Just some guys named, "Joe!"
“The President or CEO of Hasbro was at a charity event that Marvel's President was also at. They ended up in the men's room, standing next to each other peeing, and I think that's how they met. They were talking about each other's respective businesses, and it came up that Hasbro wanted to reactivate the trademark on G.I. Joe, but they were trying to come up with a new approach. [Marvel's guy] was like "We have the best creative people in the world! Let me bring in this Editor-in-Chief of mine and we'll fix it for you!"
-Jim Shooter (Former) Editor-in-Chief at Marvel Comics.
And that’s where it all began! Well, for me, it was approximately around April 20 years ago when I was a preteen watching cartoons on television. New York's WPIX station, to be exact.
During the commercial break, just when I was about to grab a snack, this animated spot appeared out of nowhere, with some woman being apprehended by blue-clad terrorists I suppose. While the joint chiefs of staff witnessed the attack on a giant monitor, one of the high-ranking officers says, "We have no alternative, call in G.I. Joe!"
*Cues the introductory theme by Spencer Michelin and Ford Kindler*
This commercial shoehorned enough to explain what the 30 second premise was all about as I can easily recall a jeep being elevated from an underground base, a redhead woman in a superhero unitard firing a crossbow transitioning to an over the top view where a special missions force attend a briefing, then as the unit prepares to go in for a rescue mission, in rides the "Leader of the Joe team" who then storms the stronghold accompanied by the redhead and a mysterious man in black, a cannon is fired followed by two guys with laser rifles and someone flying after a sports car with the captive woman awaiting her savior to literally sweep her off her feet.
Then, the narrator Jackson Beck closed the commercial with "the legend of G.I. Joe! New from Marvel Comics!" I was floored by the overall presentation and worse, puzzled about who this "G.I. Joe" was. Was it the new Adventure Team or something entirely different? Obviously, it was the latter.
The comic arrived on the newsstands, and the figures made it to my local toy store afterward. So, not only was it a comic but a relaunched action figure line by Hasbro!
After getting my allowance, I went to the store and picked at least two figures from the line and guess which ones? Easy! Stalker, because he was a Black American with a cool green beret and a cooler uniform that stood out from the rest of the Joe figures, as did Snake Eyes, who was the mysterious Commando in black. This is where my "Codename" Stalkeye derived from. It's a portmanteau as Dee was quick to point out. Shut up, Dee! 😁 Writer and artist Larry Hama was mostly responsible for Joe’s lore as he had originally planned on developing a comic for marvel under the title, “Fury Force” but carried over this concept for the relaunch when Hasbro approached Marvel.
As for the figures, they were scaled down to 3 ¼ as with Kenner’s Star Wars and before that, Takara/Mego’s Micronauts line. The sculps were detailed and painted, but unlike both Star Wars and Micronauts, G.I. Joe was fully posable however, I hated the straight arms design that felt too restricted until 1983, where someone came up with the revolutionary invention called the “swivel arm battle grip.” Now, the Joes looked more convincing when holding a weapon or commandeering a vehicle!
Hama personally handled all the file card biography on the back of the figure’s blister card. However, a bit of controversy aroused in 1984 when one of the figures file cards, mentioned that he was a “paranoid schizophrenic?” This was a bit much, but I applaud Hama for branching out of convenience by adding thematic elements usually from comics, but now implemented into toys. That National Board of Mental Health wasn’t too happy as it would unfairly label those who suffer from mental or emotional handicaps as violent criminals or “terrorists” like Zartan. It was funny watching David Letterman’s cold opening monologue that mentioned the Zartan controversy. Hama was not too happy when Hasbro added new characters each year and he did not care for the Joe’s new leader-Duke.
Larry originally planned for Stalker to be second in command, but instead Hasbro came up with this piecemealed action figure that consisted of parts from Doc, and Gung Ho with sandy blond hair and a silly smirk on his face. After Duke made an impressive impact in the public thanks in part to the five-part animated series and the Marvel comics, it was official! Duke is here to stay as Hawk faded away into obscurity, that is until 1986!
G.I. Joe A Real American Hero was the most successful line out of the entire Hasbro library of toys! Thanks to savvy marketing like animated Comic and toy tie-in commercials, a Marvel comic that gives the fully posable figures a cemented backstory, with sci-fi elements, diverse protagonists that included Black Americans, Women and other ethnicities, bizarre villains ala DC’s Legion of Doom, and not to mention that it was one of the very first Animated series based on a Toy line!
You see, under the Reagan administration, toy manufacturers such as Hasbro and Mattel were allowed to use animated series based on their products as a way of cross-pollination; the cartoons would sell the toys as well as the comics in G.I.Joe’s case. This was a practice chastised for being 30-minute commercials as many toy companies had followed suit.
I was hooked instantly and grandfather, bless his soul, made sure I received a shit load of Joe figures, vehicles, and playsets every Christmas! I was pretty much set during the holidays and one of the most memorable Christmases was during 1987 when under the tree was a big ass box from my aunt. Inside was the Space Shuttle Defiant and as if that wasn't enough, there was a whole assortment of vehicles and figures from this new unit called: Battleforce 2000 A secret force for G.I. Joe with vehicles that can transform and merge into a makeshift armed fortress. It was as if Hasbro was flipping the bird to Kenner's MASK! Battleforce 2000 was a great concept, but Joe purists and collectors thought of it as too gimmicky and far-fetched. Unfortunately, the line didn't last over a year as Larry Hama was quick to kill them off.
Prior to that, the much-anticipated G.I. Joe the Movie came out on home video, and I was pumped after watching that excellent intro courtesy of X-Men Storyboard artist Larry Houston, but after watching the entire animated feature, the opener was the best part of the movie, but I digress.
That was pretty much the last of the popular Sunbow/Marvel Productions series as Hasbro for some reason, did not want to invest in another season of G.I. Joe despite how the animated series was a key component when it came to promoting the action figure toyline, which would have introduced the Battleforce 2000 into the series as originally planned however, G.I.Joe The Movie despite its flaws, wrapped up the Sunbow continuity satisfactorily.
The less said about the DIC series, the better.
Both toyline and comic, enjoyed a good run throughout the eighties and somewhat early nineties but there were a few design flaws during the line’s late stages like neon colored figure and vehicles, silly gimmicks like chop action, buzzing backpacks, Ninja Force, Anti-Drug Joes, Eco Warriors, Star Brigade with aliens, and crossover tie ins when you factor in Capcom’s Street Fighter? This was when the Joes, “jumped the shark!” The comics didn’t fare that well either as there were too many emphases on Ninjas and longtime nemesis Destro, Baroness and Zartan, becoming “good guys.” That’s when I had more than enough and finally abandoned the comic.
Then came August 1994, where at the 30th Anniversary of the G.I. Joe convention, pen pal and VP of Hasbro marketing at the time, Kirk Bozigian, made a shocking announcement. The Real American Heroes were "retired!" And what followed, were a collective sigh of disappointment across the auditorium, as we witnessed the end of an era and were far less impressed when Kirk ushered out the successor to Arah, “Sergeant Savage” an inferior product whose concept was inspired by Captain America and Sgt. Rock. It was no coincidence that Artist Joe Kubert was there at the presentation either. I had a nice conversation with Joe about Kirby’s legacy and the comic business in general, while Kirk was signing autographs after telling me that it’s the nature of business or something like that.
1994 was a somber year for pop culture in my opinion. Chris Latta the voice behind Cobra Commander had died, so did the legendary Jack “King” Kirby whose past contributions (Nick Fury/Shield and Kobra) obviously was the inspiration behind G.I. Joe ARAH who also died during that year.
Eventually, the ARAH line would come back, and it did, several times, whether it’s the toys, comics, animated series, and one offs like Renegades and Resolution respectively, or even three live action films! “G.I. Joe is there!” I’m thankful for the memories of collecting nearly the entire toyline, communicating with the geniuses behind the figures and even animated series like Christy Marx who was my favorite writer of the series (Cobra’s Captives and the Synthoid Conspiracy, just to name a few.) and of course, the father of A Real American Hero, Larry Hama.
In terms of popular culture, G.I. Joe played a somewhat of a pivotal role during my early years, shit it even “taught” me how to fend off a bully in school! (“And I’ll lay you down to sleep!”) I had a great history with Hasbro and even Sunbow who was generous to send me promo posters and even gracious letters from the series’ producer, Jim Duffy! So as the 40th anniversary is here, it’s a great time to reminisce about how a “chance encounter between two CEOs within a Men’s room,” of all places, evolved into a major staple of the 1980’s and beyond!
Special thanks to 3D Joes.com for some of the pics. Please show 'em some love, and donate to keep this amazing site alive!