Karate King and Ramrod (American Defense)

No, it’s not the title of an 80s Turkish action film knock-off pastiche of The Karate Kid and Rambo (but it should be). It is a wonderful knock-off set of action figures inspired by both GI Joe and Rambo. Either way, what’s not to like? It’s Remco Joe! RemJoe!

I sucked up a bunch of these two-packs at K-Mart back in the day. It was a cheap way to amass more troops to play alongside my Joes and Cobras. Quite a few of the American Defense toys struck me at the time (and still do) as unique and interesting figures. The line offered some action hero and military themes that weren’t exactly represented in Hasbro’s output. A karate expert dressed in a plain white gi, and a no doubt meant-to-be-Rambo figure was a no-brainer pickup for a kid.

Remco also offered a unique approach to accessories and gear with their detachable uniform details. Knives, goggles, bandoliers and web gear were removable and replaceable decades before Hasbro incorporated them into GI Joe. True, Chuckles and Outback had a holster and web belt in ’87, but they were exceptions, not the norm.


What can I say about the cartoonish approximation of the Real American Hero card design? It’s not a direct steal, but close enough to probably fool grandma or an aunt/uncle on the lookout for a gift for little Jimmy, whom they know likes to collect his “men.” As we all knew, the figures were easy to distinguish from Joes, even without packaging. The American Defense figures had their own idiosyncratic features that immediately identify themselves as Remco product, such as bicep rivets, thin elbows and thunder thighs. Don’t forget the rubbery weapons. Said weapons seem to spontaneously reproduce, seeing as I’ve come across them (sans figure) in almost every 80s Joe lot I’ve bought. Weird.

Speaking of real men, Ramrod’s face sculpt is quite Swayze-esque. Not Roadhouse era, more Red Dawn I think. I’m not sure what to make of his inhuman spray-tan skin tone, however. Maybe too much time spent in the Remco tanning booth. But enough kidding. I dearly love these kitschy little guys. “Do we get to win this time?” Yes, Ramrod. Yes we do.



  • Ramrod sounds like an adult film star’s name.

    What kind of ninja doesn’t wear a shirt?

    Later Remco figures had paler skin, released in other stores under other names anyway. I don’t recall them making any african-american characters.

  • I’ve always been interested in the early non-Joe o-ring era. Besides Lanard,I have A-Team Murdock and an early Robotech figure that are in my collection.I believe I have two of those “Sky Fighter” grey and bronze. Those Remcos are awesome and quite difficult to find.The packaging is really good homage to the Real American Heroes. How ironic that a toy line called “American Defense” was made in China, even back then, It’s a sad reminder of how long ago the USA starting losing it’s manufacturing base.

    • [in Peter Griffen voice] you think thats bad. The Australian army slouch hat which has been the tradmark of the defence forces in my country is now made in Vietnam

    • Gray one is Airman John and the bronze is Combat King. They were from the US Force line which used the same molds. They funny thing is these figures were on the whole of a better quality than were Hasbro’s Joes at the time.[Other than the arms that is] The torso, crotch and legs on these guys were built for abuse and I dare you to find one even now with a broken crotch piece. The arm joints on the other hand were very cheaply made.
      Oh and if you can get these guys on the cheap–snag them up. They command a premium on the secondary markets.

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