Stretcher, the GI Joe team’s medical specialist from 1990, and I go back a long way. We go all the way back to 1990 in fact. My original Stretcher figure met a tragic end sometime around 1992, but he’s still a character and toy I have a deep connection to.
This is a review I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but Stretcher is not an easy figure to find and complete. Luckily, I found a carded version at JoeFest 2019 in Augusta, GA. I opened him up about a week ago to bring you this review.
Stretch out and relax. Let’s dig in.
The Tragic Fate of 1990 GI Joe Stretcher
I turned six years old in 1990. Before that, I had a handful of GI Joe figures from the 1980s. I’m sure I got some of them in the 1990s, but that was long enough ago that my memory is hazy. I had Spearhead, Hardball, 87 Gung-Ho, Crystal Ball, Countdown, Deep Six, Downtown, Annihilator, Dee-Jay, HEAT Viper, and possibly one or two others. Most of the 1989 figures were likely purchased in 1990, but the others are a bit more mysterious.
The 1990 and 1991 GI Joe figures were the first group of toys that felt like my group of Joes. I had no connection to the DIC animated series, and probably only caught one or two episodes on USA’s Cartoon Express or something– it was either in an inconsistent time slot or I was too dumb to find it regularly. The DIC episodes certainly weren’t among the Sunbow VHS tapes I was renting at my local video store. So these characters were blank slates, with only the file cards giving me something to work with.
Even at six years old, I paid attention to the file cards. And, as such, the 1990 GI Joe Stretcher figure stood out to me. He was a strong, buff dude who carried wounded team members out of combat. He could patch them up, too. He was equipped with a small, high-tech vehicle to aid him in this task. He had a cool looking uniform and a stoic, determined look on his face. When I was a kid, those elements came together to make Stretcher an extra-heroic presence at play time.
His file card portrayed him as tough and strong, so I naturally paired Stretcher with the 1989 Hot Seat, who was also portrayed as a physically tough guy. Together, they’d use their hand-to-hand combat skills to get the other Joes out of a pinch and extract them to safety. Fistfights were always fun to play out with GI Joe figures, but it needed to make sense for the character. Needless to say, Stretcher and Hot Seat (you see my original childhood figure in these photos) had most of the paint worn off of their gloves and boots.
Unlike Hot Seat, who has been my faithful companion for around 31 years, Stretcher was not fated to live a long, fruitful life. I lost many of my childhood toys in a house fire in 1998, but Stretcher met his demise long before that. It’s one of the few action figure deaths I still remember vividly. Stretcher did not die by fire, but he did die by heat.
One day around 1992, my friend from across the street and I were playing with GI Joes at my house. This was odd, because we usually played at his house– not only did he have much more space to play around in, but he had almost every GI Joe toy I could think of. We were in my backyard, goofing around with the hose and a little pool of water we made. I remember Stretcher got drenched and muddy. I cleaned him off with the hose and took him inside to dry.
In my childhood bedroom, I had a little desk where I would write, read, draw, and color. There was a very old school desk lamp on this desk, the kind that’s all metal except for the lightbulb. I turned on the lamp and placed Stretcher on top of it to dry. I knew the lamp got hot since I’d burned myself on it before, so that’s why I put the figure there. When I came back in 10 minutes to check on him, Stretcher had metamorphosed into some kind of flat, stretchy abomination out of a David Cronenberg movie I’m still too afraid to watch. Meltman from Action League Now was a beauty pageant winner compared to my old Stretcher figure, who had decomposed into a horrifying 2D object. And stunk up the house.
I must have really overestimated how strong plastic action figures were. That’s the only thing I can think of. I knew the lamp could hurt me, but my eight year old brain did not realize that plastic could melt from being placed on a desk lamp. My friend thought the entire thing was hilarious, of course, especially because I was distressed. I don’t remember how we cleaned off the lamp, but I will always remember the ghastly sight of Stretcher melted into a vaguely man-shaped puddle.
I’ve never really lost interest in GI Joe since my early childhood, but I go through long periods of not buying more toys. Stretcher is a figure I’ve wanted to replace ever since 1992, but I only found a complete one in 2019. As it turned out, finding a carded figure was cheaper and easier than finding a loose, complete example.
Submitted for your approval, here are my thoughts on the 1990 GI Joe Stretcher action figure. I tore open the card just for you (and so there would be one less carded GI Joe from 1990 in the world).
1990 GI Joe Stretcher Review
Stretcher was an all-new figure for 1990, featuring no reused body parts or weapons. Like many figures in the 1990 series, he came with a ton of complex accessories. 1990 was really the year Hasbro’s GI Joe design team went for broke in terms of new characters, great sculpts, interesting decos, and innovative accessories. It’s my second favorite year for GI Joe figures, right behind 1991.
As mentioned previously, I bought this carded Stretcher at JoeFest 2019. The price was right, as it was just about what most eBay sellers charge for a loose, complete figure.
Here’s the carded figure:
And card back:
The card art is fantastic, and you can tell the bubble tray is absolutely jam packed with accessories. The file card is also great. This is a perfect, classic-looking GI Joe file card that shows a few advancements while still carrying the 80s ARAH torch. The entire package represents the Joe design team at the top of their game.
The figure also included a small mail away pamphlet. Don’t you wish you could get away with paying those prices now?
Here’s the figure:
1990 GI Joe Stretcher’s design is completely unique. The dark grey and light grey combination isn’t something you typically see on GI Joe-affiliated figures, and it’s capped off by some very nice blue and dark green highlights. There’s also a smattering of black details and red for the figure’s medic emblem, which is featured on his left arm and hat. A little orange rectangle is present on his left leg, as well, which probably represents a map of some sort– like the kind a pilot might have on their leg.
The face sculpt is extremely well done. The hat, chin strap, and microphone all look perfect. Nothing looks squished, looks too large, or looks ill-proportioned. This is a young guy who takes his work seriously, and it shines through in the head sculpt.
The figure does feature a small pistol strapped to his chest, which can be perceived as a bit odd. Nowhere in his bio does it say he’s a pacifist, but we can assume he only uses this little holdout pistol in self defense. I’ve always seen him as a guy who’s not afraid to punch, kick, or throw a Cobra operative around– but he’s a life saver, not a life taker.
If not for the pops of blue, green, and red, I think this figure would be a bit boring, but those little hits of color really elevate him to something special. Unlike many GI Joe figures, I can’t see any extra details that need painting. He’s pretty much perfect as he is.
By the way, if you ever wanted to see what a 30+ year old GI Joe figure’s o-ring looks like after it’s been sitting inside a blister card for decades, here you go:
I had to replace it immediately. Which makes sense, as it’s a very old piece of rubber. But since I’ve never opened up a Joe figure this old as an adult (and some older figures I own still have their original o-rings), I wasn’t sure what to expect. Some of his joints, especially the hips and left elbow, were scary tight, too. But that was easily remedied by just moving him around a little.
Here are the figure’s accessories:
Whew, that’s a lot of stuff!
Stretcher comes with a light grey sled (which can separate into two halves, as I know from childhood experience), a light grey control stick for the sled, a clear windshield for the sled, a dark green backpack, an antenna for the backpack, a dark grey flare gun, a very small microphone (which YoJoe calls a “flashlight”), and a hose to attach the microphone to the backpack.
Right out of the packaging, I had a very hard time attaching the microphone to the hose. Granted, the hose is 30+ years old, but it still seemed way harder than normal. After four or five times boring out the hose with a toothpick, I finally got it attached, but it was quite frustrating. I almost gave up and those feelings of frustration nearly cast a dark cloud over this entire review.
The microphone itself can attach to a peg on the figure’s chest. Once you get everything together, it’s pretty secure. I had no problems using all of the figure’s gear in the photographs I took for this review. I will say, though, that I have no childhood memories of the microphone or hose. I probably either lost them or discarded them early on. This mic has to be one of the tiniest pieces in the entire ARAH GI Joe line, and seems pretty hard to find on the secondary market.
The antenna attaches neatly to the backpack. Recently, I saw a twitter thread where my friends RTG and General Liederkranz were discussing the virtues of attaching the antenna either pointing up or pointing down. I honestly never would have thought of this on my own, but it makes the figure more versatile for photography or display.
The flare gun is a nice sculpt, but it’s perhaps been tainted by its many, many unnecessary releases during the new sculpt era.
The hover sled is probably the most interesting piece of gear:
The detail on it is amazing, even on the bottom:
The sled features two foot pegs so you can arrange a variety of positions for the operator. You could probably even stand two figures on it if you were creative. Stretcher grips the controls nicely, and has no problems using the accessory. It’s also quite sturdy and stable– I had no problems balancing Stretcher on it with another figure slung over his shoulder.
The figure also came with a little sticker sheet so you can place the same medical emblems you see on his hat and shirt on the sled’s windshield:
I chose not to apply them for this review.
The sled itself can break in a few places. The control stick and the windshield pegs can both snap if you’re not careful, though they are not extremely fragile.
Anyway, here’s the figure All Geared Up:
I know a lot of older GI Joe fans scoff at the hover sled itself. GI Joe featured huge laser artillery pieces, laser rifles, power armor, jetpacks, remote controlled flamethrowers, one-man VTOL craft, and flying submarines from its earliest days– but a little hover sled is a bridge too far, apparently.
If the hover sled is your big sticking point with Stretcher, I urge you to just throw it in the trash and enjoy the figure with his backpack, mic, and flare gun. I also urge you to read something other than the Hiss Tank forums (I recommend books– a lot of them are pretty good) and maybe smell a flower or something. Flowers are big this time of year. It shouldn’t be too hard.
I still think it’s incredible that Stretcher was packed with his own mini-vehicle that’s perfect for his specialty. This little sled is the best thing I can think of to help a medical extraction specialist get his comrades out of a combat zone. I certainly had a ton of fun with it as a kid. I had fun with it while writing this review, too!
This was all just a long-winded way of saying that Stretcher looks amazing with all of his accessories, as only a GI Joe figure from 1990 really can.
So, what about Stretcher the character?
I think 1990 GI Joe Stretcher works perfectly as he’s described on his file card. He’s good at patching you up and making you stable, but he’s even better at getting you out of a hot zone. He can make sure you don’t bleed out, but he’s going to get you to a real doctor as soon as he can. He has no problems lifting up even a big lug like Leatherneck or Roadblock, and he has no problems smacking a couple of Cobra Vipers around, either. He’s not the guy who typically picks up a rifle and joins in a firefight, but he is a guy you want along with you on almost any mission.
That’s how I see him now, and it’s exactly how I used him as a kid, too.
In 1990, the GI Joe line needed a medic. Doc was released in 1983 and Lifeline came out in 1986. Young kids in 1990 weren’t likely to have either of those figures. There was a Tiger Force Lifeline in 1988, but a kid having him in 1990 was a bit of a stretch (I certainly didn’t have any Tiger Force stuff during childhood) and he doesn’t really look like a medic.
Stretcher was the perfect medic for a generation of 1990s Joe kids. There was technically another medic in 1990, Sky Patrol’s Airborne, but that figure didn’t look like a medic even a little bit. On the other hand, Stretcher’s looks and accessories made him fit the role perfectly. And he had to last a few years, too, since there wasn’t another dedicated Joe medic until Battle Corps Lifeline came out in 1994.
If you couldn’t tell, I really like this figure. There is some amount of nostalgia talking here, as well as some wistfulness. But he’s not a perfect toy. The accessories are easily lost, somewhat easily broken, and can be kind of frustrating to attach, at least right off the card. There’s also some notable blue paint slop on my figure. I didn’t notice it until I looked at the photos I took, but it’s something I’ve really never seen on a Hasbro ARAH Joe before.
None of those things are a big deal, but they are something to be aware of if you’re looking for a Stretcher of your own.
Verdict: Stretcher is one of the best figures from one of the best years GI Joe ever had. His military specialty is cool (I’ve always loved all of GI Joe’s medical personnel) and his accessories match up with it perfectly. His colors and sculpt are unique and well done– he matches most Joe figures from most years without fading into the background. He is, though, hard to complete and hard to find. If you can find a complete Stretcher at a price you like, he’s Highly Recommended. I am delighted to have him in my collection again.
- Stretcher at 3DJoes
- Stretcher Profile at Forgotten Figures
- Stretcher Review by formbx257
- Stretcher at Joe a Day
- Stretcher at YoJoe
Closing Thoughts on 1990 GI Joe Stretcher
As some of you know, I am not living at home right now. I’m in my hometown taking care of my mom, who has brain cancer. That means I don’t have easy access to toys. My mom can still function just fine on the day-to-day stuff, though, and as long as that’s the case, I plan on going home for one weekend per month to see my friends and take some review photos. I probably won’t be updating this site every week for the foreseeable future, but you should still get at least two reviews per month.
I also hope you’re okay with a slightly reduced number of “action photos” in these reviews. I usually shoot for 10 or more per review, but it might be closer to 8 or 9 for the time being.
Thanks for reading and thanks for your patience!
Which of your Joes met horrible, accidental deaths as a kid? Which accessories did you lose immediately? Who’s your favorite GI Joe medic? Let me know in the comments!