Growing up, I had a clear sense of right vs. wrong, and always sided with good over bad. My favourite Star Wars characters were always the Rebels. I always saw the sports teams I cheered for – the Oilers, Jays, even the Pistons – as the good guys. And my favourite wrestler was always the top babyface, whether Hulk Hogan, Macho Man or Bret Hart. With GI Joe there wasn’t a lot of room for grey area. The Joes were good, Cobra was bad. And even when the figures I played with crossed over from one side to the other, they always revealed themselves as being true to their original faction in the end.
My favourite figures were always the good guys: Breaker, Grunt, Short Fuze, Airborne, Snow Job, Gung-Ho, Blowtorch, Roadblock, Flint, Lady Jaye, Beach Head, Tunnel Rat, Shockwave… I had a hard time rooting for the bad guys. Cobras were always out for an ambush, the ones to initiate a battle, and they could never be trusted, even when disarmed or captured.
Regardless, I did have favourite Cobras.
Destro was the shit when he arrived in 1983. The silver-plated face, the gold chain, the wrist rockets, the attaché case, the backstory on his filecard… He and Storm Shadow were the only Cobras who showed any sense of loyalty. So Destro was also one of my favourite characters in the whole line, even though my favourites were Joe-heavy at the top.
The other Cobra who I loved was the most ruthless of all, Firefly.
I realize now that I appreciated certain types of characters. I liked the good leaders, the good soldiers and the good teammates. I liked reluctant heroes and anti-heroes, who might be torn apart over their decisions but do the right thing in the end. But I also had a dangerous appreciation for mercenaries, too. It was obvious playing with my Star Wars figures, with Boba Fett being a favourite, even though he was responsible for apprehending Han Solo, my favourite good guy.
Boba Fett’s brother from another toy line was Firefly.
Both looked dope as hell in their costumes. In the movies, I loved the way Darth Vader had to tell Boba Fett not to disintegrate his bounty, and how he nodded in appreciation when Leia, in her Boushh disguise, pushes Jabba for more money.
Firefly’s balaclava and urban camo made him so unique in the Joe line. (Often my favourites wear masks, e.g. Beach Head and Shockwave.)
But having read the comic and watched the cartoon, Firefly lacked honour, showed himself to be a coward at times, and was downright despicable. I assume my younger self didn’t understand the comic where he and Scrap Iron capped the soft master. Not sure Firefly should have been a favourite after that – some things you can’t come back from!
What was it about mercenaries that I appreciated most, apart from their cool costumes…?
One thing to consider was that unlike other Cobras, I could understand Firefly’s motivation. It was money, but at least that was something. And this was the 80s, everyone was motivated by money back then. I had a harder time understanding villains that were villainous because of some innate proclivity for villainy. Or those that were into causing chaos for the sake of chaos. Ruling the world gave Cobra Commander a semblance of motivation, and hence I had some appreciation for him. I also liked the Cobra Soldiers, but they existed more to challenge the Joes and prove their courage.
It was still hard for me to position the Cobras as entirely evil. My Cobras weren’t shooting imprisoned Joes in the back. But Firefly gave me a character who had no issues with violating certain Swiss conventions. Again, dope as hell costume, but the dirtiest of any Cobras, and in that Firefly provided Joes with the biggest motivation because he could make any battle personal to the Joes by blowing up one of their own.
I didn’t have Firefly when he first came out. With the 84s, I worked my way through most of the Joes first and Zartan, before getting Scrap Iron and Baroness as presents. I don’t think I ever saw Firefly at retail, so he was definitely a white whale, especially as his look and character intrigued me. I acquired him a few years later, and I’m not entirely sure how. My best guess is that he was included in an epic all-GI Joes for all-Transformers trade with my best friend, Donny. Generally, I played with the most recent figures, but having Firefly now at my disposal was a luxury, so I would have put him up against my 86s and 87s, with Firefly making a great nemesis for Beach Head and Tunnel Rat, knowing that the only way to take out the most ruthless Cobra operative was for the good guys to work as a team.
As one of my favourite Cobras, and one of the five most expensive Mint on Card (MOC) figures in the domestic GI Joe line, Firefly is easily in my top 20 MOCs. Ideally, I want my MOC collection to contain the Joes I had as a child, the ones that gave me the most nostalgia. But if I was to walk into a magical retail store that had every GI Joe MOC available at fair market value, I would have a hard time buying Firefly instead of two or three other figures, since his cost, MOC, would be so much higher than most others.
The early episodes of Wheel of Fortune had contestants earning money for solving puzzles and encouraged to spend that money on a showcase of related items, like living room furniture and decor. You’d see someone with $1500 having to decide between the sectional or a love seat and a large TV. Having just solved a Wheel of Fortune puzzle about GI Joe, and seeing a showcase made up of GI Joe MOCs at market prices, I could never choose to buy Firefly instead of spending the same money on Blowtorch, Lady Jaye and Beach Head.
Removing budget as an issue, I believe Firefly would be in the first six MOCs I purchased, along with the first carded Cobra Commander, straight arm Snake Eyes, Destro, and my two all-time favourite Joes, Airborne and Snow Job. But there was never a hint of possibility that I might one day own Coco, Snakes, Destro or Firefly. Not a chance.
All this is to say that earlier this year I had access to an MOC Firefly, the impossible to find, Canadian version, the white whale that I coveted so much as a child. It was something that came into my favourite store. The owner was wrestling with keeping it for his personal collection. I didn’t push at the time, but shortly thereafter Firefly showed up as available on the store’s news feeds.
I was at work and received a series of messages from a friend in Edmonton, another collector who was trying to complete his Canadian MOC lineup and had caught wind of the MOC Firefly. I already knew roughly how much Firefly would cost, and I knew I’d have a hard time justifying spending so much on one collectible – valuable and desirable and grail-like, though it may be – while putting twins through daycare. (The equivalent of putting two kids through university!)
In the end, I bought Firefly for my friend just before COVID-19 hit, and was holding onto him for weeks afterward, as we considered ramifications of shipping across jurisdictions during the pandemic.
And this is leading to two key facts:
1. I briefly owned an MOC Firefly on Canadian card as an adult collector, before my friend transferred money to me, and
2. I had an MOC Firefly on Canadian card in my office while writing this blog entry.
Dream come true, for sure. And although I’ve since mailed it away a few days later, I still had him for a few glorious weeks before then.
Possibly the first time I’ve ever taken a selfie with a toy…