Before we look the top 5 best GI Joe characters, I need to tell you a little story.
On the morning of Saturday December, 2nd, I sustained a nasty head wound. It required a 3:30am visit to the ER, an ambulance ride, a CAT scan, and three layers of stitches– with 30 stitches on the outer layer alone. The wound covers my forehead and goes down to my nose, which means my eyes are swollen, black, and blue. I looked like I just got jumped into the Los Locos gang from Short Circuit 2.
I say this not because I’m asking for sympathy (it was a dumb, clumsy, non-car related accident that was totally my fault) but because the photos in this post are a bit sub par. I’m not the world’s best photographer, anyway, but I’m always trying to steadily improve.
Because my eyes are swollen, my vision is not the best. My hands are even shakier than normal. But I wanted to get this post out, even with inferior photos. This blog is one of my favorite things to do, and I don’t want to let something like a little head injury stop me.
That said, this will be a Quick And Easy Article.
Now, on with the top 5 best GI Joe characters.
My Criteria for The Top 5 Best GI Joe Characters
Okay, let’s get the criteria for the top 5 best GI Joe characters out of the way.
First, this list is based on characters– not on figures. This is about my love for the characters themselves as they’re portrayed in the comics, cartoons, and filecards. These aren’t necessarily my top 5 favorite GI Joe figures. I’ll cover those another day.
Second, these characters are all members of the GI Joe team. There are no Cobra operatives, Dreadnoks, Oktober Guard, or Iron Grenadiers. Cobra deserves its own top 5 characters and figure lists.
I’ve taken several photos of each character in action, as well as a shot of all of the versions of each character I own. There, you’ll see that maybe your collection is a bit bigger than mine!
Now, onto the characters.
#5 – Rock n Roll
Craig S. McConnell is an original member of the GI Joe team. Among the original 13 he was the team’s heavy machine gunner. That means he had bullet bandoliers strapped across his chest, and carried a big gun. That, in and of itself, is worth a ton of Cool Points.
But there’s more to his appearance than some bullets and a gun. Rock n Roll features shaggy (for a military guy!) blonde hair, and a big, blonde beard. I’ve been told he looks kind of like me, which is another point in his favor.
If we go beyond his appearance, though, there’s a lot more to love. He plays bass guitar in rock bands (hence the code name), he’s a surfer, and he’s a bodybuilder. He’s not your conventional, straight-laced army dude. He has personality, and he’s not afraid to show some individuality.
He’s a particularly great character in the early Marvel Comics run. There, he shows his prowess as a machine gunner, but he also shows his mischievous sense of humor, his strong sense of compassion for other people (a must-have trait for any heroic character), his iron will, and his general good nature and easy-going demeanor.
This dude packs a wallop with his machine gun, but he’s not a cold-hearted, mean, or even overly-macho guy. He is who he is, and he’s happy with that.
In the later comics, he and Clutch had some memorable moments together– both in getting brainwashed and babysitting two teenage girls who fancied themselves as paranormal investigators.
As far as figures go, Rock n Roll has had a bunch– and most of them are decent. My personal favorite is Rock n Roll v2 from 1989. His updated look is great and, I don’t care what you say, I love those huge, impossible gatling guns.
I grew up with the Sonic Fighters version, so it also has a place in my heart. But, my second favorite version of Rock n Roll is the comic pack version from 2005, who you see in many of these photos. His head sculpt is great for the character, even if the Big Ben body he uses was a bit played out by 05.
His v1 figure is also a classic, which I’d like to own some day. His modern era figures all leave something to be desires, but he’s a must-have character in any collection. Sadly, I’m still missing the Kre-O version.
#4 – Mainframe
Blaine L. Parker, codename Mainframe, is GI Joe’s computer expert. Obviously, that makes him a hero to all manners of nerds, wusses, dorkuses, geeks, and wussdorks. But there’s much more to Mainframe than his primary military specialty.
This is one case where the character’s figures don’t quite live up to his potential. His original figure, and its Special Mission Brazil repaint, make him look like a dumpy old guy. And, we’re all better off just not talking about his modern era version.
Still, once you get the figure in hand, he really grows on you. He has an old-ass computer (perfect for The Secret of Monkey Island and Math Blaster), and a communications backpack with included handset– for phone phreaking. You’ve seen Hackers, the best movie of all time, right? It’s kinda like that.
The character of Mainframe really outshines the figure. He was an army infantryman in Vietnam. Once his tour was over, he got his degree from MIT. From there, he worked in Silicon Valley as an 80s Computer Guy. He hated the cutthroat nature of the tech world and, if the Sunbow cartoon is to be believed, he lost nearly everything in a nasty divorce.
Then, as an older guy, he re-enlisted in the Marines as a computer specialist, and then joined GI Joe. This is a dude who has been in The Shit, but decided to use his brains instead of his brawn to defeat international terrorism.
He had great stories in both the Marvel comic and the Sunbow cartoon. He was portrayed as an even-tempered, easy-going, cool-under-pressure guy who was always ready with a joke. People made fun of him for being a nerd, but when the pressure was on, he delivered like no one else.
Mainframe is a guy who is always willing to help others, and sees the best in other people (even Zarana!), so it’s no surprise that I like him. He’s also always continuing to improve himself, and he has nothing to prove to anyone.
As far as his figures go, I only have the Funskool version, which is very nice. I’d like to get an American Mainframe v1 eventually, and I’m hoping he’ll someday get a figure that does the character a bit more justice. His Kre-O version is also adorable, even if mine has the wrong legs. Thanks, Kre-O Stinger Driver! Your donation is appreciated.
#3 – Flint
This is a character that needs no introduction. Flint is the GI Joe team’s Warrant Officer. He’s a helicopter pilot, an airborne ranger, a literary scholar, an Eco Warrior, and so much more. Plus, he just looks cool.
When I was a kid, Flint was my favorite character in the Sunbow cartoon. That was the main GI Joe media I grew up with, so Flint was my favorite character. He’s still up there, even as I’m in my early 30s.
Eco Warriors Flint was one of my favorite figures as a kid, too, and he was usually my default GI Joe squad leader.
I liked Flint because he wasn’t as buttoned-up, stodgy, square, and overall perfect as Duke. He had an edge. He was kind to his fellow team members, but he also did things his own way and thought outside of the box. He was confident and a bit cocky, but he was rarely an all-out jerkhole.
I love the idea of someone who got bored of academia and joined the army. I also love Flint’s portrayal in both the cartoons and the comic. Plus, his v1 figure (which I still need to get!) just has a classic look about him. He has a smarmy grin, and his beret is cocked to the side at a jaunty angle. This dude’s ready to jump out of a helicopter, read Dostoyevsky, lead a daring raid to free American POWs, or go see Richard Pryor in a seedy comedy club.
Flint is a true renaissance man.
I never realized how many Flint figures I had until I wrote this article. I still need to complete many of the figures I already have, and I’d definitely like an American Flint v1 and his Tiger Force version. I also need a minty fresh, beautifully neon green Eco Warriors Flint– you can bet mine didn’t survive childhood!
#2 – Scarlett
If you know GI Joe, you know Scarlett. Unfortunately, some people just know her as “the woman on the team” or “Snake Eyes’ girlfriend.”
Shana O’Hara is another original member of the GI Joe team, and she served as the OG13’s counter intelligence specialist. She uses a crossbow, but also keeps nastier weaponry (such as piano wire) on her at all times.
Scarlett has a striking look, and I like both her 82/83 figure and the Ninja Force version. But, to me, she’s much more than “the token woman” or “the silent master’s romantic partner.”
Scarlett has a Type-A personality. If she wasn’t a martial arts expert, covert operative, spy, soldier, and assassin, she could be leading a Fortune 500 company. She’s not the nurturing, matronly type at all. She is kind and loyal to her friends, but she’s no one’s mother or caretaker. She has a mean streak and a taste for revenge.
In the Marvel comics, she’s one of the best fleshed-out characters in the entire run. She’s a flawed person, but her heart is always in the right place. Her love for Snake Eyes, a disfigured and disabled fellow team member, shows that her feelings have depth beyond wanting her partner to be another “Type-A” personality. Scarlett cares deeply for her friends and is a compassionate soul, but if you betray her– let’s just say you’d better watch out for that piano wire she keeps around.
Scarlett has received her fair share of action figures, and I think most of them are pretty good. The 2003 Toy Fare exclusive version is my favorite, and it’s the one you see in most of these photos.
#1 – Stalker
Is this one really any surprise?
If you’ve read Larry Hama’s original run on the Marvel GI Joe comic, you probably love Stalker. Along with Scarlett and Snake Eyes, he’s the main character of the book. I started really reading the Marvel run from beginning to end a little later in life, and it cemented Stalker as my favorite character.
Stalker’s filecard lists him as a former gang warlord from Detroit, but that’s never really mentioned in any other media. As the only black member of the original 13 GI Joes, I also think it was maybe a bit hasty and on the nose.
Still, it could make sense for the character, and could help to inform his worldview. Stalker is a professional soldier, and was Colonel Hawk’s right hand man. He’s a cool, collected, and competent field leader. He’s an army ranger, and generally thought of as a Bad Dude.
But Stalker knows his way of life isn’t the one true path. He knows his opinions and values aren’t necessarily the only way to live. He has been, and will be, in many combat situations, but he doesn’t see the Army Life as the right life for everyone. He doesn’t cherish or romanticize violence. He does what he does so no one else has to pick up a rifle in his place.
He’s not a killer. He’s a thinker. He wants to preserve as much human life as possible, and he’s always thinking about the meaning of existence. Even through the horrors of the Vietnam war and countless encounters with Cobra and other paramilitary forces, he has faith in humanity. He values people, and he values their opinions– even (and especially) if they’re different than his own.
This is exemplified when Stalker is a prisoner in a concentration camp in Borovia. He does his best to help his fellow prisoners hold onto their humanity, even in unthinkably nightmarish conditions. He believes in the human spirit, and he firmly believes he’s in the thick of it with the rest of humanity.
Stalker is the true definition of a hero. He’s a hero because he’s willing to sacrifice himself for what he believes in, not because he’s willing to kill another person for what he believes in. He’s not perfect, and he knows it. It’s a huge part of how he views the world. He’s not better than you, but he’s doing his best for you.
As far as figures go, the 1997 Stalker and 1994 Stalker are my favorites. I had the Talking Battle Commanders version as a kid, and he was one of my favorite Joes. The 1989 Tundra Ranger Stalker is also fantastic. Hell, even all of his modern era figures are great. If you don’t have a Stalker, grab any old figure of him, and you really can’t go wrong. Because they’re all mostly great, and because he’s my favorite character, there are still a ton I need to track down.
Closing Thoughts on The Top 5 Best GI Joe Characters (And 5 Runners Up)
So, that’s my list of the top 5 best GI Joe characters. Thanks for bearing with the photos and this list-style article, and thanks for continuing to read The Dragon Fortress.
If you like this post, I’ll do more like it soon.
Here are my 5 best GI Joe character runners-up:
- Lady Jaye
- Snake Eyes
And, of course, 90s commercial Live Action Duke is in there somewhere:
What a lovable putz. We gotta stop meeting like this!
Who are your top 5 favorite GI Joe characters, and what are your favorite representatives of each figure? Let me know in the comments!