From the beginning, G.I. Joe has been a toyline with characters packing major HEAT. That’s High Explosive Anti-Tank, meaning stuff that blows crap up. Right out of the gate of the original thirteen they had two guys whose duty was to separate things into their component parts with high-explosive rounds: Short Fuze and Zap.
Zap’s existence was my introduction to the bazooka, a tube of death that delivers a big bang theory to anybody on the other end of it. I was instantly fascinated by him, but of course I was unable to ever procure a Zap figure of my very own. However, the Joe line being what it was, my need for explosive toys wouldn’t lay dormant forever.
Turn the clock a year forward, and 1983 brought a couple of guys who were capable of shooting rockets up your butt from great distance. Gung Ho carried around a portable grenade launcher that looked angry and knocked over the HISS tank more times than I could count. You don’t mess with a giant cajun marine dressed in powder blue who carries around something with that much bang. You just don’t. In the same year, Destro debuted. While he didn’t carry around a gigantic compensation device, he had actual rockets strapped to his wrists. That, to me, was the epitome of class. Forget just wearing a watch. While some men have Rolex, some have Omega, Destro always knew it was Kaboom o’clock.
1984 was a lull year for explosions, but that was only the rest period for 1985, the year a Joe debuted who was actually named after his weapon of mass destruction. Bazooka and his bazooka debuted, and immediately shot to the top of the must-have list. Where I was denied a Zap of my very own, I refused to miss out on someone who took one look at a bazooka and decided that would be his code-name. He wasn’t called “Gun” or “Knife” or “Pushpin”…he was Bazooka.
There was yet another lull in 1986, but that was only the resting period before the 1987 debut of someone who made both Zap and Bazooka look like they were flicking rubber bands at the enemy. If Bazooka had sent me into a feverish whirlpool of desire, Fast Draw gave me the twitch ‘n shakes.
Moving past simple tube-launched rockets, Fast Draw carried an entire missile delivery system on his back, with FAFNIR rockets launched by a handheld toggle. I vividly remember getting a glimpse of him on the back of a cardback before rifling through a gaggle of new Joes, only to pull him triumphantly off the peg, finally snagging my number one most-wanted Joe on the first attempt. When I got him home I immediately put him to work blowing the bejeezles out of every Cobra and Cobra vehicle I could. I thought it couldn’t get any better. Wooo…was I wrong. Fast draw was only the beginning.
Apparently someone at Hasbro was beginning to get the hint that, hey…kids liked to blow the funk out of stuff. So they took what they had learned all the way up to Fast Draw, snorted an entire meeting-room table length of cocaine, and then took it one step further. In that instant, Backblast was born.
Backblast made Fast Draw look subtle. Backblast was the kid on the playground who glued all of his toys together because he wanted to the the only kid to ever have a Masters of the Joeformers ThunderSilver MASK-bot. Not content to just fire a pair of missiles, Backblast put NASA on his shoulder and aimed himself at Cobra. And he wasn’t alone. Downtown also debuted this year, bringing Short-Fuze’s mortar-round-tossing full circle.
Speaking of Cobra, they weren’t planning on being outdone in 1989. They decided to skip subtlety and acronymed the crap out of G.I. Joe with their very own HEAT-Viper, who carried a gigantonormous bazooka by his side like most men carry briefcases.
Clearly the arms race had taken the Joe universe by storm, and a complicated measuring contest had broken out over-top of the whole anti-terrorist thing.
But neither of them, Joe nor Cobra, had reached the upper limit of just how much kablooey one man can carry. Because then came 1990, the year my face melted off from the sheer unrelenting awesomeness of two distinct characters.
With the ninth wave of G.I. Joe, there came Salvo and Metal-Head.
Salvo was not content to carry a John Matrix-styled quad-tube rocket launcher on his shoulder. He also carried a combo machine gun mine-thrower, which flung little discs of death at the forces of evil.
Truly, we had met a man who pooped grenades and peed napalm. This was not a man who made love to a woman, but instead laid a pipe-bomb up in there and waited for her to detonate. Salvo was the physical embodiment of a mushroom cloud.
And then there was Metal-Head.
Metal-Head was the Rio Blast of G.I. Joe, if guns were missile launchers. Most people see their own naked body and find areas they need to cover with clothes; Metal-Head looked at himself nude in the mirror and saw areas that needed to be covered by missile-firing engines of destruction.
We had nearly reached the end of the line, as portable weapons systems went. There was literally no place left to shove a rocket. 1990 would be the end…
Until 1991. Until…Heavy duty.
Heavy Duty was the final straw. We had been heading to the point where man and tank had become one, and this was the year we finally reached that ultimate goal. We had replaced tank treads with boot treads, and here we were: a man who was carrying what amounted to a tiny tank on his groin. This was the last gasp; GI Joe had flown too close to the sun and had blown it up.
But it was a hell of a ride while it lasted. And, obligatorily, I’ll take each of these in a 6-inch G.I. Joe line.