When I was growing up, my family alternated summer vacations between the east coast and west coast of Canada. My grandparents were in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, but my Uncle Jim lived in British Columbia, much closer to where we lived, in the Northwest Territories. For our western road trip in the summer of 1984, my parents agreed to meet my uncle and his family in the Shuswap Lakes, in the interior of BC.
I arrived at the lakefront property carrying a decent compliment of GI Joes, including the Collector Display Case and the Mobat. We spent our days out on the beach and out on the water, and of course I spent a good amount of time playing with my Joes.
Because my hometown, Fort Smith, was a small community with few retail options, we scheduled dedicated days for shopping during our summer vacations in southern Canada. On the east coast it was easy, since there were always a few rainy days during our trips, and I have fond memories of riding in my grandparents’ car, the windshield wipers on and the rain coming down hard, driving to Fredericton with the anticipation of new toys. But during summers in BC, especially in the Okanagan, it never rained, so we would have to sacrifice sunny days on shopping trips.
Salmon Arm, the closest town, was an hour’s drive away from where we were staying. My mom took us there once, early on, to shop for school supplies and clothes. She loved the smaller, discount department stores, places like Saan and Bargain Harold’s. Not sure if it was the lower prices or how their smaller, underwhelming toy sections limited her risk of getting sucked into buying me something expensive… But in Salmon Arm, there was a K-Mart, ideal for me, since the GI Joe selection was solid and the prices were reasonable enough to fit my allowance, if I couldn’t convince her to buy me anything just out of the kindness of her heart.
The 1984 toys were trickling into retail locations across Canada. I had found Blowtorch in the Northwest Territories before we left, and Duke in Alberta along the way. And I don’t remember which figures were at that K-Mart in Salmon Arm, although I remember the store having a selection of smaller vehicles and playsets.
My recollection was that the toy section was on the lower floor, in a large, split-level room lit by natural light from a wall of windows on one side. It was there that I ruminated over an impossible decision, Deep Six and the Sharc or Zartan and the Chameleon.
I’d love to tell you that I chose Zartan, of course, a choice adult collectors would make without hesitation. But that disregards the size differential between the two toys, the attraction of a bigger box, the subconscious price heuristics at play when seeing two different price points and naturally assuming the more expensive vehicle was better, and the engaging artwork on the Sharc’s box. Not to mention my early tendency to load up my Joe team, the traveling version of which included 14 good guys with a combat tank battling just two Cobra figures, Destro and Cobra Officer. Sure, Zartan had that cool colour-change feature, the disguise and the gimmick of being able to take apart the Chameleon, but Deep-Six was also advertised as having a fun play feature: submerging.
Seeing Deep Six in the plastic window on the front of the box created intrigue, since I couldn’t immediately process that he only had two points of articulation.
Until I opened the box in the car, on the ride back to the lake, I was under the impression that his diving suit would be removable, whether the box said so or not, likely taking my clues from the SNAKE Armour.
One focus area of retail marketing is “post-purchase dissonance”, the rationalizations of people when they start to doubt that they made a good purchase. Often, people will convince themselves a bad purchase was the right decision, and thus it was for me with the Sharc. Deep Six’s lack of articulation and the poor design of the cockpit sewered the toy, but having already spent the money, having opened the package, and being on the road back to our rental property, I told myself that my choice was perfect.
In reality, I would have been better served by buying Zartan and the Chameleon, and putting the savings toward buying another loose figure, since there must have been some in that K-Mart. Mutt or Roadblock would have been solid choices, or I might have been lucky and found Firefly or Storm Shadow.
The choice had been made and I couldn’t change it, so I committed to enjoying it. But everyday for the next week, while waiting for another opportunity to accompany my mom to Salmon Arm, I dreamed of returning to that K-Mart and adding Zartan to my collection.
As a toy, the Sharc itself wasn’t terrible. It was a nice size and had impressive design elements, particularly the detailed moulding and the smart, pop-up guns on each wing. It had an aerodynamic shape that mimicked a small aircraft more so than a submarine, and was sexy to look at from almost any angle. But the design itself seemed to be the love child of two Fisher Price toys, with a shape inspired by the Land Speed Racer and the plastic reminding me of the Alpha Interceptor.
I had outgrown Adventure People two years earlier, and the last thing I wanted was for GI Joe to steal design elements from that line. Instead of bringing more of the young Fisher Price fans into GI Joe, it could have alienated the kids like me who had already graduated to the more mature toyline.
The Sharc’s flaws are so apparent now – the flimsy cockpit latch, the flimsy directional veins at the back, the torpedoes that wouldn’t stay attached, etc.
On the vehicle itself, the most heinous sin, the one that stuck out to me as a child and still bums me out because of how limiting it was, was the cockpit design. It is a snug fit for the bulky Deep Six figure. And he’s forced to pilot the machine while face-down – a driving position that was repeated at times on future flawed vehicles, including the Havoc and the drone from the Cobra Night Raven. His arms are pinned down beside him, requiring suspension of disbelief that he could even steer the Sharc. (Not unless GI Joe had invested in advanced technology for reading eye motion.)
When Deep Six was replaced by a figure with a standard body type – Torpedo, for example – the other character seems more natural, since he could use his hands to operate the controls. However, the cockpit is then oversized and that becomes another pet peeve. Or Torpedo could be placed in the cockpit sitting up, which Deep Six cannot do. (Although it’s how Deep Six was always shown in the cartoon and comic book.) In the usual seating position, it would be difficult for a figure to operate the controls, since they’re now at their feet. And the sitting driver could also benefit from a back rest, otherwise he flops around in the cockpit.
Overall, it’s just a bad design for the driver, and I think Hasbro would have been better served using a standard figure in a seated position with a moulded seat, vs. an awkwardly articulated diver who can’t drive the machine.
Interestingly, this simple, flawed vehicle was used twice more in the original line, with the Night Force version that came out in 1988 and the Sky Patrol version that came out in 1990. Both are preferable versions, aesthetically, and neither came with a repainted Deep Six, so the cockpit flaws were amplified with no obvious drivers to fill that void.
Deep Six is the single worst figure in the GI Joe ARAH line, with the obvious reason that his articulation was terrible, and remembering the disappointment from when I first opened that box. (Hopefully, Crystal Ball, Big Boa and Raptor are out having drinks tonight, feeling somehow relieved.)
I didn’t know what to make of Deep Six at the time. Although now I can take to the internet and voice my displeasure via Twitter, social media was 20 years away, and none of my friends were on vacation with us. So I would have instead voiced my disappointment to someone in my family, someone that couldn’t have cared less about GI Joe, one of my sisters, or my cousin Kristin, who was a year older than me, or possibly my cousin Kelsey, who was just two-years old…
I don’t even know where to begin with Deep Six’s lack of articulation.
His arms simply spin around and don’t resemble normal movement. And once the figure has been played with to any great extent, his arms tend to hang loosely. A bone for kids might have been designing his hands to grasp weapons, but that would have been asking too much, right Hasbro?
Two points of articulation, kid. Now shut the hell up about holding accessories.
And for all his flaws, even Deep Six has some merit, if you look hard enough. The colours are complimentary, some of the detailing on the figure is good (e.g. the hoses), and he has a unique face mould. With some simple tweaks, he might be redeemable.
But if that suit had been removable? All-time classic.
Without those changes, Hasbro should be thanking Marvel and Sunbow for making Deep Six into a memorable character – dour and extremely dry – because his design wasn’t cutting it on its own.
I remember spending the next week begging my parents for another trip to Salmon Arm, just hoping that Zartan might still be there, so I could rectify that mistake, already.
Despite all the reasons for disliking the Sharc, this toy has a special place in my heart. I used it for early air support and, in the water, it worked extremely well with the Transportable Tactical Battle Platform, and fought innumerable battles against Zartan and the Chameleon, and Copperhead and the Water Moccasin. And it was among my most frequent toys at bath time, since I wasn’t bringing the Killer Whale into the tub to play with.
Deep Six was an interesting character in the comic and cartoon, the Sharc was memorable to me, and fun to play with, and so the figure and machine were an important part of my childhood, no matter how you slice it. (Just like Tollbooth and the Toss ‘n Cross, or Cross Country and the Havoc.)
I didn’t have Lobot in my Star Wars run, and dropped Transformers before the Sparkabots arrived, so Deep Six is in rarified company as one of the most terrible toys I owned as a kid. And yet he was part of my childhood, and I had a lot of fun with him, whenever I ignored that initial disappointment.
Toy manufacturers are allowed a few misses, here and there. And once Deep Six was inside the Sharc itself, did the design flaws really matter?