It has been a long time since I’ve had a GI Joe action figure in my hands. I managed to hang on to a few of the figures from my childhood, but overall they’ve all been lost to the ages. Recently I’ve seen the new GI Joe figures on the shelves and wrote them off as just wannabes, undoubtedly being inferior to the figures I had 25 years ago. Turns out that’s not the case.
GI Joe, along with Star Wars, LEGO and Hot Wheels, was one of the few toys I really cared about as a kid. GI Joe could do no wrong. The cartoon was awesome, the figures were cool and the vehicles were great. I could never have enough of them. Eventually, as with all childhood toys, something new came along (ie, Nintendo) and soon GI Joe was nothing more than a fond memory. Although in my mind, GI Joe was a toy that could never be equaled, and as we all know, toys never die, they just get remade. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion and when I saw these figures in the toy aisle I knew they couldn’t be anywhere near as good as the figures I had growing up. However, I decided to give these new figures a fair chance and got one to compare. I’m doing my best to keep childhood bias aside, but I admit, that’s a hard thing to do.
A new era of action figures
The first thing that struck me about the new GI Joe figures was their price. I picked up Zartan for a whopping $8. Like I said, I haven’t purchased any action figures in a while, but $8 seems steep for a GI Joe guy. However, you do get a lot of bang for your buck, at least with Zartan. Zartan was a figure I always wanted as a kid but never had. Zartan was awesome because he came with a disguise face mask and also had some color changing stickers. Pretty cool. His character on the cartoon was also pretty tough because he could turn invisible and bossed around the Dreadnoks.
It’s all about the accessories
This new version of Zartan comes with a lot of stuff. He has his disguise, same as before, only this time it’s an entirely different head that you snap on and off of a ball joint neck. Zartan also comes with a lot of equipment, and if you’re any sort of GI Joe fan then you know that all the guns and backpacks were as much fun to play with as they were easy to lose. Zartan comes with two machetes, a pistol, machine gun, shoulder sack, a disguise vest, a scary looking hood and a giant bird on a stick. I don’t remember Zartan ever having a pet hawk, but I’ll take it.
While accessories and guns are great to have, it also means there’s a lot to keep track of while in the heat of battle…er, play. One big hang up I had with Zartan’s add-ons was the time and difficulty it took to swap it all out. If you want him to go from scary face paint guy to disguised army guy, you have to take off his head, put his vest on and then put his other head on. Trying to get this Zartan figure changed was like dressing a 4-year-old…he just wouldn’t cooperate. You shouldn’t have to dress your GI Joe, this isn’t Barbie. If I had this figure when I was a kid, I would have geared him up the way I liked most and he would have stayed that way. The sculpt of the disguise head is really cool too (and comes with removable goggles), so I probably would have just turned Zartan into another good guy with swords and a gun, using the extra face as a generic “severed head”. Wardrobe issues aside, his bag does have the cool distinction of being able to carry the extra head, and if I can say so myself, when the other head is in there and staring back at you, it’s a little creepy.
Getting the bends
The best part about these new era GI Joes is their articulation. These guys bend in more ways than you can imagine and I could have only wished to have a figure like this when I was eight. Original GI Joes bent at the knees and elbows with rotating wrists and shoulders while twisting at the waist. This Zartan figure also has double-jointed knees so not only can he kneel but he can touch his toes to the back of his head without a problem. Plus he has jointed ankles so he can point his toes…how useful would that have been for my Cobra Eels?!
All that flexibility is really cool and fun, but the GI Joes seem to have lost their patented kung-fu grip and now twist mid-torso. It’s a little awkward to see a man twist 180-degrees above his belly button, but most of all, this change means the figures no longer use the tiny black rubber bands as they did all those years ago. Back then that little inner-torso rubber band let you disassemble your GI Joes with relative ease allowing you to mix-and-match body parts, which led to all sorts of fun and interesting play time plots.
The torch has been passed
Despite all these changes, today’s GI Joe action figure is still a really good toy even if they are a bit on the expensive side. They look good, they move good and they still have some awesome accessories. By all rights these toys can do twice as much as the figures from the 1980s and that can only be a good thing. However, the fanboy in me is sad to see GI Joe become a little less fantastic with their designs. Yes, GI Joe was all fantasy from the get go but the bright colors and simple designs of the original series made them charming, fun and open to some imagination. Regardless of what has or has not changed in the world of GI Joe toys, it’s great to see that these figures are not just for collectors. You can play with them now just like you did when you were a kid.
You can check out more photos of Zartan over on Flickr.
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