(Editor’s Note: Today I have the pleasure of bringing you another post from Ross Sewage. You may know Ross from his toy photos on Instagram and Twitter.
You may also know him from his blog, where he shares in-depth guides on repairing and customizing electronics and music gear. Or, it’s possible that you know him as a member of Exhumed and Impaled.
I’m very excited about this post because Ross is sharing his childhood Steel Brigade figure with us, including the original paperwork. We’re guessing he mailed away for it in 1987, but it’s hard to say. Please limit yourself to an acceptable level of pedantry.)
Review and Photos by Ross Sewage
1987 GI Joe Steel Brigade Review
People tend to fall into two camps when they’ve grown up playing with G.I. Joe: the people who love the military aspect and the people who love the fantasy/scifi aspect. In the former camp, many have been inspired to move on to actual military service or in some other way live out the so-called American dream, inspired by the patriotism of G.I. Joe.
I’m in the latter camp, the weirdos who still play with their military-themed toys but imagine them fighting giant purple amoebas using bushels of apples. I was never inspired to join the military, but I was inspired to join G.I. Joe to fight monsters. When I was 11 years old, The Steel Brigade custom-figure promotion was right up my alley.
When I opened whatever Joe vehicle that came with the promotional pamphlet inviting me to “BE THE NEXT JOE TEAM MEMBER!” I flipped out. I couldn’t fill out the form fast enough, got my mom to write a check for $9, and mailed it off with the required two flag points. Anticipation mounted as I waited for official clearance to become a “high status” member of the Joe organization.
The excitement was rewarded. I received my own file card for my Joe figure with all the details I provided. I named myself “Hot Seat” mostly because I thought it sounded cool. My temper ran hot as a child, so it also seemed appropriate.
Of course I ticked off all the coolest traits I could think of for myself. Somehow, I was such a bad ass that I was in the Marines and the Navy. I was eleven, what the hell did I know?
I had also joined the G.I. Joe Fan Club so I had my official guide to G.I. Joe and a passport for Hot Seat. I no longer have the hat and dog tag: sad! But my Steel Brigade figure is in great condition. I treated this treasured version of myself with the utmost care and respect through the years.
I received version B of the Steel Brigade figure, so I must’ve not been in the first wave of kids ordering their custom G.I. Joe. Besides the original helmet, he’s built from 1984 Duke’s torso, 1984 Scrap-Iron’s legs, 1983 Gung-Ho’s waist and 1983 Flash’s arms. His rifle is a dark grey version of the Crimson Guard’s AK48A with bayonet and his backpack is the same green version of Duke and Airborne’s back pack that all v1 Steel Brigade figures came with.
Version B being the one I received as a child, it is of course my favorite.
I have recently acquired two version Ds of the Steel Brigade figure. I definitely prefer the repurposed Scrap Iron legs to the full Airborne legs. Something about those tools strapped to the left leg really make the Steel Brigade figure seem like he’s prepared for some hairy situations. As for version A’s Airborne torso versus Duke’s torso, or the many waist differences, I have no preference. They all look cool.
Why do the versions have these differences? As with any corporate decision, it probably had to do with cutting costs when possible wherever the molds were being injected.
While he’s decked out in military colors, the bright blue undershirt notwithstanding, the Steel Brigade figure’s unique helmet added a layer of mystery and sci-fi elements that made him special in my Joe ranks. It’s similar to the level of intrigue of Snake Eyes. What the Steel Brigade lacks in mysticism, however, he more than makes up for with his high-tech look.
In playtime, the Steel Brigade figure was truly a super hero. Maybe I gave him special treatment due to an inflated ego, this being “me” and all. Maybe it was the cool design. In any case, he commanded respect from the other Joes and his enemies in Cobra.
What Hasbro did reusing old body sculpts to save money on tooling, they made up for in terms of paint deco. The figure features silver, black, blue, and green paint to match the 3 colors used in molding. He also features a nice tampographic printed patch that reads “STEEL BRIGADE” on his left shoulder.
As I’ve gone on collection some of the more fluorescent era of G.I. Joe, I’m struck by how well the Steel Brigade fits with the entire line. His old-school body mold coupled with the bright blue shirt and sci-fi looking helmet make him something of a bridge between eras of G.I. Joe. His look easily fits in while riding along in a 1982 VAMP along with Clutch as much as it does as if he were manning the turret in a 1991 Brawler. Fitting then, that the year he was released is seen as a changing of eras for G.I. Joe.
1987 was a banner year for G.I. Joe mail order. This would be the only time all-original sculpts would be used for figures only available through mail. Sure, the Steel Brigade is MOSTLY recolored parts while the Fridge is an entirely original sculpt, but that SB helmet has to count for something.
There was a time, back when prices were much lower, when some collectors would army build with the Steel Brigade. I suppose it’s right in the name, as they are part of a brigade.
I never saw my personal Steel Brigade figure that way. I imagined the special members of the Steel Brigade were dispersed as individuals amongst the many divisions of G.I. Joe. Each division was led by a different kid playing with his own personal collection. I felt like it was something that connected me to these other kids I would never know all across the country… at least, in spirit. We were all in G.I. Joe, now.
It’s a shame that Hasbro didn’t do more with the o-ring Steel Brigade mold, because Black Major and Red Laser’s bootlegged versions show the figure had so much potential. His look fits in with just about any era of G.I. Joe, as evidenced by the many different versions these two shadowy manufacturers have made including Sky Patrol, Night Force, Z-Force, and various outfits for different climates.
Once cheap, many of these versions sometimes command prices as high as the original Steel Brigade figures.
The only color variant that Hasbro did make was the gold-headed version of the Steel Brigade figure, available from mail-order in 1992. Personally, I despise this version. The colors are gaudy and do not fit well together. The gold is tacky. When I saw him recently in another collector’s display next to all the other versions, my opinion only became more cemented. Version 2 Steel Brigade is doo doo.
I think there is nothing cooler for a G.I. Joe collector than to have his very own original Steel Brigade figure. After all, it is “me,” and I consider myself pretty dang special.
As for collectors who didn’t have the chance to mail-order their own back in the day, it is a cool figure that is worth acquiring. It’ll cost you a pretty penny, but prices seem to be cooling a bit. If you’re willing to budge on things like no original file sheet, no patch, and maybe an accessory or two, then the prices are on par with many other G.I. Joe figures. Not only do you get a cool looking figure, but you can add yourself to your own G.I. Joe army and personally take care of those pesky giant purple amoebas.
Closing Thoughts on 1987 GI Joe Steel Brigade
Thanks again to Ross for this excellent review! I love hearing about the childhood experiences of other GI Joe fans. I had a blast reading this and the photos are fantastic. Make sure to follow Ross on Twitter and Instagram– it will improve your life by a significant margin.
I had the pleasure of seeing Ross’ band Exhumed play live here in Boise a few months ago. We also had fun talking about toys and music while drinking White Claws, huddled around a fire in a sawed off oil barrel. It was a good time.
Did you have your own Steel Brigade as a kid? I remember seeing them in catalogs from time to time, but I never convinced my parents to order one for me. My friend did have a Create-A-Cobra, though.
Let us know about your Steel Brigade experiences in the comments!
5 thoughts on “1987 (or 88?) GI Joe Steel Brigade Review”
I never had an original Steel Brigade figure, but I have lots of Red Laser Stee-Brees, as well as Pursuit of Cobra versions. I love these figures, but I do use them as army rather than individuals. From a photography perspective, it feels nice having some general troopers to frame the individual Joes, like having Cobra troopers backing up some of the Cobra leaders.
During the days of Amazon’s Kindle Worlds, I began (late) writing a GI Joe story that used the Steel Brigade as a kind of proto-Joe task-force. My story focused on a Steel Brigade mission to recon into Trucial Abysmia or something, where they ended up being rescued by a PMC called Cobra. It was all very serious – no one would’ve liked it as a Joe story, and I ran out of time ( I write SLOWLY) before Amazon closed down the project. But I had a bunch of Joes “before they were Joes” as the Stee Bree squad. I suppose that qualifies as “playing” with my toys?
Who’s paying good money for Black Major Steel Brigades? Not saying they are bad but they’ll never have official value (If that matters).
Why did Steel Brigades have blue skin? Were they the same race as Skeletor?
Why did I steal my brother’s code name idea, because I was lazy and he never ordered one anyway. And it was STEAL Brigade, after all. My guy was Coast Guard so Cutter wouldn’t be so smug about being the only puddle pirate on the team.
“Hot Seat” someone at Hasbro liked that. “Let’s ruin this kid’s personalized Joe by stealing (STEAL BRIGADE) his code name!”
“What if Hama suggests another name?”
“That guy. Forget him. Dude actually complained that all the driver characters from this year are from Rhode Island! THE GREATEST STATE!”
Blue one is lame, but RARE LAME. “Never cared about anything made after 1987 but this figggers soopa rare and I gots one!” NERD BRAGGIN’ RIGHTS!
I filled out the form to get a Steel Brigade many times. But, the higher price point dissuaded me on every occasion. I could buy three figures for the price of one. So, I never pulled the trigger.
The Tin Platoon club has forever sullied this figure for me. They were such jackanapes in the early days that I can’t disassociate this figure from them. It’s sad to see modern collectors get suckered that these figures are “rare”. They were just heavily army built when they were cheap. Even the Airborne chest version was pretty common back in 1999/2000.
The thing that made Joe so great was that you could play with it in a variety of ways. It could be military, superhero, monsters, space, civilian, etc. That diversity was far more valuable than one, individual thing.
It’s funny you mention purple amoeba, because my friend and I had our Star Brigade figures face off against a purple koosh ball as some alien blob! So uh….I guess you know which camp I’m in.
The Steel Brigade was one of the sharper hits to my ribs, when I found out about them. I missed a lot of cool stuff in the 80s, but PERSONAL TOYS?! Man, I wish I had been there for that one. I’ve got a few mail-aways here and there, but nothing like this! A Steel Brigade figure would have no doubt been one of my all-time favorites, since I love customization and anyone with a mask or helmet. This dude is just perfect. Hits all the harder, because of the perfection.
They did a similar mail away during the no-o-ring days in the early 2000s, but somehow I missed that as well!
The pics here are great! The atomsphere and angles are so good, from the mist and the uppercut in the Toxo-Viper shot blowing dust (great desert lineup by the way). I enjoyed the write up too. I got into Joes at the tail end of the first Steel Brigade promotions and passed up the Gold Head when I had a chance. I do remember creating my own persona a few times on those forms, just for fun. I’ve collected the SB’s for completism’s sake, which was challenging but do-able through flea markets in the ’90s-00s. But I’ve never really done anything with them and they don’t have much place in my Joe universe. I don’t believe in GI Joe army builders, and the SBs are way too fancy to be American or foreign regular soldiers. But I will say that they make good army builders since they have small variations, just like real soldiers do with their uniforms–versions A-D standing side-by-side make a believable fire team, with the same basic uniform but every member configuring his gear a little differently. There’s no other army builder, Joe or Cobra, who’s like that.