SDCC 08: Researching the Ranks of G.I. Joe

Last year’s resurgence of the G.I. Joe brand has been one of the most celebrated developments for collectors in recent toy history. The 25th Anniversary line won the respect and more importantly, the expendable income of a great number of previously apathetic collectors. This was in part due to the product’s deep respect for not only classic Joe characters but also the loyal adult collectors who have kept the wavering brand alive for the past decade. Given the 25th anniversary series’ runaway success over the last twelve months, it’s no surprise that Hasbro has a wide assortment of products planned through Spring 2009. Their goal is to carry the 25th anniversary line until the branding focus changes from the classic ‘Real American Hero’ to the upcoming G.I. Joe: The Movie, which is slated for release early next August.

As exciting as the new products are, some questions have still been burning in the hearts of Joe fans, specifically as the focus towards the movie product comes closer. For answers to these questions and more, I went directly to Hasbro’s own Neal Hoffman, who spent some time chatting about the future of the 25th Anniversary product, Hasbro’s stance on the re-emergent hobby of G.I. Joe customizing and the absence of Sgt. Slaughter from the 25th Anniversary line.

Let’s get the elephants out of the room first. Where is Sgt. Slaughter? This is a character who became a staple of the show from the season two premiere (‘Arise, Serpentor, Arise’), through the original movie and into the DiC run of the cartoon. Sarge seemed like an ideal candidate for inclusion into the anniversary line but has yet to be seen. Those following the collecting hobby for the last few years will note that Slaughter has approved figures of himself recently, having appeared in various incarnations throughout the WWE Classic Superstars Line (Jakks Pacific), so it is not his unwillingness holding up production. It is however, the wrestling contractual obligation which has kept him from the ranks of the 25th Anniversary assortment. Hoffman was very clear that he would love to get Sarge in the mix. He explained that “Sarge is not currently in the GI JOE line because his rights are held by the WWE.” Whether or not this rules out the Sarge for any future production in some form remains unclear but at present, he cannot be drafted into the series.

Sgt. Slaughter is not the lone character on wish lists across the net. Other heavy-hitters from the G.I. Joe mythos that are continually requested include Zarana, Dr. Mindbender, Cover Girl and more. As for those and others, the door is not closed. However, Hasbro is not making any promises beyond what has been shown at recent conventions. “Hasbro knows how much fans love particular characters,” said Hoffman. “And [we] will be including characters in the [movie] line that are not seen in the movie. As we’re still far out from the movie and product launch, details will follow closer to that time.”

“Sarge is not currently in the G.I. Joe line because his rights are held by the WWE.”

– Hasbro Brand Manager Neal Hoffman on a possible future Sgt. Slaughter figure

Despite the secrecy surrounding who may be on deck, fans have little to gripe about at this point in the line’s run. With multiple releases of many favorite characters as well as an enormous and varied sales structure (including comic packs, battle packs, vehicles, and single carded figures), the 25th Anniversary line is still a full versatile assortment to collect. The ‘missing’ characters have revolved more around personal favorites than iconic characters. It should also be noted that as of this year’s San Diego Comic Con, the line has only been in production a mere 14 months—which makes the sheer amount of released product astonishing. Considering most toys lines only receive a fraction of the number of figures that the 25th Anniversary line has included, fans owe a great debt to Hasbro for their commitment to making the line both vast and comprehensible, despite their limited production window.

However, one must wonder why the 1986 release, G.I. Joe: The Movie has yet to receive more attention within this already thorough line. Originally rumored to be the fifth set in the currently available DVD Battle Pack waves, G.I. Joe: The Movie is now off the current roster. When asked about this directly, Hoffman said “Currently we are holding off on re-issuing the 1980’s G.I. Joe movie and decided the best option was to include fan favorite episodes and pay homage to the 80’s movie by including the intro.”

While this “holding off” may come as a disappointment to some, it may yet prove to be another shrewd move on the part of Hasbro regarding adult collectors of the brand. It’s no secret that G.I. Joe: The Movie divides the Joe fanbase, creating pre-movie and post-movie subsets of Joe collectors. In fact, many members of the former camp have celebrated the 25th Anniversary line simply by virtue of its focus on the Marvel comic and pre-movie era. Given the release of the Nemesis Immortal vs. Lt. Falcon set in the fifth wave of the comic packs, as well as the upcoming Wraith and M.A.S.K Matt Tracker, it’s apparent that Hasbro is branching beyond the original scope of the line. The goodwill built from their initial releases seems to have carried into these new products, as many have already sold out at numerous online retailers. Whether or not this will spur Hasbro to go farther with 1980’s movie-inspired figures is uncertain, but the film’s unique intro as well as the two aforementioned popular characters are a start.

Suppose for one moment that no further G.I. Joe: The Movie characters (or any other personal favorites) make it to your shelf. There is still hope, as the 25th Anniversary line’s many oft-compatible parts are still available for personal customized favorites. Customizing of Joe figures is something that Hasbro fully endorses, within reason. “As long as customs are for [a collector’s] own personal use, Hasbro believes that customizing is a fantastic hobby and great way for fans to show their enthusiasm for the brand.” This is no license to start your own personal Joe chop shop – once one begins using Hasbro’s trademarks for personal profit, all bets of official endorsement are off. For the average fan, this is no worry and the opportunity to complete a collection through creative customizing is well within reach given the wide and varied assortment of parts available. Isn’t that resourcefulness and determination what being a Joe is all about? That’s only half he battle… and the other half is something Joe fans know all too well.

You can read more of C.J.’s musings on film, toys and music over at stunksstage.com.

Click here to see our full G.I. Joe photo gallery from Hasbro’s booth at this year’s San Diego Comic Con!