Toxo-Zombie and I have a short but eventful history. I got my first in a lot of GI Joe from eBay in 2009. I didn’t know what to make of him for years, and so he traveled with me as I moved from Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territories and finally to British Columbia. But by 2017, I was committed to selling my post-1988 singles. My unappreciated Toxo-Zombie was part of a lot of 33 figures I sold for $100 on Used Victoria.
Yep, some lucky collector paid $3 for a Toxo-Zombie.
When I think of the mistakes I’ve made along the way as a collector, clearing out those late-run figures at bargain prices was one of the biggest. And Toxo-Zombie’s meager return stands out from that transaction.
But within two years, I would become desperate to track down another one.
Back in 2015, I sold 100 of my doubles to a local guy who was new to GI Joe and going heavy, quickly. Sometimes I had to sell figures and vehicles at a discount locally, but he paid fair market value. And he’d contact me whenever he needed something specific, knowing how many doubles I had amassed. It was a Fang one time, a Steel Brigade figure another time, and finally a silver pads Grand Slam.
We spent a fair amount of time shooting the shit on each of those transactions. I didn’t know much about him, personally, but there’s a ton you can learn when just confining yourself to talking about collectibles. And we’d run into each other at toy shows or at Cherry Bomb, and we’d stand there talking for 10 or 15 minutes every time. His enthusiasm for collecting was palpable and it was refreshing to chat with someone who seemed to care about the toys themselves, who wasn’t trying to just check them off a list.
Early on, our differing collecting goals kept us out of each other’s way. I believed he was prioritizing all the figures up to 1986 first, as I would have. Even though I had sold him so many figures early on, I didn’t think he’d catch up to me too quickly. I could only ever imagine collecting in linear terms, from oldest to newest, starting with the commons and moving into the obscure and expensive figures later.
Then, one day, we were talking. He asked if I’d ever seen a Cobra Terror Drome at the local toy show, which was coming up in two weeks. “That’s what I really want to find,” he said. And in that moment, I realized we were on a collision course.
When we saw each other at the toy show, I was more guarded in talking about what I spotted, the tables I was thinking of circling back to. There was no Terror Drome, but there were other ways we could step on each other’s toes.
After the show, he reached out to one of the dealers and tracked down a Cobra Missile Command Centre.
It was then that I felt an unhealthy combination of jealousy and fear.
The Sears Exclusive Cobra Missile Command Centre was grail piece I had resigned myself against ever trying to hunt down. Super rare and super flimsy? Also, super expensive. And I’m not sure I could ever justify spending so much on one collectible, not when I was sharing bank accounts with a more pragmatic partner.
Of course, he found a Terror Drome before me, scooping one up at Cherry Bomb Toys.
One year later, he and I both caught wind that a local guy with a ridiculous collection was liquidating everything at reasonable prices. He got there the day before me, and took a boxed Flagg and a loose Defiant for $500, combined. I couldn’t have snuck those two toys into my house – not when I already owned a Flagg, and my wife already hated it – but still the thought of missing that deal was another moment of extreme frustration for me.
He and I went back to that collector every week or two, separately unearthing new treasures, and we compared notes – cautiously – as we went along. From that collection, I was mainly focused on 1982-87 boxed vehicles, the ones I was missing, the ones I owned in incomplete states, the ones whose box art I liked best, the ones that I had an emotional attachment to. Meanwhile, he was picking up some incredible pieces, including the Dreadnok Air Assault and the Toxo-Lab.
I have no reason to complain, of course, having picked up a Char D’Assault, Vamp Mark II mailaway, boxed Falcon Glider, etc. But if he hadn’t also been going back so frequently, some of the diamonds he found would be in my collection today.
He had become my infuriating competition. But I liked him immensely.
Whenever we saw each other after that, we’d debrief on our finds.
“I didn’t even see the Blue SNAKE,” he told me. And he asked, “Why did you pass on the Dreadnok set?”
It’s still a touchy subject. Although I’ll go into it, one day.
He told me about the Toxo-Lab, which hadn’t interested me whatsoever.
“I wasn’t sure I’d like it. But it’s probably my favourite playset. Ever. I just need to find a Toxo Zombie to go with it.”
“I wish I knew you were looking for him,” I said. “I used to have one. But I sold it for $3, a few months ago.”
In 2018, as another toy show approached, we messaged each other. This time, he had full run of the floor because I was stuck at home after my kids brought hand, foot and mouth disease into our house. And he sent me pictures and told me about what he found, then asked if I wanted him to pick up anything for me. A seller had three Python Patrol figures at a good price and since he had no interest, he offered to grab them for me. I happily took him up on the offer, but a few days later, he ghosted me.
I texted him one day and we were supposed to meet up. But that never happened.
And I texted him again the next day, and his roommate responded, saying he was tired and lying down.
I didn’t hear from him again and didn’t chase him down because I thought he’d decided to keep those figures for himself. I remember the first time I saw Python Patrol, and how impressed I was after being nonplused, spotting them in a guidebook. I pictured that he might feel how I once had, seeing them in hand for the first time and falling in love. But the truth of what happened is way more complex than reneging on a deal.
My friend and I didn’t see each other again for a year after that, despite me going to Cherry Bomb Toys regularly. It wasn’t until after two more toy shows had passed, each six months apart, that our paths crossed again.
“I haven’t seen you in forever,” I said, or something like that.
In small talk, I asked him if he’d spotted any good deals. He had a boxed G1 Jetfire, and he held it up for me to see. While we talked, other collectors walked all around him, stopping to admire the box. Clearly, he had secured a grail piece for Transformers collectors.
I finally asked him about the Python Patrol figures, and he told me he was still holding them for me. And then he told me that his fiancée had passed away just after that toy show.
This was a guy who was a few years younger than me, and his partner might have been a few years younger than him.
“Was it unexpected?” I said, somehow able to ask a coherent question.
He said, “Yes,” and I could see how much it had effected him, how much it continued to effect him, and how much it would effect him for the rest of his life. He told me about her, how she had always been excited about his collection, how she had helped him set up the Flagg and the Defiant and had also played with the Toxo-Lab.
I remembered seeing them together once, at a previous toy show, and how happy they had been.
“Did you ever find that Toxo-Zombie?” I said.
“No. I haven’t been collecting much, lately,” he told me.
And in that moment, it became a priority for me to find a Toxo-Zombie.
The Toxo-Zombie was meant to be a mutated version of the Toxo-Viper V2, the idea being that the Toxo-Vipers were exposed to chemicals and mutated into the Toxo-Zombie. It was a great science fiction tale, a nod to the Joker in the 1989 version of Batman. And in that context, we can understand a lot about the figure design.
The Toxo-Zombie mould is well-crafted with lots of little details that should be appreciated. His upper body showcases a ribbed shirt, a flak jacket, detailed electronics, a few hoses, plus rips and various other points of damage, including a bullet in the heart with what might be an exit wound on the back. That’s commitment to the concept of an undead soldier, and clearly beyond the realm of military realism, entering the categories of science fiction and horror. His left foot, calf and hand are mutated, greying flesh with bloody sores and growths on the back of his leg and wrist. Back on his right side, things are more normal with only a spattering of assorted rips.
Where the whole mould comes together is his head, as the right side shows a shattered glass visor, whereas his left side is a deformed human face with scarring, growths, and purplish skin. Even the horn on his head is worn away from the damage that’s been inflicted on him, and one almost feels sympathy, apart from the knowledge that he was once a Cobra trooper, a soldier from a terrorist organization.
Again, this figure needs to be looked at in the context of the Toxo-Viper V2. The Toxo-Zombie’s outfit is a near exact replica, down to his combat boots, flak jacket, electronics and helmet. And yet this is a whole new mould with battle damage. The work on his helmet and exposed face is phenomenal. Although his main colours – pink and neon green – are gag-inducing, it’s amazing that they colour match to the Toxo-Viper, with all the purple parts having faded to pink on the Toxo-Zombie, and all the solid greens having faded to neon.
Again, that’s commitment to a concept.
I do have some beefs with the colour choices, however, including red gloves of Toxo-Viper being replaced by green gloves on Toxo-Zombie. And, especially, in the colour choices on his exposed face. The light purple skin is hard to distinguish from the pink of his outfit.
He could have also benefitted from a distinct colour on his left eye and teeth. But maybe that was necessary. Anything that would have drawn attention to this being a human who is suffering might have led to some serious pushback from parents and other advisory groups.
Now, I’d be tempted to customize him, if he hadn’t become such an expensive figure over the years. I would paint his eyeball and teeth a different colour, or add splashes of paint to differentiate Toxo-Zombies, so that if they were part of a larger troop it wouldn’t just be a wave of identical zombies in green and pink.
Every zombie on The Walking Dead is distinct.
The reason this figure is so valued on the secondary market, and so difficult to track down, is exactly that, that zombie culture has invaded North American consciousness.
How many people have zombie survival plans and have already thought about which friends they would like to be fighting alongside in a zombie apocalypse?
With COVID-19 on my mind, I’ve lost faith that some of us would survive long in such a scenario. We might willingly expose ourselves to getting bitten at the McDonalds drive-through or Starbucks – which the franchise owners would push to keep open – or while trying to track down a still-live Wi-Fi connection to post to Facebook, or trying to do selfies with real zombies.
Honestly, Eco-Warriors never floated my boat. I had seen it in almost real-time, since I had tracked down and read so many of the late-run GI Joe comic issues in the early to mid-90s. The issue where there were three stories – Eco-Warriors, DEF, and ninjas – being told simultaneous across the whole comic came from the same creative mind who brought us “Silent Interlude”. But GI Joe #124 was a slog to get through, as structured. On subsequent re-reads, I followed one storyline through to its conclusion, uninterrupted, then went back to the beginning and started the next storyline, rather than trying to follow all three stories simultaneously.
Now, I like that Hasbro had been taking chances on these subsets. The Eco-Warriors figures were well done, and expanded on the kind of story that couldn’t be told by just using Airtight and Toxo-Viper V1.
Had I been born later, and Eco-Warriors had arrived in the prime of my GI Joe interest, it’s hard to say what my reaction would have been. Would I have played with the figures or collected the team? My Joe days had come and gone prior to any subsets being used, apart from the Dreadnoks and Battle Force 2000. And there was a difference in my interests when I was seven years old, versus ten, so it all depends.
My best guess is that if Eco-Warriors arrived when I was young, I would have eaten it up, but if it arrived when I was older, I would have passed on it.
So, had I been eight or nine in 1992, I would have played with the subset. They would not have been my favourite – I would have been more into the mainline – but they would have been worth some of my time. I would have thought of Clean-Sweep as a nerd, but Flint was a stud in any suit, and I liked Seaquest DSV when I was a teenager, so I wouldn’t have been fussed about pairing Deep-Six with Flipper.
Yet, I’m not sure I would have known what to make of Toxo-Zombie, even back then…
As I said, my quest to track down another Toxo-Zombie became top-of-mind after running into my friend in 2019. I knew the figure would never give him solace, but at least it was something positive that might make a small dent in his overall unhappiness.
So I immediately put feelers out.
I worked on a trade, but when that didn’t materialize, I reached out to other close contacts. In the end, I bought one from a GI Joe collectors group on Facebook for 10 times what I had sold mine for, just two and a half years earlier. Then I picked up a double, a complete one, through a trade, months later.
Although I have had the best of intentions for one of those Toxo-Zombies to go to my friend, I haven’t yet given either to him. I had expected to see him at one of the toy shows, or at Cherry Bomb, since he was slowly moving back into collecting again. But then COVID hit and we’ve all been MIA ever since.
I will get the figure to him soon. But when I look at my phone and consider texting, all I can see is the last awkward interaction, between his roommate and me, a short time after his life had changed forever.
I’ve been hoping to run into him for more than a year now, and no luck. So maybe it’s time to just message him.
If you’re reading this now, buddy, don’t worry about those Python Patrol figures. They’re the last thing on my mind.
Just know that someone has been thinking about you and hoping you’re okay.
Let me know when you want your Toxo-Zombie and I can drop it off to you, any time.