In its half century of existence, the G.I. Joe has pretty much changed the way that kids play with toys. Hasbro goes so far as to call it “the single greatest brand in the history of boys’ toys.” While that may be a bit much on Hasbro’s part, it’s safe to say that G.I. Joe has left a mark on many, with a huge presence in not just toys, but also comics, television, movies, and video games. It’s a nearly inescapable brand.
With that in mind, here’s 11 Things You Need to Know About G.I. Joe. Remember, knowing is half the battle.
11. The TV show featured some pretty established writers
For an animated series about a bunch of soldiers who shot laser machine guns and warred against a bunch of ridiculous villains, the 1985 series G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero featured a pretty solid group of writers.
One of the main writers was Ron Friedman, who worked on Starsky & Hutch, Fantasy Island, and more before working on Joe. Friedman would write the first 15 episodes of the show. Given the success of the comic, it’s a no-brainer that the show also gathered some other writers from the comic world, and comic greats Denny O’Neil, Marv Wolfman, and Steve Gerber (co-creator of Howard the Duck) all spent time writing on the show.
10. Optimus Prime is the reason Duke wasn’t killed
For many kids, the death of Optimus Prime was a dark moment of their childhood. It may even have been one of the first times they were exposed to death, even if it was in the form of a giant robot.
A similar sort of event almost happened 1987’s G.I. Joe: The Movie, if not for some quick thinking producers who wanted Duke (the team’s first Sergeant, an unofficial leader) to avoid the same fate as Optimus — and all the angry letters that would accompany it. During the movie, Duke takes an apparently mortal wound and seems to die, with other Joes crying and looking towards the heavens in his memory. Some inserted dialogue would eventually explain that Duke was merely in a coma and would recover, a hastily thrown together way for the producers to avoid the backlash and keep their hero alive and kicking for more adventures.
9. Nick Fury helped to inspire a lot of G.I. Joe
Back in 1981, when Hasbro was developing the G.I. Joe: Real American Hero toyline, comic creator and Marvel editor Larry Hama was coincidentally also pitching a comic titled Fury Force that would center on a group of elite soldiers, including Nick Fury’s son. Hasbro would then go to Marvel to work out a partnership to use their characters to make comics.
As many diehard G.I. Joe fans know, Hama would eventually sign on to help create the G.I. Joe comic. After signing on with G.I. Joe, it seems that he used and adapted many of the concepts and characters from Fury Force to G.I. Joe.
8. G.I. Joe coined the term “action figure”
Toy creator Stan Weston saw the success that Barbie was enjoying and figured there had to be a huge, untapped market of boys who would play with toys like that. The only thing was that Hasbro didn’t think boys didn’t play with “dolls,” so a new term was needed.
Thus, “action figure” was born, a decidedly masculine term that would hopefully get boys interested in the toys and wouldn’t make the figurines feel like dolls. Regardless of the word choice, the US Court of International Trade sees no difference between Barbie and G.I. Joe, instead labeling both as dolls. In their eyes, an action figure is only one that features a non-human character.
7. The G.I. Joe comic was a huge success
The team up of Marvel and Hasbro to make the G.I. Joe comics was a massive success, one that led to the creation of 155 issues of the series over 13 years. The success of that long running comic made GI Joe easily one of the most popular and successful licensed comics, along with fellow Hasbro creation The Transformers.
Much of that success is probably thanks to the aforementioned Larry Hama, who helped guide the series throughout almost every issue of that run of the comic. Hama tried to make sure that the fictitious adventures of these characters feel as authentic as they could, rather than just an ad for a bunch of toys.
6. Rocky Balboa was almost a G.I. Joe
While there are plenty of popular G.I. Joe characters like Duke, Snake Eyes, and Roadblock, the biggest Joe of all was the one that never happened: Rocky Balboa.
G.I. Joe: Order of Battle was a 4 issue miniseries that started in December 1986 that listed all the various G.I. Joe operatives, Cobra agents, and vehicles that made up the universe. In the second issue of the series, Rocky Balboa was erroneously listed as a member of the Joes. Negotiations had taken place to license the character, but had subsequently fallen through, but he’d still been listed anyway. A retraction was later issued in subsequent issues, and the Italian Stallion’s comic book career came to a brief but memorable end.
5. High oil prices and Star Wars leds to the 3.75 inch Joes
When Hasbro was reviving the G.I. Joe line in the early ’80s, the high price of oil, a key component in plastic manufacturing, made producing standard 12 inch figures too expensive for regular retail. Thinking that producing smaller figures would be the smarter route to take, Hasbro took a cue from the successful Star Wars toy line and made 3.75 inch figures rather than the 12 inch figures.
In addition to the Joe figures, Hasbro also made various playsets with vehicles and weapons, along with figures for villains and enemies of the Joes, something else that wasn’t all that common at the time. These factors helped set the toys apart from the competition, allowing them to become the phenomenon they seemed destined to be.
4. There’s talk of a third live action movie and a possible crossover with Transformers
There have already been two live action adaptations of the G.I. Joe lines — G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra and GI Joe: Retaliation — and neither were exactly beloved films. The first was a bloated, CGI-filled monstrosity, and not even the addition of Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis were enough to elevate the sequel above mediocrity. Though neither of the two live action movies have received positive reviews, there’s still talk of another sequel.
More interesting, though, is the talk of a crossover with the other big Hasbro/Paramount film franchise: Transformers. While nothing is certain, talks have occurred, which could actually work in a weird way. Neither franchise is exactly high art, so a crossover that lets Optimus Prime team up with Johnson’s Roadblock could be the kind of ridiculous action fest that we never knew we needed.
3. We could’ve had a live action G.I. Joe movie sooner if not for Mortal Kombat and the Iraq War
On the subject of live action G.I. Joe adaptations, as far back as 1994 there’d been talk of adapting the comic, television, and action figure stars into a live action film. Back in the ’90s, the movie rights holder, Threshold Entertainment, decided to focus on the Mortal Kombat movies over G.I. Joe.
Hasbro and Paramount were ready to develop a Joe film again in the early 2000s, but then the Iraq War broke out. Feeling that the all the soldiers and battles weren’t appropriate subject matter at the time, they instead opted to develop the Transformers franchise at the time, which seems to have paid off for them in a major way, at least financially.
2. Those famous PSAs had Harvard on their side
We all know that knowing is half the battle thanks to those often ridiculous Public Service Announcements featuring various Joes that were tacked on to every episode of the animated show. The PSAs originated as a way to shield the show from being called just an advertisement for the toys or a show that glorified war, and came from a surprisingly authoritative source given what they accompanied. While they were often pretty laughable, the PSAs were still run and overseen by Harvard professor Robert Selman, who is a specialist in early childhood development and psychology.
Of course, at some point the internet took the reigns, re-dubbing the PSAs and making them even more hysterical than before. The various hat colors made for some truly awesome viewing.
1. G.I. Joe had a cereal
Because you’re not a success unless you have your own cereal. Called “Action Stars Cereal,” the cereal featured multiple variations of the box, each with a different Joe character in an action pose.
Not ones to miss a chance for a little cross promotion between their various products, there were certain limited runs of G.I. Joe comics that were often featured as a prize in each box. Though the cereal isn’t to be found on any shelves in this decade, it’s said that the star shaped cereal inside each box tasted a lot like Cap’n Crunch. Maybe the Captain is secretly a member of the Joes?
What’s your favorite G.I. Joe factoid? Let us know in the comments below.