The “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” line of characters lasted for 13 years, between 1982-1994, making it one of the most successful toy franchises of all-time. The line of toys was released in conjunction with both a cartoon series and a long-running Marvel comic book written by Larry Hama. The process was that the toy company (Hasbro) would deliver to Hama the new toys and Hama would come up with backgrounds for the characters, and then work them into the “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” comic book. Hama’s personal “dossiers” for the characters were adopted by Hasbro as the famous file cards that would appear on the back of each action figure. It was a good system and it made for a good comic book series.
Over time, however, the process began to break down a bit as the figures in the toy line got weirder and weirder. You often could tell when a figure was especially weird as Hama could not even find a way to work the figure into the comic book at all. Sometimes, when forced to use some of the weirder characters, he also made his feelings about the characters known in the comic itself. So not all of these characters you are about to see even made it into the comics, but some of them are so weird that this list would seem pointless without them. Here, then, are the 15 weirdest members of the G.I. Joe team.
15. SGT SLAUGHTER
A whole generation of fans are so used to Sergeant Slaughter as part of the “G.I. Joe” cartoon series — especially due to his prominent roles in both the “Arise, Serpentor, Arise” mini-series and “G.I. Joe: The Movie” — that it would seem almost like sacrilege to place him on this list. Yet, when you think more about it, it’s pretty weird that not only was a real life professional wrestler worked into the continuity of “G.I.Joe,” he was given a starring role in the show! His toy was also one of the best-selling toys in the line, receiving new editions pretty much yearly from 1985 until the end of the decade.
The problem, though, with choosing an actual person to be such a prominent part of the continuity was highlighted when the character of Sergeant Slaughter took a “heel turn” in the world of wrestling, which is to say that he became a bad guy. He became an Iraqi sympathizer during Operation: Desert Storm. At that point, we’re pretty sure Hasbro was thinking, “Oops!” or maybe something a bit worse.
14. QUICK KICK/BANZAI
Now, don’t get us wrong. We like Quick Kick. You like Quick Kick. We all like Quick Kick. Quick Kick is awesome. However, we also have to come to terms with the fact that Quick Kick makes essentially zero sense. Would a martial arts expert be useful on the Joe squad? Sure, we can’t argue with that. But the guy barely wears any clothes! He goes out on missions without wearing shoes! It doesn’t make any sense!
There’s even a famous storyline involving Quick Kick where he, Stalker and Snow Job are captured while on an undercover mission (why the snow expert Snow Job is on a mission in Eastern Europe is anyone’s guess, but work with us here). Here’s the thing: Quick Kick is wearing shoes when they’re captured but when they’re in custody, the shoes are gone! Even when Quick Kick was one of a group of Joes murdered in “G.I. Joe” #109, he died in bare feet. Another ninja, Bansai, had the same issue, only his was wearing no shirt…
There is certainly something to be said for having someone along for missions to record what is going on. However, the idea of actually having a reporter being part of the “G.I. Joe” squad is clearly problematic. During one of the IDW “G.I.Joe” series, written by Fred Van Lente, he introduced a social media expert for the team. That made sense, since the idea was that she was along to help promote the team and help their funding by getting them good publicity.
The issue with Scoop is that, as created, he is a journalist and not a publicity guy, so… what would that mean in the context of a covert mission force like “G.I. Joe”? You can’t very well have him reporting on what goes on in some of their secret missions. At the same time, how would he function as a reporter if he wouldn’t do that? Larry Hama avoided those issues in the “G.I.Joe” comic book series by eliminating the journalism angle entirely and just having Scoop be a guy who records Joe missions for the government. That made a whole lot more sense.
There are a lot of characters who could be in the place of Shockwave. A notable example is a character who debuted around the same time named Muskrat, the swamp-fighting expert. Anyway, Shockwave is on this list as an example of the over-specification that happened as the Joe line went on and on (Shockwave debuted in 1988). You see, he is a S.W.A.T. expert (the Special Weapons And Tactics division of police forces). While that is all fine and good, it doesn’t really seem to be something that a covert action force would need. It is beyond being a luxury, it’s just something that might come in handy once in, what, 56 missions? It’s like how the Joes have way too many mountain-climbing experts on the team. It’s all kind of pointless.
Shockwave later became part of a special G.I. Joe squad that dealt specifically with stopping drug dealers, particularly those selling a drug called venom. A few other characters were introduced for that task force (including its head, Bullet Proof), but Shockwave was already around for four years at that point, so he was especially out of place when he was created.
One of the earliest examples of a strange addition to the G.I. Joe team was the team-within-a-team, Battleforce 2000, introduced in 1987. As you can tell from their name, they were not a particularly cool group… but they did each drive futuristic vehicles! Larry Hama did an amazing job trying to work them into the continuity of the “G.I. Joe” comic book series, by having them be part of a special research and development group, hence their vehicles being so different from the rest of the team.
Perhaps the silliest member of this team was Dee-Jay, who was, in fact, a disc jockey before joining the G.I. Joe squad. He was also the only member of Battleforce 2000 to not have his own vehicle. In the early 1990s, Larry Hama gained permission from Hasbro to kill off Joes whose figures were discontinued. Most likely as a statement about what he thought about Battleforce 2000, almost the entire team was killed off in “G.I. Joe” #113, with most of the deaths occurring off panel (Dee-Jay got a proper death, at least). Only Dodger remained.
One of the most amusing things about the “G.I. Joe” line of toys was that Larry Hama would only come up with the back stories for the characters after Hasbro had already designed them and named them. This caused a bit of an issue in 1988 when they invented a new character for the new Stealth Bomber that the G.I. Joes had. Hasbro named the pilot Ghostrider. As Larry Hama told Comic Book Legends Revealed:
Hasbro didn’t check with us on the trademark, so they went ahead and named their pilot figure Ghost Rider. Of course, we couldn’t have that in a Marvel comic, so I came up with the gimmick that nobody could remember his name.
And sure enough, the character became a regular fixture in the “G.I. Joe” comic book series, with Hama playing it up that no one could ever remember his name. It went to extreme lengths in some issues, as the other Joes become angry at themselves for not remembering the name of their brave comrade.
9. ICE CREAM SOLDIER
One of the very last “G.I. Joe” figures ever released from the “Real American Hero” toy line, Ice Cream Soldier has a bad reputation among collectors. He basically embodies everything that fans hated about the later figures, namely that the figure is quite garish looking. Plus, he is a fire operations expert, which the Joes had seemingly a dozen of already. Years later, the same basic figure would be used for a Cobra toy and it worked well, which is also a bad sign for the design of your G.I. Joe figure.
The name, bizarrely enough, was designed to make the other side think that he was weak, as someone named “Ice Cream Soldier” must be soft under fire, right? Obviously, Hasbro didn’t realize that DC Comics had an Ice Cream Soldier of their own in Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company. There, the name was a statement about how cool he was under pressure.
Back in the mid-1980s, “G.I. Joe” was so huge that there was hardly anything that they would not license them for, including breakfast cereal! Yep, there was a G.I. Joe cereal. It was called Action Stars. Here is a commercial from the era…
You might be wondering just who it is that the boy flies off with at the end of the commercial? Why, that’s Starduster, a Joe specific to a mail order that was part of Action Stars cereal. You could also get mini-comics that told his origin (he was a trapeze artist who was recruited to join the Joes by Duke). Later, Hasbro made the character available as part of a different mail order program. Since most of the Joes would occasionally use jet packs (including Scarlett in the classic “Silent Issue” of the “G.I. Joe” comic book), a jet pack expert was kind of pointless, hence him never appearing in the comic book series.
In a recent episode of “Hawaii Five-O,” Otis Wilson from the 1985 Chicago Bears made a cameo appearance. Wilson was a very good player on that Bears team, but he was hardly one of the most famous. And yet, over 30 years after they won the Super Bowl, he can be a cameo in a primetime TV series. That’s how famous the 1985 Bears were! They had their own rap song — “The Super Bowl Shuffle” — which sold 500,000 copies! While running back Walter Payton was the most famous member of the Bears in general, for that specific season, William “Refrigerator” Perry caught the attention of the whole world.
A defensive tackle by trade, the gigantic Perry was used as a fullback on plays near the goal line, as either a blocker for Payton or as a rusher himself, with the idea being that no one would be able to stop a man his size from running the yard needed for the score. Perry became so famous that he became the second real life person to become a member of the G.I. Joe squad. Dubbed “Fridge,” he served as a trainer for the Joes. Hama never worked him into the comic book, though.
By the end of the “G.I. Joe” action figure line, the ideas behind the new toys had gotten to some extremely silly levels, especially in the early 1990s. “Luckily” for Hama, some of the most absurd ideas happened so late in the run that he never had to actually adapt them into the “G.I. Joe” comic book series, as it ended at roughly the same time that the line did in 1994. So, it was to Hama’s great benefit that he never had to work the Mega-Marines into the comic book.
The Mega-Marines were a special unit that was formed to fight against monsters that Cobra had created. Interestingly, it included Joes like Clutch, who wasn’t even a Marine. At least Gung-Ho, the most famous Joe Marine, was the leader of the unit. Luckily, the Mega-Marines fought with special bio-armor, thanks to Mirage, who was a “bio weapons specialist.” Remember what we said earlier about how overly specialized some of these characters had gotten? It’s hard to beat “bio weapons specialist.” In real life, the “bio armor” was essentially Play Doh that would be molded on to the characters through a plastic armor mold.
5. COLONEL COURAGE
Also one of the very late additions to the toy line, and thus not someone that Larry Hama ever had to work into the comic book, was Colonel Courage (whose real name was Cliff V. Mewett). Colonel Courage was part of the “Battle Corps” line, which really wasn’t a line in the same sense that the Mega-Marines were, as there was no underlying plot that accompanied the toys. Instead, they just had weapons that would shoot farther than typical G.Joe weapons of the time.
Colonel Courage is perhaps the most hilarious example of over-specification, as his role on the G.I. Joe squad was “administrator.” Yes, he was the most organized bureaucrat on the Joe squad. Of course, he was well organized in battle, as well! But come on, his specialty was administration! You have to wonder if someone was literally just going through a list of jobs in the military that had not been used for a G.I. Joe character before and settled on administrator.
Altitude actually made an appearance on the “G.I. Joe” cartoon series (in the DIC years), but he never made it into the Hama-penned comic books, which is a shame, as his back story is fascinating. He was a full-blooded Apache who became a professional cartoonist. When the syndicated cartooning industry did not work out for him, he joined the military and ended up on the Joes as part of the Sky Patrol line of toys, where the figures had working parachutes.
None of that sounds all that weird, right? Heck, he even sounds like kind of a great character, no? Get this, though: he was a recon scout, but instead of taking photographs while on his parachute drops, he would sketch out what he saw. Yes, for some ludicrous reason, his sketches were somehow better than photographs. While that makes no sense, it is so ludicrous that it sort of comes around the other side and is awesome again.
3. CAPTAIN GRIDIRON
One of the strangest things about Captain Gridiron is that, as a captain, he would outrank a whole lot of members of the G.I. Joe squad, and yet he was never really treated like much of an officer by anyone. Gridiron actually made it into the “G.I. Joe” comic book, albeit very briefly.
Gridiron was a former West Point football captain and quarterback. Amusingly enough, his file card noted that the Joes all found him kind of grating, so they wouldn’t even let him play quarterback when they would play football at team picnics. He showed up on the DIC cartoon series, as there was an episode where the Joes and Cobra had to play football against each other (because of course they did). One of the weird traditions at Hasbro was that they would often introduce Joes with football connections, like Fridge, Bazooka and Red Dog. Gridiron’s weapon fired off football-shaped explosives, which is as insane as it is awesome.
2. OZONE AND CLEAN-SWEEP
One of the most reviled sub-lines of the “G.I.Joe” toy line was clearly “Eco-Warriors” (which ended up getting canceled earlier than expected due to poor response from fans). The Eco-Warriors was an attempt to cash in on the wave of ecological-friendly programming of the early 1990s (“Captain Planet,” anyone?). Long-standing Joes, Flint and Barbecue, teamed up with new Joes, Ozone and Clean-Sweep, to fight against evil Cobra members who were polluting the environment with sludge. There was even a Sludge Viper!
Larry Hama was forced to work the Eco-Warriors into the “G.I. Joe” comic, but he did so in a clever way. First off, he had characters actively mock their garish-looking outfits in the comic. Secondly, he killed off two birds with one stone by telling three stories per issues. One starred the popular Ninja Force. The other two starred the Eco-Warriors and the G.I. Joe DEF (Drug Elimination Force), which was the book’s requisite “anti-drugs” story.
While Eco-Warriors was really hated, likely the most reviled addition to the “G.I. Joe” team was a member of the Star Brigade, a line of Joe toys designed to fight in outer space. This was the last sub-line addition to “G.I. Joe” before the whole “Real American Hero” line was canceled in 1994, when Hasbro transferred the direction of the line to their then-newly purchased (in 1991) subsidiary, Kenner. Kenner re-launched it as “G.I. Joe Extreme.”
Larry Hama worked the Star Brigade into a storyline in “G.I. Joe,” but he noticeably left one of their members out of the story. Robo-Joe was a soldier who was badly injured and nearly killed in a battle with Destro. The Joes rebuilt him as a cyborg. He wore special armor and effectively did not resemble any other G.I. Joe figure up until that point. It was like he was from an entirely different line of toys… and he probably should have stayed there.
Who was your favorite weird G.I. Joe character? Let us know in the comments!