When you’re on the younger side of things, you tend to connect random things and they become linked in your mind in strange ways. It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to be. Shipwreck was a badass because of Popeye, Captain Strong and the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island.
That’s not to say Shipwreck wasn’t a badass all on his own. As a bearded naval dude with a pitch perfect name, he looked like a bar fight in the shape of a human. He had a damn bird on his shoulder, and you don’t walk around with a bird on your shoulder if you’re not dead certain that you can kick the ass of every humpalump that crosses your path. That is Bird-shoulder 101. At some point some pointy-headed buffoon is going to point at the bird on your shoulder and say something along the lines of “Hey you anchor-brained sea-salt faced son of a pontoon; you have a damn bird on your shoulder!”
And that is a person that’s about to get Shipwrecked. I actually like to think that’s his pre-asskicking line, much like Benjamin J. Grimm shouts “It’s Clobbering Time.”
“You’re about to get Shipwrecked!”
And then a fist to the face from a guy with a bird on his shoulder.
But back to my original point. Popeye was, of course, the badassiest sailor that ever sailed. Captain Strong was a clear Popeye rip-off that punched Superman around like his red undies were cinched a little too tight. And the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island somehow found the strength each and every day of his life not to hold Gilligan’s head under water until the bubbles stopped. He was also a giant of a man that could have lifted the SS Minnow up to throw it back to civilization, but that’s another plot point entirely.
I was exposed to all of these mighty sailing men before Shipwreck hit the scene, so this all mixed together into an arcane stew that made me see Shipwreck as some kind of composite of all of this waterlogged badassery, just without the spinach. Shipwreck was the guy who could beat up Cobra by the score. These were muscles that had weathered storms and typhoons and super-angry dolphins. This was a guy who wore bell-bottom trousers and dared you to make a Saturday Night fever joke about them. He didn’t grow that beard; he was born with it.
Shipwreck had far more cartoon time than he did comic time in the 80s. He had a handful of important scenes in the comic, but being an ’85 Joe (right place and right time) his major claim to fame was in the cartoon, with several storylines revolving around him. One of the best was a two-parter called “There’s no place like Springfield” that involved mind-control and Cobra shenanigans, and a lost love.
Cartoon Shipwreck was recruited because he happened to be in a bar that some Joes hid in. he was also already called “Shipwreck.” It really paid to have your code-name already set in stone, because at ay minute in the cartoon you could get drafted into service. It worked for Quick-Kick!
Another noteworthy thing about cartoon Shipwreck is that he sounded like Jack Nicholson, to the point where you can imagine a younger Five Easy Pieces-era Jack Nicholson playing Shipwreck in a chronologically-misplaced movie. Why he sounded like Jack Nicholson is anybody’s guess, but somehow that strange drawl worked for the character.
Shipwreck’s action figure came with a pistol, bird and boarding hooks. I didn’t have him use the pistol much, but he definitely whumped Cobra faces with the boarding hooks a lot. I tended to have a lot of shootouts during my Joe playtime, for obvious reasons, but there were many many times where I just wanted the figures to pound the bejeebles out of each other with their fists. I had a few Joes that were my go-to face-pounders when I wanted a little fist-on-face ultraviolence, and Shipwreck was usually in that select group.
Had to be the beard.