Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

The PopCult ToyBox: The GI Joe That You Never Knew

The Commando Sgt Savage, who came with the video you see above, and apparently no underwear

The Commando Sgt Savage, who came with the video you see above, and apparently no underwear

When you think of “GI Joe,” the first thing that pops into your mind is not “Sgt.Savage and his Screaming Eagles.” He’s the Joe that never really got his due.

One of the quirks of the hobby of collecting GI Joe is that there’s more than one hobby there. You have the collectors of the original 1964 12″ tall action figure, and you have collectors of the 1982 reboot, which shrunk America’s movable fighting man to 3 3/4″ and gave him more individual identities.

The original GI Joe from 1964

The original GI Joe from 1964

There are actually way more divisions than that, but we’ll take the basic route here. Each line had a healthy twelve-year run, and during that run spent time as the top-selling toy in the country.

The collectors of each line have been so numerous and enthusiastic that, at times, they have convinced Hasbro to revive their beloved childhood toy so that a new generation can enjoy their favorite plaything.

An example of the Real American Hero Joe

An example of the “RAH” Joe

The two types of collectors also don’t always see eye-to-eye, but that’s not the focus of this post. The fact is that these things run in cycles, and at the moment, the collectors of the 3 3/4″ “Real American Hero” Joes are the primo demographic for Hasbro to cater to in terms of nostalgia. That’s why the few token items produced to mark GI Joe’s fiftieth anniversary this year were made in the 3 3/4″ size.

However, as I mentioned, these things run in cycles. The original GI Joe was introduced in 1964 and was discontinued after 1976. Likewise, the Real American Hero GI Joe was introduced in 1982, and by 1994 was simply not selling any longer. Hasbro had made a half-hearted attempt at reviving the 12″ GI Joe concept, and discovered that it was way more profitable than the little guys.

So in 1994, Hasbro killed off the 3 3/4″ GI Joe, with one of the final releases being small-scaled versions of the classic 1964 GI Joe. They decided to relaunch the line with a different size, a different concept and really cool vehicles and packaging.

Imagine what a kid would do to get a tank like this

Imagine what a kid would do to get a tank like this

Largely created by Kirk Bozigian, who had worked on both previous incarnations of GI Joe, Sgt. Savage and his Screaming Eagles took the concept of a World War II soldier, displaced in time, brought back to lead a modern anti-terrorist group. The toys were just a little taller than the Real American Hero Joes, but they were made using a plastic that held more detail and looked pretty spectacular compared to their immediate predecessors.

The vehicles were all souped-up versions of classic WWII machinery. Keeping the figures small allowed Hasbro to give them a great assortment of killer Jeeps and Aircraft. They even did a token 12″ rendition of Sgt. Savage in their Hall of Fame line.

One of the coolest toys that hardly anyone ever saw

One of the coolest toys that hardly anyone ever saw

Topping it off was beautiful package art by Joe Kubert, the legendary artist of DC Comic’s “Sgt. Rock.” In fact, the storyline was sort of a mash-up of Sgt. Rock with Marvel’s Captain America. It wasn’t the most original thing in the world, but it was still really cool.

All package art was by Joe Kubert

All package art was by Joe Kubert

At this point, you might expect me to tell you how Sgt. Savage went on to a healthy twelve-year run, but he didn’t. Before the full line of figures hit store shelves, Hasbro re-organized, moving all their boy’s toys to the Kenner Division in Cinncinnati. One of the coolest-looking and most innovative action figure lines since the 1960s never had the chance to sell at its full retail price. The folks at Kenner put Sgt. Savage in the “not invented here” file, and proceeded to dump all the product at deep discount stores in favor of their new line.

GI Joe: Extreme. The less said, the better

GI Joe: Extreme. The less said, the better

That line was “GI Joe: Extreme,” to this day considered by everyone as the single worst incarnation of GI Joe in the fifty year history of the toy. Kenner performed so poorly after being placed in charge of Hasbro’s boy’s toys that the entire company was shuttered a few years later. Hasbro moved their boy’s division back to Rhode Island and laid off hundreds of Kenner folks.

Meanwhile, Hasbro managed to successfully revive GI Joe as a 12″ action figure with the Classic Collection and the Timeless Collection, both of which lasted until around 2004. A few attempts at reviving the 3 3/4″ Joes during this time met with varying degrees of success, but never really came close to their former glory. Hasbro dabbled in a few other scales with 8″ and 2″ figures in their Sigma Six line, and totally screwed the pooch with a badly-designed line of toys in many different scales based on the first GI Joe movie. The most luck they’ve had of late is translating GI Joe into a LEGO-style building toy with their Kree-O line.

That’s why we really didn’t get much in the way of fiftieth anniversary product. The RAH figures released only at Toys R Us were designed over three years ago and were supposed to have come out in 2013.

But today we’re not focused on that. Today we’re going back twenty years to 1994 to watch the only cartoon made for Sgt. Savage. Just think what could’ve been…

Unofrtunately the toy world is littered with brilliant efforts that were undermined by fate

Unofrtunately the toy world is littered with brilliant efforts that were undermined by fate

2 Comments

  1. Mark

    I love Joe Kubert! His art was about all I cared about on the Sgt. Savage line though. Go, JOE! 🙂

  2. Lee

    Wow! The one G.I. Joe line I absolutely LOVE to collect! Thanks for all the info Sir!

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