50 Favorites from 50 Years of GI Joe: Day 4
It’s the final part of our year-end look back at 50 years of GI Joe, and we’re up to what collector types have dubbed the modern era. What happens ten years from now? Will it be the post-modern era? I don’t even want to think about it. Anyway, since the beginning of the Real American Hero’s 25th anniversary, a lot of older collectors have jumped back into the fold. The fandom has produced more podcasts, websites and projects than ever before. The last few years have been a fun time to be a fan. Even with GI Joe seemingly disappearing from retail for a while, there’s plenty of fan-produced content to go around. Let’s check out some of the material from the years that helped stoke the fires…
2008 VAMP – Just seeing the old vehicles on store shelves again was a warm fuzzy. For the second year of the 25th line, the vehicles received the same kind of upgrade attention that had been afforded to the figures. In my mind, the added details and functionality of the revamped classic rides initially made them more interesting to me than the redesigned figures. The latest VAMP added mold details, extra paint apps, and gave us an affordable alternative to the older toys. A few of the additions to the vehicles were significant upgrades that addressed old issues from the originals. I’m happy to have a Sky Hawk whose wings don’t fall off easily.
MASS Device – Who would have ever thought that the MASS Device would exist in toy form? I am still amazed that this thing was made, and its presence proves that, as pop culture/toy geeks, we are living in a golden age, having almost every nerdy whim catered.
2008 Alpine – Some of the DVD battle pack figures were slight reworkings or rehashes, while others like Alpine were never to appear as single carded figures. Alpine shows off the versatility of the modern construction style, using just a few key new parts to create a different character.
2008 12 inch Cobra Commander – While the small Joe anniversary line was marching along, the RAH characters returned to the larger scale as well. Many were liberally reinterpreted, which was a refreshing change. This Cobra Commander sports a look like no other, featuring a throwback bolt-action rifle, sword, and a dress hat in addition to his traditional battle helmet. I just love the image of the Commander wearing a hat over his chromed faceplate.
2009 Lady Jaye – Flint’s main squeeze was reworked for the second GI Joe five pack, and the improvements finally brought us the Sunbow figure we’d been wanting since 1985.
2009 Arctic HISS – In the midst of all the direct homages to the 80s, Hasbro took a few steps toward offering up some new additions. The concept of the HISS tank working as a modular vehicle has been worked into many a fan custom, and it’s nice to see an official iteration. Now if only we could get a desert issue.
Rise of Cobra Kamakura – Though the movie uniforms lacked pizazz, the off-screen toys branched out into some interesting “what it” territory. I found the movie camouflage patterns to be preferable to the black body armor, and Kamakura apparently was able to paint his armor to match his colorful trousers. Maybe that’s just the kind of leeway GI Joe ninjas get.
Rise of Cobra Arctic Snake Eyes – I’ve been a fan of arctic figures since I got Snow Job for Christmas in 1983. Adding Snake Eyes to the wintry mix is a perfect union, despite his propensity to wear black. The white visor is really what sells this figure for me. I can’t quite say why; sometimes I am just attracted to a figure because it looks neat.
Sideshow Zartan – The ultimate marriage of classic twelve inch detail and 80s characters, the Sideshow GI Joe offerings were amazing. Sure, they were pricey, but certainly worth a premium price tag. The sort of minute detail of sculpting and cloth accessories is unmatched by Hasbro’s previous offerings. That’s not a knock against what’s come before, but simply a picture of where the state of the art 1/6 scale is these days. Zartan was reinterpreted from his original 1984 look, and I’m glad the designers didn’t pin themselves to his entire design. The 1980s figure would have looked more than a little silly translated literally, and this figure is anything but silly.
2011 Steel Brigade – I’m normally one for creating new characters rather than constantly reinventing old ones, but come on, how could anyone resist a new Steel Brigade figure? Add to the mix the improved articulation of the wrists, and a bevy of weapons, and you’ve got a winner. Kudos also for sticking to the blue sweater. What’s wrong with these toys having a bit of color?
2011 Storm Shadow – Another reworking of a classic figure; this one was technically (according to the package art) based on the Renegades version of the character, but included substitute parts to make the original as well. The figure is one of the most intricately sculpted and infinitely poseable versions of the famous Cobra ninja. A plethora of weapons were also included, a feature of many of the figures of the time.
2013 Kwinn – It took a few decades, but long time GI Joe Marvel comic fans were treated to an action figure version of Kwinn in his most memorable outfit. I mentioned earlier that we modern fans are fortunate to be catered to, and this is yet another example.
Kre-O Terrordrome – I could write for days and days about how much fun I’ve had with the Kre-O line, but I’ll roll most of my thoughts into this set. Again, I would never have thought a few years ago that a massive playset like the Terrordrome could make a return to toy shelves, but here it is. Like the original, the Cobra launch base is loaded with play features and roomy enough to accommodate more than a few troops. Included are six Kreons, and like their single pack and other brethren, are effectively simplified versions of their classic counterparts. If the Kre-O GI Joe line doesn’t continue, this was the perfect send-off.
My whirlwind exercise has really given me a fresh perspective on the depth and breadth of the GI Joe brand. Even if I continued working this blog for another ten years, I don’t think I could cover even all of the toys, let alone the ancillary stuff that’s been generated. GI Joe has been a truly amazing brand, and though it’s experienced ups and downs, the basic concept has held true, and also remained in the cultural lexicon in some way. These days, fans of my generation understandably feel disappointed that GI Joe doesn’t have a current retail presence, considering the attention the 80s-90s era has received since 2007. As a collector, I take heart in the fact that although new material is not available to buy, fifty years of back stock is out there for the taking. Be happy in the new year, fellow fans and collectors, and revel in the joy that GI Joe has given so many kids (and us big kids) for half a century.