Yo Joe! Or whatever your name is. Get eyes on this list of surprising things you may not have known about G.I. Joe. Why? Because if you don’t, the commies, er I mean, Cobra wins! You are a Real American Her, aren’t you? Of course you are; this classified document is for patriot's eyes only. What do you mean freely viewable on the internet? This intel briefing is for Uncle Sam’s chosen few only, you included. These colors don’t lie!
As a warrior of liberty, you know that G.I. Joe was a cultural phenomena that dominated the cartoon, comic book, and toy worlds for years. Even with the disappointing live-action reboot (I blame the terrorists for that one), G.I. Joe remains firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of people everywhere to this day. Speaking of the reboot, we’re sticking to original cartoons, comics and toys only on this operation.
It was just so gosh darn cool if you’ll pardon my French. Lazer shooting robots were squaring off with square-jawed patriots armed to the teeth with sweet weapons and even sweeter codenames. There’s Snake Eyes, Shipwreck, Roadblock; that one guy is just named Falcon, how righteous is that?
In modern America, it’s hard to imagine patriotism NOT going hand in hand with screaming eagles, fireworks, gunfire, and excessive flag waving. Before G.I. Joe came along, loving America was a much more subdued practice. But G.I. Joe (with some help from the 80s) gave patriotism a kick in the pants and made freedom radical enough for the kids to enjoy.
So stow the chatter soldier. Load up your laser rifle, strap into an implausible yet awesome vehicle, and get brainstorming for a wicked cool codename. You can’t have Brainstorm; I already called dibs. Got a good one? Holy crap (sorry, Jesus) that codename is rad! You win, let’s assault these facts. Yo Joe!
It seems fitting that the most masculine Saturday morning cartoon ever would have its origins in a men’s room while two guys were taking a whiz. No He-Man is not more masculine; you know why. Just two guys talking about freedom and justice in a womanless sanctuary, nothing weird about that.
The story goes that the president of Marvel and the CEO of Hasbro toys met by chance in a men’s room during a charity fundraiser. The CEO lamented to the Marvel head that they weren’t having much luck rebooting G.I. Joe for the kids of the 80s. The Marvel president assured the CEO that his team had the best creative minds anywhere, and to bring over their ideas so that Marvel could see what they could do. They struck a deal, but I’m not sure if they shook hands afterward.
It’s a good thing the urinal gods united the two men by fate, or we would have gotten a much stupider G.I. Joe. When Hasbro pitched their ideas to Marvel, the comic book giant scratched his head and said “seriously?” Hasbro imagined that each character would have a different name, like “G.I. Joe,” “G.I. Fred,” “G.I. George” and so on. They hadn’t even considered creating bad guys for the Joes to fight. Hasbro was even oblivious to the “Smurfette” rule and had no plans for female characters.
Marvel set the toy company straight, however, for the betterment of humanity. Off the top of their heads, they told Hasbro that G.I. Joe is a codename, not an individual. It’s a super elite task force that fights terrorism, not in war. This distinction was necessary, as we will see later.
Later is now. As you may know, G.I. Joe was a popular toy back in the 60s. The post World War II and Korean War America was a very black and white time (pardon the expression). Freedom good, dictatorships bad. American soldiers heroes, pinko commies villains. But you history buffs know that late in the 60s, lines got blurred and colors mixed into a confusing tie-dye.
By the time the Vietnam War was in full swing, U.S. soldiers were suffering from some pretty bad publicity. Popular opinion shifted away from patriotism, and Americans had their fill of war. Sales of the all American G.I. Joe toy predictably plummeted. It got so bad that Hasbro tried to rebrand the Joes as explorers instead of soldiers. It was exactly as dumb as it sounds.
So if things got so bad, how did G.I. Joe do so well in the 80s? You can thank the Jedi for that. Up until the late 70s, action figures were just dolls with a different name. They were standard doll size at about 12 inches high. As we talked about, their popularity began to slide and G.I. Joe even went on hiatus for a while, staying off of store shelves in the years leading up to the early 80s. Enter Luke Skywalker.
In case you just popped out of a fallout shelter, there was this thing in 1977 called Star Wars. It was cool. So cool in fact that it revived the flagging action figure market by popularizing smaller, mostly plastic action figures. Gone were the lovingly crafted and articulate dolls of the past. Now came the hordes of colorful plastic figures of star wars. Brighter colors, and you can afford way more of them because they are cheap plastic from China? Now you’re speaking America’s language. G.I. Joe hopped on the bandwagon and we got the highly successful relaunch of the early 80s.
Let’s get a show fact in here the appease the cartoon crowd. Why? Because this is America. We Americans get what we want, or else. The G.I. Joe cartoon was all about fighting Cobra, saluting the flag, and teaching kids how not to get locked into abandoned refrigerators. One day, however, a writer for the show had the grand idea to have an episode dedicated to comedy. Well, not so much comedy as one stupid joke that takes half an hour to get to the punchline.
The episode starts with the Joes having a party in a renovated apartment (seriously). They then proceed to commit a bunch of pratfalls and physical gags like falling out a window and spilling food on Scarlett (no really). Then, Barbecue gets a phone call wherein a mysterious voice tells him, “The Viper is coming 5:75.” The Joes obviously assume this is code for a Cobra attack and leap into action trying to figure out where the attack will happen. After an ENTIRE episode of this, an elderly Slavic man with an accent arrives stating that he is the “Vindow Viper, here to vipe your vindows for $5.75 an hour.” I wish I was kidding.
Anybody that was a kid in the 80s and 90s knows (now) that most of the Saturday morning cartoons were just extended commercials for the toys associated with the show. G.I. Joe was no different, as there was a new character or vehicle every week not counting that Viper guy, at least I don’t think he got his own action figure. Characters that outlived their profitability got shoved to the periphery to make room for the new blood. Even popular characters would get sidelined when a newer, more expensive character came along.
This commercialization was in stark contrast to the comic, which preceded the show. Marvel helmed the comic, of course, and it was a much more mature outing. The guy in charge of the comic, Larry Hama, had military experience and turned the comic into a thought-provoking story that dealt with geopolitics and the ethics of war. They even created the first female Joes and had to twist Hasbro’s arm to get them to make toys of them.
A lot of people forget that the G.I. Joe comic book came before the T.V. show and was the driving force behind the franchises surge in popularity. With the minds of Marvel at the helm, they built a universe from the ground up as they are wont to do and the results made a big splash in the scene. The book surged to even greater heights of popularity with the added marketing of the show and toys.
How popular was it? For a while in the 80s, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero outsold both The Amazing Spider-Man comics and The X-Men comics. Think about that for a second. A comic about action figures from the 60s beating out Peter Parker and all of the accumulated X-Persons. Maybe that’s why companies put so much faith in reboots these days.
But wait, what was the inspiration for G.I. Joe? I imagine hearing you ask. Fear not soldier of freedom, I got you. Many ideas that went into the G.I. Joe relaunch of the 80s, such as it being an elite anti-terrorism team, came from that guy Larry Hama we mentioned before. He was working on a title called Fury Force, itself a revisit of WWII character Nick Fury.
Marvel passed on the title, but soon after Hasbro came to visit. Hama then rolled his ideas into G.I. Joe. So instead of a government super team named S.H.I.E.L.D. taking on Hydra, we got a different government super team named G.I. Joe taking on a different serpent-themed villain organization called Cobra.
It’s no coincidence that Red Skull’s skull is, well, red. It also isn’t an accident that Cobra’s symbol is red. Back in the Cold War, the color red was associated with Communism and the Soviets and therefore evil. Allusions to Communism was an easy way to generate “cheap heat” for your villains and get audiences hating them.
The creators of G.I. Joe wanted to take it one step further and make Cobra a straight up Soviet organization. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and to avoid any international resentment, they made Cobra into the mustache-twirling world dominators we know and love today. As a bonus fact, there was a Soviet equivalent to G.I. Joe called The October Guard. The Guard also fought Cobra, but they still weren’t painted in as favorable light as the Joes.
Spoiler alert. Cobra never takes over the world. The Joes are just too dang American to allow that. Nobody drives international politics with a heavy hand unless it's Uncle Sam! However, Cobra did manage one small victory, in real life no less. The site of Cobra Commander’s greatest victory was... Springfield, Illinois.
In a public ceremony, the actual mayor of real-life Springfield pledged allegiance to Cobra and presented Cobra Commander himself with a key to the city. Now you might be saying, “That was just a publicity stunt by a cosplayer for a G.I. Joe convention that was in town.” But that is just trying to cloud the facts. We need to send troops to Springfield ASAP. I know it’s only a flyover state, but that’s their plan! Start somewhere no one will notice and take over the country! Wake up sheeple!
Conquering a midwest city is not the only success Cobra has had. They’ve also done a fairly decent job of predicting the future. No, not by predicting America would be taken down from the outside by terrorists. They were way off on that. But they did happen to think up some futuristic technology that is in use today.
In one issue of the comics, Snake Eyes is captured and hooked up to a mind-reading machine. The machine flashes images into his brain, and records how his brain reacts. Know how his brain reacts to stimulus gives the machine a “vocabulary” of Snake Eyes’ brain waves so it can reconstruct his thoughts and learn G.I. Joe’s secrets. Sounds wacky, but in 2011 scientists built a machine that functioned in a similar way that was able to interpret human thoughts into images. Cool, but Cobra should have stuck to impractical war vehicles, the toys sell better.
If Cobra was going to take over a state, you think they would pick somewhere where there are no G.I. Joes. Illinois is the birthplace of no less than 11 Joes; most hail from the city of Chicago. However there is one state in the union that no G.I. Joe (the toys and comics that is) hails from. Delaware.
If you’ve never been to Delaware, congratulations. If you have, sorry dude. I’m just stating facts here. Even toy companies and comic book writers stay away from that place. What’s even more embarrassing for the First State is that not only does every other state in the Union have a G.I. Joe representative, but some U.S. territories like Samoa and The Virgin Islands can even claim to be a birthplace of a Joe. Man, Cobra might be an improvement for the "Small Wonder."
Speaking of states in New England no one cares about: Maine. A lesser known member of Cobra who goes by the name Crystal Ball has mind reading powers and a spooky background. He also hails from Maine. Let’s see here Maine, mind reading, spooky backstory, yeah this was written by Stephen King. Yeah really, the character is mentioned in one of King’s novels, The Tommyknockers.
King pulled a “Raul Julia in Street Fighter” and got involved with G.I. Joe because his son loved them. Marvel was thrilled to have King’s name attached to their project and even paid the favor back to King’s son for scoring it. One of the G.I. Joes, named Sneak Peek, is also from Maine and has a face that is eerily similar to that of an actual young boy. Also his real name is Owen King.
King’s not the only celebrity that got involved with the Joes. A lot of famous folks wanted to hop onto the red white and blue bandwagon. This included, bafflingly, players from the NFL. On paper, it seems like an OK idea. What’s the only thing even remotely as American as G.I. Joe? Football! That’s American football, not the Italian Glass Princess Acting Academy that is soccer.
One of the most famous players on arguably the most famous team of the 80s was William “the Fridge” Perry. They gave him a toy and even stuck him in a cartoon. His weapon? A stick with a rope attached that had a football at the end. Duh. What, you thought they would give him a football cannon? That’s absurd.
Some celebrities to join the Joes were a little stranger than others. For instance, there was a plan to introduce Rocky Balboa onto the team. No, not Sylvester Stallone, the fictional boxer that he plays in Rocky.
Now, I’m not exactly sure what a boxer would do against Cobra lasers, but the plan was there. They even made an evil Cobra boxer character that Rocky could fight called, and I couldn’t make this up, Big Boa. I guess a snake-themed name that rhymes with that of his arch nemesis was too good to pass up. Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, the licensing agreement fell through, and we never got Rocky with a stick that has boxing gloves on it fighting Cobra. We did get to keep Big Boa, so, yay?
Perhaps the most famous of the celebrities to join the Joes is a combination of real person and fictional character. Some of you may remember Sgt. Slaughter as being a pretty integral part of the G.I. Joes; he even got his own team. Slaughter was also an actual professional wrestler working for the WWF (now WWE). His character was the same in both fictions, an all American drill sergeant.
What some of you Joe fans might not know is the reason he was phased out. Hasbro discontinued his action figures in 1990, despite the character’s popularity. Why? In his other fiction, he had made a “heel turn” in the WWF, becoming a bad guy in his storyline and changing from an American hero to an Iraqi sympathizer. Not the best guy to have marketing your toys during the First Gulf War.
The G.I. Joe movie, while wacky, was still pretty cool. It even had the one thing the show was never able to have. A death. Well, almost. There would have been someone dying in the movie if it had not been for Optimus Prime.
The Transformers had a movie of their own shortly before the G.I. Joe movie was released. Actual spoiler alert: Optimus Prime dies in it. Kids were so distraught and angry, that the animation company nixed the part where Duke dies in G.I. Joe: The Movie. The only problem was, the studio has already animated everything, so they decided to have some guy shout from off-screen, “LOL j/k, he was in a coma, not dead. Also he is awake now. No, you can’t see him, he’s...resting.”
The Autobot/G.I. Joe connection actually goes a bit deeper than Optimus Prime inadvertently saving Duke IRL. The two franchises appear to occur in the same universe. I’m not talking about in the comic books. There’s plenty of crossovers there. I’m talking animated universes crossing over.
In an episode of Transformers, Drath contacts “Old Snake,” an ex-terrorist who happens to have the same voice as Cobra Commander. Oh, also he is Cobra Commander in a hat and trenchcoat with his blue Cobra uniform barely hidden underneath. Looks like G.I. Joe finally beat Cobra and retired. They then saw all those Decepticons and thought, “Not our problem.”
That wasn’t the only time G.I. Joe tried to spill into other shows and genres. Back in the 70s, the superhero craze was in full swing. Heroes like Superman were getting movies and less popular ones like Hulk and Wonder Woman got pretty decent TV shows. The R&D minds at Hasbro wanted a piece of this pie and created a superhero team arm of the G.I. Joe universe. It...was bad, to say the least.
They called it Adventure Team, and members included Bullet Man the Human Bullet. They must have fired the naming guy or something because those are stupid. The “heroes” looked even more ridiculous, with deformed bodies, ugly costumes, and inexplicable prosthetic limbs. One look at the picture above and you can see why it flopped.
The last thing any little boy wants is to for peers to associate them with “girly” things. They’ve been raised to fear the cootie, and to get their shots early and often. So if you were to tell a boy in the mid-60s that his favorite G.I. Joe toy was just a man-Barbie, he would probably give you a knuckle sandwich, call you a blockhead and do all sorts of adorably outdated 60s stuff. But facts are facts.
Barbie turned the toy world on its head in the early 60s. Her wild success sent other toy companies clamoring for a piece of those profits. A man named Stan Weston pitched the idea of G.I. Joe to Hasbro, who saw it as “Barbie, except for boys.” That’s just what they wanted. But how to market it…
You really want to make that time traveling kid from the 60s mad? Call his G.I. Joe toy a doll. He’ll lose his marbles. Any boy playing with a humanoid toy will vehemently deny paying with dolls, claiming that they are “action figures.” Because action is manly and figures...well action is manly anyway. But where did that sly rebranding come from?
From G.I. Joe himself, of course. Hasbro coined the term specifically for the original G.I. Joe toy line. They predicted, correctly, that simply calling a doll something that sounded masculine would trick boys into buying what was essentially a Ken doll in military fatigues. Maybe after the Star Wars revival of the smaller plastic figures aren’t dolls, but anything before that and you might as well be planning Operation: Tea Party.
Despite the ultra-masculine push of the early G.I. Joe action figures, Hasbro did not entirely leave out the fairer sex. The toymakers tried their hands at the Smurfette rule exactly once to try and perhaps capture some of the girl audience or maybe catch the eye of pubescent boys. The reason they only tried it once, is because their first attempt failed so bad.
So who was it? Lady Jaye? Scarlett? Cover Girl? Of course not, you champions of democracy know better than that by now. It was an “action nurse” that wore a skirt and had a lot of accessories to fix the Joes’ boo-boos. Hasbro had little faith in the idea, and it predictably flopped. Ironically, the doll is now a highly sought collector's item.
The Action Nurse may have been one of the lamest G.I. Joe toy around, but what about the most rad? Well, if you’re a young American boy, our society has taught you that bigger equals better. The good folks at Hasbro have you covered.
The largest G.I. Joe toy ever made was an aircraft carrier playset that was around seven and a half feet long. It came with a microphone system and sound board, working aircraft elevator, several action figures, a few extra vehicles, and much more. It cost $109 when it debuted in 1985, which is around $230 today. Why would a child need $230 worth of cheap Chinese plastic? Sounds like a question only a terrorist would ask.
Quick, think of the most popular G.I. Joe! Dang, you got that fast. As expected of a defender of the American Way such as yourself. You’re right; it’s Snake Eyes. The original fan favorite OP bad boy. Because, like, duh, the dude is dressed in all black, and also he’s a ninja but he still has blonde hair and blue eyes so I can self-insert, and he cuts up bad guys with a sword but, like he doesn’t talk so he’s all mysterious and Scarlett is his girlfriend, and she’s super hot, Oh! Oh! And he’s got a sweet pet wolf, and also he uses guns sometimes and he’s all pew pew pew!
As a testament to his popularity, Snake Eyes has had the most action figures made in his likeness over the years out of all the other Joes. Depending on who you ask and what you count, there have been upwards of 60 iterations of the silent ninja in the toy world. So the secret to success is: just add ninjas. They don’t even have to freaking talk.
As popular as Snake Eyes is, you would be forgiven for thinking that the toy makers went into his design knowing that a black-clad ninja would sell like hotcakes. As fate would have it, Snake Eyes came about by chance because the designers at Hasbro wanted to save a few bucks.
They cobbled together an action figure from leftover parts and didn’t even bother to paint it; they left it the default black that the plastic came in. You can see this easily because even his accessories like grenades are black and unpainted. So, fittingly, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero teaches us that it doesn’t matter how hard you work, just cut corners and hope that you get lucky.