Thursday, August 6, 2015



Stories of Childhood Toy Triumph and Tragedy



G.I. Joe was originally a line of figures produced from 1964-1969 by Hasbro. They were 12-inch figures that represented all branches of the U.S. armed forces. The development of these figures led to the coining of the term "action figure." From 1970-1976 Hasbro renamed this line to "Adventure Team G.I. Joe" and added a host of comic-like characters and villains. While these lines did well with children of the day, they quickly fell into obscurity as other, more colorful action figures began to hit the toy market.

But it was in 1982 (when I was 9 years old) that saw the highly successful relaunch of this toy line. Now renamed to "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" with new figure molds scaled down to 3.75-inches (to mimic the Star Wars figures) and with new characters, vehicles, playsets, and a complex background story involving an ongoing struggle between the G.I. Joe Team and the evil COBRA Command which seeks to take over the world through terrorism, this toy line quickly became a pop culture phenomenon. It was so big in fact, that in 1985 both Toy Lamp and Hobby World ranked G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero as the top selling American toy. To go along with its enormous popularity were cartoons, an animated movie, comic books, posters, T-shirts, video games, board games, kites, etc. for me and every boy and girl that wanted to shout "YOOO JOE!" And speaking of girls, I can't even remember a prominently male toy line that showcased such awesome female figures that every boy wanted without question.

While this line lasted until 1994, and had many resurgences thereafter that continue on to today, it has never recaptured the popularity and quality it had during the years of 1982-1986. Everything we see today is loosely based on those prime years; the two blockbuster movies in 2009 and 2013, the revamped figures, the comics, etc. But IMHO, it will never recapture the magic G.I. Joe had on me and millions of other kids during that time. The package card art, the file card bio's (all written by Larry Hamma, who also wrote the comics and bible of the G.I. Joe world), the vehicles, playsets, box art -- everything. It was just a magical time for this toy line and I was lucky enough to be at the right age to enjoy every minute of it.

So in trying to capture the "magic" of the best of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, I put together a list of "The Top 10 Greatest G.I. Joe Figures Ever" in this Tales from the Toy Chest write up. Sure, like always, a top 10 list is purely subjective, but these were the figures that captured my imagination and had an impact on me as a kid while collecting them (and all the kids in my neighborhood and middle-school school drooling over them in envy). As I list my favorites, I'll also give some back story on why they impacted me the way they did (some even left scars on my psyche that still affect me today lol). So lets lace up your boot straps, tuck in that shirt and grab a canteen because you're in for a real treat... YYOOOOOO JOOOOOE!!!!

 10.) FLINT (1985)

The first figure to make my list is the cool-looking, beret wearing Warrant Officer code named Flint, who was first released as part of the fourth (and best) series of the G.I. Joe toy line in 1985. Leftover Hasbro stock of this figure was packaged with new accessories (a pistol or a rifle) and sold at an early G.I. Joe Convention. But taking away a "sawed-off" shotgun from a toy figure was a travesty in my eyes. So I'm only talking about the carded Flint here because you can only imagine how many COBRA soldiers I gunned down with that shotgun in the wars that took place in my backyard. When I had a special mission going down, Flint, his cocky attitude and his trusty sawed-off cannon-blaster (I nicknamed "ol' Betsy") was always included.

9.) BARONESS (1984)

There's something a lot of people tend to forget about when talking about the G.I. Joe line -- it was the first boy action figure line that had cool girls in it! And not just one, a bunch of them was in as much demand as any male figure. What other boy toy line could boast that? Especially from that time period!! An argument could be made for any female in this line to make this list, especially Scarlett or Lady Jaye, but Baroness is without a doubt the best of them IMHO. She was beautiful, alluring, seductive and deadly as any member of COBRA. Released in the third series in 1984, she still stands as one of the most iconic figures in the entire line.

 8.) SGT. SLAUGHTER (1986)

Mail-Away Sgt. Slaughter came in a clear bag.

The Mail-Away Sgt. Slaughter came in two different boot variants.

Sgt. Slaughter came with Triple "T" Tag Team Terminator vehicle

Their were two variants for the Sgt. Slaughter figure that came with the Triple "T" vehicle.

Both Sgt. Slaughter figures side-by-side and they were BOTH awesome.

Sgt. Slaughter file card that came with the Mail-Away figure

Sgt. Slaughter file card that came on the back of the Triple "T" box.

Professional wrestler Sgt. Slaughter was the first celebrity immortalized as a member of the G.I. Joe Team. In addition, he voiced his own character in the G.I. Joe cartoons, filmed promotion spots and introductions to some of the G.I. Joe cartoons, and served as the spokesman in G.I. Joe commercials from 1987 to 1990 (he was let go by Hasbro when he turned heel for the WWF). Sgt. Slaughter was the first "muscle-bound" figure and the first available as a mail-order from Hasbro Direct in early 1986 (he was also available on and off from 1987 through 1989), and then was officially part of the fifth series in 1986, packaged exclusively with the Triple "T" Tank (in two variants). This made me REALLY love the G.I. Joe toy line because I was such a huge wrestling fan at the time and to see an actual wrestler as a G.I. Joe figure literally exploded my head. Although I never got the Mail-Away figure, I was lucky enough to convince my mom to get me the Sgt. Slaughter with Triple "T" Tank on my birthday that summer.

7.) DESTRO (1983)

Destro was released as part of the second series in 1983, and was never really appreciated by me until I got older to fully understand what he represented in the G.I. Joe world. First off, Destro was incredibly dangerous. He seemed to thrive on chaos and war and the more of it that went on, the richer and more powerful he would become. He was a weapons manufacture that created high-tech weaponry for whoever was the highest bidder and seemed to love the destruction and death that it caused. Plus, he looked so incredibly menacing with the iron mask he donned which was reminiscent of the Fantastic Four's greatest villain Dr. Doom whom I always worshiped.


Cobra Commander was first available as a mail-order offer with straight-arms in 1982, and he was overlooked by me because he looked nothing more than a COBRA solider with a silver mask. But when he got the swivel-arm treatment and released on card as part of the second series in 1983, he finally became the tyrannical face of the COBRA Command (something about seeing a figure in the G.I. Joe packaging in a store and reading a file card can totally change your perspective on it). While the ruthless commander of COBRA was always a figure that all the kids in my neighborhood wanted, it was the cartoon that really made him a legend. Voiced by Christopher Latta (who also voiced Star Scream in the Transformers cartoon), Cobra Commander rocked as the crazed evil fuehrer in a big way! When he entered the battle leading his legion of soldiers you couldn't help but scream "CCOOOOBRAAAAAA!!!" the way Latta did.

5.) DUKE (1984)

Duke was available first as a mail-order exclusive for the second series in 1983. He then became carded and available in the third series in 1984. What made Duke so cool was the fact that he was the face of G.I. Joe and he would lead your team into battle against the forces of COBRA. And when it came time for a final confrontation between the G.I. Joe Team and COBRA Command, it always ended up with Duke vs Cobra Commander for the fate of the world. In school, we debated on this outcome every chance we could get. When Duke lead his team into the battle you couldn't help but scream "YOOOO JOOOE!!!"

4.) FIREFLY (1984)

Firefly came in two variations

Separating the men from the boys on this list starts with the ever-villainous and mysterious Firefly. He was released as part of the third series in 1984, and just looking at him on the toy racks I knew I had to have him. Something about his outfit, sub-machine gun, accessories, backing card art and mysterious characteristics meshed together so well and captured my imagination. Firefly was a must for every kid on the block, we all loved to play with him because he was a complete "dick" and always in the game for himself. His file card said it all; Primary Military Specialty: Sabotage, Demolitions, and Terror (reading that as a kid you knew you had to have him no matter what).

 3.) ZARTAN (1984)

Zartan came with the Chameleon Swamp Skier vehicle

Zartan back card image

Zartan figure with accessories

Version one of Zartan's file card. After getting complaints that the file card was misleading people into thinking that schizophrenia and multiple personalities were one and the same, Hasbro changed the file card.

Version two of Zartan's file card without schizophrenia and multiple personalities mentioned.

While only a select few G.I. Joe figures could actually be cooler than Firefly, Zartan is definitely one of them. He was released as part of the third series in 1984, exclusively with the Chameleon Swamp Skier. Zartan was a toy that could do so much and look so good doing it that every kid wanted him. He could change color (with heat sensitive stickers that were included and came in two different variations) and put on a mask to disguise himself from the G.I. Joe Team to cause chaos among their ranks. Then place him on his Swamp Skier for a quick getaway and call in his Dreadnaughts to start more trouble. Simply put, this toy was only limited to your imagination.

2.) STORM SHADOW (1984)

There are very few figures in any toy line that can truly take the place of Storm Shadow from G.I. Joe. He was first released as part of the third series in 1984, and no child was ever the same when they saw him or heard of his legend from other kids. If you can think back to 1984, when this figure first appeared on the scene ninja's were the shit (and I mean "shit" in a good way)! And Storm Shadow was the shittiest of the shits! This toy simply revolutionized and modernized how every kid viewed ninjas. Period. He was the figure that you always dug for on the racks and prayed he was there (most likely he was already sold off). In school, if any kid was lucky enough to have him and bring him into "show and tell" that kid was instantly the most popular kid in school. Never could a toy change the political climate of cliques in the hierarchy of power among American boys than the way Storm Shadow did. Even I had to succumb to this ninja's mighty elusiveness as a child as I was never able to get him and that trauma still haunts me even to this day. He was that awesome, that desirable and that powerful. Only one figure can claim to be greater than Storm Shadow and it's still debatable if it even is...

1.) SNAKE EYES (1985)

Everything I just said about Storm Shadow can be said about the second version of Snakes Eyes (third if you include the straight-arm Snake Eyes from 1982, and then swivel-arm Snakes Eyes from 1983) released in the fourth G.I. Joe series in 1985. It is widely considered that the G.I. Joe fourth series was the pinnacle of any G.I. Joe series Hasbro ever produced and it's mostly due to this legendary figure. Never in the history of toys can I remember an improvement from one version of a figure to the next that impacted the entire toy line so completely. The detail, the accessories, the package art, everything! Kid's all across America wanted this toy so badly that they were willing to do chores for a week wholeheartedly to get it. 

Snake Eyes (straight arm) 1982

Snakes Eyes (swivel-arm) 1983

While both Storm Shadow and Snakes Eyes can be debated on until the end of time on which is better or a more desirable action figure, I had to rank Snake Eyes higher because this figure commands a little more money on the secondary market today (and because Snake Eyes was a tougher version of Storm Shadow and usually kicked his ass, as he was the only one that could). Not to mention that he was much more mysterious due to his fully covered black outfit and silent, brooding demeanor (Snakes Eyes never spoke). Storm Shadow always boasted about his superior skills and cried foul about playing second fiddle in the ninja ranks to Snake Eyes. I always thought those facts made Snake Eyes the cooler and better figure to play with as a kid. But regardless of who you think is the greatest G.I. Joe figure, this version of Snake Eyes will always rank at the top of any G.I. Joe collectors list and that is something everyone should know. And knowing is half the battle...



An honorable shout out has to go out to legendary wrestler and icon Roddy Piper who was immortalized as an exclusive G.I. Joe figure at a G.I. Joe Convention in 2007. I listed this figure because Piper makes a perfect COBRA combat trainer who can match-up with the likes of Sgt. Slaughter for a rivalry that can even rival "Snake Eyes vs Storm Shadow." Plus, if I was a kid seeing this figure for the first time it would've impacted me much more than when I first saw Sgt. Slaughter. So here's to you "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (who passed away on July 31, 2015), the Hot Rod and a perfect representative of the COBRA Command!!!


Another honorable shout out goes to a childhood favorite -- Footloose! He was first released as part of the fourth and undoubtedly greatest line of the entire G.I. Joe series in 1985. While this figure may be a total surprise entry for a lot of the G.I. Joe purists out there, I think it's best to point out that it was the cartoon that got me to absolutely adore this character and want to purchase him. Footloose was fun-loving and always had a smile on his face regardless of how dire the situation would become. As I grew older it was clear to see that he was a total "pothead" and the cool "hippie-stoner" of the G.I. Joe Team. Believe it or not, this made him even more lovable in my eyes. In his bio it states; "he got lost on the way to the fair..." yeah, it's because he was high as a kite from smoking friggin' dope or dropping tabs of LSD all day long! How could you not love this guy?

Agree? Disagree?? Let's hear it fanboys!

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