The Man of Action turns 60!
Damn, has it been that time already?
To think that Sixty years ago toy manufacturer Hasbro planned to counter the success from Mattel's Barbie with a counterpart line aimed for the young male demographic, but unlike Ken, it’s not some "doll" but the father of the Action Figure! (And also, a catalyst for guys enlisting in the US Armed Forces!)
Introducing, the Men of Action and Adventure!
Created by Don Levine, G.I. Joe, is a series of military themed action figures, had garnered unforeseen popularity and of course, sales. The figures were highly detailed with weapons and accessories and equally important, they had plenty of articulation making the figures fully posable for imaginary battles. The pushback from the Vietnam War had a serious impact on G.I. Joe which led to them reinventing the toyline with less emphasis on combat and instead, exploration and espionage missions with a modicum of science fiction and espionage partly inspired by Ian Flemming's 007 film series.This line came up with gimmicks, "Life Like Hair" and "Kung Fu Grip" that pushed sales beyond boundaries!
Thus began the Adventure Team which Hasbro implemented high conceptual vehicles, accessories including a helicopter pack, mobile headquarters, a one man submersible and a telecommunications tank like jeep called "The Trouble Shooter."
But they didn't stop there, the Adventure Team included diverse figures including a Black Adventurer, an Atomic Man and a Bullet man, with an Eagle-Eyed Joe as the Team's Commander. At the time, there was barely any competition other than rip offs like Mego's Action Jackson or Mattel's Big Jim, but the real threat came in 1976 as the US oil embargo, put G.I. Joe on permanent furlough.
Joes in Spaaaaccce!
Then came 1977 when Seventies pop culture really exploded thanks to a certain Sci fi fantasy epic, meanwhile Hasbro compensating for the expensive costs of manufacturing plastic products, reduced G.I. Joe from 12' to 8 inches. "Ouch" Super Joe Adventure Team had a heavy emphasis on science fiction with a good vs evil concept as the Team led by Super Joe Commander and his trademark "One-Two Punch ."
As far as Super Joe's backstory goes, it was your average " aliens attack earth, with mankind's last hope, standing in their way" with the narrative consisting of the Super Joe Adventure Team fighting the Terrons, whose main villain is Gor the reptilian-esque "King of the Terrons" who looks like a cross between The Incredible Hulk and the Creature of the Black Lagoon. I can easily deduce that Super Joe's concept was inspired by Gerry Anderson's Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons series. Hell, even their only vehicle called the Rocket Command Center, had aesthetics comparable to vehicles from both Captain Scarlet and UFO.
Unfortunately for Gor, he's vastly outnumbered as Hasbro rolled out two additional figures to the Heroic toyline, labeled as “Night fighters" featuring Luminos, a transparent figure reminiscent to Takara's Cyborg Hensman or Mego's Time Traveler from their Micronauts collection. Poor Gor seems outnumbered until Hasbro added in two new villains, Darkon, who was Super Joe Commander in green skin with a black helmet and power vest. What also made Darkon one of my favorite figures was this chrome sword known as the "Lightning Lance," and his vest had a "Destructo Ray " function as well.
The toyline, despite its cool potential, did not live up to the expectations of many quality- and unlike its competitor Kenner, who manufactured the Star Wars toys, there was no solid backstory or lore for Super Joe. And let's not forget how Mego's Micronauts outsold Hasbro's ambitious series. Super Joe was canceled during a span of one year which must be Hasbro's most short-lived toyline in G.I. Joe's history and that's very unfortunate because there was something cool about the Super Joe line, like the accessories or what little of them were innovative like the Sonic scanner and Helipak that is operational when plugged into the jack of the power vest. This one-two puncher "coulda been a contender."
A New American Hero!
Spurred by the success from Kenner's Star Wars line, in 1981 Hasbro decided to revive the G.I. Joe brand, by launching an all-out marketing assault thanks to Ad agency Griffin Bacal, Marvel Comics, and Toei Animation.
In an age of patriotism and regulations that allowed Toy companies to promote their products during children's programming, G.I. Joe was reinstated but not as a Combat Soldier, Adventure Team, nor Space Superheroes, but instead, a special missions force dedicated to fighting terrorism. This bold new concept utilized science fiction tropes with a standard action premise.
The concept was spearheaded by Bob Prupus and Kirk Bozigian who came up with the idea to market the toyline via comic as he remembered reading a DC Comic called G.I. Joe as a kid. G.I. Joe A Real American Hero is to this day, the most popular action figure series from Hasbro's militaristic brand. With the figures' size being further scaled back, it was easier to create vehicles and players from an armored fortress headquarters to a Space Shuttle that among a huge assortment of vehicles and figures.
1987 was a banner year for G.I. Joe among the Defiant space shuttle Hasbro experimented with bizarre ideas like Cobra La, mysterious warriors from an ancient reptile civilization or a new unit heavily influenced by science fiction 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 was a great concept, but Joe purists and collectors thought of it as too gimmicky and far-fetched.
Needless to say, it didn't last over a year. Then came August 1994, where at the 30th Anniversary of the G.I. Joe convention, pen pal and VP of Hasbro at the time, Kirk Bozigian, made a startling announcement. The Real American Heroes were "retired!"
At the auditorium there was a collective of sighs and disappointment. The end of an era.
"Don't call it a Comeback"
After several attempts to revitalize the iconic toy brand, Hasbro struck gold during 2020 with G.I. Joe Classified which are highly articulated 6-inch scale action figures. Prominent characters like Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Roadblock, Duke, (Who were also featured in Konami's G.I.Joe Arcade Game) were released through retailers and the Hasbro Pulse digital storefront and well received by collectors, fans and nostalgic.
As of this writing there are well over 150 figures including repaints, with even more to come.
G.I. Joe overall, was the gamechanger of toys for boys! The Godfather of action figures inspired the Mego World’s Greatest Superheroes collection, Star Wars, Micronauts, Masters of the Universe or so many other plastic playthings throughout the decades!
G.I. Joe proved that a franchise based on a toy can become a pop culture phenomenon by expanding to other entertainment platforms from comics, animated series, videogames and even live action movies, G.I.Joe was and still is there!
Happy 60th Birthday!
So, I guess the "G" now stands for, Geriatric?