Justin: As 2010 drew nearer, I knew I wanted to do something to celebrate not only the past year in G.I. Joe, but something to celebrate the entire decade. The past ten years have added several series of generations in G.I. Joe lore, some better than others, but I thought it only right that I give some time to not only cheer what Hasbro did in 2009, but also everything it took to get there from G.I. Joe’s apparent mass-market resurgence in the year 2000.
But a strange thing happened as I began paring down the list… I had fifty figures. Yes, FIFTY. And it took me a while to pare it down even that much. Even for a raging fanboy like myself, 50 of the “best” figures of the past 10 years hardly seems like a “best of” list, and more like a “look at all these pretty decent figures” list. Even though nearly 1200 G.I. Joe figures have been released in the past ten years, I wasn’t sure a “Top 50” would generate much discussion or thought… click the “Read the Rest of this Story” link to peruse this monstrous volume!
Then I talked to GeneralsJoes contributor Mike (also known as “Beach-Head” in some of the finer Joe communities out there) and he convinced me to chop it down even further. I gotta be honest, it was one of the toughest 30 minutes of work on this site that I’ve ever done. Yes, I know I’m a shameless fanboy who is often accused of loving everything Hasbro does (a mild untruth, if I may be so bold). So, taking fifty figures that I loved and trimming it down to FIFTEEN was a painful experience, but one that will hopefully generate discussion and introspection. Well, as much introspection as 4” pieces of plastic depicting fake men can generate, anyway. So Mike and I agreed to “tag team” this little endeavor, and I’m glad we did, because I think it turned out to be a fantastic article, and a great test of my own self control. Plus any time I can get ridiculed by Mike is something I always look forward to…or at least my readers probably will.
Mike: That’s good… introduce me as the brains AND the brawn of this outfit. Way to stoke the respect of the fandom, Bubby.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with me, I’ve been on the staff at Joesightings (and have subsequently known Justin) since 2003. I’m not nearly as well-heeled in the community as he is, but I am probably more well-heeled than I think simply because I know him. I am also the Secretary for the COIL Midwest Collector’s Club, and on the moderator staff at JoeBattleLines. I was also at the GIJCC convention waaaaay back in Atlanta in 2007, so I’ve probably met more of you than you know. So I have been pretty outspoken (both online and in person) about many facets of the G.I. Joe mythos for quite some time. Just so you don’t think that Justin only hands out GeneralsJoes assignments to us dashing, debonair sorts.
And if he did, it’s his website, so nyeah.
I was always a fan of the reviews that Justin and Fred wrote for JBL, and thought this would be a neat way to reintroduce that format back to the world. I should also thank GeneralsJoes reader “Randy” (who I suspect is actually a dude named “Randy”) for coming up with the idea for this article in the first place.
Of course, if “Randy” is actually a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, it’s still okay. In fact, it’s more than okay… what was I going on about again? Oh, right. Action figures. G.I. Joes. Gotcha.
Justin: This was definitely a learning process as I went through it as well. If you’d asked me before hand what my favorite figure style was, I would have easily said the o-ring topped all. Yet, out of my top 15, the majority of the 3 ¾” entries were figures that use the new construction. I’ve also made no secret of the fact that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Rise of COBRA line, perhaps more than I enjoyed the 25th Anniversary line. Yet here on this list, there are only two Rise of COBRA figures compared to many more 25th Anniversary Modern Era figures.
And before anyone asks… yes, I did include Sigma 6. Suck it, haters.
Mike: I didn’t. Although I’d like to take the opportunity to deride Justin’s Sigma Love at this point, I instead need to add the disclaimer that I didn’t collect Sigma 6 figures. Unless I can get them in hand, as I can for the other figures on my version of the list, they don’t qualify. All told, Sigma 6 Joes were pretty cool, but I was experiencing serious space and income issues for the bulk of the time that they were in stores, so they were as no-go for me. My entries are solely from the 4”-ish lines that we’ve seen over the last decade.
I reserve the right, however, play devil’s advocate and ridicule Justin’s Sigma Love from this point onward as I see fit. I imagine about 60% of our readers like me better than you already, Justin.
So without further ado…
GeneralsJoes List of Top 15 G.I. Joe figures of the Decade (3 ¾” and 8” Scales)
15: Venomous Maximus (Valor Vs. Venom two-pack w/Duke, 2004) – Yeah, nothing like starting a little controversy right out of the gate, right? Anyone who was around the online community during the Valor Vs. Venom days knows full well the schism that this particular storyline generated. Personally, I love the super hero aspects and nature of the G.I. Joe universe, and the idea of COBRA using genetic manipulation was something that I found really fun. As a whole, I really loved the whole universe that the “new sculpt” era was forming, before it was summarily discarded in 2005, and no figure captures the essence of this child-like time better than the hulking, sinister, and borderline ridiculous Venomous Maximus. Separate the fact that this is a G.I. Joe figure for a second and enjoy the detailed sculpting, the awesome size and scale, and the downright nasty scowl on his face, and you have a figure that really stands out amongst the others in a great way.
Not a figure that fits very well into many fan’s collections, but one that I always pick up and have some fun with, whenever I possibly can.
Mike: I’m not a fan, but somehow I knew that this one was going to sneak on to your list. I actually passed on this guy at retail, I am that much of a non-fan. We’ve just gotten started and I am already thanking every higher power(including some very obscure Greek and Egyptian gods and possibly Bill Parcells) that I can think of that the Mega-Marines debuted in the ‘90s, not the ‘00s.
COBRA has been subjecting their troops to genetic experiments for almost as long as there’s been a COBRA, but Venomous Maximus was just too far over the top for me. Maybe I’m letting my interpretation of the character color my vision of the figure, but come on… he was Hawk? Hawk?!? A thousand times, no!!
I’m going to stick with a new sculpt here for my entry in this spot and go with Blackout (SpyTroops, 2003). The mostly-nondescript run of G.I. Joe Vs. COBRA figures had run their course and the line was starting to find some legs again, and Blackout was the first new COBRA in some time that both looked A) good, and B) like he had a military background. He was well-equipped (a big sticking point for me) with both a sniper rifle and AK-47 assault weapon, and had a ghillie suit (even if it was a curiously brown one) to cover his metallic details, so he could conceivably, legitimately function as a sniper against the best of the best. His compelling backstory added to the overall cool factor, too.
Also, thank God he wasn’t Firefly. In 2003, I was already tired of Firefly. Of course, every other time the line has needed a “realistic” COBRA, Firefly gets dragged out on us. Even if he’s in a pilot helmet or clad in bright blue. Sigh. A 25th Anniversary Blackout would make me one seriously happy little columnist.
14: Baroness (25th Anniversary COBRA 5-Pack #2 w/COBRA Commander, Storm Shadow, Zartan and COBRA Viper, 2009) – It took Hasbro twenty-six years, but they finally managed to create a female action figure that…well… looked female. Easily the best female figure that Hasbro has ever produced in the G.I. Joe line at this scale, The Baroness finally got some street cred as the black leather clad terrorist that she’s always been meant to be.
Amazingly, the first version of this figure way back in 1984 captured that essence pretty well, too, but looks exceedingly dated here in the 21st Century. This version takes that classic look, but adds just enough new and interesting detail to make a fantastic female figure of an iconic Cobra character.
Mike: I am in absolute agreement here. You can see that there was a lot of effort put into the Baroness from the first 25th Anniversary COBRA 5-pack, but it just didn’t work out right. There was a lot of outcry over that incarnation of the fandom’s favorite bad girl, but the design team went back to the drawing board and made good the second time around (or third, if you count the forgettable, single-packed “cartoon Baroness,” which it’s probably best to do).
It was getting kind of embarrassing for the Baroness… after all that time, her best figure was still the first one. If you think back to 2002, it got a lot worse before it got better. I still shudder at the craptasm that was the 2002 Baroness.
13: Resolute COBRA Trooper (25th Anniversary single-pack, 2009) – Anyone who reads this site on a regular basis knows damn well my unhealthy man-love for anything Resolute, and the COBRA Trooper is no exception. Hasbro has tried many times over the years to give us a credible update to the familiar old blue shirt, and they finally did it, only to let Resolute fade away a mere few months later and not allow us to fully capitalize on the awesomeness that is the Resolute COBRA Trooper.
From the updated head sculpt, removable helmet, bad-ass tactical vest, and even the amazingly cool bullpup submachine gun, this version of the COBRA infantry is beyond reproach and one of the finest examples of simplicity of design, but perfect in execution. This is one impressive figure, and every time I end up with a Rise of COBRA trooper, I bemoan the fact that this version was not allowed to be the base for what could have been a legion of terrific COBRA soldiers.
Mike: I promised myself, a longtime blueshirt fan, that I was only going to allow myself to put one 25th Anniversary-style COBRA Trooper on my list, but this is the one I was going to go with anyway. I also promised myself that I was going to refrain from the use of the term “unhealthy man-love” for this article. I suppose some of us have higher journalistic principles than others.
Does this mean that the red-clad one from the Resolute 5-pack is an “honorable mention?”
Justin: Hmmm… no.
12: SDCC Destro (Rise of COBRA, 2009 SDCC Exclusive two-pack) – For as long as I can remember, the fans have been clamoring for a standard 3-piece suit sculpted Joe figure, mostly for custom purposes. Well, even though they restricted it to San Diego ComicCon (and later via online sales through HasbroToyShop) Hasbro delivered in spades with this version of the Rise of COBRA Destro.
What helps this figure even more is that the sculpting and design for the figure is fantastic. He has great range of motion, terrific presentation, and is the only movie-accurate version of Destro on the market, all reasons why he’s one of the best figures this decade.
Mike: What? No SDCC Pimp Daddy Destro? I’m shocked and even a little disappointed. Actually, that’s not a bad call, but if I want one Destro on this list, it’s going to be the Iron Grenadier Destro (25th Anniversary single-pack, 2008). This is one imposing action figure, and it scores bonus points with me for how the Hasbro team made the “Destro” torso usable for both the original and IG incarnations of the character. I always felt this was Destro’s best look anyway, and the 25th Anniversary line captured it perfectly with its removable sword and sidearm, and cloth cape. We got deluged with repaints of this figure very quickly (three times before the end of 2008), but I think that was a tribute to a very well-done and well-received figure.
Justin: True, the Iron Grenadier Destro was impressive, that is a fact. As a matter of fact, he kind of ushered in the “new age” of 25th Anniversary figures, I think. The initial wave of two 5-packs and those first waves of single packs left a lot of long time collectors somewhat cold, but the massive improvements in that first wave of figures in 2008 really turned a lot of the fandom around. Destro, Flash, Snow Job, and the Crimson Guard I think really kicked off the 25th Anniversary and moved it much more into a positive light.
11: Iron Anvil (GIJCC Exclusive Set “General Mayhem: MARS Invades,” 2005) – I’m one of the few fans who admits to actually liking what Hasbro did in the 90’s, with my only major issues being color schemes. Well, the G.I. Joe Collectors’ Club seems to follow my opinion, as they utilize a ton of those 90’s molds, but they give them much improved paint applications, and the ’94 Viper is no exception. This new black, red, and gray color pallet makes a huge difference over the pink and purple, and totally breathes new life into this great figure. Truthfully, there were a bunch of Convention exclusive figures that narrowly missed the cut for these top 15, and I really feel like the Iron Anvil is the best example of what I love so much about the GIJCC figures and exclusives.
Mike: I agree that the GIJCC generally does a great job with its exclusives, but I’m not going to go the same route as Justin in recognizing them. Instead, I’m going with Starduster (GIJCC Exclusive Set “Tanks For The Memories,” 2007). His accessories put him over the top as a “best of” entry, from the retooled visored helmet to the cool, borrowed-from-Star Wars jet pack flame plume, Starduster (and to a slightly lesser degree, Grand Slam from the same two-figure mini-set) set the Atlanta convention-goers on their collective ear. Also, a good G.I. Joe figure (mind you, that’s specifically a G.I. Joe character, not necessarily a COBRA) takes a farfetched concept like a Superman-style flying backpack and makes it realistic and accessible. Starduster does that, and looks darn good doing it.
Justin: I can’t blame you there, Mike. Starduster was the next GIJCC figure on my list, had you allowed me to go beyond a top 15 list, you list-making Nazi…
10: Sgt. Airborne (25th Anniversary single-pack, 2008) – By and large, since I’ve been buying G.I. Joe non-stop for twenty-seven years I’ve seen it all and I own it all, so I often scratched my head and wondered why I was buying the same figures all over again throughout the run of the 25th Anniversary. But in some cases, the Hasbro designers were able to add enough new elements and new “spice” to really make the updated version trump the classic one.
Sgt. Airborne is a perfect example of that. Hasbro was able to take a somewhat scrawny, obscure, funky colored ’83 Joe and turn him into a beautifully sculpted, nicely painted, real world military soldier that is one of the highlights of the 25th Anniversary line. This is exactly what I love about the 25th Anniversary. Make the old stuff BETTER, not just rehash what’s been done a number of times before.
Mike: I’ll be boring and get back to agreeing with you on this one. Airborne’s one of the highlights of the 25th Anniversary line for me. His incredibly detailed webgear was a nice touch and more than made up for his slightly funky hollow, soft-rubber backpack. This figure’s so good that it even looks great in the drab gray camo of the Rise of COBRA line, even if he’s been recast as “Rollbar,” sidecar jockey of the new Snarler cycle. Justin, why does a guy named “Rollbar” come with a vehicle without a rollbar?
Justin: Maybe he IS the rollbar? Ever think about that, smart guy?
Mike: Yes, but if it were that simple, I contend his name would be “Sidecar Jockey.”
09: Barrel Roll (Spy Troops Deluxe Figure w/Air Assault, 2003) – The early 2000’s were a very cool time in recent G.I. Joe history…there was a certain innocence. The conventions were still in the fairly early stages, leaked pictures and early releases out of China were few and far between, and the Toy Fairs and Conventions were a bit more epic in nature. G.I. Joe seemed a lot more innocent as well back then, being conceived purely for the kid’s market, and while there was some effort made to incorporate collectors into the line, it was a much more direct kid’s line back then. Collectors be damned, we had to deal with crazy proportions, 2-packs of figures and limited army builders, whether we wanted them or not.
While the G.I. Joe vs. Cobra era had its share of ups and downs, the Spy Troops era really looked like the next “big thing.” Recondo, Crosshair, and yes, Barrel Roll were all awesome examples of the huge leap in quality between JvC and Spy Troops. I chose Barrel Roll to place in this list for a variety of reasons…first and foremost, I think he is a character who easily transcends the whole Spy Troops division, and unlike many of the new characters from the time, could potentially exist in other universes seamlessly. The story woven around the Stall brothers was a cool one, and Barrel Roll was also one of the first figures to feature wrist articulation, something that many Joe fans of today take for granted. In addition to this, Barrel Roll was really the first figure where Hasbro experimented with wrist articulation, and did a great job at it.
Because of this, because of the cool accessores (and functional disguise), and because of his overall importance to the line at the time, Barrel Roll was a must have in this list.
Mike: I love Barrel Roll the character. He fills a lot of potential holes in the G.I. Joe mythos. He’s the good brother in the Stall family struggle. He’s another pilot on a team short on pilot. He’s a marksman. He even debuted as a spy in the Devil’s Due comic… the list could’ve gone on. He was a potential superstar, a Duke-level superstar, that Hasbro never capitalized on for whatever reason. That said, I can’t put him here.
Why not? First off, the Air Assault glider/jetpack was (and is, as 2009’s Target exclusive shows) a dud. A popular adjective for many vehicles of the Spy Troops era was “Tonka,” was is to say they were needless bulky. The Air Assault was too huge to be a portable jet pack and too heavy to be a glider. Secondly, the first edition of Barrel Roll, while admittedly well-sculpted, is seriously under-equipped if he’s not in his “Raptor-Viper” disguise, and the second one is just hideous with its (and I can’t believe I’m typing this) fluorescent earth-tones. There was a ton of potential there, but they just didn’t live up to it here.
I’m going with Crosshair (Spy Troops two-pack w/COBRA C.L.A.W.S. Commander, 2003) here. One of the more realistic-looking members of the Joe team, Crosshair’s only drawback was he was a touch tall compared to the rest of the line… but since he was a new character, I was happy enough just thinking he was a little tall. He was similarly equipped to his COBRA counterpart Blackout, with his sniper rifle, M-16 assault weapon and ghillie suit, plus a cool removable boonie hat. A great figure.
Justin: It’s like you read my mind…as I was trimming down my massive list of favorite figures, I had two Spy Troops entries left to cut, Crosshair and Barrel Roll. Because of Barrel Roll’s importance to the mythos in the 2003 – 2004 era, I left him in and chopped Crosshair, but I certainly understand your point of view, too.
Mike: Social relevance is a pretty good argument for any of the three Stall siblings (with Bombstrike being the third, for the rookies). If I were making a top 15 list of “Most Important G.I. Joes” of the last decade, Barrel Roll might be there, but I just wasn’t ever wowed by an interpretation of his figure. If you stop and think about it, he doesn’t even have a distinctive look, and he’s closing in on being a decade old himself. Not that relevance is a bad thing to consider, but I think you gave it more consideration in your choices than I did. But there’s no right and wrong here, and if we agreed 100% on 100% of this list, it’d be pretty boring reading. I digress.
08: Cobra Firefly (Sigma 6, 2006) – I’m hoping everyone by now knows I’m a Sigma 6 fan, and I felt compelled to include some of those figures in this list. Like Barrel Roll above, one of the coolest aspects of this figure is the storyline background where Firefly started out as a good guy, then turned traitor and betrayed the Sigma 6 team. While I loved the good guy version of Firefly, this Cobra version was the one every Joe fan wanted to see, and Hasbro delivered in spades.
Even with the larger 8” scale, and the over-exaggerated animated tooling style, this version of Firefly manages to look sinister, malevolent, and yet fits in with the Sigma 6 style all at the same time. He’s got some terrific Sigma 6 elements, but also maintains some strong familiar “Firefly” elements, too. A great figure, regardless of your scale preferences.
Mike: Oh, you’re done talking about your Power Rangers now? (Remember, folks… Devil’s Advocate. Continue to send all hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Anyhow, I’m going with Flash (Rise of COBRA single-pack, 2009) here. By and large, I like the Rise of COBRA line, but I don’t hold it in as high of regard as I do the 25th Anniversary figures. This stems largely from the lack of color palette used on what is generally a good-looking set of Joes. (COBRAs, by my thinking, are allowed to be darker, so the abundance of dark grays and blacks in their paint doesn’t bother me nearly as much. However, they generally don’t look nearly as good, either.) Flash has always been one of my favorite characters, and surprisingly I found myself liking his drastic re-design. Black is still his primary color, but he’s also got a lot of bright red going on. Stealth is not terribly important to plasma cannon-wielding electronics experts. I hope Hasbro gets outside of the design box a bit more often, if figures like Flash are the result.
Justin: I know this is going to get redundant, but this was another VERY tough cut for me. Flash was close to SDCC Destro for inclusion on this list, but ultimately the presentation and accessories that Destro came with won out, but this figure is freaking awesome, and I’m very happy that Mike included it, so it gets at least a little focus on this page.
07: Resolute Duke (25th Anniversary single-pack, 2009) – Ever since seeing the Resolute teaser at the 2008 JoeCon, the fandom clamored for Resolute-themed action figures…it took Hasbro a while, but in the last wave of the 25th Anniversary line, they finally delivered…and delivered in spades. This is the ultimate version of Duke in my mind. He’s got the familiar elements of the vintage version, but some very nice modern tactical gear, excellent sculpting, and some bad ass weapons.
This IS Duke in my world now. 1984 doesn’t even exist…this is who Duke is and will be for the forsee-able future. Hasbro took a 23-year-old icon, and perfectly redefined him for the new century, and it’s kind of a shame that the Rise of COBRA universe had to take over and sort of push that aside. Here’s hoping 2010 gets back to a more familiar, military style and we get back to what we were all on the verge of getting… G.I. Joe near-perfection.
Mike: I loves me some Resolute, and I hope we get a Resolute Bazooka in the future. (Wait, what? Oh, riiiight…) Anyhow, Resolute Duke’s a great figure, but I don’t think I’m putting him this high. He lost a few points with me because there’s nowhere to store his sidearm or knife. If that particular bar hadn’t been raised for most of the other 25th-Anniversary style figures, I might not have even noticed.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to acknowledge the COBRA Eel (25th Anniversary single-pack, 2008) here. Removable dive gear, and not just a backpack? Knives with leg sheaths? A removable helmet? Oh, man… this might just be the best aquatic-themed figure the G.I. Joe line has ever put out, because the Eel looks so topside-functional, as well. Too bad we never saw a 25th-Anniversary MORAY to have this guy man the guns for.
Justin: I think someone forgot to tell you that if you don’t love Resolute above all else, you’re not a “real Joe fan”. Just sayin’.
06: Alley-Viper (25th Anniversary, Defense of COBRA Island 7-pack, 2009) – Seriously? An orange and purple urban operations combat specialist? Good lord, what was with Hasbro in the late 80’s, early 90’s? I still lament the fact that the original Alley-Viper tooling was lost and we never got a very suitable darker color scheme for this incredible figure, but the good news is, Hasbro has reinvented the Alley-Viper, and now evidently has plans to use this tooling often, giving it better colors down the road.
Even in the garish bright color scheme, though, this figure is one that defines the greatness of the 25th Anniversary style. He comes fully loaded with functional accessories, removable knives, a great shield and submachine gun, plus even with the bright colors, the oversized pads and maxed out tooling screams “bad ass.” One of the finest figures in the Anniversary line, and a total stand out amongst the last ten years.
Mike: In a bit of role reversal, I need to admit that I never minded the orange-and-blue getup of the original Alley Viper. I thought of the Alley Vipers as jackbooted shock troops that didn’t care much about camouflage, thanks to their bulletproof shields and what I presumed to be Kevlar outfits. Orange is okay, if it’s a functional orange.
I agree with the inclusion of the Alley Viper here. The COBRA Island 7-packs were absolutely fantastic, on the whole. Not a weak figure in the entire set of 14. I mean, very few people like Disco Dr. Mindbender anymore, but it’s not because Hasbro didn’t make him correctly. Ultimately, if those are the last 25th Anniversary-specific G.I. Joe items we see, then that incarnation of the line went out on a major high note.
05: Range-Viper (25th Anniversary, Defense of COBRA Island 7-pack) – 1990 gave us some real G.I. Joe and COBRA strangeness, not the least of which was Range-Viper, a bizarrely colored skull-faced COBRA trooper who really had folks scratching their heads. I mean, he seemed cool…he seemed evil…but he didn’t really come together all that well. However, when Hasbro re-utilized the Range Viper character for the Defense of COBRA Island 7-pack, they went back to the drawing board, and managed to improve the figure in almost every single way.
Sure he still had the blue and the yellow, but using the Resolute COBRA Trooper tooling was a stroke of genius, and you ended up with a very cool, but very versatile COBRA woodland trooper who improved the original in every single way and single-handedly made the Defense of COBRA Island set worthwhile.
Mike: “Single-handedly,” even though the Alley Viper is listed one spot earlier? Do you actually READ this after you write it?
Justin: Wait…I’m supposed to read this after I write it? Who made up that rule? I thought my job was superfluous praise and helpless hyperbole…someone call my agent!
Mike: There are a lot of gems in that pack. So much so that I think the Range-Viper is my fourth-favorite one from the set, and I don’t mean that as a slight to the Range-Viper. I mean, that set made me like a Night Creeper figure! ME!! A NIGHT CREEPER!!
In lieu of doubling up on 7-pack love, I’m going to slip in a personal favorite. Clearly, as I have been identified as him for several years now, Beach-Head has always been one of my favorite characters and figures, so I’m putting him in here. There are several that are similar, but if you want just one, shell out the couple extra dollars for the Hall of Heroes (25th Anniversary, 2008) edition. Beach-Head was always one of the great all-purpose G.I. Joe badasses, and that’s the version that comes with everything. It’s got the masked head and ammo vest from the comic book two-pack version, but it’s got slightly more muted colors than that version, too. It’s also got the 1986-accurate submachine gun (with removable clip!) and ammo pack (also with removable clip!), PLUS the submachine gun that came with the original Beach-Head single pack. Finally, it’s also got that great utility backpack with the removable crossbow.
I thought the Hall of Heroes concept was poorly executed (are you kidding me with all of those unnecessary army builders, people?), but there were a few gems to be found there.
04: Horror Show (Comic Pack 3-pack #7, 2004) – Even though the vintage Real American Hero style looks dated and stunted when compared to the newer style, there is a love I have for that line that will never be matched by anything else. Sure, the Pursuit of COBRA line looks totally bad ass, and may define my “best of” list for 2020, but there is a charm, a function, and a love for the old school o-ring figure that will never, ever be matched.
Horror Show defines a measure of greatness in 2004. JoeCon in 2003 promised Comic Packs…something the fans had been asking for, for a long, long time. There seemed to be so many valuable characters that Larry Hama invented that never got the figures they deserved, and finally, Hasbro was producing Comic Packs, designed to celebrate those characters and complete many collectors’ vacant collections. Quickly it seemed, however, that the Comic Packs were mostly being used to recycle tired old tooling with new heads and while they gave us some great comic-accurate paint schemes, there didn’t seem to be a strong desire to fill any character holes.
And then came Comic Pack Issues #6 and 7, and everything changed.
Ever since the 80’s, the fans were clamoring for Oktober Guard figures (I know, I read the letters pages every month!). And besides a shameful Toys “R” Us Exclusive 3-Pack in 1998, we seemed destined to get pretty much nothing. But in 2004, Hasbro gave Joe fans everywhere an awesome Christmas present, and supplied us with 2 packs chock full of Oktober Guard greatness, including the surprising Horror Show. Surprising I say, because for the most part, we’d gotten newly tooled heads, but that was about it…for the first time in recent memory, Hasbro had retooled a new part for the vintage toyline other than the head, and the results were fantastic.
Sure, the new style of sculpting, tooling, and articulation have a ton of advances and bonuses compared to the vintage style, but Horror Show represented a great moment in G.I. Joe history in the 2000’s, and he deserves a spot this high on the list…after all, the fans had been waiting over twenty years for him.
Mike: I agree again. Those 3-packs filled a gaping hole in many fans’ collections, and Horror Show is the best of the strong batch of eight Oktober Guard figures that saw the bulk of their shelf time in 2005 and 2006, followed closely by Daina and Dragonsky. While I wish Horror Show had been built a little beefier, it’s still an excellent likeness of the character, considering how few resources were being devoted to the comic 3-packs at that time. Full disclosure: for over a year, the 2005-06 Oktober Guard were the only Joes on display in my home.
Similarly, the lack of 25th Anniversary-style Oktober Guard figures has created a new void in my collecting heart. I really hope I’m not waiting two decades to fill that one. I’m sure Hasbro can pump out another sixty Dukes next year to keep me distracted, though.
Don’t you give me that look. We’ve written a whole article saying nice things. I’m allowed one piece of bitter (accurate) fanboy criticism.
03: COBRA Trooper (TRU Exclusive 6-Pack, 2004) – 2004 was really a great year. Valor Vs. Venom was a great storyline (in my opinion), the figures were really improving at a rapid pace, and for the vintage fans, we had a ton of Comic Packs and Toys “R” Us Exclusive sets to satisfy the need for old school o-ring goodness. Without a doubt the most infamous of these Toys “R” Us sets was the COBRA Infantry 6-pack.
In the days of 2004, this set created a fever that I hadn’t seen before…G.I. Joe had always kind of been the bastard stepchild of the toy collecting world. Constantly in the shadows of Transformers and Star Wars, the fandom rarely got into a real fever or fury, but the desires of the fans to accumulate as many of these 6-packs as possible was something amazing to witness.
Even better was the fact that these COBRA Troopers weren’t straight re-issues…they had great new heads and different arms that gave the figures more beef, more bulk, and really made them a lot cooler and more desirable. Not to mention the fact that they had basic generic paint schemes that appealed to the longtime fans. They were really the perfect storm. But this 6-pack would quickly turn from greatness to legend as rumors came down that the Asian factory which stored these updated tools shut down and locked Hasbro out, so any other COBRA Troopers they wanted to produce would never look like this again. Desire for these sets has cooled considerably over the years, but for any fan who was around in these days, this figure represented an absolute high point in the Joe collecting world.
Mike: Full disclosure: I have two of these sets that I’ve never opened. Lord only knows what I’m waiting for.
Justin: Umm…to ship them to me?
Mike: While these weren’t the flashiest figures around and their gear was absolutely awful, there’s no denying that the COBRA Infantry 6-packs may have been the most important figures of the last decade, which gives them a unique distinction on this list. This was the set that got collectors out to Toys ‘R Us in droves. I lived in Independence, Missouri in the first half of 2004, and I remember seeing a box of these getting snatched off of a pallet and tossed around like a Cabbage Patch Kid in 1984 by a group of crazed scalpers. I know this because for the ten minutes prior to the G.I. Joe stock coming out to the sales floor, I had to smell their Corn Nut-scented breath as they mused about how much they were going to “score on eBay.” Of course, after the fracas I described earlier, they were all thrown out of the building, but I, as a mere observer, was allowed to stay. I let the stock clerks do their job, took a lap around the sales floor, walked back to the G.I. Joes three minutes later and bought two on my way out. True story. I wish I could have afforded the whole case.
Again, if my list was in its exact order, these guys wouldn’t be quite this high, but they would definitely be on there. The COBRA Infantry 6-pack, for better and for worse, dragged G.I. Joe out of the hobbyists’ shadows and back into mainstream toy collecting.
I hate eBay, almost as much as I hate Corn Nuts.
02: City Strike Snake Eyes (Rise of COBRA, 2009) – I must admit I was shocked with myself as I narrowed down my list of top 15 figures of the decade, and I didn’t have very many Rise of COBRA-era figures on the list. How was this possible? By and large I’ve enjoyed 2009 more than 2007 and 2008, yet when I try and find figures that are shining examples of greatness, I didn’t find a whole lot of 2009 entries to choose from. Believe me, if I had expanded my list to 25 or 35, there were a number of other figures that would have found a place here, like The Doctor, Agent Helix, Flash, and others, but here, trimming this down to 15, I just couldn’t find many to work in here. I still stand by my thoughts, though, that by and large the Rise of COBRA was more enjoyable to me, as a whole, than the 25th Anniversary was. Sure, there were some absolutely fantastic offerings in 2007 and 2008 (as evidenced by this list), but in my mind, there were more substandard figures that negatively impacted my opinion on the whole.
And really, when you look at it, is City Strike Snake Eyes really considered a “Rise of COBRA” figure? Definitely not. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is a bad ass figure, regardless. The fact that I have three figures from the Resolute universe in my top 15 should be testimony to just how much I love the designs from that universe, and how much I respect “G.I. Joe: Resolute” as a whole.
City Strike Snake Eyes is simply amazing. Great detail, great overall design, and by and large my favorite 3 ¾” figure that I’ve seen in the past ten years. To be honest, I tried very hard to find other figures that I might prefer over this one…too often the “latest” equals “the greatest” and I didn’t want to be accused of only liking this figure because he’s the newest one, but honestly, he deserves his spot in the front of the line.
Mike: There have been many, many Snake-Eyes figures in the last ten years. A verifiable horde. Some have been pretty good, some have been pretty redundant, but none of them are truly terrible. For as many Snake-Eyes figures as I’ve picked up in the last decade, several of them are great. The 25th Anniversary reissues of the 1982, 1985 and 1989 Snake-Eyeses (Snake-Eyii?) were all outstanding. Arctic Snake-Eyes, Battle-Damaged Snake-Eyes, and Rise of COBRA’s Paris Pursuit Snake-Eyes were new twists on the character. Dialing back a few years, the “CLASSIFIED” figure and Valor Vs. Venom Snake-Eyes figures were strong entries, too.
That’s right. I made a grammar joke up there. Deal with it. But again, I digress.
City Strike Snake-Eyes made me say “wow.” I’m not a “Snake-Eyes guy” by any means, but man, that is one cool toy. When I pick up City Strike Snake Eyes, I am compelled to army-build the Resolute COBRA Trooper to insane depths, just so he can cut them down. (Can we please get Resolute back? Please?!?) An awesome toy. It’s encouraging that Hasbro can go out on top this way.
Furthermore, Justin, I’m shocked that we agree with the top spot on our lists. I thought for sure that you’d go out to left field and dig up something weird…
Justin: But of course, I know what you’re asking… if this is the best 3 ¾” figure, then what’s #1? Well, get the hate mail ready, folks…
Mike: Wait… oh, crap… you’re not done yet. You went and put a Power Ranger in the top spot, didn’t you?
01: Lt. Stone (Sigma 6) – Yes. My #1 favorite G.I. Joe figure of the decade is, in fact, not a 3 ¾” or 4” figure. It’s an 8” Sigma 6 figure, but I feel totally justified in putting him tops on this list, as he exemplifies everything that I love about the G.I. Joe brand, and managed to wrap it all up into one terrific package. This figure simply had it all.
First of all, was the character…the way he interlaced with the great Firefly as traitor story within the Sigma 6 universe was great. He was the perfect marriage between military and science-fiction, the same way G.I. Joe has been since day one. The eye patch and artificial arm immediately told a story of a dark and tragic past, without even knowing anything about him. He came with a wide array of terrific accessories, including silenced pistols, removable holsters, a beret, and a net launcher that had some silly spring-loaded action, but was still amazingly cool.
Even in the animated style, Stone was loaded with bad-assedness. The sculpting on his robotic arm and the use of green translucent plastic were both works of art.
Not only all of this, but Lt. Stone also came with a very cool Cobra Trooper armor disguise, so each figure could double as a trooper as well, and the armor fit so well, it’s tough to even tell that Lt. Stone is under there. I currently own a dozen Lt. Stone figures, using eleven of them as Cobra Troopers, and they fit into my army builder display seamlessly. This figure was very desirable and was exceedingly expensive at first release, but eventually evened out. I don’t think anyone’s Sigma 6 collection is complete without him.
I know I am in the distinct minority with my love for Sigma 6, but for whatever reason that entire toyline just captured the energy and essence of G.I. Joe to me, even more so than The Rise of COBRA. I think those toys deserve their spot in the limelight, and it’s my honest opinion that the Sigma 6 Lt. Stone is the highlight of action figure greatness from the G.I. Joe world over the past ten years.
Mike: Are you kidding me? This is because Robo-J.O.E. wasn’t eligible, isn’t it?
I could pick Montezuma’s Skeleton (25th Anniversary DVD Battles Pack #3, 2008) as the best figure of the last ten years, and it might be less controversial than this. I think I’m content to leave City Strike Snake-Eyes there instead.
Justin: Yes, alas, Robo-Joe wasn’t available, and my life feels somehow incomplete. Is it too late to do a “best figures of the decade” for the 90’s?
Mike: Hey, it’s your website. You go ahead and knock yourself out. However, if you think you had it tough in THIS article, I’d suggest you keep that one a solo project, General Day-Glo. Any “Best of the ‘90s” discussion involving me and G.I. Joe will involve much gnashing of teeth and has the potential for bloodspray.
Justin: Mike, I find it tough to argue with any of your choices. In fact, most of what you wrote matches some very hard cuts I had to make to my Top 50 list (yes… top FIFTY. I am indeed a shameless fanboy) in order to cull it down to a more manageable Top 15. Blackout, Beachhead, Crosshair, Starduster, Flash…those are all figures that were between 15 and 25, and deserve their spot here. Thanks for including them.
Mike: Conversely, I was kind of surprised how many figures you had in your Top 15 (not counting the Sigma Sixers, for the reasons I listed above) that I never considered at all. It’s just a matter of personal taste, of course, but Venomous Maximus, Iron Anvil, SDCC Destro and Barrel Roll weren’t on my original pare-down list of 30-something figures. Ven-Max excluded, I don’t think those are bad figures, just not particularly noteworthy to me. That’s why you collaborate on things, though, to blend ideas together and possibly come out with a new understanding and perspective. Thanks for including me on this project.
I should also note that the 15th figure on my list was the B.A.T. (25th Anniversary single-pack, 2008), but there wasn’t an easy place to work that into your framework. I tried to match up our similar picks and then match the others tit-for-tat, but then you went and ruined the whole thing by picking Robot-Boy as your Number One. I didn’t feel like the B.A.T. belonged up that high, even for the sake of argument, so I went with a cheap Montezuma’s Skeleton joke instead. What can I say? I can’t say no to a cheap shot, and if Justin has proven anything over the years, it’s that he can’t say no to taking them.
Justin: I hear you on that one (the B.A.T., not the cheap shot you ass). He was one of the tougher cuts I had to make as well, but in the end I decided to kind of combine coolness with purpose and history. Probably should have told you that before I asked for your help, eh?
G.I. Joe has obviously gone through many facelifts, many changes, and many different lives in the past 10 years, and I continue to find it amazing at how well the line survives and thrives no matter the format or design. From 2.5” to 3 ¾”, to 8” and 12”, G.I. Joe has maintained a viable existence in many sizes, many styles, and many forms, and doing this retrospective has been a lot of fun.
When Mike wasn’t busting my chops, anyway.
Mike: And yet, that’s what so many folks will find fulfilling.
I agree with that last sentiment. One of the jokes that my little local crowd of Joe collectors has is to scream “Deth of the Line!” about anything new that premiers in G.I. Joe with our tongues firmly planted in our cheeks, knowing that we’ll be in line at the local Target to buy it anyway. We’ve screamed it a lot over the years, and the brand still keeps chugging along, pushing out new quality product regardless of scale and character. I’m excited to see what the next decade has to offer!