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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4 Responses to Fading into Oblivion

  1. I loved this article. You made good on your promise in our weekend conversation– in fact, this really felt like a more detailed and deep extension of that conversation. It felt like I was really talking to you, which is the best thing a thinkpiece can hope to do. I also really enjoyed Mike T’s recent essay, and agreed with almost everything he had to say.

    I maybe have more enthusiasm for the early Modern Era stuff than you do (which I will write about at some point), but yeah it targeted toy collectors and not GI Joe collectors. That’s what a 6″ series will do, too. Which is fine. We’ve gotten so much stuff over the years, both good and bad, that I can let someone have a 6″ Snake Eyes figure using a Marvel Legends or Overwatch Ultimates mold and not feel bitter that it’s “not for me.” There’s so much stuff that is for me.

    But wouldn’t it be cool if Hasbro did something with GI Joe that got kids’ imaginations moving like it did for ours? I want them to release something that fills kids with a sense of wonder and alienates collectors– that’s the best way forward for the brand.

    PS: We are seeing a few New Sculpt enthusiasts come around these days! Though they tend to be around my age or just a bit younger.

  2. PAINT-WIPES says:

    i think its much more likely to see more people in their early 30’s who had exposure to the tail end of the original run, then had corps! the 97/98 releases and the ARAHC flitering into the hobby than kids who had JVC/VvV/etc exposure as 10-12 year olds. my son is 15 now and never had any interest in gi joe, i’ve spent a small fortune on legos and he still has a big intrest in them and honestly i feel like his development is better off for it. quite honestly i don’t see many kids around age 22-25ish who now realize how foolish/criminal the invasion of iraq was getting nostalgic about the patriot grizzly or sound attack chopper.

    i loved gi joe as a kid because at the beginning it was basically a line of army model kits with guys who posed better than other toys, for better or worse i think that simplicity is gone from todays kids.

  3. A-Man says:

    The Action Force kickstarter’s fail lends to my prediction that the 6-inch line wanted by some fans and well, mild fans (collectors of other 6 inch lines who have no use for 4″), would die out in a year after the casual fans got the main characters including at least 2 versions and 2 repaints of Snake-Eyes. The market for 6 inch military action figures might not really be there.

    Bobby Vala’s storyline for Action Force was off putting to some. Perhaps he should’ve made the whole thing more vague and generic, but I doubt it would’ve gotten funded anyway. I’m actually surprised when any of these things get funded, especially after Eagle Farce.

    Snake-Eyes seems like the most marketable thing left about GI JOE and that’s HUGE problem. He became a lone wolf character, at best he has a few martial artist side kicks whose help he rarely needs, but at least can give color commentary. Snake-Eyes cannot speak, he has no catch phrases and he’s essentially faceless. He’s a great character for action scenes, but a very limited character for story telling purposes. It would be hard to build a new toy line around that. Look at RETALIATION, Snake-Eyes’s scenes are the B-story, all of them could be cut out and the base plot of the movie wouldn’t change. Someone could do an edit….LOL Retaliation without Snake-Eyes.

  4. mwnekoman says:

    Great read RTG!

    One of GI Joe’s biggest issues in the 2000’s and 2010’s was Hasbro’s botched decision making and solutions that were too little, too late. The New Sculpt Era for example, could have done better if the media push had been stronger.

    Like a lot of 90’s/00’s kids, I was a huge anime fan. If something like the Sigma Six show had come out for Spy Troops or VvV, and was aired on a viable platform, it would’ve swayed a lot more of my interests from other things. Instead, you had some terrible direct to video movies, Sigma Six aired on Fox Box, and was supported by an ugly and expensive line of toys. If what I understand of Robot Rebellion had come to fruition, and it’s cartoon/anime had aired somewhere people would’ve seen it, I think the brand would be in much better shape right now.

    Then there was the movies. These did absolutely nothing but hurt the brand, and Retaliation sunk it. If Retaliation had only been a flop like ROC, it wouldn’t have been that bad. Instead, it was a flop that got delayed at the last minute and completely soured retailers on the brand. Relying on movies has done nothing for the brand, yet a few people at Hasbro are still obsessed with this being the only way they’ll bring Joe back. Mind numbing.

    GI Joe could still make a comeback, I think. Kids still do and will always love military toys and gun violence, which is why they take to games like COD and Fortnite. However, the brand has to be cared for by people who know how to actually market toys; something Hasbro can’t do. In the 80’s GI Joe blew up with a best-selling comic and popular cartoon. Reaching kids through media would work today, but it has to be through a relevant channel that kids use, not what would’ve worked in past decades.

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