GI Joe has come a long way since I was a kid. I come from the generation where this American icon was a twelve- inch tall soldier with (initially) army gear and vehicles. The vehicles were huge (the jeep alone was around two feet long, maybe a bit more) and the accessories included detailed (although miniaturized, of course) guns, canteens, grenades, clothing, boots, etc. Each GI Joe came with a dog tag-which was astonishingly large for the figure... but cool, nonetheless.
Back Street Boys, circa 1967. Look at the size of those dog tags!!! 10 pounds of metal, at least...
The original 1967 incarnation of the character was that of a soldier. Figures representing each arm of the military (Soldier, Marine, Pilot, and Sailor) were created, each in authentic uniforms and with the proper gear.
As the times changed, so did GI Joe. The mid-1970s introduced a GI Joe that was determined to save humanity from the environment (what????).
These were the GI Joes with the bristly hair and beard and, at a later date, the crazy "Kung-Fu Grip."
Hi-Ya!!!! Kung-Fu grip, baby!!!!
And these were also the figures that I had the most fun with. While the concept of fighting the environment is quite alien to me now, there was no doubt in my mind that these guys had some really cool gadgets. In fact, I could never figure out whom they were fighting. I ended out having them battle it out with Mask-A-Tron alongside Steve Austin (who towered menacingly over the GI Joes-but he was bionic, so that was okay).
In 1978, after over nine incarnations of this popular figure, increasing petroleum costs (petroleum being a key element in the figure's composition) forced this loyal soldier to his end.
The toy was resurrected six years later, but in a much more diminutive form (3¾ inches as opposed to 12 inches)-and with a much different mission: to fight the war on terrorism. Terror came in the form of a tangible enemy: COBRA, a sinister society intent on global domination. Now, in my opinion, that has much more value than fighting the environment... I still don't get that concept...
By the time these figures came out I was too old to play with them. Plus I was a bit insulted. My GI Joes could crush these little guys with just one stomp, then squeeze their plastic remains with the awesomeness that was Kung-Fu Grip.
Yet these little suckers caught on. The line was so popular that it spawned a comic book series from Marvel and multiple marketing tie-ins including an animated television series that continues in various incarnations to date.
Tell me that something this gusto wouldn't scare the bad guys. I dare ya.
Such characters as Scarlett (the first female GI Joe) and Snake Eyes caught the imagination of millions of kids and made the GI Joe line one of the most popular toys ever created.
Snake Eyes. Bah! I laugh at you, puny GI Joe. My 12 inch GI Joe would squash you like a ripe grape!
The 1990s continued in this vein, although we have a return to the battle with the environment theme.
CessPool. Yeah. That's the name of this GI Joe...
This time, however, GI Joe fought to SAVE the environment from toxic sludge created by COBRA in an effort to rule the Earth. How this would help rule the planet, I have no idea... But, there ya go.
Of course all of these variations were contingent with the social mores of each decade. The GI Joe toy line proved that it could bend with the times and re-invent itself to suit the current geo-political situation while still remaining a cool toy.
As with any cool toy (and some really lame toys), a movie tie-in is inevitable:
As you can see by the trailer for the film, we'll be following the adventures of the 1980's incarnation of GI Joe. And, to me, it doesn't look like that's a bad thing.
With today's world rife with terrorism, wouldn't it be nice to have a super-heroic agency of ass kicking, gadget equipped soldiers to save the day?
Oh, wait. We have those in real life, and they rock. But they don't have the bling of 1980s GI Joe! C'mon! Wouldn't it scare the hell outta the bad guys if we had a platoon made up of ninjas, metal-faced warriors, and over-the-top futuristic weaponry? Hell, yeah it would!!!
In stumbling around looking for stuff for this article, I came across this:
Yay!!!! I love the bouncing monster chasing the jeep.
I guess that only time will tell. There are guys like me who fondly remember playing with the larger action figures-and while a new line of larger GI Joe figures are available, they're just not the same. They aren't as durable and look kind'a... squishy-and apparently can't drive jeeps while being chased by fuzzy white monsters.
Then there are the rabid fans of the 1980s counter-terrorism group of tiny figures that will be represented in the film. While I was a little too old to play with these, there's no denying the coolness of the concept and some of the accessories.
Regardless of which is your favorite, GI Joe has become one of the most popular and long-lasting toys in history. And with the movie (which is sure to be a success-if not critically, then at least financially), I foresee a lifetime of GI Joe that will far outlast my own.
You can get all sorts of cool GI Joe stuff (even things not covered here) at Amazon and at The Hasbro Toy Shop.
SOURCES: GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra movie site, Hasbro.