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Stars and Stripes Forever

GI Joe
by yo go re

The year was 1997. It had been three years since the Real American Heroes had been on store shelves, and 1995's experiments with Sgt. Savage and GI Joe Extreme had both proved unsuccessful. The rebirth of Star Wars had sparked an interest in toy collecting, so, much like they would a decade later, Hasbro took the opportunity of A Real American Hero's 15th anniversary to announce a series of retro figures - in this case, actual re-releases of the original molds, not stylish updates. This idea ran into problems (detailed nicely on Joepedia), and ultimately culminated in the Stars & Stripes Forever set.

GI Joe: A Real American Hero, forever a symbol of courage and valiant patriotism, has time and again fought proudly for freedom and justice around the globe. We call you to duty to celebrate this fearless fighting force. So stand and salute this Real American Hero's courageous spirit and patriotic devotion!

From general Hawk's Personal Journal: "For many years, the heroic forces of GI Joe battled the evil terrorist organization known as Cobra across the globe. Finally, it seemed the Joes had won. But Cobra had retreated only to regroup, rebuild, and renew their most powerful weaponry and most vicious weaponry and most vicious troopers. Nearly three years have passed, and Cobra has returned, more dangerous than ever! GI Joe is ready to defend the world, as once again the battle cry is heard - Yo Joe!"

The front of the box features a painting of the Joes raising the flag like Iwo Jima - it's reused from a poster available as a mailaway in 1983 and '84. The back allegedly shows the figures in the set, but there were a lot of changes made before release. A lot. Once again, Joepedia has the info. Short version: if you were expecting the toys seen on the back of the box, you'd be disappointed. Fortunately, if you opened the front flap, you could see the real product (as well as a whole wall of text). But enough preamble - let's get to the toys!

Now, note: none of the figures are identified in the set, and the accessories, while bagged together, aren't specified, either. So a lot of what you're going to read below is guesswork. Keep that in mind as we go.

Sgt. Zap was chosen among the first to join the GI Joe team in its early days. His specialty was in armor-piercing and anti-tank weapon systems. As the team expanded, he moved more towards demolitions. It became his job to teach the new recruits their practical factors to qualify for ranks. It's amazing to watch him work with high-explosives devices and remain composed. His professional attitude gained him a great reputation as an instructor. When the call went out to re-organize the original GI Joe team members, he jumped at the chance. Being somewhat old-fashioned, he returned using his favorite hand-held bazooka, not as high-tech as some of the weapons he's used but definitely reliable.

Zap is one of the least-altered figures in the set, in that his mold is entirely the same as the original figure, just given an entirely new paintscheme. Instead of wearing dark green head to toe, he's got black for his boots, belt and harness, and his shirt is a cream-colored with dark airbrushing on the chest, biceps and elbows. And yet, no mustache.

Zap's accessories include a vibrant green helmet that barely fits on his head, a green bazooka, and a black backpack with four green missiles sculpted in it.

Stalker was a member of a street gang prior to his enlistment. He was a member of the same Long Range Recon Patrol as Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow, in Southeast Asia. As one of the original GI Joe team members, he had many successful campaigns against Cobra. He's a take charge kind of guy - intelligent, perceptive, and remains composed under stressful situations. When the government closed down the GI Joe program, he decided to return to his hometown to give something back to the community. Stalker established a gang intervention program to clean up the streets. He received word that the team was re-organizing its original members, and decided to return along with his comrades.

We may not know who some of the other figures are intended to be, but there's no mistaking Stalker, the only black man on the team! He looks very good, witha yellowish green uniform that has black, brown and white camouflage all over. His beret and boots are black, the grendade on his webgear is black, and the knife is silver. This is a great update.

Stalker doesn't get much in the way of accessories: just his small green backpack and his trademark "M-32 Pulverizer" submachine gun. It's not much, but you can tell that a big chunk of the budget went into these paint apps. Totally worth it!

Scarlett was one of the first female members of the GI Joe team. She is as beautiful as she is deadly. Scarlett earned her black belt in the Tae Kwon Do at the age of fifteen, and has continued her training in several other martial arts. Her skills at intelligence gathering are top notch. An expert undercover operative, she has gone up against the best Cobra had to offer. They never knew she was there. When the government closed down the GI Joe program, she considered it a chance to make up for her strained working relationship with Snake-Eyes. Taking up residence with him in his mountain cabin, the time off helped them heal their battle scarred hearts, and ultimately form a much stronger bound. In her spare time, Scarlett began teaching women's self-defense seminars at various universities. She received word of the re-organization of the GI Joe team members, and returned with her partner.

Scarlett's colors are a disappointment. Her classic look is yellow and blue, but this figure is orange and purple. She has short hair, rather than her familiar ponytail, but that was always the case - it took until Generation 2 before that was fixed. She has black gloves and boots, with silver detailing for the weapons strapped to her.

It's a good thing those get called out, because the only accessory she gets is her crossbow. The other figures at least get those black display stands Joes used to come with, but Scarlet doesn't even get the benefit of that. Why? Because she doesn't have holes in her feet, so good luck pegging her onto any vehicles or anything.

Snake-Eyes is the perfect weapon, a man of total discipline who honed his combat skills with a Long Range Recon Patrol in Southeast Asia. The squad included Stalker and Storm Shadow, who would later become members of GI Joe. His martial arts skills stem from training with the Arashikage ninja clan (relatives of Storm Shadow). Following a horrific accident, his face was scarred and his vocal cords damaged, taking away his ability to speak. Snake-Eyes is a total mystery; almost all that is known about him is that he is the best at whatever he does - #1 on the GI Joe "Best of the Best" list.

He is proficient with all known NATO weapons and explosives, as well as edged weaponry. Many of his missions are Top Secret and so highly covert that knowledge of their existence is not officially recognized. After many years of highly successful operations, the government decided that Snake-Eyes and the GI Joe team had served their purpose, and disbanded the operation. With his partner Scarlett, Snake-Eyes retired to his mountain cabin in the High Sierras. He used the time to find inner peace; however, watching the ills of society from his mountain retreat, he found himself unable to sit back and remain idle. When the word was given that the GI Joe team was re-organizing its original members, Snake-Eyes seized the chance to return to duty and once again make a difference.

This is, of course, the original Snake-Eyes - the commando version, not the ninja. That would come later. He uses the old mold, but gets more paint apps; which is to say, "any" paint apps. The original toy was unpainted black plastic, while this one gets a littloe bit of grey on his visor, webgear, pockets, and boots. The belt buckle and the device on his left leg are silver. He has two accessories: an Uzi and a satchel of explosives.

Grunt was part of the original GI Joe team from its inception. He finished his tour of duty and decided the team had its fair share of infantry soldiers. He went on to pursue an engineering degree, then started his career in his hometown. Despite his numerous job offers, Grunt still felt the desire to crawl in the mud and jump into foxholes with his comrades. As soon as he received word that the original team was re-organizing, Grunt jumped on the first plane back. He's a stand-up kind of guy who knows to keep his head down during a firefight. As squad leader, Grunt is always ready to guard the front lines and support his teammates. It's up to him to take the point and avoid bad situations.

Grunt was not pictured on the back of the box, for whatever reason. Rather than dark green (or light brown), he's wearing an off-white shirt with large brown and green camo splotches. His hair is black, rather than brown, and just like Zap, he has an eye that appears to be wandering off his face. The printer must have been misaligned.

Because he has the same head as Zap, his helmet fits just as poorly. Were the original accessories this ludicrous? At one point the helmet popped off his head with a strength that most rocket-launching toys can't even manage these days. It seriously shot across the room. He's also got an AK-47, and an oversized black backpack.

Rock 'n Roll joined the GI Joe team at its inception. He was a young, naive surfer who became one of the outfit's most valuable members. Still, he's an adult who refuses to grow up. He uses every change he gets to break out his electric guitar and blast something he calls - music. When GI Joe was shut down by the government, Rock 'n Roll decided to go on a spiritual crusade, searching for the perfect wave. After a brief tour, he received word that the original team members were re-organizing, and wanted back in with a passion. Rock 'n Roll missed the ear-splitting sounds of his favorite machine gun, and the great friendships he acquired with his teammates.

The original Rock 'n Roll was one of the most distinctive characters in the original line-up, thanks to his blonde hair, beard, and the unique torso with its crossed bandoliers. This version has zero of those features. His hair is brown, he's clean-shaven, and although his green shirt has a lot of ornate details, none of them are bands of bullets.

The only thing that's actually present from the old days is the set of accessories he comes with: another of those ill-fitting helmets, plus his M-60 machine gun and a bipod. The earliest shipments of the set made this figure (whoever he's supposed to be) a black man, with dark brown skin and black hair - a far cry from the surf bum the filecard describes!

Breaker established himself as the GI Joe team's first communications expert. He is the link between the battlefield and headquarters. Manning the radio may seem like an easy job for some, but it's as crucial to operations as ammunition is to any weapon. Without the radioman, you lose the ability to call in an air strike, provide artillery coordinates, request a Medivac or find the extraction site. The key is to treat the equipment like a crystal vase. Breaker never takes it off, and constantly monitors all the frequencies, providing situation reports to the command center. His ability to crack enemy codes and to jam their transmissions keeps the team one step ahead. Along with his specialized education, he speaks seven languages. During the last major battle with Cobra forces, Breaker was wounded and required a lengthy recovery. During this time, he began to study computer technology. Knowing that modern battlefield operations had become computer coordinated, he qualified himself with the latest hardware. As soon as he received word that the original team was re-organizing, he was ready to return and use his new area of expertise to its full advantage.

That mention of him being wounded is a retcon - in the comics, Breaker was one of the characters killed during the Joes' "Desert Storm" stand-in story. They might as well have left him dead, because this figure looks nothing like the original style. He uses the same mold as Rock 'n Roll (the 1986 Roadblock body, for those keeping track), with green pants instead of brown, and fewer paint apps on the shirt.

Breaker doesn't come with any of his old accessories. Instead, he has the same large backpack as Grunt, a helmet - this time with a clear visor! - and a laser rifle that may have been chosen because its wire resembles an antenna, but is more likely here because his spot in the set was supposed to go to Flash. Flash appears on the back of the box wearing yellow pads instead of his old red (and has the advantage of being alive), and would have had the same kind of gun and helmet that Breaker has now. Unfortunately, Flash didn't make it, probably because Hasbro couldn't find the molds for his distinctive torso.

Short-fuse was chosen from the top of his class, to join the GI Joe team at its inception. He comes from a traditional military family - all career soldiers. His artillery experience and expertise helped the Joes win many battles. He can actually plot artillery azimuths and triangulations in his head. His love for abstract mathematics make him somewhat of a nerd, however, no one would dare tease him. It seems he's quite sensitive about it and can lose his temper very quickly, hence his code name... Short-fuse continued his regular military service until he received word about the original GI Joe team re-organizing its members; he returned with full support.

Yes, the card really does consistently call him "Short-fuse" rather than "Short-Fuze." This figure is a straight repaint of the original mold, which means he's mostly the same as Zap, but has a different head. His hair is reddish brown, rather than yellow. His hands are such a different color from his face that they look like gloves. His pants fade gently from green to brown in a striped pattern, like very lazy camo.

Shorty has the same backpack and bazooka as Zap, done in different colors: a green backpack with black missiles, and a more drab green on the launcher. He also has a bright green helmet with a clear visor, and while the helmet actually fits his head, the visor is too wide. He also comes with his black mortar launcher, with a separate, swivelling bipod to help aim it.

All eight filecards in the set include the same text after the parts we've quoted, but before the personal reflections from Hawk:

After the Team's first encounter with Cobra Forces, they found a suitable location and in the tradition of the men and women who served their country before them, raised the flag in their honor, and declared - STARS and STRIPES FOREVER!

And on that note, let's move on to the display base included with the set. We see here a very small bunker, just a rough mound of earth with a pile of sandbags forming a defensive barrier at one side. There are tree stumps, loose rocks, and even a few wooden planks in the dirt, and evidence of some grass along the bottom edge. The piece measures 10¾" wide, 4¼" deep, and 2¼" tall. There are 14 footpegs on the base, so the figures can stand on it and raise the flag.

As much care and attention went into the making of the flag as went into the figures themselves - it has 56 stars, because apparently GI Joe takes place in a world where Texas executed its right to split into five states and Stan Statham's 1992 proposal to split California into three states didn't die in the Senate. (Of course, the unlucky people of Washington DC still don't get appropriate representation.) Anyway, kudos to the toymakers for actually sculpting all the details on the flag, but it should have five rows of six stars, alternating with four rows of five stars; instead, it has eight rows of seven stars. Math! To "fix" this problem, they've just left six of the stars unpainted, which makes the thing look even weirder.

This set was a Toys Я Us exclusive, and sold for $30 new, which was awfully expensive back then. I'd given it a lot of long looks in the store, but still couldn't decide whether or not to drop the money. The decision was taken out of my hands, though, when the girl I was dating at the time decided to buy me one, as a (birthday?) gift. Awwww! In fact, that may have been the first toy she bought me. I didn't have the heart to tell her how disappointed I was in the set, but that was more Hasbro's fault than hers - if they had delivered the assortment of figures shown on the back of the box, I would have loved it. As-is, the best part of the set is the base, because I can stand Generation 3 updates on it and they'll still look awesome. But February 2014 is the 50th birthday of GI Joe (and consequently, of action figures as a whole), so Old Toys Month seemed like a great time to dig this box out and give it some attention. It's better than I remembered it, in many ways, but it's not the celebration ARAH's 15th anniversary deserved.

-- 02/07/14

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