Our house growing up had a central, split-level staircase covered in ultra-stylish, fire red, shag carpet. The stairs led up from the entryway to an open-concept, L-shaped hallway on the second floor that spanned the distance from my parents’ bedroom to the dining room. The floor of that main hallway was a continuation of the red shag carpet, and the top of the stairs was made extra classy due to black, wrought iron railing along the top.
Although the stairway was a key thoroughfare for my family, I would often take it over, using it and the hallway as locations for battles between GI Joe and Cobra. The Joes would start at the bottom of the stairs and scale up “the mountain” to infiltrate or assault a nest of Cobras at the top.
Alpine was clearly the specialist in these missions, leading crews of Joes into some pretty hairy situations. I would augment him with figures that could blend in. Although the stairway was bright red, I imagined the mountain it represented as covered by forest in parts, and stone in others. So Airtight, Barbecue and Blowtorch were left out of those missions, while Flint, Recondo and Footloose joined Alpine most frequently.
I’m not even sure what I used for the Cobra base then – repurposing the Joes’ Tactical Battle Platform or Watchtower, and maybe using some books or VHS tapes, stood on their sides and leaned against each other, to create the walls of additional buildings. Whatever the structures, Cobra’s makeshift base was a key installation and the Joes reaching it was a matter of utmost importance. Every mission was crucial, but this one especially. And the Cobras were always watching for Joes climbing up the mountain.
I’d have Bazooka tag along on the mission and one of the Cobras would spot his red shirt. So despite the Joes’ best efforts at stealth, they would have to fight their way up slowly, pinned down by the opposition the whole way. They might have the Rattler circling them while they hid and might have to take it down – or the Fang or Claw – with small arms fire.
The importance of the mission and the quality of the opposition would always necessitate one figure do something extra heroic, either sacrificing himself in distracting the Cobras so the others could keep going, or sneaking away and carrying the mission by themselves while Cobra was focused on the core Joe group. There were lots of candidates for solo heroics in that group, but usually the only Joe with enough skill to go it alone would be Alpine.
Sneaking away from the other Joes meant dropping down to a lower step, crawling along the kickboard and resuming his ascent on the other side of the steps, to the right, while Cobra was so focused on the group of Joes pinned down to the left. Once at the top of the stairs, Alpine would stealthily take out the Cobra snipers so the other Joes could come up and join him. From that point on, it was just a matter of time until the Joes won the day, either capturing Cobra Commander or another key baddie, freeing Duke or another teammate, or simply recovering Cobra’s plans for their next plot to take over the world.
Alpine arrived in my collection early in 1986, after I got the TTBP for Christmas in 1985, before the next series of figures started showing up on pegs at the Bay in May 1986. He was one of the more memorable secondary characters from a historic crop of Joes, and the first Joe who specialized in mountain climbing. And he had an impressive compliment of accessories.
So much of my time was spent playing out water-based scenarios built around the TTBP and Killer Whale, arctic-based scenarios built around the Snow Cat, dog-fights between the Rattler and Skystriker, or ground warfare involving the Mauler. Whereas most of the 1985 figures fit into roles within scenarios crafted around vehicles, Alpine encouraged me to concoct whole scenarios around him, personally. Although, he often got pulled in as a participant in other scenarios. That was partly because the colours of his outfit allowed him to fit into the realistic military scenarios, and partly because I just liked him so much.
Flint, Footloose and Alpine tended to be my all-purpose troops from the 85s, as Roadblock and Recondo had been for the 84s, and as Beach Head and Leatherneck would be for the 86s. Alpine’s outfit was cool and his skillset was helpful in so many missions.
In addition to leading the other Joes up the stairway, he spent a lot of time on the TTBP, driving the Armadillo, riding with Heavy Metal in the Mauler, helping Tollbooth lay the bridge or, later, occupying one of the seats in the back of the Tomahawk. The Snow Cat box art shows Alpine riding along, and the dearth of Joes in snowsuits meant he accompanied Frostbite frequently, especially if I ever tried to fulfill the advertising promise that the Snow Cat could carry up to 10 figures.
Alpine has a highly-detailed mold, with pant legs that taper around his boots, carabiners on his left leg, textured gloves, a rope across his chest, and a moustache, cap and pre-hipster, hipster glasses. Two things that seem to wow me when I review molds are back pockets – two! – and ripples in clothing, of which he has many. Those details add so much depth to the figures, and although I don’t always notice their presence, my appreciation for the figures would certainly diminish a little in their absence.
Upon closer inspection, I see things that don’t entirely make sense – the low collar of his shirt and, the ribbing and belly-cut on his jacket – and I wonder whether my confusion is based on a lack of familiarity with common climbing gear, or if I’m just forgetting some nuances of 80s style.
I also laughed to myself, seeing that he has a molded fly. It suggests working leak breaks into story twists, perhaps giving an opportunity to make Alpine vulnerable for a few moments, susceptible to letting his guard down and being taken out while he’s relieving himself.
Alpine’s earth-tones are strong. They mean I used him more frequently in combat than someone like Lady Jaye, who I loved deeply but had difficulty forcing myself to pretend her bright green outfit didn’t stick out. Alpine’s olive green is bland in comparison to later figures, and I can imagine that his Argentinian alter-ego, Risco, whose brighter green is the main differentiating factor, would be a significantly more attractive figure, side-by-side.
1985 was a great year for accessories, as every driver came with at least one accessory, every carded figure with at least two, and figures like Alpine and Snow Serpent had an abundance. The accessories were all logical, too. There was no weird, trident gun for a biker dude.
The designers also considered how all that gear would be carried, as evidenced by the tab on Barbecue’s leg for his spray nozzle, the notches on Snake Eye’s backpack that accommodates his sword, and the way Ripper’s jackhammer could be attached to his backpack. Alpine has five accessories and only two hands, but his backpack has places to attach his pickaxe and grappling launcher.
His gun is unassuming, yet solid. His pack is a little fat, and his launcher design was an oddly modified version of Snow Job’s rifle. (A laser distributed grappling line?) And, as a kid, I was confused about the launcher being separate from the grappling hooks. I wondered if I was supposed to pretend that the launcher fired that line, or whether they were separate accessories. It was important, because it allowed Alpine to share his spare line with another figure who needed to ascend our red staircase, or repel away under Cobra fire.
I don’t remember a single criticism of my Alpine figure as a kid. Granted, my critical analysis skills have grown as I’ve gotten older, but as a child I thought that Airtight’s yellow suit was ugly and that Bazooka’s football shirt was inappropriate for a soldier.
As far as the 85s go, Snake Eyes, Flint, Lady Jaye and Shipwreck are icons, to varying degrees. Airtight, Quick Kick and Bazooka are harder to take serious, and everyone else is in-between.
Alpine, like Dusty, was a near perfect specialist, and the depth in figure quality – along with Larry Hama’s incredible writing in the comic and the popularity of the cartoon – was what helped turn GI Joe into a cultural phenomenon, and solidify 1985 as the peak year in ARAH history.
As an adult, acquiring Alpine was of utmost importance. He was the kind of figure that could help me get over any sense of embarrassment over the nerdiness of my collecting habits: a detailed mold with realistic colours that I proudly put on display. And Alpine holds an interesting distinction, too, in that he was the first figure I spent at least $20 on, grabbing a complete Alpine with a full, Canadian card at Cherry Bomb Toys in early 2014.
I remember how much consideration I put into that decision, whereas now $20 would be a steal on almost any vintage figure. But splurging on Alpine was the least I could do, considering how often his indomitable spirit had carried the Joes to victory over Cobra, going up that red shag staircase.
If it wasn’t for him, Flint, Footloose, Recondo and Bazooka would probably still be pinned down on that staircase, 35 years later.