Back in the 1960s, Hasbro, the toy maker giant experimented with the idea that boys would play with dolls if dolls weren’t called dolls. So, the term “action figure” was coined. G.I. Joe is the original action figure. G.I. Joe was different in several ways from the dolls girls played with during that period:
- He was exceptionally posable. Every joint was movable as opposed to the dolls in the Barbie line which could only move their heads, their arms at the shoulders, and their legs at the hips.
- He sported realistic (close enough) hair (not in the original version, however), whereas Ken in the Barbie line had plastic hair.
- He had a tough-guy scar on his right cheek.
- He had bad-ass accessories.
- He had a “Kung-Fu Grip!” which meant he could securely hold his gun while he pistol-whipped Ken.
Funny side note: G.I. Joe figures were originally issued for each of the armed services. They all had names that sound would sound totally gay today: Rocky, Ace, and Skip. Add in the muscles and facial hair and all he was lacking were leather chaps. Well, hellooooo sailor! I have to think that homophobes have something to say about boys playing with G.I. Joes. Where’s the damn study proving whatever their nonsense is this time?!
I had a couple of G.I. Joes growing up. My parents bought me the two best accessories that a kid could hope for: the Sea Wolf and the Sky Hawk. Since we had a pool in our apartment complex, I was in it constantly with the Sea Wolf submerging and surfacing it with the accompanying pump. The Sky Hawk was kind of a kite-glider and I loved it … for about the first 10 minutes. Like a kite, you attached a string and pulled the glider into the air. After it was fully extended, you stopped, letting the string detach and the Sky Hawk glide down. It worked, except that it ended up in a tree and my Dad had a really hard time getting it down. After that, I only got to fly it a few times since we didn’t live near big open fields.
In the 1980s, G.I. Joe was re-imagined as an ensemble of specialists combating a megalomaniacal horde called Cobra. The figures were scaled back from the original 12″ models down to under 4″ figures that were far less posable. They were merchandised alongside a very popular run of comic books and TV cartoons series. I didn’t much care for them.
Like a lot of older toys, older G.I. Joes are now very collectible. I wish I still had mine.