It started with an interesting website article that was posted by a friend of mine a short while ago. An opinion piece from Toy News Online which mentioned the need for narrative stories in children’s toys today. I know us collectors don’t like to think of what we buy as “children’s toys” but at the core of our consciousness, I think we all understand that’s where this journey began.
Over the past few years, Hasbro has been producing some of the best toys they have made in a very, very long time…if not ever. Using amazing inspiration from past G.I. Joe toys, other 80’s influences, and lots of great modern military equipment, the G.I. Joe team of 2010 – 2013 is an amazing collection of fantastically articulated, amazingly produced toys.
There’s only one problem… who are these guys? Who are they fighting? Why are they fighting? Why is Destro, who typically is a behind-the-scenes guy, strapping on a thick armored body suit and jumping into the action with a chain gun? Why is Cobra Commander now wearing a skull mask and metal chest plate? Does this story take place after the Rise of Cobra, or have we spun out into yet another universe. I’ve been somewhat surprised to see that other collectors don’t seem to be curious about these things. Sure, I might get flak for not having enough “imagination” but at some point I think a narrative voice is necessary to breath life into these characters. If not necessary, it sure as hell helps.
Click the Read the Rest of the Story link below for the full article.
Without a narrative, how do you appreciate and enjoy new characters? Simply based on how they look? What is Shadow Tracker’s deal? Where did Skydive get his crazy ass jetpack? For crying out loud where did the Zombie-Vipers come from?!?
Yes, I get too wrapped up in this sometimes.
I mentioned that the online article was the initial nexus for writing this article, but I didn’t mention the second… it was my toy room. Folks who have been visiting the site have likely read my Evolution of a Toy Room feature (which should be getting another update very shortly), so you know that I’m setting up a toy room in my new house, and part of that involves unpacking toys I haven’t really seen in a while. And yes, that includes the infamous “new sculpt era” stuff. Fraught with sculpting weirdness, proportions that were all over the place, a bizarre smashing together of 80’s military homages and almost comic book super hero craziness. Looking at them purely from a toy perspective, it’s hard to even put them in the same category as the toys we’ve gotten over the past couple of years. Strange construction and articulation inconsistencies plagued the line, but to this day the “new sculpt era” had something that G.I. Joe has been lacking over the past years since (perhaps with the exception of Sigma 6).
A fantastic, outrageous, toy-based story.
Sure, we had G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, we had G.I. Joe: Resolute, and we had G.I. Joe: Renegades, but those all leaned heavily on pre-established media events…with the new sculpt toys, the toys drove the story, not the other way around. Whether by filecards, the Devils’ Due comic books, or direct to DVD animated features the toys built a G.I. Joe universe simply by virtue of being fun toys, not because they had to capitalize off of a mass media event. Where we get a strange looking Cobra hunter in the form of Shadow Tracker, with no idea who he is, in 2004, we got Venomous Maximus, who we learned very quickly was captured G.I. Joe General Hawk, “venomized” and converted to a Cobra super soldier. Call me crazy, and even considering how silly that story might seem, it added some depth to the character that he became all the more cooler to me, just knowing his back story. Potentially crappy toys like the Tigerhawk Jet and the Night Adder fighter were made cool, and a totally random new character like Dr. Link Talbot, instantly became a credible piece of the G.I. Joe roster. Even going back to Spy Troops, we got introduced to Agent Faces…having a story to tell immediately gives Hasbro a reason to bring us new characters.
Don’t even get me started on guys like Barrel Roll and Blackout, with some Bombstrike thrown in…and hey, how about Ghost Bear? Kwinn’s son? How rich is that story?
The truth of the matter is, as much as I’ve loved the toys over the past few years, part of me continues to itch for some better story telling that isn’t fully dependent on something filters through the masses. Maybe it’ll happen after G.I. Joe: Retaliation, who knows. All I know is that for everyone that condemns the new sculpt era, I tell them there is good and bad to every story, and considering the absolute roller coaster of movie delays, animated series cancellation, credit card complaints, rage about the Figure Subscription Service over the past few months, I gotta be honest, 2003 – 2005 is sounding really damn good right about now. For folks who were drawn in during the 25th Anniversary onslaught, look into some of those other figures a little bit. The toys themselves don’t hold up real well, but there’s a lot of spirit there and a lot of G.I. Joe story to love. Don’t just push it aside.