G.I. Joe – A Real American hero! G.I. Joe is there!
As much as I bang the 1:12 drum, my initial loves in action figure collecting were all 1:18. Kenner made it popular with Star Wars and not long after, other companies started throwing their hats into the ring. One of those companies was Hasbro. It was 1982, and I was nine-years-old. The time was right to reintroduce the G.I. Joe line to the public, but with a fresh perspective. Gone were the larger “action figures” (a term specifically made up for G.I.Joe at the time) with soft goods. These figures were much smaller, with unique code names and personalities. That is as much credit to Larry Hama as it is to Hasbro. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that without Hama, we would not have had the cultural impact we had with the reborn line.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look back at the figures in the line that had the most impact on me. My favorite Joes. My collection is long gone, so these photographs are not mine. I found the pics on yojoe.com. It looks like they put a lot of love into their site, so please give it a visit if you’re a JOE fan. Credit goes to whomever originally took the pictures originally.
I’m not sure I can put these in any order, as in “this is my favorite, this is my second favorite” but let’s see how this goes. I wanted to do a “Top 10” list but I couldn’t narrow it down to just ten. I cut it back to 20, and even one of those is cheating. The most surprising to me was looking at the line through adult eyes. I felt like I had all of them growing up. Looking at the releases, I was all in on the line in 1982 (with my parent’s money, of course. I was 9 and unemployed. Lazy, even.) with figures, mail-ins, and vehicles. Around ’85 it looks like I stopped getting vehicles. By the time ’88 hit, I was done with the line. Looking at the images in retrospect, it looks like they ran out of military ideas and went too far down the “artistic interpretations” hole. I was 15 and at the time, I think Transformers owned my soul.
Enough talk, let’s get started:
G.I. Joe – Code name Flash
Flash is here for no other reason than he was my first G.I. Joe figure. I had this and the JUMP jetpack set. This was before swivel arm battle grip was a thing. If we completely broke a figure sometimes we’d luck out and get a replacement WITH Swivel Arm battle grip. Most of the times the thumbs would break, or the rubber band inside would snap. Flash here was a laser trooper before we were close to weaponizing lasers, so kudos to him.
G.I. Joe – Rock n’ Roll
Rock ‘n Roll is here because he was my little brother’s first Joe. We are 2 and a half years apart so we shared toys, friends, and a childhood that most people are uncomfortable talking about. He had a killer name, a California, laid-back attitude and in addition to his big ass heavy machine gun, my brother had the RAM Motorcycle to ride around on.
G.I. Joe – Snake-Eyes
Snake-Eyes should have been the most boring character ever. He was the “commando.” I didn’t know what that meant. The Arnold movie wasn’t out yet, and honestly, I’m not sure that’s an accurate depiction of what commandos do. He was a figure clad in all black with a UZI and what I thought were binoculars but turns out it was a demolition device. Whatevs. None of that mattered. What made him cool was his mystery. He was the Batman of the team. A disfigured mute, he excelled at karate kicking problems in any area vulnerable to karate.
G.I. Joe – Snake-Eyes V2
Speaking of Snake-Eyes, the next version was the ultimate Snake-Eyes to me. Maybe it was how Larry Hama wrote him in the comic (issue 21 of G.I. Joe still blows my mind. If you’ve not read it, you should). Maybe it was the sword that ATTACHED TO HIS BACKPACK OMGWTF JUST HAPPENED!!! Or perhaps it was his bad-ass wolf, Timber. Whatever it was, this figure was the definitive Snake-Eyes to me.
G.I. Joe – Hooded Cobra Commander
We got the flamboyant Cobra leader as part of a mail-in and he blew us away. The cartoon had been out for a while (a 30-minute commercial and I loved every second of it) so to own this version felt pretty amazing at the time.
G.I. Joe – Cobra Commander Battle Suit
I first saw this in the comic when it was discovered that Cobra had an entire TOWN full of Cobra agents that looked like Suburbia. It was cool to see the head snake get an upgrade.
G.I. Joe – Hawk
The first Hawk figure was kind of a disappointment. So much so that when the cartoon appeared, Duke was the main guy. It wasn’t until GENERAL Hawk showed up that he took his rightful place at the head of our foremost terrorist fighting agency.
G.I. Joe – Baroness
As a kid, I was like, “Whaaaat? A bad… woman? Women can be bad?” That was before life happened. Anyway, as an adult, she has helped feed a brunette/leather fetish for myself and many other 80’s perverts.
G.I. Joe – Serpentor
Made in a test tube, he’s the custom DNA cocktail any world-conquering entity would want. His big impact on me was when he killed Duke in the G.I. Joe cartoon movie. With a gold snake hood, staff and one man sky chariot, he was about as far as I was willing to go in terms of non-military characters, but he was a doozie. Loved this figure.
G.I. Joe – Shipwreck
Sailor hat? Check. Old-timey pistol? Check. Parrot? FREAKIN’ CHECK! Young me loved this figure.
G.I. Joe – Roadblock
The cartoon 100% sold this badass figure to me. The Browning machine gun screamed “I WILL EAT YOUR SOUL!” to me. Loved this dude.
G.I. Joe – B.A.T.S.
Today I would have had to own several of these, but at the time, the optional hands, wow. With a place in his backpack to hold the appendages? Plus a chest hologram? Sign me the %^&$ up!
G.I. Joe – Tomax and Xamot
This two-pack was unique at the time. Mirror reflections? Dumb gimmick, but not to 11-year-old me. I was all in on the leaders of the Crimson Gaurd. In hindsight, “Evil Lawyers” seems repetitive.
G.I. Joe – Duke
As I mentioned with Hawk earlier, his original look was so boring that this blonde-haired, blue-eyed Captain America without a shield was needed to lead the team in the cartoon. At the time, this figure didn’t exist. Another badass mail in with a gun, backpack, helmet, and binoculars. Yo Joe!
G.I. Joe – Barbecue
He was orange with a cool helmet. He had a freakin’ ax What-whaaat? He’s here because I specifically remember telling kids they couldn’t play with him. Why? Because each Joe had a job. So when they wanted to give Snowjob his ax, or Scarlett Snake-eye’s UZI… nope. Leave. We cannot be friends. Yes, I was that kid.
G.I. Joe – Zartan
Ok, a rubber mask was revolutionary at the time. Master of disguise? I was all in on that dude. Toss in color changing? More like game-changing.
G.I. Joe – Gung-Ho
Start with an alpha male Marine. Add in a grenade launcher. Toss in the confidence to wear teal with a huge corp chest tattoo exposed? I have to wonder how many kids this inspired to join the Marines. The dude was a problem solver.
G.I. Joe – Major Bludd
He was a mercenary, but my favorite part was his background card. “Major Bludd writes poetry…badly: When you’re feeling low and woozy/Slap a fresh clip in your Uzi!/Assume the proper firing stance/And make the suckers jump and dance!” I also saw a cartoon movie in the last decade that was entertaining. In it, Bludd was shot in the head near the beginning. Sucked me right in.
G.I. Joe – Destro
There’s something intriguing about a man in a full metal mask that is also super shiny. That screams “confidence.” Which I guess, to sell weapons to Cobra, and then double cross them, it probably takes a lot of confidence.
G.I. Joe – Dr. Mindbender
Part of the crazy that helped make Serpentor, this “master interrogator” when viewed through an adult lens, looks like a lunatic. You were an actual doctor until you strapped a car battery to your testicles and shocked the good out of you? Whatever, dude. But again, young me was a sucker for this kind of stuff.
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip back to my childhood as much as I did. It was hard to narrow this list down to 20 (or 21). While I no longer collect Joes, they will always remain a formative part of my love for the hobby. Consider this article a love letter to my childhood.