By Past Nastification
The traditional “A Real American Hero” figure format was introduced in 1982. The ARAH format shamelessly mimicked the o-ring design and articulation of Mego’s Buck Rogers and CHIPS lines. With a few exceptions, such as some aliens and mega monsters, the figures generally held to a standard buck in terms of proportions. The proportions of the figures more-or-less matched each other, as the joints where one body part met another were universally sized. An arm from Action Figure A could be swapped out with an arm from Action Figure B because they both fit into shoulder sockets the same way.
From 2002 through 2006, GI Joe ran through the “New Sculpt” era. The actual construction was much the same as the ARAH format (although the first wave featured extremely unpopular “t-crotches” and had no o-rings). The body parts were not necessarily interchangeable from figure to figure. Plastic rivets replaced metal ones. Hasbro also dabbled with deviating from the standard articulation points- the first necks with pop-off heads and swivel wrists arrived. NS figures retained the same foot peg and backpack peg sizes as the ARAH figures.
The biggest departure in the NS era was that the proportions were changed from being that of normal people to a more “superhero”. Figures had overly muscular, dynamic bodies with broad shoulders, slender waists, and wiry legs- but often exaggerated beyond realistic proportions. An undeniable anime influence crept into the production at some point, leaving figures with arms that appeared much too long, with the hands reaching almost to the knees. The biggest flaw was usually not the arms, but rather the shortened upper bodies. It looked as if the area between the belly button and the beltline had been surgically removed, and then the upper body simple dropped lower to fill the gap.
Many collectors hate the NS era. I find the proportions frustrating (and take some joy in correcting the proportions when I customize these figures). Despite the often bad proportions, I enjoyed the NS run. Not necessarily because of the new figures themselves, but because we were introduced to many new characters. Snake-Eyes, Cobra Commander, Duke, and Storm Shadow were still around. A lot. But refreshing new characters and thematic elements got some time in the sun.
The sibling rivalry trio of Barrel Roll, Blackout, and Bombstrike was introduced. A slew of science fiction themed human/animal hybrids such as Electric Eels and Swamp Rat appeared. Cobra got some new nasties, like Guillotine and Scalpel. When long time Joes showed up, like Stalker and Grunt, we saw them in new and interesting outfits.
There were a lot of fresh faces on the Joe team, too. Widescope, Sgt. Hacker, Kamakura (from Devil’s Due), and Cross Hairs kept America safe.
One of my favorite NS figures is easily Dart, a pathfinder for the GI Joe team.
Dart’s uniform had a feel that was both contemporary, with lots of intricate pouches and straps, and intentionally dated. It also had a WWII vibe, featuring a helmet that looked 60 years out place and an overall green/brown color set. An abundance of Native American elements (necklace, tribal arm bands, feather, and long hair) gave the figure some identity, although possibly drifting into stereotype territory.
This figure works well as a Joe because in an instant it reads as a “good guy in green”, much like the 1982 lineup did. The short open vest over a sleeveless button up shirt should look like something Larry the Cable Guy might try, but somehow it looks right. The forearm guards look odd for someone who wants to show off his arms… but they still look right.
The weapons are open for debate, as Dart was included in a two pack with Cobra CLAWS. Yojoe.com and I disagree over which weapons are best suited to Dart. I thought that the backpack and earthy toned sniper rifle were meant for Dart, so that’s how they are in my collection. The sniper rifle is amazing- as long as it’s viewed with the hideous Sound Attack tab hidden from the camera.
Unlike many NS figures, Dart’s upper body (chest/back) is about the right size for the body frame. The only sculpting on Dart that could have used some improvement is the head. It’s marginally small, and the vintage WWII helmet doesn’t really bring anything to the table. A removable helmet would have been nice, allowing for Hasbro to still make the WWII helmet, and for collectors/kids to replace it if they chose. In the 80’s Hasbro had released running change heads previously, as with the ’86 Zarana. An upsized Dart head would have easily cemented this as my favorite NS figure, but it’s solid as is.
Dart’s filecard paints the character as an industrious tracker with a sharp mind packed with skills useful for interpreting subtle manmade alterations to the environment. I stopped reading Devil’s Due before it ran its course and I haven’t read much of Larry Hama’s continuing GI Joe A Real American Hero. I’m not sure if Dart has much, if any, comic book presence.
It’s also worth noting that when the NS era was replaced by the 25th Anniversary era (also called Modern era), Hasbro fell back to using older iconic characters almost exclusively. Aside from The GI Joe Collectors’ Club making versions of some NS figures, the characters have largely fallen into obscurity. Poor Dart has had no versions since 2004.
15 years on, the Dart figure still impresses. If the NS era had produced more figures like Dart, collectors would have readily embraced it.