From my childhood, there are three vehicles I remember ordering through the Sears catalog: the Bridgelayer, the Snow Cat and the Havoc. Each holds a special place in my heart.
There weren’t many places to purchase toys in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. Just a small version of The Bay and a pharmacy, Wally’s Drugs, that carried some large GI Joe toys. As for The Bay, it was the top place for buying figures, playsets, and small/medium vehicles. But almost every boy I knew liked GI Joe and our parents all shopped at those same stores. So the Sears catalog was a Godsend, providing a selection that was unmatched north of the 60th parallel. And because so much was available through The Wishbook, and no one ever got everything, me and all my friends had distinct GI Joe collections.
I’m sure a lot of my Christmas and birthday presents were from Sears, but my parents kept most of the surprises on those occasions, so when I finally saw them, they were in gift wrap, not a grey plastic Sears bag.
I don’t remember the particulars of the Havoc’s arrival, other than where it was bought and waiting eagerly for it in early 1987. Its arrival was the reverse of the Bridgelayer, which had come into my collection long before any of the 1985 figures. The Joe toys usually arrived at retail later in Canada than the US, and even later in northern Canada. And the Havoc became a part of my collection late for a 1986 vehicle, around the same time the 1987 figures were starting to appear at retail.
So the Havoc is clearly ridiculous.
The glass canopy and the suicide station/gunner’s seat are its most obvious flaws. I was 10 when I got it, and over time the Hasbro designers had lessened my need for military realism. I thought they went too far with vehicles like the Stun, but I also knew that I could continue to enjoy playing with GI Joe if I didn’t poke holes in every exposed operator.
If you thought of the Havoc in the big gun, shoot first mentality of a gunslinger, that gunner was:
1) the most badass Joe out there, and
2) might not be in as much danger as you might expect, since anyone that fired at the Havoc and missed would risk the pain of some serious return fire.
It was established that the Cobras couldn’t shoot straight, anyway, and everything short of sniper fire was a crapshoot, I thought, as I committed to just enjoying my toys.
For me, the main opponent for the Havoc’s crew was the Thunder Machine, which was the largest land-based Cobra vehicle I owned, having arrived at Christmas 1986. The Dreadnoks were my only uniform Cobra fighting force – I was subscribing to the Cobra in-fighting that was so rampant in the comic book and cartoon – and so the Dreadnoks rallied around the Thunder Machine to take on the Joes on the Havoc. I had all of the early Dreadnoks up to Monkeywrench and Thrasher, including the three Zs.
The twin guns of the Thunder Machine and its speed made it a great foil for the Havoc, which was more powerful but plodding.
Cross-Country was almost always in the driver’s bed, alongside someone like Dial-Tone or Sneak Peek, the guys who provided some useful skills in a co-pilot / navigator role. Putting Fast Draw in the gunner’s seat made sense, given he was armoured. Riding the boards, operating as the hop-off, ground crew, was some combination of my favourite troops: Beach Head, Leatherneck, Outback, Lt. Falcon and Tunnel Rat.
The scout craft was the X-factor, and my choice for pilot could be someone who felt comfortable in the air (Crazylegs), a guy who could handle advanced technology (Sci-Fi), or a leader who needed to see the whole battlefield (Hawk). Or sometimes it was just used by the last man standing, having no choice but to take to the sky, desperately trying to turn the tide or fleeing for help.
Other than the Cobra Flight Pod, I didn’t have many of the unbelievable flying vehicles (no jet packs!). And if I could believe in the Trubble Bubble in flight, the scout craft wasn’t such a stretch. But neither could go very far or very high, in my mind, and neither was a match for any of the big flying vehicles. They were more used for taking advantage of opponents on the ground. Regardless, I didn’t always use the scout craft when the Havoc was in-play, and sometimes I even just left it behind, using it’s spot to stow cargo (more guns, extra missiles or spare parts for disabled vehicles the Joes were trying to reach).
If the Havoc had appeared in 1983, I might not have understood how it fit into my GI Joe world, but by 1986 it was a decent enough fit. Not every land-based vehicle needed to be the Mauler. And the Havoc was simply fun to play with.
The holes are obvious and numerous.
The gunner was exposed to an unprecedented degree. A small glass canopy was generally acceptable; a large glass canopy was basically unforgivable. You couldn’t even get the driver and co-pilot in or out without moving the gunner’s seat, which provided a potential friction point when the gunner was taken out and the driver was desperate to escape. The driver is lying on his belly, and this seems extremely uncomfortable. The orange is an odd colour choice, coupled with the muted and realistic green and grey of the main vehicle.
Okay? Still going!
The scout craft is the realm of science fiction, which was more Cobra’s bailiwick than Joe’s. And the finish on the front and rear cannons, and even the missiles, feels underdeveloped. The occupant of the flying craft has no way to pilot it (no control panel, joystick, even a panel of buttons). Also the fact that the rotors underneath the scout craft slid around felt cheap.
I could probably keep going but you get the point.
The action features are significant, though, with tracks that allowed the Havoc to turn nearly 90 degrees. The elevating gunner seat was cool, moving into attack position. Just the fact it moved made it more believable than some other guns (e.g. the Ram’s side cannon).
The folding doors that allowed access to the hidden, flying scout craft, were slick. There are plenty of pegs to cart a large crew around, up to eight in addition to the four lying and seated operators. And the combination of guns and missiles meant that the Havoc was a powerhouse.
I would be remiss not to note the inclusion of removable covers for the engine and tracks. I can remember pulling them off and having the Joes working underneath, trying to get the disabled rig going while subjected to enemy fire.
Although the laser cannons are so cheap, the detailing in other areas – the driver controls, the seat, joystick and mechanics in the gunner’s seat – is impressive.
The Havoc’s place in the toyline is a sort of transition, as it features less detailing and more corners being cut than the vehicles from previous years. I wonder if the designers spent too much time in the areas where figures would go, and were pushed to get the rest done ASAP. How else could you explain the unrealism of the front cannons? Or, maybe, the vehicle was always meant to have less detailing than previous vehicles, to see whether reducing design time on individual vehicles had any negative impact on sales. Clearly it did not, as the trend toward less detailing continued with future vehicles in subsequent years.
The plastic feel of the Havoc is also different from previous vehicles, but plastic in the GI Joe line often varied. Consider the smooth rigidity of the Hal, the softness of the Vamp, the inherent fragility of the Moray… Some of the difference in feel boiled down to the plastic colours, since the deeper the colour, the more solid the plastic felt, whereas the lighter vehicles always felt softer. Regardless, the Havoc’s plastic feels distinct.
On a side note, the Slam and Coastal Defender might have been designed to accompany the Havoc, given the colours chosen. Even the Crossfire and Road Toad seem to be from a similar design family.
In the Marvel comic, the Havoc had made a memorable appearance, with Sgt. Slaughter hopping in the gunner’s seat, pursuing the Thunder Machine in GI Joe #51. The Havoc was the Joes main tank-ish vehicle for 1986 and 1987, and that meant it got some action, in the comic and my toy collection.
The Havoc was again showcased in GI Joe #58. And much like my collection, the Havoc was then aligned with the 1987 toyline, since Outback, Tunnel Rat and the Slam made their first appearances in that same issue, battling against the Pogo and Battle Armour Cobra Commander. (Also in picture: fellow 1987, Raptor, and some long-forgotten, early Joes, Grand Slam and Thunder.)
Cross Country receives an important role during the slaughter of the Joes in Benzheen, at the hands of the renegade Saw Viper. There is a hint of polish on the character underneath, and I can see the approach vector Mr. Hama was taking in creating him. But some of the subtleties in characterization were lost on children of the 1980s.
Cross-Country is now one of my least favourite figures, but he was part of my core team when the Havoc was in heavy service with my Joe army. I don’t remember hating on his big head. I let his character develop similarly to Wild Bill’s. Disregarding the political undertones, his outfit works, and he has some interesting contrasts and decent detailing on his chest piece.
I’m not sure what was happening with heads in 1986, since there was a huge range. AVAC had no chin, but Cross-Country has a giant melon and comical features. It might have made him harder to consider believable. But, much like my approach to an exposed gunner and the glass canopy, it was best not to give too much thought about and just enjoy the damn toy.
The Havoc fits into a subset of vehicles that were important in my childhood, but that hadn’t held up as well to me as an adult collector.
At one point, when I first started collecting Joe again, vehicles were all that I had on display. I felt more self-conscious about the figures, and didn’t want any friends or family members to say anything that ridiculed my collection, didn’t want any shade on GI Joe, because it was so special to me, so personal. It wasn’t until I had a plumber at the house, passing my office to get to the water shut off, and stopping to point out all the vehicles he used to own, that I started feeling more comfortable. I then added loose figures and MOCs to my expanding display. But the Havoc went away because it looked so far-fetched and ridiculous to me.
It sometimes feels like I’ve betrayed my childhood in putting the Havoc away. Even with my office serving as a museum for my collectibles, I don’t have enough room to put everything on display. I had to draw the line somewhere, and the Havoc takes up significant real estate.
Not all that long ago, I was digging through some totes and discovered a broken connection between the front tracks of my Havoc and the main body. The plastic was getting softer with age and simply bent and broke off. This discovery bothered me so much that I hunted for a new Havoc. It wasn’t as easy as placing an order through Sears, as I once had. But I couldn’t have an important vehicle from my childhood collection left in disrepair and unappreciated. And shortly after I found the replacement Havoc, I found a spot on my display shelf, where it always should have been.
My childhood is on display in this blog for anyone in the world to see. Sure as hell I can put an important toy on display in my office, for my coworkers to see on my Teams and Zoom calls.