The PopCult Toybox
I first told you about the revival of Super Joe last summer, with preview images of the prototypes that were shown at The Kentuckiana GI Joe Toy Expo. Now the figures are available and they are pretty spectacular.
First a little history is in order. In 1976, following a healthy 12-year run, Hasbro decided to pull the plug on the 12″ tall GI Joe. Originally a military toy, Hasbro shifted gears and found even more success by adding fuzzy hair and Kung-Fu grip to the first action figure, but by 1976, competition from Kenner’s Six Million Dollar Man and MEGO’s World’s Greatest Superheroes line, combined with rising production costs convinced Hasbro to try something drastic.
Hasbro ditched the “GI” and co-opted half of MEGO’s “Superheroes” and most importantly, reduced the size of the figure. Super Joe was a vague science fiction concept that did its best to look sort of like it was a licensed property. The main figure looked a bit like the Adventure Team GI Joe, minus the fuzzy hair, but he wore a Flash Gordonesque body suit and had cool science fiction weapons. He also had a collection of aliens to fight. He was taller than the MEGO figures, but noticably shorter than his predecessor. Super Joe was a great-looking line that could have had a longer life, had circumstances not dictated otherwise.
Super Joe made his debut in 1977, just around the time when the country fell in love with Star Wars. Kids wanted Star Wars toys…and nothing else. Competing toy lines didn’t really have much of a chance.
Super Joe was also at a disadvantage because of his size. He was too big to be compatible with MEGO figures. He was noticeably shorter than Mattel’s Big Jim (which was being discontinued in the US around this time anyway) and he was dwarfed by Kenner’s Steve Austin.
One other thing about Super Joe that didn’t help matters any is that Super Joe was one of the most fragile action figures ever made. His body was basically a scaled-down version of Hasbro’s “Muscle
Body,” which was introduced at the end of the GI Joe Adventure Team line. That body replaced the sturdy nylon joints of the original Joe with super-fragile rubber joints that were prone to decay. Since Super Joe was smaller, so too were his joints, which made them exceedingly fragile.
The figures that didn’t break with standard play, eventually fell apart from the joints rotting…often in less than five years.
Almost everybody who has a Super Joe in their collection today has had to restore him by replacing the joints, or just gluing him together in a static pose. Figures found in unopened boxes are usually just held together by their jumpsuits.
Hasbro tried to reuse those bodies for a toy line based on the show, Space Academy, but those were so poorly promoted that I didn’t even know they existed until about six years ago. After two years, Hasbro threw in the towel and cancelled the line. The next revival of GI Joe would be the Real American Hero concept, which was wildly successful, and saw our action hero shrunk to even smaller dimensions.
A last note is that nearly everything I know about Super Joe I learned from Super fan, Steve Stovall. Steve puts on the Kentuckiana GI Joe Toy Expo in Louisville, and invited me to his house a few years ago, where I saw the largest collection of Super Joe stuff I’ve ever seen. Steve is very important to the latest chapter in Super Joe’s story.
Steve discovered that Hasbro trademark on “Super Joe” had expired, and he teamed up with White Elephant Toyz to secure the trademark and develop a new body design that would be compatible with the original Super Joe, but would fix the design flaws that made them so fragile. With that, Super Joe Unlimited was born, and the first figures are being shipped now.
White Elephant Toyz has alread sold out of their Caucasian figures, but still have kits to build their African-American figures, plus loads of accessories at their website. Steve’s eBay business, My Vintage Toys and Trains, has a limited number of assembled figures for sale at eBay. Steve will also have figures for sale at the Kentuckiana Winterfest Show on January 28. I’ll be telling you much more about this next week, and I’ll have plenty of photos and maybe video from the event after the fact.
With all that backstory out of the way, here’s a quick photo essay showing off Super Joe Unlimited. I snagged one from Steve so I could preview this before Winterfest. There may be additional photos of a figure I have coming in from White Elephant Toyz in tomorrow’s PopCulteer.