When Hasbro decided to celebrate the 15th anniversary of their 3¾" Real American Hero toys, one of the products planned was the "Stars and Stripes Forever" set, which would see a re-release of the original 1982 figures. However, many problems plagued the Real American Hero Collection line in general, and the SSF set in particular.
As a result of problems with the molds, Flash had to be removed from the 8-figure set and replaced with Short-Fuze, and then Breaker and Rock 'n Roll had to be "Frankensteined" from other figures, leading to a final product that was very different from its creators' intention.
Among the many problems associated with the 1997 renewal of G.I. Joe's 3¾" figures, the most obvious was the vast difference between the series' central showpiece and the pictures on its box.
Hasbro-Kenner had originally announced boxed sets of four figures each, drawing heavily from figures released in the early 1980s. That idea was scrapped in favor of three-packs and a re-release of the original carded assortment, sold as a set. All would be repaints of the original molds. Photos of prototypes were made public and floated across the internet. The art was created for cards and boxes, almost exclusively recycled from classic character art. But, apparently at the last minute, Hasbro-Kenner discovered that many of their molds were unusable or in the hands of foreign companies, unavailable in time for the toys' pre-Christmas release. The resulting paint jobs on these figures were disappointing to put it lightly, though they might have looked better if applied to the intended molds.
The portrait on the cover of the box showed all nine original Joes. Scarlett is on the rock at the left, with Zap holding the top of the flag. Also at the flag are Rock 'n Roll and Short-Fuze, both with their backs to us. In front of them are Breaker, Snake Eyes, and Flash, with Grunt and Stalker at the bottom of the picture. All are in their original uniforms and have a cartoonish look, not quite resembling the toys, comic, or animated appearances. (The art comes from an old G.I. Joe poster.) The V.A.M.P. and a tank similar to the M.O.B.A.T. are also visible in the picture. This cover was a flap that lifted up to reveal the actual figures and their accessories inside. On the inside of the flap was text explaining the re-assembly of the Joe team. In this text, Flash's name does not appear, and the names of several Joes are slightly altered: they are listed as "Breaker, Stalker, Grunt, Short-fuse, Rock-n-Roll, Scarlet [sic], Sgt. Zap, and Snake-Eyes."
Prototype vs. Production
Anyone who bothered to lift the flap would immediately notice the difference between the toys enclosed and those pictured on the back of the box. This difference was explained on the box only with the message, "Product and colors may vary." Following are the discrepancies and changes between the pictured prototype and the finished product.
The Set Itself
The mold for the base is, by all appearances, identical to the one in the photo. The primary difference is the paint scheme. Whereas the prototype base is light brown, with green for the grass, grey for the rocks, and dark brown for wood, the finished product is uniformly dark brown with a dark green mottling that resembles moss. The sandbags and stones are a slightly lighter shade of brown, but still darker than in the photo.
The US flag is also different. The flagpole has changed from brown to black, and the flag seems to clip onto the pole differently. The star pattern is incorrect in both the prototype and the finished product. There should be nine offset horizontal rows: six stars (top and bottom), alternating with rows of five stars for a total of 50. The SSF flag has eight rows of seven stars, for a total of 56, but in the completed flag, six of the stars are unpainted, with the bottom row noticeably shorter than the others.
The accessories were packaged separately from the figures, and so it is a matter of supposition deciding who gets each accessory. All the Joes received promotions except Rock 'n Roll who was demoted to E-7 from his 1992 grade of E-9.
Since Breaker died in the comic, many would assume he would be the figure to be omitted for an eight-figure set of the original nine carded Joes. In the Marvel series, he died and was mourned, and his body recovered during the Benzheen conflict, three years before the close of the comic storyline, and he was later seen buried at Arlington. Yet his new filecard describes him as "wounded in the last major battle with Cobra forces." This backtracking is unnecessary, because the event portrayed by the Stars & Stripes Forever set is supposed to be set in the past, "after the team's first encounter" with Cobra, according to the same filecard.
In the prototype photo, the figure's trademark brown beard has changed to black. He is somehow wearing his headset without the helmet. He has a tan shirt with light green straps, and dark green pants with a black belt and brown boots. He appears to hold a bayonet rifle.
The released figure is pieced together from other figures: head and legs from 1986 Hawk, arms from 1983 Gung-Ho, and torso and waist from 1986 Roadblock. His hair is now a reddish-brown (with no beard), and he wears a light green sleeveless vest with brown trim, with a green-brown-black camo pattern on his pants. His belt and boots are black, and the watch on his left wrist is unpainted. He has Flash's visor and laser rifle (with nothing for the cord to attach to), plus a generic green helmet and 1986 Hawk's backpack. Breaker is by far the most different from both his original figure and the 1997 prototype.
The character pictured on Breaker's filecard is from the R.A.M.'s art and shows Breaker without a beard. Some Breaker figures had a darker green shirt than the more common one pictured.
The Flash figure pictured on the box is a definite improvement over the original figure. The green is darker, and the gloves, belt, shinguard, and vest frame are blue-grey. The wristguards and boots are black, and there are cream yellow pads on the chest, legs, and forearms. The upper arms of the prototype appear to be from a different figure. Unfortunately, most likely due to a vital part of the mold being absent (the padded chest), this was the figure that did not appear in the released set, and his accessories were given to Breaker.
The figure in the picture has the Breaker/Grunt/Stalker/Snake-Eyes torso and is a straight-arm figure. This might have hinted at some mold problems, but the released figure is a repaint of the swivel-arm mold. The prototype has a light green shirt with brown straps and sleeve pockets, and the pants have the same color scheme as those of 1997 Hawk.
In the end, his hair changed from the original brown to black, and his shirt was given the coloring and camo pattern that appears on the prototype Rock 'n Roll's pants. The medium green on the pants is not quite drab enough, but the olive detailing for the pockets and the bomb on the left leg are nice. The grey highlights on the black boots match those of the prototype. One easy-to-miss detail is that these legs belong not to the original Grunt, but to the original Snake-Eyes. Grunt's accessories were an ill-fitting green helmet, 1986 Hawk's backpack, and the black AK-47 first released with the Cobra Officer.
Rock 'n Roll
It appears that the prototype Rock 'n Roll is a straight-arm figure and has a black shirt with finely detailed ammo belts. The pants are yellow-green with a complex, brown-green-black camo pattern. The blue-grey belt, pockets, and boots match those of other prototype figures. He has a large, light green backpack and his original machine gun.
The mold change for the released version suggests that the missing mold may have been for the head, which the original Breaker and Rock 'n Roll shared. This figure is simply a repaint of 1986 Roadblock's mold, with 1986 Hawk's head. This time the lime-green torso has red and dark green trim. The pants are reddish brown with green and black camo stripes. We know this is RR and not Breaker because the hair is a sandy color, reminiscent of RR's blonde hair. There is no beard, however. This figure came with RR's machine gun and another 1986 Hawk backpack, plus the ill-fitting green helmet.
This anniversary version of Scarlett would be difficult to position on the set since she does not have pegholes in her feet - which is also why the one in the prototype photo stands in the trench. The purple-and-orange color scheme derives not from the neon-obsessed 1990s but from the color scheme used frequently in Marvel's comic, since coloring technology was limited in the '80s.
The released figure has few differences from the prototype: only the gloves and boots have been changed from orange to black. For those who've never taken a close look at Scarlett, notice the backup pistol on her wrist (featured in Marvel Comics' G.I. Joe #1) and the slingshot in her back "pocket." The 1997 figure came with Scarlett's crossbow, and the set included a black figure stand for her: again, an oddity, since she lacks the otherwise-standard pegholes.
The character pictured on Scarlett's filecard is identical to her original art, and her name is spelled correctly on the card - the outer box referred to her as "Scarlet."
Short-Fuze does not appear in either version of the prototype photo, revealing that he was the figure chosen for inclusion when Flash got dropped. It's unclear why Short-Fuze would have been excluded from the set.
The final product has black sleeve pockets and bright red hair. (The original's was blond.) His face is quite a bit pinker than his hands, but the shirt is a very nice shade of green, and the pants are almost mystifying: the color seems to go out of focus as it changes from creamy white to brown to light green. The figure came with all Short-Fuze's original accessories, with the mortar shells on his backpack painted black.
The character pictured on hiss filecard is identical to the original's art. This is the only version of the character to be called "Short-fuse" rather than "Short-Fuze."
The figure in the prototype photo has his back to the camera, and so there is little we can make out except that he was straight black (at least from this angle) and wore a backpack.
However, an earlier prototype photo featured the characters in different positions - Snake-Eyes was facing forward, and so it could be seen he had a gray facemask, grenade and leg details, exactly matching the Action Force character Stalker.
The released figure has grey goggles, backpack straps, and detailing on the legs and boots. The silver on the belt buckle and on the leg bomb would be striking if not for the equally shiny hinges on the shoulders. The figure came with the original's Uzi and satchel. The main weakness of this version is that, although it does introduce some much-needed color to the previously all-black mold, it is nearly identical to the paint scheme chosen for the three-pack version sold that same year.
The character pictured on Snake-Eyes' filecard is identical to the original's art.
Stalker, always a popular character in any version, is one of the most favored 1997 releases. Here, the prototype is the disappointment. The beret seems to be the same blue-grey to be used for the straps, belt, and leg pockets of this and other figures. His uniform has a cream-green-black-brown camo pattern that looks simultaneously busy and uninteresting for lack of contrast. The boots are straight black. He might have been the despised figure of the set if released as shown.
The final product is an excellent example of the advances of figure making. The black beret and boots are like bookends for the green outfit, whose thin camo stripes are impressive and practical. The belt and straps are the same color as the brown of the camo, and the black hand grenade shows attention to detail. There is even a subtle, dark green detailing on the boots. Stalker was released with his original backpack and submachine gun.
The character pictured on Stalker's filecard is identical to the original's art.
The Zap in the prototype photo is a straight-arm figure with two broken thumbs. Most of the figure is hidden behind Snake-Eyes, but he has a black goatee and the busiest camo of all on both the uniform and the helmet. The previous prototype photo had a clearer shot of him raising the flag, but he had a different deco there (and both his thumbs).
The released figure is a clean-shaven repaint of the original Zap. His shirt is cream white with brown "fading in" near the center. The pants are medium green with black and olive highlights and grey detailing on the black boots. Zap's backpack is black with green shells, the opposite of Short-Fuze's pack. In some sets, Zap's backpack was all green. Many sets came with two green bazookas for Zap, but it's unclear how common the extra accessory was. Like several of the others, this figure came with an ill-fitting green helmet.
The character pictured on Zap's filecard is identical to the original's art. He is consistently referred to in the text as "Sgt. Zap."
- Display box with lift-flap for front cover and plastic tray fitted for the figures and parts
- Dark brown base
- Black flagpole
- US flag
- gold "rope" ends attaching to top of flagpole
- eight black figure stands
- eight action figures: 1997 Breaker, Grunt, Rock 'n Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuse, Snake-Eyes, Stalker, and Sgt. Zap
- 5 green helmets with 2 clear visors
- 3 black Hawk backpacks, 2 black/green mortar-shell backpacks, and 1 green Stalker backpack
- Black guns originally released in 1982 with Flash, Rock 'n Roll, Snake Eyes, Stalker, and Cobra Officer
- Scarlett's black crossbow, Short-Fuse's black mortar with stand, and one or two green bazookas for Zap
- satchel for Snake-Eyes
- eight filecards
- The 1997 versions of Breaker and RR are sometimes called "the twins" since they share the same head and torso.
- It is possible this wasn't intended as an homage to the Palitoy character, but was just the first intact toy sample Hasbro could find for the initial photoshoot.
- This is actually a common complaint from collectors about the original Zap figure: the thick handle of the bazooka did not fit into the figure's brittle hands. Apparently not even Hasbro could locate an intact figure.