The G.I. Joe franchise began as a line of action figures that were produced by Hasbro, arguably the largest toymaker in the world as indicated by their immense market value. Initially, the product was created with four models, each representing a different branch of the United States armed forces, including the Action Soldier, the Action Sailor, the Actions Pilot, and the Action Marine. It’s thought that the name for the toy line was based on the nickname given to U.S. soldiers, particularly during World War II, as G.I. stood for Government Issue. The cartoonist, Dave Breger, is also credited for the creation of the name “G.I. Joe” which he used as a name for his comic strip.
Over time, the line of toys created by Hasbro evolved due to its immense popularity, taking on a life of its own with new characters and backstories. Hasbro eventually released a new playset to match the developing storyline about the ongoing struggle between the G.I. Joe Team and the nefarious Cobra Command that strives for world domination through terrorism. To accompany these new characters, Hasbro licensed a comic strip to further capitalize on the popularity of these figures. The G.I. Joe comics were then at one point taken over by Marvel Comics with new storylines and enemies. The unprecedented success of the G.I. Joe franchise has led to many movies and shows created under the same name.
G.I. Joe Characters
Upon Marvel Comics’ adoption of the G.I. Joe story franchise, the first issue established the original team members to include the following G.I. Joe characters.
Hawk, whose biological name is Clayton M. Abernathy, is the original field commander of the G.I. Joe Team who specializes in strategic command operations. According to the comics, he was born in Denver, Colorado to a wealthy family. His wealthy background is what allowed him to enroll in West Point, where he graduated at the top of his class. He also graduated from Advanced Infantry Training and Covert Ops School where he became an expert in the use of the M16 rifle and M-1911A1 automatic pistol. Hawk also has other military skills, particularly in intelligence, radar, and artillery. In the comics, he was originally ranked as a colonel, but he took full command of the G.I. Joe team after the death of General Flagg in action and the retirement of General Austin thereafter. As the conflict between G.I. Joe and Cobra became more publicly known across the United States and globally, Hawk became the public face of the G.I. Joe team. Hawk was also crucial after the G.I. Joe team was disbanded for being involved with the “The Jugglers”, who were a top-secret group of officials who affected the G.I. Joe team’s operation. After blackmailing The Jugglers to reinstate the team upon finding evidence of corruption from within and showing that Cobra was once again operating in the U.S., Hawk decided to take on more of an advisory role than an active one, handing over the field command to Duke. Hawk was a piece of the first G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero action figures that were released with the Mobile Mission System playset. The toys released listed the changing job descriptions and ranks of Hawk which were later incorporated into the comic storylines.
Stalker’s biological name is Lonzo R. Wilkinson. He specializes in military infantry with secondary specialties including interpreter and medic. His rank in the comics is that of an E-9 Sergeant Major, a promotion from his original rank of an E-5 Sergeant. Stalker was born in Detroit, Michigan. Before joining the Army and military, Stalker was the leader of a city street gang. Stalker graduated at the top of the class in both advanced infantry training and basic combat training. During his training at the U.S. Army Language School in Monterey, Ranger School at Ft. Benning, and the Intelligence School at Ft. Holabird, Stalker learned and became fluent in French, Arabic, Spanish, and Swahili. His experience as a commander and his fluency in multiple languages made him an extremely valuable asset to the G.I. Joe Team, allowing him to lead many missions. Stalker was a very important character among the G.I. Joe characters, and is one of the few characters from Hasbro’s original release of toys that was African-American.
Scarlett’s biological name is Shana M. O’Hara, and the specialty that she contributes to the team is counterintelligence. She is also incredibly skilled in martial arts and acrobatics, as she began training at a young age with her father and brothers. Scarlett was very valuable to the team because of her varied abilities and skills. She was born in Atlanta, Georgia and attended the Special Air Service School, Marine Tae Kwon Do Symposium, and Advanced Infantry Training and Ranger School. She was a prominent member of the G.I. Joe Team until it was disbanded, and when the team was reinstated, Scarlett took on a position as a field commander. Her expertise with multiple weapons, including the M-14, M-16, M79 grenade launcher, throwing stars, MAC-10, and more make her a vital threat to enemies of the G.I. Joe team. She, out of all G.I. Joe characters, was the first female released by Hasbro in their “A Real American Hero” toyline. Her motto is, “Beauty may only be skin deep, but lethal is to the bone.”
Snake Eyes is the original commando of the G.I. Joe Team. A lot of information about Snake Eyes, including most of his history, real name, and place of birth, has remained classified throughout all depictions of the character. His primary military specialty is infantry, and he is also extremely skilled in hand-to-hand combat. Though very little about his past is known, the comics do specify that he has undergone drill sergeant training, and is a former United States Army Special Forces and Delta Force operator, making his very qualified for his high rank and roll as the commando. He is highly skilled in multiple weapons and firearms, especially his Japanese sword and spike-knuckled trench knives. During one of his early missions for G.I. Joe, his face was severely disfigured in a helicopter explosion, so he often wears a black bodysuit and a visor to cover his face. His vocal cords were also damaged beyond repair. Snake Eyes was one of the original G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toyline figurines with his only distinguishing feature being that of his unique, covered head. He was originally designed to save Hasbro money as he was made of black plastic and did not need to be painted.
Breaker was born in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and his real name is Alvin R. Kibbey. He was ranked as a corporal E-4 officer and was knowledgeable about all Warsaw Pact and NATO communications gear. His military specialty was Infantry, though he was also very skilled as a radio telecommunications technician. According to the comics, Breaker received his special education studying covert electronics at Signal School and also became a skilled professional with various firearms. Moreover, Breaker had the ability to speak seven languages, which helped him crack enemy codes. He was considered the link between the battlefield and headquarters as he constantly monitored all radio frequencies to provide situation reports to the command center.
Clutch was a corporal E-4 whose real name is Lance J. Steinberg. His primary military specialty was transportation with a secondary military specialty of infantry. Prior to enlisting in the military, he was a New Jersey-born mechanic. Throughout the comics, he is known to take very little seriously, a behavior which often caused trouble between him and Scarlett. Though he was highly skilled with multiple firearms, and always performed well on the battlefield, his reputation for crude behavior made him disliked by many G.I. Joe characters. While the G.I. Joe team was disbanded, Clutch took up a job as a mechanic for racecar drivers, earning him a record number of wins for drivers at the Indy racing circuit. The character, Clutch, was first released in a package with the V.A.M.P. battle jeep in 1982. He continued to be featured in many comics and movies within the G.I. Joe franchise.
Rock n’ Roll
Rock n’ Roll’s real name is Craig S. McConnel and he was a Sergeant E-5 specializing in infantry. He was originally from Malibu, California before attending school and graduating at the top of his class from advanced infantry training. While he began as a machine gunner, he eventually moved on to be a Gatling gunner instead. In the comics, Rock n’ Roll is listed as being cunning but naive, and also forceful yet shy. He was incredibly loyal to his teammate, extremely caring, and empathetic. Seeing as he was very active as a surfer and weightlifter, he also took on a role as a physical training instructor for the team. Rock n’ Roll has undergone much evolution since his first release in 1982, but he has nonetheless remained an important and recurring character throughout the franchise.
Steeler is one of the early G.I. Joe characters whose rank was that of Army 1st lieutenant O-2. His real name is Ralph W. Pulaski, and he specialized as an armor officer with other skills related to artillery and transportation. According to the comics, he was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to a blue-collar, middle-class family. He put himself through college on an ROTC scholarship before enlisting. He was originally a tank commander for the Multi-Ordnance Battle Assault Tank, and is described as being young, reckless, and always challenging his teammates in physical endurance tasks. The character action figure was first released in 1982 along with a motorized battle tank.
Other original G.I. Joe characters from Hasbro and the G.I. Joe comics included Grand Slam (real name: James J. Barney), Flash (Anthony S. Gambello), Short-Fuze (Eric W. Freistadt), Grunt (Robert W. Graves), and Zap (Rafael J. Melendez). Their specialties and contributions to the G.I. Joe team included artillery, infantry, and combat engineering.
G.I. Joe’s Cast Evolution
As the G.I. Joe franchise continued to grow and change, their cast of G.I. Joe characters also saw a constant evolution as new characters were introduced and old characters were slowly edged out of the spotlight. Under Marvel Comics, new important characters, such as First Sergeant Duke, Vice Admiral Keel-Haul, General Joseph Colton, and General Philip Rey are introduced. The animated series by Sunbow Entertainment saw these new characters take on a prominent role, featuring Duke as the team leader.
Later in the series, other fan-favorite characters are introduced including characters like Cover Girl, Snow Job, Roadblock, and Lady Jaye.
G.I. Joe’s Memorable Villains
Finally, the G.I. Joe franchise would be incomplete without the mention of all its incredible villains. Though these action series were created to make fans root for the heroes, there would be no story without the antagonists. For this reason, here are some of G.I. Joe’s most memorable villains:
Destro is the anonymous power behind Military Armament Research Syndicate, a weapons manufacturer that trades high-tech arms to any side that is able to meet his price demands. He detests the G.I. Joe team for their constant interference with his business due to their determination to maintain peace in the world.
Storm Shadow, in G.I. Joe, is most recognized as being Cobra Commander’s ninja bodyguard. He served in the U.S. Army alongside Snake Eyes and has changed loyalties multiple times between Cobra and G.I. Joe, largely due to his brotherly relationship with Snake Eyes. His talent and training makes him especially dangerous and threatening to the G.I. Joe team.
The Cobra Commander is the supreme leader of the terrorist organization, Cobra. He is the main antagonist throughout the G.I. Joe series as he strives for total control of the world’s governments, wealth, and resources. He believes in revolution and chaos and is described as being sociopathic, charming, and manipulative.
Short-Fuze, better known as Eric Friestadt, is an extremely smart soldier with a genius intellect. Throughout the series, he has shown the ability to do complex calculations and triangulations in a matter of seconds. Short-Fuze, as the name suggests, also has a very short temper. Even the smallest mishap could set him off. Due to his skill set, Short-Fuze usually took a more supportive role.
Airtight is responsible for managing hostile environments. He is a very important member of the team who also assisted to the main members as a strategist and soldier. He is in charge of detecting poisonous gases and removing any toxic threats wherever the team is situated. While Airtight usually doesn’t take himself too seriously away from battle, he is a top performer whenever any combat situations arise.
Grand Slam is one of the original Joes that started back in 1982. His real name is James Barney, and he is responsible for all of the laser artillery needed during missions. At the military academy, Grand Slam was one of the top students and graduated at the top of his class. He is also known as one of the most introverted characters on the G.I. Joe team, and often spent a significant portion of his personal time reading.
Shockwave was not an original Joe, but he did debut relatively early on. He specialized in Special Weapons and Tactics and often utilized his S.W.A.T. skills as a G.I. Joe. In 1988, Shockwave was introduced as a former police officer in the Detroit S.W.A.T. Team. While being handy and dependable, he also has a soft side with his love for choir. Early fans of G.I. Joe may remember him as Shockwave, while others may be confused as to who Shockwave is. This could potentially be because Shockwave was actually renamed to Shockblast on the 25th anniversary of G.I. Joe. Despite the name difference, Shockwave and Shockblast are one in the same.
Doctors have an underappreciated job on the G.I. Joe team. Although fighting evil and using cool weapons is much more exciting, there needs to be medics who help stitch the Joes back into shape before their next mission. In 1986, a new Joe joined who helped with just that. Lifeline is a rescue trooper who is anti-gun, and anti-harm. Lifeline is so committed to his pacifist cause, that he is trained in the art of Aikido. Lifeline describes Aikido as “the redirecting of violent energies away from oneself.” Lifeline helps doc in more ways than one, and he is a valuable addition to the team.
Law & Order
Law & Order is G.I Joe team’s perfectionist member who follows and enforces all of the procedures. He is the honorary Military Policeman of the team and he is responsible for maintaining order and updating the security protocols. Over the course of the show, the sensitivity of the data the Joes have access to as well as the weapons they carry continue to become more dangerous. Military Policeman like Law & Order makes sure that these powerful weapons and documents do not fall into the wrong hands. He is known for being a bit brunt and cutting straight to the point. He has a no-nonsense attitude and that is understandable considering the responsibility that has been entrusted to him.
Carl Greer has one job and one job only: help the Joes stay in the best condition so that they can continue to foil the evil plans of their enemies. Until the debut of Lifeline in 1986, Carl Greer was the only medical member of the G.I. Joe team. This means that from the beginning of the G.I. Joe’s timeline until 1986, Doc was responsible for fixing up every single member on the team for every single injury that they received. Like Lifeline, Doc also does not use a weapon and he prefers to heal instead of doing harm. Although he doesn’t have lasers or swords like other Joes, he does bring a necessary skill set to the team and has saved the day multiple times throughout the series.
Falcon is a lieutenant that was added to the Joes in 1987. Falcon was originally born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and is fluent in five different languages. He is a special ops Green Beret and a natural-born leader, and is also known to be one of the most charismatic characters. He is Duke’s sibling and half-brother. Like Duke, he has a bit of a problem just listening to and following orders. Although he is a tactical leader, he does get distracted by Jinx several times and finds himself flirting with her rather than training to fight Cobra.
It’s difficult to choose which is a more badass name, Laser Rifle Trooper or Flash. On the one hand, Laser Rifle Trooper is an epic name that leaves little to the imagination. On the other hand, Flash is a name that rolls off the tongue while not being as obvious about what Joe is capable of. Only one thing is for sure, whether you call him Flash or Laser Rifle Trooper, he was one of the most popular Joes when he debuted with the original 12 Joes. All of the other Joes have a simple outfit that mimics the actual attire of soldiers, but Flash has a bright orange outfit that immediately caught your attention. To top it all off, Flash had a large Laser Rifle that was both futuristic and realistic.
Quick Kick did not debut with the original team but was introduced a few years later in 1985. He is a martial arts expert and an expert in hand to hand combat. Before joining the G.I. Joes he was a Hollywood stuntman that went by the name of MacArthur S. Ito. Luckily, his acting career was cut short by his enlistment to the G.I. Joes. He helps directly fight Cobra with his combat expertise as well as training other Joes who are not as well versed in martial arts.
Alpine’s real name is Albert Pine. No, we are not joking. Albert Pine is a trained mountain climber who helps the G.I. Joes traverse large snowy mountains. Alpine is in luck because villain lairs are usually located in snowy mountains or precarious caves. Thanks to Alpine, reaching those destinations got a lot easier after he debuted in 1985.
Chuckles is perhaps the strangest looking G.I. Joe there is. This is because upon first glance, he looks nothing like a soldier. He wears a Hawaiian shirt and sports a sleek blonde haircut. However, him looking like a normal civilian is actually what Chuckles loves to do. Although his real name is Philip M. Provost, he rarely goes by it. Chuckles is a master of infiltration and loves to go on undercover missions. In fact, when there are missions so dangerous that no one volunteers, those are the missions that Chuckles specializes in. Unlike the other Joes, his primary skill set has nothing to do with weapons or violence. Chuckles is able to be a useful Joe because he is able to talk his way in or out of any situation.
The most admirable aspect about Chuckles is that he is aware he will not receive any achievements or accolades for any of his work. In fact, if he is ever caught during an undercover mission he will be disavowed and left for dead. Despite the risks and zero chance of glory, Chuckles continues to be a positive force that actively looks for places where his skills are needed.
Duke is a fan favorite of the G.I. Joes and for good reason. He is a versatile Joe with a varied skill set. First and foremost, Duke is a polyglot and can speak several languages fluently. He also displays genius intellect and a strong understanding of tactics and strategy. He graduated from the top of his class at Fort Benning and has also been a great teacher for the next generation of soldiers at several Special Forces schools. On top of his intellect, he is a natural-born leader who is talented in settling disputes and rallying the troops.
Duke could have been one of the highest ranking officers in the G.I. Joes, but he often rejects promotions and chooses to stay in the position that he is currently in. This is because Duke truly does not care about the titles or perks, he just wants to be the best leader that he can be. Duke has said that the best leaders are the leaders that aren’t disconnected from the troops, but the leaders that fight alongside the troops. It’s his morals, intellect, and strength that have cemented his place in G.I. Joes’ legacy.
Roadblock is a Joe who has been appearing over and over as a heavy machine gunner who loves fighting for his country. Along with his tough side, he also has a soft side of wanting to be a gourmet chef. This duality really struck a chord with the G.I Joe fan base and there was actually a large shake-up in the G.I Joe fanbase when Roadblock was temporarily replaced by Heavy Duty. This caused several “old school” fans to petition and demand the return of Roadblock.
Whether you agree with the petitions or not, Roadblock is one of the coolest Joes that have been introduced. He is the biggest member of the Joes and has displayed his massive strength several times throughout the series. It makes sense that he is in great condition because he is carrying and using the heaviest weapons on the team. In the latest G.I Joe media he was portrayed by The Rock, and The Rock return in the upcoming G.I. Joe movie sequels as well. It makes sense that the biggest movie star in the world portrays the biggest Joe!
Snow Job’s real name is Harlan W. Moore. He debuted in 1983 and is one of the most sought after action figures. He was a recurring character in the Sunbow universe and would have important missions in the winter snowfall. Vintage Snow Job figures are incredibly difficult to find, and vintage Snow Job figures that are still in pristine condition is even harder to find. This is because most kids would take their Snow Job toys and reenact what they had seen on the Sunbow universe. This would usually involve the action figure being thrown into the snow or climbing a tray of ice cubes in the fridge. Although this would be a great time for the kids involved, this leads to the screws and metals within the action figures to rust and become unusable over time. Snow Job is probably not the most lethal or deadly Joe on this list, but he is definitely one of the most popular.
Sean Collins is Kamakura, a ninja who is the apprentice of Snake Eyes. He is one of the newer Joes who debuted in 2003 and is skilled with ninja weaponry. Although his file card shows that his birth name and history are classified, it is later revealed that he actually has a tragic backstory. His original father, Fred Boca, is killed and replaced by an imposter.
Interestingly, after years of training under Snake Eyes, he eventually takes up the mantle of Snake Eyes and assumes it as his identity. As Snake Eyes, Kamakura is able to fend off Cobra forces and even once infiltrates a Cobra lair just to strike fear into his enemies. Although Kamakura is a relatively new character, he is well received by the G.I Joe community due to his inspiring character arc. In almost all forms of G.I. Joe media, Kamakura starts as an apprentice who is untrained and not skilled in ninja combat. However, as the series progresses Kamakura develops into a fearsome ninja and in some incantations even taking on the role of Snake Eyes, as discussed earlier.
Other notable villains of the G.I. Joe franchise includes Baroness, Serpentor, Zartan, and Firefly.