Of the original nine GI Joe figures released when the 3.75” line arrived at retail in 1982, Rock ‘n Roll is probably the best.
The first series included a number of indistinguishable greenshirts, but Rock ‘n Roll was part of a subset of figures – with Snake Eyes, Stalker, Scarlett and Flash – that were significantly differentiated from their peers. For Rock ‘n Roll, the gold paint, the bandoliers of bullets on his chest, the blonde beard, the deep green outfit, and the big gun were all key points of differentiation. And within the first issue of the comic book, his personality was fully formed.
I don’t remember everything that went into selecting my first GI Joes at retail, since I was six at the time. But after receiving Breaker, Cobra Officer and Grunt as gifts, when allowed to make a choice, I selected Short-Fuze next.
The most likely reasons:
1) He had the most accessories (five pieces).
2) That he was a clean-cut and blonde, reminding me of myself, since I was a “toe-headed” youngster. And,
3) The likeliness that Snake Eyes, Flash and Rock ‘n Roll were already picked through at retail, scooped up by savvier kids than me.
It’s interesting to me that my earliest Joes were the blandest: Breaker, Grunt and Short-Fuze. Would I have grabbed Flash or Rock ‘n Roll, if I had been given the chance…? Impossible to know now, because although I assume those figures were sold out, I don’t know for sure.
That first choice was made while my family was on vacation in the Maritimes, in the summer before grade one. I dug Short-Fuze out of a clearance-style bin full of figures in the aisle of a Zellers (or Woolco), at the Mayflower Mall in Sydney, Nova Scotia. And I would have grown attached to him quickly, stubbornly, before finding an end wall display of the new, 1983 figures.
I’m not sure if my parents bought him for me, or my Grandma did, but the question would have been posed by someone, “Are you sure?” And I would have already been imagining Short-Fuze as the guy when I saw so many other figures and couldn’t fathom a change in plans by then.
Hard to believe I was that pig-headed and unwavering… so maybe my memories are false. But, somehow, a swivel-arm Short-Fuze was chosen next for my collection, and I can remember playing with him and the Polar Battle Bear on the floor in my Grandma’s house, that summer.
Rock ‘n Roll wouldn’t join my collection until 1986, when the original figures mailaway promotion presented the choice of Rock ‘n Roll and Flash or Stalker and Zap. I just never felt much enthusiasm for Zap, so even though Stalker was a unique figure and the most developed character, he couldn’t beat the one-two punch of lesser icons, Flash and Rock ‘n Roll.
I went through a renaissance of older Joes when they arrived in the mail, since I had also traded for the Vamp and Clutch from my friend, Donny, around that time, at the cost of some Transformers. Those mailaway offers were a great way to secure older figures, so many years since they had left retail. And unlike my original figures (Breaker and Grunt), the mailaway figures had their thumbs and nards intact.
Rock ‘n Roll and Flash didn’t mesh well with the newer figures, but I used them in throwback missions against my older Cobras: Destro, hooded Cobra Commander, Baroness, Zartan and Firefly. And they fit well in convoys with the green tanks I owned – the Mobat, obviously, plus the Bridgelayer, Armadillo and Havoc. And they didn’t look out of place flying into heated situations in the Tomahawk, which was the central piece in all my GI Joe action at the time.
It was important to note that the arrival of those figures coincided with reading back issues of the comic through GI Joe Digest. So the renaissance was the result of ongoing marketing efforts around the brand. It was all driven by money, of course – reprints through GI Joe Digest and, later, Tales of GI Joe, and the original figures promotional catalogs – but it made sense given the voracious appetite of GI Joe fans, the pace of the monthly comic book and the evolution of the new GI Joe figures away from military realism, creating an abundance of cracks that needed to be filled, somehow.
I’ve heard that Mr. Hama didn’t have a plan laid out, ahead of time, in the comics. Instead, he let the storyline flow organically, from #1-forward, and much like a kid playing with their new action figures, the characters that stuck out were the ones he offered the most action, the prime stories, the most character development. That was clear with Snake Eyes, Scarlett and Stalker, but even in that first issue Rock ‘n Roll had a juicy part in the backup story, “Hot Potato”.
I had read the comic on-and-off since #8, and got into it more regularly in the late #20s. One of the more memorable issues for me – and one of the most significant issues featuring Rock ‘n Roll – was #35, in which the Dreadnoks gouge Rock ‘n Roll’s ride, mistaking him, Clutch and Breaker for civilian, surf bums they could bully. It brought the early characters back to the forefront, and reinforced Rock ‘n Roll’s dynamic personality.
Issue 35 notwithstanding, that Rock ‘n Roll was mostly put to pasture after #33 was a shame, but a cull had to happen, given how bloated and unmanageable the cast was getting by that time.
Luckily, Rock ‘n Roll was rescued from retirement with his v2 look in 1989, both in the comic and as a figure. He became a more regular character afterwards, returning with the Super Sonic Fighters in 1991 and Star Brigade: Armor Tech in 1993.
There were enough flat Joes, caricatures and/or archetypes, they couldn’t afford to jettison a guy like Rock ‘n Roll, who actually lived and breathed in the comic pages.
As I stated before, Rock ‘n Roll may have been the top figure released in the original series.
His bright, blonde beard helped him standout, since hair colours were otherwise obscured by helmets in the first series. Dark green and gold paint also provided him with great contrast, whereas most of his peers simply used the same shade of green, with muted augment colours: black, grey and/or brown. Rock ‘n Roll caught your eye, immediately. And if the look didn’t do it on its own, he also had the biggest gun in the first series.
With the exception of Breaker, all of the early carded Joes carried weapons. This was important and a formula rarely strayed-from in future years, because it was sometimes hard to get Breaker into the action. Given my limited understanding of weaponry at six years old, I really appreciated the traditional guns carried by Grunt and Stalker. I didn’t know how a mortar worked, didn’t know how a trooper using a bazooka would win a small arms battle, didn’t see how a bow would ever work against an AK-47… When you boiled it all down, having the biggest rifle of all made Rock ‘n Roll the guy you wanted on your side during a firefight.
He also came with a standard issue helmet, in the dark green he shared with Grand Slam, and a bipod for his M-60. That last inclusion really set his accessories up as something special, with extra playability, as compared to the figures carrying one-piece rifles.
The first series featured so many reused parts – heads, arms, waists, legs – so the fact that Rock ‘n Roll received a unique chest piece was significant. And given the limited variations across a bunch of figures with similar parts and colours, to be able to create such a distinct and memorable figure should be applauded.
With all that in mind, it is arguable that Rock ‘n Roll might be a perfect figure.
I don’t have many regrets from collecting Joes in my childhood. But, retroactively, I might wish Rock ‘n Roll was the first swivel arm figure I owned.
(Or Flash. Or Stalker.)
Although I was able to rectify that decision with the original figures mailaway offer in 1986, until Rock ‘n Roll entered my collection, I didn’t realize just how much I had always been missing him.