Saturday, March 28
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My Favorite Things: G.I. Joe characters

If you had asked the 10-year-old version of me what the most important things in the universe were, my response would have been, “G.I. Joe and Transformers!” Oh sure, I dabbled in other toy lines like M.A.S.K. and Star Wars, and I had an OK comic book collection (particularly Thor and The Avengers), but when it came time to get down to the business of serious playtime, I was all about Real American Heroes and toys that were more than met the eye.

But it’s G.I. Joe specifically that I want to reflect upon today, so here is a list of some of my favorite Joe characters from the series’ golden era (dating from the relaunch of the line in 1982 till some time around 1987 (which is when I started to lose interest).


Rock ‘n Roll

Rock ‘n Roll will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was the first Joe toy I ever owned. This was back in the days before that fancy swivel-arm battle grip stuff was introduced, mind you. Maybe Sgt. Craig S. McConnel didn’t have a very interesting costume or gimmick, but his straightforwardness was appealing. He was a machine gunner, and he enjoyed his job.

But seriously, how badass is that gun of Rock ‘n Roll’s anyway?! It’s practically as tall as he is. Where the hell does he store it when he’s not mowing down Cobras? The answer is he doesn’t ever let it go. Which is probably a smart move, since it would be hard to pick up with no workable joints in his arm other than the elbow.

Cobra Officer

I guess all it took to make this figure stand out for me was to just throw a silver logo on a regular Cobra soldier. Or maybe the idea that these men were just a cut above the typical Cobra cannon fodder appealed to my inner snob. What made the officers so much better or smarter anyway? I don’t remember seeing any Cobra ROTC booths at my high school’s career day, but you better believe I would have signed up.

Unfortunately the Cobra officers, just like their red-logo’d brethren, were considerably dumbed down for the cartoon. They were definitely a lot less imposing than their file card would have you believe. Still, they were pretty cool for not being able to hit the broad side of a barn in most cases.

Duke

I don’t care that General Hawk is supposedly the Joes’ leader, I’ve always been a Duke man. He had the looks, he had the weapons, and he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. While that stuffed shirt Hawk was in the rear with the gear, it was Duke who took one of Serpentor’s poison snake arrows right to the chest. And it was Duke who was robbed, Lieutenant Dan style, of a dignified death by cowardly Hasbro executives.

Lastly, Duke was the only Joe to die in combat for me. During a mission in a friend’s back yard his rubber band snapped and he suffered a fatal full-body dismemberment. I airlifted him back to my house (on my bike), where he received a proper military burial with full honors. R.I.P. Duke.

Hooded Cobra Commander

Of the seemingly dozens of variations offered for Cobra Commander, the hooded version is by far my favorite. That may have been at least partially due to clever marketing, as you couldn’t buy it in stores. Rather you had to collect UPCs from other Joe figures (I think) and mail them in. And then wait.

Any kid could own the regular helmeted version of Cobra Commander, but you could always tell who was serious about their collection by who owned the hooded one. It showed real dedication.

Scarcity aside, Hooded Cobra Commander was just damn cool, to boot. Sure he wasn’t battle ready with just a piece of cloth covering his coconut, but he was 200% more sinister. This looks like the leader of a ruthless terrorist organization bent on world domination.

Blowtorch

One word: Flamethrower. That’s right, this character had one job — to set shit on fire. Tanks, buildings, people, whatever. Get in Blowtorch’s way, and prepare to become a human briquette. And the best part? He was one of the good guys. I can’t even remember how many Cobras died horrible, painful deaths in my mind as a result of Blowtorch. How he wasn’t a bigger star in the cartoon is beyond me.

Barbecue

If you’re going to employ a guy who shoots flames, I suppose it makes sense to bring in someone to put out said flames. I don’t really remember much about Barbecue’s character, but I always thought he had a cool costume. He looked less like a firefighter to me and more like a robotic invader from some cheesy 1950s sci-fi flick. The action figure came equipped with a nasty looking axe that now seems fairly medieval. I don’t recall using it to break open windows on burning buildings, but probably used it to maim other characters in battle instead.

Destro

I can forgive Destro for sporting the bare-chested, Euro-trash look because, well, full metal helmet. But let’s be honest, what puts Destro over the top is the awesome voice-over from the original cartoon series by Arthur Burghardt. While I didn’t care for the disrespect he showed Cobra Commander, there’s no doubt that Destro was not a man to be trifled with. I will never forget watching the very first G.I. Joe cartoon in 1985 and seeing Destro make his debut in the MASS Device miniseries.

Badass. Pure badass.

Roadblock

Other than Gung-Ho, Roadblock was the one Joe who looked most capable of inflicting severe bodily harm on Cobra without any weapons. In addition to being the Joes’ heavy machine gunner — just in case Rock ‘n Roll couldn’t hack it I suppose — Roadblock was quite the foodie as well. This and his general good nature contrasted sharply with his depiction in the comic book, where he was quite ill-tempered.

The one knock against Roadblock is his propensity for speaking in rhymes (at least in the cartoon series). It made him sound like a bit of clown; sort of like Walt Frazier but armed to the teeth.

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