(Editor’s Note: Today’s photos come from the one and only RTG of Attica Gazette. He generously provided me with these beautiful photos of 1990s GI Joe figures so that I might share them with you. RTG is one of the world’s best GI Joe photographers, and also one of the world’s best toy photographers in general. Not only that, but he’s been my friend for around 13 years now. I am grateful and honored to publish these pictures on my little website.)
My friend Dan Sartain passed away yesterday. Dan was a remarkable and versatile musician, known as much for snarling garage punk and cool, detached synth pop as he was for the rockabilly-adjacent blues punk he used to make his name. His records were released by labels like One Little Independent and Swami. He toured the world with acts big and small. He collaborated with Jane Wiedlin, Richie Ramone, DJ Bonebrake, and many other legendary artists.
Dan was also a fan of GI Joe, Transformers, Star Trek, and horror movies. That’s how I met him. We were internet friends before I ever met him in person. He was a kind, gracious soul who was always generous with his time and wisdom. Since some of my readers might know him, too, I wanted to remember him in this space.
You can donate to his family’s GoFundMe for funeral expenses and building a trust for his daughter here.
You can also find the majority of Dan’s vast catalog of work on his Bandcamp page here.
Thank you for attending my TED Talk.
In 1993 and 1994, many GI Joe figures came with “weapons trees,” which were multiple, reused weapons from earlier figures attached to a plastic sprue. They were all molded in one color, and very often made no sense for the character they were packed with. This often meant your brand new figure would be brandishing Rock Viper’s oversized sniper rifle in dark purple or neon green– hardly the “realistic” weaponry GI Joe fans of the 1980s (and early 90s!) expected to come with their military action figures.
But I’m here to tell you that these weapons trees were just as much of a blessing as they were a curse. Even if you’re currently balling up your fists and loading up photos of 1985 Snake Eyes to remind yourself of the “Good Ol’ Days” right now because the very thought that weapons trees might be somehow positive makes your brain vomit a little bit, just bear with me.
Because, once upon a time, I hated them, too. That’s right– as an unabashed fan of 1990s GI Joe, even I wasn’t always on board with weapons trees. As I became an adult and began collecting ARAH-style Joes again, though, I realized how much I actually used those weapons as a kid, and how valuable they really were to me.
Within the last week, I finished collecting the 1991 Cobra roster. I almost have the GI Joe side complete, too– I just need that pesky Cloudburst!
While not every figure I have is complete or perfect, 1991 is the only GI Joe year I’ve set out to complete so far. That’s because it’s easily my favorite GI Joe lineup. As a kid, I had a few figures from 1988 and 1989, and even one from 1987. I had a good amount of the 1990 roster, and those figures were excellent, but it was a year full of all new characters. As a kid, I wanted the characters from the Sunbow cartoon and the animated movie.
1991 fulfilled that desire. It gave us Cobra Commander, Hawk, Snake Eyes, Zap, Grunt, Falcon, Rock n Roll, Major Bludd, Flint, Low-Light, Dusty, Mercer, and Sci-Fi. It also gave us fantastic new characters like Heavy Duty, Cesspool, Interrogator, Big Ben, Red Star, and Ozone. The accessories were still good and still specifically made for each character.
To me, it’s the best Joe year of all time. I was only 6 or 7 when I got most of the 91 figures I had as a kid, but it was my first real chance to have versions of the characters I knew. And the accessories were a bit less confusing to a kid than the complicated setups from 1990.
But, in this quick feature, I want to talk about the 1991 Cobra roster. I’m more into the Joe side than the Cobra side, but this month it special– it’s Cobra Convergence 3!
YouTube toy reviewer Hooded Cobra Commander 788 spearheads Cobra Convergence every year, and this time he’s asked bloggers, photographers, and other creators to contribute.
So, this is my humble entry. Let’s take a look at why 1991 was just as much of a banner year for Cobra as it was for GI Joe.
So, as it turns out I’m not dead. Which is good, because often dead people become ghosts. And if I were a ghost, I most certainly would have been busted due to this blog post. This is a convoluted way of saying I roped three of my friends into drinking expired Ecto Cooler with me, even though there’s not even a dang ghost on the can anymore.
No ghosts to bust here, neither human nor aluminum. If bustin’ can’t make us feel good, then what possibly can? Hopefully the answer lies in expired Hi-C Ecto Cooler.
In the spring and summer of 2016, Hi-C rereleased Ecto Cooler into the wild. It was impossible to find in Boise, so I had to live vicariously through social media and Dinosaur Dracula posts. Ecto Cooler was a big part of my childhood, though, so I was pretty bummed out about the whole thing.
I drank a LOT of Ecto Cooler as a kid. Those juice boxes were my favorite. They bring back memories of X-Men pogs, staying in on sunny summer days and watching reruns of Welcome Back Kotter (I think there’s a Smiths song about that), and reading Star Trek novels I barely understood.
The thing is, I’m not a Ghostbusters superfan. I ADORED The Real Ghostbusters as a very young kid, and spent a lot of time watching the cartoons and playing with the toys.
My mom even bought me the cereal, and said she’d order me whatever prize was on the back if I ate the whole box. I didn’t like cereal, though, so I’m not sure what I was thinking. The first bowl she poured me, I hid under the kitchen sink and said I finished. She was very proud of me until she found it that night because the milk began to stink. I did not get that prize.
Sure, I like the films. My dad showed me Ghostbusters 2 at a tender young age and it scared the piss out of me. Especially those minks, man. I liked the first film when I eventually saw it around age 10 or so. Still, the cartoon holds the most nostalgia for me. I do appreciate the movies, and the franchise as a whole, but I’m more of an Ecto Cooler fan than I am a Ghostbusters fan.
As it turns out, Ecto Cooler was a rebranded Citrus Cooler that was first released in 1987. I don’t imagine I ever had it until 1991 or 1992, so I always thought it was a 1990s thing. As it turns out, Ecto Cooler is one thing Gen X and Millennials can both agree on.
So, I was very excited when my friend Beer Baron sent me two cans of the 2016 Ecto Cooler in the mail. I’d never had Ecto Cooler in a can before. What a novelty!
(Post Updated 7/20/21 with individual pages for Barbecue and Croc Master. See each character’s section for links.)
Back in November, I bit the bullet and ordered a lot of 24 Russian Funskool GI Joe figures from eBay. It’s possible you’ve seen the lot, as the seller seems to have many of them, and it’s also possible I directed you to the lot. I’m seeing these pop up a lot more on Instagram now, where people are selling them for over $25 a piece.
I ended up paying about $6 per figure, which is a fair price for any carded GI Joe– Funskool or not.
Funskool released Hasbro molds in India for quite a long time. And, for a while, they were cheap and readily available. In the early 00s, you could get many figures for $5 or so from YoJoe.com and SmallJoes.com.
As I was around 16 at the time, and my income was Pretty Bad, I only ever got a few of them. A Hydro Viper, a Cobra Eel, A Toxo-Viper, and Tunnel Rat. I’ve kicked myself many times for not scooping up Night Vipers and Crimson Guard Immortals. But I can’t change the past, since time travel is socially irresponsible, so there’s not much I can do about that now.
Funskool GI Joe figures are much more expensive now than they were then. I’m not sure what the distinction between the Russian and Indian versions of these figures are (as my Russian and Indian Hydro Vipers and Eels seem nearly identical, for example), but none of them should fetch $35 carded.
But the GI Joe market is weird right now.
Anyway, if you’re looking into buying any of these figures, I hope this post helps you. I’ll be keeping each figure’s write up short and to the point. Also, if you do decide to buy these, I recommend buying them in a lot from Russia, as that’s bound to be cheaper than buying them for $20+ each.
And before you say “wait these aren’t from the 90s,” understand that at least some of them are 90s molds, understand maybe some were released in the 90s, and understand that I absolutely don’t care.
(Update from Mike T. of Forgotten Figures: “I believe [These Russian Funskool Figures] were produced in the early 2000’s, at the same time that Funskool was pumping out all the figures that ended up in the US, too.”
Before we look the top 5 best GI Joe characters, I need to tell you a little story.
On the morning of Saturday December, 2nd, I sustained a nasty head wound. It required a 3:30am visit to the ER, an ambulance ride, a CAT scan, and three layers of stitches– with 30 stitches on the outer layer alone. The wound covers my forehead and goes down to my nose, which means my eyes are swollen, black, and blue. I looked like I just got jumped into the Los Locos gang from Short Circuit 2.
I say this not because I’m asking for sympathy (it was a dumb, clumsy, non-car related accident that was totally my fault) but because the photos in this post are a bit sub par. I’m not the world’s best photographer, anyway, but I’m always trying to steadily improve.
Because my eyes are swollen, my vision is not the best. My hands are even shakier than normal. But I wanted to get this post out, even with inferior photos. This blog is one of my favorite things to do, and I don’t want to let something like a little head injury stop me.
That said, this will be a Quick And Easy Article.
Now, on with the top 5 best GI Joe characters.
Only GI Joe is GI Joe. Nobody Beats GI Joe. GI Joe Is There.
But what if someone else is GI Joe? What if someone might, in fact, beat GI Joe? And what if someone else is there?
Dear readers, I present to you– Lanard’s THE CORPS!
The Corps! is a highly skilled group of soldiers, hockey players, skiiers, wrestlers, spacemen, forest rangers, and street punks recruited from all over the world to fight a nebulous enemy force. No, not that team… the other one. Members of The Corps! are divided into units based on each individual’s skills, weapons, specialties, pants-wearing preferences, and the colors of their outfits.
If you can afford them (and you probably can), then you can hire THE CORPS!
A few weeks ago, I got bored of looking for the few GI Joe figures on top of my “most wanted” list. They’re all painfully expensive and hard to come by. Granted, there are plenty of great figures I don’t have, but I was feeling defeated.
To curb that feeling of rejection and further feed my plastic army man habit, I purchased a few lots of vintage, o-ring style Lanard Corps! toys from eBay. I bought one carded “8 man team” collector’s pack and a few mixed lots.
This caused me to remember everything I love about The Corps!… and just a few things I don’t.
The Corps!, oddly, aren’t written or spoken about too much in the GI Joe community despite their similar construction, great sculpts, awesome vehicles, and neat character concepts.
So, in an effort to fill that void, I assembled a crack commando squad to nerd out about THE CORPS!
Since this is a huge post, even by Dragon Fortress standards, I’ve included a handy table of contents below. Simply click the chapter you’d like to read or, better yet, enjoy the whole post.