G.I. Joe was created by Manhattan licensing agent Stan Weston. He figured that military-based toys were a potential lucrative untapped market and convinced Hasbro creative director Donald Levine of that. Hasbro bought the idea from Weston for $100,000 and released them in 1964. The original action figures—a term coined as a marketing gimmick to make them more appealing to young boys—were 12-inch mannequin-like dolls with multiple points of articulation. Each one represented one of the four branches of the American military and came with a plethora of accessories to preemptively stave off the inevitable imitators.
The toys were a success; selling well up until anti-war sentiment regarding the Vietnam War began to rise. In 1969, Hasbro decided to downplay the toys’ military roots and changed the uniforms and accessories to be more in line with action-oriented professions such as astronaut or deep-sea diver. The line was renamed “The Adventures of G.I. Joe” and continued in that style until it was ended and replaced by a new line called “Adventure Team” in 1976. The Adventure Team line began to sow the seeds of what the G.I. Joe line would eventually become by having their hero figures working together to battle a common foe.
|One of the original figures in the ARH line.|
After Kenner found success with their line of 3.75” Star Wars toys, Hasbro began to consider reviving the G.I. Joe line in that format. A chance encounter between Hasbro CEO Stephen Hassenfeld and Marvel Comics President Jim Galton led to the revamped toy line most familiar to collectors today. Hassenfeld wanted the toys to have a backstory to increase their appeal, and Galton offered Marvel’s services as creative consultants. That consultation eventually turned into a comic series to help promote the toys helmed by Marvel editor and writer Larry Hama, who was himself a veteran.
It was decided that G.I. Joe should be the team’s name, and that they should be given enemies to fight; a concept Hasbro hadn’t considered. Marvel writer Archie Goodwin developed Cobra and their leader, Cobra Commander, as the Joes’ recurring foes. Marvel also convinced Hasbro to make female characters, which Hasbro decided to offer with vehicles worrying that they wouldn’t sell well on their own. Hama developed the biographies, skills and personalities for the characters, which he kept straight on “file cards” that were eventually offered on the toy packages in an abbreviated form.
|The first issue of the Marvel run.|
The all-new G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, both the toys and the comic, made its debut in 1982. Initially, the toys utilized a limited number of unique parts but gradually began to introduce more and more variations as the line went on. After the first wave, the American Hero toys began to feature greater articulation. The vehicles and playsets also gradually increased in size and quality, eventually resulting in the 7 ½-foot long USS Flagg playset. Both the toys and the comics proved to be a success; the comic astoundingly so as toy-based comics were typically dismissed and had a relatively short shelf-life. A Real American Hero would run for 155 issues over 12 years, spawning several spin-offs and mini-series (IDW Publishing would revive the comic in 2010 with its original numbering and Hama once again writing).
Hasbro executive Bob Pruprish was able to use the comic to circumvent regulations about toy commercials featuring more than 10 seconds of animation by promoting the book instead. It was the first time a comic book had been advertised on television, with Marvel Productions handling the animation duties. Marvel would also go on to produce the two mini-series and animated series with Sunbow Productions beginning in 1983, which was followed by a movie in 1987 and a second series in 1989 produced by DiC Entertainment. A follow-up line, Sgt. Savage and his Screaming Eagles was released in 1994. The figures were enlarged to 4.5” and featured packaging artwork and mini-comics by Joe Kubert. A pilot episode for a cartoon was made by Sunbow and Graz Entertainment, but the series never materialized and it was included on a VHS tape with the Commando Sgt. Savage figure.
Hasbro eventually acquired Kenner and transferred production of the toys over to them. Kenner cancelled American Hero in 1994, which also led to the end of the comic, and released a new line called G.I. Joe Extreme in 1995. The toys became 5” which allowed for greater detail than the 3.75” American Hero line, but sacrificed articulation in favor of special gimmick moves. Extreme had all-new characters and new foes in the form of SKAR (Soldiers of Khaos, Anarchy and Ruin) and was set in a near-future world. It, too, received its own syndicated animated series by Sunbow with Gunther-Wahl Productions and Graz Entertainment, as well as a comic published by Dark Horse Comics. However, the Extreme line sold poorly and was cancelled after its first wave. The comic followed soon after, and then the animated series. In the following years, waves of classic and new American Hero figures would be released under various line names.
|Sigma 6: Duke, Scarlett, Tunnel Rat, Long Range, Snake Eyes and Heavy Duty.|
In 2005, Hasbro introduced a reboot of the American Hero line called G.I. Joe: Sigma 6. It was meant to provide Hasbro a means of streamlining the story and characters, present younger versions of their classic characters, and to increase the size of the figures to 8 inches with additional 2.5” figures that came with small playsets. To bring them into the 21st Century, the Joes were given new Sigma suits to protect them from laser blasts and enhance their abilities, which explained the reason behind their new designation.
To promote the toys, Hasbro partnered with 4Kids Productions to produce a new animated series developed by Miguel Gaban. Sigma 6 served as a follow-up to the two CGI direct-to-video movies Hasbro commissioned to promote the revival of the American Hero line: 2003’s Spy Troops, which was written by Hama, and 2004’s Valor vs. Venom, both produced by Reel FX Creative Studios. The series picked up from the plot point of Cobra Commander (Marc Thompson) having been captured and subsequently freed, leading to a direct attack on the Joes’ base.
|Bedridden General Hawk.|
The featured Joes included General Hawk (Tony Salerno), the team’s leader and advisor still recovering from the events of Valor vs. Venom; field commander Duke (David Wills & Greg Abbey); second-in-command and counter intelligence specialist Scarlett (Amy Birnbaum & Veronica Taylor); silent ninja commando Snake Eyes (Jason Griffith in flashbacks); infiltration and demolitions specialist Tunnel Rat (Michael Sinterniklaas & Sebastian Arcelus); transportation specialist and sniper Long Range (Scottie Ray); artillery master Heavy Duty (F.B. Owens); electronics and communications expert and hacker Hi-Tech (Eric Stuart, who also served as voice director); and expert tracker and shaman Spirit Iron-Knife (Darren Dunstan). Junior members of the team included Jinx (Lisa Ortiz & Liza Jacqueline) and Kamkura (Sinterniklaas & Thompson), who were training under Snake Eyes. Hawk’s son, Scott Abernathy (Chris Adams & Pete Capella), was an honorary member of the team along with his robot dog, Spud (Salerno). Duke and Scarlett appeared noticeably younger than in the past, Heavy Duty lost a bit of his refinement and was more focused on his muscles, and part of Snake Eyes’ true face ends up revealed when his visor wound up damaged in a fight. Tunnel-Rat received the heaviest changes in both his design and personality; given a penchant for being lazy and for high-tech devices, and willing to eat anything—including live insects.
Along with Cobra Commander, Cobra utilized the talents of Destro (Thompson), their metal-masked weapons maker and inventor; Baroness (Bella Hudson & Kayzie Rogers), their intelligence officer; Storm Shadow (Tom Wayland & Ted Lewis), a ninja captured and brainwashed by Cobra into working for them; and Overkill (Madeleine Blaustein), a robotic scientist who spent the series in a healing tank and robotic body after Venom vs. Valor. Working with Cobra was the biker gang known as the Dreadnoks, led by the shape-shifting Zartan (Thompson) with chainsaw-wielding Buzzer (Wayne Grayson), firebug Torch (David Brimmer & Ted Lewis), and original character Machete (Brimmer & Stuart) who was loosely based on the character Ripper. Cobra’s army was largely comprised of Cobra Troopers (various voices) and B.A.T. units. B.A.T.s were Battle Android Troopers that could perform a variety of functions. Like the Joes, changes were made to Cobra; particularly with Cobra Commander being made more serious and threatening than previous incarnations even though he still loved his grand schemes. Baroness and Destro were also given cybernetic enhancements and both were more loyal to Cobra than they had been previously portrayed. Overkill was upgraded from a lowly lab assistant, Zartan’s disguises were the result of technology in his suit rather than skill and genetic enhancements, and Storm Shadow was more comfortable working with B.A.T.s where he always preferred well-trained humans.
G.I. Joe: Sigma 6 began on August 27, 2005 airing on FOX as part of the 4Kids TV programming block. The animation for the show was done in anime style by Japanese studio Gonzo with computer-generated images utilized throughout; giving it a largely different look than the other G.I. Joe shows. Interestingly, though the show was animated in Japan, it has never been broadcast there. The conflict between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow often took the central focus of most of the episodes, along with the typical Joes vs. Cobra storylines.
|Model sheet for Snake Eyes' pet wolf.|
The series featured a wide array of regular 4Kids actors who had appeared in other licensed or translated shows, but after the first eight episodes most of the roles were recast for the remainder of the run. The show was written by Matt Charles, Crispin Freeman, Rebecca Honig, Mika Ishibashi, Danny Jamieson, Branden Weslee Kong, Joshua Popenoe, John Touhey, Rob Travalino, Masaki Wachi, Oliver Wyman and Wayland. Stars Dunstan and Rogers also doubled as directors for several episodes, as did Thompson who also wrote one. The series’ music was composed by Elik Alvarez and Freddy Sheinfeld, with Jake Siegler and Russell Velazquez doing the theme.
The show ran for two seasons. In the second season Hawk was written out after the first episode and replaced by his associate Lt. Stone (Dan Green), who brought with him a new sea base, the Sea Titan, and his personal attack copter, the Dragonhawk. With him came sabotage and demolitions expert Firefly (Sean Schemmel), who ended up betraying the Joes and joining Cobra.
Despite producing three waves of figures between 2005 and 2007, the Sigma 6 line proved to be polarizing to long-time Joe fans and was ultimately unsuccessful. The line was cancelled, and with it, production on the show. In fact, the show didn’t even finish airing its episodes in the United States before it ended. The remaining episodes wouldn’t be seen in North America until they were aired on YTV in Canada well into 2007. Later airings of Sigma 6 episodes saw the removal of the G.I. Joe name by 4Kids to distinguish that the Joes featured in the show weren’t the same as Joes in other media. The concept of Joes wearing enhanced suits was later revisited for the 2009 G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra live-action film.
|Issue 4 of the comic: Scarlett vs. Baroness.|
A 6-issue mini-series was published by Devil’s Due Entertainment. Unlike the show, each issue focused on individual members battling a specific major Cobra member. Not only were they made in standard comic format, but they also came in hardcover “library bindings”. The first issue was reprinted for Free Comic Book Day 2006. The first five episodes of the series were combined into a single movie called First Strike, released on DVD by Hasbro in 2006. The episode “Race” came on a DVD called Ninja Showdown that was included in the Ninja Showdown 2-pack, and was later bundled with Wave 1 figures at Wal-Mart and Toys R Us. “Honor” was released on Ninja Showdown Part 2 that came as a bonus with some versions of Hi-Tech, Arctic Duke, Snake Eyes Jungle Commando and Destro. “Search” was released on Ambush: Episode 4 that came bundled with the Wal-Mart exclusive Ninja Paratrooper Snake Eyes. The first issue of the comic was also included as an abbreviated mini-comic. The entire series would eventually be made available to stream on Tubi.