We start off the PopCult Toybox this week with a minor editorial note. Going forward, the PopCult Toybox will appear each Wednesday, with occasional bonus material appearing on Saturday. This will leave Tuesday open for us to post our playlist for Radio Free Charleston on New Appalachian Radio.
A year ago, I wrote about the controversy over Hasbro’s underwhelming observation of the fiftieth anniversary of GI Joe. There was no new 12″ product and only a limited number of 3 3/4″ inch product and KRE-O building sets released only at Toys R Us and some online retailers. The official GI Joe Collector’s Club released a 12″ membership figure, as well as an anniversary set for their convention, but there was no traditional 12″ GI Joe product sold at retail during his fiftieth anniversary year.
There were valid reasons for this. It’s a real shame that the anniversary was not widely celebrated, but the business reasons made sense. Product released around the last GI Joe movie did not sell well at retail because it was already in stores when Paramount decided to yank the movie from theaters two weeks before it was to open and retool it into a 3-D film.
This was a very smart move on Paramount’s part, because the movie made a lot more money than it was originally projected to, but it was a bit of a disaster for Hasbro and the GI Joe line. With no movie to promote them, the toys sold very poorly and retailers soured on the line. In fact, the 3 3/4″ product that was sold as a fiftieth anniversary line through Toys R Us was stuff that had been intended to be released a couple of years earlier and had been placed on the back burner due to the scheduling issues with the movie. It was a shame to miss the anniversary, but Hasbro needed to have retailers on board, and many of them still remember how the 40th Anniversary GI Joe sets wound up being clearanced for a quarter of their original retail price ten years earlier, which was pretty much the end of 12″ GI Joe at mass-market retailers.
So what does that mean for GI Joe in 2015? Well the good news is, Hasbro intends to bring GI Joe back to retail. For almost the last two years, there hasn’t even been a GI Joe “brand team” at Hasbro. Now there is. Hasbro has moved Mark Weber over from the very successful Transformers brand to head up a new GI Joe design team. I’m guessing–and this is purely guesswork on my part–that the intention is to gently edge GI Joe back into the retail environment this year so that they can convince retailers to carry a full-blown GI Joe toy line in conjunction with the planned next installment of the GI Joe movie series in 2016. Weber has a great track record and moving him to the Joe Team shows that Hasbro is serious about rehabilitating their veteran toy.
As for what form this takes, it’s still a bit of a mystery. Hasbro has already confirmed that they will not show any GI Joe product at the New York International Toy Fair next month. They hope to have some items ready to show in April at the official GI Joe Collectors Convention. That would be remarkably soon, considering that the new GI Joe design team was just assembled late last year. That they will have a presence at the Convention is a vast improvement over last year, when they didn’t have anyone to send to represent the company.
There have been persistent rumors that Hasbro will release figures in the highly-detailed six inch size that they’ve used very successfully with the Star Wars Black series. There is no confirmation of this yet, but it seems like a no-brainer at this point. However, while that will sell very well to collectors, Hasbro also has the challenge of coming up with a line of toys that will appeal to kids. There’s a good chance that we will see more product in the 3 3/4″ scale simply because there’s so much tooling already available, it’s still a popular size with kids and collectors, and hardcore Real American Hero GI Joe collectors are still in the “sweet spot” age-wise where they will support the line at retail.
12″ collectors may be out of luck. Hasbro has released a ton of barely-articulated 12″ figures based on Marvel and Star Wars and for some inexplicable reason, they seem to be selling despite being almost universally reviled. It’s doubtful that Hasbro would keep making them if nobody were buying them. I can guarantee that if Hasbro tried to release figures of this sort with the original GI Joe head, there would be a great gnashing of false teeth and rattling of walkers. Keep in mind that I’m poking fun at myself here as a diehard 12″ GI Joe collector. The sad fact is, many of the original GI Joe collectors have aged past the point where we are actively and enthusiastically buying mass-market product.
There’s still plenty of us around for the specialty market, such as with the Official GI Joe Collectors Club and the amazing Cotswold Collectibles, who have really gone above and beyond to keep the 1/6 scale action figure hobby alive. I think it’s going to be at least five years before the kids who grew up during the great 12″ action figure revival of the late 1990s are the right age for nostalgia to kick in and revive mass-market retail interest in the scale.
So my predictions, which are nothing more than educated guesses at this point, are: there probably won’t be any 12″ GI Joe product at mass market retail unless it’s a one-off store exclusive; there will be some exciting GI Joe product late in the year for collectors of the 3 3/4″ GI Joe line, but it will be shipped in limited quantities so that it sells out rather than goes unsold; Hasbro will at least show prototypes of six inch GI Joe product by the end of the year; Weber and the GI Joe team are probably seriously considering taking the GI Joe brand into a new concept, possibly like Star Wars Command or the two-inch scale that Hasbro used for “Guardians of The Galaxy.”
Regardless of what happens, at least we can rest assured that there will be far more GI Joe activity in 2015 than there was in 2014. By the way, The Official GI Joe Collectors Club is still serving 12″ collectors. This year’s membership figure is a wild-looking Glow-in-the-dark guy with flocked hair, which you can get if you are a member in good standing by the middle of March. The images of Doctor Isotope are swiped from The Joe Report, which is the news arm of Patches of Pride. Check back with PopCult Saturday for news of a really cool new Joe-sized project you can get from them.