The 10 Most Ill-Prepared G.I. Joe Characters

by Howie Decker @HowardTheDeck on January 7, 2019

in G.I. Joe, The 80s, Trends

Inspired by the below vintage G.I. Joe art that was shared by @starkaws on Instagram, it occurred to me just how many G.I. Joe and Cobra characters were woefully ill-prepared for the rigors of battle:

gi joe class of 87

The image’s main purpose was to tout the Hasbro line’s “Class of 87”,  featuring various characters that were released as figures that year, with the massive Defiant setting the backdrop. Pieces like this were a large part of what made G.I. Joe the best toy line of all time. What leaps out at you though, is what’s happening in the foreground of this scene.

I know the artist was somewhat restricted by the criteria of what characters had to be put to use here, but for the sake of introducing another unnecessary G.I. Joe list, let’s examine the action: Fast Draw is firing a missile POINT BLANK at a shirtless, weaponless Big Boa, while an also-weaponless Crystal Ball tries to use his Hypno-Shield on a dog. Meanwhile, weaponless Raptor descends from the heavens, presumably directly into the path of the second, as yet unlaunched Fast Draw missile. Also, Gung-Ho has a sword.

The takeaway here is that by 1987, no one noticed that Cobra had completely foregone giving their agents WEAPONS, because by this time the majority of the debuting characters were SHIRTLESS. A brilliant distraction, if they were no longer determined to rule the world and had moved on to a strategy of defeating G.I. Joe by virtue of a sheer, overpowering nipple count.

G.I. Joe has such a ridiculous advantage in the picture, that I can’t even apply the term “bully”, because bullies don’t shoot MISSILES at their victims from 3 feet away. Let’s quickly tally up the artillery at each team’s disposal here:

  • G.I. Joe – 1 armed space shuttle, 1 mobile missile launcher, 1 handgun, 1 sword
  • Cobra – willpower, some stones

Safe to say that Cobra’s plots were largely foiled due to lack of preparation, and that as a nation of people who love to root for the plucky underdog, in 1987 we had it wrong. That said, plenty of other Joes and Cobras have marched into battle with less than a full arsenal over the years. Here are ten of the most ill-prepared G.I. Joe and Cobra characters:


The original version of Scarlett came with a power crossbow and no spare arrows. You have one shot lady, make it count.

gi joe scarlett

Scarlett had one job in 1982: hang with the men. Shana O’Hara was representing the future of all female action figures, and probably had a short leash, as small-minded toy executives were convinced that little boys didn’t want to play with female character-based toys. I have it on good authority that this is an actual transcript from a 1981 Hasbro meeting:

Jeff:  Hey fellas, I have a groovy idea (Jeff was behind the times). We should have a female G.I. Joe action figure in the first wave!

Bert:  Ah, hell, these Real American Hero figures need to be strong MEN, no chicks. It ain’t called “G.I. Jill”!!  (*high-fives a guy named Ed, crushes mug of beer, smashes boardroom table*)



Even though he came with none, G.I. Joe’s original medic doesn’t make this list for lack of a suitable weapon. Doc is ill-prepared because his most significant accessory (the full-size stretcher) requires one small detail to be functional: ANOTHER PERSON.

Doc can’t carry both ends of the stretcher himself, but I’d love to see him try and I hope it would look like a Mr. Bean sketch. Maybe that’s what his flare launcher is for, to call for assistance. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s for. I won’t let that deter me. LIST ONWARD.



It was cool that G.I. Joes came with backpacks, and to this day the backpack is an underrated action figure accessory. That said, few Joes were more in need of a backpack than their cold weather survival instructor, but Iceberg came with nothing but an obscenely long rifle.


Iceberg’s file card says “his love of ultra-cold climates has forced him to learn every aspect of arctic survival”, apparently none of which include supplies. They might as well have shipped this guy to Alaska in a t-shirt that says SURVIVAL. Seriously, how ridiculous of a uniform would that be?


William “Refigerator” Perry

A football on a chain.

the fridge_opt

In a war.



Gung-Ho has a grenade launcher and a backpack, so by his account, his preparation is just fine thank you. He’s even got a knife tucked in his boot and a sweet wristwatch that can probably slash throats and tell time. He’s only missing one small thing, and you all know what it is. Say it with me… A HELMET.

gi joe gung ho gif

You thought I was going to say ‘a shirt’?

Ten of the twelve Joes that had debuted by the time Gung-Ho came out were equipped with helmets. I know he’s a fan of different colored hats, but who is this guy to rush into gunfire without proper headgear?



A jungle trooper with no sleeves, no gloves, and only one pair of shoes would by-and-large be considered ill-prepared. And this is operating on the assumption that there is a machete and some bug spray in his backpack, because that bread knife attached to his leg ain’t cuttin’ it. (See what I did- nevermind.)

gi joe recondo

Despite his preparation level, with that hypnotic mustache that would make Selleck jealous Recondo could have probably convinced the recruiter to place him as an astronaut, a G.I. Joe beer taster (code name Brew House), or Lady Jaye’s personal masseur (code name Deep Tissue). He’s only an ill-prepared jungle trooper because he wants to be an ill-prepared jungle trooper.


Big Boa

Time for a Cobra. How many times must Big Boa have been the recipient of an unoriginal “You brought boxing gloves to a gunfight”-type of one liner, commonplace amongst the typical cocksure Joe? I bet it numbered in the teens!

These puppies can take down a Skystriker

Cobra’s trainer came with nothing but a punching bag on a stick and a set of Cobra logo-embossed boxing gloves. While the figure’s accessories were among the most rad of the entire line, they essentially restricted Big to full time Terrordrome duty.


Crystal Ball

I know, I know, low hanging fruit and such. Thing is, Crystal Ball got a pass the first time I pored over the roster looking for the ill-prepared. Not because he was allegedly created by Stephen King, but because I figured he was adequately prepared for hanging back at base until someone needed some hypnotizin’. It was on my second pass through the ranks that something stood out.

crystal ball

Crystal Ball came with only one accessory, his “Hypno-Shield”, which, as I said, at first seemed like plenty of accessory for his purpose. But look closer: Hypno-SHIELD. Being equipped with a shield of any kind implies you are battlefield-bound, and unless you’re Captain America, if a shield’s all ya got you are SCA-REWED my furry-collared friend.


Dr. Mindbender

Dr. Mindbender, you are a man of science for f*ck’s sake. You will undoubtedly deal with caustic chemicals and harmful substances on a near-daily basis. PUT. ON. A. SHIRT.

dr mindbender

He legitimately could be wearing no pants in this scene. That’s a problem.

In 1986-87 Hasbro all but gave up on giving G.I. Joe figures shirts. Over the two-year period, at least seven figures were released sporting either no shirt or not enough of one, and sadly Zarana was not one of them. One shirtless guy boppin’ around Cobra Headquarters is an anomaly. Two or more is a trend. Do the right thing guys, shirt up.


some images via

READ ALSO:  The 50 Greatest G.I. Joe Characters of All Time

Jason G June 9, 2014 at 8:49 am

Your Hasbro dialog about Scarlet reminds me of the Amy character from the first season of the A-Team

Dex June 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Gung-Ho is a Marine, he doesn’t *need* a helmet (or shirt).
I know Snow-Job is technically equipped for his preferred environment but did he have to carry the skis around on every mission “just in case”?

The Goodwill Geek June 9, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Tears. Tears ROLLING down my face as I laugh breathlessly at just the opening paragraph… and my wife looked at me like I was certifiably insane. Tears.

Howard Decker @HowardTheDeck June 9, 2014 at 9:10 pm

High praise, thank you!! Open to ideas for a follow up list…

bmorin54 June 9, 2014 at 10:48 pm

1987 was a down year for prepared Joes. It would have been worse if they’d released the Rocky Balboa figure.

doubledumbass June 10, 2014 at 4:38 pm

What about Quick Kick! That dude never wore shoes!!!!

Gary Villatoro June 10, 2014 at 8:45 pm

One of the best Joe write ups ever – dead

Howard Decker @HowardTheDeck June 11, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Kind words, thank you! Unfinished thought at the end of your comment?

Chad E. Young October 7, 2015 at 5:02 am

Dr Mindbender’s outfit needs to be reconsidered. I don’t know who does the outfits for Cobra, but some of them need to be recalled.

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