Friday, March 14, 2014

Geek Memories #3: GI Joe!

As far as my childhood memories are concerned, GI Joe was always around. I was two when the initial line was released, so obviously once I had an interest in toys, they were there.

gijoe_capsule1Naturally, I'm referring to the original 12” line of figures that focused initially on the military, but by the time I got my first Joes, this had expanded to include things like the Mercury Space Capsule (which was one of the items I'd wanted but never got).

gijoe_landadventure.JPGMy first Joes may well have been purchased at garage or yard sales; when I was a kid, we got more toys there than we got brand-new in the store. These would have been the original figures with painted hair, although the flocked hair versions that came out starting in 1970 would become more of the standard for my collection.

My Joes, even from the beginning, didn't have military-styled adventures. Although the comic book ads pictured kids playing war games with their Joes, the lack of military vehicles made this impossible for me. I was definitely primed for the Adventure Team concept that ran from 1970 to 1976, as this fit in nicely with the adventures I remembered playing. It was this line that provided most of the accessories I remembered having, such as the Adventure Team Headquarters, which opened up and expanded very nicely, as well as the Turbo Copter backpack toy.

I don't recall if we had any of the vehicles, other than the Sea Wolf that my brother Jeff got one Christmas. This was a “real working submarine,” but it didn't meet my standards of what a submarine was supposed to be. For starters, it wasn't watertight by any means – your Joes got wet when using it, as only the upper body and head were enclosed within a dome. I believe it used a pump of some kind to pump air out of the dome to allow it to submerge, and then subsequently pump air back in to cause it to surface.

gijoe_atheadquartersSpecific adventures of my Joes are lost to memory at this point. I do recall that my Joes were given individual names, a pattern of play that also matched what the next door neighbor kids did with their Joes (they also had many more of the toys, including the previously mentioned military vehicles).

I do remember that since I didn't get all the various accessories that I wanted, I attempted to make up for it by creating new items for my Joes. There was one summer that, before I got the Adventure Team Headquarters, I made my own headquarters from a cardboard box. The major feature of this was a trap door on the roof that I could open or close by pulling on a string. Another summer, the kid next door and I worked to create a roller coaster of sorts, although this worked out to just be a ramp going down, made from cardboard with popsicle sticks to guide the vehicle (which I recall being a plastic dune buggy that wasn't a Joe vehicle, but somehow managed to accommodate the figures).

gijoe_seawolfThe next phase in my creative play with my Joes was to make new costumes for them. Yes, that's right, costumes, and not uniforms. I had to have been aware at least subconsciously of the previous Captain Action toy line, with a main figure that could be dressed up as various comic book superheroes and the like, because in the 1970s, I began making superhero costumes for my figures. It's telling, I think, that for the most part, I didn't attempt to re-create any superhero costumes that were already represented by Megos in my collection. The only Mego costume I tried to duplicate was the Captain Marvel costume, and this one I used to make what I called “movies,” although they were really just a series of still pictures (so it appears that in some ways, I was trying to reproduce the View-Master or Give-A-Show experience, although I don't know that I tried to maintain a seven-image limit. More likely I was just trying to tell my story within the limits of the number of photos per roll of film. None of these exist any more, although I wish I had them still.

gijoe_talkingcommanderAnother costume I recall making is Marvel's The Patriot, whom I'd been introduced to through Roy Thomas' Invaders comic book; another was Iron Man, as I didn't have the Mego figure. I made most of it by sewing, but the chestpiece was made from a used McDonald's french fry cup.

I should mention here that my sewing skills had been previously developed during my interest in puppetry. It was a skill that most boys my age didn't have, that's true – but how can one make proper hand puppets if one has to ask their mother to do all the sewing for them? I would later use this skill to make a mascot for the Star Trek club I joined in junior high school, and much later to make my Superman costume from a number of Halloweens ago.

I'm sure there were other costumes I made for my Joes, as I do remember the concept I had of some costume pieces being useable by more than one hero, but I don't recall any specifics.

So, back to the Joes I remember having... as I said, the Adventure Team is the series I most recall having, and among the ones we had were the Talking Adventure Team Commander (instead of a loose dogtag on a chain, his AT dogtag was connected to a string you could pull, which caused him to say various things, like “Mission accomplished, good work, men!” Not that I could ever get him to say what I wanted him to say when I wanted him to say it! I also had Eagle Eye GI Joe, who had a lever in the back of his head that made his eyes dart back and forth. My brother Jeff got Mike Power, The Atomic Man (Hasbro's response to The Six Million Dollar Man, after they failed to get that license) and Bulletman (no relation to the Fawcett Comics' superhero, other than the name, although he also had the power of flight, thanks to two grommets sewn into his costume you could run a string through in order to let him slide down in flight position, much like the dummy of Captain Marvel flew in the classic Adventures of Captain Marvel serial). The last one I remember adding was The Intruder, which was the only enemy created for GI Joe. The Intruder resembled a Neanderthal Man wearing a metallic harness right out of John Carter, and there were two different ones released. They were supposed to be aliens, and they had arms and legs that were missing articulation aside from moving at the shoulders and hips. They also had a button in the back you could push to make the arms grasp together, so you could put your Joe in a bear hug.

gijoe_bulletmangijoe_atomicmanHonestly, I was starting to outgrow playing with GI Joe at this point, and when Hasbro ended the original line and started a new line called “Super Joe,” which came out in 1977. This was a scaled down line, about eight and a half inches tall, and were not articulated that I recall, but rather had wires in a rubber body, like Gumby toys (although Wikipedia denies this, saying that they were articulated). I had no interest in this line, as it went too far away from what I considered to be “true” GI Joe figures, and apparently most kids felt the same, as that line lasted only a year. This was probably a move initially made because plastic prices were starting to go up dramatically (thanks to the oil crisis of the 1970s), and given the release of Star Wars, science fiction was getting popular again (the Super Joe line was sci-fi based, even moreso than the last Adventure Team figures).

gijoe_intruderIndeed, when Kenner started producing the Star Wars figure line, it definitely replaced not only GI Joe but also the Mego line of figures for dominance in the stores. I even purchased the initial figures in the line, but not for playing with, but instead for collecting (much as I'd later do when Mattel produced the later first release of Secret Wars figures).

But that was it for my collecting GI Joes in any scale. I'm guessing that my Joes were all sold at yard sales or just lost, and I wouldn't encounter them again for some time.

It was the early 1980s that I next encountered GI Joe. There was a store that opened in Lakewood, Washington (next to Tacoma) called Warehouse Toys that opened for a very short time. This store appeared to be humungous to me (we hadn't had Toys R Us at this point), and the entire store was filled with toys that had been discontinued. They had shelves of original Joes, as well as Megos, and if I'd had the money, I would've bought up all they had. Even then, I had the idea that these toys were valuable to those who wanted them. I'd imagine that if I had $100 to spend at the time or more, I'd be able to sell them now and have enough money to pay off a good chunk of my house!

So I didn't buy any of those, sadly. Then about 10 years later, I'd started being a toy collector, although Joes weren't a part of my collection (which focused on Megos, Secret Wars, Super Powers, and monster action figures). When the Hall of Fame figures were released (12” figures of some of the Real American Hero characters) of Duke and Cobra Commander, I picked up a couple of each, figuring that once they were gone from the shelves, I could resell them (I was selling at comic book and toy shows at the time), but I don't remember making much of a profit on them. I completely missed out on the Classic Collection that came out in 1995-2004, or the Masterpiece Collection or Timeless Collection, which were more like re-releases of the original Joes.

A few years ago, I made my first purchase of Joes in decades, and I'd imagine I wrote about it here at the time. My wife and I had a rare day without our kids, and we hit a large rummage sale where I found a rather large box of original Joes and assorted other items, which I purchased for the amazingly cheap sum of $20 (which I'd had to get from my wife, as I'd spent the cash I had buying vintage children's books at the same sale). I sorted these out and auctioned them on eBay, and used the money I made from that to pay for my son Tristan's birthday party that year.

So, I didn't even become tempted to keep those Joes, although I still have fond memories of them from my childhood. I do have two Joe-related items in my collection, but they are both Hallmark ornaments based on the classic toys.

Feel free to share your Joe memories in the comments!

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