Friday, August 5, 2011

Figure Friday: Ghost Rider

Figure Friday will be a weekly showcase of an action figure or a toy. I'll not give myself any restrictions to what will be a valid toy to write about, or how I will present it. It may be two pictures and one paragraph, or it can be an in-depth review. I can guarantee you something though: Anecdotes, history lessons and weird connections to something that may or may not be related to the toy.

I'm sure some readers are familiar with G.I. Joe - A Real American Hero, but the figure featured in the first Figure Friday may be an unknown. There are two reasons why such an obscure toy gets showcased here:
First and foremost, the figure lived up to its character profile, which has him as an invisible and forgettable person. It is actually considered among the more invisible and forgettable figures in the G.I. Joe toy line, but I'd like to show that maybe there's more to this figure than people realize. And secondly, it even further cemented it's legacy as an invisible character by being completely absent in my childhood collection. 

He is the pilot of the Phantom X-19 Stealth Jet, Ghostrider! Click to read more!

About G.I. Joe

As with the Lego last week, I'll start off with a painfully short description of the toy line. It's extremely well documented by many other people.

G.I. Joe - A Real American Hero was a toy line created by Hasbro in the early 80s. Hundreds of different figures were produced in a 12 year period, until the line was cancelled. As with so many other 80s toy lines, G.I. Joe was accompanied with a comic and a cartoon. The figures are 3 3/4 inces - or 10cm tall.
The figures started with 10 and evolved to having 12 points of articulation, easily making it among the most articulated toys from that era. Another noticeable difference between Joes and comparable toys was the rubber band, the o-ring that held the feet and body together. The o-ring deteriorates over the years, but is easy to replace.

My spare Ghostrider is missing his o-ring, but otherwise you can see how the standard G.I. Joe figure is constructed.

The toy line included quite the handful of vehicles, and unlike many other toy lines, Hasbro didn't cut any corners when it came to figures that came with the vehicles. They have usually just as detailed sculpt as the single figures as well as a suitable file card, documenting the character's background. Some of the drivers and pilots are known to lack accessories, as I guess.. the vehicle could be seen as accessory enough. If we think like that, Ghostrider comes packed with two accessories: A flowing red scarf, and the Phantom X-19 Stealth Fighter.

Background and comics
The background story of G.I. Joe is simple, effective, and surprisingly relevant today. A US based group of specially trained soldiers battle a terrorist organization. The heroic Joes go valiantly into battle, fighting the noble cause of good against the evil and ruthless Cobra, that only seeks to do harm to the world in a nasty and unjust way. 

Now, I would certainly have loved to see such a group operating today, but the fact is that actual terrorists just are that much less predictable than Cobra Commander and his endless stream of minions. The simple nature of the plot aside, the comic that ran for over a decade is extremely good. It holds up today, with great stories, both single issues and the greater story archs. 

Ghostrider appeared in two issues of the comic, #76 and #80, and on both issues, he's not referred to by his code name. Marvel Comics produced the comic, and already have a rather famous anti-hero named Ghost Rider. This could be the reason why this Joe remain anonymous in the comic, but I can't say for sure.

Issue #80 has obviously the intentions of promoting the 1988 figures Hit n Run, Charbroil, Hardball, Muskrat, as well as the new vehicles Cobra Bugg, Rolling Thunder and our subject today: The Phantom X-19 with pilot Ghost Rider. 

But luckily, the creative team from Marvel Comics, fronted by author and enthusiast Larry Hama didn't cut any corners. They still include fan favorite characters like Firefly, Dr. Mindbender, Wild Bill and Outback, and the amazing Tomahawk (a subject for a future Figure Friday). And most importantly, it's still a great story. The premise of the story is that both Cobra and the United States - here represented by the G.I. Joe team - rally to the Gulf of Mexico to claim a new piece of land that has emerged. Ridiculous as it sounds, it's still feels plausible the way it's presented. Both the theme, the severity of the situation, and the dialogues are so much more clever than they needed to be - for a comic that was mainly intended for kids.

The filecard of the Ghostrider touches on his abilities to become invisible, and that already from a young age he kept a low profile, trying to hide from his teachers in school. He put this ability to use when he became a stealth pilot. And in a rather interesting way, they have used this when writing him in the comics. Obviously, Marvel would have no legal problems using the name Ghost Rider, but they have chosen to not give him any name in the comic. They simply make him a man so invisible that even his team mates who trust him with their lives, can't remember his name.

The design of the figure

The design of the figure pretty much matches his description. This figure is hard to notice, specially when placed among the more visually impressive Joes. 

Ghostrider is dressed in a black jacket with gray jumpsuit underneath. He has light gray pants with black biker boots. Closer inspection shows us he has black gloves, a brown belt that holds a holstered revolver. The belt is clasped by a silver buckle featuring an eagle. Around his neck is the red scarf that makes this figure something different. The scarf is among the most easily lost accessories, which is sad, because without  it, I find Ghostrider a bit boring looking.

Up until this point, there's actually not a lot that gives the idea that this is a modern pilot, let alone one piloting a futuristic plane. On his right thigh we can see a map, which I guess is common for modern pilots, the jacket features a microphone, and we can see some plugs on his hip and thigh, as well as a few details on his gray jumpsuit. These are all minor details, and had it not been for the very advanced helmet he's wearing, it would be hard to picture this Ghostrider piloting anything but a Harley Davidson. 

The guys who flew the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird had heat repellent, water-cooled suits, and while we clearly can't compare a plane from the 60s to the high tech stealth fighter of the G.I. Joe team, it would make sense to have some sort of jump suit instead of a leather jacket and biker boots. 

The design almost feels like an homage to the WW1 pilots with their leather jackets, and in particular the Red Baron, as the way he's romanticized: with a flowing red scarf.

I'm honestly not sure where to place him in his vehicle. There's two seats in the toy, but I can't recall seeing an additional passenger in the comics.

Ghostrider is not the most famous of G.I. Joe figures. In fact he's more than often not mentioned at all. When you talk about pilots in this toy line, there are so many others with far more appeal, both when it comes to design and character description. Here in Europe, Ghostrider was so forgettable, that he was replaced with the 1983 pilot, Ace. The result was that I actually didn't have Ghostrider when I was young. And the collector in me woke up, and wanted this toy even more than before. 
When I finally got him, as an adult, I appreciated this figure, not only for its simple and classic, yet weird design. But also for the fact that the character profile and toy itself matched so perfectly. 

Have a good weekend people! 

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