My childhood playtime was devoid of the two most popular GI Joe characters from the ARAH comic world: Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.
I had once owned a straight-arm Snake Eyes, acquired from the hardware store in the village of Fort Simpson, NWT, while visiting family friends in 1984. But his arm snapped off at the shoulder, a design flaw. And after that I wondered if I was destined to ever own a Snake Eyes figure…
Down the street from my house, my best friend, Corey, had added Storm Shadow to his collection around the same time, and acquired Snake Eyes v2, when he was released at retail in 1985. We tried to respect each other’s collections and not duplicate purchases, so Corey’s possession of both Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes precluded me from seeking out either, since in theory I could play with them at his house.
But, when I was over, he would work out deals to ensure that he had both ninjas in his squad. For example, he might get the first two picks of figures in exchange for me getting better vehicles. So although Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were a presence in my childhood – my opponents whenever I played with my friend’s GI Joes – I can’t remember a time when I ever got to play with either.
As a child, I realized that I would never possess every GI Joe toy. But that was my ultimate dream, the one that still drives my collecting now, as an adult. I missed out on Snake Eyes, Stalker, Cobra Soldier, the Vamp, Headquarters and Hiss, early on, and the absence of those memorable toys prepared me for not owning the USS Flagg and Cobra Terror Drome in later years. There was a point where I stopped considering trying to add Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow.
Certain thoughts continued permeating my brain, even when Storm Shadow v2 was released, just before I left GI Joe for good. Corey had first dibs.
Storm Shadow is one of the most developed characters in the comic book. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow spend so much time as the focus. With Snakes being silent, Stormy sometimes becomes his proxy. My interest in the Cobra ninja waned, however, following their big assault on Cobra Island (GI Joe #46).
After dying and coming back, Storm Shadow became such a mellow presence that I stopped caring for him. He was Billy’s mentor, and the storyline often drifted far from the military aspect that I was interested in. I liked Storm Shadow as a villain with honour, but there’s only so far the villain with honour can go until he has to either renounce his villainy or embrace it. He renounced it and was basically welcomed within arm’s reach of so many Joes, including meeting with General Hawk and his connection to Jinx.
Storm Shadow’s v1 togs became significantly less menacing once his Cobra emblem was removed, and his look became stale with his boring outfit and face frequently exposed. But the timing of his v2 outfit – both in the comics and on toy shelves – helped rebuild my interest in him.
As the 1988 figures were arriving at retail, I was getting ready to leave GI Joe behind. I had outgrown toys overall – being 11 now – with Hasbro trying desperately to hold onto me. But that 1988 series included three figures that caught my attention immediately: Shockwave, Hit & Run and Storm Shadow.
In Shockwave, we had a beautiful figure in blue camouflage and a balaclava, with a great compliment of accessories. I immediately gravitated to him, as blue was my favourite colour and so rare on the Joe team, and the balaclava tied him to two of my favourite figures: Firefly and Beach Head. I couldn’t help myself and paid $5.49 at The Bay in Fort Smith to buy him at my first opportunity, the last figure I bought in my childhood.
Hit & Run was this incredibly realistic figure that I had always been dreaming of, with camouflage that extended to his face and a tidy little rifle. He would have been the answer to my dreams in 1987, competing with Lt. Falcon, Tunnel Rat and Outback for top figure. But it was almost too little, too late.
I bought Shockwave with the full knowledge that I was outgrowing the toyline, and he might have been one last nod to the team at Hasbro and the impact they had on my childhood. Hit & Run would have been perfect if I was looking for a figure for a realistic military play theme, but I was outgrowing realistic and outgrowing military, and didn’t need a figure in that vein anymore.
Finally, in Storm Shadow, we had an incredible update of a classic – which became a classic, as well – the equivalent of Snake Eyes v2 for the kids that were still collecting GI Joe in 1988. I recognized that he was an opportunity to fill a giant hole in my collection, my last chance to own a version of Storm Shadow during my childhood.
I embraced that I would barely play with Shockwave when I bought him, but buying more than one GI Joe figure to barely play with seemed frivolous and wasteful.
Again, it was weird to have a whole mythology of GI Joe existing and being rewritten in my daily play and not have a representative of Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow, two of the most recognizable figures, in my collection.
Storm Shadow v2 seemed so much easier to acquire, since I had seen him on pegs. But I never once remembered having an opportunity to buy v1, and he had been available as part of the figure assortment for three years, from 1984 to 1986.
I might just be imagining that v2 was easier to find, but I had looked for GI Joe figures in every toy store or department store or pharmacy I had been in for years, across Canada, in the Northwest Territories, Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia… I felt like I had a pretty good, representative sample. Unless all the Storm Shadow v1s had been shipped to Manitoba, northern Ontario and Newfoundland… the places I hadn’t been. But v2 was there, hanging from a peg, the first time I saw the 88s.
I know that I agonized over whether to buy that v2. I had saved a lot of money, through my $5 base allowance and through another $5 per week for hauling wood inside for our woodstove. I also received bonds, annually, from my grandmother and the interest from these paid me handsomely whenever they matured. Competing for my disposable income were few other things: wrestling magazines, comic books, rock tapes, and a never-realized dream of buying an RC-10 remote control car.
From that memory of agonizing over whether to buy Storm Shadow v2, I chose not to buy him, because I don’t have any memories of owning or playing with him. I can clearly remember all the 87s I owned – Law, Psyche-Out, Falcon, Outback, Tunnel Rat, Chuckles, Sneak Peek, Fast Draw, Crazylegs, Cobra Commander and Croc Master, all the Battle Force 2000 figures – and the lone 88 I remember owning was Shockwave. But I do think I bought v2 at some point, as a peace offering for Corey, who my friendship was strained with.
Ultimately, I acquired Storm Shadow v2 sometime before I turned 18. I had gone through a renaissance in GI Joe collecting at 17 years old, and this led to my acquisition of figures through various means: 90s figures from the pegs at Wal-Mart, mailaway 80s figures from Hasbro Canada, 80s figures from one short-lived, local collectible store in Yellowknife, and loose figures whenever I happened upon the right yard sale. The latter is the only explanation why the shoebox of figures that survived my childhood included two 1988 figures I don’t remember owning: Tiger Force Duke and Storm Shadow v2.
Interestingly, though, I passed on a carded v2 at 17. This I now regret, after balking at the exorbitant price of $35.
Highway robbery in 1994.
Even as I was departing Joe at 11 years old, the second release of Storm Shadow was important for holding my interest just a little longer. Not only in the agony I experienced trying to decide whether to purchase him, but in the fact that he had extended my GI Joe comic book run.
From #40-up I had only missed a handful of issues of GI Joe before leaving after #81. But I came back again for #84, partly for the promise that so many secrets would be revealed – I needed closure! – and partly because I spotted Storm Shadow’s new urban camo outfit on the first page, while flipping through that issue off the spinner rack at Wally’s Drugstore in Fort Smith, my main source of comic books during the 1980s.
The same feeling of agony about whether to purchase v2 from The Bay, was the same feeling of agony I felt when I spotted GI Joe #85 – with Storm Shadow gracing the cover art – one month later.
In both instances, my maturing, more reasonable, more thoughtful self, chose to spend the money on X-Men comics: Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants and Excalibur were currently wrapped in “Inferno”, plus there was Wolverine and Classic X-Men to consider.
Storm Shadow’s second version, with its white, urban camouflage featuring various Ts, Ys, Is and Ls in dark grey, is an improvement on his first version. That might seem like sacrilege. Both versions were iconic. But by 1988, the 1984 version of Storm Shadow felt somewhat stale, whereas the 1988 version is timeless.
V1’s intricate detailing is top-notch, including his throwing stars, knife and wrist wraps. The equipment included was extensive – five pieces – but also fragile. And he felt dated, given how slim he was, more like a 1983 figure than a 1984. The moulding for the 1988 version is good, but a little soft in places. But the 1988 version felt more substantial, with a thicker body and an array of solid weapons. And the contrast created by the camo and the red tattoo and backpack is stunning.
It’s clear that the 1988 version is both an homage and derivative, but ultimately fits with a wider array of the figures released across ARAH’s 12-year run. My guess is that the 1988 version was also more fun to play with, although I had little direct experience with either from my childhood. But I can tell you that the 1984 version was never fun to play against, since he and Snake Eyes were essentially superheroes my squads had to fight.
The 1984 version was groundbreaking and more important to the success of GI Joe, more menacing, and benefitted from being completely different from the other figures on retail pegs at the time of its release. Plus there was the intrigue of being ARAH’s first ninja, and Storm Shadow’s great characterization, and relationship to Snake Eyes, in the comic book.
The 1988 version, where Storm Shadow is now packaged as a GI Joe, is one of the few redemption stories in GI Joe lore. Mercer also turned face, and no one from that era ever turned heel, but Mercer’s story was told after the fact; we were introduced to him as a Joe who was a former Cobra agent, from the start.
The way Corey played with Storm Shadow – teaming him with Snake Eyes – and the way the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow storyline progressed against Cobra in GI Joe #46, it was hard for me to think of Storm Shadow as a bad guy, so his turn in the comic book and toy was inevitable. (Just like his turn back would be inevitable, too, because you couldn’t have both unstoppable killing machines on the same side.)
As an adult collector, I was lucky to have found a mint, loose, complete (MLC) Storm Shadow v2 – the product of a forgotten garage sale find in my teen years – when I opened my box of childhood Joes in 2009. But I’ve found him again a few times since then, and his compliment of high quality, durable accessories frequently accompany him. The bow and sword don’t snap like the original, the backpack doesn’t have the breakable folding mechanism, the sword is a touch thicker, and the claws stand up remarkably well.
I was also lucky enough to find an MOC v2 in 2017, at a price that wasn’t much more than the one I’d passed on in 1994, thanks to a random eBay seller who may have underpriced his wares. It was the US version this time, not the Canadian, but it still had a connection to Canada, thanks to the Consumers Distributing sticker on the front in English and French. It makes me wonder whether all the figures sold at Consumers Distributing in Canada were US versions, a hypothesis that can only be disproven by finding a Canadian MOC with the Canadian Consumers Distributing sticker on the front, that can only be proven by confirmation from someone with intimate knowledge, a collector in Canada who has seen hundreds of these, a former, longstanding CD employee from the period, or possibly someone from Hasbro who managed their relationship with Consumers Distributing.
Luckily, the mystery doesn’t keep me up at night. I’m just happy to have this version of Storm Shadow in my collection.