It's crazy that G.I. Joe has been around for half a century. I can remember waking up on the weekends, when I was younger, and going into my brother's room, who was away at college, and going through his stacks of comic books. 15 years my senior, my brother had abandoned interest in such things, but as for me, I found myself intrigued by the vivid colors and action packed scenes of the Fantastic 4, Spiderman, Batman, and, my personal favorite, G.I. Joe. Growing up in the 1980's, my brother had several G.I. Joe action figures, comics, and watched the cartoons; and interestingly, my father had G.I. Joe's of his own. G.I. Joe will be celebrating his 50th birthday this year and it is truly amazing that he has span generation after generation and is still widely known today.
I doubt that when Hasbro introduced the G.I. Joe at the 1964 toy fair in New York City they anticipated the level of success it has reached today. The original G.I. Joe “action figure” stood nearly 12 inches tall and had 21 movable parts. The first Joe's were made for each of the four branches of the United States military and titled: Action Sailor, Action Soldier, Action Marine, and Action Pilot (my dad had an action soldier and tank, which his father, who was a marine during WWII, liked to make fun of). The success of the marketing campaign itself is worth mentioning as G.I. Joe coined the term “action figure” in, the very successful, attempt to target young boys who obviously wouldn't want to play with “dolls”.
In wake of the Vietnam War and increased anti-war sentiment, Hasbro introduced the G.I. Joe Adventure Team line, seeking to distance themselves from their military roots. These characters were renamed "Air Adventurer" or "Sea Adventurer" and although named differently were still dressed in apparel mirroring military flight suits or vintage M-65 jackets. This set of G.I. Joe's was most notably remembered for their popular features which included "kung fu grip" and "eagle eyes" which became the next generation of moving parts in an action figure.
In 1982, G.I. Joe re-surged into the market with its 3 ¾ inch model. I remember there being a dozen or so of these in my house when I was growing up; although since then, they have been passed around to the younger members of our family. This model may have been smaller but packed a big punch and catapulted G.I. Joe’s popularity into other forms of entertainment. Marvel introduced a comic to support the new G.I. Joe franchise and a few animated series ran in the late 1980's for G.I. Joe. Between then and now, several other television cartoons have aired, video games have been developed, and movies have been made. The most recent movie, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, starring Bruce Willis, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Channing Tatum, grossed over $375 million in 2013.
From 12 inch toy to big screen action star, G.I. Joe has entertained and inspired generations of youth for decades. Through all its popularity and success, G.I. Joe has captured the American spirit since its creation 50 years ago and for that, G.I. Joe, we salute you and wish you a happy birthday.
by Matthew J Leone @ Rothco
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