50 Favorites from 50 Years of GI Joe: Day 3
Although the Real American Hero line wrapped up in 1994, GI Joe wouldn’t stay down for long. With two attempted relaunches in the form of Sgt. Savage and Extreme, the brand branched out beyond what had come before. Though both of the attempted refreshes were unsuccessful, Joe marched on with more large scale figures, and eventually came back to retail with a small line as well. This era produced a huge amount of product in both scales, often at the same time. It was a pretty grand time to collect. The choices were varied and abundant.
Sgt. Savage IRON Panther Tank – While the Sgt. Savage follow-up to GI Joe in 1994 didn’t set my world on fire, there was one vehicle that I really liked. The Iron Panther tank is a mean-looking black pyrimidal death dealer, and looks like it incorporates stealth technology. Considering the throwback nature of much of the Savage line, this tank is a real standout. The scale isn’t too far off if you want to use it with small Joes as well.
Iron Klaw – While Sgt. Savage was considered a fizzle by fans, Extreme is often met with outright derision. I can certainly understand, based on the beefy, barely articulated super-heroic figures. Then again, there are some diamonds in the rough, at least from a design perspective. Iron Klaw is a solid villain, and one who has even made an appearance in the modern era line. Hey, he can’t be all bad, right? Just look at that wicked cool skull mask. The animated series deserves a look as well.
Tuskeegee Bomber Pilot – The twelve inch Joes were a mainstay through the 90s and into the 2000s. Having been revamped from the Hall of Fame to the Classic Collection, the figures also benefited from a new, more articulated and slim body. The result was a playable toy that recalled the Joes of old. Not as festooned with fiddly straps and delicate clothing as the Hall of Fame line, these new big Joes were fit for the sandbox, just like their older inspirations. The series branched out into historical figures, like the Tuskeegee Airmen. These African American figures served as a great history lesson, as well as fairly accurate representations of World War II uniforms. GI Joe again showed a devotion to diversity that began in the 60s and 70s.
GI Jane Helicopter Pilot – Speaking of diversity, the line branched out into another large scale female figure. This time, instead of a medic, we got a female in a more combat oriented role. The helicopter pilot, officially referred to as GI Jane, also utilized a new body type, and even included gear and a uniform that was properly fitted to a smaller frame. A wonderful figure all-around.
Stars & Stripes Breaker – When the small Joes returned to limited action at Toys R Us, the original 1982 team was supposed to get its own multi-pack set based on the old molds. As it turned out, some were apparently unavailable, and the result was this abomination. I continue to be oddly fascinated with its horrid quality. It’s most likely the worst all-around GI Joe figure to this point. One must see the bad to truly appreciate the good.
Operation: Mountain Eye – Double Duty, another twelve inch offshoot, offered twice the play for the price of one toy. Each figure featured an outfit that could be reconfigured into another. Some results were less effective than others. The line was generally more fanciful than the main line large format toys, but striking designs like the shirtless mountain climber were fun to discover.
2001 Big Brawler – When the small Joes returned in a reissued o-ring format, there were several new characters thrown into the mix. Big Brawler quickly became a fan favorite in some circles, thanks to his ridiculously overpowered bio and his non-traditional head sculpt. He’s not the chiseled, square-jawed hero one would expect. A loveable goofball.
2002 Moray – This modern take on the classic Cobra Eel is one of the most interesting redesigns of the relaunched GI Joe line. It’s also one of the unfortunate few that was not refitted from a t-crotch to an o-ring.
2003 Agent Faces – Another new character introduced as part of the new toys. While the Spy Troops figures were a noble idea, many of the disguises were less than effective. Agent Faces featured some unique masks that recalled both the Undercover Agent set of the Adventure Team era, as well as the RAH line’s Zartan. Speaking of which…
2004 Zartan – The Master of Disguise was the recipient of a redesign during Valor vs. Venom, the third of the relaunched line’s yearly concepts. One of the strangest takes on the character, the toy exhibits the kind of comic book superhero look that was prevalent among the designs of the time. The figure suffers from most of the proportional issues that plagued the line, and unfortunately kept some interesting designs relegated to obscurity.
2004 Spirit (12 inch) – A twelve inch series of figures based on the new GI Joes ran right alongside their smaller compatriots, and a few of them were fantastically detailed. Spirit stands out above many others thanks to his full cloth uniform, a unique feature among figures that featured sculpted shirts.
2005 ROCC – My favorite vehicle of the era came first as part of Hasbro’s noble Direct to Consumer experiment. Available via an online shop, figure assortment could be ordered by the case, a boon for collectors. Though this setup didn’t last long, it put one of the best large vehicles of the post Real American Hero into collectors’ hands.
Lt. Stone (Sigma 6) – As both the small and large Joes took a hiatus yet again, the fandom was in an uproar over their replacement, a combination of an eight inch, stylized line of figures and a two and a half inch vehicle based line. Accompanied by an animated series, Sigma 6 hung around for three years. It introduced new versions of old favorites, as well as new characters like Lt. Stone. This figure is hands down my favorite of the line, and its look and playability speak to what I find amazing about this little regarded avenue of GI Joe’s history. Incredibly playable, and joyfully toyetic, the Sigma 6 line was the most fun I’d had with GI Joe since the 80s.
As Sigma 6 faded, it turns out that GI Joe’s more well-known scales yet again could not be held down. The 25th anniversary of the Real American Hero was coming, and along with it, a resurgence of collector interest in the brand. And yes, the twelve inch scale (whose Timeless Collection reissues had been sprinkled throughout this period) would also make a return to mass market toy store shelves. Stick around, because the final group, the modern era, is up tomorrow.