The 1990s were a crazy, crazy time for GI Joe. As sales declined, it seems like Hasbro was trying everything to attract younger consumer’s allowance money. Enter the years of bright neon colors, wacky sub-teams, and those spring-loaded projectile launchers. Most long-time collectors stopped buying, mostly because they were getting older. For someone like me though, I stuck it out because I loved GI Joe that much, I was willing to accept what they were slinging on the shelves. I always rationalized the neon colors in my own way. In my GI Joe universe, thermal imaging and night vision were advanced enough to render camouflage uniforms obsolete and Cobra Commander used the colorful uniforms for unit identification, reducing friendly fire. Ok, I have thought way too hard about this.
I admit it. By the standards of society, I was probably too old to be ‘playing’ with GI Joe. My Freshman and Sophomore years of high school were spent carefully hiding my secret. If word got out, I would be a pariah, just a step above leper status. My social status was already as low as it could go. One classmate of mine almost let the cat out of the bag in science class though, saying something to the effect of “You still play with GI Joe!” I gave out a muted denial, and it seemed like no one was paying any attention anyway. That was a close one.
Thankfully, I was not alone. My best friend was also a GI Joe fanatic. For the sake of anonymity, I will change his name to Willy Fletcher. Willy and I would scope out Toys ‘R’ Us for the new product while garnering stares and dirty looks from parents and employees alike. I will never forget the time that Willy and I were ditching a suspicious manager at a Toys ‘R’ Us location. He was stalking us all through the aisles my friend and I would infuriate him by hiding around the end caps.
The battles, oh the battles were awesome. Being older and having watched 14 years of television and movies contributed to awesome plots and subplots. There was lots of double-crossing. Death was everywhere. My friend and I managed to work in the Kenner Aliens line into the GI Joe world. They gave a lot of grief to the Mega Marines. Dr. Mindbender got approval from Cobra Commander to use the Xenomorphs as soldiers against GI Joe. When the Xenomorphs were too much for even the Mega Marines to handle, Duke and Hawk would team up with a couple of M-60s and shoot ‘em up good. When Kenner released the Predator figures, the Predators tried to hunt down Joes and Cobras, with little success. Duke had an ongoing feud with Chuckles, who was working as a double agent giving intel to Cobra. I spent hours creating extensive fist fights between Duke and Chuckles. God only knows how many teeth were lost and bones were broken between the two of them. Cobra Commander even managed to become mayor of a major American city by rigging the election, although he only held office for a week before being deposed by GI Joe.
Nevertheless, the battles continued, all the way through 1994. Two big things happened that year. I started a new high school and got my driver’s license. I started to lose interest a little bit. By the time 1995 rolled around GI Joe was no longer in stores and I was busy driving around with my friends.
Kids these days have it good. Geek culture is now mainstream and accepted. No one would bat an eye these days if you wore a Captain America tee shirt to school. In the ‘90s, if you wore a shirt like that to school, it would probably end in a wedgie. I am happy that kids in high school today are free to collect their Funko Pops and wear their anime gear proudly. I like to think that our generation laid the groundwork for the acceptance of geek culture.