From rock star to obscurity and back again – the history of Roadblock

For G.I. Joe fans who have been following the property for only a few short years, this may come as a surprise, but believe it or not, there was a time, not very long ago, where Roadblock wasn’t a household name.  In fact, he wasn’t even on Hasbro’s radar.  A victim of lost trademarks, it seemed inevitable that Roadblock would simply fade from the consciousness of the G.I. Joe faithful and no longer be a major part of ongoing canon.

Sure didn’t turn out that way, huh?

I must give credit to long time Joe buddy Todd of Magnum 6 Delta for prompting me to put this post together, and considering the G.I. Joe: Retaliation motion picture on the horizon, and the potential for redefining the core characters of the Real American Hero brand, the timing couldn’t be better.  Click the “Read the Rest of this Story” link below to check out the full article.

It all started in 1984, as so many G.I. Joe stories did.  Looking back at that year from this perspective, 28 years removed, it’s astounding to see what 1984 brought us from a mythology perspective.  While Roadblock is the central point of this article, 1984 also brought to us Firefly, Storm Shadow and Zartan, essentially building the foundation of Cobra that we would all come to know, and all three characters are core villains in the upcoming G.I. Joe: Retaliation film.  There is no doubt the strong character-based foundation that was built in 1984 helped propel G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero into the 30 year behemoth that it has become.

Throughout the Sunbow era, an often-rhyming Roadblock represented just one of the very unique and funny characters that permeated the Sunbow universe, and his trademark poetic slang is one of the most often remembered traits of the character.

While Roadblock didn’t rhyme in the Marvel Comic issues of the era, he was first introduced in issue #24, right alongside Duke and made a quick splash during the funeral for General Flagg.  For the following several years, Larry Hama made perfect use of the character, giving him personality, and an intense and patriotic drive to succeed as a soldier.  In fact, throughout the Marvel Comics history, Roadblock has appeared on more covers than nearly any other G.I. Joe teammate, and his importance throughout the 12 year run in the vintage era can hardly be questioned.

But it hasn’t all been wine and roses for the G.I. Joe heavy machine gunner.  Throughout the vintage years, Roadblock was a persistent presence, showing up in 1985, 1986, in Tiger Force, twice in various Battle Corps iterations, and even has a major part of Star Brigade.  Roadblock was the man in those years.  But something changed.

Somewhere between 1994 and 2000 the Roadblock name was lost in legal limbo.  The exact details of what happened is currently unknown, but for whatever reason Hasbro determined that they didn’t need to pursue his particular trademark, and when the G.I. Joe line made its big mass retail resurgence in 2002, Heavy Duty was now the primary heavy weapons specialist.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Roadblock was brought back to the team in spirit a year before, in 2001, but instead of being the Roadblock we all know and love, his look was relegated to a bizarre offshoot character named Double Blast.

Yes, Double Blast.

Can you imagine the theatrical posters for that one?  G.I. Joe: Retaliation featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as…  DOUBLE BLAST.  I’ve got goose bumps.

The times for the G.I. Joe fandom were far simpler back then, so the campaign to get Roadblock back on the G.I. Joe team started almost instantly.  A G.I. Joe conventions, the fans made their voices heard, and it actually didn’t take long for Hasbro to get their act together.  In late 2003, as Spy Troops was preparing to fade away into Valor Vs. Venom, Roadblock finally made his appearance…as an orange turtle.

Not the most auspicious return for Mr. Hinton, but again, Hasbro was right on the ball and re-released the G.I. Joe heavy machine gunner with the proper neck proportions.  And there was much rejoicing.  But life still wasn’t perfect for Roadblock…  yes he was present and accounted for throughout Spy Troops and Valor Vs. Venom… heck, he got some very well designed love in a comic pack and a Heavy Weapons Set for Toys “R” Us.  But as Valor Vs. Venom kicked off, Wave 1 brought us, once again…  Heavy Duty.  As if that wasn’t enough, the Valor Vs. Venom animated feature established Heavy Duty as Roadblock’s cousin who also happened to be a gourmet chef.  Yes, seriously.  You can’t make this stuff up.  Needless to say, there was fan rage everywhere to the point where even Devil’s Due Publishing (who had the comic license back then) felt the need to mention it.

Feedback from Hasbro this time around was simply that “Heavy Duty” was deemed a more marketable name.  They obviously had the Roadblock trademark, as we had gotten retail release figures under his moniker, but because of marketing research (which never fails us) Heavy Duty remained front and center, the lynchpin heavy machine gunner for the G.I. Joe team.  He had essentially replaced Roadblock in almost every way.

As Valor Vs. Venom morphed into Direct to Consumer, and then finally into Sigma 6, the trend continued.  Roadblock was nowhere to be seen from 2005 through 2007, even as Heavy Duty was sprinkled heavily throughout various lines in that time period.  Perhaps the most galling example was in Sigma 6 where Heavy Duty was clearly a Roadblock clone in almost every way, yet the Heavy Duty name persisted.  Roadblock had become redundant.

So, what happened?

The collectors happened.

When Sigma 6 began its descent, and Hasbro decided to go back to the drawing board, they started design work on the 25th Anniversary line with collectors truly at the forefront of their thinking.  The first G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero 5-Pack was being conceived, and looking back through the 25 year history, it was immediately obvious that Roadblock deserved to have a place in it.  Throughout Sunbow, Marvel Comics, and even Devil’s Due, Roadblock was a character rich with personality and history, and since collectors were the important focus here, Heavy Duty was finally retired and Roadblock was re-introduced.  Throughout 2007 and 2008, things looked good for Roadblock.  He was getting a little bit of love in the 25th Anniversary line (much more than Heavy Duty, who has yet to make an appearance in the modern era, aside from his Rise of Cobra versions), but then word of the Rise of Cobra film emerged.  Was it possible?  Was Heavy Duty once again going to get the green light?

I will say that as a fandom, we did whatever we could to prevent that.  During one of the G.I. Joe Collectors’ Club JoeCon events, I believe it was the 2008 show in Frisco, TX, many of the site leaders and web administrators met with Hasbro and folks from Paramount about the Rise of Cobra film.  During that meeting, we all expressed our desire to see Roadblock as the central heavy weapons specialist and not Heavy Duty.  Interesting to note that during this same meeting, we expressed an interest in Ripcord being an “obscure” character that fans would appreciate, not realizing that this was a character Marlon Wayans was slated to portray.  Yes, Ripcord was all our fault.  By the end of this meeting, I think most of us felt reassured that we had gotten our point across, but in the end, again, Paramount determined that Heavy Duty was a more “marketable” name, and he was the one firing the hip-mounted chain gun, not Roadblock.  Not only that, but to coincide with the film release, IDW was even relaunching the G.I. Joe comic universe featuring a character who even looked just like Roadblock, yet sported the code name Heavy Duty.

Perhaps that was for the best.

Roadblock’s next big break came in 2009 when he was brought on board the cast of G.I. Joe: Resolute.  It became quite clear early in the process that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was being designed as a mainstream vehicle to get the G.I. Joe brand in the public eye while G.I. Joe: Resolute was a love letter to the long time fans featuring characters that we wanted.  Hence, we got Stalker, Roadblock, Spirit, Gung Ho, Flint, and many other characters near and dear to the fans’ hearts while the Hollywood production stuck to the safer bets.  But again, perhaps that was for the best.  In the film, Heavy Duty ended up being a South African heavy weapons specialist who really bore no resemblance to either Heavy Duty or Roadblock, so in the long run it was probably preferred that the Roadblock character wasn’t wasted with a background that didn’t properly befit his character.

The next step in Roadblock’s resurgence was, believe it or not, G.I. Joe: Renegades.  When this animated series was first announced at JoeCon in 2010, Roadblock and Heavy Duty became an immediate conversation point, and the fans were ecstatic that Roadblock would be featured as a lead character.  Very interesting, though, was the fact that G.I. Joe: Renegades producers at JoeCon acknowledged the whole Roadblock phenomenon and reported that Heavy Duty would also make an appearance in the show.  As it ended up, Heavy Duty did appear, showing up as Roadblock’s cousin, and between the two of them, they carried episode 23 of G.I. Joe: Renegades into one of the best episodes of its short life.

Of course, in spite of Roadblock’s apparent new found popularity, it would appear he is the only member of the G.I. Joe: Renegades team who is not slated to receive his own figure.

That brings us to G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson…  Cinemacon’s action star of the decade, and the man who Hollywood and Hasbro are banking on to rebuild and reinvigorate the G.I. Joe brand.  Starring as “Roadblock”.  It almost seems inconceivable.

From an appearance standpoint, the choice is almost perfect.  The Rock is a huge, muscular, charismatic personality, all of this suits Roadblock to a “T”.  Roadblock has always had the bulk and brashness of someone who handles an M2 Browning like it’s a .45, but underneath the layers of muscle and attitude, he’s been smart and oozing with personality.  He is fiercely patriotic, loyal to a fault, and someone who absolutely has your back no matter what happens.  From everything we’ve seen and everything we’ve heard, Dwayne Johnson is taking exactly this tactic when playing Marvin Hinton, and I for one couldn’t be happier.  I think he is the perfect choice.

Which makes the whole events of the past 10 years even more ironic and amazing.  In 2002, Duke littered store shelves and Roadblock was a forgotten trademark by a company who didn’t think he was worth the investment to renew.  Ten years later, in a feature film being designed to revitalize the G.I. Joe brand as we know it today, Duke is taking a back seat and Roadblock is being given the reigns.  I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens.

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  • Gigamach

    Nice write up! (And it’s “Marvin”, not “Martin”.)

  • Monte

    I usually roll my eyes at these nerd crises, but while I love the Sigma 6 Heavy Duty figure, I concede that he should be called Roadblock.

  • Scramble

    Excellent read! You managed to summarize a character’s 30 year history succinctly in a few paragraphs, nicely done.

    As much as I’m a Sunbow first fan, my favourite Roadblock moment is from the Marvel comic: “No one ever died for a typewriter.”

  • Scott

    Well done!!!

  • Ben

    I don’t really think Sigma 6 Heavy Duty bears much resemblance to Roadblock. To use a Transformers example it’s like comparing Bulkhead to Ironhide. They’re the big guys with the big guns but the characters are pretty different.

  • SomeGuy

    The Joe team’s ORIGINAL machine gunner has had a much worse go of things. Rock’n’Roll never really made it to the cartoon, and has languished in relative obscurity ever since because of it.

  • Night

    How is it that a couple of people think one way about something and it’s considered “the fandom’s view/we as a fandom/the fans want”? I agree that Roadblock has a place at the table and should be a focus, but that’s probably the only thing that I agree with.

    One year of not having a figure in 2006 or not being featured in certain media while being in multiple comic book series, trading card game, and figures in many scales does not an “obscure character” make. There were many other characters not featured in one media yet showcased on the other. He was still featured in some aspects and not phased out. Even with the loss of trademark, they still made efforts to get it back. That “turtle” figure (that had the neck fixed) was a popular one as many felt that it was a nice update (and how was Spy Troops “fading away” by the time Roadblock showed up when he was in Wave 6 as well as the Mission Pack? And the line changed three waves later with more Roadblock figures in 2003 and 2004?)

    To some of us who collect just as much as you and others, Heavy Duty is not Roadblock and Roadblock is not Heavy Duty. Some of us were not saying that Heavy Duty was Roadblock’s replacement and that Marvin Hinton was forgotten. They are two different characters and always have been in regards to toys, animation, look, and personality (even their filecards have different specialties). Roadblock was showcased more than Rock N Roll and I didn’t hear one “He’s Rock’s replacement!” in the 80’s and 90’s. Nor did I hear that replacement talk with the rise of certain characters in media who have the same qualifications as previous Joes. Every Joe had a place and I have love for both characters. Roadblock has always been popular with or without Heavy Duty being there. And Heavy Duty became one of the primary gunners just like Rock N Roll, the original machine gunner, and every other heavy weapons specialist on the team. Some say this and it’s like “no other big man can be a machine gunner?” That has always bothered me as both characters have a place in G.I. Joe and it was never redundant to have two big military men there.

    It was Spy Troops the movie, not Valor Vs. Venom, that established Heavy Duty as Roadblock’s cousin. And he wasn’t a “gourmet chef” at all in any movie. He couldn’t even cook (carried over to Sigma 6 that was loosely based on VvsV) and only Scarlett liked his cooking. Valor Vs. Venom the movie had no reference to Roadblock, cooking, or anything in the movie. He was a heavy ordnance trooper from Chicago (big difference from Biloxi) with bandanna who loved classical music just like his filecard says. Blu Mankuma portrayed him just like his filecard said right down to listening to classical music in the Joe vehicle. He didn’t even act like Roadblock at all in Sigma 6 and any other media and I watched it. So while HD was showcased more, I don’t buy into this “Roadblock = Heavy Duty” thing and still don’t.