A strange thing happened to me last week: I bought some Joes.
Now, I’m not having a crisis and I’m not selling my collection (sorry, Sam). Those who read my (few) contributions to GeneralsJoes know that money’s been tight, so my collecting habits have been toned down so far in 2009. What spurred me out of my collector’s hibernation, though, was the presence of little red stickers where there normally aren’t little red stickers in my favorite part of the toy aisle…
That’s right… Target was clearancing out their G.I. Joe stock!
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who took advantage of the suddenly low prices on our Real American Heroes. (I’m also confident that at least one other of you is not a scalping eBay seller.) I started off with the Target-exclusive Tiger Force Rattler at the Target I used to work at for 30% less than its original $24.99 tag, then moved to the SuperTarget up north the next morning and picked up a Python Conquest, Rock & Roll/Deep Six comic pack, Beach-Head/Mainframe comic pack, and Flint in Disguise for half price. Later that afternoon, I would pick up another Python Conquest for my brother, who informed me that even though he wasn’t going to have to pay for it, he didn’t want a Python Conquest. Some nonsense about “space” and “having too much geeky crap as it is.”
“It’s got a Python Viper, Rob,” I said, incredulously. “Python Viper.”
He uttered some cacophony that made my phone go all static-y. My army-building ways, however mediocre by some of your standards, have rubbed off on him over the years. After all, I am his younger brother, and while he’s not super-competitive about a lot of things, the superior numbers of my Joe collection do make him a twinge jealous. I decided not to tell him about how I managed to snare two more Python Vipers without buying a fleet’s worth of planes (thank you, Gary), and bid him a good day. Scoreboard, me… and my two Python Conquests.
However, as I gloated and combed through the other, now Joe-free Targets in the Indianapolis area, I had something of an epiphany. It made me a bit uneasy, as epiphanies often do to us all.
This was my last round-up. With the impending disappearance of 25th Anniversary-themed products, Hasbro was officially putting me out to pasture. My opinion (and especially my dollars) would be welcomed, but G.I. Joe isn’t for me any more. Sure, there’ll be nods to “my” G.I. Joe here and there… maybe some more online exclusives, sure. And God willing, there’s going to be more “Resolute.” I’m still allowed in to the party, so long as I don’t spike the punch or wreck up the place.
At the advanced age of 34, I am a G.I. Joe Fan Emeritus.
Before you get all up in arms, bear in mind that it’s really not as sinister as all that. It’s the law of nature in the world of toys. Toy lines are put together for kids, and with the advent of G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA, G.I. Joe will be all about the kids again.
It’s as it should be.
12-inch collectors know what I’m talking about. “Their” G.I. Joe rolled out in the mid-’60s, captivated them for over a decade, then disappeared. They complained at first, then settled into life as eccentrics, grown men and women who huddled into garage sales, flea markets and swap meets, searching for the treasures of their youth. Then they organized, put together G.I. Joe-themed collectors’ meets, started mailing lists, and built a community. Finally, after years without G.I. Joe, Hasbro listened and brought back their favorite toys!
… sort of.
1982 brought about our G.I. Joe. While I was in the overwhelming minority of seven-year-olds who even had an inkling of the history behind the brand (I still have a Bulletman!), I can’t say as I cared too much about it then. My aforementioned older brother got the ball rolling, buying a copy of Marvel’s “G.I. Joe” #5 from the drug store across the street from St. Christopher’s in Baldwin, New York. A couple of weeks later, he used his paper route money and brought home his first three figures: Snake-Eyes, Flash, and a COBRA Soldier. As little brothers often do, I jumped on the bandwagon next, picking up Stalker and a COBRA Officer from Woolworth’s with some hard-saved allowance money. Twenty-seven years and hundreds- if not thousands– of little plastic soldiers later, I’m still buying the damn things. It’s been a good run. Almost three decades as the driving force of a toy line is pretty good, if that’s what you’re trying to be.
Sure, they tried to kill off our Joe. 1995 brought an end to the initial run of A Real American Hero, and the return of 12-inch G.I. Joe to the spotlight. Of course, a 15th Anniversary G.I. Joe run from 1997-98, and another collector’s line from 2000-01 awoke twenty-something former collectors from their cancellation-forced slumber. Then came the controversial “new sculpts” of the early part of the decade, which, let’s be honest, never really took hold of the kiddies and we pretty well dominated that, too. Then came Sigma 6, which for all of its innovation and butt-kicking toys, was missing the heart of my Joe, and we killed that off, too. We’ve just finished a three-year, homage to our collective childhoods with the 25th Anniversary line… not bad for a “line” that was supposed to be two five-packs of figures. Our Joe has a zombie-like tenacity that cannot be killed; it will live on through the names and likenesses that we’ll see on the big screen this summer.
Again, this isn’t a bad thing by any means. Kids need to get behind the property to make the toyline succeed. We’ve heard the arguments a hundred times before, and they are based in fact. You can’t build a successful large-scale toy line around adult collectors. Adults have space issues, money problems and the occasional need to do non-toy things. We have the annoying tendency to marry, divorce, go broke, start over, and sometimes even die. We’re dealing with jobs, mortgages, and our parents getting older. It’s those pesky “shifting priorities.” If the new G.I. Joe takes hold, it means that our G.I. Joe gets to live outside the collector meets and message boards for a while longer, too. I suppose that there are also some social philosophers that might think that not being quite so interested in toys at our age might actually be good for us, but I’m not biting on that one. I’ll believe it when I see it in “Reader’s Digest.”
“Reader’s Digest?!?” Crap! That’s an old people magazine! It’s already started!
So to you kids, who will be getting another chance to take control of G.I. Joe, don’t break it. G.I. Joe is about more than ninjas and tanks and accelerator suits (thank God). It’s about the honor that comes through being brave and standing up for what’s right in the face of tall odds. It is also about explosions, but I think they’re tied to the first group of things. Oh, well. I’m old, and sometimes I forget things. Whine really hard at your moms and dads to buy you the new G.I. Joe toys when they show up on the shelves this week. You’ll be glad you did. If you enjoy G.I. Joe half as much as I did at your age, it’ll be a great time for you.
To you thirty-somethings who are still in touch with your inner child enough to be here reading this, be good to the youngsters. Don’t bog them down with stories of yesterday, because they won’t care until later. Your fun is directly tied to theirs. In the big picture, we’re always going to know he’s really Roadblock. Don’;t sweat it.
To you fifty-somethings who came before me, thanks for being so stubborn. I owe you one. It’s been a great 27 years on top of the heap, and there wouldn’t have been a heap without you. And try not to laugh too hard when I’m coming up the hill to claim a rocking chair at the Toy Collector’s Rest Home.
Just make room on the porch.