A comically disproportionate number of my toys are G.I. Joes. I grew up in the 1980s, and so Sunbow’s cheerfully absurd G.I. Joe A Real American Hero cartoon was mother’s milk to me. When I was ten years old, I had dozens of Real American Hero action figures, and now that I am thirty-five years old I have dozens of their modern counterparts.
Here’s an odd thing, though: I don’t think of them as G.I. Joes. Or rather, I don’t think of them as Real American Heroes. When I buy a new action figure of, say, Snake Eyes or Beachhead, I immediately pop off the head and hands and switch out the accessories in an effort to make them… well, to make them anything but Snake Eyes and Beachhead; I look back at the cartoons of my childhood with warm affection, but I do not feel the same sort of tireless nostalgia for “The G.I. Joe versus Cobra fantasy” that most nerds my age seem to feel.
In the summer of 2007, as part of its short-lived Sigma 6 series, Hasbro produced a collection of three new figures under the Adventure Team banner. Dating back to the 1970s, “Adventure Team” was Hasbro’s first re-branding of the G.I. Joe property; “America’s Fighting Man” was suddenly a tougher sell in the midst of the unpopular Vietnam War, so Hasbro opted to minimize G.I. Joe’s military flavor in favor of a tone more befitting the kinds of early twentieth century pulp heroes that later inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones films. Suddenly, G.I. Joe was not a soldier; he was a temple raider on a series of dangerous expeditions in search of ancient artifacts and exotic animals.
I was not privy to any of this historical background when the Sigma 6 Adventure Team figures arrived on toy shelves in 2007, but the toy packaging included enough nods to the line’s past to make it clear that there was some sort of historical context to this newfangled “Adventure Team” concept. Here, for example, is an illustration from the catalog that was included with every Sigma 6 Adventure Team figure:
Setting aside its anachronistic tongue-in-cheek tone, the illustration above could almost be vintage Adventure Team packaging art. Compare it to this box art from the Secret of the Mummy’s Tomb set:
What a great name for a toy: Secret of the Mummy’s Tomb. All it needs is an exclamation mark.
In theory, one would expect the Real American Hero series to serve as my toy photography muse, but instead, I buy various Real American Hero-inspired figures from Hasbro’s Pursuit of Cobra and 30th Anniversary series, only to customize them and “kitbash” them into pulp-style explorers and relic hunters in the spirit of the Adventure Team series that had already faded from toy aisles before I was born.
I don’t have any vintage Adventure Team figures in my toy collection. Instead, I love the series from a distance; I could happily browse outdoor photos of Adventure Team figures and vintage catalog advertisements for hours, but the figures themselves boast an aesthetic that simply doesn’t quite work for me; I’ve been spoiled by Hasbro’s recent, hyper-realistic sculpting style, so the “Fuzzheads”, as they’re affectionately known, cannot possibly blend in with my existing collection, which is to say nothing of the differences in scale and the fact that, as an international teacher, I cannot afford to carry dozens of twelve-inch action figures with me as I travel from country to country.
Still, the Adventure Team series manages to be simultaneously more innocent and more retro-masculine than its Real American Hero successor, and I find its strange mixture of brashness and sweetness to be rather charming. Which is my long-winded way of explaining that this is the type of toy photo you can expect to see here at Two-Fisted Toy Talk!:
The bald feller utilizes a Doctor Mindbender head atop a Gung Ho body, and he might be my most counterintuitive custom; Doctor Mindbender is a mad scientist in the Cobra ranks who wears purple pants, a cape, and no shirt, but as soon as I saw the figure’s monocle, I knew his head could work as a safari adventurer from the late 1800s. I call him William Winchester, after author Simon Winchester (The Professor and the Madman and The Map That Changed the World) and the gun manufacturer.
Stay tuned for more Two-Fisted adventure!