Great Moments In G.I. Joe History

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Cobra De Aço (Brazil 1986)

 

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Perhaps one of the most famous international figures, from the on set, is Cobra De Aço; The Steel Cobra. The figure was notorious, because he was shown on one of the 30th Anniversary trading cards, giving him far more exposure than a lot of other international figures.

In addition to being well known, he has an easily identifiable appearance, the combo of the chromed Snake Eyes head and the Flash body, is striking, memorable, and a very unique pairing. Thrown on a strong colour scheme of black and yellow, turn him into a bad guy, and you’ve got yourself a popular figure! Brazilian De Aços are common, they’re expensive, but you can get them if you are willing to look. The quality of the Brazilian figures aren’t too much lower than US figures, and even though he’s a straight arm, he was given the Flash accessories, which are probably the safest weapon for an 82’s thumbs, so there’s a lot of De Aço figures that still have their thumbs, for that very reason.

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The colours on the figure are actually really well done. The yellow pads over the black suit, with touches in silver are unique but not over the top. It’s a design that’s strong enough, it probably had some Hasbro direction, and is something I could see having been put into the G.I. Joe line in the early 80s. The original scheme for the De Aço is still my favourite.

In the early 2010s the Cobra De Aço was a figure who found himself being made into a Factory Custom. The first wave of De Aços is still in my opinion, the highest quality run of any of the custom figures, where the only QC issues I ever noticed were with the laser rifles. Since most pictures are the front of figures, you can’t see the missing Estrela logo, here’s there’s three easy tells to determine if it’s a Brazilian or a Black Major, the yellow on the Black Major version is a different shade, the chest logo is a lot bigger and centred, and there’s a nub protruding from the figure’s left thigh. I don’t know if these have ever been written down anywhere, but there they are! The TBM version is cool, and there’s a bunch of other styles and colours, my favourites are the Crimson bodied and grey bodied.

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Cobra De Aço has a memorable character. He’s an arrogant prick, whom other COBRAs dislike and have attempted to take out. He also has a quote that rules, “The Joe who will stop me hasn’t been born yet” (Paraphrased). This is nice, because it gives him an actual personality, and one that isn’t too far off from the American portrayals of COBRA agents, without being a carbon copy of one of the existing characters. It’s also easy to remember, because back in the day, there was a dude who called himself “De-Aco” and he ran an internet gang that were the Baddest Men On eBay. So to me, Cobra De Aço is the baddest man in COBRA.

I like this figure, I don’t use him too often, as there’s other options that are practically the same, but 25 years younger. My Estrela De Aço just sits in a box with the rest of my Joes, but such is life. There’s still a charm to this figure, for me, as I remember thinking how cool it looked, and that I’d probably never own one, back in the early 2000s, even though it’s nowhere near as impressive a figure, since a lot of them became available.

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Great Moments In G.I. Joe History

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2001 Double Blast

 

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The early 2000s were one strange time for G.I. Joe. It was back, but not really in a big way, so Hasbro made a few puzzling decisions with how they were going about the G.I. Joe line. There seemed to be a call for new characters from the fanbase, so the easiest way to do that, would be repaint an old, highly recognizable character and give it a new computer generated code-name, and there everyone’ll be happy. So that’s how things like Roadblock version 1 gets a really solid repaint and is now “Charles L. Griffith; DOUBLE BLAST”. Roadblock wasn’t the only victim of this doppleganger syndrome, for The Baroness and Torpedo also got nailed with it. For some reason, that was a thing that really soured me on the figures, there was a subconscious thing about it that bothered me, until one day a friend of mine said “Ya know who was the best repaint in the early 2000s? That really ashy Roadblock”, and for some reason reading that made me realize how stupid it was to ignore a great figure because of some terrible codename and a “thanks for helping to write Iceberg’s filecard in 1997”  filename.

I think Double Blast is probably one of the worst codename’s I’ve ever seen, it makes no sense, and reads like a couple of words that could be thrown together and not have any issues at the copywriter office. To top it off his character is pretty awful as well, he’s Macgyver or something, and SNEAKY, and got picked on in school. I dunno, his pack in partner’s story is better, he’s a gun nut and destroyed trees at age 8. Who writes this stuff!?!?

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As a figure, it’s decent, the 2001 figures all had this really pasty skin, which was different from the 2000 figures where they all this really vibrant orange skin. The weirdest part of the super pale skin tones of 2001, was the one Black guy released had the same lightening of the skin tone, which made him look ashy as all hell. So I kind of see this figure as Roadblock who’s on a mission to get some lotion. The colouring on the mold is pretty good, in fact the olive drab tank top is perhaps a better look than the v1 Roadblock, as it fits the mold’s Vietnam era motif a lot better. The pants are that weird marbleized plastic Hasbro experimented with, which I have no complaints about, but I think would’ve looked a lot better on all the figures if details like knife straps and holsters were actually painted. He comes with all of the v1 Accessories, except for some reason the backpack was neutered, and no longer has the removable ammo box, nor the peg that allowed Roadblock to carry his tri-pod.

Roadblock is definitely one of the most popular Joes, he was a big part of both the Cartoon and Comic Book. He’s one of my favourite characters, and I love the v1 mold. This version, is especially useful, as he’s no where near as fragile as the 84, but isn’t coloured poorly, or pinheaded, like the rest of the 2000s repaints of this mold tended to be. Character-wise, Roadblock is one of my favourites, and I feel he pairs up well with a lot of other good figures, especially the first Duke. Roadblock was popular in both media portrayals, but they were definitely different. I don’t mind admitting, that I like the idea of Roadblock constantly speaking in rhyme, and if Dio-Stories were still a thing, he’d be receiving a lot of his dialogue directly lifted from raps Willie D. gave on the early Geto Boys records.

Overall, I like this figure, since it’s actually a good rendition of Roadblock, it’s also kind of an epitome of where things went sideways in the Real American Hero Collection, which was a line that was well received, but obviously didn’t stand the test of time. Hasbro was playing a lot of the right notes, but none of them were in the right order.

 

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Fading into Oblivion

Recently, Mike T. wrote a very good essay on G.I. Joe, and how it’s disappearance from retail isn’t due to fear of protests from people upset about micro-aggressions and safe spaces, and rather that things have changed, and Action Figures aren’t what they used to be. I found it to be accurate, and it also made me think of what some of the root problems with G.I. Joe as a brand is, considering that it had 3 pseudo-successful attempts at a relaunch, post 1998.

One thing, is that G.I. Joe is different from any of it’s contemporary properties, as the toyline lent itself to being far more of a world building exercise, than a “Re-enact what you saw on television” playtime. A lot of this I think is due to both the Comic Book and Cartoon being equally as popular, yet, entirely different from each other. I think that is why despite being such a small fandom, it’s produced so much content, everybody has their own vision of G.I. Joe. Lines, like Transformers or Star Wars, don’t really require using your imagination the same way. It’s so damn rigid, it’s almost as though it’s a spectator hobby. It’s probably easier to collect, and explanations are far simpler with “Hey, I really liked the show as a kid, and now Ironhide has a head”. Try explaining how you’ve developed a story where Cobra Commander is a “Cross between Jim Jones and Jim Bakker, hanging out with the Corsican Twins who also happen to be a good metaphor for the Savings and Loans Scandal”. You sound ridiculous!

An online acquaintance of mine, once said that Star Wars didn’t provide much room for interpretation, and it was mainly space battles, which is a problem when you’ve only got two hands and your parents aren’t big on you standing out under the stars in 1980 Salt Lake City. I feel that’s why the 25th Anniversary stuff, was designed to appeal more to the “Toy Collector” crowd, than the “G.I. Joe collector” crowd. You had stuff that looked straight out of Sunbow, with vintage packaging, and knock-off Marvel Legends articulation. Boom! You’ve got yourself a hot collectible for 2007, it’s a nice facsimile of the G.I. Joe you remember, but hey you don’t even have to think about it!

As of Summer 2019, one of the more popular sentiments around online G.I. Joe fandom is that Hasbro doesn’t care about it. Despite being proven that it’s not really a brand that can support a retail presence, nor is it good at the box office, Hasbro just doesn’t show it the respect it deserves! A former Hasbro employee, Bobby Vala, in a thread about his kickstarter for a 6inch Military line, which used former Hasbro Trademarks like “Steel Brigade” and “Action Force” posted the following

Let me ask you this, has Hasbro done anything for G.I. Joe in the last 3-4 years that gave back to you as a fan? Have they done anything that has shown that they actually give a damn about the brand? Sure they are trying to push a Snake Eyes movie that keeps getting delayed. If they do give you product in the distant future let me know how you feel about it. I’ve worked on the brand and I saw first hand the neglect the company has for the brand that built them. I’m not taking away from Joe, I’m giving back. If its not your cup of tea, I’m sorry. Even if I didnt get the trademark, do you think there is anyone left at that company that cares about Steel Brigade? Its my all time favorite Joe so I’m not just throwing it in for the hell of it. You are entitled to not like this but dont get lost thinking Hasbro cares about you or this brand.”

Now, I’m sure that quote has some Sour Grapes to it, but it is interesting to hear that come out of the mouth of a former Hasbro employee, who despite the ax he’s grinding, likely did have some attachment to the brand. The fact Hasbro is letting trademarks lapse, shows that G.I. Joe isn’t a priority, but let’s be real here, “Action Force” and “Steel Brigade” aren’t vital parts of the G.I. Joe mythos. The fact that his “Action Force” kickstarter wasn’t funded, shows that they aren’t draws. If  it were names like”Roadblock” or “Storm Shadow”, who tend to have the strongest everyday recognition, that were weren’t renewed, that’s trouble.

If you look at the way the line has been handled, there’s more than likely some truth to the thought that Hasbro doesn’t care about G.I. Joe, but at the end of the day, should they care? There’s obviously enough goodwill to the brand itself, that it’s still viable licensing material for clothes and shoes, and the factory customs take the hard part off Hasbro’s hands, while still providing a lot of Social Media content and awareness for them. It’s a niche hobby that’s taken to a DIY approach, while still letting the corporate overlords reap money off the name. I think that’s probably the best we as fans can have it. We’re getting 1985 Snake Eyes repainted to look like a Ninja Turtle, while Hasbro gets paid so someone can make a shoe that looks like 1988 Storm Shadow.

We’re also at a point, where people who got into G.I. Joe with the new sculpt era should be entering the fanbase, because we’re at the point now where COBRA C.L.A.W.S. is the same age Duke was, when he came out. Mike T. mentioned in his article, that the 2002-2004 era was a boon for G.I. Joe, and I remember it that way too. However I’m not sure if those figures resonated with children the same way, or if it was more collector driven than we actually realize, either way that era was somewhat of a perfect storm for G.I. Joe, there was the 1980s nostalgia wave, and it started right around when September 11th happened and really changed the world, that led to likely just as much retail therapy to deal with those massive societal changes as it did people buying stuff to support kicking butt on terrorists. Either way, theoretically we should be seeing some younger Joe fans entering the hobby, but at the same time the internet was around in the JvC era, so there’s a chance we’ve already got them in the fanbase. It might just be Nekoman and Scarrviper !

In the end, G.I. Joe might have had it’s period of relevancy and it could be that it’s in the process of slowly fading into obscurity, however it’s also entered a period of actual hobbyism, where you’ve got multiple manufacturers doing for the most part fan service product, a massive amount of accessible online and social media content, and the sound and fury that came with the 03 and 07 revivals is either non-existent or in places I tend not to frequent.

While the stores don’t have G.I. Joe product, perhaps due to changing Action Figure demographics, it not being a viable brand, or Hasbro’s apathy, this is a hobby that has an incredibly hardcore fanbase. G.I. Joe The Real American Hero isn’t going to disappear over night. It’s probably never coming back, but at the same time, the same players have been around every time I’ve had a major interest in the online G.I. Joe community, and the newer faces usually have been collecting the whole time, just never made a presence, but as accessibility presents itself, they stay for the long run. It’s come a long way waiting  2 weeks for a chapter of a dio story, that’s webpage will crash due to exceeded bandwidth.

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1993 Punk Rock Zartan

The 1993 Zartan is an absolutely ridiculous figure. He’s grade A punxploitation and while he may look goofy as hell, is actually one of the more realistic figures in the line. Which might be a sadder commentary on the state of Punk Rock of the early 1990s than it is the G.I. Joe line.

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Zartan’s sculpted to look like a cartoon punk from the 1970s, which happened to make an ugly reappearance in early 90s America. The sleeveless leather jacket with a chain is a classic punkerism, and the left side of the torso appears to be either chainmail or a bunch of small pins. Usually dudes in get ups like this have a lot of small pins, with all sorts of bands and phrases, 80% of the bands are likely ones they’ve never actually listened to. I assume Zartan’s pins include “Flux of Pink Indians” the phrase “BOMB THE BOATS” and the Crimson Ghost.

The figure is probably most known for his bright orange mohawk, which isn’t a full on Wattie mohawk, but it is still real goofy! There used to be a time when a mohawk lead you to being propositioned for fights, those were the days! (Also the reason I never had a mohawk!) The figure’s legs are bright, but I’ve actually seen punks who will wear obnoxiously bright clothes*, so I’m not gonna decry them that much, though leopard print would’ve been a far better choice, for this look! The shin pads are kind of weird, but they at least make sense from a ninja combat point of view, and do work as an homage to the 1984 Zartan’s weird shin armour. He’s also got some lower arm armour on his right arm, it’d make sense, but it kind of makes the figure asymmetrical

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The construction on all Ninja Force figures, is pretty janky. They don’t have backscrews and are given some spring loaded gimmick. The figures with spinny torso moves tend to get shafted on the ribbon department, so instead Zartan gets two knife sheaths on his left leg. They work, but I don’t have the knives at the moment, and would rather use the purple ones that came with Dhalsim from Street Fighter II.

I don’t really have much use for this figure, other than the fact I’m really amused that there’s a G.I. Joe that looks like some really tedious dude that’s going to come up to you at a show and start talking about something released on the Mortarhate label in the mid 80s. He swears too much, uses the term “Yanks” and despite looking like a caricature of what Quincy and the news show as PUNK ROCKERS, has no sense of humour. While I don’t have much actual use for the figure, he is kind of fun to photograph, because there’s a bunch of stereotypical punk rock activities I think would be funny to do photos of (Begging, loitering in front of brick walls, public drinking).

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*One of the last shows I went to, I wore bright orange pants, a 70s Silk Shirt and a black denim jacket with a Millions Of Dead Cops patch on the back.

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Great Moments In G.I. Joe History

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