Monte Williams returns to Poe Ghostal’s Points of Articulation to counter the cloying Mattel love with some praise and speculation for the world’s greatest toy company, Hasbro.
Ten Classic G.I. Joe Icons That Require a Pursuit of Cobra Makeover
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Loving Small-Scale G.I. Joes
The Pursuit of Cobra series features the most awe-inspiring figures Hasbro has ever produced under its many G.I. Joe banners. Like Mattel’s Masters of the Universe series of 2002, Pursuit of Cobra takes classic character designs and increases their dynamism by roughly three hundred-percent… and then adds stellar articulation and a dizzying array of accessories.
Thus far, Hasbro has treated Joe fans to Pursuit of Cobra updates of Destro, Spirit, Firefly, and many other classic G.I. Joe characters.
So who should they update next?
On August 27, 2008, on this very weblog, I had the following to say about small-scale G.I. Joe action figures:
My angst is directed not at the 3.75-inch figures, but rather at the fans of those figures… Had a larger number of fans of the Real American Hero era been more open-minded and willing to embrace a new take on an old premise, then perhaps Sigma 6 would still be on the shelf. Instead, the majority of Joe fans (predictably) latched onto the nostalgic 25th Anniversary series, instead.
I do in fact have a beef, as you say, with the 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe figures… A majority of them look wrong, somehow. Or just plain crappy, in some cases… The 25th Anniversary figures are delicate, fragile toys of startlingly low quality, and it frustrates me that the desperate nostalgia of a bunch of thumb-sucking nerds has made these wobbly, misshapen toys a raging success while Sigma 6 becomes quickly forgotten.
As I sit writing this guest entry for Poe Ghostal’s Points of Articulation in March of 2011, two-and-a-half years after my angry dismissal excerpted above, I own something close to two hundred G.I. Joe figures in the 25th Anniversary/Rise of Cobra/Pursuit of Cobra scale.
So what happened?
I credit (or blame) two things for my switching of allegiance:
First, when my wife and I decided to live and teach abroad, there was nothing for it but to place my beloved Sigma 6 figures in storage. To ship them from Twin Falls to Asmara would have cost far more than we could afford, and to bring them with us would have consumed a disproportionate amount of our luggage allotment. (We are relocating to Lahore, Pakistan in August, and our new shipping allotment is sufficient to get my Sigma 6 figures to our new home, but I have decided to leave my Sigma 6 figures stored for a full decade, to increase the thrill of finally opening them and photographing them again.)
Second, in the weeks before we left the States for the Horn of Africa, Hasbro’s 25th Anniversary series was phased out in favor of Rise of Cobra figures. At that point I still found the 3.75-inch (or 4-inch) scale counterintuitive after several years as a Sigma 6 enthusiast, and I had no guarantee that the Rise of Cobra figures would be any more durable than their Anniversary predecessors. But I appreciated some of the bold aesthetic choices Hasbro had made in the Rise of Cobra series, and so, in the name of having something to photograph without taking up too much luggage space, I purchased twenty or so Rise of Cobra figures to bring with me to Asmara.
And I was instantly hooked.
Hasbro had made several improvements in their “no-ring” approach by the time the Rise of Cobra series hit. The sculpts were more attractive than the largely awkward efforts in the 25th Anniversary series (which, to be fair, improved as it went along), and the articulation was vastly improved and the character designs were very attractive. Since then, with the current Pursuit of Cobra series, things have only improved further. As I wrote in a recent e-mail to MrBlitzer of JoeBattlelines, “Sigma 6 > 25th Anniversary; Sigma 6 = Rise of Cobra; Pursuit of Cobra > Sigma 6.”
Yes, you read that correctly. The man who Poe once suggested was the world’s biggest Sigma 6 fan has conceded that there is a G.I. Joe series superior to Sigma 6. Rejoice, nerds, for I have finally succumbed! I am one of you! I too love the small-scale G.I. Joe toys above all other Joe toys!
Except that a good number of A Real American Hero loyalists are not happy with the Pursuit of Cobra series; these stubborn stalwarts do not want Beachhead to feature bold new accessories and a dynamic sculpt with a modern, real-life sensibility—they want Beachhead to look exactly how he looked in 1986.
But bugger all that hocus-pocus. What follows is for those Joe fans who do recognize that Pursuit of Cobra marks the zenith of the G.I. Joe property.
Ten Classic G.I. Joe Icons That Require a Pursuit of Cobra Makeover
I have some hefty respect for the original A Real American Hero series of the 1980s. Factoring in the sheer scope and scale of the series and the extent to which it allowed children to create an entire world of storytelling possibilities with its hundreds of figures and vehicles and its mammoth playsets, A Real American Hero arguably remains the greatest toy series of all time—I even said as much in the anti-25th-Anniversary interview excerpted above.
But not every Real American Hero figure is a classic.
Deep Six, for example, is a clunky, comical disaster with a stocky sculpt and almost nonexistent articulation. One can forgive these shortcomings, since the figure is nearly thirty years old. Harder to forgive is that a misguided sense of loyalty to G.I. Joe’s 1980s heyday led Hasbro to reproduce the flaws of the original Deep Six figure not once but twice in its 25th Anniversary series.
Looking at the upcoming Hazard Viper or the recent Pursuit of Cobra Destro, one cannot help thinking how amazing it would be if Hasbro produced a new Deep-Six figure with all the articulation, sculpting detail and accessories of the average Pursuit of Cobra figure. I would hope that Hasbro would be bold and audacious in their new interpretation of this old character, but I would also like to see them adhere somewhat to the cheerfully jumbo nature of the first Deep Six and his wildly oversized scuba suit—with perhaps some subtle steampunk flourishes and other modern—or retrofuture—details to help him pop.
I do not intend to defend Golobulus or his place in the G.I. Joe mythos. While the animated G.I. Joe: the Movie was really no more stupid than the ongoing G.I. Joe cartoon series, I readily agree that a race of immortal plant people is a dim-witted idea for most any animated series.
But damn, a Pursuit of Cobra Golobulus would make for one wicked action figure.
Ideally, Hasbro would produce not just a new Golobulus but an entire new Cobra-La three-pack, because Nemesis Immortal and the Royal Guard are no less deserving of new designs and sculpts and accessory assortments than Golobulus. Either way, Golobulus would feature varied textures and a segmented and fully articulated lower body capable of lifting him into various imposing poses; the original figure’s lower body was roughly snake-like in appearance, but it was barely even bendy, and as such Golobulus could not independently maintain any “standing” pose.
A Google image search for “Golobulus custom” yields photographs of some truly stunning customs. Those clever fan creations are the closest we’re likely to come to receiving a Pursuit of Cobra Golobulus figure.
Bazooka (see the 25th Anniv. version here) is not the most important character in the G.I. Joe universe. Just lately he has become G.I. Joe’s answer to South Park’s Kenny, in that he quickly dies in any new comic book or animated series.
It’s his iconic appearance that would make Bazooka an intriguing choice for a Pursuit of Cobra makeover. He’s just a big dude in green pants and a red shirt—how would an increasingly details-crazed Hasbro rise to the challenge of reinterpreting such a streamlined character design as Bazooka’s?
The upcoming Anniversary-style update of Sci-Fi looks fantastic, but a more daring take would be welcome, as well; Hasbro can retain the unlikely yet strangely winning neon-green-and-silver color scheme, but if they let their creative team take a truly unleashed approach to a new Sci-Fi sculpt, they could do for Sci-Fi what the Rise of Cobra series did for Flash, or what the recent Pursuit of Cobra approach did for Destro.
25th Anniversary Mainframe features what might be the ugliest head sculpt in Hasbro history. It’s not a low-quality sculpt, mind you; Hasbro apparently just decided that Mainframe should be powerfully unattractive.
For an appropriately balls-out Pursuit of Cobra interpretation of the character, Hasbro would do well to produce something creepy and tech-fetishistic, like the Devil’s Due update of Mainframe. Remember how bizarre and wicked-smooth Mainframe looked when he first appeared in the initial Devil’s Due G.I. Joe comic book relaunch? With all those wires and things seemingly plugged into his very flesh, so that he appeared to be more machine than man? Remember that?
No? Yeah, well, neither does Google [but I do. Never understimate a librarian. –PG]. But trust me—it’d make for a cool toy.
05. Tunnel Rat
I’ve tried my hand at a few different updated Tunnel Rat designs, but they’re defined mostly by my desire to recreate my old Sigma 6 Tunnel Rat customs. None of them necessarily qualify as what you’d call a Pursuit of Cobra Tunnel Rat.
Put simply, I’d like to see Hasbro pay tribute to their vintage A Real American Hero Tunnel Rat design without using the garish, cartoony, borderline-racist head they utilized in the Anniversary series (and again in a Rise of Cobra repaint). And I’d like this brave new Tunnel Rat to be equipped with a metric buttload of shovels, picks, axes, explosives, and various pieces of climbing equipment. On that topic, a Pursuit of Cobra Alpine would be fantastic, too!
This is not a list of G.I. Joe characters that need a makeover, but instead a list of G.I. Joe icons that need a makeover; implausible and unwieldy and unnecessarily partly orange though it may be, the Real American Hero H.A.V.O.C. is most definitely an icon. A new approach could be to its vintage counterpart what the new HISS is to its tired predecessor.
I’d buy a half-dozen.
Muskrat features a simple design in the vein of Bazooka, but no doubt Hasbro’s current creative team would cover his dark green vest in enough pouches to make Rob Liefeld proud—with beautiful reactive armor sculpting beneath it all, most likely. Also, I confess that the idea of Pursuit of Cobra swamp-themed accessories gets me a bit giddy; a machete, and… alright, my knowledge of what one needs to get by in a swamp is admittedly limited. According to yojoe.com, the original Muskrat action figure included a machete, as well as a shotgun and a “swamp skimmer”.
The new version would certainly include the skimmer—which was something of a nondescript boogie board, if memory serves—and ideally it’d attach to his backpack in some delightful, intuitive way. The semi-recent Toys R Us exclusive Rise of Cobra Benchpress figure included a hat that fairly closely resembles Muskrat’s hat, and Hasbro has produced more stylish vests in recent memory than I for one can keep track of; I should think a Pursuit of Cobra Muskrat would not be too difficult to produce.
02. Road Pig
Even a literal-minded 25th Anniversary-style update of this figure would be interesting, as the vintage figure’s shirtless sculpt—complete with an anarchy tattoo on his left bicep!—is still impressive, decades later, and his accessories—including a cinderblock sledgehammer and Road Warrior shoulder pads—were years ahead of their time.
I would hope for a new haircut, as the white crew cut with the red streak was silly even in the’80s. That said, the more nostalgic fans would likely protest such a change; perhaps Road Pig could include both a new and improved head and a second, more traditional head.
01. Gung Ho
Gung Ho is arguably the most important G.I. Joe character to never receive a proper, modern action figure update. Hasbro released a handful of Gung Ho variants in its Anniversary and Rise of Cobra series, but none of them were effective, as the current Gung Ho head is distractingly misshapen, and all but the Rise of Cobra figure feature limited articulation.
Some fans have suggested that Pursuit of Cobra Recondo’s head sculpt could make for a serviceable Gung Ho, and really, one could make the case that the entire Recondo figure resembles an updated Gung Ho. But the original Real American Hero Gung Ho figure features one of the most disarming and improbable color schemes in action figure history, and I for one would love to see what Hasbro could do with that color scheme within the context of its modern sculpting aesthetic.
If my self-indulgent list and my bloated commentary have not whetted your appetite for G.I. Joe goodness, I offer some further reading:
First, my favorite toy blog these days is Chase Variant.* Ewan’s reviews are enthusiastic and personable, and his photos are frequently stunning. Most relevant to our featured content today are his reviews of Pursuit of Cobra Spirit and Pursuit of Cobra Recondo.
Second, Justin Bell’s Pursuit of Cobra reviews archive at the Generals Joes blog has been a very valuable reference for me:
So there you have it: my votes for the ten G.I. Joe icons most deserving of a Pursuit of Cobra makeover. (Thirteen icons, if you count Alpine, Nemesis Immortal and the Royal Guard).
Who do you nominate?
* Hey! What am I, chopped liver? –PG