SDCC 2022: Hasbro’s G.I. Joe Team Talks Real American Hero Toys


G. I. Joe Classified is certainly having a moment. The brand’s relaunch in a 6-inch scale vastly outperformed Hasbro‘s initial expectations, with some figures selling out so quickly online that fans got mad. A HasLab crowdfund for an in-scale HISS tank met its initial goals the weekend its launched, adding many perks including three extra figures since then. But thanks to COVID, the new line, and Hasbro’s G.I. Joe team for it, hasn’t appeared at Comic-Con until this year.

And that finally gave Superhero Hype a chance to speak with principal designer Lenny Panzica and assistant brand manager Emily Bader. It’s their first Comic-Con with Classified, but they’ve appeared on so many livestream videos during lockdown that fans feel like they know them.

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“For them to tell us that we’ve been making a difference in their perception of the line has been really nice, and it’s been really affirming for what we’ve been spending our time doing for the last couple years!” says Bader.

New vintage-style repaints for the Walmart retro-card series include a version 1 Snake Eyes and Crimson Guard. Snake Eyes uses the Commando scheme, while Crimson Guard, “is based on the old Sunbow color — we got a more bright red on him and silver face, as well as bright silver details on his costume,” says Panzica. The new Sgt. Slaughter figure comes at a higher price point in part because of all the bonus hand accessories, and especially the mini-scale action figure he comes with, which arrives in its own mini-scale blister card with all the details. The card can slide out for collector-friendly packaging.

Serpentor with Air Chariot will be the Pulse Con exclusive. Bader wouldn’t directly comment on whether a carded Serpentor sans vehicle could come later, but did compare him to Zartan and Dr. Mindbender, who featured both deluxe con exclusive extras and no-frills versions.

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Regarding Target exclusives and quick sellouts, Bader says, “I think that there were a lot of learning experiences around preorders and the pandemic, just because it was something new that we were trying, to see how it goes, and I think that we have found a good middle ground at this point.” They’ve adjusted preorder caps, made it harder for scalper bots. Now “you at least have a couple hours to look for them and grab them.” They’re getting caught up with supply chain issues, and do not intend to do any reissues of older figures for now. But “once they’re all caught up, who knows where the future may lead?”

During the ’80s, G.I. Joe toys sold in Europe as “Action Force” for fear the “Real American Hero” label might turn international customers off. But just as Marvel found a way to sell Captain America movies overseas, so goes Joe. “We haven’t gotten anybody balking yet,” says Bader, of the Classified figures. “We have excited fans from all over the world, and especially with the roll out of [Hasbro] Pulse in more European countries…I was just talking to a comic book shop in Ireland yesterday about how they are the G.I. Joe supplier for all of Ireland, which was really fun. But I think that it’s been great and I don’t think we’ve had any pushback.”

“They’re heroes!” notes Panzica. Adds Bader, “One of the things that I love is that it is this group of ordinary people coming together to do extraordinary things, and they are a diverse group of individuals who work together in order to solve whatever the problem is that’s existing in the world. That helps from an international aspect; not all of these characters come from, like, Kansas, or the heartlands of America. It is a well-represented, diverse group.”

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With some toy lines bringing back vac metal, is a chrome-headed Destro ever possible again? “Very possible,” says Panzica. “Just when the time is right.”

Classified is not confined to “Real American Hero” era characters, but can encompass the whole of G.I. Joe. They draw inspiration from all media, and create their own aesthetic. Panzica said it would be awesome to get some of the crazier ’70s characters, as seen recently in Rob Liefeld’s Snake Eyes: Deadgame comic book, into the line. Even characters from the previous live-action movies are on the table, actor likenesses permitting.

One of the things Panzica really pushed for was for all the weapons to be able to come off the figures. Sometimes you have to sculpt things on, but if they can make it removable, they do. It’s one of the biggest changes from the ’80s designs.

Some other figure lines have included inserts to change them from 6-inch figures seats to 3-3/4 scale seats as a way to make vehicles work with two different scales. Both Panzica and Bader like the idea, and say they certainly want vehicles to work with the maximum amount of figures possible. They may look into it in future; they always play with other toys to see how they’re doing by comparison.

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“In general, I look at G.I. Joe as a fashion line,” says Panzica. “The fashion of play, the fashion of look and costume, of course you’re looking around and drawing inspiration from the world around you. If you design in a vacuum it becomes very homogenized. So when you’re creating a line, of course you’re gonna look even outside of toys, and find a cool innovation or cool feature you can add to something.”

They’re definitely planning more characters for the Selfie Series than just Scarlett and Snake Eyes.

Python Patrol vehicles? “We do like purple, and we do like vehicles,” says Bader.

They considered making the Skystriker in six-inch scale, but realized it would be five feet long, and too large for kids to play with.

Is it true Hasbro has declared a moratorium on hooded Cobra Commander figures? No comment.

Finally, with Mattel doing a new version of the insanely large ’80s Eternia playset, what do they think about the resurgence of other super-large toy bases from that era, which G.I. Joe arguably did better than any other? “It’s really cool to see companies doing stuff like that,” says Panzica, “It’s beautiful.” “Gorgeous,” adds Bader.

Check out some photos of the new figures in the gallery below. then let us know your thoughts in comments.

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