My G.I. Joe memories

In 2009 Paramount Pictures teamed up with Hasbro to make a live-action G.I. Joe film. It was loosely tied into the Michael Bay live-action Transformers film series. I personally enjoyed the film. I went into is expecting a science fiction action movie based on a cartoon, based on a toy, based on a generic Vietnam War soldier. Yeah, it was a complicated mess. I was never a big G.I. Joe collector. I was, however, very into the Transformers, Hasbro’s other popular action figure line.

This is just going to be me looking back on all of my memories of the G.I. Joe franchise.

As far as I can tell my earliest memories are sometime around 1987. I vaguely remember having a couple of random Joe action figures, to this day I couldn’t tell you any more about them, honestly even if I saw them in a catalog or on a collectors shelf I don’t think I could pick them out. What I do remember is the cartoon. Mostly because, at least where I lived, it aired immediately following the Transformers cartoon. I was such a huge Transformers nut that I didn’t want the show to end. I would keep watching G.I.Joe because it was close enough it almost had that Transformers feel to it. It had a good vs. evil plot, diabolical robots, a futuristic science fiction technology, and most importantly, many of the same voice actors. Even as a kid before IMDb or Wikipedia, I know that Starscream and Cobra Commander were voiced by the same guy. In a lot of ways the two shows were connected.

I continued watching G.I. Joe even after Transformers went off the air. My earliest memories, I think, were around 1987, I would have been 5 years old. I am not talking life memories, just these two shows. I do very distinctly remember watching Transformers episodes with a giant Optimus Prime robot and a little boy, I later learned this would have been the 1987-88 season, around the time the show was cancelled. I used to tune in to he same channel I thought Transformers had come on, never finding it but always looking. I kept watching the Joes in vain hoping that some day the Autobots would return to their war against the Decepticons. I remember watching the 3rd and 4th seasons of the cartoon with Cobra Commander becoming a real snake, then turning back into a man, and them introducing Serpentor, then the show got too weird for me, I didn’t recognize enough of the characters to stay interested, plus this was around the time I discovered the TMNT cartoon. This distracted me from the lack of Transformers, and was a satisfying alternative to G.I Joe: A Real American Hero, to the point I was able to finally stop tuning in. This was also around the time the Disney Afternoon cartoon block became popular so my interests had shifted. At this time I no longer had any connection to the Joes or Cobra. I would continue to pick up random action figures at flea markets, thrift stores and yard sales, always frantically looking for Transformers, or even Go-Bots figures, but I would pick up a Joe or a Cobra from time to time, if I came across them.

I wouldn’t come into full contact with G.I. Joe again until 1993. This was the time when Transformers Generation 2 launched on TV and just like before, Real American Hero was on immediately following. This time I watched the 5-part G.I. Joe: The Movie episodes, bought, or was gifted can’t really remember, one of those multiple puzzle murals featuring depictions of G.I Joe characters. It was one where if you had all 4 puzzles you could take off the edge piece and connect them into a large mural. I never complete the puzzle, let alone the set, but I did work on it day and night for a good couple of weeks or so. It was around this time I came across an original Sgt. Slaughter action figure for sale at a Good Will for like fifty cents or something, it was dirt cheap. I snatched it up, he was one of my favorite characters from the show, and wrestling too, which I was still sorta of into around this time.

Something else happened in 1993. I was introduced to the Mortal Kombat arcade game. I was immediately hooked and began playing that game obsessively for the next 2 decades. Yes I still re-play the original arcade games to this day. Mostly I switch back and forth between MAME and the collection on PS3, plus I also own Midways Arcade Treasures. Anyways, getting off topic. I also got into collecting comic books, trading cards and TMNT figures at this time. Plus I was just starting to get back into Transformers collecting full force with all of the G2 stuff coming out. In the summer of 1994 I started reading Wizard Magazine, and inside there were all of this kitbashed toys where someone would take one action figure and turn it into something else. I was super obsessed with Mortal Kombat. MKII was all the rage and Kung Lao was my favorite character. If you can’t guess where this is going let me assure you toy collectors, yes I kitbashed an original Sgt. Slaughter action figure to look like a Kung Lao action figure. Or at least, I tried. I ended up destroying the toy in the process. The ironic thing is, just months afterwards I was in K-Mart and there on the shelf was an actual MKII Kunk Lao toy, not surprisingly as they were made by Hasbro, they used the same style of figures as G.I.Joe toys, so needless to say I destroyed an 80’s classic trying to turn it into a $3 toy that was available for sale at K-Mart the whole damn time!

I skipped G.I. Joe Extreme or whatever it was called. I had grabbed a few Transformers comics along the way during my comic book collecting days, including some of those Transformers and G.I. Joe cross over comics. By 1997 I was pretty much done buying toys altogether. I lost interest in Transformers once Beast Wars came on the scene, TMNT had fallen into the toilet by this time, and I was never that into G.I. Joe to start off with so I was done with it for the next few years. It wouldn’t be until 2001 with the launch of the Robots in Disguise toy line before I would slowly start to get back into collecting Transformers. I was also discovering retro game collecting at this time, mostly NES, SNES, and SEGA, so my money was spread pretty thin. I 2003 my sister married a guy who told me about his G.I. Joe collecting day when he was a kid and I started to learn more about the toys from him, not much but more than I had ever known. This wasn’t enough to spark any interest in me or desire to collect but it was enough to read up on the newly popular internet about the history of the franchise and how it intersected with Transformers and Star Wars. Since I was already a huge fan of Star Wars also, this knowledge started to pique my curiosity so I began learning more about the history of the toy line.

I didn’t have any further connections or experience with the toys until sometime in 2004 or 2005. I remember buying one of my nephews one of the Joe figures for Christmas. He was kind of excited for it for a while, then, he wasn’t. I did end up picking up a copy of both Transformers: The Movie and G.I. Joe: The Movie, the original cartoons. This was around 2007 I think. This sparked some nostalgia within me and pretty soon I learned about the upcoming film. Since the Transformers movie just released that same year, and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, in fact I bought an HD-DVD player and a copy of the movie to watch it in HD on my new HDTV in 2008. This was right around the time they announced they were discontinuing the format so I was able to get the player and movie very cheap. Actually free, because a guy bought it for me as payment, or thank you, for fixing his computer.

Then in the summer of 2009 I dragged a few of my unwilling friends to go see this new movie and, I loved it. I shouldn’t have,  didn’t have very strong ties to the series, I didn’t have much nostalgia for it, but I thought it was a fun movie. By this time I had also picked up a Blu Ray player so I was able to get the film on Blu Ray when it released. A few years later I watched the mess of a sequel, which I still can’t stand and refuse to re-watch.

Since this time the most I have connected with the series is reading the entire Transformers cross over comics, buying a couple random action figures for nephews over the years, and watching some Angry Video Game Nerd videos where he reviewed the old games based on the cartoon.

My most current tie was about three weeks ago when I picked up a sealed 25th anniversary figure of Storm Shadow, sealed, at a yard sale, for $5. Based on preliminary research on ebay/Amazon/craigslist, this would appear to be a fairly good deal. I am not going to sell the toy, but also I am not going to start a collection either. I just thought it was an interesting piece to add to my collection.

And there you have it, my 30+ year history with the Hasbro/Marvel/Sunbow/Paramount franchise known as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

Michael Bay thoughts

I hear a lot of people on internet discussion forums blame George Lucas for ruining their childhoods because of the things he did to Star Wars over the years. People who had a specific view of what they in their minds thought Star Wars was supposed to be, and along the way they forgot that they were not the creators of the series but only the patrons of the company who was selling them a product.

I know for some people it is difficult to remember Star Wars is just a product, it is not a religion, or even a way of life, it is a media franchise that is designed to sell the brand to consumers who are willing to pay money for the products available. I never had that view, to me George Lucas could always do whatever he wanted with Star Wars, after all he created it who was I to tell him he was wrong?

The reasons I mention Star Wars up front is important because I will come back to that as I go through this. When I was a kid like most members of my generation, I grew up watching Star Wars. When I was a kid it was my all time favorite movie. What did I like most about it? Well let me be honest here that was a long time ago, it could have been any number of things. But what I do remember standing out in my mind quite prominently was it had robots in it and I really liked robots. I watched Space Camp because it had a robot in it for a brief moment. I liked Short Circuit because Johnny Five was a robot. And yes my favorite media franchise of all time, second only to of course Star Wars, is Transformers.

When I was a kid I loved the Transformers they were the best cartoon on TV, the best toys in toy stores, and they even had comic books that I found out about years latter. Growing up I will admit some of my best friends were either Autobots or Decepticons. Sure I would eventually discover other things like video games, comic books, D&D, and somewhere along the lines I started to get into girls too. But I never stopped admiring and appreciating what the Transformers were and represented to me. When I was about 18 I had gotten out of toys and been mostly devoted to trying to get my hip-hop career off the ground, hey it was the 90’s everyone was trying to get their rap careers started. Well one day I walked into a comic book shop that I often frequented looking for some X-Men comics and I decided to check out the other side of the store, the side I never went to and the dealer had a whole glass case filled with classic Transformers action figures. Out of nostalgia I grabbed a couple of the cheaper ones just to take home and re-connect with something from my childhood and from there it all came flooding back. One by one I built up a huge collection of these things, and I didn’t stop with the vintage ones either I even got into the new ones as they were just making a come back. Now this might be contentious but I don’t care, some people argue Beast Wars kept the franchise going, but I disagree mainly because for one Beast Wars wasn’t made by Hasbro is was Kenner, and two, when Hasbro brought Robots In Disguise out the headlines hailed it as a return of the Transformers, nerds could keep any fringe cult franchise going but if it isn’t mainstream then nobody cares and for me their come back was when they returned to the mainstream.

After a couple of years of dedicated collecting the toys became more popular than ever thanks to new cartoons, new comic books, and over all a revived interest in all things 80’s. But after a couple of years Hasbro took on this new practice of going overboard, pretty soon instead of launching one toyline, backing it up with a cartoon and comic and then moving on once it ran it’s course, they were running not two not three but FIVE toylines simultaneously. Each one had to be backed up by it’s own media, mostly comics as you can’t get kids to tune into too many cartoons at once their short attention spans don’t have room. But comics it is easier because they only come once a month and you flip through them much faster and more casually than a television program anyways. Then in 2007 Michael Bay came along and did to Transformers what George Lucas had done to Star Wars, he recreated it for a newer generation. Like Star Wars this caused a split in the fanbase and pretty soon Hasbro was having to launch even more toy lines, comic books, and promotions to try and keep everyone happy.

By about 2005 I had already given up on collecting as it became overwhelming, costly, and frankly I was getting more into video games so I sold my entire collection to this dealer and said good bye to my past. Sure every once in a while I might have an urge to want to go back and start collecting again, but as much material as there was in 2001 things are far out of hand now, I wouldn’t even know where to start anymore! So I realized something, I wasn’t going to do to Michael Bay what the Star Wars fans had done to Lucas, instead I was going to accept that I had *my* Transformers when I was a kid, and today’s youth have *their* Transformers. Thanks to good old Netflix I can go back and watch and old episode of the cartoon, laugh at how bad it is, and move on. But the desire will always be in me to return to collecting at least the vintage toys that I grew up with. As of right now I don’t have neither the time nor the money to even begin investing in a new hobby, or returning to an old one. But as least I can look back on it as a fond time and instead of hating Michael Bay for “ruining” my childhood I will just be thankful that Star Wars was popular enough to force Hasbro to launch a robot themed action figure line in the first place. Stay Cool.