Spring Action, Neon, And the Decline of a Real American Hero
The article was about the later years of GI Joe and and the gimmicks that didn't really impress the kids who had been playing with the figures since the start.
Play-Doh armor, spring loaded weapons, neon colors, and tiger striped repaints are all mentioned.
I have now posted the article below.
Spring Action, Neon, And The Decline Of A Real American Heroby Derek
GI Joe. We loved him. We played with him. We grew up with him. He was our childhood hero, but sadly, he went the way of that other childhood hero, Michael Jackson. Over commercialization made him less like a friend and more like a product. Looking back now, we can see the signs of impending doom stretching way back to 1987, when Joe was on top. Many have wondered what happened since then. Therefore, I have prepared a timeline to delineate the long, ignominious fall from grace. Handy ratings are provided as well, with a rating of 10 being “Joe-riffic!” and a rating of 1 being one of those green yucky-face stickers that gets put on toxic substances.
1987 - Battle Force 2000
The Gimmick: Put guys in Jetsons-style clothing and try to pass it off as the year 2000. If someone gets all the vehicles together, they fit together to form the “Future Fortress”! Kinda like those Transformers where all the little robots fit together to make one big little robot.
Which didn’t work because: No 4 to 11 year-old has enough scratch to buy every one of those vehicles. Who was this targeted at, Richie Rich?
Rating: 6. Even if this line of figures was fun, the people behind it set us up for so many disappointments. Looking back now, I feel cheated because:
- To this day I haven’t seen what that damn fortress thingie looks like.
- Okay, it’s the year 2000 now. Where are my cool Jetsons duds? What do you mean they still don’t issue laser guns to soldiers? No way am I enlisting now!
Besides, they didn’t even last that long in the GI Joe comic books. Cobra put the smack-down on them right away and smashed up their vehicles.
1988 - Tiger Force
The Gimmick: The military steals enemy vehicles and repaints like them like jungle cats for use in the desert. (“Filthy Americans, bring back my tank!”) A chance to sell you toys you already have, only now yellow with stripes.
Which didn’t work because: A guy named “Frostbite” doesn’t belong in the desert. Period. That’s just wrong. As if relocating this poor slob wasn’t bad enough, the toymakers changed his beard color, too. Imagine the conversation between this guy and his old lady: “Nothing to be alarmed about, honey. I’m just dying my beard tomato red so I can go fight in the desert. No, I won’t be needing any new clothes, the usual fur coat and long johns will do nicely.” I didn’t buy it for a minute, and I was six.
Possible propaganda message: “Let’s kick Saddam’s—I mean Cobra’s— sorry ass all over the desert!”
Rating: 5. Hey, my uncle steals vehicles and repaints them, too. Does that make him a “Real American Hero?”
1990 - Sonic Fighters
The Gimmick: More recolored figures, now in bright neon and with noise-making backpacks to scare the hell out of Cobra. Damn that Cobra.
Which didn’t work because: I already had plenty of good sound effects of my own, and didn’t need The Man at Hasbro telling me to use his. The backpacks were equipped with generic sounds like “boom” and the old favorite “rat-a-tat-tat,” but these lacked the creative flare of my own creations “bpwacschk” and “skceasch”. Later on these insidious backpacks came with useful soundbites like “attack”. Truthfully, what kid playing with soldiers can’t say that for himself? Even worse was the size of these things; the backpacks were huge. Who would strap a 60-watt amp on their back and go run around a war zone? I can just see it. Everyone falls over after the first five minutes, while the enemy stands around pointing and laughing. “Go ahead and laugh, buddy, but you’ll be in real trouble when the forklifts get here!”
Rating: 3. Even if you wanted to take the friggin backpacks off, they were bolted on so tight it would take a degree in engineering to do it. Even worse was that this series marked the death of camouflage. From this point on, neon dominated the GI Joe color schemes. Across the country resounded cries of “Oh the neon mommy make it stop mommy!”
1991 - Eco Warriors
The Gimmick: Joe goes green, packing squirt guns instead of automatics.
Which didn’t work because: The squirt-gun factor severely restricted where you were allowed to play with these things. Trying to use these inside your house was a death wish, parental retribution swooping down upon you almost instantaneously. Besides, who wants to play with a guy named “Cesspool”?
Possible propaganda message: “Never mind agent orange and the nuclear arms race. Our military has the environment’s best interests at heart! Honest!”
Rating: 2. I’m proud to call myself a tree-hugger, but that doesn’t stop me from being the first to admit this line of Joes was a terrible, terrible mistake.
1992 - Drug Elimination Force
The Gimmick: Toymakers take the phrase “War on Drugs” a too far. Good old-fashioned Cobra is now represented as villainous scum by a scary mustachioed drug-lord and his crackhead thugs. A new low is reached with the inclusion of spring-action neon missile launchers.
Which didn’t work because: Those missile launchers were larger than the guys who were supposed to carry them. Aside from that, even, the things were evil. Allow me to share a childhood trauma: I distinctly remember watching a TV commercial in which a kid is playing with his spring-action G.I. Joes. Said juvenile presses the button on one of his missile launchers and a projectile streaks out to smite the forces of evil, causing a bad-guy figure over a foot away to be knocked over. The aforementioned child then makes an exhibition of delight. Let me tell you, I wasted no time in getting my mitts on one of those ill-conceived spring weapons. Intending to recreate the televised experience of spring-action bliss, I carefully aimed it at some hapless enemy figure and fired away. Nothing happened. Sure, it made a little start, but the projectile ran out of oomph before going airborne. Instead it hung lazily partway out of my bright orange spring-action disappointment. Why didn’t it work? Why couldn’t I partake of the same joy that televised kid had derived? Oh, the pre-pubescent angst I experienced in that moment!
Possible propaganda message: “If you use drugs, you are scum and deserve to be shot. With a missile launcher.”
Rating: 2. As a rule, anything you get taught about in elementary school is not action-figure material. In this case it was drug resistance. Let us just be thankful we were never subjected to anything like the “Sex-ed Brigade” or “Personal Hygene Troopers”.
1993 - Mega Marines
The Gimmick: The bad-guys are giant monsters now, meaning the good-guys need to call upon the awesome defensive capabilities of Play-Doh battle-armor to save our fine nation.
Which didn’t work because: Play-Doh tastes way too salty. Oh yeah, you know what I’m talking about. I’m not the only person to have stolen a taste in my moment of weakness. It doesn’t make good armor, either.
Rating: 1. After “Eco Warriors” and “DEF,” it was hard to believe it could get any worse. (Ah, naïve youth!) When GI Joe wasn’t fun by himself anymore, when he needed big monsters and Play-Doh as a crutch—that was too much. Just thinking about it now makes me want to cry.
And there you have it. For some of us this stroll down memory lane has been more like a grueling march down childhood trauma avenue. I know it has been for me, and I apologize.