With 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' coming to theaters, now is a good time to look over the almost 50-year history of the world's most popular action figure and take stock of its origins, mysteries and innovations. Use this handy guide and now you'll know all you need to win half of your trivia battles.
G.I. Joe Writer Created Howard the Duck
It's common to chuckle at the '80s G.I. Joe cartoon for its patriotic theme song, easy-target PSAs and wacky villain set pieces. And yes, machine guns fired lasers and no one ever got hurt. But not so commonly known is what a remarkable roster of talent the show had in the form of its writers.
The producers didn't want just anyone who had written for Saturday morning fare, so Ron Friedman -- who'd worked on 'All in the Family,' 'Starsky and Hutch' and 'Fantasy Island' -- was recruited to write the first 15 episodes of 'G.I. Joe: Real American Hero.' Other scribes came from the world of comic books, like Marv Wolfman ('New Teen Titans'), Denny O'Neil ('Batman'), and Steve Gerber (co-creator of and only notable writer on 'Howard the Duck'). Don't let that last one fool you -- 'Howard the Duck' was hilarious, subversive and critically acclaimed during its run at Marvel Comics in the 1970s. (That's Gerber, who sadly passed away in 2008, in the above photo next to his brash creation.)
Duke Was Supposed to Die During the '80s
As leader of the G.I. Joe team, Duke isn't just able to dodge laser beams or eject safely from crashing jets. He also has an uncanny ability to survive death on the big screen.
In the 1987 animated 'G.I. Joe: The Movie,' Duke takes a staff to his heart, and dies onscreen. (Or does he?) Fellow Joes Scarlett and Hawk cry, and at the end of the film, Duke's half-brother Falcon looks towards the heavens and says, "Thanks, big brother." But producers panicked and inserted dialogue to explain that Duke was actually just in a coma from which he later made a miraculous recovery. Who's to blame? Kids, who were traumatized by Optimus Prime's death a year earlier in 'Transformers: The Movie.'
The Joes Are Named After Real People
Despite a legal disclaimer on every toy package to the contrary, a few of Hasbro's action figures are in fact named after Hasbro employees, their friends and neighbors.
Desert Trooper Dusty is Ronald Tadur, a variation on figure designer Ron Rudat. Ninjas Bushido and Banzai are named after advertising producers Lloyd S. Goldfine and Robert J. Travalino.
A few puns made their way in as well. Coast Guardsman Cutter is Skip A. Stone. Even more oblique is arctic trooper Frostbite's real name: Farley S. Seward, a sidewards reference to Seward's Folly, an 1867 swipe at U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward's purchase of Alaska.
G.I. Joe and Transformers are Related
But not in the way you think. Yes, the same toy companies produce both, and yes, the two universes have crossed over in a handful of comic books and animation cameos. But rather than printed paper, this family tree branches via plastic. The Robots in Disguise's lineage goes all the way back to America's Moveable Fighting Man.
In 1964, Hasbro released the original 12-inch G.I. Joe action figures. Within a few years, Hasbro had licensed the figure to toy companies around the world for sale in markets like England and Brazil. In Japan in 1972, Takara released a toy called Henshin Cyborg, a clear-plastic version of the Joe body with mechanical innards. Two years later, Takara shrunk the figures and renamed them Microman. Two years after that, Micro Change introduced transforming robots to the mix, including a Lamborghini that hopped into Takara's Diaclone line in 1980.
When Hasbro saw Takara's attempts to release Dialone as Diakron in the US, it partnered with the Japanese toymaker to release many of those Microman and Diaclone cars, planes, cassette players and Walther P-38 pistols as the 1984 and 1985 Autobots and Decepticons. So in a very real way, G.I. Joe helped create the Transformers. No Creation Matrix needed here.
G.I. Joe Was Almost Related to Nick Fury
At the same time that Hasbro was developing its 3.75-inch Real American Hero toy line in 1981, Marvel Comics editor and freelance writer Larry Hama was pitching a series called 'Fury Force,' made up of an elite squad of soldiers. (S.H.I.E.L.D. fans take note, for the lead was Nick Fury's son.) When Hama signed on to write 'G.I. Joe,' he dropped 'Fury Force' and transposed several characters onto Hasbro's initial Real American Hero line-up.
G.I. Joe Fought Aliens and Toxic Waste
Long before 'G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,' er, borrowed Tony Stark's Iron Man suit and painted it black so Marlon Wayans could destroy downtown Paris, the G.I. Joe toy line was following topical trends. (Kung-Fu Grip, anyone?) Indeed, this all started in 1969 when public sentiment soured over America's involvement in Vietnam. Hasbro redeployed G.I. Joe the Action Soldier as G.I. Joe the Land Adventurer, and thus was born the Adventure Team.
Six years later, Hasbro grabbed at the 'Bionic Man' craze with Mike Power, The Atomic Man, and this continued through the later half of the Real American Hero action figure line with Eco-Warriors (a team of colorful ecological crusaders), Star Brigade, and Street Fighter II toys, all firmly set in the G.I. Joe product line.
"Oh, I like 'em," indeed.
G.I. Joe Made Television History
Hasbro pioneered advertising toys on TV with its Mr. Potato Head in 1952, and went a step further when its daring new G.I. Joe product line hit the airwaves outside of the holiday shopping season 12 years later. But that's not all.
1982 saw an ad for Marvel Comics' 'G.I. Joe' issue #1, the first time a comic book was advertised on television.
Meanwhile, the G.I. Joe cartoon premiered in 1983 with the five-part MASS Device storyline making it the first animated TV miniseries. Like 'Roots,' only with more explosions.
The G.I. Joe Cartoon Had Harvard University on its Side
Much YouTube hay has been made of the now infamous G.I. Joe public service announcements. So much so that the original, non-satirized versions are harder to find than the well known Fensler Film ones. (Body massage!) Even though these 30-second nuggets of edu-tainment seem to impart obvious messages, they were still run by Harvard University's Robert Selman, Ph.D., to make sure the pro-social lessons were properly explained.
'G.I. Joe's' producers were looking to shield the show from criticism that it was merely a half hour toy commercial, or worse, a show that glorified war. Clearly telling kids not to jump their bikes over downed power lines was a step in the right direction. It also ensured that an entire generation would forever follow up the words "And now you know..." with "...and knowing is half the battle."
Todd McFarlane was Fired Off 'G.I. Joe'
Long before he helped launch Image Comics with his hit 'Spawn' series, Todd McFarlane was the hottest artist in comics thanks to his best-selling run on 'The Amazing Spider-Man.' But before that, he was just trying to raise his profile in the comic book industry.
'G.I. Joe' editor Bob Harras thought McFarlane's detail-packed pages would be a good fit for a toy-based comic book series known for its myriad of heroes, villains, weapons and vehicles. McFarlane drew a few issues, but writer Larry Hama (who also drew comics, and as an editor, had a lot of pull), found the Toddster's storytelling skills lacking. Only one of McFarlane's issues were published, although years later Marvel released another that had been sitting in a desk drawer. Don't fret for McFarlane, though, since he went on to become one of the most famous comic book artists of all time and even briefly co-owned a hockey team.
The Queen of England's Dog Once Urinated on Major Bludd's Leg
Animation studio DIC, known for silly shows like 'Inspector Gadget,' produced two seasons of 'G.I. Joe' as the '90s dawned. Unlike the beloved '80s cartoon, these new episodes eased up on the punching and ramped up the funny. In an unfortunate episode called "Chunnel," Cobra Commander kidnaps Her Majesty at the christening of the train tunnel beneath the English Channel. This led to an unfortunate incident involving one of the Queen Mother's corgis and Cobra mercenary Major Bludd's boots. The '90s, folks!