The following is a guest review by Monte Williams.
I recently joked with my wife that I am thirty-three years old, and I am finally set to have my first grown-up Christmas. Turns out I was mistakenâ€¦
I have lived and worked for eighteen months now in Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa. Last year, Poe Ghostalâ€™s Points of Articulation hosted my unique if cheerfully irrelevant review of a pair of African tribal dolls we purchased here in Asmara for our daughter. While Iâ€™ve no doubt that youâ€™re all chomping at the bit for analysis of the rest of the dolls in the series, I must regretfully confess that I have not purchased any of the remaining dolls. Sadder still, I have purchased no new G.I. Joe toys! As you can probably imagine, the Pursuit of Cobra photos at Generals Joes and Chase Variant haunt me, but Iâ€™ll have to wait until we visit the States next summer and hope that the prices on eBay for Spirit and Recondo wonâ€™t be too astronomical by that time.
In the meantime, life here in Asmara is a humble affair. There are no shopping malls, no familiar restaurants, none of the comforts and trappings of life in the West. (Before you go feeling sorry for me or thinking Iâ€™m selfless and heroic, you should know that we live like royalty here. We have a cook, a maid, and a gardener, none of which we could afford on our teacher salaries in the States). But obviously, for me, the hardest part of life in Asmara is the complete lack of G.I. Joe toys.
Enter Maitea, my six-year-old daughter.
The few toy shops here in Asmara carry nothing but comically low-quality bootleg items imported at great expense from the Arabian Peninsula. You can buy Hot Wheels knockoffs and the occasional plush figure or the saddest excuse for a Barbie youâ€™ve ever seen in your life, but the prices are staggeringly steep for what you get.
But as my daughter discovered while shopping for Christmas presents for her dad, you can also buy bootleg army guy figures in Asmara. She surprised me with two sets on Christmas Eve, each set containing a pair of figures and a scattering of accessories. The dudes in green fatigues are part of a seriesâ€”if you can call it thatâ€”called Battles Super Police. The guys in black garb, whom I think of as the villains in my burgeoning bootleg toy universe, are from a series called S.W.A.T. Police Super City Hero. The packaging for each set consists of a cheap plastic bag stapled to a colorful cardboard banner. Each figure has crude swivel joints at the shoulder and neck. The army guys have an equally crude joint at each hip, which the bad guys lackâ€”they make up for it, I suppose, with waist articulation.
These things are bastard ugly. Theyâ€™re molded in plastic the color of their clothing, and the paint-apps on the barely legible face sculpts consist of a cursory swipe with a paint brush dipped in what Crayola used to call â€œfleshâ€ before people complained. (Now itâ€™s usually called â€œpeachâ€.) One of the Battles Super Police dudes appears to have a burst eyeball, while another has green drool dribbling from his mouth. One of the S.W.A.T. Police Super City Hero fellas has a (literally) splitting headacheâ€”his left arm is split at the seam as well. I tried to place one of the machine guns in a figureâ€™s hand and it broke in two. I posed him with one piece in each hand, and when I tried to remove one of the pieces from his hand, it broke again. The other accessories are comically undersized. The large grenade and nightstick are obviously designed for a childâ€™s role playing, but the barbed wire fence and sandbags could be toys for these toys to play with. The gas can almost looks cool, but it is not only hollow, but one-sided!
My daughter is tactless as only a six-year-old can be, so not only did she leave the price tag on one of the sets of figures, she also told me, â€œIt costed a ton of money!â€ And indeed it did, considering the quality of the toys in question. The total for one of the two setsâ€”I assume the other set cost the sameâ€”was 150 nakfa, which translates to ten US dollars. Twenty bucks, then, for four junky toys thatâ€™d break in three minutes if a child subjected them to any true play.
We bought a new TV for our daughter for Christmas, because the one that came with our house couldnâ€™t play DVDs in color. We also bought her some clothes and sunglasses, and we brought some Disney Princess dolls from the States and kept them hidden in a closet until Christmas. Sheâ€™s delighted with all of it, but she was most excited to see me open my gift from her. Beaming with pride, she said, â€œSee, Daddy? I got you G.I. Joes!â€
These are clearly a far cry from G.I. Joes, and by whatever normal criteria one might use to judge a toy, these are the saddest bootleg rejects to ever grace my toy shelf.
I will of course cherish them forever.