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Monday, November 28, 2016

G.I. Joe: The Best of the Toys

What would the Internet be without lists? Um, possibly better, but my cohort Rick enjoys a good list, so I decided to compile a few lists of my favorite G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toys. I can't say I'm too into the idea of glorifying war to kids, but Hasbro made some fine, unique toys and really upped the action figure ante. Plus, nostalgia has its appeal, and what started as a simple task turned into a nostalgia trip of epic proportions. Hold on tight, dear listeners (or just look at the pictures).

I used the following criteria:
  • I only looked at toys from 1982-1986, the years I had them.
  • Did I own the toy? (This disqualifies at least one obviously awesome toy).
  • I tried to recall how I felt about them at the time.
  • I also tried to recall how I played with them--as military types, as superheroes, or as both (as I think I mentioned in the podcast, I tended not to play with them as G.I. Joe characters of Star Wars figures as Star Wars characters.)
  • Aesthetic appeal.
  • Do they have unironic appeal? (some with ironic appeal get their own category).
  • All toy images  and a lot of research info courtesy of Yo Joe.
Top 10 Joes (doesn't include figures sold with vehicles):

1): Roadblock, heavy machine gunner (1984/1986). Look at him. Big, bald, awesome. The Luke Cage of the Joes. He could get COBRA with that giant gun or beat the snot out of them (or beat the snot out of them with that giant gun). I had mild resentment of him for taking over the job of Rock 'n Roll, but not for long. I remember waiting for a very long time one Saturday evening for my dad and brother to return from Lionel Playworld with some of new Joes, especially Roadblock. When the second version came out, I liked him a little more, but now I like classic Roadblock better.

2): Snake Eyes, commando/ninja (1982/1985). The black-clad Wolverine/Boba Fett/Johnny Cash of the G.I. Joe world. Silent, mysterious, hideously burned, secretly a ninja. The star of the comics for sure. I resisted his charms some, but Larry Hama's work with him in the comics remains memorable from the burned face to his apparent death, tragic romance with Scarlett, ninja backstory, and central roll in the famous silent issue. Also, great for superhero play. I like the simple appeal of the original version, but then again, the second one has a sword and a wolf.

3): Breaker, communications (1982). He just appealed to me from the beginning, probably because he showed up in the first ads. I liked the headset accessory that attached to his helmet, too. In the comics, he didn't have a beard, had a Southern accent, and chewed a lot of bubble gum.

4): Snow Job, arctic trooper (1982). He showed up with a bunch of other new characters in a fantastic issue of the comic and caught my attention for some reason. Extra points for teaching me the term "snow job" as evidenced in this quote from his file card: "Submitted by Rock 'n Roll: 'You think we call him Snow Job because he does his job on skis? Negative. He's a con artist, pure and simple, except when he picks up his rifle-sure as heck, something's gonna fall down!'" The Sergeant Bilko of G.I. Joe? Also, he used the laser rifle that all the Joes used in the cartoon.

5): Stalker, ranger (1982). Listen. Anybody that can rock a beret that well gets some points. He just looks cool, and he played a major role in the comics, where he also said, "dag," a lot. His file card says, "Stalker was warlord of a large urban street gang prior to enlistment." I assume they wore berets, too.

Top L-R: Roadbloack '83, Roadblock '86,  Snake Eyes '82
Bottom L-R: Snake Eyes '85, Breaker, Snow Job, Stalker





G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Vol. 1 #11 introduced Snow Job,
the Polar Bear, Doc, the COBRA Hang Glinder, Gung Ho, and more!
6): Scarlett, counter-intelligence (1982). G.I. Joes did pretty well with racial diversity, not so much with the ladies. They made one or two a year, and many didn't turn out great. I like the look of Scarlett in the comics/cartoon better (the ponytail works even if the figure's short hair probably makes more practical sense). Speaking of practical sense--a crossbow gun? Cool visual, but doesn't seem particularly effective. Her design worked well as a superhero (who I turned into a total ripoff of Jean Grey from X-Men.)

7): Tripwire, mine detector (1983). A mine detector? Really? Seems he'd have a limited role. He looks pretty sci-fi, but he ended up becoming a favorite because of that. I used him as a speedster superhero (who had a doomed romance with the Scarlett figure's character). Also, I learned the term tripwire from him. Looking at his info, he has some pretty cool aspects. He hails from Bob Dylan's hometown Hibbing, Minnesota. His real name is Tormod S. Skoog. Finally: "Spent two years in a Zen monastery pondering the meaning of life. Expelled for breaking too many dishes and spilling every conceivable liquid. Joined the army at 19 and received spiritual awakening on the grenade range...Tripwire freaks people out. He's always clumsy, jittery and dropping things except when he's working with high explosives. Explosives are the only things that calm him down."

8): Flint, warrant officer (1985). Also rocks a beret. One of the leader types, especially on the cartoon, and of them, his figure looks the coolest. Fun fact: a Rhodes Scholar.

9): Airborne, helicopter assault trooper (1983). First of all, he looks cool, and his helmet had a nice detail of molded in goggles. Around this time, my family went to an airshow and saw soldiers repel out of helicopters. Impressive. He represents the toys' first and far-more-successful attempt at a Native American character, too.

10): Alpine, mountain trooper (1985). Mostly, this one comes down to look, too. I just like the combination of ball cap, glasses, 'stache, open jacket, undershirt. As I said on the podcast, I don't care for his characterization in the cartoon. Just seems like a bit of a jerk. I like this quote from his file card: "'Every time Alpine scales a sheer cliff face piton by piton, overcoming granite and gravity with muscle and persistence, he is symbolically climbing out of the quagmire of his past. That's why we send him up first on vertical assaults. He doesn't take to being knocked down too easily.'" Bonus points for his real name: Albert M. Pine.

Top: Scarlett;
Bottom L-R: Tripwire, Flint, Airborne, Alpine

Honorable Mention:

1): Grunt/Zap/Grand Slam (1982). In some ways, the worst figures (all with the same head sculpt). Their thumbs tended to break more easily, and, man, were they ugly...and that's why they get honorable mention. Credit to Hasbro for making such an ugly-looking dude and then tripling down on him. I very possibly used one of these as some sort of goblin/troll figure.

Grunt. A mug only a mother could love!

2): Torpedo, Navy SEAL (1983). Really a better figure than Alpine. He had flippers, and I learned about Navy SEALs from his file card. Nice black and gray asthetic, too.

3): Short-Fuze, mortar solider (1982). One of my first figures. He had a cool transparent visor that attached to his helmet. Kind of bland otherwise. I learned what having a short fuse meant from his file card. "'Short-Fuze is logical and sensitive. Has a tendency to blow his stack---hence the nick-name...Short-Fuze.'"

4): Rock 'n Roll, machine gunner (1982). The bandoliers gave him a unique look. His file card says he was a surfer. He looks a little like famous non-surfer Mike Love. Suddenly, I want to remove him from the list.

5): Gung Ho, marine (1983). I would be remiss if I didn't mention the ragin' Cajun with the Marine symbol tattooed on his bare chest. In the comics, he had a Cajun accent, not so much on the cartoon. Sacré bleu!

L: Torpedo; R, top to bottom: Short-Fuze, Rock 'n Roll, Gung Ho.

Top 10 COBRAs: 

Hasbro didn't make as many COBRA figures, and given the nature of COBRA, many of them fall into the too weird for me or just plain dumb category. Doing 10 might turn into something like "Top 10 Brendan Fraser Sequels," but somehow, I managed, but I included some that came with vehicles. No Cobra Commander. I only had the helmeted version, which didn't make a great figure. The hooded one looked better, but I never got thim.

1): Destro, weapons supplier (1983). Sure, Destro could represent the worst of the extreme characters, but how can you argue with Disco Doctor Doom? You can't! Look at that mask, look at that medallion! Plus rocket launchers on his wrist (about as practical as Scarlett's crossbow). He had a great voice on the cartoon. Plus, the Baroness would kiss him on his metal mouth! I used his figure as the ubervillain in my little superhero world.

2): Major Bludd, mercenary (1983). I feel like I didn't like him at first, maybe because my friend had the mail-in version, and I had to wait for the store version. Anyway, cool 'stache, robot arm, eyepatch, ridiculous Australian accent on the cartoon. From his file card: "'Major Bludd writes poetry...badly: When you're feeling low and woozy/Slap a fresh clip in your Uzi!/Assume the proper firing stance/And make the suckers jump and dance! (from The Attica Gazette).'"

3): Baroness, COBRA intelligence officer (1984). A major player in the comics from the start, she didn't show up till wave three of the toys. Clearly Scartlett's opposite. She had no problem fighting in glasses or kissing metal mouths, and the figure had rubber hair. "'Her principal weakness is in the division of her loyalty between COBRA Commander and Destro. Her chief strength would seem to lie in her ability to play them against each other.'"

4): Storm Shadow, COBRA ninja (1984). Deeply tied to Snake Eyes, introduced in the comics at the height of ninjamania, and a morally complex character.
5): Firefly, COBRA saboteur (1984). A good year for COBRA. He looked pretty cool and worked in different settings. "'Even COBRA Commander doesn't know much about Firefly. His fees are paid into a numbered Swiss bank account and are always payable in advance. He makes no guarantees and gives no refunds.'" Wow! I like how most of COBRA's big players worked as freelancers.

From L-R: Destro, Major Bludd, the Baroness, Storm Shadow, Firefly.

6): Buzzer, Dreadnok (1985). I have mixed feelings about Zartan and his Dreadnoks, but I pick Buzzer. I like his look best, and he uses a freakin' chainsaw. Also, "Buzzer was an extreme left-wing Cambridge sociology don who went to Australia to research the biker gang phenomenon only to be transformed into the very subject of his research. Years of intellectual displeasure caused repressed psychotic anger, manifested in an intense desire to chainsaw apart the expensive geegaws of technological society."

7): Lamprey, COBRA hydrofoil pilot (1985). He came with a great vehicle (see below), and he looks cool. Great for multiple uses.

8): Wild Weasel, COBRA Rattler pilot (1984). He looks fairly cool, came with a great vehicle (see below). Bonus points for having maps and charts on his pant legs, a real military pilot thing (I saw some of my dad's maps from his Air Force days).

9): Scrap Iron, COBRA anti-armor specialist (1984). Pretty much for looking cool and a little bit ugly. Like Destro, I added him to my somewhat small supervillain army.

10): Copperhead, COBRA Water Moccasin Pilot (1984). Um, why not Cottonmouth? You'd think COBRA would know from snakes. Again, came with a cool vehicle. I'm not sure he qualifies as looking cool, but I'm pretty sure I found good uses for him in the superhero realm. "Gung-Ho says: 'Sure. I know the type. They're all around the Gulf Coast. Trash. Drifters. They can drive a swamp buggy like the devil himself, rebuild a V-8 with a coat hanger and spit, fight all night and raise cain 'til the cock crows. They got a heart fulla gimme and a mouth full o' much obliged...'" All right then.

L: Buzzer; R, top to bottom: Wild Weasel, Scrap Iron, Lamprey, Copperhead.

Top 15 vehicles (G.I. Joe and COBRA combined):

1): Killer W.H.A.L.E, Warrior: Hovering Assault Launch Envoy (1984, G.I. Joe). Also known as a hovercraft. Huge, could carry a literal boatload of figures, could moonlight as a spaceship, had turrets, missiles, push-button rotors, cannons, a little motorcycle, a little sled, and a pilot in a Boston Red Sox hat. It could also float, but I didn't like playing with my toys outside. Oh, and check out that ridiculous acronym. 

2): Moray Hydrofoil (1985, COBRA). The COBRA equivalent to the Killer W.H.A.L.E. Also held a lot of figures and had a bunch of weapons. Its foils popped up, it came with a cool figure, and it looked cool. Hasbro did boats right.

Top: Killer W.H.A.L.E.; Bottom: Moray.

3): Skystriker XP-14F (1983, G.I. Joe). Based on the real Navy F-14 Tomcat, it had wings that swept with the pull of a lever, which also opened and closed the landing gear. Nice and big, maybe not quite scale but still a sizeable toy that held two figures in the cockpit and even included (lame) plastic parachutes that attached to the removable seats so you could re-create every episode of G.I. Joe ever.

4): COBRA Rattler, ground attack jet (1984, COBRA). Based on the A-10 Thunderbolt II (also called the Warthog), another cool plane. Like the Warthog, it had a Vulcan cannon on the nose, but it also had a turret with a glass canopy for a second figure. They also added swiveling wings so it could take off and land vertically.

Top: Skystriker; Bottom: Rattler.

5): Dragonfly XH-1, assault copter (1983, G.I. Joe). Based on the AH-1 Cobra (they changed all the names of real vehicles, but obviously they had to change this one). Had a switch to run the rotors, held two figures, including cowboy-hat-wearing pilot Wild Bill. Figures could also stand on the skids. We saw the real ones at the airshow, too.

6): COBRA Water Moccasin (1984, COBRA). High-speed swamp boat that held the driver Copperhead and a figure in a gun turret (I liked turrets). Nice, streamlined design. Could moonlight as a spaceship, etc.

Top: Dragonfly; Bottom: Water Moccasin.

7): APC, Amphibious Personnel Carrier (1983, G.I. Joe). Did what the tin said--carried a bunch of figures (Yo Joe says 23!) It had seats, but they could also stand on pegs. The roof came off, and the cab front flipped open. It could float.



8): COBRA H.I.S.S, High Speed Sentry (1983, COBRA). Totally sci-fi design, but a cooler toy than the realistic G.I. Joe motorized tank. Hey! A turret! It held two figures, but if you popped the turret out, you could stick a bunch inside, too.

9): VAMP, multi-purpose attack vehicle (1982, G.I. Joe). One of the original vehicles, this Jeep-type two-seater could tow cannons and things and included driver Clutch, who hailed from Asbury Park, New Jersey, just like future favorite of mine Bruce Springsteen. He even raced street machines like many characters in some great Springsteen songs. "'He greases his hair with motor oil, rarely shaves, and chews on the same toothpick for months. Clutch still calls women "chicks."'" Revamped (get it?) in desert and COBRA versions couple years later.


Top: H.I.S.S.; Bottom: VAMP.

10): RAM, rapid-fire motorcycle (1982, G.I. Joe). The original vehicle and featured in the original ads with Breaker riding it. G.I. Joe could do motorcycles well because of the figures' flexibility. One of my original toys, too.

11): Polar Battle Bear, skimobile (1983, G.I. Joe). If Snow Job makes the list, then so does this. Featured heavily in that same comic. Like the RAM, a good smaller vehicle, plus it could plausibly exist in other scenarios.

12): Sky Hawk, vertical take-off and landing aircraft (1984, G.I. Joe). A fun bit of future-tech and another good small vehicle. This one featured heavily in the cartoon and doesn't look dissimilar to recent attempts at flyin' cars. (Where are the blamed flyin' cars already?!)



13): Headquarters Command Center (1983, G.I. Joe). They could never match the glory of the comics' underground base the PIT but still pretty great. It had multiple areas for parking vehicles, lots of room for figures, storage for accessories, computer stations, stairs, a jail, and a working car lift. Also, silver.

Headquarters!
Marvel Comics cut-away of the PIT, AKA G.I. Joe's Dreamhouse.
14):  Silver Mirage, motorcycle (1985, G.I. Joe). An update of the RAM, this one had a sidecar with a cannon instead of just a cannon, plus rubber wheels, plus, you know, silver. I also had a way of taking it apart and strapping parts of it on a figure (Lamprey) to make a sort of Robotech kind of thing.

15): Transportable Tactical Battle Platform (1985, G.I. Joe). Another good playset, kind of like an oil rig.



MOST HONORABLE MENTION:

U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier (1985, G.I. Joe). Yeah, I didn't have this. I don't think I ever even saw it in the store, just the catalogs that came with vehicles. Massive. Could hold three Skystrikers, had multiple levels, etc. Make sure to check out our YouTube playlist to see the commercial.






The Weird and the Wacky:

As we discussed on the podcast, the longer the toys went on, the more colorful and, um, odd the designs became. The 1987 figures include a dude named Chuckles in a Hawaiian shirt, a general increase in bright colors, and a lack of diversity. (I confess, I like the name Chuckles). Oh, also a space shuttle. The build-up to those years included some figures that seem a little outlandish in the context of a top secret military operation but did sometimes work in other play settings.

1): Spirit, tracker (1984). Spirit featured heavily in "Twenty Questions," and while I like that they added a second Native American character and the idea of giving him some elements of his culture in his costume, this looks a little bit too much like an updated Tonto. He did have rubber hair, and while the eagle seems ridiculous on the show, it made for a cool accessory.

2): Quick Kick, silent weapons (1985). Silent weapons? A cool-looking character for other play, but, even given the ninja stuff, would a shirtless, barefoot guy cut it in the military, even one with swords and nunchucks and whatnot (fun fact--I just managed to type nunchucks correctly on the first go but not swords)? Given eighties pop music fashions, he could have probably doubled as the lead singer in a pop band, too.


3): Shipwreck, sailor (1985). We talked a lot about him, and obviously a sailor makes sense in certain military settings (er, boats and ships), and he did come with a parrot, but given how much play he got on the cartoon considering his job didn't qualify him for most of what he did (especially talking to the press), nooo goooo! Also, he came with a parrot (that parrot looks way bigger than Spirit's bald eagle).

4): Bazooka, missile specialist (1985). Points for his mustache and, like Tripwire, hailing from Bob Dylan's hometown, but what about Zap? Had he mustered out? More importantly, look at that shirt! Do you want your missile specialist wearing a target?


5): Recondo, jungle trooper (1984). Again, points for the mustache (waxed at that), and he's got a pretty cool hat, but...he's got that hat! Hmm. I might have to reconsider his place on this list. Fun fact: not Australian. "'A jungle is like some single, gigantic, hostile organism. It can sense when you fear or hate it-and it is wholly without mercy. When Recondo steps into a jungle, it sings to him like a mother soothing a troubled child.'"

6): Tollbooth, bridge layer driver (1985). Hardhat, sledgehammer, sullen James Cobrun expression. What's not to like? I do like him, but, again, the reasons to like him don't quite fit. Fun fact. He earned a Master's from MIT.

7): Barbecue, fire fighter (1985). He showed up on the cartoon a lot, too, which again proves the show's blatant disregard for the characters' occupations (despite all the explosions). Looks really cool for superhero stuff, though, and he came with an ax. Surprise. He comes from Boston and has an Irish last name. "Barbecue is what you call your basic party animal. He can open bottles with his teeth, pick up quarters with his ears and wrap his lips completely around the bottom of a quart Coke bottle. You may well ask how all this affects his function as the G.I. Joe firefighter. It doesn't. It simply makes him a more interesting fellow to have around." This all sounds like code to me. We need the Joe code breaker. Did they have a code breaker? What do you know? Breaker could break codes! Hang on. Oh. Yeah. We might lose our "clean" rating if I relay that information.


Breaking some rules on the last few here. I never owned any of them, and two came out in 1987.

8): The Fridge, physical training instructor (1987). We talked about this one on the podcast, but it bears repeating. They made a figure of Chicago Bears football player William "The Refrigerator" Perry and gave him the job of physical training instructor. Perry rose to fame pretty much for his weight issues allowing him to barrel over defensive players (and of course appearing on "The Super Bowl Shuffle" record and in its video). I should put him in the next category, but look at that figure. They even included the gap between his teeth. Plus, he has that sweet "football flail." Check out the ad featuring the real Fridge and an animated version in our YouTube playlist.

First the Patriots, then COBRA!

9): Chuckles, undercover agent (1987). What the hey? I said I liked his name, and this figure doesn't look so bad really, despite the Hawaiian shirt, which doesn't make a lot of sense for going undercover in COBRA. I could see using him for a detective character. "'Chuckles' natural likability is his greatest asset. He can sit around all day with a bunch of Cobras, grinning, cracking jokes and punching shoulders, all the while wearing a miniature transmitter that's being homed in on by the Joe Team. Chuckles is aware of the consequences of being found out...He's also confident of his ability to fight his way out of any situation.'" You know, Chuckles, you don't need charm to make COBRAs laugh. You just need laughing gas.


10: Dr. Mindbender, master of mind control (1986). Ridiculous even for COBRA! I would accept bald and mustachioed or bald and monocoled or mustachioed and monocled, but all three with a cape and shirtless and "master of mind control"? Too much, I say. Too much! Yet...his powers must really work because I have to concede Rick's point on the podcast. What's the problem? Maybe his file card will alleviate some of my worries. Nope. He was an orthodontist! Clearly, that trained him in the art of torture (no offense, any orthodontist listeners). Let's read, shall we?
Dr. Mindbender was at one time an excellent orthodontist and a very kind and honest man. Tinkering with electric brainwave stimulation as a means of relieving dental pain, the good doctor made the tragic mistake of experimenting on himself. He underwent a complete personality change and became hateful, deceitful, and vain! 
Dr. Mindbender abandoned his practice and devoted all his time to perfecting his digital brain-scrambling into a hand-portable weapon system capable of reducing the most strong-willed individual into a cowering wimp. 
"Dr. Mindbender doesn't think he's deluded-he feels he used to be. Now that he has seen the light, or the dark if you will, he feels it is his personal mission to bring the miracle of thought control to each and every one of you!"
Too much, I say. Too much!

For my next trick, I'll make you think you like wearing braces!

NO, JUST NO

Dr. Mindbender didn't make this list?! Clearly I've spent too much time on this. Anyway, only two for you.

1): Serpentor, COBRA emperor (1986). I griped about him on the show, but it bears repeating. COBRA scientists used "long-dead genetic blueprints [to produce] a composite clone with the military genius of Napoleon, the ruthlessness of Julius Caesar, the daring of Hannibal, and the fiscal acumen of Attila the Hun...the ultimate Cobra Emperor!" Attila the Hun had fiscal acumen? Do we remember him for his fiscal acumen? Anyhow, take that information, look at the picture, decide for yourself. I blame Mindbender.

Ugh.

2): Sgt. Slaughter, drill instructor (1986). Sorry, Rick. Another end-of-the-line moment for me. I can accept a fictionalized version of a real guy like the Fridge, but a fictionalized version of a fictional athlete played by a real actor/athlete? Sounds like a Mindbender trick if I ever heard one. His file card keeps up, well, a ruse, whether from the Joe world or the wrestling world I'm not sure. It gives Parris Island, home of one of the training sites for newly enlisted Marines. That said, Rick found some fun Sgt. Slaughter stuff for the ol' YouTube playlist (watch it already!)

"You call yourself a Joe? More like a Joe-broni!
Drop and give me 50!"


WHAT WE'D LIKE TO SEE!

Just one guy. You can guess. Yup, the king of suave, the Joe of journalists--Mr. Hector Ramirez! (Maybe with an Arnold accessory).


2 comments:

  1. Well done, but I think you should drop and give me 20. Sgt. Slaughter was a legit Marine and drill sarge before getting into wreatling. Serpentor looks awesome. And as far as toys glorifying war, would it make you feel better if you thought of them as toys glorifying counterterrorist strike forces?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I stand by my nos. I'm OK with cartoons glorifying injury- and death-free laser gun combat. Of course like Hector Ramirez, I would at least question glorifying spending tax dollars on such activities.

    ReplyDelete