GI Joe has always been a product of its time. The original 12" figure was a proud soldier, but that got tweaked when the US was involved in an unpopular war. Patriotism (or jingoism, depending who you ask) was back in favor by the '80s, so the 3¾" figures were soldiers once again. And while there was a lot more diversity this time around, the line wasn't free of stereotypes, either: for instance, the Indian medicine man and tracker, Spirit.
Spirit comes from a family
so far below the poverty line that they never realized they were poor. Was a hunting guide through high school. Served in Southeast Asia, then as a civilian completed his education. Returned to the service for reasons inexplicable to anyone but a Native American mystic warrior. Qualified expert: M-16; M-1911A1 Auto Pistol; Remington marksmanship rifle.
Ever since 2005, Spirit has been identified as "Spirit Iron-Knife," because of trademark issues. He's not the only figure with this problem (witness "General Abernathy," who used to just be Hawk), but since the guy's real name is Charlie Iron-Knife, what's the point of having a codename anyway? It's not like Bruce fights crime as "Batman Wayne," or Kara takes off as "Starbuck Thrace."
The reason Spirit stood out in the original toyline had almost nothing to do with his race, and more to do with his outfit - as a 1984 figure,
he was one of the first to not wear a plain military uniform. In a sea of greens and browns, a pale blue short-sleeved shirt really jumps out at you. He's also wearing tan buckskins with fringe down the sides, fur-lined boots and a red breechcloth (or something like it, since this doesn't actually run between his legs and is instead just attached to his belt). He's got red insignia on both sleeves: some sort of tomahawk on his right and three chevrons on his left. Of course, his filecard lists him as an E-4 (either a specialist or a corporal - probably the former), which only has two chevrons. And Army insignia point up, while these point down. Now, Air Force insignia point down, and an E-4 has three of them, but that's still not what this is. Anyway, they were on the original figure, so they're here as well.
Spirit definitely has Native American facial features
(since he's from Taos, New Mexico, he's probably a Northern Tiwa-speaking Pueblo), but they may be too Native American, if that makes sense. The card art is definitely non-European, but the figure is like one step away from being Iron Eyes Cody [which would technically make him anything but "non-European" --ed.]. He has a broad jawline, prominent cheekbones and a square brow. It's not inaccurate, but it's very caricatured. His black hair is pulled into two braids, and he's wearing a red headband.
Spirit's accessories are very nice. We'll start with his pet eagle, Freedom. The original was brown,
but this one is black. The head is white, of course, and his feet and beak are yellow. Yes, advances in molding technology mean that Freedom now has two separate legs, instead of one double-thick limb. He can clip to Spirit's arm easily. Spirit (or Charlie, if you prefer) seems to have some huge hands - not too noticable when the eagle has landed, but it kind of stands out when he's just standing around. Interesting gesture on the left hand, though - two fingers out, two curled back.
Most of the new GI Joe figures take what were sculpted elements on the original toys and turn them into separate accessories. For instance, the knife sheathed on Spirit's thigh, or the webgear on his chest. The grenades, necklace and knife on the webgear are still just sculpted on, but it's still a step up. They did seem to skip a paint app on his removable knife, though - the blade is the same color as his pants.
His gun seems to fire arrows, judging by the big square magazine. Removable magazine, actually. Very cool. His backpack attaches to a silver frame, which makes it look like a professional camping rig. There are two more clips for the gun at the top of the frame - and yes, they're removable, too. Oh, and the display stand that's become ubiquitous with this line? Now has two footpegs instead of just one, which is a much-needed change.
Finding a good Spirit my prove tough - you definitely don't want to grab the first one you see. The main problem is the blck paint on his hair doesn't always cover everything as it should, leaving him with fleshtone lines on his braids and forehead. The blue paint on his sleeves
doesn't quite cover the entire joint, leaving a hint of tan there. The white paint on his necklace is kind of a mess, though everything else is pretty good. We already mentioned the tan blade on the knife, but the white on Freedom's neck really varies from sample to sample. And I doubt this is a wide-ranging problem, but my Spirit was poorly assembled: he's literally got two left feet, and his left shin was assembled backwards - the knee bent forward instead of back. None of that is something the will ruin the figure for you, but you do need to check him over carefully before you buy.
Since Snake-Eyes couldn't talk, he didn't actually get much to do on the old cartoon - remember, it wasn't until 2001 that Samurai Jack proved that silence could be powerful. But since he was just a bit player, that meant Storm Shadow needed a new enemy, and for some reason, Spirit was the one chosen. Which meant he not could only do Indian magic - like mystically healing people and talking to eagles - he could also out-fight a seventh-generation ninja. Maybe they had him confused with the other kind of Indian, and thought he was a Sikh. In any case, Spirit proves you don't have to be black to be a Magic Negro, and you don't have to be flawless to be a good toy.