1989 Stalker

As popular characters’ figures got discontinued, Hasbro would attempt to get them back onto store shelves, while also maintaining the constant influx of new characters. Usually it was one or at max two returning characters per year, but that changed up in 1989, with four of the years’ new releases being returning mainstays of the line. G.I. Joe has been in a perpetual state of “Old favourites and a batch of new characters of diminishing quality” for  about 34 years. 1989 was the true beginning of this, and in some ways I can’t fault the line for continuing in that trajectory. Some of this is because the character assortment from 1982-1985 is incredibly strong, and the comics, the major driving force of character development in G.I. Joe, found itself doing nothing but the bare minimum with new characters after a while.

One thing that helps this version of Stalker stand out, is that he’s unique in that he is one of the few major characters in the vintage line to get an environmentally specific figure. Grunt and Clutch, not major characters in the scheme of thing, mind you, got a pair of Desert figures early, but then it was typically the 1984 Roadblock to 1986 Roadblock style of update. Stalker, got the Arctic version, paving the way for Desert Storm cash-in figures like the 92 and 93 Dukes, and 94 Flint. Despite the commonplace arctic theatre for cartoons, comics and even mail-in offers, more major characters got turned into spacemen, than guys in cold weather gear.

The 1989 Stalker mold is quite well done. This isn’t really an arctic figure, but rather a figure designed for combat in the spring thaws. It’s cold, but not bone-chillingly cold, so the toque, and gloves, and multiple layers work well, without being overkill for the environment. The jacket, is well done, because it gives off the appearance of it being a thick one, without being too long or bulky.

However, I’m going to have to express my absolute disdain for the sculpting of the toque on this figure, as whoever did it, has no idea how to properly wear a toque (knit-cap or beanie, for my American audiences). They’re supposed to cover your the top of your ears, to provide them with protection from the elements. Stalker should know this well enough, since he’s from Detroit, which is across the river from Canada. The sculpted details are fairly nice, the big knife on his ankle is very well done, and the jacket and gloves are done to look very heavy. He’s not burdened with a ton of unnecessary strapped on equipment. The bullets on the jacket aren’t overbearing, and happen to provide a nice pop of colour.

The colouring on the figure is nice, the greens, and white work well, and the hints of red and yellow are small enough they don’t overpower the figure, but keep it from being dull. Hasbro tried something new on this Stalker, by doing some heavy brown paint apps on the figure’s legs, in order to create the appearance of the mud, that Stalker has trudged through. It’s an oddity, that I don’t think worked too well, and it doesn’t look like Hasbro thought it worked all that well either, as it didn’t appear again (aside, from the 1993 repaint of this figure that uses the same paint masks)

I think the figure would’ve worked better if the “mud” had been replaced with a camouflage pattern. It would’ve kept the dichotomy of the clean and bright upper body, with the darker and busy lower, but would have given Stalker some more usability, rather than just being an “out in the field” figure. Camouflage would’ve also really harkened back to the 1982 figure, so in a way I can see why they didn’t want to re-hash that design too much, but it would’ve been a better choice than what they went with.

1989 was a year very similar to 1986, where Hasbro did a hue change, and went with overall brighter colours than those that would’ve been seen even just the year prior. It’s an interesting thing Hasbro would try every once in a while. This isn’t like 1993, where they decided bright neon colours should be added to the figures, via paint apps, but rather a change that would be seen in the shades used for base plastic colours. It’s something kind of interesting, but also not something if there was a reasoning behind doing. The colouring change in 1989, isn’t as dramatic as the one done in 1986, but there’s still an obvious difference between a figure released in 1989 vs. one released in 1988, just based on the colouring and shade choices on the figures.

The 89 Stalker is best known for his incredible assortment of accessories. The kayak and the machine gun with it are famous, but I’m not a huge fan of them, they’re so hard to use and the bright white of the kayak is fairly off putting. His assault rifle is excellent though. It’s a fairly well done sculpt, and unlike a lot of guns from ’86-onwards it doesn’t feel oversized. 1989 is a strange year as the rifles tend to be better scaled, but there’s so few of them, and none of them are coloured all that well. For some reason the colour of accessory that bugs me the most is white, they look more unnatural to me, than even all of those wildly coloured ones from the 1990s.

The figure also included a mask, which I’ve never really understood the purpose of, other than looking cool. The biggest problem with the mask, is it’s caused Stalker to have a ridiculously flat face, in order for it to fit. So it’s kind of a waste in the scheme of things.


This is a really strong figure, even if I have a couple misgivings about aspects of it. The flat face is just the cost of doing business, and the mud on the legs, is something where the designer should at least get some credit for attempting something new. It didn’t work, but Hasbro was generally pretty quick to catch on in those situations and give up on them. Where this version of Stalker finds itself to be valuable, is that he’s a true A-list character, dressed up for a cold weather setting. This is useful, because outside of Snowjob, there’s a dearth of winter specialists that have a character any deeper than “Guy from hot southern climate, who hates the heat.” It gives whatever winter team you’ve set up a little more chutzpah, since there’s a character known for reasons other than “Being whatever year’s snow guy” in the squad. One can never underestimate the importance of having access to popular and web known characters for specific environments or sub teams. Battle Force 2000, and Sky Patrol (Despite people’s claims in the early 2000s), have fallen flat with collectors, solely because they’re little more than “a group of guys”.

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The 02-06 era is a timeframe in ARAH, that never really got the reflections on what was actually released, the way most other aspects of ARAH have received. It was an eventful time for G.I. Joe, as it was a full blown re-start on the G.I. Joe line, which brought in all sorts of new fans, and a thing that gets neglected in the scheme of things, is that the re-start of Joe and a wave of new G.I. Joe websites happened fairly simultaneously. What this did, was provide new platforms for discussion. Yo Joe’s message board was barely anything but classified ads at that point, and the Google Groups were outdated in design. However there was now the Joe Customs and Devil’s Due message boards, which, since they were new, allowed people somewhat of an even playing ground in order to voice their opinions, you didn’t have to worry about being branded a “newbie” when the website is 6 weeks old.

Since G.I. Joe was new again, there was an enormous amount of excitement about it, and so you’d hear these fairly insane takes like how 2003 wave 3 Kamakura is a better figure than 1985 Snake Eyes. In some aspects it was like converts to a new religion, as there was a fundamentalism to it, that thankfully was short lived. Part of the reason we never really saw much in the way of retrospectives on this era, involves the turmoil that 2005-6 era G.I. Joe was going through. The line got cancelled at retail, and while people were aware of the 25th anniversary coming up, no one was sure what Hasbro’s plan for that was. Once it was announced there was a brand new construction with retro packaging, most of those who’d converted to the New Sculpt line, were then even faster converts to the Modern Era style.

With a complete change in how the line was going forward, and a fair amount of dogmatic opinions from the previous 4 years, since according to some if you didn’t like the new style, you weren’t a real fan, there was no time to reflect! So while, even the ARAHC started to get looked upon as having shoddy paint apps and being fairly bland, the New Sculpt era didn’t ever suffer that indignation, it actually suffered a much greater one, irrelevancy.

One area, even in the world of dividing lines between styles, that didn’t ever bode well for the new sculpt era, was the vehicles. Most of them were cheap, Tonka looking things with poorly implemented gimmicks, questionable designs and an overall miserable aesthetic. There was some real ass Humvee, released late in the line that did show Hasbro could do it occasionally, but for the most part it was poorly done, with the best looking vehicles often being the repaints of stuff from the 1980s.

As the DTC line became what Hasbro was doing, it did wind up creating a fairly well done vehicle, and perhaps the only thing from that era that still finds itself popping up, every once in a while. That vehicle being the HISS V.

HISS’ are fairly impossible to screw up. Of the 4 different body types based on the overall design, the only one that isn’t a hit is the 2002 HISS IV, one that I think really suffered not for it’s silly snake head gimmick, but rather it’s weak armaments. I don’t own one anymore, but do occasionally think about picking one up, though I doubt I ever will.

If you were to take the sleekness of the original 1983 HISS Tank, and cross breed it with the 1989 HISS II, the DTC HISS is best possible outcome. Where the HISS II failed, was it’s ornate detailing on the body, which while impressive sculpting, was quite the departure from the first HISS, and in many respects a downgrade. The original HISS was such an iconic vehicle, that the fact the HISS II, a fairly spectacular vehicle, featuring traits from the initial appearances in G.I. Joe media, found itself on the scrapheap, partially because it’s main deviation from the original, renders it incapable of fitting in with the original.

The DTC HISS is an amalgamation of the two vintage HISS designs. It’s got width and bulkiness reminiscent of the HISS II, but it’s sleekness is obviously from the 1983 HISS. In an era of poorly designed vehicles, this vehicle is real step up. Historically, this to me, is kind of what a HISS released in 1986 would’ve looked like. It’s still black, but now has weapons that consist almost entirely of “A BUNCH OF RED MISSILES”

The three body types after the original HISS, all featured a troop carrying capacity. Considering the fact that COBRA vehicles were fewer and farther between than G.I. Joe vehicles, it’s a decent trade-off, as it kills two birds with one stone. Where the HISS V tends to be different from the traditional HISS output, is it’s armaments. Rather than having the typical twin cannons, it’s got 4 separate missile launchers, each with two missiles, there’s also two chin mounted machine guns. This change in armament, combined with the troop carrying capacity, changes the role of this vehicle, in comparison to the typical HISS.

I feel this vehicle is much more of an IFV, emphasizing the troop carrying aspect. It helps that it’s got a much better troop compartment than most vehicles in the Joe line, as it’s obviously based off of the Warthog, rather than that of the HISS II or Parasite. I feel this version of the HISS would be used to ferry troops into battle, use it’s missiles to soften up the Joes, and then hang back, until either side retreats. I like this idea, because it doesn’t replace the traditional HISS, but at the same time it compliments it, both in use and design.

If I was forced to only have one HISS Tank in my collection, the likelihood of it being the DTC HISS is a lot higher than one would think. It’s got the looks of the original, but also has a lot more figure interaction points. While an ’83 can interact with four figures, this HISS can double that number. This is great for pictures of army building stupidity, an affliction I’ll probably always suffer from.

Of all of the New Sculpt era vehicles, the DTC HISS is far and away the best. It’s a HISS so it’s hard to screw up, but it was also something that was done with a collector’s eye in mind. The scaling and call backs to the vintage HISS tanks, are helpful, as despite this vehicle being designed for the New Sculpt figures (with it’s included driver being a red 2003 Night Creeper repaint), it still works incredibly well with the vintage style figures. Something that you can’t say about the Patriot Grizzlies or Treadfires of the 2000s.

The DTC releases are interesting to me, as not a lot of it looks like rebranded stuff from what would’ve been the 2005 line. A lot of the stuff released under the DTC banner seemed like collector’s oriented figures, done using the fewest new parts possible. For every weird ass figure like New Sculpt Scrap Iron, there’s a named COBRA who’s been turned into a Viper, like Scalpel and the Medi-Viper. This HISS is one I’m unsure on, as I could see the base design of it being used in the Robot Rebellion line, but the side panels, which are very ’83 HISSesque, don’t strike me as a likely retail release.

The collapse of the line at retail in 2004 is an interesting thing, because it resulted in some decent figures and vehicles existing, via the DTC experiment. Frankly, I kind of feel that this iteration of G.I. Joe died at the right time. The quality of everything had fallen off, and didn’t look like it was going to improve, looking at designs of figures like Overkill v6, whom looks like a Burger King toy. Hasbro was doing things with good intentions, but so poorly, that it’s better to be in a spot of not receiving something, rather than receiving something really bad. I don’t feel alone in that thought process, because it’s quite a rare sight to see anything from that era of G.I. Joe appear in photos, and definitely not an actual “new sculpt” related product. If you do, it’s usually as a novelty, or someone still trying to use things in something that is probably nothing more than justification for owning something, they should’ve gotten rid of, 15 years ago.

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1988 Night Force Tunnel Rat

Late January and early February were a pretty bogus time personally. A bunch of people I knew all decided to shuffle the mortal coil in strange manners. Since I was also burning off the last of my vacation time from work, I wound up in a situation where the best possible use of this time was to look for online deals on G.I. Joe figures. Which in 2022 is a much steeper hill to climb, than one would have thought it would be, in comparison to the early 2010s, which was the last time I put that kind of effort in.

Night Force is a pretty important aspect of G.I. Joe, from a reputation stand point, but in the end, it’s a bunch of figures that look different from their original versions, but seldom are substantially better than the first version. I wouldn’t say any of the figures are “worse” as a Night Force figure, but for every Crazylegs, there’s a half dozen Night Force Tunnel Rat style figures. Good, different, but not better.

Tunnel Rat is a popular figure and character. He was featured heavily in all the related G.I. Joe media, and happened to be one of the strongest figures from 1987. When the 1988 Night Force figures were chosen, it made sense for him to be included, based on the marketing push behind him in 1987, but at the same time, he wasn’t a figure that really needed a repaint. If we lived in a world that didn’t have a Night Force Tunnel Rat, but rather a Night Force Fast Draw, G.I. Joe collections would probably be somewhat better for it.

There’s two distinct camps for the 1987 new Joes. The first camp features strong military influenced figures, that are much closer to figures from the 1985 series of releases, and the second camp is more in the vein of the 1986 series, where the figures feature large heads and bright colouring and designs that skew less towards identifiable military designs. Tunnel Rat, is a figure firmly from the first camp, while a figure like Psyche Out or Sneak Peek would be an example of the second camp, as they feature large heads and outfits that you can’t quite put your finger on.

Tunnel Rat has a truly strong mold, with a lot of nice detailing, and well thought out design choices. The bandana is a well done piece of sculpting, and the rest of the little details on the figure really shine through. The work gloves and wristwatch is one of the better examples, and I’m a sucker for any figure that has a bullet bandolier. The Night Force version, doesn’t feature the grease paint on the arms and face, which shows that the face sculpt on the figure is quite well done.

The Night Force Tunnel Rat is a figure that is kind of defeated by the strong colouring of the original. It’s not that the Night Force version is bad or anything, it’s just that there’s not much new to the figure. The 1987 featured Black, Olive Drab and Grey. The 1988 Night Force version features Olive Drab, Grey and Black. It’s pretty much the same colour scheme just placed differently. The thing that makes this Tunnel Rat stand out so much, is the fact that his ammo bandolier has been changed from silver, to a string of red tracer rounds. It’s a cool design, and changes things up significantly, plus the fact it looks like tracer ammunition plays into the whole Night Force theme of the figure.

The first series of Night Force figures featured a pretty coherent colouring system. The figures were done in a way that they all seemed unique, but sharing enough colours between them that the figures did indeed look as though they were a special team. The olive drab on Tunnel Rat matches up with Crazylegs and Psyche Out, while the dark grey matches with Sneak Peek and Outback. The black matches Falcon. It’s an overlooked detail, but the Joe line is littered with such details. This colour scheme found more use later on, on a Black Major Night Force repaint of the 1985 Snake Eyes mold.

The Night Force Tunnel Rat featured all the same accessories as the original, but with the majority of them now being cast in black plastic, rather than olive drab. Because of this, outside of the backpack, the Night Force Tunnel Rat is one of the easier Night Force figures to complete, despite being replete with small, easily lost and fragile accessories. That’s because both the flashlights and the TNT bag have found themselves with reproduction parts available on the aftermarket. While some people might find they’re investment isn’t as safe, I personally don’t give a damn, and am glad to have a complete 88 Tunnel Rat, despite the true nature of some of the parts.

Tunnel Rat is a solid journeyman figure, as he’s got a lot of the right stuff, but I’ve never been drawn to him too much, as a character. To me he’s just a guy who goes into holes. It’s not a glamorous role, but it’s the one he fills. I now own 5/6ths of the 1988 Night Force figures, so those figures have sort of found themselves only being used together, rather than co-mingling with the rest of that era. On one hand it constrains the use somewhat, but it also gives Tunnel Rat a little more use. Now he’s the machine gunner for the Night Force, instead of doing actual tunnel rat stuff. It’s kind of the double edged sword that sub teams provide, giving a figure a role, even if it’s different from their specialty.

Night Force figures exist. I have a few, but they don’t really make me feel like I’ve accomplished anything, by having them in my collection, unlike, some of the foreign figures I’ve acquired over the years. The pricing of them is insane, and not something worth paying, as with patience, there’s still deals out there to be had. Tunnel Rat, is funny, because the mold for the figure is so solid, it seems hard to rate him below some of the other Night Force figures, even though, realistically he’s in the bottom half of the six 1988 Night Force Joes.

However, the stupidity of the prices on these figures is something that’s been a consistent for 20 years. Sure the price of one in 2022 is closer to the price they were in 2002, that’s just how it goes. It’s not as bad a feeling paying more than you feel they’re worth for a vintage Night Force, than it would be, dropping more than $10 on a Night Force Beach Head or something along those lines.

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Not A Man You Can Like, But One You Can Trust


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Falcon Piloto (Brazil Tan Zap)

Brazil very seldom included figures with the vehicles. In fact I think there were only three in which that was the case. Deep Six, and the two Glider pilots. The pilot of the COBRA glider is a Cobra Soldado, with a silver emblem, and is really hard to find, and some people might even debate the existence of the figure, but it’s real, I’ve seen it. The pilot of the Falcon Glider was actually a different figure than the US Tan Grunt. The Falcon Piloto was a Tan Zap.

There was a period of time in the late 2000s where I was ridiculously into tan G.I. Joes. I single handily raised the prices on Tan Grunt in 2009, because I was buying them all the time. The US dollar was down, and CDN dollar was up, so it wasn’t odd for me to get 3 packages of Joes a week, especially since the prices in those days were down from the 2002-2004 stupidity. Sadly we’re in a spot where we’ve been overtaken with the idiocy of people paying $55 for 1986 Vipers.

During this same time frame, there used to be a fairly vibrant G.I. Joe scene on Flickr, where I wound up becoming friends with a real cool dude in Brazil. It was nice because we were able to do some G.I. Joe trades, and since tan figures were my main obsession, we wound up doing a deal that included the Falcon Piloto.


Usually when thinking about the Comandos Em Açao line, it’s the figures like Cobra De Aço or the various Eco Warrior creations that jump to mind. However the vast majority of the Brazilian line was for the most part done up in the same colours as our typical domestic releases. Because of this mentality, a lot of VERY solid figures don’t have the exposure amongst the G.I. Joe community.

What the Brazilian figures really wind up being, is the same but different. The plastics used in Brazil have two defining characteristics. The first is it’s much more brittle than the plastics that Hasbro used in the Chinese factories. The second, and to me, more important characteristic is that the plastics come in a much richer and deeper hue of colours. There’s a green that’s very specific to Brazil, but there’s also a tan that’s just as distinctly Brazilian.

The Falcon Piloto, is a straight arm Zap, that was done up in tan. I’m not sure if there was a mix up that resulted in the Zap mold being used in place of the Grunt mold, as the figure has the brown hair that Grunt had. I’m thinking the real reason the mold was changed slightly, was Zap was released in the first series as Dragon, and in the second series the v1 Grunt design was being released as a single carded figure as “Front”. So repurposing the Zap mold to be the Falcon Piloto was probably to prevent having two of the exact same mold being released at the same time. The next year the Tan Grunt design wound up being released in Brazil, as Estopin, though most examples of that figure use the Rip Cord lower arms in place of the usual ’83 lower arms.


I don’t do too much with the Straight Arm Comandos Em Açao figures anymore. It’s not really due to them being straight arms, but rather the fact that nowadays, there’s more examples of these molds being used in non ’82 Olive Drab. The exciting aspect of the Brazilian figures was that Flash wasn’t such a bland colour. However if I was in search of an early Comandos figure, for a background piece, the Falcon Piloto often finds himself the one to be used. He’s a unique colour and mold choice, so that puts him over a Gladion or Elétron.  The other thing that allows the Falcon Piloto a little more opportunity for use, is the helmet and visor combo hides a lot of his face. The Brazilian skin tone is really nice, but it stands out like a sore thumb when next to a domestic Hasbro figure.


Falcon Piloto might be used more often by me than other early Brazilian figures, but that’s still something that’s a rare occurrence. However the Falcon Piloto is a figure that I still really like, but it’s more of a sentimental favourite, than the overall quality of the figure. G.I. Joe as a hobby has allowed me to meet a lot of people, some of them have been people I would’ve been better off never knowing, but others have been people I’ve been glad to get to know. So some figures wind up with an increased intrinsic value because of that, this is a fun hobby, and even one that can be a lot of fun, when it’s done as a fairly solitary one, but you get a lot more out of it when you take time to make some friends with the same interests as you.


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1992 Dice


Ninja Force has been a fairly hated concept in the G.I. Joe fandom. It’s not so much because of the concept, though Ninjas were probably played out by this point, but rather the figures were dead before they were even released, based on the terrible gimmicks implemented into the figures, so that they could compete in the action figure aisles of the go-go 90s.

The first Ninja Force series had two COBRA agents, Slice and Dice. If they’d been given traditional construction, they’d likely be as desirable as the Headhunter, for 1990s COBRA figures. The colours are good, the designs were good, and Slice even managed to be made an actual character in the comic, something that wasn’t often done after about issue #4. They’re interesting as the pairing of the two was actually very successful and it’s hard to have one without the other, they’re not quite Tomax and Xamot, but they’re pretty close. Which is surprisingly impressive for two characters with gimmicked figures from 1992.


Dice, is one of the nicer Ninja Force molds, it’s not too busy, and while his face isn’t fully covered, it’s not nearly as awful as Dojo’s Old man dressed as a Ninja Turtle, or T’Jbang’s Lucha Libre look. The mask that Dice is wearing, is stylized enough that it works for the Ninja appearance, and has an almost dragon-like appearance, so it’s kind of reminiscent of some of the more stylized evil Samurai face shields.

Dice’s outfit was a very strong design, and even before getting his Modern Error figure, aspects of the design were incorporated on a couple Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes’ figures. It made sense, since Dice looks cool, and it was something that could also provide a wink and a nod to fans of the 90s figures, and or anyone with a collecting knowledge that extended past 1987, which in the early part of the 25th Anniversary collection, that wasn’t always the case with the influx of new collectors.

While most Ninja Force guys got some ribbon or fake hair, Dice got REALLY BIG kneepads. It’s notable, if nothing else. His ninja action feature is some weird thing where if you turn his torso, it returns to neutral really quickly. It’s less intrusive than other moves, because his arms don’t have any restrictions on them. One of the interesting things done with the first series Ninja Force figures, was the skin tone used. Dice, T’Jbang and Dojo all have the same skin colour, which is a darker colour than the typical caucasian tone of the 90s. I assume it was done to indicate these were characters of East Asian descent, despite the file names! Then again, Sonic Fighters Road Pig also shares that skin tone, but he looks like someone who’d been victimized by sonic radiation.

Dice included a pretty iffy spear as his “bo staff”, as well as an axe. The staff isn’t bad per-se, it’s just oversized and not a ton of fun to use. The axe on the other hand might be the best of all the newly sculpted weapon for the Ninja Force line, as it’s well detailed and not massively oversized, and tends to be my go to weapon when using Dice. Jinx’s nagatina is also a good substitute weapon for Dice, as it provides the same overall design as his true weapon, without the size issues.


The 1992 Ninja Force figures don’t suffer the same colouring setbacks that the 1993 series does, Dice, winds up with probably the nicest colour scheme a Ninja Force figure would be coloured in. He’s got a deep purple base, with black and silver highlights. The colours all work well together, and aren’t gaudy or anything. The 1990s get a bad rap for neon, but really it’s just 1993 that’s really out to lunch. That’s not to say that the 1990s weren’t bright, T’Jbang and Dojo both feature an obnoxious yellow and blue colour scheme, that tends to diminish both figures as it’s too similar, as well both are done in a colour scheme that’s far brighter than the other four figures in the first Ninja Force series, which all had fairly reasonable colour schemes, especially when compared to where things were heading with the line.

The strength of Dice’s colour scheme, is nice enough to overcome his construction issue, and makes him one of the more commonly seen Ninja Force figures, especially in comparison to the new characters introduced on the Joe side of things.

Where Dice’s colour scheme really shines, is how the paint apps were applied. The paint masks are intricate for the time frame he was released, as his head for example features a purple face mask over a black helmet, when it probably would’ve been easier to make it just purple. The same could be said for his gauntlets, it was a level of detailing not seen as often as the 1990s rolled along.

Dice Wins!

Dice is a figure with a solid sculpt, and unique enough look, that he’s a usable figure, despite the construction changes. Part of what makes this the case, is he’s not an important character, he’s someone that could be standing in the background looking intimidating, and he’s being used to the fullest extent of the Dice character. Considering how most fans prefer Storm Shadow as a COBRA, Dice’s fate isn’t all that bad. COBRA having a variety of Ninja henchmen, is something that’s easier to explain away than a US Military unit having a half dozen ninjas on it.

It’s funny how, it’s taken close to 25 years for the Ninja Force figures to be viewed in a much more positive light than they were initially online. I think that’s something that could’ve come around a lot sooner, if these figures were judged on their actual merits, rather than the fact they’re not using the traditional construction. Fun fact, you can think Dice is a good action figure AND that he’d be better with traditional G.I. Joe articulation. It’s not an either/or situation. While not all Ninja Force figures are good, there’s a probably 4 or 5 solid figures released under that banner. Dice is probably the best of the lot, as his colouring is strong, and the articulation isn’t as much of a hindrance as others. One of the big disappointments of the final batch of Black Major Storm Shadow figures, was the fact a black and purple one didn’t the final cut.


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1990 Pathfinder

The 1990 G.I. Joe line is one of those ones that for the most part, fans have a fairly decent opinion of. I understand where they’re coming from, as the figures released in 1990 are all quite well done, with excellent sculpting and a unique but well chosen pallet of colours on the figures. As a year, 1990 is an interesting landmark on where the G.I. Joe line had been, and where it was heading.

If you look at the G.I. Joe line in three year sections, you start to notice patterns emerging. 1982-1984 was an era that featured a lot of simple, and very military oriented figures. 85-87 brings a lot more stylization, as well as a brighter selection of colours. The 1988 through 1990 era is much more restrained on the colouring side of things, however the accessory compliments included with figures have become far more important, and 1990, was perhaps the apex of figures including highly intricate accessory compliments, and it’s left us with a year that has accessories that were often far more memorable than the figures that they were included with. Pathfinder is the guy with a weed whacker, Capt. Grid Iron has football grenades and Salvo had a bunch of mines and missiles and a briefcase everyone wants for a Crimson Twins in business suit custom.

The character choices during this era are also fairly interesting. 1988 was a new character heavy year, but that had been the case for the entirety of the line at this point. 1989 was different, as Deep Six, Stalker, Rock ‘N Roll and Snake Eyes all have made triumphant returns, and make up nearly half of the 1989 Joe carded line up. This level of returning characters was unprecedented and shows that perhaps G.I. Joe was in dire need of familiar faces. 1990 on the other hand is the first year of completely new characters since 1983, and the last ever year for Hasbro to attempt an entirely brand new carded character line up. It’s one of those things where, just because they’re new, doesn’t mean they’re good, as there’s no personality, unless it’s Capt. Grid Iron, and his personality isn’t very good.

As a figure, Pathfinder is pretty well done, he’s got a good sculpt, and very strong colouring, that allows him to stand out as a unique entity, without being too tied to the era he was released in. The sculpt features some nice detailing, without being all that busy. Pathfinder’s plain, but the design works for the figure, the vest is a nice way to give the torso some life without making the figure awfully busy. The baggy pants are a different look, but they’re well done and the camouflage pattern on them is quite unique, but very well done. Pathfinder shows just how quickly Hasbro could improve on the execution of an idea, his boonie hat is very similar in colour and design to Muskrat’s, but it looks a lot better. You can see design cues from earlier figures, like Muskrat and Recondo in the Pathfinder sculpt, but he’s still his own design.

The black base colour is a little bit of a change of pace for a jungle specialist, but it works quite well, and allows some interesting uses of colour for the highlights. The orange isn’t the same shade as what had been seen in the prior years, but it’s reminiscent. The pale green is unique, without being too insipid, and the dark green is a shade that works well to tie Pathfinder into the ’88 and ’89 figures.

Pathfinder’s plain sculpt is partially due to the fact, he’s one of the figures that is really connected to his accessories. On his waist piece, there’s two knobs. These knobs allow two machine guns to peg in. It’s a logical next step from the steady-cam gun that adorned Repeater, as well as taking some cues from the 1989 Rock ‘N Roll’s gattling guns. These machine guns connect to the backpack through two ammo belts, connecting the figure and the accessories in quite an impressive manner. I like the Machine gun set up, but I’m also glad it’s something that didn’t get too many uses, as the law of diminishing returns would’ve been apparent very quickly.

It’s a nice way to do accessories, as the machine guns are still ones that can be positioned, but they don’t require Pathfinder to have his hands full. It allows his weed whacker to be used without sacrificing any of his firepower. It makes Pathfinder a little difficult to use with vehicles, but that’s not his specialty (Well, at least not for another decade).

As an overall year, 1990 is a strange one, because it’s full of re-hashed specialties, but it’s at the same time not following the Gung-Ho to Leatherneck pipeline, of 1986, the previous year to feature so many re-hashed specialties. Rather a lot of these figures are unique enough to not just be a second run of “Gung Ho and Torpedo are off the shelves, get some guys that look close”. Freefall and Pathfinder are also far enough removed from the Rip Cords and Recondos they’re replacing.

Still, there’s no real personalities or anything to these figures and characters. While, the 1990 figures were all pretty unique looking, but also seem somewhat devoid of personality. There’s a lot of dour and plain looking faces in that line up. Gone are the sly grins, from the likes of Flint or Hawk. Just a lot of straight forward, blank faces. Pathfinder is one of those figures, who’s so devoid of character, that he winds up being more recognizable as the head of ever Dickie Sapperstein custom made between 1998-2005.

1990 is one of the better years in terms of quality action figures, the sculpting is good, the colours aren’t offensive, every character has good and traditional style accessories that are unique to them, but still, it’s such a milquetoast year. Looking at the carded line up of 1990, you can see why the choice by Hasbro was made to go towards large numbers of returning characters (as seen in 1991), and a change in the ways of accessories. 1990 was a year of small and intricate accessories, and therefore expensive to produce and easily lost, afterwards the intricacies decreased and the size increased. It would’ve been something if the 1990 characters were at least given an opportunity, but the DiC cartoon was cheaply produced, and the comic book had long since passed the point of even bothering to introduce new characters, in ways that weren’t “Oh in this issue we’re going to introduce 8 new characters, because the new year’s worth of figures is now available”.

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1988 Blizzard

Where I live, we had quite a long Indian summer, with temperatures still in the teens and twenties (celsius!) going well into late October. I had no complaints about this, as the longer it takes for old man winter to appear, the better, and it’s always nice to see the leaves get the chance to turn colour, rather than just freeze on the branches while they’re still green. It’s a stark change from some years where we’re getting big dumps of snow in late September, and it conveniently happened right as I started attempting to emphasize colour in the photographs I was taking.

Still, seasons give way to each other, and as we get the first major snowfall, I figured it would be time to look at the absolute best arctic figure in the line, the 1988 Blizzard.

Pretty much every time I discuss a 1988 figure, I talk about how it’s a top-3 year of the line, from a quality standpoint. Blizzard, is definitely in the upper-echelon of the year’s releases.  I’m not sure if I’d rank him directly at the top, but he’s someone I’d safely place in the top 3. He’s a very solid figure without the major ’88 detraction, which is a lack of paint apps, as Blizzard has a multitude of colours, and they’re all reasonably placed, unlike some of the oddities that would happen with them in 1988, like the stripes on Lightfoot’s legs.

Blizzard is in a thick snowsuit, with a lot of good sculpting in order emphasize the thickness of it, and how the web gear, and padding is tightly strapped to it. While there’s some throwbacks to previous winter Joe designs, like the gloves being very similar to Iceberg’s, the overall appearance of the design seems to evoke the 1985 Snow Serpent more than anything else.

Blizzard’s colouring is quite strong. The white is the typical G.I. Joe arctic specialist base colour, so it had to stay, but the addition of charcoal grey, black and brown give the figure a lot of pop, while not being too colourful. Colour is one of those aspects of arctic figures that is required for it to be an appealing action figure, while in reality it wouldn’t work. Blizzard is a figure that’s really good, and probably would’ve worked in a less colourful outfit, but I’d rather see colour than realism.

The evolution of accessories within the G.I. Joe line is an interesting one. From ’82-85 there’s a steady progress, then in 1986 it’s for the most part even more basic than the 1982 figures, since it’d gone back to “Rifle and backpack” for a lot of them. 1987 started to really expand on the intricacies and inter connectivity of the accessories, which would continue on for the next few years, probably peaking in 1990, the year in which accessories overshadowed most of that year’s figures.

Including 2 skis, 2 snowshoes, a wrapped pistol, a wrapped uzi, a helmet, and a backpack with steering handles, shows just how far a leap the accessories had gone from Iceberg’s single machine gun. Blizzard’s backpack is a tremendous feat, as it’s a traditional backpack, that provides a place for either the snowshoes or skis when they’re not being worn by the figure, as well as the fact it has the ability to turn into a ridable sled for the figure. While the sled isn’t perfect, it’s still a more successful attempt at turning a backpack into a pseudo-vehicle than Muskrat’s boogie board.

I don’t really like Blizzard’s helmet, but that’s just because it’s bulkier and wider than the card art portrayed it as. 1988 tends to feel like a year with fewer removable helmets than average, so I feel kind of odd complaining about one of the few that are indeed removable, but it would’ve been better for everyone involved, if the Blizzard head was sculpted wearing a helmet based on the card art painting. Though it would also remove Blizzard’s most unique point, where he’s the only arctic figure with removable headgear of any form.

Blizzard is a fairly common figure to find used, in my obviously biased Canadian experience. Most of the time he doesn’t include much more than a backpack, which can colour one’s view of the figure. While, I don’t think his sled backpack is the most necessary of accessories, this is a figure that tends to feel a thousand times better once fully completed. Definitely an example of a sum being greater than it’s parts.

Arctic specialists, after Snowjob don’t really have much of a hook, from a character perspective. Most of them seem to hate the hot climates they were born in, and tend to be very mean. Arctic characters tend to get thrown into the “Singular commando” role with me, partially because it’s a desolate locale, and frankly I find multi-figure photo shoots in the snow to be far too much of a pain in the ass, for what they wind up being worth. Figures are fragile in the cold, and the snow tends to be less than cooperative.


Despite the relatively niche aspect of arctic figures, the ones released in the G.I. Joe line tend to veer into being some of the best figures released in the line. There’s a few duds, but that can be said about any environmentally specific figure. Still, arctic figures generally had a higher success rate than divers or desert figures, which might also have to do with the fact that arctic figures were released with far more frequency. Still, Blizzard is probably the best one released in the 12 years of vintage G.I. Joe, which is quite an accomplishment, considering the strength of some of the other arctic figures, like Snowjob and the 1985 Snow Serpent.

The Blizzard mold was supposed to appear in 1997, but was replaced with the 1993 Frostbite figure, I think in some ways this is just as much a loss as the 1985 Snake Eyes mold not seeing a reappearance in 1997. In 2005 or 2006, Blizzard would finally appear, as Short Fuze, in a strange, but fairly decent overall set. The colouring on that one takes some chances, but I still would’ve rather seen the ’88 mold in the potential 1997 colour scheme, especially since it would’ve found Blizzard matching with both Snowjob and Iceberg, two of the other really strong arctic figures.

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Ninja Ku (Argentina)

When it comes to foreign exclusives in G.I. Joe, Argentina is the country which had some of the best and most desirable releases. Some of this is due to the large amount of information and attainability the figures had during the early online G.I. Joe community, as well as the fact that there were a few strong designs that were very capable of being introduced into a domestic G.I. Joe collection, without standing out too much. The figures would draw attention, but in a good way, as they didn’t look out of place amongst US figures. Ninja Ku is a stellar example of this, as he’s different enough from the domestic Storm Shadow, without being too outlandish, like other foreign figures.

Ninja Ku is a straight repaint of the 1984 Storm Shadow mold. That alone is enough to make him a very popular figure, because that’s one of the most popular molds and designs in the history of G.I. Joe. However Ninja Ku doesn’t follow the ’84 Storm Shadow design, and instead makes the figure appear to be wearing a long sleeved outfit. It’s a subtle change, but one that gives Ninja Ku a little more oomph than his release partner, Satan.

Ninjas have a fairly standard appearance, and the Storm Shadow mold hits all the right notes, as it’s got the mask, the ninja shoes, the straps and throwing stars. It’s pretty much a perfect design for what the figure’s role was. What made Stormy so unique, was the choice of colouring, he’s white, where as media depictions of Ninjas generally shroud them in darkness. So with Storm Shadow being clad in stark white, and the only other major ninja appearance in the early 80s was those of the Red Ninja, it gave the G.I. Joe universe a slightly different feel on typical and atypical Ninja colouring.

Ninja Ku is clad in black and gold, a very strong colour scheme, that is able to be a home run in a couple of situations. It’s unique for G.I. Joe, since none of the other Ninjas were clad in this colour, and black bases wasn’t a common choice, because Hasbro didn’t want to infringe too much on Snake Eyes. It also manages to give G.I. Joe the stereotypical black clad ninja. Had Ninja Ku not existed, there’d have been clamouring for a black Storm Shadow repaint, because it was a design choice that made a lot of sense, so at least Ninja Ku would provide a unique character as well.

Ninja Ku’s most intriguing difference, is the fact that he was given an Afro skin tone. It’s unique, especially for it’s time, when Hasbro abhorred doing any visibly non-white enemy figures (I get it, Storm Shadow was Japanese, but the figure’s skin tone wasn’t any different than Mutt.). It’s another thing that provides a little more change to the Storm Shadow mold, and helps make Ninja Ku’s introduction into a US based collection easier, because he still comes off as an individual. I also feel it works, because I like Jim Kelly.

Ninja Ku’s a figure that came with various batches of the Storm Shadow accessories, usually consisting of Nunchucks, a backpack and perhaps the short swords. Not only was there an inconsistency in what he was released with, there was also variations of what colour they were cast in. Gold is the colour exclusive to Ninja Ku, as it matches up with the figure’s highlights. The only weapon I feel is truly important for the figure is his nunchucks, but that’s because the card art shows him wielding them. My Ninja Ku included the nunchucks, which might make me biased, as well as his backpack. Sometimes I add a couple of swords, but it’s not always the case.

As a character, Ninja Ku isn’t really all that much of a deep one. He’s just a shadowy assassin. While COBRA tends to be full of those, I feel there’s a role for them. Ninja Ku is a figure from the early days of the line, which allows him a little leeway. I also found that since he’s early enough, he can be worked in as a transitionary character.

I view the early days of COBRA Command, being one where the Commander was trying to find the right fits for the organization, which lead him to give chances to various thugs and specialists, so that he didn’t let anyone slip through the cracks. His earliest assassins were characters like the Invasor and Mortal, who were useful, but as time went on, COBRA Commander felt that they might become too much of an obstacle, as they were in on the ground level of COBRA and felt they deserved some credit for the organization’s early successes. Due to this, the Commander’s idea to replace these early operators, was through  bringing in a group of ninjas, who would be tasked with ridding the organizations of those long in the tooth, as well as taking over the assassination portfolio.

The two best of these ninjas were Storm Shadow, and Ninja Ku. Storm Shadow would go onto become the Commander’s main internal enforcer and bodyguard, while Ku would stick around, doing whatever tasks he was felt to be a good fit for. It kept Ninja Ku in the fold, without giving the COBRA Ninja too much power or authority.

The character and design for Ninja Ku was quite popular, as well as an easy repaint. These two things led it to being one of the few foreign concepts to really cross over into the main G.I. Joe line. The 25th Anniversary had a Storm Shadow painted up in black and gold and designated the “Ninja Ku Leader”. That design of a white skinned Ninja Ku, did get an unintentional O-Ring version, when there was a factory mishap with the Black Major version of the Ninja Ku figure. I’m loathe to pay attention to the ReAction figures, but there was a Ninja Ku repaint of the Storm Shadow from that line, as well. This one was actually Ninja Ku. I have a feeling it was similar to the Funskool Snake Eyes homage, in that it wasn’t announced, and something a little too inside baseball, for the typical ReAction figure collector.

If there was to be a repaint of the retro O-Ring Storm Shadow, I’d rank Ninja Ku as second or third on my list, but if there’s no Storm Shadow repaint, I wouldn’t care either, considering how many times the mold has seen use in the last 20 years. Still I’d rather see this design than the Red Ninja, considering that’s a horse that’s been beaten to death, and the retro line isn’t one that really finds itself being conducive to army building.

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Great Moments In G.I. Joe History



Posted in G.I. Joe Miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments