When Hasbro brought back GI Joe in 1982, their marketing machine was ready to roll. It included an aggressive TV advertising campaign featuring animation to promote the Marvel comic book. The toy packages had beautiful, action-oriented paintings by Hector Garrido, and the perfect, Reagan-era catchphrase, “A Real American Hero”. The toys followed the trail blazed by one of the biggest money makers of all-time, Star Wars, and featured the same scale figures with better articulation and better accessories. The cross-marketing of toy, comic and, later, cartoon, and the level of promotions driven by flag points, catalog inserts and mailaway figures was an unmatched success.
One misstep from the early days was not having a character to lead the franchise. It necessitated the introduction of Duke, and would evolve to Snake Eyes, eventually, with his V2 action figure in 1985, but in that first year, Hasbro was jockeying two figures as the potential face of the franchise: Flash and Grunt.
Grunt was straight out of the school of hard knocks, sporting the ugly face that Hasbro also used for Grand Slam and Zap. Most of the Joe figures used some combination of shared legs, crotches, chests, arms and heads, but Grunt was the standard green colour with no unique body parts, so became the prototypical GI Joe figure. And his accessory compliment was one of the most complete and useful, with a helmet, a general-purpose, military backpack, and a slightly-undersized, M-16 machine gun. He was the meat-and-potatoes Joe who appeared on The Legend of GI Joe, the 1982 product catalog.
Flash was straight out of the pretty boy modeling school, with the handsome face also used for Short-Fuze, Hawk and Steeler. Technically, none of his parts were completely unique, either, since he shared his chest, arms and legs with Grand Slam, but I always considered Flash the original owner of those parts, and Grand Slam as an afterthought. He had a solid four-accessory compliment – including helmet, visor, laser rifle and power pack – and a look that felt unique and exciting. His red pads made him standout. And he played a prominent role in The Legend of GI Joe, as the Joe promoting the all-important membership kit.
Although Grunt was positioned front and centre on GI Joe #1, Flash was also prominently featured on that cover, standing to the side on the Mobat. And when that cover was recreated in the toyline, on the Collector Display Case, Grunt was pushed aside and Flash was instead at the front.
Flash’s card art was also outstanding, being one of the few figures with his back turned to us, engaging children in a way that beckoned us to follow his lead.
Playing with that first series of GI Joe figures was an exercise in projecting our own personalities onto the figures, along with our expectations of how heroes should act. There was a pseudo-group personality that might have come from being young and still in the process of developing my imagination, or in the clues given by the overlapping body parts and similar colours. The figures themselves were mostly defined by their weapons and specialties, not the backstories told on their filecards, which I didn’t keep as an ongoing reference, initially. So my early figures (Grunt, Breaker and Short Fuze) sounded alike and acted similarly. And Grunt, in my hands, at my house, sounded a lot like Flash, in my hands, at my friend’s house.
It wasn’t until the 1983 series arrived – when I was six – that the figures really started to differentiate themselves to me. And the cartoon played a major part in that, too, around that time, as I was too young to follow the subtle differences in personalities in the comic book. But once I saw all the Joes on-screen, interacting, the figures started to have their own voices. Sure, Wild Bill said, “Yee haw,” a lot, but it was in-character.
I didn’t own Flash when he first came out, as my parents and I were still forking over most of our toy money to Kenner for Star Wars figures. But Flash was a common figure to find in my friends’ collections, so I had spent plenty of time playing with him.
By the second and third series, I was getting the majority of carded figures that were being released, even if I’d already missed out on the laser trooper.
Near the end of 1986 or early in 1987, I leveraged a mailaway promotion to finally acquire Flash. Now, I wish I would have bought all the figures, of course, but back then I had to choose one(!) pair of figures to order. It was a tough decision to buy Flash and Rock ‘n Roll over Stalker and Zap, and I agonized for some time over that.
In the end, it was just nice to get some of the early figures with their thumbs intact and all their accessories, since my original Joes were all broken and had lost most of their original gear.
The arrival of Flash and Rock ‘n Roll, around the same time I received Clutch and the Vamp in a trade, as well as reading reruns of early GI Joe comic issues through Tales of GI Joe, created a temporary revival in my interest in early Joes at 10 years old. By then, I was capable of appreciating the nostalgia those toys inspired, and those acquisitions may have led to my adult collecting, nostalgia being such a strong motivator to me now, and to have experienced and recognized it at such a young age was powerful.
As I said earlier, Flash had a nice accessory compliment. He also seemed to be a unique figure – like Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Stalker and Rock ‘n Roll – whereas some of the other carded Joes could pass as members of a hive collective.
Unique figure, quality accessories and engaging card art?
He is easily one of the best figures in that original series.
Flash is the least realistic figure of the original nine, however, with his laser rifle and power pack, in a line that was an updated version of “little green army men”. He wasn’t alone in that regard, though, as Grand Slam, the Jump Jet Pack and Heavy Artillery Laser were also more science fiction than realistic military.
I’m not sure Hasbro knew exactly what angles they would be taking, particularly since they were initially competing against Star Wars, a sci-fi behemoth. The second series had less hints of sci-fi – just the SNAKE armour and Pac Rats – but within a few years they would be including aspects of so many different toy lines, far beyond military, and Flash was one of the early seeds from which those roots grew.
He made it all possible.
As an adult, Flash is one of the few early figures whose card art I haven’t yet been able to acquire. So, luckily, there’s 3d Joes!
I had an opportunity to buy him, AFA MOC, from Billy Galaxy in Portland some time ago and passed, as the figure was well-above my price range. Given the direction prices have gone over the past few years, I’m not sure I’ll ever get that close to him again.
I’ll be watching for his full card in the meantime, and ideally it will be the Canadian version, when I find it. But I’m not holding my breath.
It’ll just be nice to follow that handsome face into battle again.