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Profit and Slaughter

When Sgt Slaughter leaves GI Joe for Action Force, find out how the real winner is Costello.

Sometimes, the best part of the franchises I am a fan of is what goes on behind the scenes. Like when I talked about Dave Filoni, when I get into a creation, I also get into its creators. Occasionally that means the most intriguing drama is not within my favourite creation but between my favourite creators.

The best example I can think of is pro wrestling’s Monday Night Wars. For those not in the know, this wasn’t a WWE storyline. It was a ratings war, an era in which WWE had its first competitor to the wrestling crown. The reason the era is named after a meta element of the period is because of how memorably the behind the scenes drama leaked out in front of the scenes.

For the first time since those days of announcers spoiling the results of the other company’s pre-taped matches, and wrestlers switching companies for more lucrative contracts or better creative opportunities, a rivalry between two companies I follow has the makings of some real drama. Appropriately, it involves a wrestler jumping ship.

All this to say, things are getting really interesting with GI Joe.

GI Joe? Again?

I was talking about this with my friend Loren, who interrupted me to say “Does anyone care about this other than you?”

That’s fair. GI Joe is out of the popular culture spotlight. It’s two movies were barely runners up, in terms of success, to the Transformers movies. When first place is not remembered fondly and third place is Jem and the Holograms, second place is not a great place to be.

GI Joe is a brand based on a toyline that hasn’t been in toy aisles since 2016. Until now-ish! If toy aisles existed right now, the new GI Joe Classified 6” line (same scale as Marvel Legends and Star Wars Black Series) would be out. Toy collector influencers are already all-in on the new line…

And GI Joe influencers dig the line as well.

Plus, there’s a Snake Eyes origins movie coming out this year (in as far as any movie scheduled to come out in 2020 is actually coming out this year). Also, word just leaked of an unrelated M-rated video game called G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout.

So no, Loren, it’s not just me.

GI Joe Is There

Hasbro supported GI Joe’s latest redeployment with an exciting and deep new website, the hashtag #yojoejune on social media, and dedicating one of its Fan First Fridays to reveal the toys that would have debuted at Comic Con if it hadn’t moved online.

Best of the reveals was Profit Director Destro, which goes all in on urban legend Pimp Daddy Destro. Instead of just leopard spot accents, Profit Director Destro wears a leopard pelt as a cape, and comes with neon shades, a golden pistol and briefcase, and a wad of burning bills. Because just like Cobra, I’ve got money to burn, naturally I pre-ordered two.

After Hasbro Pulse’s Fan First Friday video ended, nothing could possibly make 6” GI Joe collectors happier.


Getting Slaughtered

That gravely voiced man in the aviator glasses and sequined Stetson is WWE Hall of Famer Sgt Slaughter. He was one of two and a half celebrities who became GI Joes (along with football player William “The Refrigerator” Perry and almost Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa) . Unlike The Fridge, Sgt Slaughtered was more than just an action figure in the toy line. He was a character in the Marvel Comic and the Sunbow cartoon, including playing a major and memorable role in the animated movie. He also hosted live segments before and after commercial breaks of the animated series, and appeared as himself in similar segments in toy commercials, whether the commercial was about a Sgt Slaughter toy or not.

When DiC acquired the rights to produce an animated GI Joe series in 1989, Sgt Slaughter was one of only a few actors to reprise their Sunbow role. Basically, Sgt Slaughter was GI Joe’s ambassador, playing a major role in everything GI Joe related at the time.

And now he’s joined Action Force from Valaverse.

Full Force

There’s a lot to explain here.

When the GI Joe launched in the 1960s, debuting the idea of action figures, it was an international success. But, GI is an exclusively American term for soldiers. Some countries renamed the toy, like in the UK, where he was renamed Action Man. When Hasbro reinvented GI Joe in the 1980s as a team, they decided (probably not talking in these terms at the time) that the brand name was strong enough to overcome the “Which one is Joe?” confusion. The UK avoided this by changing Action Man to Action Force.

As the years went on, GI became a more obscure term outside of GI Joe, and GI Joe became better recognized around the world, so Action Force stopped being used. Which meant the copyright lapsed on this reasonably catchy name with a connection to GI Joe. So when Bobby Vala, a former Hasbro employee, had an idea for the toyline GI Joe fans wished Hasbro would make, he found out Action Force was available and he swooped in.

Appropriating the name was the first of several surgical moves that quickly garnered indy toy company Valaverse attention. The Action Force wikipedia page now references his new toyline. Toy Galaxy’s History of  Action Force video ends by talking about how the name, legally abandoned, lives on thanks to Bobby Vala.  

The second move was similar: Bobby Vala filed for the copyright to Steel Brigade. In the 80s, Hasbro had a mailaway figure that technically didn’t have a name.  Why not? Because this figure was supposed to be you, and you got to give it whatever codename you wanted (mine was Blackbackaway, a name I liked for its fun rhythm that I grew to see as problematic). These Joes were designated as members of the Steel Brigade. Hasbro let the Steel Brigade copyright lapse, and Bobby Vala swooped in again.

This wasn’t like a Transformer type brand getting the name Bumblebee. Steel Brigade is personal. Thousands of GI Joe fans received this toy with a dossier that had their name listed as the file name, and played with this figure to insert themselves into the GI Joe universe. The Valaverse Steel Brigade design has several callbacks to the Hasbro Steel Brigade figure.

The latest and greatest move on Bobby Vala’s part is getting Sgt Slaughter on Action Force. No other character is both as associated with the GI Joe brand and yet not owned by Hasbro. He also happens to be the same scale as modern wrestling figure lines, which haven’t released a Sgt Slaughter in 5 years. Wrestling figure fans have noticed.

A War With No Casualties

It may seem like Hasbro has a new rival for their GI Joe fan toy dollars, but a lot of indicators suggest that this rivalry can benefit both companies. One of the collector complaints about the GI Joe Classified line is the weapons. The Joes are armed with sci-fi lasers instead of traditional military weaponry, many of which are weirdly designed.

From what Bobby Vala said about his sales on a recent episode of What’s On Joe Mind, every reveal of a new 6” Joe coincides with a spike in preorders for his 6” scale weapons line. He even tailored an ad to this fact, offering a hat in the style of Gung-Ho’s vintage hat to replace the baseball cap that the newly announced 6” version of Gung Ho.

These sale obviously benefit Valaverse, but how does Hasbro benefit? Well, the sci-fi weapons the Joes are armed with was a deliberate choice, one that is less controversial than including realistic representations of a gun that could become associated with a real world mass shooting. With the unaffiliated Valaverse offering replacement weapons, collectors have a way to get the weapons tghey want, Valaverse gets a sale, and Hasbro avoids a controversy without losing customers.

I’m not suggesting that was either Valaverse or Hasbro’s intention, but so far there’s no reason either toy company needs to route for the other to fail. At the same time, both need to put in as much effort as possible to keep from losing too many fans to the other company. In the end, either everybody wins, or just the collectors win. Which works for me.

Now you know,