very hard to track down leads when the person swears by their story, and the info seems plausible. Lightning
After owning the mystery figure for 5 years, I had my chance to finally get to the bottom of this mystery. In 2004, the GI Joe convention came to Disney in Orlando, Florida. The presumed former owner of the mystery figure, Kirk Bozigian was an attending guest. At the convention, Derek R. Anderson and I were set up as dealers selling the first of our three GI Joe books
we authored together. Kirk was a guest at the show, and I spotted him coming down the dealer room aisle towards me. I started getting nervous as I thought this was surely going to be my big chance. With the mystery figure in hand, I approached (ambushed) him with questions.
Kirk's response was slow and measured as he reminisced about the days gone by. He started giving me lot of interesting information, about the time period and about all the mock up plans Hasbro came up with and never saw the light of day. But he was very apologetic as he could not remember anything specifically about my figure. He kindly reminded me of a huge fact I never bothered to consider. How is a middle-aged man suppose to remember a specific figure from 20+ years ago, when he'd been involved with hundreds of GI Joes in his career at Hasbro?
My heart sank as I realized how time can bury so many interesting details about the history of GI Joe. After that conversation, I never really expected to ever find the answer since the original owner couldn't remember any details. Sniper
In February of 2009, Jim Marshall contacted me and asked a simple question. Was the mystery figure contest still active? After a few quick emails, he informs me about an article he was posting on his Blood for the Baron
website. The article was written by a Palitoy historian, Dave Tree. The article explains the discovery of a straight arm prototype version of my mystery figure found in a museum in England. Upon reading the article, I had a wide range of emotions. My emotions mostly bounced back and forth between relief and skepticism. The information seemed too good to be true.
Since this discovery, I have taken some time to evaluate the stories, pictures and community reaction (not to mention, writing this response article). We all can agree there is a huge pile of circumstantial evidence that can add up to support this new discovery. The good reputations of Jim Marshall and Dave Tree would seal the deal on its own.
The background stories and the fact that many people thought this mystery figure had ties to Europe made this information appear solid. If this truly is the authentic mock-up prototype, there should also be hard physical evidence that would withstand even the toughest critics. Factory employees and Palitoy paperwork is scarce, anyone just looking at the mock-up could dismiss it as a hoax, because someone could simply hand paint a 1982 Flash and call it a mock-up prototype.
However, Dave had nothing to hide and he kindly made the trans-continental call to the United States. We talked for 2 hours - yes - 2 hours. We discuss many minor details that weren't elaborated upon in the discovery article. Those additional details all lined up with a solid, logical story. There was one final detail that I thought was very interesting. It involved the eye paint on the mock-up figure. The eyes appeared irregular and Dave confirmed they were also hand painted.
By themselves, the eyes don't seem to make a difference, but let me make an illustration. There is ample proof that Hasbro gave Palitoy several 1982 unpainted test shots to aid in Action Force's change between the 5-point articulation figures and the o-ring constructed figures. The key was confirming this Bombardier mock-up was done on an unpainted test shot. Now on to the eyes - anyone who customizes figures can tell you how hard it is to hand paint two matching eyes, eye lashes and brows. It's extremely hard to match Hasbro's factory paint mask. So anyone attempting to pull off a hoax would mostly likely not go through stripping the original paint and painstakingly reapply the eye paint. Thus, simply paint over a factory painted Flash. If they were ever questioned, they could just say Palitoy was only given production level figures to create mock-ups.
This goes against what we already know, Palitoy did use unpainted test shots. I know of at least 3 different stockpiles of 1982 test shots that have ties back to England. First, Dave Tree has pictures of several test shots he found in the English museum mentioned in the discovery. Secondly, I remember an English retailer that sold several 1982 prototypes years ago. And third, Mike Herz had several 1982 test shots. Mike was the source for my 1982 prototypes and I believe he also received some of his supply from Europe, along with dozens of factory bubbled "overstock" figures like Red Jackal, Quarrel and Blades! Looking back, it is ironic how Mike had 3 major components at his store, the mystery flash, a boat load of European factory overstock figures and 1982 prototypes, thought to be from Europe.
Which begs the question, could this mystery Flash figure have came over directly from Europe along with the overstock and 1982 prototypes, and not from Kirk Bozigian in the United States?
One of my initial fears when I started this search was chasing down false leads if customs started popping up. If you have ever searched for a genuine "rocket firing Boba Fett", you know what I mean. If there is ever a claim for an identical figure to mine, there are a few hidden characteristics that make creating a "custom duplicate" impossible.
Thankfully, all the customs I have seen are well advertised as customs. The first custom I ever saw actually used the straight arm Flash (see picture). How ironic, since Palitoy's mock up also used the straight arm body style. Remembering this custom figure was the root cause to my initial scepticism. The customizer Can Cagirgan kindly let me use the picture of his custom for reference.
Dave Tree is continuing to look for more details as he is granted access to the UK museum. Perhaps Dave's discovery will shed greater light in Palitoy's direction and others can get involved in finding out what else may be out there to be discovered.
The future of the hand painted mock-up is clear. Dave mentions that the figures in his article "do not belong to a collector, and will neither be available for sale as they are owned by the UK state museum." that still leaves my Bombardier the only one in the Joe community. I hope more can be found, but hope is fading since most sources have been searched in the past 25 years.
This journey has been rewarding, from fielding offers of information, to offers to buy it from me. Thanks to Jim and Dave, my search is complete for this unique piece of GI Joe history.
God bless and Yo Joe!Ron Conner
Four months have passed since first sharing my findings of this unproduced Action Force team.
Whilst many Action Force collectors were excited to learn of a range of unproduced figures, the initial response from the GI Joe community was mixed, some were really enthusiastic, others sceptical. Regardless that more information was provided than most other prototypes which had been previously accepted, if there were more details and evidence, it would go a long way in convincing the wider community. There was one person I knew I needed to talk to regarding the research, Ron Conner.
A mutual friend had vouched for me to Ron, which I think went a long way to dispel initial reservations of another wild goose chase. We arranged a time for me to call and spent some time discussing not just Bombardier, but other pieces within the find and research. Ron understandably had many questions and of which I happily answered to the extent of what information I had. Ron sounded convinced, but I assured him that this was just the start and there could be more proof just waiting round the corner to be found.
Lucky for us, there was.
About a month later I had the opportunity to visit the ex-Palitoy Lead Designer for Action Force to discuss a collaborative project. The topic of SWS Force came up, and whilst the exact details of each and every figure were hazy after so many years, he did indeed recall Boffin (being the only Palitoy character to feature a beard). However in among some photos there were two pictures which shone out from the rest, independent photographic proof of the SWS Team line up.
Whilst the MMS had been mentioned before on the labelling of the Bombardier sample, the greatest revelations were repainted VAMP & FLAK vehicles. Both saw an Action Force release but as a black SAS Panther and a green Z Force Attack Cannon respectively. In addition, the colour scheme was completely different for the figures, following a light blue and white branding compared to those previously discovered (Sniper looking more like a member of Thunderbirds). The image was similar in set up and was among other photos for the 1983 Trade Catalogue â€“ which would date them to be around late 1982 (UK Toyfair is always in January). This suggests the Team had the plug pulled at a late stage. Perhaps it was too similar to Space Force? Perhaps the colour scheme needed more work? For whatever reason, there were at least two colour schemes for this team.
Upon sharing this information with Ron (who I think was just as excited as I was), he suggested looking at the Bombardier sample again to see if there was any evidence that the figure had been the same straight armed example in the photo. When I had the opportunity to revisit, Ronâ€™s theory proved correct, the sample had been repainted. The torso, legs and helmet displayed light blue paint when viewed at different angles, suggesting that it was the same figure and that the light blue colour scheme had been abandoned.
The trip also proved fruitful with a prototype box mock-up of the MMS. Whilst it does not display any hint to SWS, it is interesting to see nonetheless. The review date is dated 20th of December 1982.
The search continues and perhaps there will be more to uncover for this unproduced team, however the inclusion of different colour ways and additional vehicles are a welcome update and show that SWS Force were a serious contender for the Action Force Team. After being forgotten for 25 years, they are back in the fold... no man left behind.David Tree