GI Joe was about evolution throughout the line, and it was that evolution that guaranteed its continued success. If Hasbro had been satisfied with the 82s we would have gotten a new crop of green shirts and blue shirts in 1983, and the line would have been dead by 1984.
The changes from 1982 to 1983 saw an increase in specialists and individualization in toy design, plus the introduction of two great new villains. Those changes – including the swivel arm adaptation – were the most significant in the whole 12-year run, however the 1984 figures were also an evolution from 1983. The specialization continued and more intense characterization was obvious.
When I first saw the 84s, I was in love. How could I not be? And I immediately found a favourite.
The new figures were quite distinct – from the first clear leader of the Joe team, to a heavy machine gun-toting cook, to the first figures packaged with partner animals. Hell, the Cobras were even more amazingly designed, with a saboteur, a ninja, a master of disguise and a glasses wearing vixen with a giant rifle. But there was another Joe I attached myself to right away.
Blowtorch stuck out for a lot of reasons. He was clad in bright yellow and orange. It was probably the least militaristic ensemble that any of the Joes or Cobras had worn, the most likely outfit to get you sniped.
(Considering the weapon he was carrying, and the inhumane suffering he would have inflicted on Cobra soldiers, my adult-self would have hoped he got sniped.)
He had one of the most arrogant stances on his card art. To me now, it looks like he probably just burnt ten Cobra agents to a crisp, but back then it was just a cool, confident readiness.
And, his equipment was exceptional. The 84s all had great gear, so much so that Recondo and Baroness with simple backpack/rifle combinations seemed like Hasbro cheaping out. (If only I could have foreseen Iceberg and Monkeywrench coming, a few years later…) But Blowtorch had a rifle-like weapon, backpack, helmet and face mask with goggles. And underneath the colours, his figure was well-crafted, with a left-holster on his right leg, ready for a cross-draw.
As for evolution, the 84s also felt chunkier, replacing the slim 82s and 83s, and preparing us for the ultra-chunkiness of Sgt. Slaughter in 85 and the Fridge in 86.
As an aside, as a child I didn’t know that flamethrowers were so horrific. In my mind, his weapon killed instantaneously and didn’t send tortured Cobra troopers to the burn ward. I also thought pistols and rifles killed with one bullet, most of the time.
Blowtorch was memorable from his early appearances on the cartoon mini-series, part of the dynamic comedy duo that landed a punchline about “asbestos underwear”. He spoke with a Scottish accent which I now find mildly ironic, given that the figure for me was a gift from someone who was born in Scotland.
When my grandmother arrived in the Northwest Territories in 1984, visiting us from Cape Breton, she offered to buy me something small from the Bay. I chose Blowtorch. He was my first figure from 1984, and forever and a day I’ll associate him with my grandmother. She could be prickly at times, but the size of her heart was beyond reproach. (Plus her talent for gift-giving.)
Blowtorch held the title of favourite Joe for the whole of 1984, even as other figures – Duke, Roadblock, Mutt, Spirit and Ripcord – had a stronger presence on the cartoon or comic book. And Blowtorch continued to hold that torch for me, even as I started to see the limitation of having an outlandishly dressed GI Joe on missions.
He was memorable as the driver of the Weapon Transport Vehicle on the box art, and fit that role perfectly. He was a good teammate when I needed someone to man a turret on the Killer Whale or to help staff the Transportable Tactical Battle Platform. And when I got him in situations where he wasn’t armed with his blowtorch, I could pretend that he wasn’t involved in burning people alive.
Blowtorch isn’t my favourite of the 84s any longer. I love Roadblock as an icon, I love Recondo for the realism, and I still love Mutt for introducing a truly memorable animal companion to Joe lore. But Blowtorch is in a sweet-spot for me, as an integral part of one of the best Joe years, and as someone who always reminds me of a loved one who passed.
Note that I’ve been lucky enough to find a full US card for Blowtorch, and even luckier when I found a full Canadian card with an attached bubble. Now, with having the next best thing, I don’t think as much about one-day owning a Mint-on-Card Blowtorch.
Recently, a friend found a Canadian MOC Blowtorch. My reaction was one of joy, not jealousy, and I really hope that means I’m becoming a better person.