PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Ode To GI Joe

I haven’t exactly made a secret of the fact that I have a ridiculously huge collection of GI Joes. I’m talking about the big guys here, the eleven-and-a-half inch tall guys–the “real” GI Joes from the 60s and 70s–not the little guys from the 1980s. Not that there’s anything wrong with them.

My office walls are lined with reproduction GI Joes. I use reproductions because, while I am a fan and collector, I’m also a cheapskate. Some vintage GI Joes cost as much as a small car. Luckily, while most of the world wasn’t paying attention for the past decade, Hasbro has quietly cranked out a series of high-quality reproductions that are remarkably close to the original GI Joe from the classic era.

This was largely due to the efforts of two buddies of mine, John Michlig and Derryl DePriest. In 1995, John teamed up with Don Levine, one of GI Joe’s “daddies,” and Chronicle Books, to create the GI Joe Masterpiece Edition, a book packaged with a near-perfect reproduction of “America’s Movable Fighting Man.” This was no mean feat, since the original molds were long gone, and the whole project had to be reverse-engineered and adapted to modern manufacturing techniques. John went on to write a comprehensive book about GI Joe, as well as other Pop Culture tomes like “Bob’s Basement,” and an upcoming book on King Kong. Along the way, he kept tossing me paying writing gigs, for which I am eternally grateful.

The Masterpiece Edition was
such a success that Hasbro leased the molds and started producing “The Timeless Collection” of reproduction figure sets. In 2003, as GI Joe’s 40th Anniversary approached, Derryl DePriest — then the man in charge of GI Joe at Hasbro — had brand new molds created that were even closer to the original figures. With this latest rebirth, GI Joe embarked on his 40th Anniversary with an ambitious line of collector’s sets that each contained a reproduction figure complete with reproduction packaging, and an authentic-looking accessory card. These sets would sell for between $30 and $40–a fraction of what the vintage figures are worth mint in their original packages. Forty years after these toys hit stores, the kids who grew up with them could once again experience the joy of opening them for the first time. They even got the smell right.

Collectors were delighted, but it turned out that the plan was too ambitious. Nationwide, sales were not what Hasbro expected. Locally, these sets flew off the shelves, but I’ve come to understand that the Charleston area has an unusually large GI Joe collecting population, albeit one that keeps a low profile. After 22 of the projected 30 sets were released, Hasbro pulled the plug. Derryl, who’s exhaustive book on GI Joe is sadly out of print, moved on to the Star Wars toy division.

All of which left me with an empty wall in my office. Happily, the Official G.I. Joe Collector’s Club has stepped up, and plans to finish GI Joe’s 40th Anniversary celebration. In the interest of full disclosure, I do write extensively for the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club, but the main reason for that is because they do cool projects like this. Of the eight remaining sets, the first two can be ordered now. They’re not cheap, as far as toys go: a set of both will cost you $116 plus shipping ($84 plus shipping, if you’re a member), but these are limited to 1,000 pieces each, and it’s the only way to complete the 40th Anniversary series. Plus, buying vintage examples of these figures and accessories would cost you thousands of dollars. So $58 each is a bargain. These sets sold so well locally that I figured it would be a good idea to alert collectors to the existence of these new editions.

The first two sets from the Club are #23, a Combat Action Soldier with four field equipment accessory cards, and #25, an Air Force Pilot with Dress Uniform. You can order one or both of these by calling 800-772-6673 , or check out the website here.