When we set out to honor G.I. Joe on his 50th birthday, we were initially stumped about how to do it. While the 12-inch original is a classic of toy history, the brand enjoyed its highest level of notoriety starting in 1982 when it scaled the figures down to 3 3/4 inches. With a popular comic book, cartoon series, and animated film under its belt, G.I. Joe’s best run was clearly that 1982 to 1994 time period, so we decided to focus on that. However, we didn’t want to do something boring and predictable like “Best G.I. Joe Characters.” It’s too opinionated, and there are too many already familiar faces to warrant more than a quick glance (Duke, Scarlett, Baroness, etc).
Therefore, we decided to turn our attention to the lesser characters. In the 12-year pinnacle of the brand’s success, it had several cool lesser-knowns that appeared either exclusively in the toy line or as bit players in the cartoon series. Here are some of our favorites.
1. Blowtorch 1984
Timothy Hanrahan, aka Blowtorch, was one of the good guys. Launched as part of the third series in 1984, he remained on sale until 1986 at which time he was discontinued. Since then, he’s appeared in three updated versions (in 2002, 2009, and 2011). Nevertheless, he’s hardly a household name when it comes to the casual G.I. Joe fan.
2. Zartan 1984
Zartan, a so-called “master of disguise” was part of the class of 1984. He was packaged with the Chameleon Swamp Skier, which was quite appropriate considering how he could blend into his surroundings. Zartan was also a paranoid schizophrenic, so you never knew what the Joes were going to get when they crossed his path. You only knew it was going to be bad.
3. Lady Jaye 1985
Lady Jaye was Flint’s main squeeze, but that hardly made her inferior material. Making her first appearance in 1985, it was clear that Cobra would have their hands full if they ever crossed her path. With Ranger training, covert ops expertise, and formidable skills in hand-to-javelin combat, this was one lady with whom you trifle at your own risk.
4. Quick Kick 1985
“Silent Weapons” specialist Quick Kick was part of the G.I. Joe action figure line from 1985 to 1987 before disappearing into obscurity, only to sneak out in two subsequent editions (2008 and 2010) more than 20 years later. He’s always been a bit of a Bruce Lee ripoff, but that’s okay. The world could use more Bruce and less Bieber.
5. Lifeline 1986
As a kid, I was enamored with the red G.I. Joe figure who carried a first aid kit and pistol. His name was Lifeline, and though not one of the more popular Joes, he was always a favorite of mine. Since his initial appearance, Lifeline has shown up in seven updated figures and even picked up a first and last name (Edwin Steen).
6. Dr. Mindbender 1986
Call him Dr. Mindbender, Dr. Brainwave, or The Interrogator. Just don’t call him a good guy. This Cobra-affiliated madman started his criminal career as a peace-loving orthodontist who only wanted to build a machine capable of relieving dental pain. Unfortunately, said machine employed use of electric brainwave stimulation, and Mindbender thought it would be a swell idea to try it on himself. Guess how that turned out. A master of mind control, interrogation, cloning, genetics, dentistry, and cybernetics, perhaps the worst thing he ever did in his criminal career was make an appearance in the amazingly bad live-action film from 2009, played by Kevin J. O’Connor.
7. Cobra Commander 1987
Okay, so most of you are well aware who Cobra Commander is — the main baddie. No big secret there. This particular version of the Commander, however, is a real blast from the past. Preceded by the three versions you’re likely more familiar with from 1982, 1983, and 1984 — the latter of which looks like a blue-clad KKK member — this version could easily pass for one of the Indianapolis Colts, if the Colts had a Rollerball team. Awesome battle armor.
8. Jinx 1987
Why do Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow get to have all the ninja fun? Well, in the original run of toys, they didn’t. Jinx was the crimson-clad member of Ninja Intelligence, recruited by Snake Eyes, to aid in the fight against Cobra. Making her first appearance in 1987 with just the one-word moniker, she would later be assigned the identity of Kim Arashikage for her fourth, fifth, and sixth toy versions.
9. Psyche-Out 1987
Psyche-Out, a master of “deceptive warfare,” debuted with the class of 1987 and remained at the forefront of the fight against Cobra until the Joes fell out of toy land popularity sometime in the early 1990s. However, he was revamped and relaunched for the 2013 run, so it’s likely you’ll see more of ol’ Psyche in the years to come.
10. Hardball 1988
All right, kids, now we’re getting into the really obscure Joes. If you’re having trouble remembering Hardball, that’s because he first appeared in 1988 and has not been given an update since. There is only one version of this rare Joe. Fittingly, he was born in Cooperstown and, of course, incorporated baseball gear into his attire. Weapon of choice: grenade launcher. (Think: pitching machine!)
11. Ghostrider 1988
No flaming skull here! This is yet another G.I. Joe character who appeared only once in the toy production run. Known as Jonas Jeffries in civilian life, Ghostrider’s contributions against Cobra came in the form of his skills as a stealth pilot for the Phantom X-19 Stealth Fighter, a thing of beauty in every sense of the word!
12. Armadillo 1988
Known as the “most reliable driver in the whole G.I. Joe motor pool,” Armadillo was the guy you wanted steering your baddest vehicles. That title certainly applied to the heavily armed Rolling Thunder. Coincidentally, Armadillo’s civilian name was Philo R. Makepeace. If you’re wondering why you don’t remember the mighty Armadillo, that’s because he was a one-hit wonder, who never again appeared in the toy line after 1988.
13. Windmill 1988
Windmill, aka Edward J. Roth, was a flight instructor and Skystorm X-Wing Chopper Pilot, which is probably best since this guy wouldn’t have lasted five minutes on the ground. The bright green jacket against the fiery red pants aren’t exactly awesome camouflage, and his sole accessory was a simple revolver. Nevertheless, the Joes loved him when they needed air support. Windmill was part of Series Seven, first appearing in 1988 and then becoming discontinued in 1990. He’s never reappeared as part of the G.I. Joe toy line.
14. Wildcard 1988
Wildcard, aka Eric U. Scott, was the driver of the all-terrain battle vehicle known as the Mean Dog. In toy land, Wildcard was packaged with the Mean Dog vehicle. He was also sold in 1989 before being discontinued a year later. Accessories included a green helmet, machete, and sheath. This was the only time he ever appeared as part of the G.I. Joe line.
15. Dee-Jay 1989
We can kind of see Dee-Jay as one of the Daft Punk founding fathers. He certainly played his share of music before joining the Joes’ Battle Force 2000 unit. As a doctor of jams on the Boston music scene, Thomas R. Rossi III was able to hone the skills he would later use in the fight against Cobra. (Yeah, we know, Hasbro was really stretching with this guy.) One thing we will say for the D’J: he was an accessory-lover’s dream come true. When you bought this figure, you also got a red laser rifle, a blue backpack, two plugs, a hose, and an antenna — all apparently necessities in his job as Radio Telephone Operator. Dee-Jay’s last updated version was in 1993. He hasn’t been heard from since.
* Special thanks to YoJoe.com for the awesome database. Check it out.