Looking back at my childhood toys, I always considered GI Joe to be a large part of my play time. Yet when I was doing research for this article, I was surprised to remember how very few of the figures I had. Fortunately for me though, I had a few of the vehicles to go with them, and together they will make up what you are about to read. Before I begin though, I would like to mention two quick things; much like my previous Lego article, I didn't remember the names of any the figures and vehicles I had, and once again I was saved by a website. I give my thanks to yojoe.com for providing identification to my past. Check it out if you haven't. The other thing I wanted to mention is that most memories of G.I Joe figures, from the 1980's anyway, are combined with the much-beloved cartoon that accompanied it. I have no such memories. I never watched the show back then, as I never had access to the channel on which it aired. In fact, I didn't even know the show existed for a long time. But all that really means for me is that I wasn't familiar with the characters and when I happened to have one that seemed to matter to somebody I knew, I just sort of went with it. Ok. That was my intro. Let's get started.
Ladies and Gentleman, I give you my introduction the world of G.I. Joe. I had toys before this, but this is the earliest action figure I can remember owning. I don't remember where we were when my mom bought it for me, but I do remember that after getting it we went to visit my aunt. My cousin Brent wasn't there, probably at school. (Why I wasn't, I couldn't tell you.) As my mom and my aunt sat on the sofa and talked, I plopped myself next to the fireplace and played with my new toy. For the most part I was lost in my own little world, equipping my little guy with his weapon and mounting the launcher on the tripod, blowing away imaginary bad guys. Eventually though, I noticed that it was quiet and when I looked up I found that my mom and my aunt were both watching me. While I'm sure they thought I was just being cute, I found it to be embarrassing and I believe I went into Brent's room after that and read a video game magazine.
After I had him for a while, I began to explore my G.I. Joe and discovered that the legs and upper body were connected by a small rubber band. I became very paranoid after that about it snapping, a fate which befell at least a couple of my Joes eventually. Even so, I used to enjoy winding the torso and then letting it snap back and watch my figures twist around real quick. When I got more of them, I would use this as an attack by winding up the top half and then holding it in place until one was in front of the other and then WHAM, the enemy is knocked out of the way. Good times indeed.
This was my first vehicle, but I don't remember it being red. I could be wrong, but I remember the red part being purple. This also could have come with a Destro figure, but I don't recall having him either. While the transforming aspect of this was very cool, (the treads folded down and the propellers spread out to turn from tank to helicopter,) what got me really excited the was idea of weapons that really fired. I'm sure spring loaded projectiles were around before this, but this was the first time I had seen it in a toy like this before and the very idea of it just blew my mind at the time. Just looking at the box got me thinking of how to assault my other figures and their homemade bases. I was probably young enough to where my dad still assembled toys that needed it, and I'm sure the wait drove me nuts. When it was all done, I loaded and launched that spring loaded missile over and over again, marveling at how cool that seemed. I don't remember any specific ways I played with it other than that, but I know I had this for quite some time before it eventually broke or I lost pieces to it. Those cool weapons that really fired were featured with not just other vehicles, but also a couple G.I. Joe figures I had.
Snake eyes is one of the most popular G.I. Joe heroes, but I didn't know that at the time. This is the model I owned. In addition to his red plastic sword and machine gun, his backpack had a spring-loaded grappling hook complete with string. I'm pretty sure he was a Christmas gift. Once all the presents were open and everything was cleaned up, I took him to the kitchen were he used his hook to scale all the cabinets and cupboards. Around this time, I met a kid at church named Jeremy and we became friends for a little while. He came to my house a few times and vice-versa. I think he was the first non-family member whose house I tried to spend the night at. (Keyword tried. My dad eventually had to make the late-night trip to get me.) It was also at his house that I saw Family Matters for the first time. Anyway, he had a box full of G.I. Joe figures and was the one to tell me that Snakes Eyes was someone special. I told him about the one I had and eventually showed him. There's a little more to tell regarding Jeremy, but I'll get to that. For now let's return to figures and vehicles.
Snow Serpent represents the type of figure that appealed to me as a kid. First of all, he a snowboard! How cool is that?! Not only did he have a machine gun, he had rocket launcher that really fired. The thing that really cinched it for me though is the black tube that connected the machine gun to his backpack. What was it meant to be? I have no idea, but something about that made this guy seem extra cool to me. I loved little gimmicky touches like that. I used his snowboard on my bed and floor for it's intended purpose, but what I really liked to do was take him into the bathtub and make it a surfboard. That's easily where I got the most use out of it. The only thing I didn't like about his snowboard was that it was made to fit only Snow Serpent. His boots were a little smaller than the other Joes, and there's were little lips next to the heels and toes to keep him in place along with the stud that fit in the hole at the bottom of the feet. No other Joe could fit. At one point, I actually cut off the tips of another figures feet to get them to fit, but like other attempted toy modifications, I regretted it almost right away.
If I remember correctly, the Joe's with the talking backpacks were a very small line. I think it only totaled about four or five. But it was still neat nonetheless. The backpack was oversized and had four buttons on it that made the character "talk," along with some weapon sound effects. To be honest, the backpack was far to clunky to be played with normally and I usually abandoned it or left it to the side when I was playing. Stalker also had a very long heavy machine gun which meant in my mind that nothing could stand up to it. In battle, he usually won. Even though the talking backpack's novelty wore off quickly, I have a funny story to tell about it. For a very brief period of time, I had a fish-tank in my room that sat on dresser. For some reason, one night I decided to drop the back-pack inside it. When I pulled it out it out again, the thing went totally haywire. The water just fried it and it started going off all it's own and then wouldn't shut up. I freaked out and totally overreacted. Instead of just explaining to my parents what had happened and having my dad take out the batteries or something, I though I would get in trouble. So I decided to dispose of it myself. I ran to the backdoor and threw it out into the backyard and then went back to my bedroom as if nothing had ever happened. But then my dogs started noticing that something was making a bunch of noise out there. Next thing I know, they're barking like crazy which got my parent's attention. My dad then went out back with a flashlight to see what was getting them so excited. A few minutes later he came to my room and showed me the backpack. Now folks, I'm nothing if not stubborn so I denied knowledge of the whole thing. I've no doubt he didn't believe a word I was saying but he just laughed it off and let it all go. Childhood was fun, wasn't it? ;)
I realize the point of advertising is to sell you something, but The Barracuda submarine marks the first time where I felt honestly deceived. Remember the G.I. Joe commercials from back in the day? The kids were playing with the toys in these backyards that had jungles and swamps and fog...etc. While nothing was ever as "epic" as what you saw on tv, by and large I was always satisfied to see something in person. Then there's this sub. It also featured a commercial with an impossibly grand backyard. However, when this sub was shown, it must have been shot in extreme close-up because in real life this thing was pretty small. I first saw it at a friends house and when I did, I picked it up and said out loud "This is it?" Did this stop me from wanting one of my own? No, and I eventually got one. It was cool, but I have to stress just how small it was. To put the soldier in, the top half of the sub separated from the bottom half. The figure had to lay down on his stomach. The inside was just a bunch of different plastic connectors for the top and bottom half, no window or anything. There was a small weight that was placed inside so the Barracuda could "dive." I'll admit that I enjoyed playing with this, it was the only official water-based G.I. Joe thing I had and was a ton of fun in the bathtub, but I'll always remember it for it's small stature more than anything else.
When I first saw commercials for these copters, I initially wasn't interested. What I believe happened was that my family was at Toys R Us looking around. As I was looking at different toys, I saw this and was about to shrug it off until I saw how much it was. I don't remember if it was on sale or just a lot cheaper than I expected, but it got me to take a closer look at it. In addition to the copter, the included figure (who was named Ace) had a a few included accessories to go with him. Suddenly it seemed cooler and I want to say that I bought it with my own money. But that's fuzzy and it's just as likely I showed my folks and asked if I could have it. Regardless of how it was paid for, I went home that day with a new toy. On the drive home, I was looking out the car window and noticed just how windy it was. I was hoping it would die down by the time we got home so it wouldn't interfere with my flying time. It didn't. Still, once we were home settled, I put it all together and took him out back and had a ball. When it wasn't windy, it got a pretty decent height when it was launched. Something I totally appreciated was the fact that the handle that you held onto when pulling the rip-cord could be removed. This meant you could just as easily play with it normally indoors with your other Joe toys and vehicles instead only getting using it to launch outside. For a toy I didn't want it first, I sure got a ton of use out it and I'm glad I took that second look.
I realize that this is nowhere near in scale to massive aircraft carrier playset, but the Crusader Space Shuttle was my big Joe toy, and easily the the coolest vehicle I had. I got this for Christmas and it was completely unexpected. It felt to me like I had received something truly special, so much so that I don't remember anything else I got that year. I played with it all day. As the pictures show, it had two big bay doors that when opened housed a smaller ship. Here's the funny thing though; I didn't realize those other pieces were there until the end of they day. Serious, I played with the included figure and the shuttle with no doors all day and had a grand old time. When it came time to get ready for bed, I went to go put my shuttle away. I hadn't thrown the box away yet so I went to grab it and realized there was still something else in there. I looked inside and low and behold, there were the big black bay doors and the second spacecraft, still sealed and everything. Naturally I wanted to extend my playtime after that but my parents insisted it was bedtime, so I went to bed thinking of nothing but the fun I was gonna have the next day. Like other toys, I used the smaller ship in the tub a lot, along with the guy included because his spacesuit also kind of looked like an old school diving suit.
My adventures with the crusader shuttle didn't stop with the toys though. For several years in elementary school, I also had a G.I. Joe lunch box with a picture of it. Not to mention the awesome thermos it came with.
I used to proudly tell other kids that I had actual toy of the vehicle on the picture. Man, those Aladdin brand lunchboxes were cool. This is something that I would love to own again, and I would display it proudly if I did. A few years ago, my wife found her old lunchbox in an antique store. It was also an Aladdin brand, with The Little Mermaid on the front. It even had the thermos with it. She bought it and treasures it. It gives me hope that one day I will also find my old lunchbox...
The final G.I. Joe item I had was a board game.
I found this at K-Mart one day and my mom bought it for me. When you see the box art, you would imagine the game within was going to action-packed. There was no picture of the game on the reverse side though, at least not on the copy we bought. It was just brown cardboard. So all throughout K-mart and the drive home, I could only imagine the awesomeness stored inside. I wish I could say it was cool as it looked....
Here's was included. I don't remember how it was played though. I do remember we didn't play until that evening when the whole family was available. I couldn't wait to try it But even though I don't recall how to play it, I remember being very disappointed. It was kind of boring and I only played it a handful of times before I lost interest completely. Ultimately it just disappeared into my closet, never to be heard from again. That may have been the last item I owned, but it is not the last G.I Joe story I have to tell. Remember my friend Jeremy from church I mentioned earlier? Well, one of the times he came to my house, he mentioned that there was a G.I. Joe nintendo game. I was unaware of this and asked if he had played it and he said no. I immediately suggested that we ask if we could go and rent it. My dad agreed and to the video store we went.
I show the box art because that's as far as we ever got. I don't remember it was still Major Video or Blockbuster had bought it out by then, but we did find that box for the game. It was the only copy there and it had been rented. The idea of a G.I. Joe video game stuck with me though and we tried to rent it during a couple more of his visits, and I proceeded to look for it by myself. But each time, there was always only one copy and each time somebody else had rented it. To this day, I have never played G.I. Joe on the NES. Here's something interesting though. Jeremy and I weren't friends for very long. My folks switched churches and after that I never saw him again. But for whatever reason, I never forgot the quest for that game. When I got my SNES, along with Mario World and Mario All-Stars, it came with this players guide.
It had tips for a bunch of different NES, Game Boy, and SNES games. I read through it a lot and even brought it to school a few times. I brought it out during silent reading once and my teacher got on me for it, saying I was supposed to be reading a book, not some, and I quote, "Nintendo Catalog." I really don't know what she was upset about. I read all the time on my own anyway, and was probably the best overall reader in my class. Anyway, I bring it up because that book had a page for the G. I. Joe game and it was the first I saw of the game other than the back of the box. But not only that, it also had a page of tips/passwords for the other NES Joe game, The Atlantis Factor. I had no clue another Joe game was on the NES, as I never saw it anywhere. And even though by that point I hadn't seen or spoken to Jeremy for at least a year or two, I thought back on him and wondered if he knew about the other game. I've said it before and I'll say it again; it's funny what you remember and hold onto sometimes, isn't it?
I have one more Joe related story to tell, and this one involves the G.I. Joe arcade game.
The scene was Shaky's Pizza in Victorville, CA. I think I was there for a birthday party, though it wasn't mine. It was an afternoon full of friends, pizza, and endless pitchers of Sprite. Couple that with the small arcade there and it was the sort of day that childhood dreams are made of. Naturally we all hung out, scarfed down pepperoni and wished whoever's birthday it was a happy occasion. We sang Happy Birthday and he opened his presents. Once that was done, we all scattered to the arcade, which was not in a separate room to the side but rather planted in the middle of the building. I spent my quarters on X-Men: Children of the atom. I lasted a few rounds, mostly by spamming with Omega Red, but I still ran out of quarters fairly quickly. Still, I hung out for a little bit and watched other people play games. I stopped in front of the G.I. Joe machine and marveled. Like the NES games, I didn't no it existed before. But along with it, I noticed the kid playing it. I didn't know who he was, but he was doing reasonably well. When he finally did die, he had drawn a small crowd. We were getting ready to scatter away after he died when he said "Hold on." He ran away from the machine, the continue timer still counting down. He was soon back with some more quarters and we cheered him on. Eventually he died again, and once more he ran away quickly only to return with more quarters. He kept this up for at least half an hour. I asked him where his quarters were coming from and he said his dad. So we all kept watching him make progress, die, run away real quick and come back. For us onlookers, it was as much to see how long his parents would give him more quarters as it was how far he could get. A few people even joined in with him from time to time. Finally he got to a jungle stage. The boss was a tower that had some type of laser. (I think it was that big purple Cobra building in the bottom left screenshot.) When it killed him, he ran away once more from the game and never came back. We watched as the timer finally ticked down to zero before heading off to rejoin our respective friends and family members.
And those are my childhood G.I. Joe memories. As always, I hope they've brought back a few of your own. Next time, I'm going look at it an old tv movie that's gone on to be something of a cult classic. What is it? You'll just have to wait and find out. Until then, stay retro folks. Thanks for reading.