Category Archives: G.I. Joe Behind the Scenes

Podcast – Department of Nerdly Affairs

Rob Paterson and Don Chisholm take a biweekly deep dive on their podcast, Department of Nerdly Affairs. Their topics range from Taiwanese comics to Chinese webnovels to hero pulps to indie RPGs. Recently I guested, and we three talked about G.I. Joe history, toys, comics, and animation. Thanks, gents! Listen here.

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Iron Grenadier by Mark Pennington

In the ongoing story of G.I. Joe, around six years in, “Destro goes it alone,” as the TV ad says, and starts his own army to fight both G.I. Joe and Cobra. Bold move. My brother and I loved it, even if Destro’s characterizations hadn’t hinted at such aspirations. “The Iron Grenadiers” were both the name of the entire faction, and the main cadre of soldiers, these guys in black and red:

That sword is missing a piece, by the way. The hoop was for hanging the sword on the Grenadier’s waist hook (visible above) — my brother and I found a sheathed sword useless, so we cut off the hoop and pretended the sword was drawn.

Here’s what the sword, plus those two fun firearms, look like in Mark Pennington’s original sculpt sheet:

But at the same time Pennington had designed a different helmet than what ended up at toy stores:

This design puzzles me. I can’t quite make out what the shape and the details mean. It’s certainly goggles and a gas mask, but the crosshatching is nebulous. Fellow Boys Toys member Bart Sears rendered this design into the final presentation painting (which I don’t have to share, sorry), so Pennington penciled it, R&D approved it, Marketing approved it, and the design went up the ladder to the VPs. Somewhere, someone decided that the helmet needed revising, and so five weeks after the initial drawing Pennington took another swipe:

Which is what ended up in toy stores.

It’s a handsome take. I’ve always preferred the neutral face plate of the 1986 Viper or the evil bank robber look of the ’82 Cobra Soldier. Here the Iron Grenadier looks like he’s always ready for a gas attack, and I’d prefer such a specific role, guy-who-enters-gas-attack, not go to the “regular” legions of Destro’s soldiers. I’d rather there have also been an Iron Grenadier somehow crossed with a Toxo-Viper, and then this plain Iron Grenadier have less technology on his face plate. (The 2008 recreation does a nice job dialing this back while still retaining the feel of Pennington’s original.) But with that black, red, and gold color scheme, and some details that nod to the regal and noble quality of the Destro character, the 1988 Iron Grenadier is a handsome action figure.

What do you think about the Iron Grenadier’s helmet?


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1991 Dusty turnaround by Kurt Groen

Dusty was a great character. He gets a two-parter in the animated series nearly to himself, the dramatic “The Traitor,” written by Buzz Dixon. Issue #13 of Special Missions is another great showcase. His action figure is unusual in that the face is obscured by tiger camo, and his costume is partially soft goods — actual cloth. The 1980s were good to Dusty. He even got a new color scheme when his action figure was re-released in green as part of Tiger Force. The ’90s weren’t so good to Dusty. In animation, voice actor Neil Ross was no longer at the mic, lending a thick twang to the character. Now it was Maurice LaMarche, who would go on to be a favorite of mine, but though he attempted a southern accent, the DiC version of the Joe’s desert warrior just didn’t sound adequate.

So by 1991, I lost interest in Dusty. This was especially down to the character’s new duds. Control art by Kurt Groen.

It’s a fine looking design, but I’d always wanted a similar vocabulary to carry over from version to version as Joes got remade. ’85 Dusty had that signature hat and neck guard, and baggy clothes. This new one was in form-fitting pants and showed off a lot of skin with that tank top. He’d never worn a beret, so this felt like Flint or Dial-Tone had fallen into a vat of yellow paint. In terms of fashion, I don’t love V-necks. Plus that V-neck skintone paint looks more like the clothing color. And while I loved the Joe pets, again, Dusty hadn’t shown an inclination to animal companionship, so that coyote “Sandstorm” was arbitrary. (An issue or episode wherein the pair meet for the first time would have gone a long way to alleviate this.) Overall ’91 Dusty is under-decorated and under-detailed compared to his earlier appearance.

Again, it’s a fine looking toy, and a worthy addition to Real American Hero, but I have no emotional attachment to this incarnation.

Here’s a nice pic taken by one Mr. Tim Meece, with permission from

How do you relate to ’91 Dusty?


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Rocky Balboa @ mental_floss


Jake Rossen interviewed me and I provided all the images for this mental_floss article about Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa “joining” the G.I. Joe team. This summer I had jury duty, but this fall I was finally an expert witness! Read it here.

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Patriot Ledger, Dec 6th, 1984

Patriot Ledger 12-06-84

Once again, apologies for such infrequent blogging. School, store — you’re familiar by now, plus a new one: jury duty.

Today’s blog post comes from more than twenty years ago, part of page 34 of The Patriot Ledger, a newspaper based in Quincy, Massachusetts. News outlets in New England perhaps paid a little extra attention to Hasbro in the 1980s, since it was headquartered in Rhode Island. This article by Alice Greene paints a picture of Christmas wishes in late 1984.

Patriot Ledger 12-06-84 Alice Greene

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G.I. Joe #44 cover by Zeck & Beatty

GI Joe 44 cover original art detail by Mike Zeck and John Beatty

Mike Zeck needs no introduction. Here’s a short one anyway. He’s best known for four things: a three-year run on “Captain America,” the 1986 “Punisher” miniseries that made Frank Castle into a real character and not a Spider-Man foil; and 40 or so unbelievable G.I. Joe covers. His career in comics is bigger than that, but you only asked for a short introduction.

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VAMP sketches by Wayne Luther

Wayne Luther Jeep detail

I got into G.I. Joe in its 3rd year, so while I hadn’t missed the VAMP (or the VAMP 2) at retail, other “basic” vehicles were vying for my attention and dollars — the Snow Cat, the A.W.E. Striker. But the VAMP is such a visible part of the first ten episodes of the animated show that I always wanted one. And even though my family wasn’t connected to military culture I knew from magazines and history that the iconic military Jeep was, well, iconic. So I always wanted G.I. Joe’s Jeep to be a part of my toy play. (Our agents of Cobra had their Stingers — the VAMP repainted in black — and I did finally get a bright yellow VAMP in the form of the Tiger Sting, but not until G.I. Joe’s 8th year. Don’t feel bad for me, though, my Joes did well with the Snow Cat and A.W.E. Striker.)

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