(Editor’s Note: Today’s review comes from my friend Scott, who has some great insights on GI Joe. Beyond being knowledgeable about toys, Scott is an artist, animator, game developer, and pixel art enthusiast. He’s profiling a figure that was a childhood favorite of both mine and his own. I always enjoy talking to Scott about toys, and I think he dives deeper into some aspects of GI Joe than I ever could. You can find Scott on Twitter as AnimatedTako to read more of his toy musings, see more of his art and photos, and read his thoughts on fighting games.)
Review and Photos by Scott
Freefall felt like a good place for me to start thinking about action figures critically not just because of the obvious leap of faith association I could draw to reviewing a paratrooper, but because I literally cannot remember a time where I was aware of G.I.Joe before Freefall. He and Topside were my first two figures, and most of my strongest early memories of the first house I lived in are framed around the adventures those figures had. Topside was my first figure, selected by my Dad because his first G.I.Joe was also nautically themed, a 60’s Action Sailor.
I must’ve taken to him strongly because Freefall followed very soon after and I don’t remember having one without the other. It’s likely I got them in 1991; as the first villain they battled was Interrogator. I didn’t get another named Cobra character until 1993, so Interrogator remained the primary face (helmet?) of Cobra for a couple years, leading the troops I got in the year and change between. As the figures rolled in I started to get more prominent characters I recognized from cartoons and later, comics. These early guys started to take a back seat, but still had important roles to play. Topside became more of a defensive coordinator laying in wait with his backpack rockets and Interrogator hung up his helicopter backpack thing and finally started doing his job questioning captured Joes with his scoped torture whisk.
Freefall, though, stayed on the frontline. I routinely relied on his paratrooper specialty to let him deus ex machina out of the sky at any moment, right when he was needed most to turn the tide of battle. I must’ve done it a lot, because my childhood Freefall is a worn out wobbly mess that was eventually pulled apart in my first wave of amateur adventures in customizing. I’m pretty sure he’s how I even learned the way O-ring Joes are constructed in the first place, as I have a vivid memory of my Dad unscrewing him to replace his rubber band the first time it snapped. Nostalgically bemoaning how the collector’s club exclusive modern release of the character was both out of my reach and also lackluster, I acquired a mostly complete loose Freefall a few years ago at Joefest in great shape that I’ll be using in this review.
1990 GI Joe Freefall Review
Freefall is a paratrooper released in a year when six deluxe figures came equipped with working parachutes and somehow, he wasn’t one of them. In the grand scheme of the release year his specialty comes across as pretty redundant, but as a mainline release Freefall has one major thing going for him that the Sky Patrol subteam doesn’t: A totally unique sculpt, and original themed accessories. Free of reused parts, he provides a more complete vision of a G.I.Joe paratrooper jumping into the new decade.
The 1990 assortment is full of fresh faces with a mix of new specialties and 3rd or 4th generation replacements. As a paratrooper, Freefall’s design owes much to Ripcord and Crazy Legs before him, though Crazy Legs’ influence on him is a bit more subtle. At first glance, you could kind of squint at him and shift all his colors a little more towards green and mistake him for a Ripcord update. His portrait is a little younger looking though, and his hair is better kept and blonder. His ears are flat and undetailed, probably a necessary sacrifice to keep his removable helmet from being too gigantic. Overall, I think the sculpt work on the head is average, about on par with heads from 88 and 89, not quite at the level of some of his 1990 wave-mates. His mouth is curled in a very slight smirk that’s easy to miss, but felt. Turn his head to one side and he appears stoic, unamused, but flip it around and look from the other side and the impression is smug, unimpressed.
Freefall’s filecard isn’t a particularly good one, spending more time talking about Ranger school than hyping up Phillip W. Arndt himself. The second, quoted section goes on to describe how super good at running and push ups he is, and then finally caps off with some useful characterization about his massive, unchecked ego. So maybe that sort of bland, vaguely smug expression fits him pretty well. I think his card art is pretty great though, with maybe only the perspective of his rifle holding arm being a little questionable. The skydiving action pose is a nice break from the angry action squat used on nearly every other character’s art.
That’s the man, so now let’s look at the tools of his trade.
Unlike his predecessors Ripcord and Crazy Legs, Freefall ditches the removable rubbery soft plastic harness distinctive to those two figures and instead has all of his parachute rigging depicted right in his body sculpt. On the one hand he’s walking around strapped up to jump at all times, but I’ve always felt Ripcord is kinda woefully plain and unequipped with his harness removed, so this doesn’t bother me too much.
The sculpted harness sports a nice ripcord (not the guy) and he’s rocking one of those center of the chest empty pistol holsters that for some reason were all the rage on the early 90’s G.I.Joe team. I’d love to try and trace the etymology of that design quirk and find out where Freefall and Stretcher got the idea from! It’s all tied together in a nice cool grey reprised on his boots and gloves. The harness has remarkably consistent horizontal striping running the length of all the straps which is reused to great effect on his parachute pack. When I hold the figure and think about the designers sculpting this guy by hand, I’m blown away by how precise and evenly spaced the line breaks are. His gloves and boots both feature a dense checkered pattern that harkens back to Crazy Legs’s weird half-quilt jumpsuit, and the extra reinforcement makes great sense for the boots which I’m sure Phillip here is happy to have protecting his knees. Even though the harness details, boots and gloves share the same color, these sculpted patterns work together to make them feel like distinctly different materials.
The brown onesie underneath is simple and efficient, with a couple vertical pouches and some loops containing something (shotgun shells maybe?) on the chest that gets a little lost under the green camouflage pattern. I do enjoy the pattern though, as far as G.I.Joe standard retail two color camos go Freefall’s manages to achieve a nice depth by having a good variety of size variation in the green splotches. They also have some great horizontal spread, particularly on his back. It brings a lot of interest to his otherwise pretty sparse sleeves and thighs. He does have a rectangular panel over his left knee that I do think may have been the victim of color budget constraints. It looks a lot like the map pockets well used on many pilots of the line. I suppose it still could be one, just not exposed to the elements. Likewise, he has four thin vertical pockets on the side of his right thigh that I didn’t pay much attention to as a kid, but looking at them now reminds me of flare pockets. A bright yellow t-shirt peaks from the collar offering a splash of color. I’d normally think this was a paint sharing concession with his hair but it looks less orange to me.
Overall I think the brown base and green splotches work really nice. He doesn’t come across as being particularly specific to a forest or desert environment, able to hop in and blend between the two. It reminds me of Dusty’s animation model in the 80’s Sunbow era, which I’m just now realizing might’ve played a part in why Dusty became my favorite character watching the VHS tapes I could get my hands on. He looked the closest to any figure I actually had at the time!
Moving on to accessories, let’s start with probably the most important piece of kit for a paratrooper, his big floofy blanket holding bag. Or as professionals call it, a parachute. Cast in the same cool dark gray as the rifle, the same segmented webbing from Freefall’s sculpt shows up again here keeping the dual oxygen tanks on the sides secure. Oddly the straps run over both flaps on the backpack, so I’m not entirely sure how it would open, maybe the ripcord would tear these away, who knows. As stated there’s two flaps, which I’d assume would be a primary and smaller backup chute, though there’s a chance maybe the smaller one is just gear storage and he jumps without a reserve since he’s apparently such a confident smug jerk. Both compartments of the backpack are pretty square and rigid without much wrinkly detail, and the whole thing reads as kind of a solid protective case, like some fancy luggage. The air tanks make sense for a high altitude jumper, and they’ve both got nozzles at the top for affixing a hose, but only one of them is long enough for the one included. Sadly I don’t have it on hand, whoever I bought this figure from just included some random rubber tube with no actual hole running through it. (thanks!)
The tube connecting to his breather is a really cool feature that I wish I had, because it’s the saving grace of the helmet. Sadly, I find his headgear a bit of a missed opportunity. You see, not only does the hinged oxygen mask have the same striping present on his harness and backpack, but the same checkering from his boots and gloves are used to frame his visor which in theory I love; but it would have hit so much harder and tied it all together if the helmet had the same gray paint application as seen on the card art. Instead, the helmet is cast in an neutral olive green that isn’t found anywhere else on his design. In the DiC G.I.Joe cartoon the helmet was colored the same darker green as his camo pattern and I think it’s a much, much stronger choice that ties him all together. Both the cartoon and card art also depict his visor as transparent, which is unfortunately solid here. Still, even though I’ve got gripes with the coloring, the smart reuse of patterns promotes a great deal of cohesion between the figure and his kit. I wasn’t afraid of mixing and matching gear as a kid, but Freefall’s pack and helmet are so undeniably his that he always went out with them on every mission.
Strange for me then that I don’t actually have much experience with Freefall’s rifle. My Freefall’s rifle was lost outside In an act of neighborly treachery that stunted my ability to share, trust and befriend for years. This should have been a wake up call to stop hanging out with that kid in hindsight, as they nearly killed me like a month later with a snack mix of undeclared nuts I had a terrible allergic reaction to. What an asshole. Anyway, the rifle was never issued to any figure afterwards so I never got a natural replacement. Due to his light accessory complement Freefall went weaponless for a couple years, borrowing Red Star’s scoped AK until he had free pick of Battle Corp weapons later.
But back to his canonical rifle here, it’s kind of an oddball. Since It’s features aren’t ingrained in my memory, indulge me for a moment as I do a bit of a deep dive on it. It’s a lanky rifle with a pretty minimal skeletal stock and some sort of dual magazine feed. It’s actually pretty reminiscent of the Viper rifle, but with the size of the magazines reversed.
Two tubes protrude forward, with the top clearly being a barrel with the barest indication of the muzzle device, with the bottom just sort of being a rounded off nub. Referencing his card again though we can see it’s intended to be a secondary barrel. It’s a bit too thin to represent an underbarrel grenade launcher, so it just might be some sort of magazine fed shotgun that those shells on his chest are meant for. I also remember reading some speculation on forums a decade ago that it could be more like just two rifles in one, able to feed two different calibers of ammunition. For a paratrooper, that’s a pretty cool feature. I can imagine him dropped deep behind Cobra lines, resupplying himself with captured magazines from ambushed Vipers. Speaking of the magazines, both have sculpted detail above them that look like an ejection port which is a nice detail often overlooked in the fictional weapons Hasbro’s designers came up with. This feature is mirrored on both sides, so maybe you can swap which side to eject from? (You’re welcome lefthanders, now you can do war as well as the rest of us!) There are a few asymmetric details above the rear magazine that do a good job representing some basic controls.
Moving backwards, that checkered pattern shows up again, running along the bottom of the rifle from front to back, continuing between the magazines and reprised on the pistol grip. The stock has an inverted curve at the back, looking a bit more like a brace. On it’s own it looks odd, but in his hands it allows him to pose well since it stops just before the elbow. No need for the ole’ 90 degree waist slap and tuck here. One sort of bonus feature of the gap between magazines is that you’ve got a nice anchor point for sandwiching the rifle under the backpack by fitting the back peg in the middle.
Looking at the figure with all his bits equipped, my main takeaway is how nicely the repeated patterns tie it all together. It’s a pretty small and simple accessory set compared to his 1990 comrades, but the design cohesion makes up for it. He’s a simple, straightforward airborne rifleman that pairs well with any of his more specialized squad mates. He looks nothing like his real world contemporary counterparts, but the tech and design is still highly plausible. His magazine fed underbarrel shotgun thingy is just the kind of ridiculous forward looking excess that G.I.Joe was so good at predicting, as years later the U.S. Army would roll out the very similar M26-MASS to troops in the early 2000s.
Verdict: Freefall was never reissued or repainted, nor were any of his parts reused. Thankfully he doesn’t really need much of a repaint, because his traditional colors mix well with earlier releases, and even later figures from the 97-2002 repaint era. He’s often overlooked by 80s only mega fans (cowards) that presume all 90s figures are fluorescent nightmares and I think that’s a shame because they’re missing out on a solid, if a bit average figure from the year Hasbro’s figures had reached a peak harmony between sculpt, paint and accessories working together. He’s not a noteworthy character, he won’t stand out in a crowd and he won’t be filling any super niche specialty gap you haven’t already got covered. But if you need a solid infantryman that can drop in anywhere, at any time and fit in, Freefall’s your guy.
Completing him isn’t too hard since he doesn’t have many accessories, but the oxygen mask is frequently seen broken where it connects to pegs on the helmet, so watch out for that. The hose can be annoying, but you’ve got options to source that if you’re not particularly bothered with getting an original one. His eyebrows are often worn down from repeatedly taking the helmet on and off, so watch out for that too. Just get him a real parachute before you chuck him out a window.
Huge thanks to you, Scott! You did one of my favorite childhood figures real justice with a loving deep-dive. I enjoyed the hell out of this review.
As a kid, I liked Freefall both because he looked cool and because he had sorta-dorky blonde hair, much like I did at the time. He reminded me of me. I also really liked his helmet and gun– both of which I somehow never lost!
Anyway, what do you think of Freefall? How do you rank him in the pantheon of GI Joe paratroopers? Let us know in the comments!