03 September 2014

FWS Military Sci-Fi Toys: The G.I. JOE STAR BRIGADE Toyline (1993-1994)

In terms of toylines and their continued nostalgic value, the 1980's may have been the zenith of such powerhouses toylines like The Transformers, Micromachines, Star Wars, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and of course, G.I.Joe: Real American Hero. Varying concepts were used and developed of just how to bring products to the marketplace, propelling kids to separate their parents from their cash. This was the time of the cartoon-toyline-tie-in-series, and non-toy products that further building the brand and rose the toys visibility. However, by the 1990's, the game had changed and the generation that bought these legendary 1980's toys were now interested in video games, cars, and girls. This created hardtimes for these familiar brands, and many disappeared. It was reinvent yourself or parish, and Hasbro decided to reinvent the Joes with some bold new sub-lines from the iconic Real American Hero toyline. One of these new lines of Joes was the result of what happens when GI Joe meets STARCOM: the US Space Force, GI Joe: Star Brigade.While I buy and collected GI Joes during their meteoric rise in the 1980's, I have no memory of this space Joe toyline of '93 and '94. These toys were released during my sophomore and junior years in high school, and toys were the last thing on my mind.Today, FWS will be covering the forgotten GI JOE military science fiction 1993-1994 toyline Star Brigade.

Why are the Joes in Outer Space Anyways?
According to the limited background information, the Joes' Star Brigade space force was put together to counter COBRA's own space force that was setting shop on the darkside of the moon. One of the interesting elements of the space units of Joe and COBRA was that some of their recruits into the space teams were not human or worked off-world. Take Space-shot, the Joes' hot-shot space pilot. His own Filecard says that he works as an space freighter pilot and is known throughout the galaxy, and Duke accepts Space-Shot into the Joes due to his experience and skills. So, what? Did he answer a want ad on indeed.com for space trucker? COBRA also had their own odd space warrior that may or may not have been human. The COBRA Blackstar Filecard says that COBRA formed an alliance with the secretive Blackstar forces that a secret society of space pilots (really?) that may not be human.

Historical Context of G.I. Joe Star Brigade Toyline
The entire concept of toys altered in the late 1970's with the emergence Kenner Star Wars toylines that launched the modern toy industry as we know today. This also altered the identity of Kenner and Hasbro as well. While Kenner raked in huge profits from the Star Wars toyline, Kenner was paying a great deal of money to Lucasfilms, and their most successful toyline was at the mercy of the Star Wars brand. Hasbro owned GI Joe fully, the profits were Hasbro, allowing that money to be channeled to other projects. By the 1980's, the toy world was at an apex of the popularity, with billions in sales and new market strategies. Part of this was helped by the abandonment of the old 12inch figure during the Oil Crisis, for the 3 3/4inch figures, allowing for smaller playsets and conformity to the rest of the action figures (save for He-Man).
Easily, one of the most popular 1980's toyline was the relaunch of G.I. Joe under the name Real American Hero in 1982. While Hasbro reaped heavy profits from the toyline that reached the peak of sales during 1986, by the early 1990's the Joes were in trouble. Kids of the 1990's were buying heavily armed mutated turtles, boldly colored teenage space ninjas that battled Kaiju, and plastic dinosaurs from an very popular movie. All of the new successful toylines were cramming out G.I. Joes right off of the toy shelves. In order to survive, the Joes sold out, and got brightly colored space armor and fought space aliens. One of the historical factor that GI Joe could not fight against was the continued popularity of home video game consoles.

The Story of the G.I. Joe Star Brigade Toyline
1991 is a critical year for GI Joe history, and what happened in that year, altered GI Joe history and created the Star Brigade toyline of 1993/1994. The 1982 relaunched GI Joe: Real American Hero at its best sales year in 1986, and it was a slow decline after that. In 1991, the world of American toys changed with Hasbro buying several well known toy companies, including Kenner. At the time, Kenner was play two projects that worried the Hasbro: the relaunch of their Star Wars line and the new ALIENS toyline (more on that toyline in a future blogpost).
During the 1990's, Kenner made plans to relaunch the core Star Wars line of figure with their Power of the Force II line in 1995. With Kenner and Hasbro under one company, but still competing for shelve space and market share, the Joes had to respond with their own toyline to capture the 8-12 boy demographic. Also, it was believed by Hasbro that the Gulf War of 1991 would led to a downturn in "war toy" sales. The company falsely believed that during the Vietnam War, that sales were hurt of the original 12inch Joes. Couple these factors with the rising popularity of the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers and Teenager Mutant Ninja Turtles. 
What Hasbro planned on doing was countering each of the incoming threats to the GI Joe toyline with their own unique toyline, expanding the core line into a boarder line of toys. This is similar to what Porsche is presently doing. It was hoped that the GI Joe name would also help retailers by appealing to various market trends. This took the form of Special Units, with the new ninja line, monsters of the Manimals Line, the counter for the Jurassic Park toys, the GI Joe: Dino Hunters, the Eco-warriors line, the Street Figther line, and space soldier astronaut battling aliens in this new GI Joe: Star Brigade, and all were under the umbra of the GI Joe universe of the 1990's. Attempting to draw the children in, bigger guns were added in bolder neon colors with spring-firing weapons to the figures to much of the entire lines. Core fans hated the changes, and avoided collecting the new Joe "Special units" lines. To make matters worse, each of the new Special Unit lines were given appearances in the Marvel Comic series. In 1993, the first Star Brigade figures were released along with three vehicles: the Invader, the Armor-Bot, and the Starfighter.
This first series was composed of COBRA and Joe space soldiers, some regular soldiers and others of the "Armor Tech" variety. In all, the first series of Star Brigade had some 15 figures, and some were long term alumni of the GI Joe universe. The Star Brigade toyline was expanded in 1994 with the addition of 14 figures and two "Power fighter" CLASS-II Exoskeleton suits that came with two exclusive figures. Little information exists on sales numbers, but it was bad enough that by 1994, that several other sub-lines of the series, along with figure and vehicles associated with the Star Brigade toyline that were in development, were all cancelled. By 1995, the Star Brigade toyline was dead and condemned to the bargain-bins and outlet malls of the world, along with the entire Hasbro GI Joe: Real American Hero toyline. The end of an era.       

This Isn't the First Time Either...
Space-based astronaut Joes are nothing new. During the Space Race, GI Joe got an space capsule based on the NASA Mercury Space Capsule in the mid-1960's. However, during the 1970's, things got funky. I learned, via Plaidstallions.com, that the Joes of the disco era where interstellar space travelin' as well. Oh, sweet Lords of Kobol! It seems that in 1976, Hasbro abandoned the 12 inch line, and came out with the 8 inch battery operated "super GI Joe" toyline of 1977-1978. Capitalizing on the emerging sci-fi trend, Hasbro put a elite team of Joes into space to battle green-skinned lizard-aliens. These were goofy figures with a goofy alien enemy named "Gor" from the planet Terron ...maybe the guys and gals in the Hasbro toy development office were getting high and watching reruns of Star Trek...hey, it was the 1970's, man! The Joes figures numbered three, and were: Commander Power (is he related to Captain Power?), Super Joe (no shit), Luminosc, and Shield. The line was dead by 1977 when the very cool Kenner Star Wars toyline came out and crushed everyone else. Space would once again be conquered by the Joes with several 1980's space vehicles. In 1988, Hasbro would release the awesome (and expensive) Defiant space shuttle playset, followed by the smaller Crusader shuttle in 1990. Today, a nearly complete and good condition Defiant space shuttle playset is valued over a thousand dollars. I would love to have one of these for the FWS offices.

The Complete Star Brigade 1993/1994 Toyline

The 3 3/4 Figures:

Star Brigade
Much like of the GI Joe: Real American Hero toyline, the bulk of the figures were the Joes, and many of the Star Brigade figures were comprised of familiar Joe members, like Duke, Roadblock, and Rock-n-Roll. This was to save some cash with molding new figures. Some had old names attached to new figure molds as well, like Sci-Fi. About 10 Joes were released with Sci-fi being boxed with the Star-Fighter vehicle in the first 1993 wave. In the following and final year of Star Brigade, 1994, about 9 Joes were released, with the Gears figure being packaged with the Power-Fighter powered exoskeleton. Like most of the Star Brigade line, the Joe figures were mixed between the Armor-Tech and the “normal” spacesuit wearing soldiers. All were outfitted int garish colored weaponry and combat-rated spacesuits. Most Joe figures, like Ozone, Payload, Countdown and Roadblock received color variants in the 1993 and 1994 lines. Some collects have commented that the Star Brigade, like many of the last generation figures were of high quality and featured some unique touches not seen on any GI Joe figure before or since. If the Star Brigade line had not been cancelled in 1994, there would have more Joes to fight COBRA and the aliens.

The Space Forces of COBRA were similar to the Joe space soldiers; some were comprised of familiar COBRA characters, like Destro, Cobra Commander, and the next-gen B.A.T. In the 1993 line, only 4 out of the entire line were COBRA, and two of those were Armor-tech. It was worse in 1994, when only three COBRA figures were released. It seems that if the “GI Joes in outer space” line had continued in 1995 and beyond, that a few more COBRA figures would have been released, including an space pilot with the prototyped COBRA space "Interceptor" fighter. We also know that COBRA would have gotten another Power-Fighter exoskeleton, and it is believed some sort of "manimal terminator" figure. Unlike the Joe line, there were fewer repaints and recycled figures from the 1993 line to the 1994 line. However, as per usual with most everything COBRA, they received the lesser amount of figures. Out of the 28 human Star Brigade figures, six only were members of COBRA, and two of those wee fingers under the "Armor-Tech" label.

The Lunartix Empire 
In the 1994 release of Star Brigade figures, a new faction  in the war in Terran space was added: the Lunartix Empire. Not much is ever made of these aliens, nor who they serve. The official three Lunartix Empire aliens figures released were the equivalent of ronin, bounty hunters, and killers. They were in the Sol system to hunt and kill either human faction. Information varies on why on why these ugly mother fuckers were invading the Earth. The most "unique" alien figure was Lobotomaxx, and lizard-like multi-leg/arm green beastie that was more terrifying in the packaging art than the figure. Born on planet Zog in the Morus Section 5 (seriously?) equipped with all manner knives, laser blasters, with tail and venom teeths, Lobotomaxx was a bounty hunter and killer of aliens. In Mexican variant, Lobotomaxx was a sickly yellow repaint. Partnered with Lobotomaxx was Carcass, another alien psychopath. Born on planet Mirtonia in Quadrant 4, Carcass was an one-alien-army that killed and hunted, that much like Groo, reaped death and destruction. He is not trusted by the other Lunartix Imperial aliens. Then there was Predacon, who looks and is named too close to the Yautja from Predator...which is what Hasbro was hoping for. Predacon was born in the Badlands of planet Trilenium in a certain clan on this world. Later, Predacon would became an interstellar arm wrestling champion (no shit) and alien tracking. He makes money by selling interstellar criminals. Like many of the Lunartix aliens, he is armed to the fucking to teeth, no less than 6 weapons. These three aliens bounty hunters and murders were the only three figures of the Lunartix Empire line. These figures were released in Mexico with a repaint.

In late 1994, Hasbro was in the developmental phase of an sub-line of monstrous alien figures of the Lunartix Empire: the Manimals. These six aliens were to convert to another form that even more menacing and deadly. This ability was also seen the Kenner The Real Ghostbusters toyline, and it seemed that Hasbro mined this for the Manimals sub-line. These figures were larger than the typical 3 3/4inch figures, due to the transformable abilities. It is uncertain how these new alien figures would have fit into the overall GI Joe universe, given their tie to the Kenner The Real Ghostbusters toyline. Three of the Manimals figures were released by KayBee Toys around 2001, but were not successful, and were heavily discounted and then disappeared. One of these issues of the Manimals line was their breakability. Some of the figures of the KayBee line broke in shipping. The prototype figures of the Manimals line are some of valuable Joe figures. One of the two unopened carded full-mockup Vortex Manimal figure sold for $20,000.

The Power Fighter Figures
In 1994, the Star Brigade toyline would add combat open cockpit CLASS-II exo-suits, one Joe, one COBRA that, according to the box, were engaged on battles on the Moon. This was attempt to grow the line and capture some of the "mecha" attention. Each power-fighter got an exclusive figure, and each exo-suit was differed from COBRA to Joe in terms of colors, armament, and over design of the exo-armor. The Power-Fighter line had a number of spring-firing rockets and missiles, but the play-vehicles themselves were not battery powered. While only two Power-Fighter exoskeleton suits were released, Hasbro had plans for more Power-Fighters, one of these, "Astroblaster" was an COBRA exo-suit fitted laser point, and another was planned an exo-suit with General Hawk.

The Armor-Tech
Adding to the science fiction space combat angle of the Star Brigade line was the "Armor-Tech" sub-line of figures. Both the Joes and COBRA got their share of these heavily armored space soldiers that were much bulkier than the normal 3 3/4inch figures of the line. Armor-Tech figures would comprised 7 figures out of the total '93 release of 14. There were no Armor-Tech figures released in the 1994 line. Armor-Tech figures were a way for Hasbro to incorporate spring-firing rockets and missiles into the new series of figures, with some more sci-finess, with cybric elements, combat space powered armored suits, and heavier weapons. Along with the normal human space warriors, both COBRA and Joe had cybernic and/or fully robotic soldiers with the Joes' ROBO-Joe and COBRA B.A.A.T. If there had been an 1995 Star Brigade line, there would have been more Armor-Tech figures, some even devoted to countering the Manimal monsters.    

The Vehicles:

Star Brigade
Only two Star Brigade vehicles would make to market prior to the cancellation of the entire series; one was the Star-Fighter and the other was the Armor-Bot. The Star-Fighter came with an exclusive "Sci-Fi" pilot figure that was an upgraded figure from the old Sci-Fi, and given a new paintjob. The Star-Fighter vehicles looks more like something from the Kenner Star Wars line, however, the Star-Fighter was an repaint of an earlier GI Joe space fighter. In 1988, Hasbro would release the Joe Space Shuttle Defiant and for COBRA to counter that, they had the bold red paint scheme COBRA Stellar Stiletto. The Stellar Stiletto was discontinued in 1990, only to be repainted and placed back into space service three years later.
The other Star Brigade Joe vehicle was the "Armor-Bot", and this was unlike anything in the GI Joe line before. Appearing more like the ED-209's outer space cousin or a member of the long-lost Robotix 1986 toyline, Armor-Bot was the only combat humanform mecha in the GI Joe toyline. Armed to the teeth with cannons, lasers, and missiles, the Armor-Bot was also battery powered for robotic voice ability and light-up cannon. The Armor-Bot massive piloted mecha towered over the other elements of the Star Brigade toyline. In the advert for the Armor-Bot, we can see it wrecking havoc on the Lunar battlefield. Like many of the outlandish and larger war vehicle toys of the GI Joe line, few of us had them and it is remembered by many. Today, the Armor-Bot sells for about $50 to $100 on Ebay, and does not appear to be rare. I originally believed that the Armor-Bot was some sort of RC robot toy, however, it seems that a figure sat in the "head" portion of the mecha, and the "powered" function was limited to the voice and light-up laser cannon.  The Armor-Bot was packaged with an Armor Tech "Hawk" figure that was exclusive to the Armor-Bot. It is unknown of Hasbro was planning on more Armor-Bot like toys if the Star Brigade line had continued.

While the Joes' got all the cool vehicles of the Star Brigade line, COBRA was given the shit. The only COBRA vehicle to make to shelves was a repaint of the old bullshit Pogo Ballistic Ball toy vehicle from 1987 to 1989. The Invader appears more like something used by the Drac from Enemy Mine than an human space force. The Invader was an important symbol of the entire Star Brigade line. The Invader was an attempt to bring a COBRA vehicle to the line without incurring more cost, but it was a lame toy before the repaint and really showed that Hasbro was more interested in the Space Joes fighting aliens from the Lunartix Empire than COBRA. However, if the Star Briadge toyline had been allowed to continue on, there would have an proper COBRA space fighter as well in 1995.

What Happened to Star Brigade?
While there were high hopes forthe Star Brigade toyline in 1993, Hasbro would only product the Star Brigade toyline for only one full year, and by the second series in 1994, it was clear that the toys were not selling up to expectations. One year later, the Star Brigade toyline was off of the shelves, canceled by the company, the unsold remnants were in the bargain bin or outlet mall toy stories. Hasbro's grander plans to have the Star Brigade grow into a separate arm of the G.I. Joe universe were stillborn. Plans included a new Star Brigade animated limited TV series, more tie-ins to the central G.I. Joe comic series, and expansion of the 93/94 toyline.
Soon, Hasbro canceled the entire GI Joe: Real American Hero toyline, and Star Brigade disappeared from memory. Why did Star Brigade fail? Part of it was Hasbro's timing to the market. As we stated above, the 1990's were in flux with regards to boys toys and the continued survival of the 1980's powerhouse toylines after that generation was now interested in girls and cars. Hasbro had hoped to convince the new generation of kids to buy into the space Joe toys, but it was the wrong time for that as well. After all, these brightly colored Joes looked more like the TMNT toys than the real-life war heroes of Desert Storm. The time for Star Brigade was during the 1980's. During this decade, we had all of the right factors that could have led a successful space joe toyline. Science fiction was at feverish popular, along with sci-fi toys with the afterglow of Star Wars. This is also the time when the cartoon-toyline-tie-in format was still largely successful and expected by us 1980's kids. Space and robot toys were also in vogue during to the 2nd Wave of anime/manga. Also at this time, there was the Space Shuttle program, NASA space education in public schools, and President Reagan's military space program, SDI. All of the factors added to the right time when the addition of an space-based GI Joe toyline would have been better received by consumers.

The Unproduced Star Brigade Figures and Vehicles
What would have happened if the Star Brigade was allowed to continue after 1994? We have some hints and clues with prototype figures and the interviews conducted by Joedeclassified. In the Joes, we have gone a few more figures, with some devoted to counter the alien mance of the Lunartix Empire. If the Manimals line had entered production, we would have seen "Striker", the Joes' "Manimal Terminator", who would have come with an video to explain the Manimals' origins.
There is no information on any Joe playsets or new vehicles. Some fans have said there were rumors of bring another space shuttle out or even an lunar Joe base, as seen in some of the adverts of the time. While COBRA would have received a few more figures, the biggest unproduced product was the COBRA Interceptor space fighter. This would have COBRA's first proper space vehicle in the Star Brigade toyline, replacing that shitty Invader. The Interceptor made to the early prototype phase when the line was cancelled. There were two other sub-lines in development when the line was ended in 1994: the Replicators and the Alien Encounters. The Replicators were going to be a sub-line that had alien using skins of the Joes and COBRA to conquer the Earth and this another toy used to undercut the Kenner ALIENS toyline. The role of these doppelgangers was to weaken the Earth's defense prior to full scale invasion. Six Replicators comprised of the core characters of GI Joe, however, the Replicators were only in early prototype phase when Star Brigade was discounted. Alien Encounters would have a two pack of an new type of alien Lunartix Empire figure with an Joe. These even more monsterious aliens would been another swipe at the Kenner ALIENS line. These were in early concept mockups and drawings when the entire toyline was cancelled.    

The Legacy of G.I. Joe: Star Brigade
In 1994, Hasbro would see the writing on the wall, and end the whole GI Joe: Real American Hero toyline, and the failure of Star Brigade was blamed as part of the factor behind that decision by the company. While my generation still fondly remembers the original 1980's GI Joe  toyline and collects them to this day, few collectors seek out the Star Brigade toyline. That could be the true legacy of this failed space Joe toyline; it still being forgotten and ignored by the core fans and collectors. In terms of that collector GI Joe market, the Star Brigade were collected back when new, like many of the more modern Star Wars toylines, and many of those toys were never opened, and packed away for that one day when they would be worth something. On the other side, the few loose figures are sold lacking accessories, as are many played with Joes, but unlike other previous lines, collectors continue to have a difficult time completing their loose figures due to the low sales of the line in the 1990's. Most of the Star Brigade toys today sell for about $25-30, with that robot mech thing selling for about $100 complete. Still, the core of serious GI Joe collectors only buy the line to complete their collection and not for the love for the Star Brigade itself. If it was not for the internet, it is likely that few (including me) would remember the time when Joe fought COBRA and the Lunartix Empire in outer space. Even when toy and Joe websites discuss the Star Brigade toyline, it is often mentioned for its failure, for its oddness, and generally, the WTF factor. One of the few appearances of the Star Brigade after the cancellation was in the 2007, Dreamwave Productions of Canada two-part comic crossover for the Joes and the Transformers, called Black Horizons. In this space adventure, we see the infamous hostile aliens of the Lunartix Empire appear.

Next Time on FWS...
There are few debates that are wages as often and as hotly as the M-16 vs. the AK-47. Even nations argued over this, and often were trapped by loyalty to either the Warsaw Pact or NATO. In the mid-1970's, Israel attempted to solve the issues of the AK-47 and the M-16 by forging their own weapon that solved the problems of both assault rifles and capitalizing on the advantages. This weapon was the IMI Galili assault rifle, and for a brief time, it was the standard IDF assault rifle, that served on the frontlines during the 1982 Invasion of Lebanon. If you've never heard of the Galil, you can be forgiving, the weapon had a very short service life, much like the American M-14, and was quickly replaced by the various Colt M-16 carbines. FWS will remember and profile this unique assault rifle in the next installment of the Forgotten Classics blogpost series.


  1. Great post! I don't think I've ever seen Star Brigade covered so thoroughly. I, too, missed Star Brigade during my first pass through G.I. Joe as a kid and only discovered it as an adult collector. My thoughts on it are mixed. I am definitely against the idea of aliens in G.I. Joe, and I think the Armor Tech figures are hideous (outside of the B.A.A.T.). But I really like the regular Star Brigade figures in spacesuits. The oddball Cobra Commander figure, as an example, is a gem. The element of G.I. Joe fighting Cobra in space is a pretty cool idea when you remove the aliens. I also think the regular figure designs are superb and that includes the bright colors, which I tend to enjoy but realize many fans abhor. And just like the Battle Corps subset, Star Brigade figures shared a slightly chunkier and sturdier design that I really like in '90s Joes. While I'm not too upset that Star Brigade didn't continue, I am disappointed that the cancellation of the line also took down Battle Rangers, which from unproduced prototypes seems like it would have been a return to form for Earth-based G.I. Joe toys.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it! These military sci-fi toy blogposts are fun to write, and are not as popular as other serials here on FWS, but I thought the STAR BRIGADE toyline needed a home. I love the concept of soldier-astronauts fighting spacesuit, just look at the official Derek Restivo FWS art piece! Thanks for the comment!