For a nobody, Payload sure got a lot of action figures released in the original GI Joe: A Real American Hero toy line. There were five total Payload figures released in the vintage Joe collection, which means there were more Payloads than Flints, Scarletts, Destros, Gung Hos, or Storm Shadows. That’s wild!
In fact, the only characters in the original ARAH line who had more versions than Payload were Snake Eyes, Roadblock, Cobra Commander, Duke, Hawk, and Stalker. Compared to all of those big, household names. Payload doesn’t seem like all that much. But, someone at Hasbro must have loved Payload– or, more likely, someone at Hasbro just loved reusing a certain environmentally-minded firefighter toy over and over again.
Today, we’ll look at the last version of Payload released in the vintage GI Joe toy line. This is Star Brigade Payload from 1994.
The 1994 GI Joe Star Brigade Payload Thinkpiece No One Asked For
It won’t surprise you to know that I’ve had thoughts about Payload since at least 1990. Like, deep, serious thoughts that were only compounded when Star Brigade Payload was first released in 1993.
As a child, I loved anything space related. My Grandfather raised me on Star Trek, I checked out books on space shuttles and Skylab from the local library, and many of my favorite cartoons were space related. I liked Star Wars, as well, but that wasn’t something you could reliably find until 1995 or so.
I was delighted, then, when I received a GI Joe Crusader Space Shuttle for my birthday in 1990. My Mom later told me she finally found one on sale right before my birthday that year, which is why she got it, and why it was one of the largest toys I ever owned.
For quite a few years, Payload and Countdown were my only GI Joe astronauts, but the Crusader still got a ton of use from me. It doubled as a space-based headquarters for my Joes, and also as a place where brave commandos could drop (through the airlock port) down on unsuspecting Cobra forces from high altitudes. It went on exciting space exploration adventures, got shot down during missions, and was instrumental to many of my childhood GI Joe team’s many victories.
Payload, though, was never a real favorite figure. He stood out because of his cool sculpt and his space gear, but there was something about him that never clicked with me. I think it was the mustache– I never cared for Joes with mustaches as a kid.
So, Payload mostly piloted or helped crew the Crusader, but he never went on many missions. I could just never make him a main character the same way I could with Flint, Hawk, Tunnel Rat, Psyche-Out, Heavy Duty, or Storm Shadow.
By the time Star Brigade rolled out in 1993, I was more into space stuff than ever before. But time had taken its toll– many of the Crusader’s parts were lost or broken, and Payload had lost his helmet. I was excited at the chance to round up a whole new crew for my Crusader.
Despite my enthusiasm for anything space related, though, I only ended up with Ozone, Countdown, and Sci-Fi from the first year’s releases. They were a pretty good crew for the Crusader, but more of my time at home was being taken up by ninjas and neon soldiers.
When I went across the street to my friend’s house, though, it was a totally different story. I’ve talked about my friend Mark before, and how he had probably every GI Joe item (including mail-aways) released between 1992 and 1993, and a lot of stuff from the previous years, too. Naturally, he had every 1993 Star Brigade figure.
When I saw the green and black form of 1993 Payload, I was very confused. That wasn’t Payload. Payload had a mustache! That was just a repaint of my Eco Warriors Barbecue figure from the previous year. A figure that neither Mark nor myself really cared for, by the way.
Seeing Barbecue lazily repainted into an astronaut was maybe the first time I was disappointed in GI Joe. Sure, we still used the figure in space adventures, but he was always the first one to die or get captured. He was no Roadblock or Ozone, that was for sure. Seeing this new “Payload” really put my 1989 Payload into perspective– he had elaborate astronaut gear and a unique sculpt. This new guy was just a pretender. He wasn’t Payload at all.
Hasbro felt differently, of course. They released Astronaut Barbecue two more times in other color schemes– one in blue, black, and gold, and the other you’re seeing here today.
To Hasbro, the Barbecue mold made sense as an astronaut. And, as an adult, I agree with them. I love this figure now.
I love it enough that I even decided to track down both 1994 versions of the mold, neither of which is particularly cheap or easy to find.
So, we’re once again in that fun yet uncomfortable space between childhood nostalgia and adult analysis. It’s time to examine the 1994 GI Joe Star Brigade Payload figure.
1994 GI Joe Star Brigade Payload Review
Unlike the 1993 version, the 1994 GI Joe Star Brigade Payload (specifically this white version) isn’t a toy you see all the time. That’s not because it’s a highly in-demand and cherished collector’s piece– it’s because some of the 1994 GI Joe figures just weren’t made in huge numbers like their 1993 counterparts.
I bought this figure carded a couple years ago from a friend on Instagram, and finally opened it up a couple days ago for the purposes of this review. If I wasn’t planning on eventually doing a review, I never would have bought it.
So, here it is. Let’s enjoy it together.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that the card includes individualized artwork for the character. That’s something the 1993 Star Brigade figures didn’t feature. Not all 1994 figures had unique character artwork, but you can see Hasbro kind of trying to do some course correction with the 94 Star Brigade series.
Honestly, it’s a nice card design and the artwork is on the “kinda nice” side of acceptable. The file card leaves something to be desired, and it oddly labels his pistol holster as “celestial map storage,” but overall it’s pretty good packaging. I don’t really remember seeing these on shelves as a kid, but I’m sure this card would have caught my eye.
Here’s the figure:
And from the back:
Before we get into the sculpt, details, and other fun stuff, you’ll notice that Payload has a little yellow emblem on his right arm. Neither of the other two Star Brigade Payloads featured this emblem, so it’s a nice little touch. I’m not entirely sure what it’s supposed to represent– maybe an F-4 Phantom fighter squadron patch? If you know, let me know in the comments. Regardless of my ignorance, it adds a nice little pop of color and a bit of interest to the figure.
1994 GI Joe Star Brigade Payload uses Barbecue version 3 (1992)’s figure mold in its entirety. That figure was a sort of high tech firefighter, and this figure is an astronaut. As a kid that bugged me, because I was used to that mold representing a fireman who was also an Eco Warrior. As an adult, though, I get it.
The figure is wearing a protective suit of some kind, capped off by sealed gloves and boots, a harness for firefighting gear or space ephemera, and a full helmet with a clear face shield. There’s a pistol holster on the figure’s left leg, but everything else is pretty much a practical detail for the suit. It works nicely as firefighting gear, a HAZMAT suit, or a spacesuit. I see where Hasbro was going with this.
Catalog shots and other marketing material from 92/93 show that Hasbro wanted to use the original Payload mold for Star Brigade. But, because it was either lost or too expensive (my money is on “too expensive”), they went with the Barbecue mold instead. Someone at Hasbro got pretty creative with this mold choice, and I respect it. My nine year old self would kick me in the shin for saying that, though, so let’s not tell him.
Here’s the figure compared to the other three uses of the mold:
Hasbro did something a bit different with every version– at least you can say that much about the figure. I really like the red, white, blue, silver, and black on this figure. It doesn’t look “busy,” but it has enough visual interest to stand out in photos or on a display. It looks nice!
Other than his missile launcher, the figure’s accessories came on a standard GI Joe weapons tree. This one came with Mace, Muskrat, the other versions of Payload, and probably someone else I’m forgetting.
Payload comes with DEF Shockwave’s SMG, Updraft’s fancy space pistol, Ambush’s rifle, 1991 Low Light’s knife, and a battle stand in grey plastic. His missile launcher was used with Battle Corps Duke and Star Brigade Roadblock in 1993 (as well as Star Brigade Payload), and possibly came with some other figures, too.
Other than the missile launcher, I mostly like these accessories. The missile launcher itself actually looks cool and high tech, and it seems pretty reasonable for a futuristic, sci-fi-based character. The problem is it’s cast in 90s gold plastic, which means I’m afraid to touch it. The missile makes a downright sickening click when you load the launcher. It still launches just fine, but I’m not eager to test its limits.
Ambush’s rifle is a fine accessory, but I’m not exactly keen to use it with an astronaut figure. But, it’s still cast in a useful color and isn’t a bad accessory to have. Knives can be useful in space, which Worf proved in Star Trek: First Contact, so I’m fine with its inclusion. I prefer to use Updraft’s weird laser handgun with this figure, though. It just has a pulpy sci-fi aura about it that perfectly fits an astronaut adventurer.
The SMG is fine, too. It’s one of my favorite weapons in the GI Joe line, so I’m never mad about having another one. You may have noticed, though, that there’s something “off” about the one my figure came with.
Take a look:
As you can see, the gun’s mounting rail is only partially there. The weapon is malformed, and came that way on the weapons tree. You can go back and look at the package photos or the weapons tree if you don’t believe me– I didn’t damage it when I removed it from the tree.
I’m not saying this is a “super rare variant” or anything like that, but it is interesting. I’ve never seen a GI Joe accessory come defective and partially molded right from a weapons tree. So please enjoy this minor curiosity and don’t say I never gave you anything.
Payload’s look, colors, and accessories are pretty nice, but he’s not without his faults. The paint on my copy is a bit sloppier than you expect with a vintage GI Joe figure. Also, unlike Barbecue, this figure has a hard time fully tuning his head to either side. And, this is just a personal preference thing, but I wish the figure’s gloves (or boots) were blue like they are on the card art– it would make the blue helmet look much more cohesive with the figure. As it stands, it looks kind of odd.
Although I like Updraft’s pistol, I feel like Payload really shines once you give him some other accessories. As Mike T. mentioned in his 1993 Payload profile, all of the Star Brigade Payloads look really nice with Psyche-Out v1’s backpack. You can see that I’ve stolen that idea in some of these photos. An astronaut really does need some sort of backpack, as far as I’m concerned.
Mike also mentioned that this mold can work as a HAZMAT trooper, a specialist soldier, or even a diver. I can definitely see that with the other uses of the mold. It obviously works as a firefighter, too. But, because of the white protective suit and blue accents, I can only see this version of Payload as an astronaut, a space pilot, or maybe a fighter pilot.
I find he looks best with Lanard Star Force accessories, and accessories from some other Lanard figures. I especially love the combo of the Psyche-Out backpack with one of Lanard’s laser rifle/RPG pieces. I used that weapon for most of these photos.
Also, I just can’t see this figure as the character Payload. Payload has a mustache and a much fancier spacesuit. This figure, though, works great as a generic space trooper, astronaut, or pilot. He’d be amazing on your Crusader or Defiant crew. He’s a perfect fit for the 1993 Starfighter, as well. As good as Sci-Fi v3 is, I have a hard time seeing him as a pilot. Plus, it’s kind of dumb to pilot a space fighter without a fully protective suit, no matter what George Lucas tells you.
The 1994 GI Joe Star Brigade Payload is a cool and useful figure. The accessories are decent and the grey plastic should fit most collectors’ tastes. The white, blue, and red coloration also means he fits in well with most other GI Joe Star Brigade and astronaut figures. He’s certainly not a good update to the Payload character, but he’s a great addition to GI Joe’s space forces.
Overall: This is a nice looking figure with a color scheme that’s perfect for an astronaut. His accessories are pretty good, and would look good with many other figures, as well. He’s not a “super rare” figure, but it’s nearly impossible to find him cheap. With that in mind, this figure is only Mildly Recommended. Unless you’re in love with the look or are a completist, you’re much better off with the 1993 version of Payload.
Closing Thoughts on 1994 GI Joe Star Brigade Payload
This was pretty much a “back to basics” review. I had a lot of fun taking these photos and using various Lanard pieces with my Star Brigade figures. I hope you had fun reading it, too.
What do you think of this figure? Is he a good update to Payload, or does he work better as an army builder? Also, can we start a change.org petition to make the 1994 Star Brigade figures affordable again? Let me know in the comments!