When I talk about my days growing up in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, I will often refer to two people as my best friends in elementary school, Donny and Corey, since both functioned in that capacity during extended stretches. Donny had been my friend since Frobisher Bay in 1980, so we had two extra years of history together. He was always up on the newest toy line, comic book or movie, like he subscribed to some extensive commercial network for children. He was into Star Wars and GI Joe, then went hard into Transformers. But he was also into Masters of the Universe – one of my few friends who was – and later got into Visionaries with me during its short run. He had a bootlegged copy of A New Hope on VHS and introduced me to the X-Men in time for Wolverine #1. That was back when the only comics I ever noticed on the spinner rack at Wally’s Drugs were GI Joe, Tales of GI Joe, and Transformers.
My other best friend, Corey, was more religious in his devotion to Star Wars and GI Joe. When Return of the Jedi came out, I got some of the figures but none of the vehicles or playsets, quickly moving onto GI Joe as my prime toyline. But Corey had the Ewok Village and the Speeder Bike. He was my first new friend in kindergarten in 1982, before Donny’s family moved to Fort Smith. And he lived a block away for the whole time my family was in Smith. To this day, I can still name the Joe and Cobra vehicles Corey owned, including the Headquarters Command Centre, Vamp Mark II and the Rattler. He had Destro before the rest of my friends, and that ‘83 lineup was a gateway drug for both of us. And once Star Wars disappeared from retail, I don’t remember him collecting outside Joe much. In the end, he stayed with Joe even longer than I did; I remember seeing the Warthog at his place after I had already moved away from toys.
I can only assume my parents coordinated with Corey’s on Christmas and birthday gifts. Between us, we had 90% of the Joe figures and vehicles. (The most obvious exceptions were the USS Flagg and Cobra Terror Drome.) Our friendship and our collecting was symbiotic. I remember being down south and seeing Shipwreck and Snake Eyes on a store display and passing on them for other, less popular figures, because Corey already owned them. I will always associate Storm Shadow with Corey, and I’m not sure I ever got to play with the white ninja in my army when I was at his house. He would have always chosen Storm Shadow first in any schoolyard pick ‘em. But I don’t remember resenting that.
Given how much our worlds intersected, our dynamic always seemed solid.
Recently, though, when looking back through an old journal from my childhood, I found an account of a fight with Corey where I was probably in the wrong. My adult heart felt wounded to read how upset he was when he stormed off. It adds a layer of taint to my childhood that I want to scrub away.
If I made a list of my favourite GI Joe or Cobra vehicles that I didn’t own during my childhood, the Cobra Moray hydrofoil would have to be in the top five. And although I never owned it before 2014, it was still a part of my childhood because it was a vehicle Corey owned.
The Moray may be the most aesthetically-pleasing vehicle in the whole toy line. The colour combination and details were amazing. The only knocks I would ever put on the Moray are that it’s hard to complete, with the spotlight lens most frequently missing, and hard to find intact because every piece of this hydrofoil is fragile. Regardless, pound-for-pound the Moray had more play value than any other toy Hasbro produced.
You can fit at least nine figures onboard. There was a time in my collecting where I would have been hard-pressed to staff it with a full complement of Cobras! (At least not until I got all the Dreadnoks and troop builders in 1985.) It had an incredible armament, from the side torpedoes and side cannons, to the overhead cannon, to the various missiles, depth charges and side guns, plus even a dinky little laser planted between the pilot and co-pilot. In fact, it took me a few minutes to comb through it again, just to make sure I didn’t miss any of its weapon systems.
There are also an astronomical number of foot pegs: six in the back (two more than would be expected), one in the main gunner’s seat, and two in the front buckets. Those are nice touches that would have added so much to other playsets, like GI Joe’s Headquarters and the Tactical Battle Platform. There were hatches for storing rifles and removable engine covers that allowed for imagining situations where the darn thing broke down. And the extended hydrofoils, which raised its profile significantly, were almost overkill.
The Killer Whale hovercraft had been my Santa gift in 1984, one of my all-time favourite toys. But it showcased an early issue with the GI Joe line, that Cobra didn’t have strong enough equipment to match the Joes. Corey had given me the Water Moccasin for Christmas that year, and it frequently battled the Whale. But it also painted Cobra as the underdog. In my collection, Cobra’s Water Moccasin attacked the Joes’ Sharc, so the Killer Whale attacked the Water Moccasin. Then Cobra’s Rattler attacked the Whale, so the Skystriker would have to take out the Rattler. There were parts in this chain that just didn’t work, so I had to suspend my disbelief and imagine a world where the Moccasin and Whale were more evenly matched. The Whale itself became more an exploration and landing vehicle than an actual combatant, because it seemed like a bully whenever it fought the Moccasin. Down the street, Corey owned the key piece that would have evened out all my sea battles.
As an adult, I’ve owned four Morays, continually buying and selling them in an attempt to complete one unbroken vehicle. And now I’m close. Mine is complete, with one broken tab at the front of the boat. But that might be where I stop, as Morays are getting more expensive. Plus, even if I finish a completely unbroken one, some piece of 35-year old plastic might give – even sitting untouched, on display. And that would put me back to square one.
In addition to the loose Moray I own, I have a Canadian Moray box, showcasing some of Mr. Garrido’s finest work. And I was even lucky enough to find a Mint in US Box, unassembled Moray a few years ago, from a guy who swears he got it from a former Hasbro employee. It’s an incredible time machine and someday I might assemble it!
As for Corey, we were in contact for a few years after my family left Fort Smith. Our parents still exchange Christmas cards, but Corey and I haven’t seen each other in 20 years. In addition to just catching up, I’d be interested to know what he thinks of collecting GI Joes. I wonder whether he hasn’t thought of these toys in years, and whether seeing my collection would flood him with the kind of childhood memories I cherish so much.
One day I’ll look him up to find out.