Thursday, July 4, 2019

What is G.I. Joe?

What is the essence of G.I. Joe?  Due to the military theme and the drab greens of the 1982 series, there is this misconception that G.I. Joe is realistic military.  However, if you really look at the 1982 figures and vehicles you find a laser cannon, a jet pack, a soldier carrying a high powered laser rifle on his back, a silent commando dressed in all black and a female combat soldier.  All of which is to say that G.I. Joe never really was a "realistic" military line and was firmly in the realm of military fantasy.  (Really, G.I. Joe is just a superhero vs. super villain trope from comic books that happens to be set on a military base.)

You see lots of people making posts that G.I. Joe would make tons of money if it returned to retail.  Except, Hasbro is too "scared" to bring it back.  The implication is that G.I. Joe would draw the ire of a small group of vocal people and that alone is reason enough for Hasbro to abandon the property.  I have several issues with this idea.

The first is that G.I. Joe had "protests" back in the '80's.  They've always been around and have never really been credible.

Second, Hasbro has tried to revive G.I. Joe 4 times since the original line was cancelled.  (And, that's not counting the collector-geared 1997 and 1998 releases.)
  • 2000 brought Joe to retail where it had great initial success.  But, bad case assortments doomed it in 2001.
  • But, this lead to the real renaissance of the G.I. Joe brand that started in 2002.  2002 Joes were everywhere.  By the end of 2003, Hasbro couldn't keep Joe on retail shelves.  But, things petered out in 2004 and the line was cancelled by 2005.  
  • The 25th Anniversary figures started in 2007.  These succeeded in finding a smattering of adult toy buyers who had ignored the previous Joe releases.  But, the figures sold in substantially smaller numbers than the 2002-2004 line and, again, lost retail steam.
  • Finally, Hasbro tried the movies.  The two Joe movies were forgettable devices with banal designs.  The toys flopped and never found a retail audience that could sustain them beyond the pre-release hype.
Third, collectors often have a warped view of what makes something successful.  We think that because we bought toys in the '80's due to a cartoon, or whatever, that kids today should too.  It's an idea that's born of the fact that if younger people don't like something or behave a different way, that's an indictment of how we lived in the '80's.  It's not.  People constantly evolve and the world we live in now is vastly different from the 1980's.  Economics, demographics, technology, population density, retail environment and general approaches to parenting have drastically changed in 30 years.  Pretending that a toy line can achieve similar success to what it saw 30 years ago is simply misguided.  And, to think that doing things the same way there were done in the past would work simply because it's not being done now also showcases naivete.  

Finally, it simply makes no sense that a publicly traded corporation would deliberately not release a property they thought that would be profitable because of: "SJW's", "millenials", "political-correctness", "protests" or any other reason that fits into some persecuted world view.  If Hasbro thought for one second they could make money on Joe, Joe toys would be sold at retail right now.

Hasbro's internal product staff are compensated by selling toys.  A hit could be a career maker and even a surprise profit could get a person substantial bonuses.  Again, if these people (who have access to excellent market data and other resources) aren't willing to put their neck out for Joe, that tells you the market simply won't support the line.

I have young kids.  They are about the age when I first found action figures and started a life long love of playing with and collecting them.  My kids don't care.  They think old G.I. Joe or Star Wars toys are neat.  But, that's not what they want to do.  My kids and, by observation, their friends would rather play games or sports than with toys.  My boys play with some old Star Wars stuff that I have around. But, that lasts for a few minutes before they turn to any of the myriad of other options they have available to them.

It's funny when you look at the toys of the 1950's.  Kids who grew up in the '80's had no interest in those.  And, the way toys were marketed to kids in the 1980's was drastically different than the '50's.  Yet, here in the 2010's, we feel that everything should be exactly as it was in the '80's.  And, maybe those born in the 50's felt the same way in the '80's.  They just didn't have Facebook to gripe about it.

Joe has had an incredible retail run.  The fact that there's a vibrant community nearly 40 years after the line's original release is a testament to that.  But, the era of the action figure is coming to an end.  You can find plenty of charts and graphs online that show how interest in the format is sliding and how kids today aren't connecting with the medium in the same way that we did.  Again, though, that's not bad.  It's just different.  As collectors, we have decades worth of stuff to track down.  Sure, it could be nice to see one final retail run full of all the stuff that we've wanted since we were kids.  But, it would take a miracle for that to occur.  We can be grateful for what we've seen.  But, we also need to be realistic about why Joe (and toys in general) are handled the way they are today.


  1. quite honestly gi joe should be dead at retail and stay that way. it’s future as a hobby should be in the hands of hobbyists, collectors and the community of photographers that keep whatever remains of the fandom humming. when this line is off the shelves fan created content is at its best. what we are going through now is similar to the pre-9/11 days of the hobby where the health of gi joe was more dictated by people who cared about it, not by a cabal of dorks sucking up to hasbro hoping to get a cut-in on the deal or a select few tastemakers who used their exercises in retail therapy to influence the direction of a toyline. it’s been over a decade since i sold my collection but my intrest in the hobby is at an all time high, i don’t see myself returning to collecting ever again but i really enjoy seeing what fan-created stuff is out there. i don’t do social media but i have several photographers instagrams bookmarked and look at them frequently. the quality hobbyist craftsmanship out there puts a smile on my face. shit mike, i’ve been reading your page for TWENTY years. a lot of johnny come jagoffs have come and gone since then, i’d really not return to the surge of fair weather fuckheads we saw in 2003 and again in 2007. this hobby belongs to a small community of guys who are at their oldest pushing 50 now at their youngest maybe late 20’s early 30’s. the legacy of gi joe is something that was formed out of a very specific time and place in 20th century america and as we know and love it can really never be replicated and shouldn’t. this toylines mass appeal died with reagan.

    the movies and the related toys were more of a bad cocaine and whiskey hangover of the mid-aughts toy collector culture and a horrible attempt to re-establish gi joe as a modern brand. what they ended up with was as a former smash the state allum referred to as a “shit brand” two movies that were complete box office failures and an embarrassment for hasbro. no wonder you wouldn’t want to touch the name any time soon! let a real american hero as we know it fade into history.

  2. My only counter argument is that Toys R Us was able to support their TRUE HEROES and the Lanard's Corps has been ongoing for decades. I think GI JOE can exist as a more generic line and still be appreciated. But those aren't the sales Hasbro wants. They think bigger.

    So a generation's army toys aren't GI JOE and never will be. If they had army toys at all.

    Likewise, Star Wars action figures are faltering, Hasbro's plans to shift collectors to 6 inch scale has had mixed results, as 6 inchers are more and more headed to closeout outlets, too. An entire generation's idea of Star Wars toys will more likely be LEGO, and not Hasbro.

    Maybe kids are better off. Collecting gets too consuming of money, time and space.

  3. Great read Mike! I think for better or for worse Hasbro will try to resurrect GI Joe again, likely for the upcoming Snake Eyes movie, and that's where the brand will die for good. To be honest I wouldn't mind that, as I agree with a lot of what Paint Wipes said, that the community is better now without so many of the hipsters that pile on when GI Joe is trendy.

    With that said, I think Hasbro has a lot of incentive to try reviving GI Joe in some way right now. The line did preform well through certain years of the 2000's, so it's not like millennials didn't take to GI Joe. Mismanagement and sloppy executive decisions were usually what ended GI Joe on it's high notes through the 2000's.

    With Star Wars faltering so hard, there's a lot of speculation Hasbro won't renew the license with Disney this year. Similarly, they purchased the Power Rangers IP and are even flaunting the idea of a ZOIDs revival, which leads me to believe they're trying to focus of rebuilding their in-house brands and move away from licensing deals like they do with Disney. That would definitely leave GI Joe in a favorable position, if I'm right.

    But, indeed the 80's are long gone and the way action figures are sold will likely never go back to that. I think that when they do try again it won't be a success and the toys they make will be expensive and not have much appeal to kids or collectors.

  4. Agreed all the way, Mike. G.I. Joe was a generational phenomenon within the field of action figure collecting, which was also unique to our generation. As we age and die out, so will the collector community we created during the preceding decades. It's the circle of life. I have very little interest in smartphones, tablets, social media culture, and most things which drive today's youth. Someday, all these fads surrounding modern technology might become obsolete as well. I'm just thankful that I was there at the right age and time to enjoy something which gave myself and my contemporaries years of cherished memories to treasure well into my twilight years.

  5. I don't buy it. Kids still play with physical toys. I see little boys run around with superhero action figures. My daughter and her friends love her 90s GI Joes and playing with the old Kenner BatCave. I just don't think Hasbro today is willing to take chances like the little company in the 1980s used to do. The world is so much more different than it was 20 or 30 years ago but kids are still kids. It least in my experience

  6. I blame the general dumbing down of the American public.It takes an imagination to play with toys.In a world of You Tube ® and video games, static toys don't have a chance.You actually see this start to materialize in the original ARAH line, with the gimmicks like clay and spring loaded missile launchers. This was a sign that the Joe VS Cobra play pattern was no longer enough to sustain the line. According to Kirk Bozigian, Joe sales peaked in 1986, so in hindsight, the decline actually started quite some time ago.

  7. Very good read. I like to think that GI Joe is our brand now, not Hasbros.
    What i mean by this is the purpose to why the fans are still interested. We enjoy photographing posed figures, customizing our own creations, restoring what we had, purchasing the factory customs, etc. There is so more to GI Joe than simply collecting and we are better off.

  8. Great read with many good points. I'd say that the modern era figures biggest downfall is that they lack playability. All these removable accessories and the articulation were geared towards the adult collector that was chasing after nostalgia. I say that if Hasbro would re release a line of vintage figures they would be surprisingly popular.