As an adult, the idea of collecting action figures, vehicles and playsets that I didn’t own as a kid excited me. It was the gateway drug that got me hooked on collecting, purchasing the OG Kenner Millennium Falcon at Cherry Bomb Toys. A few days later, I went out searching for the GI Joe Headquarters Command Center and Awe Striker that my friend, Corey, owned when we were growing up in Fort Smith.
Buying toys I never owned can create a sense of euphoria, whether righting some unspoken wrong from my childhood, overcoming some remnant sense of jealousy over what my friends owned, or just finding the best toys that I’d circled in futility in the Sears Wishbook. I’ve even spent time thinking about how my younger self would view my collection. Honestly, that kid would probably just tell me to get a life.
But sometimes buying what you never owned is a letdown. The reason you desired getting that vehicle or playset as a kid was that you wanted to play with it, but as an adult you don’t get to play with your toys (unless you do so with your kids, or just by setting them up for display or photography). More recently, the catalyst for getting figures or vehicles has not been the memories from childhood, but being a completionist collector, an adult who wants to own one of everything, and wants for every toy they own to be mint and complete.
Even before I committed to toy collecting in my 30s, I took an early foray into collecting at 17 years old. I was in grade 11 at the time – 5 or 6 years past my last GI Joe purchase – and the gateway at that time was visiting a small, short-lived, sports cards and comic book shop in one of Yellowknife’s mini-malls. There I happened upon a carded V1 Storm Shadow and a carded V2 Snake Eyes. The price tags were not insignificant at the time – given they were toys – but I had been working as a stock clerk at a grocery store for nearly one year, averaging 20 hours per week. I had some money in the bank and I had no interest – at that time – in saving for college. I bought the two while leaving behind a V2 Storm Shadow for someone else to find. ($30 seemed steep for a figure that came out at the end of my collecting days.)
These purchases – the best deals I came across in years collecting since then – fuelled my interest in becoming an adult collector. I bought a GI Joe collecting magazine, Headquarters Quarterly, at the local pharmacy, and later began buying Joe characters I had grown up with from the pegs at Wal-Mart – more recent versions, like Burglar Cap Stalker, Civil War Officer Wild Bill, and Translucent Snake Eyes. The late-edition Joe figures brought little joy to me, unfortunately. But packed with each figure was a mail-away catalog with Major Bludd and Ace on the cover.
I ordered the APC, Firebat, and HISS tank, all vehicles I had missed out on as a child. I had never even seen a Firebat outside of the comic books and cartoons! But the APC and HISS tank were very familiar to me. Another friend, Donny, had owned the APC, whereas the kid who lived next door to us, Kim, had owned the HISS tank. I also got a handful of classic figures. I was so excited to have them that I tried desperately to create a battle scene in my parents’ basement one night, after everyone else had gone to bed. I was too close to adulthood and too far from childhood so, try as I might, I couldn’t imagine that the Joes and Cobras were anything more than toys I was just repositioning on the carpet.
My collecting bug died soon after, and all but the two iconic MOCs were hidden in a box in my parents’ basement for 15 years.
Although purchasing the vehicles you didn’t own as a kid was often a letdown, I need to say that Cobra’s HISS Tank is one of the least disappointing toys I bought. So why does possessing the HISS now, in my 40s, provide such satisfaction to me?
The HISS is an icon too, almost to the extent that Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes are. For the first two years, it was the main ground vehicle for the Cobra organization. In the cartoons, HISS tanks would roll continuously through battle scenes. And if I was to pare down and create a barebones display of Cobra forces, I would include Cobra Commander, Destro, Baroness, Major Bludd, a Cobra Officer, a few Cobra Soldiers, a FANG and a HISS, complete with driver. That is the essential Cobra army to me.
Also, the HISS tank is simply gorgeous to look at. Although it’s entirely impractical for the driver to be seated behind a glass windshield, and for the main gunner to have their head so exposed to enemy fire…
For me, though, one reason the HISS still speaks my language is that although it wasn’t part of my childhood collection, I still have memories from playing with my friend’s HISS. I know that’s weird, but I do remember the day he got it on his sixth birthday. And I remember every one of its angular lines and how the plastic felt. And I even remember thinking about which of my Cobras would have been in the gunner’s seat, or who would have stood on the rear foot pegs. And I would have had a plan for what I would stow inside the hull, below the gunner. Something important, stolen from the Joes – a MacGuffin, perhaps – and necessitating a battle to recapture it from Cobra. It’s weird how that memory comes back to me so easily now, 37 years later, like the layout of my neighbour’s duplex and the fact that his father kept a taxidermied wolverine in their living room.
Since acquiring my first HISS at 17 – the mailaway version with white letters – I’ve had five or six enter my collection, plus two of the crimson SMS tanks, derived from the HISS.
Space for my collection has become more of a concern in recent years. And yet, I’ve somehow managed to hold onto all three versions of the HISS – early retail, late retail, and the mailway – and even one SMS, all complete with cannons that stay in place, not falling limply like so many other HISS tanks I’ve seen.
One day I will want to put together a larger Cobra display and the HISS will be what ties the whole thing together.