Cobra is a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule over the world. Who will stop them? G.I. Joe, of course! The Joes had a giant roster that consisted of people with diverse backgrounds and specialties. Some specialized in hand-to-hand combat, others piloted vehicles, and as the series expanded from toys to comics, cartoons, and live action series, the tone became less militant and more fantastical. G.I. Joe started with such Joes as Stalker and Grunt, but now you have characters like Sci-Fi and Crazylegs. There are however some characters from the early days of G.I. Joe that would be better forgotten about.
There are G.I. Joes that feel like they were created during different times. Some of the Joes that we have on our list are here due to cultural insensitivities that in hindsight could have been done with much greater care. Other Joes are mentioned because the logic is way off and it insults our intelligence as a(n adult) viewer. Some made the list because they were odd choices that were too either too silly or too serious to be played with. You'll cringe, you'll laugh, and you'll wonder where it all went wrong as we take a look at 15 G.I. Joe characters that would never fly today.
15 LADY JAYE & SCARLETT
Lady Jaye and Scarlett are very important members of the G.I. Joe team. In the comics, live action movies, and animated versions, both characters contribute to the team and save the day on numerous occasions. So what is it about Allison Hart-Burnett (Jaye) and Shana O'Hara (Scarlett) that wouldn't fly today? There's one inequality with these two women that simply can't be overlooked.
If you look at every other G.I. Joe character, they're rocking guns... very big guns.
Sometimes the Joes are sporting rockets and machine guns and even lasers, so why is it that these two women get spears and crossbows? They can punch and kick just as well as any other of their male counterparts, so why does Lady Jaye have to use such an antiquated weapon? Is Scarlett going to double for Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead?
14 OKTOBER GUARD
Representation is always important, but not when it indulges in stereotypes. G.I. Joe first appeared in the early 1980s while the United States was in a Cold War with Russia. In G.I. Joe #6, we're introduced to the Joe's Russian counterparts, the Oktober Guard, who at one point were called the October Guard, and before that the Pravda Patrol. So were these Russian characters created in the 1980s complex and layered?
Unfortunately, they were Russian stereotypes with character names like Big Bear, Red Star and General Iron Bear. The character of Wong was a bit of an anomaly because he was Chinese (the Oktober Guard featured not only Russians but members of Warsaw Pact countries as well), had a cowboy hat, and said such "cowboy" things as "jumping jeehosofat" because that's what all of the Russian cowboys from China are saying?
Perhaps we need more Joes like Stephen Ferreira, who went by the codename Bullhorn. Bullhorn's specialty was hostage negotiation and intervention, which is refreshing when you see that every G.I. Joe member is sporting possibly the biggest gun humanly possible. Then again, how many kids out there are screaming at their parents during Christmas to get them the "hostage negotiator" action figure? You might have enjoyed the 1998 film The Negotiator but it took Samuel L. Jackson to make the movie awesome.
Does anyone recall in their youth playing with an action figure that came in to stop other action figures from fighting?
Are we going to get literal and have Hasbro produce Mop Man, G.I. Joe's janitor? How about Spatula, G.I. Joe's head chef? Granted, Roadblock's secondary specialty was cooking so we're not knocking the culinary arts, but if we're looking at action figures we want... action! Does anyone recall in their youth playing with an action figure that came in to stop other action figures from fighting? We already had our parents to do that for us!
G.I. Joe has a variety of members with a variety of skillsets. On the Joe team were ninjas, cooks, commandos, minesweepers, even astronauts. At what point did Duke or Hawk say to the recruiters, "You know what we need? We need a disc jockey!" Thomas Rossi III answered the call as a d.j. residing in Boston but born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. So why did he join G.I. Joe exactly?
Dee-Jay was a part of the Battle Force 2000 team, a group of people testing new battlefield technology, and even though 2000 was a long time ago, that felt like the distant future in the 1980s. Dee-Jay was equipped with a laser gun and a hose that went from his head to his shoulder that virtually did nothing. Is that what the future holds for us? Shoulder hoses? If this is the future, then we never should have strayed from vinyl records.
Of course the G.I. Joe character named Nunchuk would have nunchucks included as an accessory, but is there anything else to add to this one-note character? Nunchuk is a part of Ninja Force, a special section of the G.I. Joe team led by Storm Shadow. It also involves ninjas from the Arashikage clan, the same group that helped create Snake Eyes. So what else does this character have to offer?
It turns out that Nunchuk is actually Ralph Baducci from Brooklyn, New York.
Also the graphic on the bottom left of the packaging says that the ninja comes with spring action samurai smash, which seems like this is less an example of cultural diversity and more an example of cultural appropriation. But are we saying that guys from Brooklyn can't be samurai-smashing ninjas? Fuggedaboutit!
Although it's great to see representation in kids' toys, sometimes there's a fine line between diversity and stereotyping. Charlie Iron-Knife's code name was Spirit, and his primary military specialty was tracking. The military also let him walk around with a bald eagle named Freedom, but in all fairness they let Snake Eyes have his timber wolf and Dusty had his coyote named Sandstorm.
The issue is that Spirit feels less like representation and more like the logo for Cleveland's Major League Baseball team. There's even an episode of G.I. Joe where Quick Kick is injured and Spirit is miraculously able to heal his leg by laying hands on him. When the G.I. Joe comic book series was picked up by publisher Devil's Due and made him look more like an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. than one of the Village People.
9 BIG LOB
An illeist is someone that refers to themselves in third person singular, meaning they're talking about themselves as if they're someone else. A good example would be Hulk proclaiming "Hulk doesn't like puny Banner!" Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson while in WWE would ask the audience "Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?" Elmo counts as well as a famous illeist. How about Big Lob? Well, Big Lob might be one illeist you want to forget.
Oddly introduced first in G.I. Joe: The Movie, he was a former basketball player who would talk about himself as if he was an announcer at a championship game.
"Big Lob goes for the gold!" is something that he said while running an obstacle course. Even while he was in a crashing helicopter he continued to speak in sports rhetoric, which after awhile becomes less humorous and more shows like there's something wrong with him.
8 GUNG HO
Etienne LaFitte hailed from Fer-de-Lance, Louisiana (it's a fake place named after a snake) and the Cajun became a Marine at the age of 18. He might have been the one that single-handedly had G.I. Joe relax their dress code, because he made walking around shirtless a thing. His chest tattoo rivals that of Danny Trejo, and it has an eagle perched on top of the globe, which feels fairly imperialistic.
In the 1985 cartoon, he was voiced with a southern accent even though he was Cajun, and in a totally 1980s move made sure to pick fights with the members of G.I. Joe's Russian counterparts the Oktober Guard. Gung Ho went out of his way to call Stepan Drukersky (codenamed Horrorshow) a "dumb Russian bear." Someone get this guy some sensitivity training.
The G.I. Joe comic book series contrasted what was shown on television in the 1980s. The comics had complex relationships between characters and people even died, but because the G.I. Joe cartoon was in the afternoon, the material had to be carefully handled. Given today's climate, the idea of fighting terrorists might be a touchy subject, but when the terrorist group you're fighting is named Cobra and is associated with reptilian serpent people, it's all in good fun.
This is why the presentation of Headman is so odd.
Involving G.I. Joe in a drug war seemed like a strange choice, and the presentation of the evil drug lord as a man in a pinstriped suit and a mask that was once worn by the Hamburglar doesn't feel either accurate or threatening. And how many parents went to the toy store and said, "I'd like to buy the drug kingpin toy for my child?"
Sometimes there's an impracticality with the uniforms of members of G.I. Joe. Wouldn't you want to be wearing body armor if you're going into a gun battle? How about just a shirt? When Robert Traavano joined G.I. Joe and took the code name Banzai, why did he opt for the super-protective mask and then literally strung weapons to his body? Is that a sword without a sheath pressed against the bare flesh on your chest?
What really bothers us is that he kind of looks like he works at an adult bookstore, or like he's the "other" guy in the leather mask from Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. We all have to have the birds and the bees conversation with our children, but thanks to Banzai, we now have to talk about what fetishes are and why Banzai wants you to tell him what your safe word is.
Abraham Zapruder was just a guy with a home movie camera filming John F. Kennedy driving down a street in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 when he managed to film the horrific assassination of the President of the United States. Given the fact that most of our smartphones can shoot video with 4k resolution that can immediately be uploaded to the internet, any one of us can be Zapruder and film the next great triumph or tragedy.
This makes Joes like Scoop absolutely worthless.
Armed with outdated audio/visual equipment from the 1970s, Scoop can easily be outclassed by a tween and the phone that their parents gave them for their fourteenth birthday. Give this guy a RED Digital Cinema 8K camera or at least strap some GoPro cameras on the man! Scoop's real name is Leonard Michaels, and his name and appearance are based on NBC reporter Mike Leonard.
We're happy that Kyle Jesso honored his heritage and pursued a fifth-degree black belt in a sword-fighting technique called laido, but the man with the code-name of Budo is one of many members of G.I. Joe that sacrifices basic combat protection for some sort of gimmick or throwback reference. Yes it's pretty cool to be a samurai warrior, but how effective is a samurai in today's modern military?
Are there Cobra members that are driving H.I.S.S. tanks or flying Cobra Rattlers that are going to immediately stop firing and turn the other way when facing a man dressed as a warrior from the 10th century? The Budo action figure only comes with swords... are you telling us he's in G.I. Joe and doesn't even have a standard sidearm? We think you're cool, Budo, but we'll call you when we need you on the battlefield.
3 MAINFRAME & DIALTONE
When's the last time you saw someone whip out a pager or a palm pilot? These things were extremely helpful and cutting edge back in the day, but considering your current smart phone has more computational power than all of NASA from the 1960s, you don't want to be caught with old tech.
For you to know what a dial tone is you'd have to have a land line, and that's fewer and fewer people nowadays.
So Jack Morelli's choice to go with the code name of Dial-Tone feels horribly antiquated. And can anyone with the code name of Mainframe truly call themselves a computer specialist? Shame on you, Blaine Parker, unless you're going for some retro 8-Bit style you and your friend Dial-Tone can use your dial up modem to call the 1980s to pick you up and take you home.
2 QUICK KICK
MacArthur Ito was born to a Korean mother and Japanese father, and before joining G.I. Joe was a Hollywood stuntman. Quick Kick is one of many G.I. Joe members without enough common sense to have even the most basic body armor. The man doesn't even have any shoes! When Quick Kick made his debut in the 1980s G.I. Joe cartoon, he inexplicably fights Storm Shadow in the arctic without wearing a winter coat or coverings on his feet or chest. We know the man's tough, but can he beat hypothermia?
Quick Kick was a fun character in the comics and on the small screen, but we don't get why he can't wear a uniform like everyone else. It seems that ethnic characters like Spirit and Quick Kick have to wear outfits that support heritage but completely forgo battle protection. We love that you're multicultural, Quick Kick, but does it have to be at the cost of wearing shoes?
1 HEAVY DUTY
Sergeant Blain Cooper in the 1987 movie Predator walked around holding the M134 Minigun, a gatling gun normally found on the side of helicopters that shot up to 6,000 rounds per minute, which averages about 100 rounds per second. The gun is nightmare fuel for anyone that is on the wrong end of it, but even though it's impressive, it's a little too much. Move over, Blain, here comes Heavy Duty.
He's not only going to defeat Cobra, he's going to liquify them.
Did Cobra try and kill his family or something? Because the amount of weaponry he's sporting is comical; he's not only going to defeat Cobra, he's going to liquify them. He's got a mini-gun, canons, and what appear to be rockets on some death machine that he's carrying around. Action figures are supposed to be fun, but seeing someone walk around with this much firepower feels off-puttingly like overkill.