This weekend sees the debut of Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins and it’s no shock it comes accompanied with the release of new action figures based on the film, given G.I. Joe of course is a beloved toy line at its core. However, until just last year, there had been an unusually long gap between the release of any wide release G.I. Joe toys. That changed with the debut of the new G.I. Joe Classified line, which are Hasbro’s core Joe figures these days, bringing them into the six-inch scale, detailed style that is the modern norm for other Hasbro hits like Star Wars The Black Series, Marvel Legends, and the Power Rangers Lightning Collection.
With Snake Eyes here — and Hasbro releasing Classified figures based on the film version of the characters, on top of a separate, less detailed line for the film — I spoke to Hasbro Design Manager Lenny Panzica about the current version of G.I. Joe. The amazingly durable brand began in the 1960s with the 12-inch character it’s all named after, before a hugely successful relaunch in the 1980s as the 3.75-inch G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero line, which introduced a staggering number of characters, Snake Eyes included.
Panzica spoke about how they choose which characters to bring into the Classified line, updating their looks for a modern era, listening to and appealing to both longtime fans and new fans, and more.
CHOOSING THE CHARACTERS
The Real American Hero line would go on to include dozens of characters, meaning there are a ton of possibilities for who the Classified line could include. Panzica stressed that when they decide who to do next, “A lot of debate goes into it,” though he said they felt like launching last year with characters like Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Duke, Roadblock, and Destro made sense, given “Those are very iconic. When you say G.I. Joe, those are the characters that kind of pop into your brain.”
Then of course is deciding exactly how these characters should look. Panzica said they considered all the source material, including the 1980s figures, the comic book, and the cartoon, while also making sure to remember, “It’s six inches, it’s a new scale. It’s a new generation and we’ve got to get a new fandom along with the existing fandom. So, we decided it’s time to make a new G.I. Joe; a new, modern take on the brand. So that meant new costume updates.”
The key word there is “updates,” since it didn’t mean forgetting the original outfits but rather building upon them. For instance, the Flint figure is quickly recognizable as Flint, complete with a beret and a black, buttoned shirt, but in that case, “Flint has a bulletproof vest that we built in there and some other additions. We wanted to make it little sci-fi but not too much, because Flint is pretty militaristic looking character, so you can’t go too far with that.”
A SPRINKLING OF SCI-FI
That hint of sci-fi is seen throughout the line, with costume elements and weapons that are future-leaning at times, without becoming too outlandish. As Panzica put it, “There are influences that kids today are seeing from video games and stuff we wanted to imbue into the design.”
That included simply offering some of these characters more protective elements than they previously had, such as that bulletproof vest for Flint – or how to handle the beloved Gung-Ho, who’s been known to run into battle without a shirt since his 1983 debut.
Panzica grinned, recalling the original Gung-Ho figure “Was wearing, what, like a denim vest with two grenades? Which is awesome, I love it! But when we decided to redesign and update him, what would Gung Ho be wearing? He’s definitely shirtless… He’s got to go shirtless! But how is he going to feel somewhat protected, and again, feel tactical? And that’s where the decision was made to put those little protective details on him. There’s just a little more going on inside of his vest. It’s going to protect him and hopefully give him an edge and keep him alive for a little while longer.”
DECADES OF FANS
Fans always have their own wish list for what they want to see, and Panzica said that when it came to all the various requests on social media and forums, “We’re reading [them] all the time,” though he admitted that sometimes they will realize, “It can be a little too much. You’ve got to kind of sift through it a bit because some audiences can be louder than others. It’s really tricky. If you’re reinventing something, you have to take it all into consideration, because you might step into somewhere you shouldn’t go at all. Or you might step into that place where you shouldn’t go [at first] but then you improve it. So, it’s a delicate process. And I think there’s a lot there’s a lot of discussions that happen internally. We all are fans too, so it’s a lot of discussion back and forth.”
Panzica said they had to keep in mind that at this point, “There are so many different generations of people that played with G.I. Joe that have different perspectives on what G.I. Joe is supposed to be. How do we take into consideration that there are like four generations and four different iterations of what this brand has been?”
At the end of the day, he added, for both Hasbro and fans alike, “Hopefully, we’re having fun.”
While the Classified line continues to offer new takes on some of the most popular and notable characters in G.I. Joe history, as more figures are released, some other characters who were less prominent but still memorable are starting to make their six-inch debut.
This includes the firefighting Joe Barbecue, recently announced for the Target-exclusive Cobra Island series. Panzica explained that certainly, when it comes to who to choose, a cool and distinct look helps a lot, remarking, “The idea of a heroic military fireman is awesome, not only for a collector who may have seen him in the cartoon as a kid, but also for a new kid seeing him in the store. When I was a kid, I loved Barbecue. I loved his helmet, I loved his gear. Being able to bring him into the line was fun for me just from an aesthetic standpoint, but at the same time, I knew from a toy designer standpoint, he’s a great addition to the roster. He’s bringing something new to the table, not only from a look, but from a storytelling standpoint.”
As with the other figures in the line, some updates were made, with Panzica explaining, “We did militarize him up a little bit more; he’s got more pouches on his vest, stuff like that. I wanted him to be able to move more freely than what he did in the more baggier costume.”
And while he couldn’t confirm any of these characters (or any others) that were in the works currently beyond what was already announced, Panzica agreed the likes of Navy S.E.A.L. Torpedo and cold weather expert Snow Job also stood out thanks to their distinct looks and accessories, saying, “There’s so much opportunity there. And I think what happens really is from a character select standpoint asking what can we do effectively?”
One obstacle with six-inch figures is there are more limitations on vehicles than at the 3.75 inch scale, as the size alone makes it highly impractical to make some of the larger planes and tanks the 1980s toy line included – much less the likes of the legendary, already ridiculously large U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier.
Still, we’ve seen some vehicles sneak into the Star Wars The Black Series six inch line and G.I. Joe has done a couple of figures with motorcycles for the Classified line, including the Baroness and the upcoming Breaker, who will be accompanied by a new take on the Real American Hero line’s R.A.M. Cycle.
Regarding more vehicle possibilities, Panzica said cost naturally has to be kept in mind – both for Hasbro to produce and the consumer to pay – but that when it came to adding vehicles like the V.A.M.P. jeep or the F.A.N.G. copter, “There are conversations, and it’s just a matter of when and how much is right. I’m thinking about it all the time. I’m always doodling and sketching and working out what is going to expand this universe. Because ultimately, we have this opportunity to bring it to life in a larger scale with more details and [we’re asking] how much can we go deeper into it. So yes, we consider all of that stuff.”
THE MOVIE: THE FIGURES
When it came to deciding to make movie-based figures for Snake Eyes that are part of the Classified line — much in the same way Marvel Legends makes figures based on both the comic book and MCU versions of the characters — Panzica noted, “You still want to have the Classified quality of articulation and aesthetic detail and luckily the movie does that for us. The detail is already there.”
He added, “At the same time, you don’t want to confuse people from a world standpoint,” as far as acknowledging the cinematic figures differences from those not based on the films. “Do you confuse the collection? You also have got to look at will they look right together on the shelf and still [clearly] be a Classified figure.” He explained they ultimately decided to come up with a way to make the packaging for the movie figures both be distinct and yet also make sense alongside the other figures, noting, “It’s a little more unified on the box for the movie figures. We use different artists [for the box art] but it’s all that kind of darker colors.”
And while the numbers used to identify the order of release are maintained from the other Classified figures, picking up where they left off, “The number coding system is in different colors than the main line. So, from a box standpoint, when you’ve got all your crazy boxes lined up, you’ll be able to tell that section. ‘That is the movie.’ We kept it in order with everything just because creating a collection on top of a collection could be confusing, but we did want to delineate the time in the world when those came out.”
COLD SLITHER FOREVER
As we were wrapping up, I couldn’t resist telling Panzica how much I was hoping to see the Dreadnoks join the G.I. Joe Classified line and he replied, “I 100% agree with you. I love Dreadnoks! I’m a metal head at heart so seeing these biker metal head knuckleheads, I’m like, ‘Yes, more of that!’ I love their design. It’s Mad Max to the core and all the crazy details on everything, it’s like they’re primed for G.I Joe Classified. I 100% want to do them.”
In fact, Panzica has a favorite Dreadnok, adding, “I want to do Road Pig!”
When it came to that character’s memorable weapon — a concrete block at the top of a handle — he laughed, “It’s the most inefficient weapon! It’s great. And his physique alone is really interesting, right? He’s got like that lineman look to him. There’s something really interesting about that character design, in particular, but Torch and Monkeywrench and all of them, they just look rad. I want to make all of them. But our line is young. It’s a year old. We’ve got a long way to go, and I’m really pumped about it all.”
I added that if/when we get those Dreadnok figures, they should come with a bottle of their beloved grape soda as an accessory and Panzica replied, “Yes! You have to! And then we redeco it as Yo Joe Cola.”