GI Joe 50th: Modern Era
Our final look at the 50 years of GI Joe focuses on the new 25th anniversary construction and the figures that came afterwards, known as the Modern Era.
In early 2007 Hasbro started putting out press releases for the GI Joe 25th Anniversary. They advertised they would be making 25 of the most detailed and articulated GI Joe figures ever. This new series would be all new sculpts including two box sets with 5 figures each and 15 single packed figures. Rumor has it that the line was originally only going to be the two box sets but retailer excitement spurred Hasbro to expand the line. This does seem to hold water as many of the early figures were reusing the same bodies as the 10 figures in the box sets. These are the same press release pictures we fans drooled over in 2007. The figures looked like 6” Marvel Legends figures but we were told they were 3 ¾”!
The 25th figures featured more articulation than any 3 ¾” Joe had. A few of the new types of articulation like swivel/hinge elbows and ball jointed necks had been seen just a year ago with some of the DTC figures, but there was one articulation point that had never been used before: The mid torso joint. The O-Rings of past were now a forgotten technology. The mid torso joint was typically an inner hinge on the lower torso that could allow the upper torso to rotate and move slightly forwards and backwards. Shortly after the first two boxsets, the mid torso joint was adjusted to also allow the upper torso to slide side to side.
Included with the new articulation were double jointed knees (Much like Marvel Legends figures) and swivel/hinge ankles (made the same way as the elbows) This allowed the 25th Joes a new level of poseability. While the original press releases called these 3 ¾” figures, they actually would run closer to 4” and had varying heights depending on the character (Destro and Roadblock would stand taller than Scarlett or the Baroness)
The first box sets included a GI Joe logo music box that would play the opening theme to the cartoon when you pressed a button. Shortly after their release, Hasbro expanded the 25th line past the 25 figures and we received a new Cobra Army builder 5 pack that had a Cobra themed music box. This one would play the opening song from the 1986 animated GI Joe movie.
One of the figures in the Cobra Legions box set was a new character with a familiar mask. The Cobra Air Trooper had a removable mask that was retooled from the Cobra Officers with Gas Masks in a DTC Comic Pack.
The 25th anniversary logo stayed on the new GI Joe packaging for a full year after the first 25th product had come out. So that means while 2008 is the 26th anniversary, half of that year’s product would still have a 25th mark on it. After the year long celebration, the logo was replaced with a mark that showed what inspired the figure (Television show, Comics, etc…)
The 25 figure line was full blown by it’s second year with multiple box sets, comic packs, 3 packs & even newly retooled vehicles to fit the slightly larger figures!
During this second year of the 25th Anniversary series we saw a return of the mail away figure! This mail away offer was called “Operation:Rescue Doc” The figure was a new 25th anniversary styled figure of the classic 80’s Doc character
Each 2 figure comic pack had an order form and a small oval proof of purchase sticker. Originally you needed 6 stickers and $4.95 per figure, but shortly after the offer was announced, Hasbro changed the rules slightly to allow long time fans to use their Battle Points from the New Sculpt Era to get up to 3 additional Doc figures. So now, you had to get the 6 stickers plus $4.95, then you could add 50 Battle Points and another $4.95 to get a second figure, you could do this to get up to 3 additional figures for a grand total of 6 stickers, 150 Battle Points and $19.80 for 4 Doc figures per order form (You could send in multiple order forms maxed out with 4 figures each)
The mail away offer had a few snags like the fact that the comic packs were held together with tape on the sides so many times you’d find a comic pack that had the Doc sticker taken out of it. Hasbro later sealed the sticker inside a bag with the comic so that you couldn’t just reach in and take the small sticker. Due to the sheer amount of figures that were ordered there was a second run of the Doc figure that delayed the amount of time it’d take to get the figure. This turned out to be a good thing for the fact that by that time, the mold they were using had been changed to move the wrist articulation further up the arm to be hidden by the shirt sleeve cuff. So the later runs of Doc figures had this new hidden articulation instead of the wrist cut seen on earlier figures.
The 25th line even included a famous piece of equipment from the first cartoon miniseries, The M.A.S.S. Device! It was sold as a “Build-A-Figure” Marvel Legends style of exclusive with a separate piece included in one of 5 boxsets that had some figures and a DVD of the classic cartoon.
The line had mainly stuck with characters from ARAH, but a few newer characters, international variants and even Matt Trakker from the 80’s toy property M.A.S.K. had made their way into the GI Joe ranks.
2009 saw the winding down of the 25th series with figures based on the new GI Joe Resolute cartoon and updated versions of characters that had already been made in the 25th line.
The final wave of 25th figures were released as an internet exclusive line called “Hall of Heroes” These were supposed to be the absolute best figures of fan chosen characters in special packaging.
One of the reasons the 25th line stopped is because Hasbro was changing gears by releasing the Rise of Cobra toy line. This was the GI Joe toyline based on the new live action movie of the same name!
The figures had the same construction and articulation, but since it was based on the movie, the appearance of the figures was toned down drastically from the brighter 80’s inspired colors the 25th figures sported.
Along with the typical Cobra army builder figures we saw a generic GI Joe army builder with a slight twist. This figure came with a huge arsenal of weapons and gear to allow you to customize your figure’s appearance.
The ROC line lasted until 2010 and had mostly movie inspired figures, but a few 80’s styled figures and vehicles did make their way into the line up as store exclusives.
We also saw a few characters and figures that did not come from the movie. Helix was inspired from a character in the latest video game and Doc was a classic character with a more modern updated outfit.
From 2008 to 2009 Hasbro tried to introduce the GI Joe brand to younger kids with their Combat Heroes line. These were smaller kiddified figures of GI Joe characters. (Hasbro has used many different brands in this style like Transformers, Star Wars & Indiana Jones) The line started with classic ARAH figures, then moved on to ROC figures when the movie came out.
During the movie marketing push, there were a few other GI Joe lines with young kids in mind like the 7″ tall GI Joe Action Battlers figures. These were stylized figures with limited articulation and an action feature when you squeeze their legs.
After ROC, GI Joe was rebranded the Pursuit of Cobra. POC started off by repurposing some ROC figures that hadn’t been released yet by adding new heads to the figures. This line was a breath of fresh air to GI Joe fans. It introduced new characters like the Jungle Viper and gave us classic characters in a whole new light pulling inspiration from popular culture and using the most detailed sculpts seen to date.
Pursuit of Cobra pulled so much inspiration from everywhere that we even got a GI Joe figure clearly based off of a concept from Macross/Robotech! Ashiko came with a motorcycle that could split apart and become an armored suit.
Pursuit of Cobra only lasted about a year when in 2011 GI Joe packaging was now changed to the 30th anniversary of ARAH (Although 2012 should have been the actual anniversary) One of the theories behind the early anniversary is that the second live action movie would be coming out in 2012 so they pushed up the release date of the 30th. The figures were a mix of classic ARAH updates and figures based on the newest GI Joe cartoon, GI Joe Renegades. Unfortunately, by the time the figures came out, the cartoon had already been cancelled.
One of the figures during this time portrayed both themes. Storm Shadow came with a spare head and accessories so that he could appear like the Renegades version of Storm Shadow or a modern update of the ARAH classic. This figure was also one of the most detailed figures with tiny intricate weapons that could be held between his fingers!
2012 brought us the first few waves of the new GI Joe Retaliation movie figures. There were some cool new designs with the GI Joe Trooper and Cobra Commander.
Unfortunately, there were also some cuts in articulation. Many of the figures could no longer move their ankles, knees were back to single joints and in the case of the vehicle drivers, their elbows and knees could no longer move! In fact they were cut down to a simplistic 5 points of articulation!
The Retaliation figures didn’t last too long due to a schedule change with the movie being pushed back by 9 months. Most stores took the toys off the shelves to sell the next year when the movie would be coming out.
In the meantime, collectors found a new store to shop at…Dollar General! Hasbro had struck a deal to sell a basic assortment of figures at discount stores. Due in part to a misunderstanding between the designers, the basic assortment would consist of repainted figures inspired by classic characters from the ARAH and New Sculpt eras. The line was a huge hit with fans, but was very hard to find at retail for the first year or so.
The next year saw all 6 of the basic assortment figures recolored.
Hasbro once again tried to bring GI Joe to a younger audience with Micro Force in 2013. These were small, rubber figures meant to be traded amongst kids similar to Squinkies and Fighter Pods. The figures included classics like Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander but also included characters that had recently been shown as cancelled product at Joecon. These characters would be many of the ninja styled figures and a zombie Cobra Commander!
The Micro Force line only lasted the one year and was quickly overshadowed by Hasbro’s next GI Joe line…….
…GI Joe Kreo. Kre-O was Hasbro’s latest foray into the building block game. Hasbro had Transformers Kreo sets for the past two years along with sets based on the Battleship movie. GI Joe Kreo has now lasted for 3 waves of blind bagged figures and just came out with the second wave of boxed sets which is remarkable considering it’s been a Toys R Us exclusive line this whole time. The GI Joe Kreo line is primarily classic ARAH figures and vehicles, but they have also included some 60’s 12″ characters like the Land Adventurer and Mike Powers the Atomic Man!
The Retaliation figures were re-released in 2013 and near the end of the line started incorporating more updated classic characters like Cobra Commander and a rare character from the 80’s comic, Kwinn the Tracker. Also many of the previous cuts in articulation were not seen on newer movie figures.
Since 1997 the GI Joe Collector’s Club has offered yearly convention and club exclusives. These started out as left over Hasbro stock and evolved into 12″ and later 3 3/4″ figures and vehicles. Many times the figures (both 12″ and 3 3/4″) are kitbashes creating a new character, international characters or a new appearance for a classic character. Sometimes the club even gets to use cancelled molds in the case of the Robot Rebellion styled Cobra Commander. The past few years the club has transitioned to the new modern sculpt and have been supplying fans with classic characters in the new figure construction style using Hasbro molds and sometimes new body parts sculpted by other companies like Boss Fight Studios. The club has also started offering Kreo figures in their list of exclusives.
In 2007 Hasbro started offering exclusive figures at the San Diego Comic Con. Sometimes the figures would be modern updates to oddball figures like Pimp Daddy Destro, or sometimes it would be a never seen figure like a Cobra Commander from the early days of Cobra. Lately it has been modern updates to classic ARAH figures.
During a movie year, the SDCC exclusives are typically a character from the movie, such as one of my favorite SDCC Exclusive packs, the Clan McCullen family book. The package was made up like a family book with opening covers, but when you opened the “book” in the middle, the two figures (Movie Destro and his ancestor) would be displayed.
As of today, Retaliation GI Joe toys are still sitting on toy shelves in Toys R Us and discount stores like Tuesday Morning and Five Below. Toys R Us is slated to have an exclusive 50th Anniversary line of 3 ¾” figures & vehicles consisting of some repaints and some newly sculpted toys that had previously been cancelled. There are also plans for more Kreo sets including a large Cobra Terrordrome!
Here are the previous entries of our look back at the 50 years of GI Joe: