I first got into GI Joes when the toys had shrunk down to become the Real American Hero of the 1980’s. I didn’t have much knowledge of or exposure to the Joes that had come before. A neighbor had a few Adventure Team figures and the AT HQ, but I had no idea what they were at the time (being a five year old). Later, as a collector of the small GI Joes with individual names and specialties, I hadn’t really considered the question commonly asked since the new team’s inception: which one is GI Joe? Of course, the comic and toyline would later identify the original GI Joe, but it still is a good question to ponder from the perspective of the beginning of the 80’s line.
If you look at early packaging and the design of the first series of figures, you could make a good case that Grunt is the closest of the era to being that prototypical GI Joe. First, his card art was featured on a lot of the advertising of the day, including the cover of the first catalog that was included with the line’s first vehicles.
Second, his name and specialty. He’s an infantryman, the Army’s everyman. I remember when I got Grunt, I asked my dad what it meant, and he told me that was what they called your basic soldier. Grunt is also outfitted in the most basic fatigues when compared to his teammates. The other figures either feature different uniform or detail colors, including a couple with silver and gold (by the way, when did GI Joe start adding flashy colors? Hmm…) While some other Joes were equipped with clear visors, lasers or jet packs, Grunt carried an M-16 and a backpack.Grunt is a bit of a throwback to the days of the 60’s GI Joes in that respect, when Joe represented a basic fighting man, whether a soldier, airman, marine or sailor.
The mold may seem quaint when compared to the figures released in the ensuing years, but I still find it (and the other original thirteen figures) to be a great example of the simplistic yet infinitely playable qualities that made the small Joe figures revolutionary. Yes, there are arm rivets, visible screws and joints and a lack of sculpted detail (folds, etc.) on the uniform, but those elements are all part of the toy experience, and they didn’t make much difference to a kid playing with it 30 years ago. Though the line’s design drew from construction seen first on 3 & 3/4 inch Mego figures, Hasbro took that primitive style and expanded upon it. The 1983 improvements of the swivel-arm battle grip and smaller waist piece made a huge difference in taking the smaller GI Joe to the next level as a successful and high quality toy line.