Vintage Flashback:: G.I. Joe.

Image via: Yesteryear.

Every knife wielding hipster with a beard has roots in the awesomeness that was and is G.I. Joe. We all know G.I. Joe, the real American hero, who would surely kick Ken’s clean shaven mug and anyone else who looked at him the wrong way. With four older brothers I often grabbed a G.I. Joe doll to propose to my Barbie until one of my brothers found out.  How could Babs resist all that machismo? But of course there is an interesting story behind man and I was determined to find out what it was.

Such a great hero as Joe began as many heroes do—in the comics—specifically a 1941 Marvel comic strip called, “Private Berger”, featuring the everyman “G.I.” or “Government Issued” soldier.  The strip was then turned into a movie starring Robert Mitchum in 1945 and then a proper solo character comic book in 1953.  G.I. Joe would have been nothing more than a mention on Robert Mitchum’s IMDB page or a Marvel comic fan site if it weren’t for Hasbro.

Seeing Mattel’s genius doll brand Barbie, Hasbro knew there was money to be made creating an equally mesmerizing character for boys.  Not some sensitive new age guy like Ken, but a character that oozed in machismo.  Hasbro launched G.I. Joe in 1964 and it quickly became one of the most popular toys for boys in the U.S. selling for less than $4 a pop.  You had your choice of Joes back then—one for every section of the military–Soldier, Sailor, Marine, and Pilot. G.I. Joe proved to be so popular that Hasbro quickly started creating other versions like Deep Sea Diver, Green Beret, and Soldiers of the World. Barbie may have had her townhouse, but Joe had his footlocker, his Five Star Jeep, and Mercury Space Capsule.

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Then this little thing call the Vietnam War came along and the idea of soldier idolatry went out of fashion.  Enter the first G.I. Joe makeover:  no more fighting foreign soldiers, but fighting Mother Nature with the Adventure Team.  Take THAT, earthquake! The 1970 changes also brought the proverbial can of whoop-ass known as the Kung Fu grip to our friend Joe.

Image via: Yesteryear.

And let’s not forget about the hair that had more in common with flocked wall paper than actual human hair. But hey, it was the seventies…

The next change in G.I. Joe’s life took inspiration from a galaxy far far away. The popularity of those ubiquitous 3 ¾ inch Star Wars action figures meant that G.I. Joe needed to lose some weight and height to compete.   But the height change in the early 1980s came with benefits such as new buddies like Snake Eye and Scarlett! And a Saturday morning cartoon, natch!  The G.I. Joe cartoon TV series alternated between combat fighting and high tech weaponry for fighting. Sorry, Joe, no bullets for the kiddos.  The 80s cartoon did introduce COBRA, the terrorist group/enemy #1 for G.I. Joe and his team and G.I. Joe buddies like Snake Eyes are that sassy Scarlett! The cartoon ran from 1985 to 1986.

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But you can’t keep a good man down.  Hasbro brought back the 12 inch man in 1992, which is still available at Target today for the sweet price of $20.  In 2009 a G.I. Joe movie, “The Rise of Cobra” came out to middling reviews and a relatively decent box office.  Who knows what the future will hold for good old G.I. Joe, but I’m sure he’ll be around rocking his kung fu grip for a new generation.

Image via: Yesterville Toy Room


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