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.