The Action Figures
Most kids grew up with dolls and action figures, and while I had the chance to play with things such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, He-Man, and Star Trek figures, my focus always went back to the Joes. Cobra, the Joe Team, the individual non-affiliated figures that were mostly made for marketing, it didn’t matter; I would collect and play the heck out of them. I was also very big on the playsets, especially the battlefields where I could put up opposing sides and stage fights using rubber bands as cannons—later on, as the vehicles and playsets started coming with spring-action missiles, this was made easier, but I still used the rubber bands as “unconventional weapons of toy destruction.” I had so much fun.
But, because of all the fun I was having with the action figures, I would always wear them out easily. The basic design of molded, hard plastic didn’t make them indestructible, particularly when it came to the hands. “Holding” the weapons was easy at first, but every time they were taken out and put back into the little grove, the plastic weakened, until finally the “thumbs” began to bend and break off, making them useless as frontline, weapon-wielding soldiers (they then got MEDIVACed to the rear, to operate computers and targeting systems). This would diminish the fighting force to low numbers, making what usually seemed to be easy operations instead become pitched battles for total control.
A less-happened problem, but still frequent enough to be disruptive, was when the plastic stands that came with the action figures would break. The stands included a little plastic nub, which action figures could be arranged on via a hollow cylinder in the heel of their boots; however, sometimes the nub would break off in the heel, making it so that figure and stand could never be operated again. As one might guess, this did make it very hard to ride gunner on some vehicles, or to make it so the advanced scout could ensure no enemy troops were lying in wait. Because of this, many an ambush were made, capturing soldiers easily with no warning and minimal resistance. Truly, the stand nubs were the bane of recon patrols.
The most horrific of problems concerning the actions figures, however, were the torso/waist connections; held together by a rubber cord that easily would be snapped given enough force, there were times when even the vaunted and charismatic Cobra Commander became half the man he often was portrayed to be. Despite all the combined efforts of the talented Doc, Lifeline, Stretch, the Medi-Vipers, and Dr. Mindbender, there was nothing that could put the two pieces back together. As such, these wounded combatants became rear echelon leaders, barking out orders and suggestions on how to run their organizations, while the battle-ready soldiers continued to form ranks for fights that would decide the ultimate fate of who would control my basement. They never did finish, and I supposed they’re still duking it out in my storage bins, yelling battle cries that make the neighbors wonder if they’ve got strange mice to deal with.
The TV Shows and Movies
The Joes of the earlier TV shows were rather a letdown to me, with their weapons that “never” killed anyone and only ever put someone in a coma. The only time when someone died as a result of the battle between Joe and Cobra was an alternate universe version of the characters, thus making them less than “real” to the viewers. What’s more, while the shows attempted to show a military unit in cohesive formation and organization, it fell very far from the truth; even taking into consideration that these are elite, special operations forces that are given leeway, there’s still a lot of fast-and-loose taking place to make it an effective group (no wonder they never kill anyone). Even so, I did enjoy the older cartoons, especially the animated movie with what has to be the best Joe theme song ever heard, but they still lacked real storytelling—I mean, they had a maguffin plot device actually called the “Maguffin Device;” now that’s just being absurdly lazy.
I never got into the Sigma 6 or SpyTroops cartoons, but I did happen to pick up the most recent series, Renegades and have to say that it was exactly what I wanted the Joes to be since the beginning: An “A-Team”-like group, going from place to place to figure out how best to take out Cobra. I am rather saddened that the series only lasted one season with no continuation, but I do think it stopped on a great note.
The live-action movies . . . well, what can I say about them that will make them seem worth watching? They do make Snake-Eyes seem awesome (which he is), and there is a lot of action and explosions (I’m still surprised Michael Bay didn’t direct them.), but that is really all I can say about it. I’ve very selective in what I go see at the box office, and while I did go see Rise of Cobra, my reaction to it was so mediocre that I decided not to see Retaliation until it comes out on DVD in July. I got the gist of what happened from reading the reviews and never thought I’d see someone review a movie with the phrase “dumb as catbutt” until I looked into this film’s responses. That said, I do like some of the actors they choose to play certain roles, but I just don’t feel as though the plot and material was in keeping with what I had expected from reading the comics all these years; it did, however, seem very much like the older TV shows.
The Comic Books
The best part of the Joes for me were—and still are—the comic books. I’ve read everything that I could starring the Joes, including the many Transformers crossovers, and have found that I very much enjoy comics that have been written by Larry Hama and Chuck Dixon. Their telling of the Joes is much more in line with what I’ve come to imagine a top-notch military organization to be, especially the more recent IDW story arcs. I don’t believe for a minute that this is one hundred percent accurate, as I’ve known family and friends in the military (as well as being something of an amateur military historian), but they’re a lot closer to how it operates than the movies or TV shows seem to be. Whereas with the action figures, you can make up your own history and set of circumstances (keeping in mind the established background written on the action figures’ “file cards”), the comics help to grow the characters and the world that they’re in. I will forever think of the Joe comics as awesome.
So, even after all of that, I still can’t completely explain just why I enjoy G.I. Joe, but I think I’ve given quite a few reasons for people to consider enjoying it. The Joes are a part of my childhood, my adolescence, and my adulthood, something that’s been with me throughout the many changes that I’ve gone through in life. So, now you know what it is about the Joes that keep me going, and you know what they say about knowledge: “Knowing is half the battle.”