50 Favorites from 50 Years of GI Joe: Day 2
Rolling on from Day 1 and the initial era of GI Joe, it’s time to get shrunk down and check out the Real American Hero age. Again, this is not meant to be my exhaustive “best of” list, but rather a musing of the 50 years of GI Joe’s history. With thousands upon thousands of figures, vehicles, playsets and other miscellanea available, it’s tough to pick just 50 favorites over a period of four days. In fact, if you ask me again in six months, I may have different lists. For now, here come the small Joes!
1982 Grunt – He was the first figure to pop into my head when I started to consider the RAH years. The early “face” of the line’s advertising in the initial run, Grunt harked back to the everyman soldier of the brand’s early years. Released in both straight arm and swivel iterations, the original thirteen small Joes all hold a place of honor for me, and Grunt is the man.
1982 VAMP – Like the Combat Jeep in the 60s, the VAMP served as both transportation and a bit of a weapons platform. Considering that the relaunch was initially pitched as primarily a vehicle line, the VAMP may have been seen as the cornerstone a la the Action Soldier. The venerable mold would also see action many times in other paint schemes.
1983 Cobra Commander – Does it seem like this list is front loaded with early 80s material? It is because, well, that’s when the groundwork was laid. This figure actually began my childhood collecting, as I acquired it in trade for a Star Wars figure. Yes, Joe replaced Luke and company during 1983. The Commander has never looked better and more dapper than he has here. Gotta love the stirrups and fancy piping on those pants.
1983 Headquarters – Every good action figure needs a place to live, and like their Adventure Team predecessors, the GI Joe team received some of the finest living quarters in the history of the brand. Of course, the small size lent itself more easily to cost- effective spacious accommodations than the big fellas.
1984 Storm Shadow – Was there any bigger cultural event in the 80s than the emergence of ninjas in Western media? These mysterious mercenaries pervaded pop culture to such an extent that even a decades old military toy line couldn’t escape. Dozens of pajama-clad fighters later, the first Storm Shadow still remains my favorite Joe ninja.
1985 USS Flagg – The grandest action figure playset that has ever been (or ever will be). The seven foot colossus is not necessarily the best playset for features, but its impressive scale counts for a heck of a lot. I didn’t acquire one until my adult collecting years, but the wait was worthwhile. Imagine being on the deck of this aircraft carrier–it’s so big, you almost can!
1987 Outback – Part of the final year of figures that I collected as a kid, Outback was nevertheless an amazing figure. From his unique uniform to his large backpack and web gear (shades of things to come) Outback had a look that stood out among the other Joes. He also rocked a very manly beard. Shades of the Adventure Team!
1989 Alley Viper – One of the many Cobra troop builders released during the years that I’d stopped collecting, the Alley Viper’s bold color scheme belied his purpose as an urban trooper. Despite his anachronistic look, the figure became a go to figure for me within a few years.
1991 General Hawk – One of the first Joes I purchased upon my return to collecting, this newly designed version of the Joe team’s commanding officer was fresh and exciting. The jet pack seemed to fit the venerable Hawk perfectly, and he joined his troops once again in the heat of many a battle.
Tiger Force Outback – One of the international GI Joe figures I discovered via the wonderful Mike’s Forgotten Figures, Outback took on an even more special place thanks to his striking design and boldly graphic new orange T.
1992 Hall of Fame Cobra Commander – 1991 saw the return of 12 inch GI Joe with an exclusive figure sold at Target stores. The next year, the line expanded in availability and grew to a four figure assortment. Focused on the Real American Hero characters, the Cobra Commander was the first enemy for the relaunched large scale figures. The figure intrigued me both for its removable mask, as well as the depiction of a mysterious looking older toy on the package back. It turns out this helmeted mystery figure was the Black Spider Rendezvous set from the Adventure Team era. The throwback shots from the Hall of Fame packaging were part of what piqued my curiosity about the older Joes.
1992 Cobra Rat – Not all of the GI Joe vehicles have been classics of design like the Jeep and VAMP. Witness the Rat, a vehicle whose cheaper construction hailed the beginnings of the end for the multi-part model kit like style of the smaller scale toys. Yet there’s a certain goofy charm to this glorified weed whacker, and its spinning discs of doom. Careful, kids, don’t catch one in the eye!
1993 Mega Marine Clutch – No figures quite represent all that I dig from Joe’s final few years more than the Mega Marines, and Clutch in particular. Part of a garishly colored sub-team of fanciful monster fighters, the Mega Marines also featured moldable bio-armor (or Play-Doh, from the recently acquired Kenner Toys) as part of its gimmick. The GI Joe marketing team was pulling out all the stops to build in more play value as Joe waged a war in the toy aisles against an onslaught of competing brands like Ninja Turtles.
1994 Star Brigade Duke – In his last years on the pegs, the Real American Hero iteration of GI Joe would launch into space with the Star Brigade line. The team even battled aliens and worked in far-out sci-fi elements that would rival the crazyness of the 70s’ Super Joe. Duke featured one of the most uniquely designed backpacks of the era, with a swing-around missile launcher that also folded upon itself for convenient storage.
Sadly, Joe would lose his war of attrition just as he celebrated his 30th anniversary. But all was not lost, as the brand would continue just a few years later, and would even make another comeback within the new millennium. But that’s a story for another day–tomorrow, to be exact. Come back for Day Three of our celebration of the end of Joe’s 50th. I promise there will be some more surprises waiting. Yo Joe!