Some concepts become watered-down from their original idea. One of those concepts grew from the thought to make Joe more active looking by finally sculpting some heads with open mouths and real facial expressions. This would have been great for dioramists to make their scenes look more alive. To this end, we went back to basics with Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine theming, then placed them in training scenarios (in case anyone thought Joe might look afraid in real combat).
Marine Amphibious Training
Like many of us who started our GI Joe adventures with the original military figures, I grew up watching war movies. It was always fun to see the Marines swarming down the cargo nets to the landing craft. With no official cargo nets, many of us used fishing nets and volleyball nets for the same fun (raise your hand if you did this… I thought so.) Since the modern military figures were still the best in sellers in the lower priced Joes, the concept was approved – we just had to verify that nets were still used in modern training and we were off.
To save as much cost as possible for the net for the net to be an appropriate size, we used a molded torso and only existing tooled parts. This allowed our engineers to add three more inches to the net than originally planned. As a testimonial to this being one of my favorites, Joe has now been climbing my studio wall since 2004 (right next to COBRA Commander in his custom blue parachute). If you are not into nets – check out his grenadier vest with four shells that fit into slots and the proper assault rifle with grenade launcher. This accessory was made for the desert grenadier and looks great for this figure in classic olive drab. This figure climbed down onto the toy store shelves – but only in small numbers. As shown in the image of the original concept model, he had his mouth open as if shouting orders to men above or below him.
Navy EOD Training
I have mentioned this issue in panel talks at different GI Joe conventions. This was one of my personal pet peeves with GI Joe that I had been holding onto since very young. Many of us had that very cool Joe lunch pail showing a frogman with in a scene with anti-ship mines, yet we never had the gear for that mission – now we do.
Not only can we play that scene but also the mine actually blows apart if you hit one of the pins just like the real mines. Note that it is made mostly of polypropylene so it wants to float. Just add a weight to the bottom of the cord and they are good to hang upwards like real mines. They also last pretty well. I lost count of how many times I took mine to the swimming pool. It just never loses its fun of watching it blow apart. The spring has some rust but it still works well.
This figure had another first. It was the first time Joe did not have ANY soft goods uniform – not even swim trunks. If we are all honest here, we all ripped through the Joe wet suits playing with them. If we managed to get it on in one piece, he would not pose well. Since the color black hides most of the joints, I pushed for a new wetsuit sculpted torso and separate but slightly too long “skirt” to help hide the ugly leg joint. The wetsuit hood is molded using krayton to be especially stretchy and fit most Joe heads. We finally had a fully possible frogman with underwater mines.
This figure is stealthy – it shipped but in low numbers and is very hard to find. In case you are wondering how this figure would have an open mouth and not drown: the regulator from his rebreather was to fit in his mouth.
USAF Urban Warfare Training
Before anyone gets their righteous-military-enthusiast panties in a wad, yes, the USAF does have training for personnel outside of airplanes in this situation, I checked before presenting it. Rare but real. The final figure was very nice. It included repelling gear for a high-level assault into a building. The urban setting gave us a great excuse to reuse the gray/black urban camo. His torso was the flak vest in black with the sleeves and helmet painted in matching urban camo. His gear was very detailed with proper repelling harness and grappling hook.
As we always kept pushing to make figures better, this Joe had new articulated hands sculpted to look like he was wearing gloves (instead of just molding hands in black). The concept model had an open mouth from one of the Action Man heads. This figure was approved for development but was stopped right after preproduction samples arrived. This was when all the Classic Collection Joes stopped so this figure never shipped.
US Army Live Fire Training
The initial images we had in mind for training were of “Live-fire training” exercises with soldiers slogging through the mud under the barbed wire. That extreme of a situation certainly called out for a unique facial expression. This figure would have 4 rows of barbed wire on posts stuck in the mud. The background could be mud. He would be holding his rifle up to keep it out of the mud. We would have him in woodland camouflage BDUs (Battle Dress Uniform) with just a t-shirt or a tactical vest. His mouth would be wide open and the overall effect would look very dramatic.
Getting the right pose was not easy as we tried many variations as the room on that card was very limited.
There was also the problem that the soldier would usually be on his belly in the mud so seeing just Joe’s back was not too interesting. We even tried a version as if you we under Joe, the barbed wire was on the back of the card and you saw the blue sky.
At the end of the all that work, it was determined that Joe looked more like he was being tortured instead of being trained.
So, three of the four training figures made it through development. However, due to high-level command strategies, the Joes were ordered to keep their mouths closed.
What exercise would you pick to make the best military training figure?