Through the first four years of GI Joe, there weren’t too many figures that I didn’t see up close. Me and my friends had all of the original Joes, either in their straight arm or swivel arm incarnations. The one figure I don’t remember was the silver pads version of Grand Slam, and Listen ‘n Fun Tripwire never came to Canada, but otherwise I saw them all. But things changed starting in the fifth year, as more figures were being released that I would have no direct exposure to.
For one, the number of new figures being produced had grown substantially from 1982 (16 figures) to 1986 (32 figures). It would grow again in 1987 and 1988. And one of the catalysts for the big increase in those later years was more vehicle drivers.
GI Joe had originally been envisioned as a vehicle-centric toyline, given that boxed vehicles could drive significantly more revenue per unit than the carded figures.
Most of the kids I knew would acquire some carded figures each year, but none of them was getting more than a few vehicles from any given series. Some of my friends were becoming less interested in GI Joe by then, too, as the vehicles were becoming less realistic, and video games, RPGs and sports started pulling some of them away from toys entirely. Considering that I lived in a small town with few toy retailers, that 1986 presented a larger assortment of vehicles with drivers, and that less of my friends were in the market for GI Joe toys, it was obvious why I didn’t cross paths with some of the vehicle drivers.
Two 1986 toys I didn’t have access to were the Night Raven and Terror Drome. A kid who lived on my side of town owned the Night Raven, sure, but we weren’t close, so its pilot, Strato-Viper, was still a mystery to me. The Cobra Terror Drome and Firebat, and the Firebat pilot, AVAC, were actually a near miss in my collection, since my mom had planned to give them to me for Christmas in 1986, before Sears canceled her order and sent her scrambling to find something else at the last minute. Regardless, those Cobra pilots invaded my consciousness through the GI Joe catalog, the Sears Wishbook, the cartoons and the comic books. So although I never played with them, those figures were important to me in some way.
Had the Cobra Terror Drome come into my possession, AVAC would have been a key figure in my childhood. I know this now because Steam-Roller, the driver of the Mobile Command Centre – the biggest toy I ever owned – has a special place in my heart.
The Terror Drome would have been the centre of play from the day it was supposed to arrive, in 1986, until I packed all my Joes away for good, in 1988. And that would have changed the GI Joe vs. Cobra battle immeasurably.
My childhood Cobras had no home base. Instead, they were always attacking the Joes, since the good guys had stationary equipment, including the Flak, Watch Tower, Bivouac and Transportable Tactical Battle Platform. Other than my Alpine/climbing scenarios with a makeshift Cobra base at the top of our staircase, the bad guys were rarely stationary. But the Terror Drome had the gravitational pull of a small moon. And so AVAC would have been so important to me, given his role as Firebat pilot.
AVAC’s three colours – silver, red and black – are stunning. He is shiny and looks important within the Cobra pilot corps. The silver parts are smooth, a form of armour plating, whereas the red parts show the ripples of more natural clothing underneath. And the black of his boots, pistol, belt, gloves and visor creates a natural contrast that solidifies the overall look.
The figure has a natural inclination to show wear, particularly on his helmet, and on any part where the silver paint is prominent. This means that while a mint version of AVAC looks spectacular, it doesn’t take too much playwear before the figure starts to look less than stellar. Hence, he will be one of the last figures I ever let my kids play with.
I’m careful never to put my thumb directly on the black Cobra emblem on his silver chest when I pick him up, knowing what happens to the silver paint applications on the chests of Cobra Officers, Viper Pilots and the silver-pads version of Grand Slam.
His simple parachute pack is a decent enough accessory, with good moulding and the correct colour choice (black), but I know putting it on and removing it, repeatedly, would accelerate his chest wear.
The moulding is good, though soft in spots. And although the helmet is cool, it is clearly out of scale. I know figures like Beach Head, Cross Country and Shockwave are known for their big heads, but AVAC is the prime example of a pinhead figure. To have a human head fit into a helmet that size requires a scaled, child-size head or a lack of chin and jaw. This would be less noticeable if his body wasn’t so bulky, which just exacerbates the issue.
Helmet sizes seems to be something Hasbro’s designers struggled with, as AVAC’s was too small, Steel Brigade’s was too big, the BATS head was too tall, the Techno-Viper too wide. And yet, regardless of his imperfect helmet, I somehow like this figure immensely.
Shortly after putting AVAC into the Terror Drome for the first time, as an adult, I gave him a nickname, “the Main Event”. And the reason is silly, of course.
When a bunch of Cobras are in the Terror Drome, it seems like they’re hiding out, because the walls are so high and only a few really have any tasks to do other waiting around for GI Joe to attack. Then they ask AVAC to jump into the Firebat and fight the Joes. So in my mind, AVAC in the Firebat is the Main Event.
I got my first AVAC through eBay in 2014, from a dealer in Tofino, BC, about six hours from here, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This fact fascinates me, because I’ve been to that little town a dozen times over the years, and it would be almost as exciting to meet up with another Joe collector as to go to the beach or visit the Roy Henry Vickers art gallery there.
That first AVAC was a little beaten up, so in the years since, I traded him away and acquired two better conditioned figures, one from BTNT Toys in Salt Lake City, on a work trip in 2018, and another from This N That, a small collectibles shop in Courtenay, BC, later that same year. Owning two AVACs seems logical, given that I have the original, dark red Firebat, and a bright red, mailaway Firebat that I acquired from Hasbro Canada when I was in high school. Both need pilots.
But, interestingly, I’ve never put them both on display together.
I’m just not sure I could handle the excitement of having two Main Events.