I had a soft spot for my vehicle drivers, before the Cobra drivers became a nameless hoard, before all the GI Joe drivers became generic, cardboard good guys. My first Joe driver was Ace, followed by Steeler, Wild Bill, Deep Six, Cutter, etc. Every one of them became a core member of my Joe team, whether they were the pilot of the Skystriker or the driver of the MCC. But the best driver, the most important to me, was Ace.
There were a number of reasons for that:
1) The Skystriker was my first big vehicle, the centre of my Joe world until the Killer Whale arrived,
2) The Skystriker was my favourite vehicle during that time, and
3) The personality profile for Ace from his filecard most mimicked Han Solo while GI Joe was replacing Star Wars as my favourite toyline.
(That the two pilots were rogues couldn’t have been a coincidence.)
Although Ace’s outfit was bland, and his lack of weapons made him useless away from his jet, I couldn’t see those flaws early on. They weren’t apparent on the morning he arrived, and they wouldn’t become apparent for a long damn time.
Fast forward to high school: the wealth I had amassed working as a stock clerk at a grocery store ($7/hour!) meant that I had some money to explore my fancies. Getting back into collecting GI Joes for a brief time in my teen years was a biproduct of having disposable income, and having experienced some loss in my life and already feeling a nostalgia for a simpler age.
I started collecting again when I found refreshed versions of some of my favourite childhood Joes: Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Stalker and Wild Bill. They never quite filled the hole inside, though, because they weren’t the same Joes I remembered. But they allowed me to take another step into the realm of nostalgia, as they featured promotional materials that allowed me to reach back even further.
The Hasbro Canada “Premium Offers” catalog from the early 1990s provided an open door to my childhood, through a surprisingly impressive lineup of vehicles and figures from the 1980s. And when I saw it, it didn’t take any convincing for me to order some toys.
In the Premium Offers booklet, Ace and Major Bludd were the spokespeople for the brand. They were on the cover, and presumably they would also arrive in your mailbox (6-8 weeks later) when you made your order.
With buying vehicles, I focused on those I had never owned (the APC, Hiss, and Firebat) while skipping out on the underwhelming vehicles I used to own (the Skyhawk and Sharc). That I passed on the Pac Rats wasn’t entirely surprising; they were intriguing because I had never played with them, but since they couldn’t hold figures, were odd shapes, and rarely appeared in the cartoon or comic, I always suspected that they were crappy toys. That I passed on the Ferret is a little more surprising; I had played with the Ferret as a child and liked it, but I wasn’t sure it was worth the money Hasbro was asking… Now I’d buy them all! But back then, $6.50 was almost an hour of collecting carts, stocking shelves and “facing” product.
As for the figures, I decided to grab everyone I used to own, plus any figure who had left a significant impression on my childhood. That meant the Cobra Officer (who I owned) and Serpentor (who left an impression). Sgt. Slaughter wasn’t a slam dunk, even though I remembered him from my childhood. Although he was a good guy in my GI Joe memories, he was a villain in my wrestling memories. And the Stinger Driver and Motor Viper, who are firmly entrenched in my childhood, were passed over. Though I’m at a loss as to why.
A lot of my choices were the figures I most regretted not owning, or the figures I loved the most from that offer booklet. Category 1 = Major Bludd, Hiss Driver, Serpentor, Crankcase, Thunder, Jinx, “Admiral”, Slipstream and Spirit. Category 2 was limited to Cobra Officer, Cobra Commander, Copperhead and Frostbite.
Ace was clearly from the second category, however something funny happened on his way to Yellowknife.
One might expect that a pamphlet with the 1983 version of Ace on the cover would suggest that checking off a box next to the name, “Ace”, would eventually lead to the 1983 Ace arriving in your mailbox. Well, unfortunately that’s not what happened.
I received Major Bludd, Hooded Cobra Commander, Cobra Officer, Sepentor… as expected. However, Jinx was replaced by Ice Viper, Keel Haul was replaced by Lampreys, and my hope for the 1984 Spirit was dashed by his replacement, 1992 Spirit.
As for Ace, I got the 1992 version.
Initially, the substitution for 1983 Ace was a huge disappointment. The original Skystriker pilot was such a significant part of my childhood, the 1983 Joes were my favourite series, and Ace was still my favourite vehicle driver. (I had never held it against him that he inadvertently created Cobra Island in the comic book.)
In the infamous yard sale of 1991, I sold Ace with the Skystriker. And an offer booklet with his picture on it was a perfect chance to bring my favourite pilot back into my collection. But it was not meant to be, and instead of arriving in 1994, he didn’t rejoin my collection until 2009, represented in the meantime by his 1992 version. (His ride, the Skystriker, wouldn’t come into my possession until 2014.) Not that Ace or the Skystriker was rare, just that I didn’t do much collecting in the interim. And leaving them outside my collection afforded them cache value that was almost better than owning them.
As for the 1992 Ace, his only sin is that he isn’t the 1983 version. But if I had never seen the first version growing up, and was coming to this with fresh eyes, and the two versions were put in front of me, there is no way in hell that I would choose the 1983 version over 1992. V1 was just too bland and bubbly. So the 1992 version’s main strength is also that he isn’t the 1983 version.
As a figure, this version of Ace is impressive. He was originally included with a Battle Copter, and that is an undersell, if I’ve ever seen one. Hasbro was smart enough to repaint and repackage him the following year, with the Ghoststriker X-16, but still…
The 1992 version is stunning. The two-tone blue flight suit is gorgeous. I am always partial to blue figures, whether the earliest Cobras and their Commander or the 1988 Shockwave. This is a different blue, but no less fetching. The design is exactly as you would expect from a pilot: the harness, packs on his chest, the turtleneck, gloves, flight boots, even the boot pistol. The detailing is a bit soft in places, but it is strong, overall. And limiting him to just three body colours (two blues, plus black boots and gloves) was a smart, minimalist approach. It also is a great contrast with the bright red of his hair. The original wasn’t the same level of ginger, but it might have brightened as he got older, and GI Joe characters have a history of spending their pay cheques on hair dye.
As for the accessories, the original had a nice, see-through helmet that worked well with his collar. This guy’s accessories have taken a step forward, with his helmet, face mask that plugged into a hole in his chest (a throwback to Ripcord), and a black repainted rifle from fellow member of the Blue Man Group, Shockwave.
I grew up in a time where one accessory per driver was the norm – whether helmet, knife, hammer or rifle – and none was common. Figures like Steeler, with his helmet, visor and Uzi, Thunder with his complex helmet system and monocular, or Crankcase with a helmet and rifle, could make a kid feel spoiled. So my expectations would have been low, and if I had received him with the vehicle, the three-piece accessory set would have impressed the hell out of me.
Overall, it’s a great look for Ace, a great refresh, and respectful of his legacy as one of the most important Joe drivers.
That he was packaged with the Battle Copter, while various, lesser pilots were released with other vehicles and the character sat untapped for nine years, seems ridiculous. It is arguable that the 1993 version is better, but they both have their merit. And their wouldn’t have been a 1993 version, if not for this 1992 version.
Going back to the package I received from Hasbro in 1994, I have no regrets about this figure. Being an 80s purist at the time, I didn’t like him as much as I should have, but once I got past the initial shock of his appearance as a substitute, I really appreciated him. Compared to the 1992 version of Spirit, with his tiny head and extreme contrasting colours, this guy was a frickin’ gem.
I held onto this version of Ace for 23 years, far outlasting his predecessor’s 8 years in my collection. Then I parted with him when I purged my 1990 figures, before deciding one year later that I actually wanted to collect the later, post-childhood figures. I felt an unexpected nostalgia for him when we parted, because I saw him as a version of my favourite driver, because he was of such high quality, and because he was a link to a short but eventful period in my collecting life: the high school months. So I tracked him down again a short time later.
I don’t think this figure will stick around in my collection for another 23 years… But it will a long damn time before I part with him again.