GI Joe 50th: New Sculpt
Part 3 of our look at the 50 years of GI Joe brings us what is known as the New Sculpt Era.
Two years after GI Joe Extreme had it’s plug pulled, Toys R Us had classic looking GI Joe back on the shelves. The year was 1997 and it was the 15th anniversary of the ARAH line. The anniversary was kicked off with a Collector Series of GI Joe that reused the old molds to give us many classic GI Joe characters and vehicles in differently colored decos. This series lasted only 2 years but gave us a good amount of newly deco’d figures and vehicles including some figures that had never been made before like The Oktober Guard!
Due to the age and wear on some of the molds, many of the figures had to be kitbashed or use a later version of the character to be made. This is why all Vipers from this time forward now use BATS legs and waist pieces.
2000 saw the return of the Collector Series (now with the tagline Special Collectors Edition) No longer just a TRU exclusive, this line could be bought in many retail locations. The kitbashing continued along with name changes due to trademark lapses. Figures like the Baroness, Thunder and General Hawk were now called Chameleon, Thunderwing and Gen. Tomahawk. (In the case of Chameleon and Thunderwing, whole new bios and real names were created)
Sub Viper and Rip It, who were repainted Sludge Viper and Hiss Driver figures, also got all new bios.
During this time we saw old vehicle molds return like the Awe Striker and the Vamp (Now modified with new additions and called the Desert Striker)
We also saw the Mobat from the Collectors Series get repackaged and re-released in this line.
The Special Collectors Edition was cancelled in 2002 to make way for the new GI Joe line, GI Joe vs Cobra! The first wave of JvC consisted of all new sculpts. (Hence why collectors refer to this era as the “New Sculpt Era”) The figures were a little beefier but retained most of the same articulation. One major change was the elimination of the O-Ring. Instead GI Joe now had what’s known as a T-Crotch. The waist could swivel back and forth and the legs could swivel front to back but GI Joe couldn’t perform splits anymore.
This change in articulation only lasted a short time before GI Joe went back to the O-Ring. Many of the T-Crotch figures were retooled to use an O-Ring. Another change to GI Joe was that the mid bicep swivel articulation was moved closer to the elbow and sometimes would be hidden by the arm sculpt.
While many figures in this line had odd body proportions sometimes including large shoulders or feet, there were also some old favorites reused from the ARAH days. One such mold was the Alley Viper. This figure’s deco is a lot less neon from his vintage counterpart but it is a much lighter camo pattern from when just a few years ago when he came with the TRU exclusive Cobra Rage vehicle.
JvC added a new gimmick to the figures and vehicles called “Sound Attack!” Some of the figure’s weapons had a slotted tab on them that when inserted into a vehicle, the electronic weapon sound would change depending on what weapon you plugged in. When no weapon was plugged in, the electronic sound was an “empty clip” type of sound.
A few of the figures during this time gained some new articulation points that hadn’t been seen on GI Joe since the 70’s! Snake Eyes was one of these figures who had rotating wrists and hinged ankles.
In 2003 the JvC line added a new tagline called “Spy Troops” The big gimmick for Spy Troops was that one of the figures in each two pack would have a disguise to make them appear to work for their rival’s team, or they would have a Ghillie Suit to camouflage them.
Many of the vehicles continued the Sound Attack feature as well as a few vintage vehicles that were modified to use the sound feature. We also saw the inclusion of small vehicles or battle stations packaged with a single figure and priced slightly higher than the typical 2 figure packs were.
Hasbro brought back the mail away figure in 2003 with a Spy Troops angle. Agent Faces, The GI Joe infiltrator was dressed in a classic Crimson Guard outfit (Using the body mold of the original with new arms, head and removable helmet) All it would take is 12 “Battle Points” which were on the Spy Troops packaging and $2.99 (you could also order 2 figures for the same price but with 24 Battle Points, Hasbro would also accept vintage “Flag Points” from the ARAH line)
The very next year in 2004 GI Joe changed focus to a new series called Valor vs Venom. VvV brought us the storyline where Cobra was combining it’s troops’ DNA with animal DNA to produce super soldiers. This storyline gave us interesting characters like Electric Eel (Who had a translucent, light up feature) Venomous Maximus (Who had a regular painted version and a translucent version) and a new Croc Master. We also got the first Dr. Mindbender with a fully covered chest in this series.
Following the figure’s theme, the Cobra vehicles also had an animal look to their design while the Joe’s vehicles were more conventional looking.
This series also made one of my favorite gimmicks for Cobra Commander….a removable mask! Cobra Commander came with both his battle helmet and a sculpted hood that could be placed on a generic balaclava-covered head.
Along with all these new sculpt figures, we saw classic O-Ring molds in the comic 3 packs. Each set had a reprint of one of the Marvel Comics from the ARAH era and three figures based on characters from said comic. This brought us classics such as the original GI Joe team members or Cobra Troopers in their comic styled outfits. We also got updated figures like Serpentor with removable helmet!
Expanding the line’s offerings even more were the Toys R Us exclusive 6 figure packs. While these 6 packs had started in the JvC line, the VvV line had some of the more popular 6 packs like the Cobra Infantry Force pack. This 6 pack included 2 Squad Leaders and 4 Troopers and was the first time we’d seen the classic 82 Soldier and Officer molds since the ARAH line. (The Comic Pack Cobra Soldier I just showed actually came out after this six pack) Although the heads were completely new and the arms were from another ARAH figure, the set was still a huge hit with fans.
The VvV line offered another mail away in it’s last year. This time it was Unmasked Storm Shadow! Unlike most Cobra Commanders with removable masks, Storm Shadow featured an unmasked head underneath the removable hood. Storm Shadow would be the last mail away figure of this era.
From 2002-2005 GI Joe had 12” figures based on many of the characters seen in the 3 ¾” lines at the time. Some of these 12” figures had full cloth uniforms like the Cobra Trooper and Cobra Commander while others had cloth pants and a sculpted shirt for their upper body.
In 2003 Hasbro started a small foray into the world of building blocks. They released Built To Rule (BTR) sets for both their Transformers and GI Joe Brands. The GI Joe BTR line involved building vehicles out of the building blocks that could work with the included 3 ¾” figure. The figures also had block ports on their arms and legs so you could attach building blocks directly to the figures. The BTR line only lasted a couple of years and ended in 2005.
GI Joe was slipping again in toy stores and 2005 brought the end of 3 ¾” GI Joe at retail and the start of the Direct To Consumer line (or DTC for short) A new online store called Hasbro Toy Shop (HTS) had just started up and was the official online dealer of Hasbro products. The DTC line would be sold exclusively on HTS. There was some confusion at first regarding this move as many thought that HTS was Hasbro and not just an official seller. For me at least, this caused wonderful ideas about no more “middle man” meaning we could buy new GI Joe toys for a fraction of typical retail because we were getting it direct from Hasbro……this was obviously not the case. Retail prices remained but you no longer had to drive to the stores. After the first wave or two, the DTC line started showing up in Toys R Us retail stores.
The figures continued the New Sculpt appearance with a few new body parts and other reused parts, but now the figures were single packed instead of in a two pack.
There were a few figures with some newly designed articulation such as swivel/hinge elbows. Some of the figures also featured the same ball jointed necks seen on a few previous figures like Venomous Maximus.
The Six packs and Comic 3 packs from VvV continued on in the DTC line with some very notable figures. Much like the fan favorite Cobra Infantry set, we got the Cobra Viper Pit which included a Viper Officer and 5 Vipers in their full classic deco using the same Viper/Bat O-Ring molds we’ve seen since 1997.
The Plague Troopers vs Steel Brigade six pack included the lucky GI Joe fan who won the “I am a GI Joe” contest held by FHM magazine in 2004. The grand prize was getting your face put on a GI Joe Action Figure. Luke Ellison had his face scanned and put into the DTC 6 pack as the Steel Brigade Urban Assault character called Red Zone.
One of the fan favorite comic packs included the character “Classified” This was Snake Eyes from his Vietnam days in a LRRP before his face was disfigured and before he trained with Storm Shadow. The pack also included Stalker and Tommy Arashikage (AKA Storm Shadow) from the same time period.
The head on “Classified” is a work of art with the great looking camo, photo of Snake Eyes’ sister and the shadow effect that is painted on the face.
A few of my other favorite DTC Comic Packs included figures like a Holographic Cobra Commander (Made of translucent plastic) and two Cobra Officers with a new headsculpt. The Officers were wearing advanced looking gasmasks and came two per Comic Pack with a Lady Jaye figure.
The final wave of DTC was cancelled before it was made and the 3 ¾” GI Joe was gone again.
During the DTC line, GI Joe was still at retail, but it wasn’t the 3 ¾’ Joe that had started 23 years ago. Sigma Six was the new direction Hasbro wanted to take GI Joe. Much like in the mid 90’s GI Joe changed scales. Sigma Six consisted of large 8” stylized figures with weapon ports and other gimmicks on the body.
A year later, Sigma Six came out with yet another scale. The line continued with the large 8” figures, but also released smaller 2 ½” tall pre-posed figures with limited articulation that could be used with vehicles. It’s believed that a few of the 2 ½” vehicles were repurposed from a cancelled 3 ¾” GI Joe line called Robot Rebellion that would have been released after VvV.
Both scales of Sigma Six ended in 2007.
Join us next week for the final part in our look back at 50 years of GI Joe.
If you missed our previous stories you can find them here: