Also known as 'GI Joe - a Real American Hero', 'Action Force', 'GI Joe - International Heroes', and several other names, internationally, GI Joe is one of the most legendary and beloved action figures (read: dolls for boys) of all time. Produced by the Hasbro corporation, GI Joe represents a proud legacy of American fighting men, and has gone through dozens of incarnations. Indeed, there has been a GI Joe during every US presidency of the last 40 years.
The term 'GI' as used in reference to American soldiers came about during World War II. Canteens and other products given to American troops were stamped 'GI' for 'Galvanized Iron.' However, the initials were mistakenly assumed to stand for 'Government Issue' or 'General Issue,' and the term 'GI' became the nickname for the American soldier.
Hasbro released the first GI Joe in 1963. Standing 12" tall, this man of action came with removable clothes and lots of detailed accessories. This original incarnation ran until the late 1970s, seeing such innovations as 'Kung-Fu Action Grip' and even removing itself from its military roots, producing the 'Adventure Team' and 'Super Joe' toy lines.
Following its 'burial,' GI Joe underwent an exciting resurrection in 1982 when, due to the burgeoning popularity of the 3 ¾" Star Wars figures, a new line of smaller Joes was introduced. These Joes were different from their forebears in that every new Joe was an individual character, with a filecard detailing his real name, personality, hometown, and other info. Also, the Joes gained a new enemy, COBRA, a 'ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world!'
This new Joe, dubbed 'A Real American Hero!', did extremely well, spawning two separate cartoon series, running a total of five seasons, and a direct-to-video film. Reaction to the Real American Hero line was mixed from fans of the original Joe, some of whom embraced the smaller soldier, and some of whom declared them an insult. As the line proceeded, Hasbro introduced more and bigger toys, including the USS Flagg, an eight-foot-long aircraft carrier.
Internationally, the Real American Hero line went by several names, as slapping American flags on everything was not a wise marketing plan for sales in the United Kingdom. For most international markets, Canada, Australia, and most of Europe, GI Joe was called 'GI Joe - International Heroes!' and the filecards were changed to make the team global, instead of all-American. In the UK, the GI Joe line was merged with the Action Force series, and wound up bearing the 'Action Force' moniker for the better part of its UK run.
By 1991, GI Joe was fading fast. Hasbro attempted to latch on to the 'popularity' of Operation Desert Storm, and introduced multiple new lines, vying for the attention of children across the nation with such concepts as Eco-Warriors, Ninja Force, and Star Brigade, many of which were regarded by fans of the 3 ¾" line almost as spitefully as the 12" fans regarded the RAH Joe. In 1994, GI Joe's 'Real American Hero' era ended in a trickle of spacemen, ninjas, and monster aliens.
Hasbro attempted in 1995 to resurrect the name with 'GI Joe Extreme,' a take-off on McFarlane Toys' popular 'Spawn' series of figures, which featured muscled, hyper-detailed figures with almost no poseablilty that bore a striking resemblance to a bunch of diseased livers. This line failed, miserably. There are precious few fans who will admit to liking the 'Extreme' series, as it went against many things Joe fans considered sacred. Poseablilty was reduced to near statuehood, the characters were ludicrous and stereotypical, (Metalhead/Surfer Dude, Big Tough Mean Black Man, Tough-As-Nails Sergeant, Ruthless Overlord, etc) and the accompanying TV series was, to put it lightly, atrocious.
In the mid 1990s, Hasbro again introduced the 'classic' Joe, producing, amongst other things, figures of important historical American leaders, including Colin Powell, George Washington, and others. This new release of GI Joe is unique, in that it is aimed primarily at older collectors, not at children. Several other companies, including 21st Century Toys and Dragon, are also producing 12" action figures now, and the market has become highly competitive, with prices ranging from $10 US for a single figure with clothes and accessories to $200 US for 21st Century's scale replica of a M1 Bradley tank, designed to seat 12" figures. Also, in 1997, 1998, and now in 2000, the Real American Hero line has returned from the grave to fight for freedom whenever there's trouble.
In the case of GI Joe, it would seem old soldiers don't fade away, they just keep getting better.