1984 was one of the key years for the GI Joe brand. 1983 had created the recipe for continued success (evolution) and 1984 was the year that Hasbro proved they were committed to executing that recipe. The toys – headlined by the Killer Whale and Rattler – were incredible, and the individual figures really hit their stride, proving that ARAH wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
It was the momentum established in 1983, 1984 and 1985 that carried the brand through 1986, 1987 and 1988, as the original Joe collectors were aging out of toys. In fact, the 1984 collection of figures was probably, pound-for-pound the best series in the brand’s 12-year run. There was not a single dud in the carded 1984 lineup, and many of the figures (Roadblock, Duke, Baroness, Storm Shadow and Firefly) are among the brand’s core roster in every iteration from ARAH to Classified.
Blowtorch was my immediate favourite on the GI Joe team that year, and was the first figure I picked up. But others proved to have longer lasting legacies, as I found Blowtorch’s colours and specialty limiting. I didn’t love Duke, and wasn’t lucky enough to acquire Spirit or Ripcord, so eventually much of my ongoing play centred around the other 1984 Joes: Roadblock, Recondo and Mutt. The three served as all-purpose soldiers from their original arrival – around the same time as the Killer Whale, at Christmas 1984 – through to the arrival of the Transportable Tactical Battle Platform – the next Christmas – and beyond.
The dog handler, Mutt, was conscripted into a bigger role, with and without his canine companion, Junkyard. His base green made him a solid fit for the next generation of green army men, particularly as my Joe play became more sophisticated, and imagining that my soldiers could blend into the scenery on the battle field became paramount. But when Mutt first arrived, with one of the two original animal companions, it was simply fun to gear him up with all his accessories and his dog.
One of my kids, now, pushes costumes to the next level. When he wants to be a firefighter, he puts on the firefighter jacket, pants and helmet that came with his Halloween costume, then looks for the right clothes from his wardrobe to substitute for firefighter boots and gloves. Recently, when reading a book about firefighters, he noticed one with a mask and visor. So, at that point, he demanded a visor for his costume, which forced my wife to build one out of clear, semi-rigid plastic. Otherwise he might never wear that costume again. And he loves adding accessories and gear to complete the ensemble.
We have costumes for being a construction worker, a pilot or a super hero, and whatever he puts on, it’s the same thing. He adds elements that were left out of the costume to be the most realistic construction worker or pilot or superhero he can imagine, and he finds accessories that fit all of them.
Sometimes he spends so much time getting his costume right that he doesn’t even get to enjoy it, that dinner time or bed time creeps up on him. But just getting it all on, and adding the right accessories, creates a sense of order and completeness in his world that might not otherwise exist. I think that he received that character trait from me, and it probably first presented itself with me when I received Mutt. Because I would painstakingly put on his helmet, then his mask, then the leash on Junkyard, the other end on Mutt’s wrist, the club into one hand, and his pistol in the other. God forbid he didn’t have his nightstick, or Junkyard was off-leash! But it was just so satisfying to get that figure sorted out.
(Couple that with assembling Blowtorch, Roadblock, Scrap Iron… and we were talking about spending a lot of my childhood just getting my figures ready to play.)
Mutt was a great figure for a lot of reasons.
His card art is intimidating. Mutt’s face is covered and his eyes are damn serious. His pistol is pointed right at us, and Junkyard is basically jumping out of the artwork, his canine teeth ready to rip Cobra agents to shreds.
Mutt’s accessories are also top notch. Other than Scrap Iron, Mutt has as many accessories as any figure released in the first three years. And every one of Mutt’s served some logical, related purpose, though the mask and night stick feel the most superfluous.
In 1984, Hasbro tried working with soft plastics more often, and Mutt benefitted from having both the mask and leash being malleable.
I often tried to put Mutt’s mask on Scrap Iron, an attempt to create a full-face covering. And getting it balanced on his nose and the bottom of his visor and wrapped around the back of his head at the right angle was tedious, and if the figure got bumped the mask would twist away from his nose or fall down over his chin, and I would have to start all over. But it looked amazing when it all came together.
Mutt’s Mac pistol is basic, but he had the only silencer then available in the toyline – and for a long time – which meant that I often used it when a Joe or Cobra was acting as an assassin. So his accessories took on a life of their own, and that’s before we even consider Junkyard.
My parents were not dog people, and for the longest time our house was devoid of any pets. I wanted to build connections with dogs, but I had a bad experience when I was five, so I was always tentative around them as a child. Until we got a dog a few years later, Junkyard was the dog that I could play with, that I would never have to worry about, that always knew the good guys from the bad, that was friendly to all Joes and aggressive to all Cobras.
In the cartoon and comic book, Junkyard was built up to have personality traits, and that made Mutt and Junkyard feel like two figures for the price of one. And the sculpt and stance for Junkyard were perfect, too.
One last note about Mutt’s accessories. In 2014, when I was getting serious about collecting toys again, I found Mutt’s helmet in a bin of childhood Lego my parents had brought to me in Victoria. And it sent me back to my house in Fort Smith, in the 1980s, and to the beige shag carpet in my bedroom, dumping my Legos onto the floor, next to my Joes and Transformers, and it’s almost surprising that Mutt’s helmet was all I found mixed up in that Lego bin.
Mutt’s sculpt was nearly perfect, too, from his boots, the stitching on his pant legs and his knee pads, to the detailed vest he wore, the collared shirt, the shoulder pads, the protective glove on his left hand, the big moustache, the scar on his cheek and his gritted teeth. The soft detailing on his holster, belt and knife seems less impressive, but that type of criticism is a testament to the high quality of GI Joe. With any other toyline, the level of detailing on those three parts would have been considered exceptional. But Hasbro had set such a high standard.
Notably, Mutt figures frequently suffer from broken thumbs and crotches, though it’s not clear to me whether the former is a design flaw in the figure, or just the impact of having so many different handheld accessories, including frequent changeovers between the pistol, leash and night stick. The crotch issue is obviously a design flaw. And both issues are magnified with the 1989 Slaughter’s Marauders version, having been made in Brazil with more brittle plastic.
The figure’s colouring features six different paint masks, which is nice, although the combination of brown, green and red reminds me of a Christmas tree. It’s not unpleasant, though, and green was a colour that wasn’t used much in that third series of Joes. Who would complain about a figure in brown, green and black? But the red shoulder pads, and even his white teeth, provide needed contrast.
Finally, an important factor in why Mutt is such a great figure is that he was infused with personality on his file card, in the comic book and in the cartoon, and all three portrayals aligned. Not many figures got that level of uniformity across representations. But it was his Grumpy Gus, frustrated, cartoon voice that played in my head whenever I played with the figure.
As I said, Mutt, Roadblock and Recondo arrived in my childhood collection in short succession. One would have been a present at Christmas 1984, and the second was bought just before we went to Los Angeles, in February 1985. My mom always prepared bags of fun things to keep us occupied when we went on roadtrips, including comic books, coloring books and magazines. One of those three figures was included in the bag she prepared before we went to Disneyland, since we had 12 hours of driving from Fort Smith to Edmonton, before flying to Los Angeles. The third figure was acquired during that trip, but since I can no longer recall which arrived when, I lump them all together in my memory.
They were all with me in LA, in any regard, and were the figures that kept us company when my mom and I stayed at the hotel on the day the rest of the family went to Knott’s Berry Farm, when I had an earache.
The three figures, along with Cutter, Duke, Blowtorch, Torpedo and Gung-Ho, were regular crewmembers in the Killer Whale, when the Killer Whale replaced the Skystriker as the centrepiece in my ongoing GI Joe drama. Mutt would sometimes be in the cockpit with Cutter or in one of the gunner’s perches, but was more frequently inside the hatch as part of the boarding party whenever the hovercraft landed on a Cobra-controlled beach.
I got the Watch Tower on that trip to Disneyland, too, which functioned as the primary structure of my GI Joe base complex, with the Bivouac – I didn’t own the Headquarters – and Mutt was the main security officer. One year later, I acquired the Check Point Alpha, and his importance was extended even as I was adding more and more of the 1985 Joes.
Mutt and Junkyard were such a great, natural pair. In theory, the duo could take down some of the top Cobra agents, however Mutt’s frequent role in security, and my need to move the story along, meant that Cobras often bested Mutt for the sake of the action. Zartan was a figure that gave him fits, obviously, as a master of disguise, especially if I pretended Zartan could become invisible, a trick he used frequently in the cartoon. Mutt would then have to work his ass off after letting Cobra onto the base, and that meant many scenarios I played out were centred around his struggle for redemption.
There were times where I split Mutt from his canine companion, particularly when using him as part of a military operation. There was a limited number of greenshirt soldiers in my collection, so Mutt was conscripted frequently into forest and jungle battles, armed with an accessory pack rifle, or possibly Frostbite’s. And he sometimes rode shotgun on the Toss ‘n Cross, just like all my other 1984 figures.
Looking back at my childhood, Mutt was great because his baseline utility, his extended use, and his overall versatility. His look and personality are so ingrained on my psyche now. He had a sustain that Blowtorch never accomplished, a personality that Duke would have envied, and a timelessness that escaped that first version of Roadblock. So Mutt might actually be my favourite 1984 figure.