I swear to you — one of the coolest parts of being a kid in the 1980’s was Hasbro’s “G. I. Joe.” I’m referring to the three-and-three-quarter-inch action figures that launched in 1982. (The 80’s toys that most of us remember shared their name with other, mostly unrelated, Hasbro military toys of the 1960’s and 70’s. Believe it or not, I’m actually old enough to remember the 70’s toys, as my older brother had a few — they were eight and half inches tall, and they looked more like conventional dolls.)
The expansive 1982 toy line was a successful marketing juggernaut. If I had to guess, I’d say that Hasbro looked at Kenner’s astonishing surprise moneymaker with “Star Wars” figures four years earlier, and decided to exploit that business model with its own fictional universe. Once the toy line got rolling, Hasbro developed the “G.I. Joe” cartoon that every 80’s kid remembers, as well as videogames and an ongoing comic book series. (The comics were produced by Marvel.)
The TV show was … atrocious. As awesome as the 80’s were, the decade had its artistically bankrupt pop-culture ventures, too. And that cartoon was saccharine, mass produced entertainment at its lowest level. (Please, Millennials, if you ever see clips of that show, do not judge the superlative toys by it.)
The videogame (or the one that I saw my friends playing as a kid, anyway) seemed decent enough for the time. I only got a glimpse of the comic once. (I was usually reading “Conan”, or “Sgt. Rock.”) From what little I saw, that “G.I. Joe” comic was damned good. There were two brothers on the next block who owned all manner “Joe” merchandise, and they showed me the one where Snake Eyes (the good ninja) and Storm Shadow (the evil ninja) teamed up, for some reason. There was a two-page splash of them leaping across a room at some incongruously mutual enemy, and the artwork was pretty damned sweet.
The toys were downright wicked. (That’s 80’s slang.) They were the same size as Star Wars figures (as well as toys like the “Micronauts” and “Adventure People” before them), but they were far more articulated, and had more weapons and accessories. The packaging each figure came with had a colorful “dossier” on the back, with all sorts of detailed information about the character’s background and military expertise (like espionage, martial arts, jungle warfare, desert warfare, etc.). These were written by none other than the comic book industry’s own Larry Hama, who also created the comic book series. Strangely, there was one Joe whose area of specialty was simply “infantry.” (That would be “Footloose,” the fourth guy down in the photos below.)
I loved these toys. They combined my childhood love of poseable “Star Wars” figures with my childhood love of war toys. I had all the ones that you see below, and many, many more. Good times.