From 1982 to 1994, every series of GI Joe had its share of gems and duds, of military realism and science fiction aspects, of muted earth tones, camouflage and bright colours, of designers demonstrating their love for the toys through their work, and unfortunate proof that sometimes they were being pushed to save a few dollars by cutting corners. So as hard as it to argue that one year is better than any other (*cough, 1983, cough*) it’s also hard not to acknowledge that every year was special, in its own way.
For 1989, there were so many incredible aspects. There were some faithfully reinvented fan-favourites (Snake Eyes, Stalker, Rock ‘n Roll), some new classic troops (Alley Viper, Night Viper), some incredible repaints (Shockwave, Python Officer, Python Viper), some high quality new vehicles (Condor Z25, Hiss II), and some great rehashed vehicles (Night Boomer, Night Ray, Python Conquest).
One the most incredible, under-appreciated gems was the Slaughter’s Marauders Equalizer.
As a pre-teen kid who had just left GI Joe before Tiger Force and Python Patrol, I didn’t feel particularly impressed by the repaints when I browsed the toy aisle. I thought it was a lazy approach to toy sales, and that belief went all the way back to my underwhelming experience owning both green and tan versions of Grunt.
Now, I appreciate the varying colours of repaints as an appreciable difference for some of my favourite figures.
The happy medium – something that was rarely seen in the ARAH toyline – was an older vehicle that received both a repainted colour scheme AND augmentations. That’s where the three Slaughter’s Marauders vehicles landed, with the SM Armadillo based on the 1985 Armadillo, the SM Lynx based on the 1983 Wolverine, and the SM Equalizer based on the 1985 Mauler.
As much as I hated repaints as a kid, I gravitate to them now. But the Equalizer isn’t a simple repaint of the Mauler. Arguably, it’s an improvement on what was a classic design. And when I saw it live, for the first time, I knew I had to find a way to acquire one.
I had seen the pictures of the Equalizer in the Bellomo guidebook, yet I wanted to deny that it existed, since I had never seen one in real-life. But my friend, Dan, had one that he had purchased from a famous swap shop in Las Vegas, and he showed it to me when I was over at his house, working on a trade.
It was probably appropriate that he had it on display underneath the table that held his USS Flagg, since the moment I saw it in person, my jaw dropped. It was an imposing and believable powerhouse. And it was so unique looking that some people might not have even seen the connection between it and the Mauler.
The boys in Brazil had killed it.
1988 felt like a safe year for the GI Joe line, with realistic figures in dark colours. (Nothing wrong with that, just saying.) The vehicles were a little more adventurous and futuristic, but the Stealth, Desert Fox and Warthog were clearly born on this world. The Cobras were less cuckoo than the 1987s had been, and even the futuristic Iron Grenadiers had elements of traditional warfare.
When 1989 hit, the Joe figure designers were still playing safe. I mean, the Cobras continued to be unconcerned with subtlety on the battlefield, continuing to brighten their outfits in order to be easier targets. But it would be a few years, yet, before the Joes would say, “To hell with this. We’re going full neon.”
Now, in this connected, collector world, we know all about domestic variants, custom figures and foreign repaints. And we can appreciate what was being done in other countries: sometimes grounded, sometimes floating to the moon, almost always charming. But back then we didn’t have all that exposure to the innovation of foreign designers. Pawtucket, however, caught wind of some amazing, creative work being done on the Estrella toyline in Brazil, and had the foresight to import some of the best toys to North America.
The Slaughter’s Marauders figures were decent enough in quality, other than the plastic (i.e. crotches and thumbs that snapped like the original straight-arms). And they had uniform colours that were not too far from realism, apart from the bright blue highlights on each figure. Aesthetically, they were quite pleasing, and they had selected some of the best figures to repaint, including Mutt, Spirit, Footloose and Low-Light.
But, oh man. Those vehicles!
The Armadillo, Lynx and Equalizer followed a different colour formula than the Slaughter’s Marauders figures, jettisoning the blue and using more moderate brown and greens, as well as grey in place of black. While the figures might be just a little too blue and bright to use on traditional battlefields, the vehicles were more than welcome in those venues.
The Equalizer was so realistic that it would have even matched well with the original versions of Flint, Footloose and Lt. Falcon.
While the Armadillo and Lynx are top-heavy, due to their outsized missiles and cannon, the Equalizer has armaments it seems capable of supporting. There are big missiles, yes, but they don’t look out of place. And the cannons are smaller, more reserved. If they had gone bigger, they would have missed the mark, but instead the Brazilian designers hit the right balance.
I’m no expert in tanks – not like 10 year old me – but the upper half looks to be inspired by some real-life tank. It’s beautiful, given that so little of the Joe toys were grounded in reality anymore. So the Equalizer feels both original and realistic, one of the last great, realistic, land-based Joe vehicles.
Many of the features that provided the Mauler such strong differentiation from the Mobat were carried forward into the Equalizer, including the engine covers, the covered operator seats and the tool panels. And those couple well with all the new armaments and features, including new radar gadgetry and a third, armed seat. Some of the finicky pieces are kept, including the antennas and grenade launchers, and the ever-flimsy tow cable is there, too, for a new generation of kids to curse over loosing or breaking.
Apart from removing the main turret, the biggest change is that the motor has been removed, reducing the weight of the vehicle by removing the key play feature. It’s a good strategy, given how much being motorized was a detriment to playing with the Mauler. I can remember removing the treads on my tanks, in order to play with them against a bunch of other vehicles that were more nimble and didn’t rely on batteries. (No more having to push those old boat anchors around the battlefield of my bedroom floor!)
The rubber tracks and plastic drive wheels have been replaced by plastic, moulded, faux tracks, with dummy wheels, reminiscent of the Wolverine. It’s not the best corner to cut, but it is an acceptable change.
Also, interestingly, the opening to the Mauler’s battery compartment has been left in place, underneath. With the missing motor, this has become a sizeable storage chamber. As a child, I would have been tempted to hide my Guns ‘n Roses or NWA tapes there, had I grown up with stricter parents.
Now that I think about it, it might be the ideal place to hide jewelry from my wife, since I know she’ll never inspect any of my toys.
The Equalizer came into my possession late in 2018, having spent a few months searching for it, after seeing it at my friend’s house.
It was the first post-1988 vehicle I ever put on display. Sure, it would have been a pain to store away, but mostly it was put out because it was just too damn impressive to be hidden away.
The Equalizer arrived via eBay. It came with a cut-out of the Canadian box front. I’d much rather own the actual box, but it is still the artwork, so this is the next best thing. And right now I have no idea where that cut-out is…
Currently, the Equalizer is on the top of the bookcase where I display my foreign and pricier, domestic Joes, driven by some of my favourite Slaughter’s Marauders, including Low-Light, Footloose and the good Sergeant himself. It’s beside its predecessor, the Mauler, and not too far from the APC and Tomahawk, and it doesn’t look out of place in the company of classics, itself part of an American toy line, designed in Brazil and (this one) labeled with Canadian stickers.
I had never even dreamed about owning it, even a few years ago.
There’s nothing better than discovering something vintage, that’s new to you. It’s probably what gives me the greatest joy, now, as an adult toy collector.