Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Revenge Of The 80’s presents G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero

Back in 1982, while the Star Wars craze was still going strong toy manufacturer Hasbro decided to produce a new version of the famous G.I. Joe line of toys. They would be 3.75 inches in height (1/18th scale to the human body) and have weapons, accesories and vehicles that resembled real weapons and equipment that the American military actually used. They decided to call it “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” to help avoid confusion. Morever, they needed someone to fight. The Cold War was still on but they couldn’t have G.I. Joe try to rid the world of the Communist threat. Instead, a force called COBRA was created to do battle with the G.I. Joe team.

They were billed as a “ruthless terrorist organization trying to control the world”. They had vehicles, and equipment that resembled the militaries of other world armies and cadres. They also had a lot of original creations thought up by a team of toy designers. Each figure came with a weapon and acessories as well as a file card that came with it. Every vehicle came in a kit that you had to assemble yourself along with decals and a blueprint/schematic sheet that showed all of the features of that vehicle.

At first, the toys sold briskly but the Star Wars figures still owned the market. Hasbro only made a few characters and they had some inferior molds to make the toys from. Another problem was that while their action figures has many more points of articulation than the Star Wars figures (which couldn’t bend their arms or knees), the first run of G.I. Joe and Cobra figures all had straight arms making it hard for them to hold their weapons properly or look natural when they drove their vehicles. In June of 1982 the G.I. Joe Marvel Comic’s book began it’s long run.

In 1983, Hasbro decided to give all of the new figures swivel arms starting at the bicep to give them more range of motion. It was such a big hit that they reproduced the 1st run action figures to have swivel arms as well (like Firefly here).

The final installment of the Star Wars trilogy “Return Of The Jedi” was released. The Star Wars merchandise was still selling well, but the G.I. Joe and Cobra toys and their vehicles and accesories began to capture the imagination of American children more and more. Hasbro had already made a deal with Marvel Comics to produce a comic book series that was quite popular with readers so they made a deal with Sunbow Productions to produce a G.I. Joe animated TV movie. Once the G.I. Joe movie “The M.A.S.S. Device” aired on syndicated television channels they was no turning back, kids wanted to have Snake Eyes, Duke, and Stalker as well as Cobra Commander, Major Blood and Destro. They also wanted to have the vehicles they saw in the cartoon. The Marvel Comics series turned out to be excellent as well. The M.A.S.S. Device was such a breakout hit that another TV movie was to be the opening to a G.I. Joe cartoon show.

By 1984, there had been 3 generations of G.I. Joe and Cobra figures and vehicles. New popular figures such as Zartan and the Dreadknoks and the Crimson Guard were big sellers. They also became a big part of the cartoon and comic book as well. It was an excellent three tiered marketing strategy, the commercial would come on TV and part of it would be animated then at the end it would say “read about it in Marvel Comics!” and then in the new season of the G.I. Joe cartoon there are all of the characters using the new vehicles and new equipment. In the comic book it’s the same thing...brilliant.

The cartoon served as not only some great entertainment because it was surprisingly funny and well written, but because it was a 22 minute commercial that came on 5 times a week. You had Shipwreck’s smart ass comments, Roadblock spittin’ 4 bars everytime he spoke, Spirit being all wise and esoteric, Stalker’s gap toothed ass flying around with a jetpack, Bazooka saying something stupid and of course, who can forget the famous Alpine yodel? The great thing about G.I. Joe was that they had everybody down with them.

Barbeque was a red headed Irish Boston fireman, Doc was a Harvard/Johns Hopkins educated Black doctor, Spirit was a Native American, Zap and Shipwreck were both Puerto Ricans, Gung Ho was a Cajun Marine from Louisiana and Scarlett was a Southern belle from Atlanta that just also happened to be a red headed Ninja. They fought stereotypes as well...where else can you see a Black mountain climber (Alpine) and a cold weather specialist (Frostbite) on the same squad? (Although Big Lob was a step backwards, thank God he never got an action figure...although William “The Fridge” Perry did.) Well at least we learned a lot of lifelessons from those PSA’s. Knowing IS half the battle:

I was pissed off by the cartoon to a certain degree because G.I. Joe used to always win because Cobra Commander fucked everything up or because of infighting between Destro, Zartan, or the Crimson Guard/Tomax and Xamot (“Extensive Enterprises!”) trying to take control of Cobra. Thais all took away from the fact that Cobra should have won every fuckin’ time because they had iller weapons and more of them. Trust me, I played G.I. Joe vs. Cobra with my brother for years and when we played I was G.I. Joe and he was Cobra...I lost ALL of the time. I was three years older than my little brother and I watched shit like “Apocalypse Now”, “Full Metal Jacket” and “Platoon” regularly. He just had the iller vehicles and weapons, even to this day I look back at all of the vehicles he had and I don’t know how I was supposed to stand a chance (we played all out military style, not like the cartoon). We used to set up snipers and have ambushes where we took hostages and then tortured people for info. When our Joes or Cobras thumbs broke we turned them into cannon fodder or vehicle drivers (You can’t hold a weapon? Fuck you then!).

Once the crotches broke or they just broke in half because that black rubber band in the middle broke you had to get a new Joe to replace the one you lost. There were a couple of ways we got new G.I. Joe figures, you coulod go out to a toy store but that was a trek for some kids to do. In the hood there were a couple of chain stores that carried G.I. Joes where I lived they were called Rx (pronounced “ricks”) and Christy’s. The thing was that these stores didn’t really have great security so you could go in and sneak to the G.I. Joe spinning rack and pocket between 3 and 6 random Joes real quick without getting caught. If you were looking for someone in particular, you needed a diversion at the counter (“Ayo Hakim, go buy 4 Chocodiles and a 2 pack of AA batteries while I get a new Lady Jaye, Quick Kick and a Sprit”).

The other way was order them from Hasbro Direct, a lot of the figures and vehicles were discontinued and not available in stores but in different Marvel Comics (big surprise) were these deals and order sheet where you could get those figures and vehicles for cheap. I remember getting the A.W.E. Striker, Cobra H.I.S.S., Hooded Cobra Commander and a bunch of other shit from there over the years. Of course, we always had boosters that would hit up Kay Bee or Child World (both notorious for having lax security) and come back with mad figures but it was always a mixed bag because a lot of the time they’d get a lot of the same ones (4 Bazookas, 3 Scrap Irons, 3 Zartans, 2 Destros, 2 Recondos, a Major Blood, an Aitight and a Dusty with like 3 Weapon/Acessory packs). Sometimes, kids used to hit up the Woolworth's...that was a tougher mission, though (See what happens when you tell a bunch of Boston kids legends about the Lo Lifes in New York?).

Those Weapon/Accesory packs were cool because a lot of the times you ended up losing a character’s backpack, accesory or weapon. In some cases it would spoil it so you couldn’t even play (“Where’s Stormshadow’s swords at?”) and you’d end up looking for a quarter inch plastic weapon that’s the same color as your rug for a full hour...that shit ain't fun at all. We'd lose backpacks, guns, everything. Those accessory packs were lifesavers (we used to handpaint the weapons different colors cuz only Ghostface would be feeling a baby blue uzi or a canary yellow sub machine gun).

The cartoon was bananas. In the first movie, they weren’t shooting red and blue lasers like they were later on. Plus, people were getting SHOT, not that laser beams wizzing by and hitting nothing shit. I still have “The Weather Dominator”, “The Pyramid Of Darkness”, “Arise Serpentor Arise” and several cartoon episodes on tape from WLVI TV 56 from the old days, now they’re all available on DVD complete with the PSA’s. After “Transformers: The Movie” did so horribly at the box office, Sunbow Productions was shook to release “G.I. Joe The Movie” in theatres. Instead, they aired it on national television. This would be the last year that the G.I. Joe cartoon would be in production (it was cancelled before a new season could be produced) and the toy would begin experiencing a decline in inventive ideas after the Cobra La 3 pack flopped and Cobra Commander and Serpentor were both removed from the series.

Some of the classic episodes included Lights! Camera! Cobra!, The Viper Is Coming, Twenty Questions, The Traitor, Eau De Cobra, Cold Slither, Cobrathon, Glamour Girls and Ninja Holiday in addition to the full length movies I mentioned above.

G.I. Joe jumped the shark and the dumbest ever idea was implemented by the design staff. G.I. Joe took seized Cobra vehicles and some of their one discontinued vehicles, gave them a new paint job and used them in combat. They called the line “Tiger Force” (above) did not do well at all. I had hopped off the bandwagon by then as the years of 1984-1987 produced the best G.I. Joe and Cobra vehicles and figures. I’ll highlight my all time favorites here:

Here's the reason I was so pissed off playing G.I. Joe all the time. Not matter how fly a vehicle I got, Cobra had something to bump it off. I had mad Armadillo tanks:

Cobra ALREADY had the H.I.S.S. and then they got the S.T.U.N. that could shoot two vehicles at the same time

and take these out (even with the hoversled):

I had the Conquest X-30 airplane and thought I was the man:

Cobra had the goddamn Night Raven

(with an additional plane on the back to blow not only the Conquest out the sky but THIS as well):

I had a Snow Cat for the longest:

Then Cobra goes and gets this ill ass snow vehicle:

It was the neverending story for real, not only did you have to deal with Cobra, but the Dreadknoks. I used to get STOMPED on the regular. Even when I had firepower like this:

I had to deal with shit like this:

It was an arms race for real in our room! You couldn't go anywhere without seeing a G.I. Joe or a Cobra figure crouched in a corner or over in the cut in a firing position from one of our marathon Joe vs. Cobra sessions. When we finally moved out of our old apartment of 24 years in 1999, me and Buc kept finding Dusty old G.I. Joe's behind couches and under or beds and dressers still in the positions we left them more than 10 years ago, waiting to light the enemies ass up Low Light style.

A new G.I. Joe movie has just been greenlighted and it’s to be produced by the same team that made the new “Transformers” movie (so expect Stalker, Roadblock and Doc to all die horrible on screen deaths or say “What’s crackin’, bitches?”). Check out more information about G.I. Joe’s figures, vehicles or cartoon series at the these sites:



Anonymous said...

Dart, I got tell ya. You're always on point but this was the sickest post ever. Holy Shit. My next door neighbor had the Night Raven. It was the only reason I would go over his house. One day I was playing GI Joe's outside in the snow (Cobra got they ass kicked) and I lost Shipwreck, Storm Shadow AND Snake Eyes. I almost had a nervous breakdown. Three weeks later the snow melted and I found them. Greatest day of my life.

alex said...

Fresh post. Did you know that Larry Hama (the writer behind Marvel's GI Joe comic) also wrote the file cards for the toys for a number of years. Explains some of the weird ass shit that used to show up in those. At any rate, it's true that the line went downhill after the movie, but there were still a couple of pretty dope designs. Personal fave would have to be the Alley Viper:

At any rate, I think that you could do a pretty dope GI Joe movie if the casting was right. I wanna see Jackie Chan as Quickick and Howie Long as Duke! (Also Gilbert Gottfried as Cobra Commander, RIP Chris Latta)

Dart Adams said...

Yep, I knew that. Did you know that Tunnel Rat was designed for Larry Hama? His likeness and height exactly. I once battled this kid back in the days and said "I can beatyou easily cuz I can read your thoughts like TeleVipers" It was a wrap for him.


Unknown said...

A new G.I. Joe movie? I thought that they might try it, but I didn't think it would be done. Should be long as they don't screw it up like they did Street Fighter. I still want to beat Van Damme's ass over that one. OH and I used to order the G.I. Joe vehicles from the order slips that came with the toys as well. Classic stuff. We had it good in the 80's, kids are missing out today.

Anonymous said...

Jesus, Dart. This was the greatest drop ever. While I was reading my eyes starting welling up because (a this is like the greatest post ever, and b) I used to love these shits. My best friend at the time used to stick little firecrackers in their torsos and blow them apart. We stopped being friends shortly after that.

Beautiful stuff. Glad to have you back.

Anonymous said...

Still got that giant space shuttle in the attic as well as that huge GI Joe fortress (the long one)

BRA said...

ahh, cobra mamba

that was an ill helicopter