G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is a military-themed action figure (3 3/4 inches tall) that was supported by a Marvel Comic and a popular cartoon television show that ran in the 1980s. The figures themselves date back to the 1960s.
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The basic premise of the series based on the figures is "good vs. evil". G.I. Joe is America's highly capable branch of military whose purpose is to defend America and the world against enemy attack and all other evils. Their main adversary is the COBRA Organization, a terrorist organization who'll stop at nothing to control the world.
The cast of each group is full of colorful and eccentric characters, each having their own individual powers and abilities. The animated show, although dealing with war and fighting, still contained an almost "G" rating as characters were rarely, if ever, killed even in the most dire of circumstances. The most obvious example is that whenever an airplane was destroyed in combat, the characters inside were invariably shown parachuting out of the wreckage in the nick of time.
There were several video game adaptations of G.I. Joe, some are Cobra Strike by Parker Brothers for the Atari 2600 (1983), G.I. Joe by Epyx for the Apple II and the Commodore 64 (1984), G.I. Joe by Taxan for the Nintendo Entertainment System (1991), Action Force by Virgin Games for the Commodore 64 (1987) and G.I. Joe: The Atlantis Factor by Capcom for the Nintendo Entertainment System (1992). 
G.I. Joe has also appeared as a comic book, with many of its characters being made into action figures. The comics, in contrast with the cartoons, were much more realistic in their portrayal of violence; some characters were even killed off (but no major ones, except for one "special" issue in which more than a dozen named Joes were executed by a random Cobra soldier, an event which initially freaked out Cobra Commander). Comic book writer Larry Hama is credited with developing most of the characters for the updated toy collection.
According to its 1980s animated series, "G.I. Joe is the code name for America's daring, highly-trained special mission force. Its purpose: to defend human freedom against COBRA, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world."
G.I. Joes represent characters of all branches of the United States military, both male and female, to fight against their "enemy", Cobra, also produced by Hasbro and marketed under the G.I. Joe brand.
The original G.I. Joe Action Figures were toys similar to Barbie, so much that some parts were interchangeable. This was taken advantage of by a group that bought Barbie and G.I. Joe figures, opened them and took the speechbox from a G.I. Joe and put it in a Barbie, put it back in the box, smuggled it into a store and put it on a shelf. One character could do anything as long has he was wearing the right outfit. This drove kids to beg their parents for Wetsuits, Flight Jackets, and MP Uniforms to dress their figures up in to complete any mission.
Later, a much smaller G.I. Joe was created. These figures were almost four inches (10 cm) tall and also drove kids to beg their parents for new toys, but this time for a different reason. The main difference between the two lines was that the 12 in (30 cm) figure could change his clothes to meet any challenge, while the 3 3/4 in (10 cm) team had various figures who could each meet specific challenges. This time, instead of needing a wetsuit for G.I. Joe to wear, the G.I. Joe Team had a new member called Wetsuit whose military occupational speciality was a Navy SEAL. The smaller G.I. Joes also had a variaty of additional weapons and vehicles which could be purchased to assist them on their missions.
In 1966, Palitoy Ltd. produced a British version of the 12-inch G.I. Joe line, using the same designs as the American dolls, but with the theme changed to that of the British military (though this was later changed to a spy-like theme). The UK version was known as Action Man.
In the late 1970s a smaller, 6-inch version of G.I. Joe was produced for a very short time. This new version was called "Super Joe".
G.I. Joe's fictional technology was often heavily influenced by theoretical or real military technologies that were being developed during the 1980s. This was especially seen in 1988's Phantom X-19, inspired by the apocryphal F-19 stealth fighter. Because they were seen as the next generation of actual combat machines, experimental military vehicles were quickly and enthusiastically adapted into the G.I. Joe toy line.
Nearly 20 years later, seeing the market success of the Barbie doll, Hasbro thought it needed to have an action figure with whom boys could relate. Therefore, in 1964, they launched the G.I. Joe brand, named after the aforementioned movie. At that time, the G.I. Joe figures were about the size of the Barbie dolls (12 inches (305 mm) tall).
In 1967, G.I. Joe talking figures were introduced. Around this time the only full-sized female G.I. Joe action figure was produced – a nurse.
In 1969, soldiers of international armed forces joined the G.I. Joe line up, and Hasbro decided that the entire toy line will be named G.I. Joe.
By the early 1970s, the war themes of the original G.I. Joe toys were eliminated due to the growing controversy over war toys in the wake of the Vietnam War. Now, G.I. Joe was the leader of the "Adventure Team", a spy-like organization devised to fight evil. The look of the doll was changed in the early 1970s, adding a beard in most versions to further distance itself from the soldier version. A black G.I. Joe was also introduced around this time.
By 1974, Kung Fu fever had arrived in the United States, so G.I. Joes started to be produced with a "kung fu grip." This involved redesigning the doll's hands in a softer plastic that allowed the fingers to curl and better grip objects in a more lifelike fashion.
In 1978, the petroleum crisis directly affected G.I. Joes. Since the toy is produced with plastic and petroleum is a major component in the manufacture of plastic, the cost of producing the toy rose substantially, and Hasbro decided to discontinue it.
In 1982, the new figures were downsized to be produced at about the size of Star Wars action figures. The "Adventure Team" idea was modified and combined with the original military theme of the early action figures. This was the beginning of the 1980s G.I. Joe frenzy that would eventually lead to the production of posters, t-shirts, video games, board games, kites, animated movies, and even a cartoon series based on the characters. In 1983, Destro was introduced as one of the first characters at the service of the COBRA Commander.
In 1985, both Toy & Lamp and Hobby World magazines ranked G.I. Joe as the top-selling American toy.
In 1986, wrestler Robert Remus, aka Sgt. Slaughter, became the first real person to join the G.I. Joe forces. Football player William "Refrigerator" Perry followed suit in 1987. In 1988, Battle Force 2000 was introduced.
In 1991, the G.I. Joe Ecowarriors line was produced to raise environmental awareness. 12" figures were also re-introduced as part of an exclusive contract with Target retail stores. In 1992, G.I. Joe joined the war on drugs by introducing the Drug Elimination Force (DEF) line of figures.
In 1994 the 3 3/4 inch line was cancled. Sgt. Savage and his Screaming Eagles figures debuted.
In 1995, G.I. Joe Extreme figures were introduced, along with a comic book.
In 1997, the original G.I. Joe returned via the G.I. JOE MASTERPIECE EDITION (), a unique book-and-figure product. G.I. Janes were introduced, the first 12-inch female dolls in the G.I. Joe line-up since 1967; this doll was a helicopter pilot.
In 2000, a Navajo Code Talker was introduced, the first G.I. Joe talking figure since the 1970s. The figures included a toy bomb that detonated if handled incorrectly. The 3 3/4" G.I. Joe A Real American Hero Collection figures were also released.
In 2001, G.I. Joe honored the soldiers of Pearl Harbor by releasing a line of Pearl Harbor soldiers. Devil's Due Publishing bought the license to publish the G.I. Joe comic book and hired Scott Wherle as editor and freelance writer, Steven Kurth as artist, and real-life fan and active-duty soldier Brian Savage Peterson as Military Consultant and freelance writer. Eventually, the entire creative team changed, with newcomer Brandon Jerwa taking over as writer and Tim Seeley as artist. Sales were unquestionably altered, causing Devil's Due Publishing to miss its chance to purchase the rights to reprint the Marvel Comics line.
In 2001 new 3 3/4" G.I.Joes were released under various themes including Spy Troops and Valor vs. Venom. The VvsV figures are the exact same scale as the original ARAH figures, while the Spy Troop figures are several mm's taller.
2005 brought a new size to the G.I. Joe team with a new line called G.I. Joe: Sigma 6, which is in no way related to the quality management program Six Sigma. These new larger figures are based out of the storyline that started in 1982, but are in a larger scale and will be accompanied by an Anime series made by Japanese animation house GONZO. The previous 12" and 3 3/4" lines are scheduled to go on hiatus near the middle of the year and replaced by Sigma 6.
Real life persons honored with G.I. Joe figures
The G.I. Joe brand has honored some real life persons that it deemed as Real American Heroes, as the G.I. Joe slogan says. Among those:
- Sgt. Slaughter
- William "Refrigerator" Perry
- Bob Hope
- George Washington
- Colin Powell
- George Patton
- Dwight Eisenhower
- Ted Williams
- Robert Crippen
- Francis E. Currey
- Buzz Aldrin
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Ernie Pyle
In his 2000 book The Adonis Complex, Harvard psychiatrist Harrison Pope claims that G.I. Joe's unreasonably low body fat and disproportionate muscles might lead to eating disorders, steroid usage and general muscle dysmorphia in teenage boys.