It was summer time, most likely 1987. I was 10. Two older kids were having a garage sale down the street selling their entire GI Joe collections. Between the two of them they had everything but the the USS Flagg. So many toys lay out before my eyes like a two page spread in a Christmas Catalog.
I was late getting into GI Joe. When the toy line was at the height of its popularity my world still revolved around He-Man. Realistic tanks couldn’t compete with magical castles. I liked the cartoon but there were so many great cartoons those days. A Golden Age.
I had looked once or twice in the stores for my favorite GI Joe but couldn’t find him. The pegs were a sea of olive drab and beige that seemed to have every Joe but him. But there in that drive way was the one action figure that eluded me.
“Duke!” I exclaimed. He was mine at last.
They said I could pick out a rifle from a box of loose accessories. I had enough allowance money on me to buy him and a small vehicle. It was missing its rockets but I didn’t care. Later, I came back with my mom to get more figures.
GI Joe quickly became my preferred toy line. I was facinated with the detailed little soldiers that could be carried anywhere. One Joe was great, two were even better. Each additional figure would unlock new scenarios and playtime possibilities in his comrades. When my garage sale Joes wore out from endless battles I would supplement my forces with new figures and vehicles from the store.
Adult Collectors tend to favor particular years and GI Joe is no exception. The brand has been around since the 1960s and the Real American Hero line from my childhood lasted an astounding 12 years– so long that the first wave of toys looked very different from the last.
Every year the designers pushed the boundaries of what a “Modern Army Action Figure” could be. Many collectors prefer the conservatism of the early years when each toy had an equivalent in the real world. Younger collectors who grew up with the later toys tend to be more open to the bright colors and outlandish sci fi elements that came to dominate the line.
Though I started with older Joes I continued to collect until the line ended in 1994. By then I was in high school and keenly aware of the social consequences for “playing with toys” at my age. I stalked the toy aisles with the stealthiness of a ninja commando.
I think because I had first hand experience with both the early toys and the final figures that my personal nostalgia is more inclusive. To me GI Joe could be almost anything. I love the wild adventure of the cartoon and the more serious story-telling of the comic book. I like the potential for soldiers in fatigues to strap on jet packs and fight bug-eyed monsters from outer space. To me that is GI Joe. What is it for you? Please comment and let me know.