1988 Mean Dog


G.I. Joe vehicles evolved design wise as the line progressed, but at the same time this evolution wasn’t always for the better, since as the designs became more complicated, the smaller details tended to be disregarded. 1988’s Mean Dog still has solid detailing, but was the last of a dying breed. For some reason the 1987 and 1988 vehicle design team really seemed to be into the modular vehicle concept. There’s a bunch that break into 3 separate pieces, some with more success than others. The Mean Dog in a way, is the G.I. Joe answer to the MAGGOT, as both share pretty similar design ideas. They both split into the same three parts, front vehicle, command station and large gun. I’d say the MAGGOT has a much more successful Command Station and cannon, while the Mean Dog’s front vehicle is far superior. As a whole unit, they’re both pretty much a wash, and it’s up to personal preference. I personally like the Mean Dog better, if only because it’s “split into three” gimmick, isn’t necessary to be used, for it to be fun to play around with.

The Mean Dog is capable of holding numerous figures comfortably. It has two seats in the front vehicle’s cockpit, two different gun turrets and a seat in the command section. I like this, because I’ve never been a huge fan of figure’s standing on running boards, though at the same time I like being able to have a whole wack of figures interacting with the vehicle. The Mean Dog also has a lot of sculpted on details, however at the same time, the details skimp out in places, which you wouldn’t see if this had been released in an earlier year, like 1986. There’s hatches, but none are removable. There’s a running board at the back with a tow hook, but it also has no texturing on it. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it shows where G.I. Joe as a line was scaling back.

The best thing I can say about the Mean Dog, is the vehicle is actually well armed, it’s got two rocket pods, a big machine gun that’s removable (and looks terrible set up separately) and there’s a gun station on the front vehicle, too. The front vehicle’s gun is pretty cool, and also makes it usable for a scout car. When connected together, the Mean Dog has a pretty neat look, and the “head” of the vehicle is capable of moving left and right, which adds a dynamic to it. To me this vehicle looks like it would be intimidating on the field, but has enough weak points, the Joes are smarter to use it as a security vehicle, for checkpoints and defensive operations.


The biggest complaint I have about the vehicle, is how drab the vehicle is. The brown is a real sickly brown, it’s not rich, it’s closer to cheap generic store brand Chocolate Ice Cream, than it is mud. The gun and rocket pods being a very dark olive is nice, but the contrast isn’t very dynamic, so the whole thing looks awash in a sea of blah. The white rockets are really eye catching though, and probably do a lot more than one would think, for the overall appearance of the vehicle.

The dullness of the brown colouring is kind of disappointing, because if it had been slightly richer, the Mean Dog would be a great match for the VAMP, which would help tie the Mean Dog into the earlier segment of the G.I. Joe line.  

I think the Mean Dog, is like a lot of vehicles from the mid 1980s where there’s an under reported European variant, that has a much richer colour than the domestic release. There’s a deep green HAVOC (with red instead of Orange pieces) and the similarly coloured Outpost Defender that was released in Europe has a much a deeper brown. While it would be cool to own, it’s also the Mean Dog, where it’s neither cool enough nor iconic enough, to justify the time, effort, and space it would cost, while already owning the domestic release, though if I was given the choice between the two, the European version would likely win out.


The multi-part vehicles were definitely a design trope of the late 80s, but they also helped the line still have some big vehicles, but they were done up in away that they didn’t seem too big. The Mean Dog is bigger than a MOBAT or SnowCat, but doesn’t really dwarf the figures, it’s intended to interact with, the way a Rolling Thunder does, this is important, because it makes ideas of “Man vs. Machine” conflicts a little more palatable.

The included Driver of the Mean Dog, is Wild Card. Wild Card is a hilarious figure, that looks more like a tramp than that of a member of America’s Elite Daring Anti-Terrorist Strike Force Delta, Code Named: G.I. Joe. The dude has on a pair of red jeans and a green ripped denim vest. He’s not really much of a figure, but a friend of mine once referred to him as “Homeless Footloose”, so that’s what I call him (Take care, wherever you are Delta!), and that’s also about the extent of use the figure gets. However, for some reason, despite it being 1988 and not 1985, Wild Card received numerous accessories. A giant helmet and a machete with backpack scabbard. It’s an oddity, but shows that Hasbro really thought highly of the Mean Dog. 

Overall, the Mean Dog is one of the last great G.I. Joe vehicles. It might not be as solidly designed, as the VAMP or whatnot, and definitely has a gimmick at play, it’s still an excellent toy. 1988 has some warts, but the quality of the figures and vehicles, from a purely action figure perspective is higher than a lot of the glory days of the G.I. Joe line, it just didn’t have any strong media behind it, to leave it better remembered. 


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4 Responses to 1988 Mean Dog

  1. Mike T. says:

    I love the Mean Dog. It has so much play value. The cockpit on the front piece is definitely an underappreciated gem. It can hold a bunch of figures. And, I love gun turrets. The back is also pretty decent and is a great for photos and such. But, you’re correct in that the gun, on its own, is just silly.

    There’s at least 4 Mean Dogs: US, Europe, Brazilian and Funskool. (Might be an Auriken one, too, but I’m not 100% sure.) All have slightly different shades of brown. The Funskool one was really nice and SmallJoes sold them for nothing until Hasbro halted the vehicle imports. I wish I’d been able to snag one.

    I do think the Mean Dog was the last great Joe vehicle. The Rolling Thunder and Thunderclap have a lot of issues and are really pieces of junk if just a few pieces are broken. If you didn’t know any better, you could be convinced that the Mean Dog was an ’85 release.

  2. A-Man says:

    Hama helped sell the Mean Dog in Marvel’s monthly toy ad for Hasbro. That’s the only reason people like it. Okay, perhaps not.

    I like the front part’s turret position has a head down option, unlike say the Wolverine or the Maggot’s front part. There’s a lot of a vehicle that could be improved with the option for crew protection.

    Manned gunner stations are more satisfying that slapping a dozen different guns and missiles on a vehicle operated by like one or two guys. In this the Mean Dog works, as compared to say, the Avalanche and the Avalanche seems better compare to say, the Patriot.

    I never cared much for Wild Card as a figure, homeless Footloose indeed, but the chunky helmet didn’t help. How can Hasbro make like Crankcase’s helmet then years later make Wild Card and Spearhead’s messed up helmets?

  3. generalliederkranz says:

    Haha I love “homeless Footloose”! His machete was one of the most elusive figure accessories for me for a long time, which kept him more interesting than maybe he should’ve been. The picture of the Mean Dog disassembled and dug in is great, and reminds me of the European catalog pictures.

    The Mean Dog was one of the very first GI Joe vehicles I got, secondhand, in 1989 or maybe even 1988. I had just gotten into GI Joe figures and was amazed to find a stash of vehicles really cheap at a flea market. Since the Mean Dog was still on store shelves at that point (although I never saw it), mine probably didn’t get played with before it was sold to me secondhand. But still, as I found out by looking at the catalogs, it was somehow missing the front gun, the missile racks, the stand for the back gun, and of course the gun muzzle. (It’s funny how this was over 30 years ago but the missing parts are still burned into my mind–except the muzzle, which I didn’t even know existed until last year, having overlooked it in the catalog and YoJoe!)

    Despite the missing parts, I played with it a lot in the early years. Having only one weapon left, the big gun, made it a little more risky for the Joes to drive, and the front section was really a daring scout vehicle since it had no weapons at all. It took me a while to realize the front could open, and I was overjoyed to be able to fit more figures in there. (As A-Man said, more Joe vehicles needed covered positions for the drivers/gunners.)

    I kind of got bored of the Mean Dog when the 1990 and 1991 vehicles came out, but I returned to it a few years later, when I got interested in playing with all the 1988 figures together. Since they were the year before I got into Joes, they were more mysterious than the 89s and I had to piece them together secondhand. By the mid-90s I’d been able to do that to some degree, and I was really intrigued by what it would’ve been like if I’d been able to get that lineup new in the story. Your pictures of the Mean Dog with the 88 lineup remind me so much of those times, when I put together all the 88s I had and played with them as a group.

  4. I’ve never really been sold on the Mean Dog, but after reading this I am the closest I have ever been. You make it sound almost as cool as a Mudbuster or an Ice Snake!

    I had Major Altitude as a young kid, and I was not aware of Wild Card or Star Viper until much, much, much later. So to me Wild Card is just ‘drinking a cold one in the back yard Major Altitude.’ The helmet looks dumb on both of them. Bullet Proof’s helmet is perfect for Major Altitude, though. And while Major Altitude’s gun is very cool (Windchill’s maybe?), Wild Card’s machete and sheathe are probably cooler. Plus Wild Card has the much better code name. The code name is cooler than the figure, in fact.

    The Mean Dog is also kind of a funny name. It makes me picture my mom’s neighbor’s little bulldog thing that sometimes escapes their yard and follows me around barking and growling at me, but runs away the second I take a step towards it.

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