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Toy fair 2020: GI Joe Classifieds Reactions

Where to begin…

Usually, whenever I do one of these “reaction” articles, I have about a ton of action figures to get through, so I do what amounts to a brief opinion about the character/costume choice and what my level of anticipation is for said figure. How interesting this is to anybody is up to the individual, but it’s fun to get all my thoughts down in some kind of quasi-coherent fashion. In a way, it helps crystallize my own views since I collect so many damn toys that it’s easy to lose track of it all in the mad rush

I knew I’d be doing one for 6-inch Joes, because I’ve been waiting for this for what feels like forever. If you’ve been following along my string of “A Joe in the Sights” articles—or any article I’ve ever written based on GI Joe–then you have a pretty good idea of how large a Joe fan I am. I’m usually pretty eager for Toy Fairs and conventions, but this one had ramped up my anticipation well beyond normal levels. Anybody who has been in the same position knows exactly how high that anticipation was.

I think it’s saying something that of 80s properties that are getting a brand new action figure line that debuted at this year’s Toy Fair, Defenders of the Earth actually now ranks higher on my excitement meter than GI Joe. That says a hell of a lot, and hopefully I can explain the why of that well enough through this article.

I think I should stop before I go on and say I absolutely respect everybody involved in bringing the Joes into the 6-inch scale, from the designers to the sculptors and everybody in between above and below. Despite buying, collecting and babbling on and on about toys for the vast majority of my life, I am not an expert in toys. In fact, nobody—even the professionals involved– can be called an “expert” on toys, because toys as an artform are a constantly mutating thing that refuse to stagnate or adhere to just one thing, or one idea of a thing. I get that. At no point in this article will I make the case that everybody should feel the way I feel about, well, anything. All I am is an expert on my own opinion, and even that can change with the tides depending on a variety of factors, not least of which is in-hand experience. A recent example is the Marvel legends Thing. I had a definite idea of how I wanted him to look, and was stricken with disappointment when he didn’t end up looking like the Thing I had in my head. But once I got over that initial reaction, that didn’t stop him from being one of my favorite recent Marvel figures, and one I ended up buying about a half-dozen or so of.

It’s because of things like that that I’ve learned not to trust my initial, adrenaline reactions to things. Sometimes it just makes me look or feel stupid in hindsight, and since this is 2020—the year of hindsight—I’m extraordinarily open to having my mind changed when I have these in hand.

Because despite every critical little thing I am about to say about this line…I have them all preordered. All of them. I am going to support this line, in the hopes that even if they don’t currently look the way I want them to look, then what I do want could be feasible down the road. I am very aware that a lot of times we as consumers end up paying the toy company for their own market research and learning curve. We finance their improvements. It’s possibly not fair, but it’s the nature of this particular hobby. Because, as I said, nobody is a toy expert.

I think it’s only fair to post what my initial reaction to the initial images of Duke, Scarlet and Roadblock was. Here you go:

“My knee-jerk reaction is that these are terrible.”

I sat there with that thought, but resisted the urge to hit submit. “Terrible” is such a heavy word for something whose only flaw might be that it doesn’t align with my vision. I already knew that people were going to be calling these all kinds of names. I wanted to move away from hyperbole. So instead, I amended it to say “My knee-jerk reaction is not positive.” It felt more fair, more in tune with what I wanted to say. Besides, I knew I’d have a rambling article like this one to sum up my thoughts in something other than a one-word buzzkill vomit.

As we all know, Snake Eyes was shown off earlier through a handful of leaked images. A large majority of people were immediately blown away by him. And I will say, it absolutely looks great. It looks like a great version of Snake Eyes. But my own thoughts on the figure were kind of a precursor to what they would end up being for everything that has been shown.

Now, I know that Snake Eyes is the type of character that will get multiple figures, so I wasn’t too broken up about him not looking like a direct translation of one of the original figures. They wanted to do their own interpretation; that’s cool. However, I was admittedly looking forward to seeing a straight up recreation of his V1 or V2 look. That this one blended a bit of both is ok…in a sense.

To me, though, there was a number of things about this that kind of red-flagged the possible direction of the line. In blending his V1 and V2 aesthetics, it kind of blurs the point of both of them. I’ve always thought of his V1 outfit as Snakes embracing his military side while trying to move away from his ninja side…until he fully embraces his ninja side with his V2 look. It presents the dichotomy of Snake Eyes as a soldier/ninja in two very different forms. Trying to combine them into a single flavor—trying to shortcut the design–lessens the personality of both of them.

Plus–and this is probably super-nitpicky–I don’t like using the Arashikage symbol as a personal symbol. It should be something kept secret, not something snake Eyes uses as decoration on his uniform. It always bugs me when it’s used as shorthand. But, you know, that might be me waaay overthinking it.

In the end, Snake Eyes is a cool toy that looks good, and another one is always waiting to be made, so it’s not that big of a deal.

It was really the card art on the back of the package that worried me more. Roadblock with a big rail gun, and some of the other design choices…I was losing that excitement, and now I was just hesitant.

I should explain what I wanted to see. There were three possibilities for this line:

-Straight recreations of vintage

-Vintage faithful, but with with some updated details like Sideshow has done

-Full redesigns

The first was absolutely what I wanted to see. To me those designs are GI Joe. It’s what hits all my nostalgia buttons, plus they are just brilliant, fun and well-done designs. To me it’s the “ain’t broke don’t fix it” school of toys. If nobody complains that Luke Skywalker should be redesigned, if He-Man can get a modern toy that looks like his vintage figure, if everybody wants to see Optimus as G1 as possible then to me there was no sense in changing what works so well. They’re simple, straightforward yet evocative.

The second was one I was dreading might happen, but not something I needed. I’m ok with updated details to an extent, but it’s not something I ever think about needing. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I just don’t say “take this thing I loved and add more to it to make it more realistic” or whatever.

Full redesign was my worst case scenario. And admittedly we didn’t quite get that. At least, not for everyone. Scarlet might hit the closest, but I’ll get to her in a second.

My initial reactions to the figures have mellowed considerably, especially once better pictures started showing up, but the basic issues remain. With all that said, let’s (finally) get to my reactions. Let’s start with Roadblock.

I know I said I was trying to stay away from hyperbole, but that gun is terrible. It’s a rail gun, because Hasbro doesn’t like realistic guns, so a .50 caliber browning is out of the question. I find that entire line of thought dubious at best but that’s company policy and out of my hands, as ridiculous as it feels. I will be finding an alternative for that gun.

Roadblock is based around his V2 appearance. I was anticipating (hoping and pining for) the camo muscle shirt version, but again, that was me wanting absolute faithfulness.

Like all of these figures, he looks like an excellent action figure. I can’t stress enough that these all look like great toys, just in terms of their inherent playability.

But Roadblock begins a trend that is the biggest problem so far. There are design choices that just don’t need to be there. The gold, for one. There is gold on all of them. I’ve heard it referred to as a unifying element, but it ends up being one step too far. I’m not a fan of the kneepad or the shin guards—“Aim for the shins!” is the weirdest battle cry ever—but they’d be a lot more palatable in a more subdued gunmetal or just basic black. The gold with red touches is what gives off the Fortnite feel. That has been one of the more common complaints, that these Joes are Fortnited up. I don’t fully disagree with it, but I don’t fully agree either. These definitely feel like video game Joe designs, in a way. It’s not really “Fortnite” since there’s no Joe dressed as fruit, but the faces and designs look like they could be used in a game where teenagers yell at each other while chugging red bull and killing each other. Is that what kids do nowadays? I have no idea.

The articulation in his torso doesn’t look great either. The vest is solid, so even if roadblock has that ball jointed torso people said Snake eyes has, he’s going to be a brick from the waist to neck. If they went to the trouble to make an all new sculpt they could easily have sculpted him to be articulated with a wobble joint in his torso. Unless the vest is removable, and there’s a camo muscle shirt under there.

Duke is, again, close. So close. But again there’s the shin guards. I have never seen a top secret, highly trained special mission force that was more terrified of getting kicked in the shins than this version of GI Joe. It’s like they were all traumatized by the same neighborhood shin-kicking bully. And yes, I am aware of military armor and all that, but it just seems random to be so protective of their shins and yet every other part of their body, including their head, is like “Shoot meeee!!” Shins before heads, bro.

The additional green on his shirt is, at least to me, unnecessary. It doesn’t seem like it needs to be there. I know “need” is a sliding scale, but it’s so close to the original figure but the green is there to…differentiate it from the vintage? Why not just let it all be the same color, like the vintage design? This is where I’m having the most problem with everything I’m seeing. The design team seemed like they couldn’t stop designing. It’s being afraid of large blocks of color without tossing another color at it. There’s too much mustardy-beige? Throw some green at it!

I’m really not trying to be overly critical or nit-picky if it seems like that’s what I’m doing. But the thing is that these are just so close to being what they need to be, if there was a little…less.

Scarlett is probably the worst offender. Now I have never had a problem with her original look. It has never occurred to me to have a problem with it. People call it a swimsuit or a leotard or whatever, but she was a black belt in karate and wore something that allowed her to move easily while still being deadly. It was more or less skin tight, but Snake Eyes and his ninjawear was skin tight also. Seemed silly to single out Scarlett. Say that five times fast.

However, if the prevailing sentiment is that she needs to be a little more suited up, that’s fine. But of all of these figures, Scarlett is the prime example when it comes to not knowing when to stop designing. Scarlett was designed within an inch of her life. The basics of Scarlett are there, buried underneath so much…well, so much designwork. The shoulderpad doesn’t need to be there. (I know, need is subjective, but that’s my opinion) Again, she’s protecting just one shoulder. There’s the gold again in her armor, but the gold is cut with reds and yellows, and there’s a random red swatch on her pants, and the soles of her shoes are red, and…it’s all too much. If the gold had been muted, if it had carried down all the way through her torso, even if they wanted to move away from the “swimsuit” look, it would have been better. But there’s too much choppiness going on. I know she’s Scarlett, because she’s a redhead on the GI Joe team, but she looks the most like a 3rd party Kickstarter that was making their own Joe-esque team but could only roughly approximate a Scarlett-type character. This (and I know this will sound absurd, but work with me here) looks designed. It doesn’t have that invisible, practical lived-in feel of the original Scarlett design. It’s like she went to a seamstress and said “make me look army pretty.”

And if I’m continuing on with honesty, I just don’t like her head. I don’t like the expression, and it doesn’t really evoke Scarlett. It’s a little too “first day of college” and not “can kill you with a pinkie.”

As I said, Scarlett is the largest symptom of the trend towards over-designing that I’m seeing. And based on the packaging art, it’s a symptom that’s not going to slow down with any other the other figures. Baroness has some large shoulder pads for no real reason. Cobra commander’s helmet is over-caffeinated. Destro might actually look the best, but it’s hard to say. At least Gung Ho seems to have his light blue vest, but anything else is hard to see also. Does he have a bare chest and a big tattoo? It kind of looks like he’s wearing a shirt under there. If you can’t see his tattoo, then what’s the point, other than adding something unnecessary?

The thing is, I’m being (maybe overly or unfairly) critical based just on what I’m seeing, but everything is so close to being what it could be. Snake Eyes, fine, he’ll be done over and over. But how many shots at Scarlet will we get? There are a lot of characters to get through. Will the line sustain itself long enough to get to different versions of some of them or all of them?

I don’t know. And that’s why I’m using up all the letters on my keyboard here.

They truly look like great figures. I love that there is a way to store all their weapons. Working holsters are some of my favorite things. And it’s 6-inch Joes. It’s something I’ve wanted since the advent of 6-inch action figures. It’s some of the first lousy things I customized. These genuinely look like they should and could be fun action figures, and if they were not based on anything I’d probably be really excited to get them. But they are based on a specific thing, and I have specific wants and needs, and there’s just a lot here that isn’t filling me with the excitement a 6-inch Joe line should. That’s my current reaction. Whether or not it will change as time goes on is a mystery.