Saturday, February 23, 2013

G.I. Joe: 12" fighting man or 4" American hero?

Karen: Today we look at an American classic, G.I Joe. But wait -which version rules? The original 12" moveable fighting man, or the 3 3/4" real American Hero?

Karen: As a child of the 60s and 70s, I have to give my respects to the original. Why, he's worth three of those puny, gaudy latecomers! The original Joe had all the coolest gear. And in the 70s, he figured out how to grow a beard! He was a bad mutha...

Karen: But I know some of you later Bronze Age babies love your tiny titans. And certainly that line from the 80s was colorful and varied. Of course, they also had their own cartoon. 

Karen: So sound off: support your favorite plastic soldier!


Rip Jagger said...

The reinvention of the G.I.Joe toy was a gem of marketing. The toy was already wildly successful, and there had been attempts to update it, but when Star Wars changed the nature of boy toys, it was genius to reinvent the line.

We frown on it, but the synergy of the cartoon and the toy line was ideal, creating a buzz which made even me, an adult at the time pay attention. The Joes were a fun pack of characters with new ones showing up just often enough to keep me curious.

I never bought any Joe small toys, but I did watch the cartoon, and even a few comics.

Rip Off

humanbelly said...

Pfffft. Karen, Karen, KAREN, Karen, Karrrrrrren--- can there be any question? Ohhhhhhh, come now.

"G.I. Joe-- Now with life-like hair and beard!"

The big G.I.Joes were a GREAT, GREAT toy for boys, 'cause they really could span a huge range of appeal. The more low-brow among us could drop them out of trees, run over them with our bikes, blow them up w/ firecrackers, etc. The more intellectually-oriented among us could create elaborate long-running, imaginative battle & story scenarios. The more artistically-inclined among us liked dressing them up in different outfits. ALL of my pals had them-- I don't think there was ever a hint of the assumed stigma that they were "dolls", and unfit for boyish pursuits.

My own beaten-up, much-used, beloved squad (six or seven of them, I'm pretty sure) is still tucked up on a high corner shelf in the comic book room. Still wearing the superhero-style capes I made for them to give them a whole new type of identity. One of them, which would probably be worth a FORTUNE if it was in anything like salable condition, is the talking Astronaut Joe. "The Eagle has landed." "Engaging llllunar mmmodule."

They did have their own peculiar issues. The boots & shoes were sometimes impossible-- generally, his entire foot would come off when trying to remove them. And after many times of that happening, the whole foot-joint would become quite loose, and he couldn't stand up anymore. And the pre-formed, rifle-holding hand positions tended to make him look perpetually arthritic when NOT holding a gun. And, boy, once a leg or arm joint decided to become loose, you might as well put him in the Toyland VA hospital, 'cause he wasn't going to be a very effective trooper anymore. . .

When the new, little guys came out in the 80's I had, of course, long aged out of playing with them, and just saw them as a cheap-o effort to cash in on a beloved brand name. Now that stigma (whether correct or not) has colored my appreciation of them ever since.

HB ("We have ignition. . . liftoff."

William said...

The original GI Joe was a staple of Christmas morning for me when I was wee lad. For several years there was always at least one waiting for me under the tree. Joe was the gold standard of action figures. His accessories and playsets were second to none, and his Kung-Fu Grip was legendary. I had several different ones over the years growing up, and I spent many hours fighting mock battles in the back yard and making the world safe for liberty and freedom.

When I was around ten or eleven they expanded the Joe line and added super hero like characters Mike Power (aka Atomic Man), and the straight up costumed super guy Bulletman (complete with removeable silver helmet). I remember getting Bulletman at Sears when he came out and he instantly became my favorite toy. I hung onto him for a long time.

However, when I got a little older, and girls started seeming less "icky", playing with bearded dudes in the back yard suddenly lost a lot of it's appeal, and I eventually gave all my GI Joe's to a younger kid in my neighborhood.

I was no longer of toy buying age by the time the little Joe's made the scene. But I thought they looked pretty cool from the cartoon and commercials (and the very successful Marvel comic book). It was a stroke of genius to reinvent the line for a new generation. The smaller size made them ideal for vehicles and playsets. However, the smartest thing they did was giving each Joe their own specialty (read super power) which made the new GI Joe seem more like a superhero team than a military unit. They even gave them comic book super villains to battle in the form of Cobra. Brilliant. If I had been nine years old when those came out, my head would probably have exploded with excitement.

Matt Celis said...

the small ones had variety and personality the big one lacked. I used to set them up in the backyard and act out missions. Poor Snake Eyes suffered a melted arm aftet falling into a firepit trap. Some others suffered minor dings from BB shots. What fun.

david_b said...

A few years back I would have talked your ear off, having just gotten off active duty in Germany, buying my first house, and finding something to collect.

I had a few from childhood, even had the GI Joe Hair guy actually redo the hair and beards (he was just featured in People Magazine..), and collected all the cool vehicles I never had as a kid, including some rare Gyperman stuff from Europe. The Gyperman AT stuff were the same molds, just colored cooler in dark OD Green; I still have a MIB ATV vehicle, in OD Green instead of the American yellow color, and it has a 'real chain' for the winch, not string. Y'know, just cool little variations like that.

I collected all the foreign figs and sets I always imagined having as a kid, such as the Flying Space Adventure, the fighter pilot sets, you name it, other Action Man space sets not available in the US. I frequented a Kane County toy antique auction for several years, getting my young niece and nephew into Joe/Barbie collecting. Doug, I'm sure you're quite aware of Kane County toy auctions.

Like most, the small scale came out while I was in college. I bought a few vehicles for my nephew (who was just a toddler then..), and thought some sets were quite impressive. The only set I'd LOVE to get some day would be the HUGE Defiant Space Launch complex..

(Try finding THAT for under a hundred..!!)

J.A. Morris said...

I was young enough to play with both the classic and the smaller Joes, the smaller line was released when I was 10. I also enjoyed the Marvel comic written by Larry Hama, who made a 20-page toy ad into something much better than it had a right to be.

I like the old ones a bit better, but I always had a tough time getting them to hold guns, tools, or anything else. I never had a doll with the "kung fu grip", so that was a problem. But I had the bearded, talking Joe, Bulletman, the Intruder Commander, the abominable snowman set,good times indeed.

William Preston said...

Just the other day, my mother told me that in the course of going through boxes as my parents prepare to move (again), she discovered a box with some old toys of mine—including the GI Joe Mobile Support Vehicle!

(Must be a later model, what with ET riding shotgun . . . )

I loved this thing, and my GI Joes, but they came with all the standard frustrations of such toys: they didn't actually do what you wanted them to. Joe was hard to dress (just as bad as Barbie); as has been pointed out, he couldn't really hold things; talking Joe didn't have that much to say; the mobile unit was, for all the cool decals and the spinning-top-launcher, more about look than function. As an only child, I had a tough time entertaining myself with this for long periods; simply dressing them was, I think, where most of the time went. (Captain Action was entirely about dress-up, since he had superhero outfits too.) I was able to be much more creative with Tog'ls.

Karen said...

William P -I remember getting that funky vehicle one Christmas! It was such a weird contraption. The cab in front seemed way too small. But the command center was cool, what with all the panels and maps and such. I think that was one of the last (and certainly biggest) GI Joe toys I had.

One thing that puzzles me to this day: I recall having two playsets, one featuring a yeti and the other a mummy, and in both cases the creatures were in much smaller scale compared to the Joes. The yeti was about 5 inches tall and the mummy was around 6. I'm guessing they might have come from some other existing toys. Anyone have any info on this? It was rather disappointing!

Doug said...

I loved GI Joes! They were the first action figures (ok, dolls) I had. I don't recall ever having any of the issues with joints, etc. that some of you have mentioned. Mine stayed intact, and believe me -- they were well-played with.

As to the images Karen used, I had the Joe in the green camo outfit, and the ATV pictured (mine was part of an Egyptian playset that also included a yellow helicopter and a blue sarcophagus). I also had the large orange tower with the winch and the rope ladder. I had a large gray/brown styrofoam cave that I used for the Joes, but I am wondering now if it was in the Six Million Dollar Man line, or maybe even the Apes Megos (?). Any help on that would be welcome.

As some others have mentioned, I was past the age of toy playing when the smaller Joes were released, but will agree that the reimagining of the line was a deft marketing move.

Very fond memories overall!


Anonymous said...

I was born in '72 so I didn't have any of the original G.I. Joe stuff, but I had quite a few of the 80s ones. In fact, I still have a bunch of figures and a few larger toys (the hovercraft, the Cobra STUN, the Dreadnok Thunder Machine and so on) in the basement somewhere.

I also read the Marvel comic in the 80s (which tied into the toy line) and I always thought Larry Hama did a great job incorporating all the new toys/characters into the stories. Of course, they released so many toys that the whole thing eventually collapsed under its own weight, but I still consider the comic book storyline to be the "canonical" one for the Joes.

Mike W.

Karen said...

Doug - the cave came with the tower. Check out this Joe website I just found. Tons of pictures of playsets and accessories:

Doug said...

Karen --

Thank you!

However, I had almost no memory of any of the accessories that are in that picture. Upon closer inspection, the cabinet with the oxygen tank and mask, as well as the kid-sized compass definitely were in my possession. But I really cannot recall the barrel or the guns and gun rack. Isn't that strange? The cave is right there, too. The size differential between Joes and Megos always bugged me, as this playset did not translate well to the 8" scale, at least not the top of it. The girders and ladder were fine, however.

Did anyone ever buy the generic bags of weapons and accessories that were Joe-scale, sold in dime stores?


david_b said...

Given time today, I could probably name nearly every Joe set (60s-70s), variation, you name it. That's how far I was into it when I collected in the mid-90s. Having both the 'Adventures of' red and 'Adventure Team' blue artic coat variations was typical.

If you recall the mid-'90s 'Masterpiece Editions', John Michlig the guy who proposed the idea to (and co-authored) with Don Levine actually lives here in Milwaukee, so I got him to autograph my FAO Schwartz Exclusive 12" Astronaut edition. Such a nice guy, but in emails, he had some dirty dealings with Levine over creative ownership. I cannot devulge the legal details as I was told by Michlig, but suffice to say Levine took credit for the entire ME concept (which Hasbro later bought, as did Paramount Studios soon after for their Trek sets).

An excellent coffee table book (with lots of HUGE glorious pictures) is Derryl DePriest's 'Collectable GI Joe'... Such a beautiful book to page through.

I was always a fan of the 70s Adventure Team box art, so much as to drop serious $$ for good condition boxes and remove/matte/frame the color illustration.

In my '90s collecting heyday, I'd typically drop a hundred for most 60s/70s complete loose sets; the AT 'Flying Space Adventure' helmet and white jetpack each set me back a hundred each. Ah, but to look on 'em on my shelf, nearly pristine..? It's SO worth it.

Oh, and if you can find a decent guy who can fix 'Talking Joes' at a cheap price, KEEP HIM HANDY. I met a fellow Army guy at that Kane County auction (who's been at the Pentagon lately on a tour of duty..), and he's fixed a few of my astronaut and marine talkers. He know's 'em inside and out (so to speak..). It's a side business for him, he takes a dozen to hotel rooms when he travels and whittles away his time fixin' them. Super nice guy, I may still have his name somewhere. Anyways, he did MAGIC on my astronaut talker..: Broken sound boxes, knotted strings, voice too slow, you name it. Most navy talkers are the most expensive, since most kids didn't know better and submerged 'em back in the day.

That reminds me, I have to buy another Panther Jet one of these days. I just put my AT Swampcraft back on my office shelf earlier today. Another awesome watercraft.

Graham said...

I had the Secrets of the Mummy's Tomb set, too, with the six-wheel ATV and the mummy and those valuable jewels! I think I actually used the ATV with my Megos, too. Seems like you could put it in the water and it would float, too. I can't remember if Joe with lifelike hair and beard did so well in the water though.

William Preston said...

Karen said, "I think that was one of the last (and certainly biggest) GI Joe toys I had."

Same here. And one's first love remains the wooden footlocker.


Redartz said...

Grew up playing with the12" figures. At least, until my brother and I , in our youthful wisdom, blew up and melted them all as teens. Funny at the time; not laughing now...

My favorite was the astronaut . Had the Marine in his dress blues, which looked great but didn't lend itself to muddy backyard battles. Also had the Arctic Patrol Joe, equipped with snowshoes, goggles and white parka. Sadly, most of that equipment ended up lost in the snow.

I remember struggling a bit with the tent assembly, an experience revisited years later while attempting to erect a real tent while camping. Yet despite the set-up challenges and frequently misplaced parts, we had a blast playing with those figures !

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

The G.I. Joes were a regular gift idea my grandmother and mother used to buy me play sets and vehicles for presents. I got quite a few of them. There was a single figure submarine, a tower for missions, an entire headquarters, a under water sled, a space capsule from 1969. I had them all. I even have a G. I. Joe Army Jeep (very used) and Mobile Support Vehicle. I even had the yellow one used for the Mummy’s Tomb in the picture.

Unlike many Joe collectors I didn’t save the packaging. I played a lot with my toys when I was a kid. Staging great battle scenes. I even got Mike Power (the Six Million Dollar Man rip off) and many of the life like beard, kung fu grip figures.

I was regularly chastised for playing with “dolls”, however I didn’t care. It took me so long to stage battle scenes, I was in my own little world and didn’t care if my peers made fun of me.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I remember my G.I. Joe footlocker. The green one with the tray to keep joe supplies. I regret the day I put an Incredible Hulk stiker on the front. I could have re-sold it and made a few bucks.

All and all I relly don't like or collect the three inch figures. Never had, never will.

However, I love the cartoons. I just bought them all on DVD and really like the new one on the HUB Network. I wonder if it was canceled? Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man) was the voice of the general.

But I digrees, back to the 12' Joes. I loved the fact that they could change uniforms and wish that they had stayed in some form. It made HASBRO easier to build vehicles for the figures.

However, it lost it's appeal for me because a fan couldn't change uniforms or buy eqipment like you could for the old Joes. The three inch Joes spelled the end of my collecting days.

david_b said...

Karen, forgot to mention, when I started my re-collecting fervor in the '90s, that Mobile Support Vehicle was my number one goal.. None of the stuff works on the one I bought (like the light, etc..), but it's SO flippin' cool to own.

I remembered the commercials so vividly, and the fact my parents never had much money to purchase me any 'mission sets'. My lonely Talking AT Commander had to hitch-hike everywhere, until I had saved a whole whoppin' $3 to buy the 'Ariel Recon' set, which I recall was the cheapest vehicle set available.

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