Sunday, July 27, 2008

Big differences in big shows

After being in the hobby almost seven years and focusing on three different military time periods, I have been exposed to various aspects of the hobby. Granted, my observations have been at a distance when it comes to the two largest "fan" conventions in the 1/6 hobby.


Those two big shows are A Weekend of Heroes and Dragon Expo. The first show A Weekend of Heroes (WOH) is the older of the two conventions and shows no particular allegiance to any of the product manufacturer companies, although Toy Soldier has a very strong presence at the show. This particular show is held in California each year in the greater Los Angeles area. The best thing about this show might be that it has no exclusive deal with any single manufacturer and therefore represents more to a wider audience. However, it must be noted, the show has expanded to include the airsoft and reenactor hobbies as well. This is most likely a result of making certain the show is financially viable. There is a great deal of overlap between the hobbyists in all of these pastimes.


WOH also leads the way in booking great guests, particularly those individuals who have distinguished themselves on the field of battle. This year special guests included two Vietnam veterans: John Stryker "Tilt" Meyer, a member of the famous MACV SOG special operations organization in Vietnam, and COL Paul Longgrear, an Army Special Forces trooper and defender of the command bunker during the battle of the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp during the height of the Tet Offensive.


The WOH show is organized by a third party not directly affiliated with any of the manufacturers. John Lu is the driving force behind WOH and has done a remarkable job under sometimes difficult circumstances.


The other show is completely run by Dragon Models, Ltd. The best thing about this particular show is that it has made attempts to make the show more accessible by holding shows outside California. The 2005 show was held in Atlanta and this year it is being held in Virginia Beach. For that alone, I applaud DML's efforts. They also run a professional show and make available some really exciting exclusive kits for those attending the show.


They have also an effort to have special guests at the show and some have been of the international flavor. Like DML's 1/6 products, the show is heavily slanted to the World War II era. I focused exclusively on this era for several years, but now that I am focused on the Vietnam era, I am not as familiar with the offerings of DXPO '08. I couldn't find any references to VIP guests on the site. Their show exclusives are usually tributes to living war heroes who also attend the show as VIPs. They do have such exclusives, but do not mention either StuG commander Bodo Spranz or Luftwaffe ace Willi Reshcke attending the show. I cannot even confirm if either is still alive. One cannot really criticize DML for not having VIPs at this year's show as the pool of living World War II heroes shrinks dramatically everyday as virtually all veterans are in their 80s or older. Even Germany's Hitler Youth are most likely in their late 70s.


The talk of this year's show is the 1/6 functional version of the famous US M151 MUTT "Jeep" as its traditional large vehicle offering. If I recall correctly, this is the first such offering of an Allied vehicle. The show also offers a tribute to US Army General Omar Bradley. That choice is curious as DML has already produced a Bradley figure. I am not sure if this is a licensing issue with the families or not, but there are certainly some other worthy US military leaders worthy of 1/6 tributes. DML has done two US WWII generals, Bradley and four different George Patton figures. If your exposure to WWII is limited to the movie featuring Academy Award Winner George C. Scott and Karl Malden as Bradley, then that's all you need I guess. These were certainly the most celebrated of the field commanders from the United States. A tribute to Dwight Eisenhower, Bernhard Montgomery, James Gavin, Matthew Ridgway, Douglas MacArthur or Chester Nimitz would certainly be in order.

You'll note I didn't mention Maxwell Taylor... well that was on purpose. Because 101st Division Commander Taylor left his troops in the field at the Battle of the Bulge to attend a stateside conference tarnishes his career in the minds of some. His troops certainly took a dim view of this event. I think deputy commander Gen. Anthony McAullife, who assumed command of the 101st during the battle, is worthy of mention as well. His famous response of "Nuts" to a surrender request by German commander Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz is legendary. Taylor's political involvement in the Vietnam War is also looked upon with some skepticism by his critics. His appointment by John Kennedy to the newly created post of Military Representative to the President was seen as an attempt by the Kennedy administration to circumvent and diminish the authority and role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But I digress...

Both shows are worthy of the hobby, although DML certainly draws stark criticism from many hobbyists for its demonstrated penchant for producing World War II figures, the vast majority being Germans. However, if you are a WWII era hobbyists, this show can be Nirvana.

I frankly get concerned with each passing WOH that it will be the last. Without major sponsorship dollars and the exit of Blue Box Toys in the 1/6 market, it can't be easy to cobble together the money to plan and conduct the show with smaller companies like Toy Soldier.

Thankfully, there is something out there for modern collectors and World War II collectors. Both have their positives and negatives, but depending on your collecting and hobby proclivities, one or the other should be right for you.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Toy Soldier 7th Anniversary Figure Review

Toy Soldier has another winner with its Marine Force Recon Rifleman/Corpsman release marking its 7th anniversary in the business. The figure is not without its issues, but on the whole it is a must have for Vietnam and modern hobbyists. Alan Tsu and Toy Soldier are to be congratulated on their Vietnam product line. When no one else really seems interested, TS has delivered to the hungry Vietnam era hobbyist/collector/modeler.

The ERDL uniform is apparently the so-called Vivid Green or Medium Green pattern. The uniform looks very vivid out of the box and can use a little dirt on it. However, its cut and fit are exceptional. The material wonderfully mimics the rip stop material used in many Vietnam and later camouflage uniforms. The pockets are tacked down at the corners, but easily opened for those wanting to stuff them with ballast and such. The uniform jacket is the standard four pocket Jungle Uniform pattern with the trousers the same. A belt is included and the trousers have a drawstring bottom. Not sure if any modelers leave the drawstrings in as their bulk make them hardly functional and also make it difficult to blouse the boots.

The figure does come with headgear options, an ERDL beret and boonie. Both are well done and up to TS standards. I won't spend any real time on the footwear as it is the same as previous Nam era releases like the Ken Miller and OG107 uniform "carded" set.

Also included in the release are Sage Green Nomex Gloves, made from knit material and faux leather. While I applaud Toy Soldiers attempt at making functional, accurate items... I curse their very existence when trying to wrangle these gloves over tiny little fingers. But once I finish, I am more than happy with the result. I suggest a Xanax or Valium before attempting this feat.

The web gear is outstanding and continues to be the gold standard for Vietnam era gear at this scale. The web gear or LBE is the M1967 version, marked by the Davis quick release buckles on the web belt and pack harness and the plastic "spring closures" on the ammo pouches. The figure comes loaded with eight total ammo pouches, four each of the M16A1 20-round magazine round variety and the M14/M16A1 20-round magazine type. However, I must note here that a debate has developed as to the accuracy of the M14/M16 M1967 ammo pouches. There are critics who insist these were never issued in Vietnam, while others have tried to point out evidence of late war usage. The confusion may be over the similarity to the M16 30 round pouch which was issued in Vietnam, but has two key differences: side grenade straps and a strap and hook to connect to the squared-rings on the M56 LBE suspenders or M67 D-rings. The debate does dampen the release a bit, but intrepid modelers who care about accuracy will get to the bottom of the issue and make appropriate adjustments and modifications. Others will simply not care... I sort of fall in the middle a bit. Good news is Toy Soldier, unlike many of its competitors, includes sufficient magazines to fill each and every pouch. Dragon Models, please take note.

The hallmark of the M1967 webbing was its water resistant nylon material versus the duck material used for the M1956 and earlier web gear. This TS release material is nylon and in line with that difference. The figure also comes with two M1967 1-qt canteen pouches w/plastic canteens. Besides the Nylon material, the distinguishable difference from M1956 canteen carriers is the side pouch or pocket with Velcro hook and loop closure. If memory serves, these pouches were added for carrying and easy access to water purification tablets.

An M1967 butt pack is included as well as two M1967 compass/first aid dressing pouches, a canvas Marine jungle first aid kit, a strobe light pouch (early version) and a single tropical survival kit. Also included is another debated piece of gear, the M1967 USMC Nylon combat field pack and "H" suspender harness for the pack, including the aforementioned quick-release buckle. The debate centers on a similar theme as the M14/M16 ammo pouches. While it is clear these packs were utilized in Vietnam, they were apparently few in number if not in experimental and trial status. My litmus test is simply: Was it there? If it was there, regardless of distribution or quantity, it is fair game for use by the accuracy nut like myself. And to top it, the field pack is extremely well done and looks to be a marvelous 1/6 reproduction of the real item.

Perhaps the most anticipated piece in the boxed kit is the M3 medical bag, also known as the "Unit One" medical bag. Bashers needing gear for their medic or corpsman figures have had their prayers answered. Not only is this piece now produced, it is exceptionally well done. Its is functional, well-proportioned and will be one of those pieces we see going for $40 on eBay next year. It comes complete with adjustable shoulder strap with snap hook to D-ring connectors. It also features the US Caduceus emblem on the cover flap, denoting that it is medical gear.

Also called the medical instrument supply set, The "Unit One" bag, was a 3 compartment bag made of heavy canvas, and after 1968 of rubberized cotton. Nylon versions appeared in the early 1970s. The TS version replicates the duck canvas type. Typical contents of these bags include different sizes of dressings and bandages, blood volume expanders, aspirin, salt tablets, malaria tablets, morphine syrettes and other various medications and supplies. The TS 1/6 version is done as well as any other 1/6 piece of gear I have run across.



The boxed figure gives the hobbyist an option to kit this figure as a Navy Corpsman or as a Marine Rifleman, either as part of the storied USMC Force Reconnaissance. With that in mind, the boxed figure comes with weapons options to best fit which way you decide to gear him up. The first option is the XM177E2 carbine of the M16 family. The compact weapon with collapsible stock was a favorite of NCOs, officers and specialists within special operations community. This weapon is pretty much the same as released with the Kenn Miller figure from last year. While I do prefer the DML version of the XM177E2, the TS version is certainly nothing to take lightly. It comes with a sling made from "nylon parachute cord." The other option is the venerable M14 rifle carried by many marines and soldiers... and loved by most of them. While the M14 was heavier and more unwieldy than the M16 family of assault rifles, it was reliable and packed the punch of a 7.62mm NATO round. The Toy Soldier version of the M14 is comparable to the DML version and the Hot Toys indivdually-boxed version. Unlike the DML and Hot Toys versions, it does not have a working breech cover/charging handle. Its buttplate is however more detailed than the DML version and the wood receiver is smooth like the DML version. The Hot Toys version has a highly raised contoured wood grain line that have been rejected by most in the hobby as unrealistic. Nothing a little sandpaper and paint can't correct, however, but that is off the topic of the TS version. The best thing about the M14 is the OD sling that comes with it. It is perhaps the best version of the OD sling of the Vietnam era yet released. I put it on one of my M16A1s and put a leather M1907 sling on my M14.

The TF-1 body and headsculpts have also generated much discussion. The only real improvement of teh TF-1 body is the ability to remove plates at the shoulder to give the shoulders a much more natural appearance and give the arms more flexibility. However, the arms are attached to the shoulders with pin inserts that rely pretty much on friction to hold them in place and hold a pose. Over time this will not be a workable feature and modifications will have to be made to keep them serviceable. The figure also suffers from the same loose joint issues that previous releases do. To make it worse, they have plugged the screw access holes with plastic to give the body a smoother more realsitic look, but made it difficult for hobbyists to make modification to tighten loose joints. The waist articulation is also disappointing. The figure can pivot 360 degrees at the waist, but cannot bend at the waist. It can bend at the chest, but that is it.

The figure comes with two headsculpts, a regular sculpt and a painted camouflage sculpt. I am not at this point a big fan of the TS headsculpts. They lack a degree of depth and realism that other companies are mastering quite sufficiently. It is generally agreed the sculpt was inspired by actor Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, 61*, etc.). The camo sculpt is not bad by 1/6 standards.

On the whole, this is a great figure and a great value in context of quality boxed figures on the market today. Congratulations, Toy Soldier, for another great release. We wait with great anticipation to see if the previewed USMC infantryman will see the light of day in the coming months.

Here is an entire breakdown of the contents of the boxed kit:

Head Gear:


  • ERDL Boonie Hat
  • ERDL Beret
Uniform:


  • ERDL Tropical Combat Uniform-Jacket
  • ERDL Tropical Comabt Uniform-Pants w/Belt
  • OG T-Shirt
  • Footwear:
  • Tropical Combat Boots, improved 1966 version w/"Panama Sole"
Weapons:


  • XM177E1 Carbine w/Para Cord Sling
  • M14 Rifle w/OD Sling
  • 60's Contract KaBar Utility Knife w/Black Leather Sheath

Magazine & Grenades:

  • M16 20 rd Magazine x8
  • M14 20 rd Magazine x8
  • M67 Hand Grenade x4
  • M18 Smoke Grenade x2
  • M34 WP Grenade

Equipment & Backpack:

  • M1967 "H" Suspenders
  • M1956 Equipment Belt w/"Davis" Quick-Release Buckle
  • M1967 Small Arms Ammo Pouch M16-20rd x4
  • M1967 1-qt Canteen Pouch w/Canteen x2
  • M1967 Buttpack
  • M1967 Compass/First Aid Dressing Pouch x2
  • Canvas Marine Jungle First Aid Kit
  • Strobe LIght Pouch (early version)
  • Tropical Survival Kit
  • M1967 Small Arms Ammo Pouch M14-20rd x4
  • M1967 USMC Nylon Combat Field Pack
  • M1967 "H" Suspender Harness for USMC Combat Field Pack (w/Quick-Release Buckle)
  • Canvas "Unit One" Medic Bag

Other:

  • Sage Green NOMEX style Knit & leather made flight Gloves
  • T1-F (New) Body w/Camo-Painted Head & Bendy Hands
  • Bonus Extra Headsculpt-Unpainted

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Tribute to Medal of Honor Winner Robert L. Howard, COL, USA (Retired)
The following is information on my 1/6 scale tribute to Medal of Honor winner Robert L. Howard. Colonel Howard is now retired from the U.S. Army. He is originally from Opelika, AL and after a long and distinguished career of serving his country, Howard now resides in Texas. At left he is pictured along with fellow MOH recipient COL Wesley Fox (center). The two Vietnam legends are pictured attending the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial located adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, DC.

He entered the Army at Montgomery, AL as an enlisted man and retired as colonel.
As a staff sergeant in the Military Assistance Command Vietnam - Studies and Oberservation Group (MACV-SOG), Howard was recommended for the Medal of Honor on three separate occasions for three individual actions during a thirteen month period spanning 1967-1968. The first two nominations were downgraded to the award of the Distinguished Service Cross due to the covert nature of the operations in which Howard participated.

As a Sergeant First Class of the same organization, he risked his life during a rescue mission in Cambodia on 30 December 1968, while second in command of a platoon-sized Hornet force that was searching for missing American solider Robert Scherdin, and was finally awarded the Medal of Honor. It can be argued that Howard is the most highly decorated combat soldier in U.S. military history.

Col. Howard retired to Texas and spends much of his free time working with veterans. He also takes periodic trips to Iraq to visit with active duty troops.

Decorations and Awards
  • Congressional Medal of Honor
  • Distinguished Service Cross (Two Awards)
  • Silver Star
  • Bronze Star for Valor (4th Award, Three Oak Leaf Clusters)
  • Purple Heart (8th Award, Seven Oak Leaf Clusters)
  • Defense Superior Service Medal
  • Legion of Merit (4th Award, Three Oak Leaf Clusters)
  • Bronze Star for Meritorious Achievement
  • Air Medal for Valor (3rd Award, Two Oak Leaf Clusters)
  • Army Commendation Medal for Valor (4th Award, Three Oak Leaf Clusters)
  • Air Medal for Aerial Flights
  • Army Meritorious Service Medal (3rd Award, Two Oak Leaf Clusters)
  • Army Commendation Medal for Meritorious Achievement (3rd Award, Two Oak Leaf Clusters)
  • Joint Service Commendation Medal
  • Joint Service Achievement Medal
  • Army Achievement Medal
  • Good Conduct Medal, 4th Award
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Armed Forces Reserve Medal
  • PNCO Ribbon W/2 device
  • Army Overseas Ribbon
  • Army Service Ribbon Expeditionary Medal (3rd Award, Two Oak Leaf Clusters)
  • Vietnam Service Medal
  • Vietnam Campaign Medal with 60 device
  • Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Gold Star
  • Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star
  • Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star
  • Vietnam Honor Medal (2nd Award)
  • Vietnamese Wound Medal
  • Vietnamese Civil Action Medal (2nd Award)
  • Army Presidential Unit Citation, (2nd Award, One Oak Leaf Cluster)
  • Navy Valorous Unit Citation
  • Army Meritorious Unit Citation
  • Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm (2nd Award, One Oak Leaf Cluster)
  • Republic of Korea Samil Medal
  • Combat Infantryman's Badge
  • Aircraft Crewman's Badge
  • Master Parachute Badge
  • Pathfinder Badge
  • Air Assault Badge
  • Expert Infantryman's Badge
  • Vietnamese Ranger Badge
  • Army Ranger Tab
  • Special Forces Qualification Tab
  • Thai Master Parachute Wings
  • Vietnamese Master Parachute Badge
  • French Parachutist Badge
  • Korean Master Parachute Badge
  • Thai Balloonist Badge

Catching Up

Economics of the Hobby Shifting

A lot has happened since my last blog entry. But I am going to try and get back into the swing of things. The hobby has really been impacted by soaring oil prices and generally a shift to higher end figures. Dragon Models (DML), once the cat's meow in the hobby, is dropping dramatically in terms of value. DML not only lags in quality, but its insistence on focusing largely on World War II German figures has really caused a lot of the serious hobbyists to shift loyalty to other companies, even if that means paying higher prices.



TS 7th Anniversary Figure Delights

Vietnam fans' loyalty was rewarded as Toy Soldier dedicated its 7th Anniversary Figure to a Vietnam subject matter. Toy Soldier (TS), quickly becoming the standard of quality and value in the hobby, released a Vietnam Marine Force Recon figure. The figure was kitted with enough gear so that the hobbyist could choose whether the figure was a Corpsman or a rifleman. Toy Soldier still has some issues with its base nude figures, but the quality of their gear means most hobbyists will likely not care. And nude figures with quality headsculpts are not difficult to come by. Apparently Hot Toys newest body style is the one in vogue, but for nearly $30 I will have to pass. With over 300 figures in my collection and my desire for consistency, replacing bodies even on a small scale would be daunting, especially financially.

This figure was not only outfitted with quality gear, but gear never before released. The web gear is based on the M1967 load bearing equipment with the Davis "quick release" buckle system on the backpack harness and pistol belt. The figure also came with a highly desired Unit One Medical Bag (aka Medical Bag #3). This piece was not only highly desired and unique, but it is particularly well executed.

The figure was not short on gear, complete with four M67 small arms pouches for 20-round M16 magazines as well as four M67 pouches for M14 magazines or 30-round M16 magazines. Another new piece of gear is the USMC's Nylon Combat Field Pack, complete with M67 "H" harness and its Davis quick-release buckles. The figure comes complete with two different small arms weapons, the venerable M14 and the CAR15/XM177E2 carbine.

The weapons also came with enough M14 and M16 20-round magazines to fill all of the pouches that come with the boxed set.

The sage green Nomex gloves are well done, but understandibly difficult to put on the hands of the figure. Word from TS's foremost US retailer, Echo Base Toys, the limited edition figure will be sold out very soon. Only a couple dozen left at EBT and nearly 400 sold in the first week of release.

DML Kirby disappoints

While Toy Soldier hit a home run with its Force Recon release, DML's recent release of the Mike Kirby figure was clumsily swing and missing. Labeled as insulting to almost anyone who has been in the hobby for at least a short while. Hobbyists have been crying out for Vietnam-era figures for several years. And finally DML was going to answer, but the figure virtually offered nothing new, other than a pot-bellied John Wayne look-alike figure. The uniform, gear and weapons are literally exact copies of that released with the Mike Brown Vietnam figure five years ago. No update in the molded pouches, molded boots and elastic webbing. This might have passed, except the MSRP of around $50. Given that the only value in the Kirby box is its M16A1 rifle and perhaps the pot-bellied nude figure, the Mike Brown figure from five years ago is not difficult to snap up on eBay for under $35.

Even the hobby's retailers suggest the figure will only be good for a few loose parts, but admit it will be hard to post a profit with few of the pieces marketable. Posters at the hobby's foremost forums expressed everything from bewilderment to insult when the figure was first previewed.

This rekindles the old discussion similar to the chicken or egg debate. Does DML justify not producing Vietnam or other underserved eras because they don't sell well? Or do they not sell well because DML puts insufficient effort into them just to be able to demonstrate an effort to hobbyists? Well, its a bit of both, I fear. Most of the first round of 'Nam figures DML produced nearly six years ago are still widely available. The Mike Green Beret figure, Navy SEAL Oscar, Force Recon Nate, MACV SOG Ron, Viet Cong Scout Linh and Force Recon RTO Jake can be easily hunted down on eBay or at online retailers. The obvious glut in that market surely impacts DML's decision to tred lightly on the 'Nam releases. But I will venture to say if DML chooses to put any thought and effort into upgrading their outdated molded gear with cloth gear or puts out a totally new subject matter from 'Nam, I think hobbyists would surely buy the release. Certainly they would purchase more than they will the Kirby figure. At last check, only three of 28 Kirby figures posted on eBay have sold.

DiD's 3R Japanese Figure Long Time Coming

DiD has made some strides recently in placating those hobbyists who love WWII, but are not thirlled with the endless march of gray and black clad denizens of the Third Reich. Recent releases of British and American figures, along with a highly regarded Japanese figure (released under DiD's 3R brand) have created a tremendous buzz amongst WWII hobbyists. Even those hobbyists who don't focus on WWII clamored for the Japanese figure recently hitting the shelves. The Japanese figure is a rare one. DML has never produced a Japanese figure and probably never will. Hobbyists speculate their refusal is rooted in the bias and cultural bitterness still harbored between China and Japan.

Whatever the reason, obviously capitalism is not as important as maintaining the generations-old anger and resentment even though its doubtful any DML decision-maker was directly involved in the events that produced the divide. BBi and In The Past Toys both produced Japanese figures. The BBi versions were quite popular and for the longest time the only real choice in Japanese WWII figures, if you could even find them. The ITPT Japanese paratrooper was a nice idea, but short on execution.

Soldier Story Produces Quality

One of the newer entrants into the 1/6 arena is Soldier Story. This company has produced some interesting figures, including various Chinese military figures from different eras. SS has produced several modern US military and CIA figures. Its first tribute figure is one of then-Israeli-general Ariel Sharon. Soldier Story is well known for the meticulous detail and functionality of its weapons, uniforms and equipment.

Hot Toys still produces high quality -- and still expensive -- figures. The best news is that Hot Toys has started producing individually packaged weapons sets.

Is $80 the New $40?

A short time ago, a $40-$50 figure was considered the standard price for a quality figure. That price has swelled to around $80. Many hobbyists will pay the higher price tag, but will be able to buy fewer boxed figures at that price. As companies with higher end products whet the appetites of hobbyists, DML products (once the gold standard) barely pique the interests of those hobbyists not drooling over every SS Officer released or the 23rd iteration of a Wehrmacht infantryman.

As Hot Toys, Soldier Story, Toy Soldier and DiD move to topple DML's long reign over the 1/6 modeling hobby, we're going to have to get used to longer intervals between fewer releases... and more buck for your bang.

The hobby is still alive and well... if you can still afford it.



Thursday, August 17, 2006

Charles Winstone from DiD - Review

I just received the Charles Winston release from DiD. Overall, I am pleased with what I see at first glance.

First of all, it’s an incomplete kit as all DiD American figures have been (I have only purchased one German figure). That is a given and it was obvious from all the pics we saw prior to release.

Uniform

I really like the uniform. The shirt, trousers and M41 field jacket are particularly well done IMHO. I dare say I like the field jacket better than any others I have seen. The cut and material are well done I think. Nothing really noteworthy about the trousers or shirt except they are solid pieces. The patch is embroidered and looks good. It is obviously a bit thick, but still looks nice.

The only issue with the uniform is perhaps the belt. I know a lot of people were excited about this, but it doesn't work for a soldier manning a Ma Deuce since the buckle is the type worn by officers. The enlisted buckle was the open buckle type much like the modern US Army utility web belt. This belt is like the modern US Army dress belt buckle. But it’s a welcome piece for those officer bashes.

Footwear

I separated the footwear from the uniform portion as it has a few problems. The boots are the earlier 1939 "Type 1" service shoe with toe cap. I personally like them better than any other USNormandy, it was in the minority probably. Since the 29th saw its first combat action in Normandy, I feel like most would have the standard rough outs. There was a version of the rough outs with a seam across the toe area, but the texture of the rough outs is very different from this particular shoe. This has the smooth finished look of the 1939 version.

The leggings -- although a different pattern -- are once again problematic. They are the shorter version, but still too big allowing for a very loose fit around the top of the boot/lower leg. Also, there are two few eyelets for the number of hooks, so they have to be laced through the hooks from the front side as well as the back side of the eyelets in order to connect all the hooks.

Headgear

The helmet netting is a much better color than the stark off-white color of the Puller release. That is a great improvement.

Otherwise, there is nothing really dramatic to report here. Same basic pattern as the George Puller helmet. The 29th ID emblem on the helmet looks really nice I think. It has more of a hand-painted look vs. a decal look. Still waiting for someone to put an "end keeper" on the buckle side of the chin strap.

M1928 Cartridge Belt

This is the only web gear with the release and I think it has certainly met my expectations. The buckle is a new pattern with rounded metal compared to the flat metal of the pistol belt in other DiD American releases. The male end of the buckle appears to be soldered or welded to the rest of the buckle, indicating they took some care to try and more accurately fabricate this piece.

The material appears to be less thick and stiff than the fabric DML releases. I am very pleased with this and have already purchased five more for my guys. It is unlikely a .50 gunner would wear this item as the gunner probably would carry a carbine vs. the M1 Garand for which this belt is designed to carry ammo clips.

M2 and Accessories

I am not much of an expert on the WWII version of the M2 and its accoutrements, but I do like this weapon. It is all metal with a functional barrel carry handle (although the barrel doesn't detach it appears). The tripod seems well done and the front leg joint can be tightened.

The ammo can appears to be particularly well done when compared to the photos I was able to dredge up. And the cloth ammo belt can be easily tucked into the can and the lid closed.

Headsculpt

The headsculpt for Charles Winstone is a bit odd I must say. It reminds me of a demented Crispin Glover (is that even possible?). The face does have some character, but it still is a departure from what we normally see. The one thing about DiD's sculpts of late is that they don't come close to matching the skin tone of the bodies. The faces look more plethoric in tint while the body looks a bit jaundiced in comparison.

Final Thoughts


Critics of DiD (myself included) will still have some nitpicking to do, but those who like the execution of the gear they produce (also like me) will be pleased. Gear heads will love the M2 and its accessories.

The piece parts will sell really well on the loose parts market, but those looking for a complete kit will need some other stuff to round it out.

I am sure my thoughts will firm up one way or another as I play around with the stuff some more.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Ricky Foster Review: It's the little things that drive you nuts

Here is an "at first glance" review of DiD's Ricky Foster 101st Airborne figure. I received mine today from Echo Base Toys.

I first noticed...
When I first cracked the front of the package, I was immediately drawn to the stark contrast of color between the jump jacket and trousers. The M42 Jump Jacket is a light OD shade (read: Khaki) and the trousers are a darker OD shade 7.

The tale of two kitties
This brought me to the realization that the uniform is not a complete M42 jump suit. The trousers are actually paratrooper-modified M43 trousers as seen during the Market Garden operation and beyond. So, this kit actually contains a figure dressed from the waist up in an M42 Normandy era uniform and pathfinder style. From the waist down, with the M43 buckle boots and M43 trousers, this figure is a Market Garden and beyond figure.

I should not be alarmed that these trousers are M43s since the pics on the DiD website clearly show the waist tabs and slit pocket reminiscent of the M43 trousers.

Rank schizophrenia
The kit comes with insignia for a sergeant and corporal and a private... one patch each rank. So your figure either has to have one sleeve without rank or be a private from one side and a corporal from the other.

Attention to detail? We don't need no stinkin' detail!
The M1 Garand is well done with the exception of the swing swivel hooks and the sling itself. DiD goes to such great lengths to have accurate detail on so much of their gear and then just drop the ball in other areas. The leather sling actually is configured more like an M1923 web sling than the M1907 leather sling. It doesn't have the accurate two-pronged hooks, only a series of brass colored jump rings. The swivel hook attachments are also the round brass-colored jump rings instead of the wide, rectangular swivel hooks. The sling is pretty much just like their web sling on the Corbin Black Thompson, except with a leather like material.

Move along, nothing new to see here...
The M1A1 Thompson is pretty much the same as the Corbin Black release as is the M1C/M2 helmet. The M1936 pistol belt is also the same.

What's new and exciting!
The grenade pouches, training gas mask carrier and the five-cell 20-round magazine pouches all appear to be up to advance billing. All are well done. The LTD fasteners need a bit of cleaning up around the outside where excess glue is collected.

The Parachutist's Rifle Assembly Holster, aka the "Griswold bag," and the Thompson SMG cover appear to be particularly well done. The Thompson cover is especially well done, but can be a tight squeeze around the rear sight assembly. The Griswold Bag is the original shorter version before they added length to accommodate a Thompson with a Cutts compensator on the muzzle.

Nothing particularly noteworthy about the M1 bayonet and scabbard.

The T5 chute looks to be particularly well done, but has no reserve chute though reserve chutes were standard practice by U.S. troops according to history scholars specializing in this area. The only other issue I see with it is the odd yellowish color of the harness strap assembly. The harness lock appears to be a bit sturdier than other versions, but its functionality makes it a bit bulky in its thickness.

The M17 binoculars case would perhaps be the best on the market if the strap matched the case. That is easily fixed, however. Nothing particularly noteworthy about the M3 binoculars.

The "fuzzy" headsculpt is very well done. The hair on the sculpt is well done in particular I think. It is not as wiry or kinky as it appears in photos. It is fairly straight and softer than it appears in pictures. Now, after a helmet crushes it down, it might change.

The kit does come with eleven (11) magazines (counting the one in the Thompson. They are all metal and thankfully someone out there gets "it" when it comes to providing enough mags to fill the gear in the rest of the kit.

Neither here nor there...
The extra molded headsculpt is okay if you plan to display your figure without headgear on. The kit does come with the waterslide helmet decals as noted on the DiD site, but they are not as crisp or well defined as the symbols you see on the site. The "club" symbol could just as well be a bush. Don't expect much here. Also, the helmet netting is provided, but needs to be dyed. It is an off white cotton.

The M43 buckle boots are better than the pitiful attempt Toy Soldier made, but not as well done as the NLM version. Whether to use these or the latest DML molded pattern is a toss up IMHO.

This is an "at first glance" review, so I may discover other things as I assemble the figure. But for now, I wouldn't expect any more pleasant surprises.

You can check out this figure at DiD's web site

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

History, important or not...

One of the things I enjoy most about this hobby is the research that goes into getting a figure correct. I focus on World War II and this can prove somewhat daunting. Color photography was still in its infancy, especially in terms of what worked on the battlefield. There is some great color photography that came out of the Pacific Theater from Marine Corps Combat Photographers.

However, in terms of finding good color photographs, or good black and white for that matter, its not as easy as later conflicts. But I do enjoy reading and researching online, in libraries and - sigh - Amazon.com

Nonetheless, learning about history and learning specifically about the efforts and sacrifices of the World War II generation is especially gratifying.

Invariably as I post some of my work on the World War II 1/6th message boards, I always learn something new in terms of historical accuracy.

Other 1/6th hobbyists are not nearly as concerned about history or accuracy necessarily. And that is perfectly acceptable. Its not my cup of tea to create "fantasy" figures, but some of those who do create these fantasy figures are incredible artisans and artists.

By the way, if you are one of the few reading this blog and don't have a clue what I am talking about, check out some of my recent work here...




Thursday, March 16, 2006

A note about this hobby...

Okay, the fact that my wife still calls the pieces of my collection "GI Joes" gets on my nerves. I guess this is simply because it conveys a very superficial understanding of what this hobby is all about.

Yes, at their very core, these would be categorized as dolls. We in the hobby prefer terms like Plastic Crack, Mandollies, Battle Barbies and so on. I have found some very interesting side benefits to the hobby. I have learned more about military history than I would have before. My understanding and knowledge of World War II has particularly broadened.

The boxed kits in this hobby are a far cry in quality, accuracy, detail and expense from the traditional GI Joe figures one might see in Wal Mart. The serious hobbyist spends a lot of time surfing the internet and reading volumes of books learning about subjects for customization.


Kitbashers (of which I am one) buy and assemble loose parts to create a figure that represents the most detailed and historically accurate work possible. We also custom or scratch build pieces of gear, customize existing pieces, repaint gear and figures, dye uniforms and more.

I guess to sum this up, I don't have a single GI Joe figure in my collection which numbers more than 250. Now, I am off to play with my Mandollies and Battle Barbies.

:)

The new plight of modern collectors

I got seriously into this hobby at the height of the war on terror in Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq. This was a great time to collect modern figures and my sense of patriotism certainly fueled my foray into the modern figure collection and customization.

Since that time, several factors have contributed to the decline of the modern collection. I have since started focusing almost exclusively on the World War II era. One major factor was when President George Bush declared, from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, the conclusion of "
major combat operations in Iraq."

I believe the other major factor is the almost total exit of Blue Box International's Elite Force 1:6 line of figures. Some of the best boxed modern combat figure kits came from BBI in the last several years.

BBI has but one modern release since its Weekend of Heroes exclusive two pack. Its special anniversary edition SEAL Team 3 HAHO figure. And it has not released a World War II figure since its D-Day Anniversary line of paratroopers almost two years ago. In contrast, Dragon Models (DML) has released over four dozen figures in the last 12 months, albeit entirely in the World War II genre. DML's last modern military release was in October 2004, the Ralph 2d ID "Stryker Brigade" figure. And it received only a lukewarm reception from the die hard modern collectors. Little did they realize then that DML would depart the modern stage for some time. For the pedantic, DML did release a Dragon Expo Exclusive twin pack of Kenneth Bowra which included Bowra in modern and Vietnam era gear.

Add to that the apparent exit from the 1:6 market by U.S.-based 21st Century Toys and the picture gets more bleak.

DML has made no announcements regarding modern figures to be released this year, although it should be noted DML has released to the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) some limited edition modern Army figures sporting the new Army Combat Uniform (ACU), the successor to the woodland BDU and three color desert DCU.

It really puzzles me why DML would make general releases of these new modern figures. It should also be noted that the figures are very lightly equipped from what I have read.

Sure the Toy Soldier and a.c.e. continue to provide quality carded uniform and accessory sets to whet the appetite of the modern collector, but can the community of collectors survive solely on niche gear releases?

But, like it or not, World War II sells. And apparently World War II German figures sell.

More to come...

Off we go....

Well, they say no good deed goes unpunished. So, here is a good deed for anyone who should choose to call it that. I have decided to fly off into the world of blogging.


In this space over the near future, I will try to share thoughts, insights, tips and other such information on a hobby I have come to invest a lot of material, time and mental resources into... the world of historically accurate 1/6 scale figure modeling.


That has my first post complete... stand by for news!!!