This year the chain store Target ran a television ad asking the Christmas question, “What D’ya get?” The commercial had a Barbie and several other toys including plastic army men who were all curious about the unseen gift. I know what wasn’t in the box: G.I. Joe, because Joe was absent from shelves this year on his 50th anniversary. So I have to ask, “Why did Hasbro abandon the Real American Hero?”
Being a child of the 1970’s I grew up with G.I. Joe. I had several hand me downs from the days when he was America’s Fighting Man as well as some from when he was a member of the more politically correct Adventure Team. One of my favorite pictures of my youth is a pile of toys under the Christmas tree that were all G.I. Joe. That doll, excuse me “action figure”, was a major part of my childhood.
Growing up in East Harlem in New York City in the 70’s I had many vacant lots to play in with my Joes. Whether I wanted to pretend that it was an alien planet or a post-apocalyptic world, Joe was there to take on the adventure. I would play for hours with nothing more than 2 Joes and a vehicle, yet the possibilities were endless. I had something that appears to be lacking in the video game ruled childhoods of today, I had imagination. Don’t get me wrong there were television shows that would shape stories; Mission Impossible and Ark 2(a live action Saturday morning show) for example. But I was not limited to the pre-determined names and storylines set forth by a television show; my possibilities were endless.
I did come up with names and backstories for my figures, as I am sure many others must have done, because Land Adventure is a designation not a name. I still remember my mother coming into my room one evening and asking who I was talking to and I responded that two of the figures were talking. She said she heard two voices to which I replied that it was just me doing the voices. She did threaten to take me to a psychiatrist if I didn’t stop. In the end she didn’t and I still do voices and characters…way too many if you ask around.
Since G.I. Joe was such a part of my youth my love for the brand followed me into adulthood. There was a brief period when there weren’t any Joes on store shelves between the late 1970s into the early 1980s and that was when everything changed. Hasbro introduced G.I. Joe: The Real American Hero. This 3 ¾ inch figure had a brand new cartoon to support the brand. The storyline was that G.I. Joe was our line of defense against the evil terrorist organization, Cobra. Don’t get me wrong, the figures were cool as were the vehicles but it wasn’t the Joe of my childhood. Eventually Hasbro began to produce 12 inch figures that corresponded to the characters on the show. Although they had cloth uniforms like those of the original figures they weren’t as poseable and to me lacked something. Those figures would soon give way to new generic 12 inch figures from all branches of the armed services, police, fire and rescue. These figures featured more poseability and infinite possibilities. I was a child all over again. Not that I ever really grew up.
The Real American Hero gave way to other figure lines that included Sgt. Savage, G.I. Extreme (ugh), Sigma 6 and Renegades. Of the new lines both the figures from Sigma 6 and Renegades were stand outs. Sigma 6 was a completely different concept since the line offered playsets for small non-poseable figures as well as 8 inch poseable figures with detailed weapons and storage crates. The anime look to the figures took a bit to get me on board but I eventually began to collect them. I really liked how the equipment worked with the 12 inch figures so nicely. The smaller figures never interested me since to me they were glorified little green army men (sorry guys).
Sigma 6 also had a short lived cartoon that folded up after one season and soon after the figure line went with it, disappearing from shelves. Renegades also had a one season shot but it was a contained storyline about a group of Joes that were framed and needed to clear their names. The figures were the 3 ¾ size and were peppered in with the assortments of other figures of time. I really liked the Duke figure out of that line but I think eventually I collected a complete set of the Renegades figures.
Long after the original cartoon was cancelled, someone decided that Joe needed to be on the big screen and in 2009 it happened. The movie called G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra had a line of figures in both 12 inch and 3 ¾ inch sizes. The 3 ¾ inch figures were poseable could be used with the vehicles from the movie. There were also a couple of decent 12 inch figures in cloth uniform. And as the saying goes with good there must be some bad as well. The bad in this case came in the form of an absolutely horrible battery operated oversized power suit figure.
Following that movie Hasbro stopped producing 12 inch figures for the G.I. Joe line. Then in 2012 at Toy Fair, Hasbro announced the return of that beloved scale, but what they produced was simply abysmal. Gone were the cloth uniforms and poseable bodies; what they were passing off as action figures looked like blocks of wood with arms and legs. Limited articulation wasn’t the only thing that was wrong with these figures, they were just hideous. I remember being at the Hasbro showroom and turning to one of the Hasbro reps and asking, “So are these just prototypes for what are coming out?” I asked this because there was no way this was a toy for kids. The rep turned to me and smiled, “Nope. Those are going be on shelves this summer!” He sounded so proud of this fact. My camera man asked me, “So you gonna get them?” And right there in front of the rep without any forethought or intended malice I turned and said, “Hell no, they look like shit.” And I wonder why Hasbro still doesn’t send me samples to review.
It wasn’t just the figures that were an issue it was the movie itself. Hasbro released the first wave of figures a couple of months prior to the film’s release but Paramount pulled the movie and moved the release to 2013. Without a film to support the figure line all of the products sat on the shelf. When G.I. Joe: Retaliation was finally released in March of 2013 it was dead on arrival. The subsequent waves of figures just sat around.
When I attended Toy Fair in 2014 I was very excited about what was in store for G.I. Joe because it was the 50th anniversary of the line. When I arrived at the Hasbro showroom the only thing for G.I. Joe was KRE-O (pseudo Lego) sets. There were no figures and no playsets on display. We were told that Toys R Us would have a couple of vehicles and figure sets as exclusives but that was all. Something was definitely wrong, I couldn’t believe that there were no new Joes on the horizon. Sadly it got worse.
Earlier this summer, another website I can’t recall which (I am not being obtuse or coy, I really can’t remember), reported that Hasbro had removed any and all references to G.I. Joe from its website. You could not even purchase Joes from their online store…G.I. Joe was dead. This was a day I never thought I would live to see, my childhood friend going the way of Howdy Doody and Raggedy Ann.
There are still some companies producing G.I. Joes such as Sideshow Collectibles. Don’t get me wrong, Sideshow does an absolutely stellar job at action figures but they have the price tags to match. I do not like figures that you have to keep in a package or on a shelf because, bottom line, they are toys and meant to be enjoyed. Maybe this is just one man’s opinion and maybe I am wrong.
Even into my adulthood I still play with my toys. I enjoy taking my figures outside and snapping photos of them in the snow or real world settings. A prime example was in 2004 I was given the G.I Joe Humvee for my 12 inch Joes and it was like I was 6 all over again. This giant beast of vehicle can hold 12 figures and has endless hours of enjoyment. My friend knew she purchased the right toy for this overgrown kid. I don’t know who was happier my friend or me.
But what about this year? There were no Joes under my tree. No jeeps, no uniforms, no accessory packs, the same as most of the kids in America. I am sure that some parent went out of their way to purchase something off of Ebay because little Timmy wanted a real toy for Christmas. I have to say kudos to those parents that went the extra mile to make the holiday special.
I can’t believe that Hasbro has turned its back on a toy icon. I have to say I respect Mattel for never turning their back on Barbie even though at times she took backlash from the PC police. Even after all these years Mattel still cranks out pink packaged figures that can be astronauts, doctors, vets or even (gasp) beauty queens. Hasbro took their iconic figure and treated him like a captured spy, they disavowed him. What is sad is that G.I. Joe was and probably still is, loved by millions.
Looking back on the history of G.I. Joe we can see that he overcame many obstacles. When war became bad for business he became an adventurer and when a smaller size figure became the norm, Joe adapted. Eventually G.I. Joe went back to full size even once again embracing his military roots. It is sad to think that we may never see shelves of G.I. Joe figures at our local toy store again. He will be missed. In the meantime, to fill the void left by Joe, collectors can mortgage the house and pick up some figures from Sideshow Collectibles. Better still, if you want an affordable figure check out Captain Action.
Captain Action is another child of the 1960s and even though he was long absent from stores he is making a comeback. Captain Action’s novelty is that you can dress him in various uniforms and make him anything from a spy to a superhero.
Sadly, the choices these days aren’t the as vast as for him as they were back in the 1960s, but the Captain Action line is growing and it is showing no signs of stopping. Speaking of the uniform, you can dress your Captain Action to be Iron Man, Wolverine and in the not too distant future, Batman just to name a few. The best part of this figure is the price tag. Retail for these figures and uniforms range from $14.99-$29.00 depending on what you buy and where you purchase.
What should have been a joyous year filled with new releases and celebrations was actually the year that we have to go without. I know that I can’t be completely mad at Hasbro because there are so many other factors that led to this day. Sure the quality of the figures was starting to take a downward turn but kids shortening attention spans are also to blame.
I don’t know what the future holds for G.I. Joe, but I am praying he makes a comeback. My concerns are about the entire line not just the 12 inch figures. I hope when I attend Toy Fair in February that G.I. Joe will be on the shelves at Hasbro once again. Until then I will raise my glass to G.I. Joe. No matter what line, vehicle or uniform I must say you will be missed. YO JOE!