Science fiction aspects have always existed in GI Joe, from the original laser trooper, Flash, and the Jump Jet Pack in 1982, forward. But at times they have been downplayed or pushed out of the GI Joe camp and into Cobra’s.
In 1984, Zartan was pretty far out there – changing appearance at will in the comic book and turning invisible in the cartoon. Cobra also had Dr. Venom’s brainwave scanner to read the Joes’ minds. 1985 was mostly grounded in reality, taking a step away from science fiction, before 1986 took a big step back towards it. That trajectory would continue afterwards, but the proliferation of science fiction elements in the fifth series was a key step in the evolution of the brand.
Zandar and Zarana changed colours. Dr. Mindbender was a mad scientist. BATS was an android trooper. And Dial-Tone had an advanced communications backpack and all sorts of tech gear all over his body. But no one embodied science fiction more than Sci-Fi. Obviously.
Sci-Fi was a 1986 preview of what GI Joe would look like in the 1990s. And, interestingly, the 1991 version of Sci-Fi felt more like a 1980s Joe than the 1986 version.
There is something to be said for standing out in the GI Joe lineup. When I first saw the latest series of Joes on retail pegs in 1984, I immediately gravitated to Blowtorch. He was easily the brightest good guy released at that point, caught my eye and became my favourite figure that year. However, in practical use and overall longevity, he soon fell behind Mutt, Recondo and Roadblock.
In 1985, my favourite figures included Flint, Alpine, Footloose, Lady Jaye… the most versatile and battle ready, not the ones with colours that stuck out, like Airtight, Barbecue, and Bazooka.
That preference continue into 1986, as Beach Head was immediately my favourite figure, and General Hawk and Leatherneck were not far behind.
Sci-Fi, the neon green laser trooper, was low on my list. I appreciated that he stuck out, but I also couldn’t picture using him much in practical, realistic, combat situations. And when my best friend, Donny, expressed his interest in the figure, I basically walked away from Sci-Fi altogether. He would have been one of the last 1986 Joes I would have bought, second only to the underwhelming re-release of Roadblock.
But my appreciation for Sci-Fi actually grew over time.
What drew Donny to Sci-Fi was his attachment to science fiction in pop culture. We had both been Star Wars fans growing up. We played with GI Joe and Transformers, but he was more a Transformers fan than me, and this culminated in trading all his GI Joes to me for all my Transformers. And he introduced me to Aliens, too.
In an interesting turn, Donny actually came back to GI Joe with Battle Force 2000. It gave him a closer avenue towards Aliens than any other toy line. So GI Joe in late 1987 and into 1988, was a renaissance period for him. We had BF2000 figures designated as Hicks, Hudson, etc., but it was hard to go full-Aliens without a Ripley. (In retrospect, Lady Jaye would have been a good choice!) And Sci-Fi was definitely part of that Aliens crew.
As a side note, because GI Joe didn’t have a full cast for the movie, I also tried to play out Aliens scenarios with Lego, trying to build the dropship and APC, and designating different coloured Space Lego figures as different characters from the movie.
Now, looking at Sci-Fi, the pop culture icon he most reminds me of is actually RoboCop. I see the connection whenever I look at his helmet.
One thing I always felt about GI Joe vs. Cobra was that most of the Joes faces should be visible. Snake Eyes was the obvious exception. And yet many of those 1986 figures – including Beach Head, Wet-Suit, Sci-Fi and even Low-Light and Lifeline – had wholly or partially obscured faces. That Cobra faces were frequently obscured was understandable: the troops were, by their nature, faceless minions, and with the big, bad guys, masks created a sense of intrigue. But good guys didn’t have anything to hide. And I wanted to know all of them, so that I felt that they were truly heroic, and that there was something at stake whenever they battled Cobra.
There was some inconsistency to how this applied, and I can easily find examples of me disproving myself – Beach Head, Steel Brigade and Shockwave were some of my favourite Joes – but I didn’t have the same affinity for Snake Eyes that others did, and I tended to only want a few Joes to be masked. They couldn’t all be good guys with intrigue.
There is no doubt that my affection for Sci-Fi felt less personal because of his partially obscured face, because it was harder to project a personality on, and relate to, him. Regardless, he was an important part of my Joe world because my best friend loved playing with him. And I think at times we simply pretended that any shade of green was camouflaged on the battlefield.
The Sci-Fi mould is well done, with significant detailing throughout. There are tons of fine, little details, including creasing, numerous pockets, the ridges on his inner legs, the long zipper on his jumpsuit, the wires on the side of his legs, and, of course, his body armour and helmet. Some could be labeled “soft” but, overall, the detailing is extensive and well done.
From what you can see of his face, he seems to be a no-nonsense kind of Joe. He’s not the smiling first officer, and instead his flat mouth is deadly serious.
The colours are a great combination, that was almost offensive in 1986, but within a few years neon would be everywhere.
He fit well within the 1986 or 1987 colour palette and futuristic aesthetic, but would have looked out of place in the Joe line any other year before 1991. The silver, black and neon green provide such contrast, and are used effectively to accentuate the mould’s top features.
His rifle is large but well done, and I don’t doubt that it was one of the reasons Donny fell for him more so than other Joes. There’s good detailing on the power pack backpack, and some slots to allow him to put his rifle away and free up his hands, if he was scrabbling up rocks or helping carry an injured teammate, for example. The cord is standard Joe-issue, and overall he has a nice equipment set. He far outsteps Iceberg and Monkeywrench in this regard, but trails Lifeline, Mainframe and Wet-Suit.
It’s hard to put my feelings for Sci-Fi in perspective now. He was one of my least favourite figures in his release year, but the fifth series was among my favourites. He was one of my friend’s favourites, and he found a perfect niche role a year later when he joined Battle Force 2000 to simulate the interplanetary marine corps from Aliens. And he has become less of an eyesore to me, since I opened up my collection beyond 1988. It would be ridiculous to say I have an issue with Sci-Fi while appreciating Star Brigade.
In the end, Sci-Fi may be the only figure to fit into the mixed bucket of semi-important, childhood significance and going through a renaissance.
Sci-Fi was a hold-out figure from my trade of Joes for Transformers with Donny. So I think he was my friend’s favourite figure. Regardless, I acquired him in the 1980s or 1990s… likely through a yard sale, but I don’t remember, now, 30 years later.
As an adult, I eventually tracked down an MOC Sci-Fi in December 2016. I remember bidding on him, discreetly, while out at the Beach House restaurant with my wife. At the time I worried that I had overpaid for him, especially when he arrived with a cracked bubble. But he came on a Canadian card and that was special to me, and the market price now has “corrected” for my overpay in 2016.
One last side note and total coincidence. I swear! Three very talented photogs chose Sci-Fi as the subject of their GI Joe photography challenge, on Twitter, under the hashtag: #joeoddsandevens
Check their pictures out (below) and make sure you’re following them, damn it!