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Monday, June 28, 2021

G. I. JOE #51 - September 1986 (The Commercial, Not the Comic)

Swampfire changes color in bright sunlight

The Joes attack and Swampfire takes flight

Dreadnok Thunder Machine

Meanest machine you've ever seen!

Dreadnoks' Thunder Machine

is Joe's evil new foe

G.I. Joe a real American hero!

The vehicle jingles are back, in addition to the cartoon's voice cast. Hasbro went all out on this one, utilizing almost all of the Dreadnok voice actors, including Zack Hoffman as Zartan.

New Dreadnok members Zandar, Zarana, Monkeywrench, and their new driver, Thrasher debut in animation here. (Or at least Thrasher's voice does.) There's still an effort to sell Zartan's blue skin gimmick, attaching it to his siblings, but I don't recall the comics or animation picking up on it.

This month, kids are being ordered nudged to seek out the Swampfire and Thunder Machine, two Deadnok-specific vehicles from the 1986 line. Owning both as a kid, I can attest that the Swampfire is in fact a misfire (there's some Entertainment Weekly worthy writing there for you.) The plastic is cheap and numerous pieces seem desperate to just break off. Perhaps it's more fun if you take it into the tub with you, but the aquatic Joe vehicles bugged me even as a kid. Aren't all of those decals going to wash off?

The Thunder Machine, however, is one of the better vehicles of this year. It has a cool machine gun gimmick with an attached rubber bullet belt and enough slots for every Dreadnok to hitch a ride. The commercial's animation even includes the pegs as a part of the design, which is amusing, in addition to actual shell casings spitting out of the gun. The toy's also far sturdier than the Swampfire, which had shockingly flimsy plastic at the time. (Hasbro was in the early days of phasing out the thicker plastic used in the earlier years of the line.)

According to Wikipedia, in 1993 the Thunder Machine was recast and released as the "Beast Blaster", as part of the Street Fighter II toyline that crossed over with G. I. Joe. These are memories I've chosen to bury.

G. I. Joe
#51 features one of the series' three John Byrne Joe covers. (Two of them happened to feature the Dreadnoks.) Byrne has indicated these were quick jobs he took on as favors to editors when visiting the Marvel offices, but this really is Byrne at his commercial peak. Interesting to think this cover was hitting the stands, and receiving a national TV spotlight, as Byrne's Superman revamp was being released by Marvel's rivals. This was likely the earliest issue I owned as a kid, picking it up as a part of a K-Mart comics pack. Only recently did I discover those comics were second printings. Marvel sold a metric ton of Joe comics in the 1980s, of course.

This commercial was released in the summer before the debut of Joe's 1986 season. In a way, it's an unfair tease of the audience. The quality animation seen here will rarely return to the show, as the second full season suffers from a strained budget and staff. The next-next line of toys had to be promoted in 1987's G. I. Joe: The Movie, and the daily series suffered for the sake of the movie.

But the commercial's a fun piece of animation, showing off the new characters and vehicles and giving kids a mini-episode to enjoy. There's the basics of a plot here, one that has little to do with the actual comic, and plenty of gunfire and explosions to please impressionable minds. Having the Thunder Machine blow up a fully armored tank is perhaps a little much, though.

Speaking of the comic, this issue has one of my favorite lines from Larry Hama's run. "Hmmm..." muses Buzzer, when told he must pay Zarana $1.50 for the soda she's offered him, "when Zartan said his sister was cheap, I thought he was talking about something else altogether."


  1. As I probably mentioned before, I was never that into G.I. Joe when I was in the actual target age group. I watched an occasional cartoon episode here or there, including the first two mini-series, and I owned a very small handful of toys (Duke, Breaker, Short-Fuze, Cobra Officer, and Zartan w/Chameleon) -- but my real attention was reserved for the Transformers, He-Man, and the ThunderCats (which I see you wrote about on CBR this weekend; need to check that out).

    I got into Joe in middle school, when my younger brother became interested in it. He was buying the toys, and I started reading the comic and watching the cartoon reruns as a result. I picked up a stack of back issues at one point, something like nos. 49 - 60 or thereabouts. And I was surprised to get to this one and find Sgt. Slaughter among the Joes! I obviously knew he was a high-profile presence with the Joe franchise, in the cartoon and as the line's spokesperson for a couple years, but I had no idea he was ever in the comic. Obviously Hama had little interest in him, since I think he's only in two or three issues.

    I'm always amused when Hama titles an issue after whatever vehicle, playset, or even character has been forced into the narrative. This one is just called "Thunder Machine". The first appearance of the afore-mentioned Sgt. Slaughter was called "Slaughter". Off the top of my head, I remember issues called "Serpentor", "Launch Base", and "Rolling Thunder". I'm sure there were a number of others, too.

  2. I continue to be amazed at how deep into the run of Joe comics/new characters these ads went; for some reason, in my head, I think of them as existing early in the run and largely fading away once the cartoon was an established thing, but clearly, that is wrong.

    I can attest that the Swampfire is in fact a misfire

    Aw, I always kinda liked the Swampfire (though I only had my friend's Thunder Machine to occasionally play with as a point of comparison); I was a sucker for the vehicles that could operate in two different climates (see also: the SHARC) and my Swampfire got a lot of use as a COBRA fast attack vehicle (almost like a FANG, which I never had). I do remember the color changing stuff wearing out fast, but that was never a big hook for me; I just wanted a modestly-priced vehicle I could finagle my parents into buying for me without having to worry about the price risking opportunities for future purchases (ie the "we just spent X on that Joe vehicle, you're not getting another figure already!" argument).

    the aquatic Joe vehicles bugged me even as a kid. Aren't all of those decals going to wash off?

    See, the key there is, don't attach the decals. :)

    I was always so worried about not getting the decals affixed correctly (ie not crooked, in the right spot, and smoothly so as not to wrinkle them) that I'd often err on the side of not putting them on at all, preferring a bland hunk of plastic to one with crinkly, crooked decals.

    I was, admittedly, a weird kid...

    1. The decals always made me nervous. Although my father was usually the one designated to attach them to JOE vehicles. I screwed up the Transformers decals all by myself.

  3. Larry Hama is a national treasure. Hasbro's GI Joe line had enough going for it that it was an almost guaranteed short-term success, but Hama brought so much life and personality to the characters. Both "GI Joe" and "Transformers" from Marvel were shameless toy promotions, but the quality of those 80s comics are night and day. They're a terrific example of how genuine entertainment can come from even the most mercenary (some might even say cynical) origins.

  4. I liked this comic. Introduced three new Dreadnoks and the Thunder Machine, one of the more practical Cobra vehicles.


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