Yesterday, pictures finally came about for the semi-announced G.I. Joe ReAction Figures series. I wasn’t surprised with what I saw, in fact it was pretty much exactly what I had expected. Yet, still I’m disappointed.
For the last few years, there was always a fairly small part of the G.I. Joe world that would occasionally make noise about a ReAction Figure style line for G.I. Joe. The cutesy 1978 style Star Wars figures never really did much for me, and the people clamouring for them were often dudes I didn’t interact with much, because they seemed to be either new collectors who’d taken toy collecting on as a personality, or there content contributions weren’t anything I cared about, so I cared even less about there opinions.
The whole ReAction figure thing is a pretty odd, it started off with the release of some unreleased Kenner Alien figures, but then seemed to devolve into a line of Action Figure Lifestyle Accessories, for anything that was willing to be merchandised. It could be the Skinhead Demon from the super racist Agnostic Front album “Cause For Alarm” or it could be Michael J Fox from some movie, all done in the style of a 1977 Star Wars figure. The eclectic mix of properties and the focus on packaging, show that these really aren’t collectible figures, in the traditional Action Figure collector sense, but rather boutique toys with the intention of appealing to people who’ve made some facet of pop culture their “thing”.
A lot of the properties chosen for the ReAction figures often look like they’ve been chosen, because it’s got an easily exploitable fanbase. “Oh hey I like The Misfits so I need 8 different Crimson Ghost action figures, to go with all my vinyls” (You can also insert Iron Maiden), or it’s something that doesn’t have this kind of merchandise, but they’re not intense well done toys, like most of the action figure market, so it’s safe, it can be played off as something you bought because you like “Archie” and it looks “retro”.
Basically, these ReAction figures wind up being the action figure equivalent of gentrification, where it saw something that for the most part is pretty cool, swoops in, makes it boring and safe enough to appeal to people that require approval, and raises the god damn prices for everyone.
Usually, if it’s a ReAction figure based off on existing toyline, it’s more often than not highly inferior to the currently available action figures from that toyline. Be it MOTU, Ninja Turtles or Transformers, these are not really intended to be anything but a ephemeral distraction that keeps people interested in the brand, without cannibalizing it’s current market, and being classically designed to appeal to some guy who likes Optimus Prime a lot, and thinks the MOC figure would look cool on a wall or something.
With G.I. Joe, this is somewhat interesting, because Hasbro still has a very poorly received “Retro Line” going, which until the first pictures were shown, most people had held out false hope for actual retro figures, meaning, O-Ring figures from the 80s. That didn’t happen, as we got pretty awful Modern Era figures with an unnecessary amount of new parts and such put in, which was effort that more than likely should’ve been put into re-making the 1984 Roadblock mold. Upon seeing the ReAction figures, it’s almost as though this was an intentional thing. The weak sculpting, and non-traditional construction of the ReAction figures definitely would’ve lost the battle for the consumer’s dollar, if up against legitimate “retro” G.I. Joes, in the style of Hasbro’s Real Ghostbusters, Transformers, Star Wars re-issues.
These don’t look very good, and it shows that a lot of the design simplifications that were used in the G.I. Joe media, weren’t going to translate well into plastic. What I think often gets left out when thinking about G.I. Joe, is the fact that it owes a lot of it’s success to the fact that it was (and still is) a better action figure than anything that was available at the time. While the comics and cartoons and stuff were fun, I don’t think G.I. Joe would’ve lasted 2 years if it was a 5 POA action figure, hell most people not obsessed with “value” are more interested in a swivel arm ’82-’83, than a straight arm ’82 figure.
I’ve always kind of felt G.I. Joe’s main appeal was the construction and how Hasbro perfected the O-Ring design’s proportions. While the media attached to G.I. Joe is interesting, I don’t think it was as much of a driver as the toys themselves. The comic book is good on an overarching point of view, but it’s also incredibly generically written (If a character doesn’t have a specific verbal tic, almost all of the dialogue is interchangeable), and doesn’t really accomplish much. The cartoon is interesting, because I’ve watch a bunch of it, and I don’t recall anything but the intro, and a few people I’ve talked about this have very similar recollections, yet I can quote numerous episodes of The Real Ghostbusters, and I didn’t own a single toy from that line. Hasbro could’ve used that basic O-Ring design on a toyline of knights, or cowboys, or space men, and it would’ve probably had the same staying power G.I. Joe had. We probably just got army guys, because the Special Forces really needed to rehabilitate their poor image after Vietnam.
Seeing G.I. Joe get dumbed down to the articulation of a Star Wars figure is kind of interesting to me, because while I recognize the designs as things I’m very fond of, I don’t care about them whatsoever, and have no interest in buying any of them. A decent Kwinn The Eskimo is something I’ve wanted for a long time, and seeing this, if they make one in Khakis I won’t really feel like I’m missing out. The COBRA Trooper is one of my favourite designs, and I don’t even care about these ones. Of all of these, I’m mainly disappointed that an early design Baroness has been made, and it’s articulated like a Jawa.
I wonder how long this line is going to last, they’ve obviously stretched it out to 2 waves minimum, but the abundance of army builders is questionable, especially since Greenshirts, while a staple of the cartoon, have never been something most people have clamoured for, it’s also far and a way the weakest looking figure of the first wave. Still, there’ll probably be at least another wave, with guys like Duke, and we’re more than likely going to see the Hooded CC, black Snake Eyes v1 and Pimp Daddy Destro. Though, G.I. Joe doesn’t strike me as having the pop culture recognition or the fanbase for this to stretch out more than 3 or 4 waves.
Oddly enough, this is kind of a full circle moment for G.I. Joe. I don’t think the ReAction line would even exist, had the 25th Anniversary Line not caught the eye of mainstream toy collectors, the way that it did. As that also featured soft and cartoony sculpting, and vintage style cardbacks, that were in some ways designed more for the figures to be left MOC, rather than be opened.