Welcome back to the Collector’s Corner, the little section here at the Quiet Room where I like to talk about toys. We have established my love for toys and why I love them, now we get to delve into a look at my favorite toyline ever, G.I. Joe. So, first I will give you an overview of a little history of the line and then I will talk about the toys themselves. The line is very large, so I will just be covering part, and in a future installment, I shall move on to the next part. I have decided to cover it sequentially, but spacing covering the line over time. I will move on to another collection next week, more than likely I will tackle Star Wars next. Or Transformers. Or another line. We may do a poll to see what you want to hear more about. I think some interaction can make it more fun for you and me.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of G.I. Joe as a toyline. Hasbro first introduced the line in 1964 based upon sales of the hugely popular Barbie line from Mattel. Hasbro marketed the line in the same 12 inch size as Barbie and called the G.I. Joe the “movable fighting man”, hence launching the modern day action figure. The line was military based, and each branch of the United Sates Armed Services were represented. During the 1970′s, due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, the theme was changed from being a military line to an action adventure line. In 1977, the oil crisis caused the cost of plastics to increase, and the line was retired.
5 years passed, and with patriotism on the rise, Hasbro decided to bring G.I. Joe back to the front lines. Due to the overwhelming popularity of Kenner’s Star Wars line, Hasbro decided to make G.I. Joe a 3 and 3/4 inch figure now and also to have vehicles and playsets as part of the line. Marvel comics also launched a comic book the same year, hiring writer Larry Hama to helm the series. Hama was a Vietnam War veteran himself, and loosely based the characters on people he served with during the war and other people he knew in his life. According to Hama, the character of Scarlett was based on his wife. To keep the characters separate in his head, Hama created notes describing a background and personality, military specialties, and basic character sketches. Hasbro loved the idea, and this became the file card, which has been adapted by many toylines over the years.
Hasbro was ready to start sculpting and create molds for the figure, when Archie Goodwin at Marvel comics proposed the idea of a villain for the line. Hasbro was hesitant at first, but eventually agreed, and Cobra, the terrorist organization was born. In later years, Hasbro stated that 40% of total line sales came from the villains. Hey, I have always said a great bad guy is what propels a story. And Cobra Commander is my favorite villain, ever. Not the cartoon version of the Commander, but the comics version. He was ruthless, diabolical, intelligent, manipulative, and downright mean. He started uprisings in third world countries, and then would come to the aid of the oppressed, recruiting the able bodied men and women to the Cobra cause. Hell, the man shot his own son. Sounds like a mean son of a bitch, doesn’t he? Need proof? Look at him kicking a puppy.
Finally in 1982 G.I. Joe was released and has become to be known as the Real American Hero line, running until 1994. The line was designed to release figures and vehicles/playsets each year all at once, allowing kids the chance to collect the line throughout the year. The following year, new figures and vehicles would be released. Today, figures are released in smaller sets at various intervals, usually quarterly, and are referred to as waves. So a 2010 release would have Wave 1, then a few months wave 2, and so on. I am personally not a fan of this strategy, for several reasons. But, we can talk about that later. That could be an article for a future date.
Now that we have discussed a brief history of the Joe line, let’s talk about the real reason we are here: little plastic men and women and the cool shit that comes along with them.
Many collectors of the Joe line have their favorites. Some prefer vehicles, some prefer playsets, some prefer figures. Most love all three, and I am one of those guys that collects all three. And everyone has their own favorite characters, which are the core of any line. With the release of the movies in recent years, and the various cartoons from Sunbow and DiC, some characters have enjoyed the spotlight more than others. Like Duke. Everyone loves Duke, or, they are supposed to. I personally can take him or leave him, I always preferred Stalker as my field commander. Snake Eyes is the equivalent to Wolverine. He is in everything. So naturally, these days, toy companies like Hasbro shove the more popular characters out multiple times. As of today, Snake Eyes has had a whopping 67 figures produced. But at the end of 1994, he only had 6. 6 figures produced in 12 years. 57 of them have seen release since 2002. Needless to say, kids love him. However, neither of those two fan-favorites are my personal favorites. I like some of the more obscure characters, the less popular ones in the toy world, but the ones that were really fleshed out in the comics. Of course, I have a soft spot reserved for the “Original 13″ as they are referred to in collector circles, the first 13 members of the G.I. Joe team to ever be featured in the comics and released in toy form. Let’s take a look at them now.
The creation of the G.I. Joe team was comprised of 13 members of the military, brought together to form a covert special operations group, specializing in anti-terrorism. These were the guys that had to do the dirty work, the ones that undertook missions the public would never hear about, and they were damned good at it. The commanding officer answered to the code name Hawk, who was a colonel at the time. Over the years, Hawk has been promoted to the rank of General, and depending upon the source, either Brigadier General (one star) or Major General (two star). Hawk was a graduate of West Point and came from a wealthy background, specializing in artillery and radar. Hawk came packaged with a Mobile Missile System, based on the real life MIM-23 HAWK surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. The MMS featured a portable computer input station, an elevating mechanism that rotated 360 degrees and 3 removable Patriot missiles. It had legs that would extend to lock it in place or they could be retracted and placed on a vehicle to be towed. I have the original figure and MMS as part of my collection.
Continuing the team, we focus on the next officer, Steeler, 2nd Lieutenant and tank commander. Steeler commanded the MOBAT (Motorized Battle Tank), which was based on the M-48/M-60 series of U.S. battle tanks. And this thing was sweet. It featured rubber treads, an extending main battle cannon, a turret-mounted .50 caliber machine gun, and an open hatch for Steeler to “drive” the tank. What was really cool about the MOBAT was that it worked. By pushing the turret forward it activated the wheels and turned the treads to allow the tank to climb over anything. It could also turn left or right based an a twist of the turret, and it even featured reverse. The MOBAT also featured a tow hitch built into its body. Steeler was the team armor specialist and also specialized in transportation and artillery. He came from a working class family, and because of his youth he often clashed with authority openly. I like this guy. He was one of my personal favorites when I was a kid.
Next up, we have Clutch, and his Attack Vehicle Multi-Purpose, better known as the VAMP. The VAMP is based on the Lamborghini Cheetah, and comes equipped with a deck mounted dual-barrel 7.62 MM machine gun. There was a cool slide lever you could move back and forth and the barrels of the cannons would move as a result. It could hold 2 figures, Clutch and a passenger, and had a tow hitch built in so the MMS or the HAL could be transported. Toss in a couple of fuel cans and a removable steering wheel, and this was one vehicle to play with. Clutch was the team transportation specialist and infantryman. In the comics, he was pretty shallow, always hitting on the female team members but always coming through when needed, hence the code name.
The RAM (Rapid Fire Motorcycle) was a great toy. It was equipped with a 20 MM Vulcan series Gatling gun that resembles a sidecar. It came with a kickstand for standing the bike up when the cannon was detached and a pair of removable saddle bags. It did not come packaged with a figure.
The JUMP (Jet Mobile Propulsion Unit) was a toy that fits into the futuristic/fantasy element of G.I. Joe. It was a launch pad with a command console, a jet pack that could be fitted onto a figures back and a connected control module/laser cannon that would fit over the forearm. The initial 1982 release did not have a figure, but in 1983 it was repackaged with a repaint of Grand Slam. We sadly in real life do not have jet packs yet. When I was 6 and got the JUMP (and also watched The Fall Guy) I have wanted a jump pack ever since. I think that after scientists finish developing the hover board in 2015, they need to make the immediate JUMP to jet packs. Did you see what I did there? NO? YES! SCORE!
The HAL (Heavy Artillery Laser) was mobile-ready weapons platform that was designed to be towed and deployed. It featured one forward stabilizing leg and a pair of stabilizing legs that could swing in or out, when in they could connect to the VAMP or MOBAT. It was lightweight but could decimate a tank in one shot. The main body allows a figure to be seated at a firing station and a computer for targeting for a pair of laser cannons. The HAL came packaged with Grand Slam, the teams Artillery specialist and electronics engineer. Another futuristic toy, a little out there, but cool.
Finally we have the FLAK (Field Light Attack Cannon). The name pretty much says it all. It is a 10 MM Howitzer cannon, with High Explosive (HE) Anti-Tank and Anti-Aircraft ammunition. The base allows for a 360 degree rotation to cover the battlefield completely. It did not come packaged with a figure.
Rounding out the team were individually sold figures. Each came packaged on what is referred to as a blister card, a simple plastic bubble housing the figure glued to a cardboard backing, with artwork and products and other information printed to attract attention and promote sales. There were 11 carded figures in the first year of sales. 9 were Joes, only two were the enemy, Cobra.
The Joe team individual members consisted of Breaker, the bubble gum chewing communications expert and infantry specialist; Flash, the teams experimental weapons specialist and electronics expert; Grunt, the team small arms armoror artillery coordinator and infantry specialist; Rock N Roll, the team heavy machine gunner and PT (Physical Training) instructor; Scarlett, the teams first female member, tough as nails and an intelligence operative; Short-Fuze, the hot-headed artillery and infantry engineer; Snake Eyes, the commando and team bad ass, specializing in infantry, he serves as the team’s hand-to-hand combat instructor and martial arts master; Stalker, the teams field commander, a Ranger, EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) specialist, medic, and interpreter; and finally Zap, the team’s armor-piercing and anti-tank weapons specialist and rotary-wing pilot, an engineer, infantry artillery and demolitions specialist.
The lone 2 Cobra figures in the initial release were simply labeled as Cobra, featuring a black face mask and blue combat fatigues and helmet; and Cobra Officer, featuring a black face mask and blue…combat…fatigues. How does that work out? Well, a couple of things made these two a little different. The officer’s helmet had a raised insignia, his torso featured different web gear and a silver Cobra logo. The Cobra, commonly referred to as a “blueshirt” had no insignia on his helmet, a red Cobra logo on his torso and simpler web gear.
What about Cobra Commander? Well, he did see a release in 1983 to retail, but in 1982, you had to order him via a mail away promotion. Each figure came with an offer for the promotion, and after mailing off the requirements, after 4 to 6 weeks, you would receive the terrorist mastermind. The first figures had a Cobra logo that was painted in a way that it resembled the Mickey Mouse logo, hence they were dubbed “Mickey Mouse” Cobra Commanders. These are highly sought after in collector circles. Cobra Commander specializes in Intelligence and Ordinance (experimental). This gives a little wiggle room so to speak for some of the more futuristic elements in the line in later years.
Cobra did not have any vehicles in 1982. It was pretty easy to kick Cobra’s ass on the battlefield in 1982. That would change very soon. Cobra gets some sweet vehicles and playsets in the future years. Since there are only 3 figures to cover, I will add them to photos in future posts when I cover Cobra in more depth.
The figures in 1982 featured more articulation than a Star Wars figure, they had articulation points at the shoulder, elbow, knee, hip, the head would swivel back and forth, and they would twist at the waist. The torso was 2 pieces, held together by a small screw in the back. Many of these screws would rust over time, due to exposure to elements, because a lot of kids, myself included, would take their toys outside and in all weather conditions. Each arm was riveted together at the elbow joint, and a molded shoulder post inserted and was held in place by the torso. The torso was connected via O-Ring to a metal t-joint, which was connected to the legs. To save costs on production, many parts were shared to create several figures, it was a common practice. This led to one of the most fun things to do as a kid, when not playing outside in the mud or a sandbox or a stream with them, was to take the figures apart and swap parts around, also known as “Frankensteining”, hence creating new characters.
So, that sums up the 1982 line. The Original 13 Joe team, their vehicles and weapons, and the enemy that G.I. Joe would spend the next 32 years fighting, Cobra. How many of you out there were G.I. Joe fans? What was your favorite toy? Did you read the comics of watch the cartoons? Which was your favorite character? Over time we will look at other years in the line. 1983, another great year, will be the focus of a future edition of the Collector’s Corner. Next week, I will talk about a different toy line. I will leave it up to you guys to decide which one.
Josh Fisher is an enigma. He frequently ponders why Cheez Whiz makes a Philly Cheese Steak taste better. In his spare time, he pretends to be a cool guy. He has a vast amount of trivial knowledge at his disposal, and he will dispose it on you. Take the content above, for example. You learned something new, didn’t you? No? As always, feedback, comments, and suggestions are welcome, please direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay classy, San Diego.