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Generation 1 is the fan-designated name for the original series of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toys launched in 1982, as well as the follow up 1997-2002 series known as The Real American Hero Collection, which shared the same molds and construction as the original series.
The first "generation" of the toyline, simply titled "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero," was a line of military themed action figures. This classic series of action figures relaunched the G.I. Joe brand and became the basis for every incarnation of the G.I. Joe vs. Cobra theme, and nearly every version of the brand since.
- 1982: The first 13 characters were introduced in carded packs while a few others were bundled with vehicles. The launch of the toyline was supported by a comic book series from Marvel Comics and a number of animated commercials, several of which advertised the comic itself. As mentioned above, the first series of action figures had straight arms with elbow joints. While it is common for many characters to share the same mold for producing a body part, it is much more noticeable here as there are only a few characters, many of whom shared head sculpts. Despite these limitations, the new toyline was a success.
- 1983 to 1985: With the success of the first line of toys, Hasbro followed the next year with more new characters and filled them up with more original body part designs. In 1983, "swivel-arm battle grip" articulation and some extra tweaks were added to the new characters as well as the originals, in order to make them more poseable. In 1985, the bottom of the action figures' heads were given a ball joint which made the figures' heads the ability to look up and down. The years from 1983 to 1985 are considered by many to be the golden years of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. There were two five-part miniseries followed by a popular animated series, and the comic was one of Marvel's most successful series at the time. Many of the most popular characters were introduced around this time. Vehicles and playsets became bigger and seemed to top the design of the previous year, culminating in 1985's impressive U.S.S. Flagg playset, an aircraft carrier that measured 7½ feet (2.3 meters) long.
- 1986: Like Hasbro's other main franchise at the time, Transformers, G.I. Joe saw its popularity peak around this time but at the same time, it would be the last year that it would receive most of its multimedia support. This was to be the final year of the Sunbow cartoon series, which was a prime component of G.I. Joe's marketing. This year is also notable for the overhauling of toy packaging. The most noticeable is the change in the background for the artwork that accompanies them, as the familiar explosion background in the card artwork was replaced with a pixilated pattern of red, yellow and white. Both the Joe and Cobra factions received new commanders to lead their teams, and many of the new characters were created to replace previously phased out figures. Specifically, a new United States Marine, U.S. Navy SEAL, U.S. Army Ranger, medic, laser trooper, snow trooper and Cobra infantryman characters were featured.
- 1987: The long-awaited G.I. Joe: The Movie was intended to be released theatrically but the box office failures of two movies tied to Hasbro franchises led it to become a direct-to-video feature. It met with mixed reviews. Introducing a heavy science-fiction/fantasy element to Cobra, known as Cobra-La, it was intended to set up the status quo for Sunbow's intended third season of the animated series. Two of the largest playsets of the line were introduced: the G.I. Joe Defiant space shuttle and the Mobile Command Center. Before the end of the year, the G.I. Joe special team Battle Force 2000 was introduced in time for Christmas.
- 1988: Even without an animated series, G.I. Joe continued to sell well. A new enemy, Destro's Iron Grenadiers, was introduced. The new Cobra line-up was composed mainly of Viper-type henchmen. Issue #86 of the comics series celebrated the 25th anniversary of the G.I. Joe brand as a whole. Another G.I. Joe sub-group is introduced before the year's end: Tiger Force, a line of classic characters and vehicles re-colored with Tiger-stripe camouflage patterns.
- 1989: Classic character nostalgia seemed to play a factor in 1989. The relative success of Tiger Force the year before inspired them to come up with two teams with similar themes, Slaughter's Marauders and Python Patrol. By this time however, the lack of an animated series was taking its toll on the toyline's performance. In response, DIC Entertainment picked up the rights to produce a new G.I. Joe television series beginning with a five-part miniseries.
- 1990: The lackluster performance of 1989 convinced Hasbro to scale back production. They concentrated on the action figure line-up and reduced the number of new vehicles for that year. The timely premiere of the new animated series would prove instrumental in giving the toyline another lease on life. In time for this renewed success is a slightly redesigned G.I. Joe logo.
- 1991 to 1992: Once more, Hasbro concentrated on action figures rather than vehicles, and coming up with new gimmicks for them. Special teams such as Ninja Force, Eco-Warriors and Star Brigade were introduced. The second animated series lasted for only one more season before being cancelled.
- 1993 to 1994: In the final two years of the A Real American Hero line, characters who were not part of any sub-group were branded as part of the all-encompassing Battle Corps. The background for the card art was replaced by lines of laser design. The Star Brigade sub-series was revamped with a more science-fiction type storyline involving an extra terrestrial enemy, the Lunartix Empire. The popular video game Street Fighter II managed to become part of the G.I. Joe lineup as Hasbro bought the toy rights to the popular video game characters.
- 1997 to 2002 - The Real American Hero Collection: In 1997, G.I. Joe returned in a limited Toys "Я" Us exclusive line. The Real American Hero Collection, as it is called, included Team Packs of three figures grouped together by a common theme such as Commando and Cobra Command, and Mission Packs, which featured classic figures packaged with a small vehicle like a Cobra Flight Pod or Silver Mirage motorcycle. The "Stars and Stripes" boxed set was also released, featuring members of the original 13 Joes from 1982. The line continued as a Toys "Я" Us exclusive in 1998. One of the rarest G.I. Joe figures, the so-called "Pimp Daddy Destro" (or PDD for short), was released for a short time in 1997 before being replaced in production by the regular version in the Cobra Command Team pack. Only a handful were released into the market. In 2000, the collection continued, this time in wide release. Figures were sold in two packs and continued using the original molds as well as "kit-bashed" figures made from parts of various molds. The wide release of The Real American Hero Collection continued through 2001. In 2002, the line was limited to one series, which was only available to online retailers. Also in 2002, a set called the Sound Attack 8 pack was released as an exclusive to BJ's Wholesale Club and Fred Meyer stores.