10 Coolest G.I. Joe Action Figure Variations
If you were a kid in the 1980s, there’s a pretty good chance that you owned and played with the three-quarter-inch G.I. Joe figures*. You probably had a few Cobra figures (so you could keep the battle-lines equal with your neighbor); and if you were lucky enough to have cool parents, you had that exorbitantly expensive aircraft carrier set (i.e. the U.S.S. Flagg, for all of you that are keeping track).
We were one of those kids that didn’t have the aircraft carrier -- but owned quite a few figures, vehicles, and miscellany. But instead of giving them up after discovering girls, we went full-on ‘40 Year Old Virgin’ and kept collecting well past puberty.
So in this list, you get the 10 coolest G.I. Joe-line quirks, variations, and mail-aways. You might also be interested to know that this stuff commands really high values in the collector’s market these days -- so we’ve added approximate values based on recent eBay auctions, guidebooks, and other reputable sources. (Blame your parents later for throwing out your plastic fortune.)
*A special thank-you goes to YoJoe.com for all the fantastic historical data, pictures, and details that helped us sculpt this piece.
Ah-ha! So you thought that ninjas only jumped around, hid, and murdered people in warm climates, didn’t you? Well, of course, Hasbro had something to say about that in 1993 as part of its 12th series. Bushido -- the snow ninja -- came out, featuring a very breakable, long mammoth-tusked face mask, and somewhat of an anomaly on his file card: It lists him as ‘Lloyd Goldfine’ from ‘Hollis, Queens,’ without a doubt, the first Jewish ninja in the history of ninjas.
On an early version of Bushido, he was listed as having a karate move (the ‘spring action Teisho Chop’) that the tiny figurine was just unable to accomplish -- and a paper insert was added to the package to say so right before it hit shelves. We wonder if ‘Teisho’ means ‘blowing fire out of a shofar’ in Japanese, because that would’ve been amazing (and dangerous).
The earlier version is slightly rarer than the later one and has been known to command a slightly higher value in the market (the writer of this piece actually owns the early Mint-on-card version in his personal collection).
Bushido paved the way for other badass Jews like former New York Mets star Shawn Green and pro-wrestler Goldberg.
Mint-on-card (ungraded**): $20
Like McDonald’s, the smart marketing people at G.I. Joe made 1984’s Blowtorch bright yellow and red to lure in hungry, unsuspecting kids (a missed opportunity for toy/diabetes synergy, we say). The figure’s actually one of the cooler-looking in the third series and has been a highly sought-after collectible since -- both mint-on-card (i.e. never opened) or loose.
Instead of being the military unit’s firefighter, Blowtorch is actually the guy that starts the fires. This makes total sense, given that on his file card it says he’s from Tampa, Florida. However, his dossier also reads: “Blowtorch can’t sleep unless he’s near a smoke detector. Cigarette smoke drives him bananas.” Read: He’s a conscientious arson.
That year, two versions of Blowtorch were released -- one featuring a helmet with holes in each side, another without holes. The former has been deemed rarer by collectors, and according to ‘The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe 1982-1994: Identification and Price Guide’ by Mark Bellomo, the holed-helmet version was halted circa 1984.
This might be the first toy in history that’s worth more with holes than without!
Mint-on-card (ungraded): $150
You’ve got to guess that in 1986, some female employee at Hasbro was a fan of punk or New Wave -- maybe Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees or Jem and the Holograms. Because that year, the toy company released Zarana, its pink-haired punk-rock girl -- i.e. the sister of Cobra’s ‘master of disguise,’ Zartan. As her file card reads, “Zarana could have had a brilliant career on the professional stage if the evil in her had not been so strong.” (Wait, there are good-natured actors?!)
Anywho, the initial release of her figure came with little earrings painted on her ears -- while later versions appeared without them. Obviously, the earlier version is more sought-after and commands a higher (but not exorbitantly higher) market value. Add about $20-$40 for an earringed copy. (Those are some pretty expensive cheap-ass earrings!)
Mint-on-card (ungraded): $100
For those of you from Chicago, who are football fans, this mail-in G.I. Joe figure, which first appeared in 1986, should pique your interest. Back in those days, the Chicago Bears’ defense ruled the world and led the team to a Super Bowl victory in 1985 under the tutelage of head coach Mike Ditka (they absolutely murdered the New England Patriots that year, 46-10).
One of the team’s young leaders, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, a defensive lineman, was an enormous superstar. So much so that he got his own G.I. Joe action figure (it was a mail-in that one would have to collect points and pay a small fee to send away for). His weapon? A stick with a football on the end of it (that is, if he didn’t tackle your ass and eat you first). One of the better sports-toy promotions in G.I. Joe franchise history, for shizzle.
Mint-in-mail-in-bag (ungraded): $100
Stalker is basically the Jackie Robinson of the 3 3/4 G.I. Joe action figure -- i.e. the first African-American member of the squad in its 1982 first series. (The toy line, like most, would be predominantly white throughout its history, with only specks of other races represented throughout.) We’re not going to say his file card is outright racist, but it’s pretty damned insensitive, given that the target demo was probably young African-American children. It reads: Stalker was the “warlord of a large urban street gang [in Detroit] prior to enlistment.” Not to mention his name.
Mind you, this was 1982, in the midst of the Reagan Years. We’re glad people -- including our current president -- helped prove that stereotyping and racism just doesn’t sell. And if you own a carded Stalker, you’ll make yourself a handsome profit.
Mint-on-card (ungraded): $350
On the heels of the popularity of the 1982-83 Cobra Commander figure, Hasbro decided to recast the terrorist leader with a dark-blue suit, a gold belt and hip-gun-sling, and throw a menacing-looking hood over his head to make him look even more sinister (we think it looks mildly KKK-ish, just another thing that makes us question their marketing department’s ethics at the time -- see ‘Stalker’).
Unfortunately, the original 1984 figure never made it into his own package, so he was released as a mail-in only. But that hasn’t kept collectors from snapping up loose and bagged copies of the figure, which you can grab on eBay for a relatively decent price.
Probably the most iconic (and copied) enemy leader in toy history, Cobra Commander first appeared as a mail-away in 1982, as part of the nascent first series. His tell-tale blue suit, red Cobra logo in the middle of his chest, and silver mask -- which always struck us as street-lamp-esque -- made him a menacing little bastard.
An early variation of CC’s suit exists, which has come to be known as the ‘Mickey Mouse’ variation. The head of the snake in the Cobra logo looks a whole lot like Mickey Mouse ears. It’s a cool little nuance to an even cooler figure, which is probably the No. 1 most collectible figure in the entire G.I. Joe toy line (a close second would probably be G.I. Joe’s ninja, Snake-Eyes).
By 1983, Cobra Commander was being sold in his own package in stores and was doing his best to take over the world on park benches, backyards, and up prisoner’s anuses across the country.
Mint-on-card (ungraded/graded): $500-$2,000
The Sgt. Slaughter mail-in figure -- which first appeared in 1985 -- brings together every young boy’s dream: an action figure, ready for battle; that just happens to double as a World Wrestling Federation wrestler. If you were a kid back then like we were, you’ll know that the WWF (now the WWE) was THE thing to watch on Saturday morning -- and Sgt. Slaughter was a major badass. His top foe during the 1984 season? The Iron Sheik, who has subsequently become one of the funniest guys on Twitter.
This goes down in history as Hasbro’s first genius cross-promotion; Sgt. Slaughter was not only the first non-toy-line celebrity to have his own figure (see ‘The Fridge’), but he also went on to voice himself on the popular G.I. Joe cartoon.
Hasbro released Zartan -- i.e. ‘Tarzan’ spelled dyslexically -- as part of its third series in 1984. His figure was included in a larger-than-your-average boxed item (he came with a little swamp vehicle -- the Chameleon). Known as the "master of disguise," Zartan was basically a muscular guy who could play dress-up really well. He even came with a little mask that you could click on the front of his face -- the face being a guy with a ring-around-the-mouth beard that looks strangely like the guy from Bravo’s ‘Inside the Actors Studio.’
Anyway, the early version of the boxed item included a file card that called Zartan an “extreme paranoid schizophrenic,” which of course, the mental health community did not take too lightly. It caused a major uproar, and Hasbro was forced to reissue the box with an updated file card (saying he was just good at dress-up and not mentally ill). Those fortune-hunters looking for a little bang for their buck should get ready to pay big for the ‘schizo’ Zartan mint-in-box.
Mint-in-box (ungraded/graded): $400-$1,300
This might be the best toy variation of all time, let alone in G.I. Joe’s long-hallowed toy line.
Back in 1997, as part of a G.I. Joe commemorative set, Hasbro released what would come be known as the ‘Pimp Daddy Destro’ variation of the popular Cobra weapons manufacturer (he made his first appearance in 1983’s second series). Packaged with two other figures (updated versions of hooded Cobra Commander and Baroness figures), PDD had a maroon jumpsuit with a Cobra-shaped leopard-print collar and hip-guards, instead of his usual black jumpsuit with a red collar. (‘Pimp Daddy’ Destro could have easily been ‘Drag Queen’ Destro.)
As the story goes, only about 100 PDD’s were packaged and erroneously sent to U.S. stores, so the item is unbelievably scarce; finding either a loose or packaged copy might make you fortune -- or potentially get you picked on at school. Either way, as another famous father -- Big Daddy Kane -- once said: “Pimpin’ ain’t easy.”
Loose figure: $2,000
Mint-in-package (ungraded): $2,500