Bullet Man (1975)
What do you do when you’re trying to breathe new life and interest into a product? Anything you can, of course. For Hasbro’s GI Joe brand over the years, that’s meant venturing into hitherto unknown areas of science fiction, fantasy, and even super heroics. It only stands to reason that a product whose existence has been fairly omnipresent over the last 50 years would need to be refreshed now and again due to a changing popular culture and marketplace. It happened first with the introduction of the Adventure Team in 1970, and as the times changed, the mid 70s brought fantastical heroes like Mike Power and GI Joe’s first villains (the Intruders) into the mix. Alongside the new more super-powered Adventure Team was introduced Bullet Man, the Human Bullet.
What can I say about this figure that hasn’t been said before? As goofily loveable toys go, he’s sort of the Plan 9 From Outer Space of action figures. More contemporary goofballs like Funskool Windmill are fertile ground for fun-poking, but with this guy, the land’s been plowed, planted and harvested many a time. Still, I feel the need to chime in as an 80s Joe fan, and declare that I dig the Human Bullet. And I don’t mean that in a snarky way. It helps to look at these things with an eye on history. He’s definitely the product of a more innocent time, and if I had been old enough (I was all of three when the figure was released) he certainly would have captured my attention as a tyke. The packaging, which cleverly depicts the figure crashing through a (cardboard) brick wall, is even more eye-catching. Heck, as a pure toy, he captures my attention as a collector with a fondness for toy-first aesthetics. First off, I’m a sucker for vac-metalized figures. The chrome arms and helmet instantly draw your attention, make you stop and say, “Hey, who is this guy?” Then, a moment later, you also say, “Whoa, I know you’re rocking the singlet thing, but those are some tiny shorts, Bullet Man. You might wanna think about going a size up.” However, his heyday was 1975, when hotpants were in style, so maybe it’s not as concerning a fashion choice as it seems at first glance.
I also enjoy action features, and Bullet Man had a flying feature built into his outfit. A line could be threaded through eyelets sewn into the back of his onesie, and kids could streak him through the air. What’s not to love about any form of zip-line technology, no matter how primitive? Underneath that crazy chrome cap lies a rather doe-eyed visage that’s neither classic 60s nor Adventure Team Joe. It’s actually the same head mold seen in Hasbro’s cheap blow-molded The Defenders toy line of the same year. Bullet Man however was afforded a more intricate paint app on his eyes, most likely to give his dreamy peepers more prominence when they’re hidden behind his helmet.
Though he’s not known too well outside of comics fans today, a Bullet Man comic character was popular in its days with Fawcett comics, the publisher of other costumed heroes like Captain Marvel. Bullet Man, along with other Fawcett heroes, was brought into the DC universe in the 1970s, and even starred in the retro series All Star Squadron. So, was DC aware of this at the time, or did Hasbro pull a fast one? Speaking of comics, the figure was also introduced in a comic ad, alongside other Joe heroes like Mike Power and Eagle Eye Joe. It evokes all the quick-hitting one-page insanity of a Hostess comic ad.
Bullet Man is…unique, to say the least. I don’t think there’s a more tonally different figure, taken in the context of the brand’s identity. Stand him next to an Action Solider, or even one of the many Adventurers of the 70s, and he stands out like, well, a shiny red thumb. Wearing tiny shorts. If you can dig that juxtaposition, he’s a fun character to have in the mix. We’ve got a twelve inch and a Kre-O version, so when are we going to get a 3 & 3/4 inch figure? Maybe in FSS 12.0? I’ll be waiting.