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Lewis Wyman

Blockbuster First Issue!

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero!

The year 1974 wasn’t a dumpster fire by recent standards but it was a bit rough on the edges. Richard Nixon resigned as president in the wake of the Watergate scandal. The U.S. ended its military involvement in Vietnam. There was a decent stock market crash, and it was the beginning of a debilitating energy crisis. For the geekier of those who would become Generation X, however, there were some positive developments. A table top game called Dungeons & Dragons was released. Erno Rubic invented his famous puzzle. Kraftwerk released Autobahn, and Ed Roberts designed the Altair 8800, thereby creating what he would call the “personal computer.” Two other events occurred in 1974 that were little noticed at the time but would eventually capture the imagination of millions. George Lucas completed his first draft of “The Star Wars,” and a Japanese toy company called Takara released a line of toys called Microman Zone. Star Wars of course is still going strong, but the Microman toy line is more of a footnote. Unless maybe if you’re a toy collector. Microman is considered to be the original 3.75 inch action figure.

Red Mego Micronauts Time Traveler action figure from 1976.

The Microman line was created in part to appeal to the space-conscious Japanese market and in part to save on manufacturing costs during the ongoing energy crisis. The toy line was licensed and released by Mego in the U.S. as the Micronauts. They were a robot-themed, science fiction toy line that featured highly articulated action figures, molded in multi-colored clear plastic, gold and chrome, and had interchangeable parts. They looked pretty damned cool. They were super collectible and sold well for about a year and a half. But then in 1977, Star Wars happened and Mego would be out of business within a few years. Star Wars action figures by Kenner Toys were less articulated than Micronauts but they had something that Micronauts didn’t: a compelling story that everyone knew and loved.

Following the success of Star Wars, the 3.75 inch action figure market expanded and Hasbro released their own line in this format. It was based on G.I. Joe, their original 12 inch action figure from the mid 1960s. Hasbro re-imagined G.I. Joe as a team—the “Real American Hero(s).” It was now a diverse (relatively speaking) series of action figures which included an organized force of fascist-style terrorists for G.I. Joe to fight called Cobra Command. Rather than a movie to provide the backstory for the team members and their foes, there was a Marvel comic book and an animated television series. The first issue of G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero was created and written by Larry Hama, and it was my first comic book. G.I. Joe issue number one showing the team of characters in front of a tank.In fact, other than a couple of Micronauts, it was the only part of this giant universe of merchandise that I actually owned. For whatever reason, action figures just weren’t my thing, but it’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate them.

For nostalgia purposes I recently acquired a reprint of the first issue of the comic for $6 (plus $8 shipping). My original copy disappeared almost as soon as I got it back in the day. Looking at it now, after 35 years, only the cover is familiar. I remember not being impressed with the animated series on television, but even all these years later, and as an adult (sort of), I am pleasantly surprised and impressed with the comic. The artwork is rich, vivid and consistent. It has lots of interesting technical details. The plot is complex. There’s a bit of corny dialog, sure, improbable physics, and some not too obvious featuring of the toys, but it’s a fun story that thoughtfully poses some interesting ethical questions about the use of deadly military force, individual rights, weapons of mass destruction, and freedom of speech. There’s also a couple of nice twists toward the end. I would recommend it to anyone who remembers the toys or to anyone who is 11. Snake Eyes, the commando ninja action figure. Your favorite characters will likely be Snake Eyes, who is like a ninja that communicates using sign language, and the Baroness—“don’t ever turn your back on her unless she’s dead.” OK, well, you’ll make up your own mind. There are a lot to choose from. Maybe I can pick up just these two at auction for a reasonable price…


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