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!