My GI Joe Story

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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4 comments

  1. thedragonfortress · November 7, 2017

    I’m not sure how I missed this post, Matt! It’s full of great insight, and that photo of realistic 94 Duke with the early 80s JUMP really sells it!

    I think my earliest Joes were from 88, which had to have been purchased in 89. My main Joe years were 90-94, with 91 and 92 being my favorite. I grew up with reruns of the cartoon, but catching it was spotty. That was GI Joe to me, until I saw GI Joe: The Movie sometime in the early 90s. That definitely blew my mind! I know a lot of fans hate it, but it was perfect for someone my age at the time. It made total sense to me. As I got older, I read the old Marvel comic and the DDP comic. I loved the 97-2000 ARAHC collection, and even embraced the new sculpt era.

    GI Joe is so many things, and almost all of them are fantastic. That’s why I love it so much.

    Like

  2. Forgotten Figures · May 3, 2018

    G.I. Joe, for me, is endless possibility. You could say I was a late bloomer in a social sense. So, I spent a lot of hours alone. Here, Joe filled the void. I had dozens of unique characters and toys that fit into any situation I could imagine. My “play” years were from the beginning. But, I hold the ’90’s Joes in high regard because they further expanded the possibilities for adventure. The one thing that Joe always brought was diversity. You could love ninjas, or army guys, or airplanes or divers or snow figures or desert warfare and G.I. Joe had something for you. It was genius and awesome all at once.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Steve BC · January 7, 2019

    Very nice well written piece, and it’s nice to see some love for the later years of the ARAH run. Most folks I know love 1982-1986 and that’s about it, but there is a lot of great stuff from 1987 onwards as well. Let’s not forget the Defiant, one of the greatest playsets ever, along with personal favorites like the Hurricane, the Hammer, Mean Dog and other cool vehicles from the later years.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Arbhall🇨🇦 (@Trekk12) · July 18, 2019

    For me I was introduced through the commercials in 1983-4. The theme song did what it was supposed to do. It made me jump up and gawp at the screen till it ended, then left me standing there wanting more. The theme song entirely sold me. Ive since learned how specifically engineered it was, how much science went into it. I love it even more. As soon as the commercial ended I raced into the bedroom and looked through the bin. I already had a one, but didnt care about it. I had no life, no theme music before, he didnt even have a name. The commercial game him a name and I played with my lonely Zap for hours.

    Before bed I selected a new tape from the shelf and labelled it Yo Joe. My Mom was super into video and we were one of the few families in the entire town to even have a VHS player. We taped everything. So there was always a stack of still in wrapper blank tapes. I loaded it and waited like a predator, the commercial didnt play again that night. But it did the next day right after school. I recorded it and every other GI Joe commercial. For a couple years I made stop motion videos, using pastecine to keep the Joes standing or in whatever position.

    That all ended when the cartoon finally landed on the channels we got. My commercials got taped over, replaced by full episodes, with the commercials edited out, unless they were GI Joe commercials. If you hit pause while recording, you could just skip recording the commercials, kinda like we do with the >> button now to skip commercials in playbacks.

    I was hooked on everything. Comics, action figures, stickers, everything I could get my hands on. The heavy war themes alarmed my mom, so she forbid us taping new episodes. Forgetting we knew how to tape on one channel and watch another. She forbid the toys and took them away, along with the collection of tapes we had made of the cartoon.

    All she had done was create zealots. We kept recording, then watching when she was at work. We hid the toys and played with them outside or while she was working. Same with the comics, hidden and viewed discreetly. She had made it all so much worse.

    By this time, I had made friends with GI Joe. Its how I met my 1st best friend Troy. He had everything and best of all, he had lots of Cobra soldiers. Not as many as me, as I pretty much only collected Cobra, my little brother got the Joes, unless they looked really cobra, or the cobras looked really Joe. Its how he ended up with the DreadNoks as Joes for the longest time.

    Then we had to move. Long story, but we had too. I only got to see Troy once or twice a year when we visited during holidays. So GI Joe was how I stayed connected to my best friend. It was escapism, it was rebellion and just plain exciting. The best part is, even after all this time. I see these toys on my twitter feed. Im a kid again. I feel them in my hand, I hear the music in my head, I smell the plastic. The colors. The creativity. The possibility. I love it all. I have none of it anymore. Lost to growing up long ago.

    But my brother didnt. Hes been gathering it for years now. He has a truly epic collection. A fleet of Flaggs even!

    Liked by 1 person

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