For the edification of my readers, and as a favor for Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing, today I plan a "quick" rundown of the History of G.I.Joe. First off we will be skipping the following incarnations of our beloved heroes: 12 inch, Sgt. Savage, G.I.Joe Extreme, & Sigma Six. G.I.Joe is a three and three quarters inch military action figure series. Oft times denoted as 3 3/4 inch of 3.75 inch, although the figures are said to have moved to the 4 inch level sometime in the past couple of years either at the release of G.I.Joe movie action figures or the subsequent Pursuit of Cobra line, I'm not sure when.
Anyways let's head back in time, with Kenner Products runaway success with 3.75 inch Star Wars figures and vehicles that hit the market in 1978 (within a year of the 1977 release of Star Wars: A New Hope), Hasbro was playing catch up when it decided to modernize and reinvigorate there G.I.Joe property. It was realized that the small scale of the Star Wars figures (which was also shared by Micronauts) that the sale of vehicles was a realistic option that was not really that feasible with the old 12 inch G.I.Joe figures. Simply put, it was a matter of space, 3.75 inch scale figure vehicles were more reasonably sized than 12 inch scale vehicles, and children could easily own multiple vehicles.
So Hasbro in the early 1980's launched the G.I.Joe line that is now referred to as RAH, for Real American Hero. At first the line started with about 10 figures, which were made of even less figure molds as they shared body parts in a clever way as to not make an eager child think they were just getting the exact same figure simply repeated. It's interesting to note, as a further cost-cutting measure to sharing molds, one of the Joe's had a masked face and was cast in all black plastic with no paint applications. It was thought that by having at least one figure that didn't have paint applications, it would reduce the cost of the overall line by averaging the savings over the line. This particular character accidentally became the arguably the most popular Joe character ever, codename: Snake-eyes.
Two other ideas were put forward before the line launched that helped cement it into modern history. Although the figures were military themed, originally they weren't going to have gun accessories due to the feelings on some executive's part that it was too soon since the Vietnam war for guns to be a plaything. Luckily some sensible member of the development team insisted on the figures having guns. This is probably one of the most important decisions that made G.I.Joe the classic that it is today.
Secondly, an enemy was not initially slotted for the line. The line was supposed to consist solely of "good guys". Clearly this lacked the "play-value" that also helped make G.I.Joe great. So a character called "The Enemy" of the evil terrorist faction known as Cobra was made in a deep blue colored uniform. A color I still refer to this day as "Cobra Blue".
Now our heroes had guns and an enemy to fight, they needed one more crucial element to lead to it's victory over Star Wars figures. This element unlike the other two elements was present in the initial plan. The element is wicked awesome articulation of movement. Where Star Wars figures swiveled only at the neck, shoulders and hips, G.I.Joe would have a revolutionary amount of articulation. First off they had hinged elbows and knees. The shoulders would be a swivel joint at the connection of the arm to the body that allowed the arm to rotate 360 degrees, the second was a swivel at 90 degrees to the body which would allow for a full range of motion when combined with the first joint. The hips connected at a ball joint that allowed for a similar range of movement. The lynchpin of the the successful articulation was the connection of the torso to the waist and hip piece. This was what is now know as the o-ring design, the upper torso had a convex bottom that fit into the concave upper portion of the waist, connected on the interior by a rubber o-ring connected inside the torso and waist, which allowed for a full-range of upper body movement.
The last weapon G.I.Joe had in its belt was a set of two animated mini-series that were released in the first two years until US laws were relaxed to the point to basically allow a regular syndicated animated series be a half hour commercial for a toy. Now G.I.Joe was set to launch with an arsenal of improvements over what would now be antiquated Star Wars figures. Although initially seen as a risky concept, G.I.Joe conquered the toy landscape and was present in this form for the better part of the 1980's into the early 1990's. Eventually interest in G.I.Joe waned as nearly every conceivable specialist, enemy, and theme was exhausted. It did take a decade to wear out G.I. Joe's popularity in the toy aisles.
This however was not the end of our heroes, with two luke warm attempts to relaunch the property in a different size scale in the mid to late 1990's, around the year 2000 our heroes would return. The relaunch at the turn of the millennium was two-fold, first some of the old molds were frankensteined together, repainted, and occasionally renamed; then they were released in commemorative two-packs. Also a new 3.75 Joe design was introduced. Although the same scale as the classic Joes, the articulation was scaled back and the overall aesthetic was more "cartoony". The line was helped by awesome new vehicles, but the design hurt the overall success of the line.
Soon after it's launch, the line started to have more frankensteined classic o-ring figures introduced into it, and the articulation was improved on the new design to the point of nearly mimicking the level of articulation as the classic Joes. The line evolved from the banner "G.I.Joe versus Cobra" to "Spytroops" (where the articulation had reached an acceptable level) to "Valor Vs Venom" were something unexpected happened. Although the toy line was selling moderately well, Hasbro yanked the plug and announced that 3.75 scale Joes were going on "indefinite hiatus" in the looming wake of a new much larger scale referred to as Sigma Six.
The "hiatus" was an unexpected snafu to the progress the 3.75 inch line had reached since it's redesign in 2000. It was curious why Hasbro would stop the steam the 3.75 line was gathering early last decade, the vehicles had been the bright spot of the modern line. Luckily the wait for the hiatus to lift wasn't too horribly long, I think it lasted three to four years.
Then a new line was announced for the 25th Anniversary of RAH in 2007. The articulation and realistic proportions of the figures was a definite step up from probably every previous incarnation of 3.75 inch figures. Actually, the 25th anniversary line was just going to be a batch of like 10 figures, but the internet/fanbase response to the early press photos was resoundingly positive. In classic fashion Hasbro scrambled to find a way to reuse parts from the first batch of figures to speed up the production of the, now to be, continuing 25th anniversary line. Hasbro managed to successfully bridge the gap between the release of the initial wave of anniversary figures and the continuing series it became.
This line would run up until the release of the 2009 Rise of Cobra (ROC) movie figures. Although the movie may have had a so-so reception amongst fans, the toys were of a good quality. Unfortunately due to overestimating the desire for the movie figures drastically, the line clogged shelves. Mostly due to the over-production and not the lack of quality, as later waves of figures were produced in smaller numbers and sold more briskly. (Hasbro had aimed high with G.I.Joe movie toys because they had been caught with their pants down when the underestimated the demand of the Live Action Transformers toys, and had under-produced the initial waves of those toys out of the gate).
When the demand for ROC movie toys seemingly totally vaporized, the 3.75 inch package design and direction was switched from being a continuing subset of the ROC line into it's own full fledged line known as the Pursuit of Cobra (POC). Hasbro carefully released low numbers of this line and the toys sales leveled out and new figures came out regularly without a glut to clog the shelves. It's likely that the steady close-outs and clearance of the overstock from the end of both the Movie line and remnants of the end of the 25th anniversary line, helped keep G.I.Joe afloat and relevant, and the core fanbase numbers might have been figured out by Hasbro during the Pursuit of Cobra Era. Although now that I think of it some of the core fanbase budget for POC figures was split between the POC figures at full retail and the ROC and 25th closeouts. So the accurate core fanbase desire for new figures may still be underestimated.
Nevertheless in 2012 a handful of 30th anniversary figures were released as well as figures for the newest cartoon Renegades (The second season of the Renegades cartoon has been pushed back until after the second G.I.Joe live action movie Retaliation gets released.) Even more unfortunate is that Retaliation was pushed back from a summer 2012 release to spring 2013. This in turned off fans of Renegades as they have to wait for more episodes and toys, as well as the core fanbase which has nothing new to buy. A small batch of Retaliation toys were released in early 2012, but shipments were suspended as the film was delayed. Now with the March release of Retaliation looming, the toys are starting to trickle back out (although I haven't seen them). Early reports indicate that the second wave of toys are turning up, which points to underproduction of the first wave. Now it's up to the new Movie to reinvigorate the fanbase and draw new and old collectors back to the aisles of toy stores.