Posted 30/03/2013 by Axel in Columns

G.I.Joe Special #6: “Specialist” Justin Bell


When you really want to know everything about G.I. Joe then you have to visit the expert. You search for the one man other experts go to. You go to the man who operates one of the largest and most important G.I. Joe websites in the world. You have to get a hold of Justin Bell. Luckily, Kokomo Toys pointed me in his direction.

There is little our guest doesn’t know. Together we discuss the different conventions, we compare toys, we place the animated series in the big picture and we finally get some positive feedback on G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

What are we waiting for?


The Superfan: Justin Bell

My name is Justin Bell, I’m the owner and administrator of GeneralsJoes.com. I formed my website initially in 1999 (long live AngelFire!), but it has evolved quite a bit over the years. I currently offer reviews of products, fan-fiction, dio-comics, and G.I. Joe news and editorials.

Every story has a beginning. When did you become a GI Joe fan?

I became a GI Joe fan way back in the beginning of the A Real American Hero franchise. I was one of the millions of eight year old kids who discovered these toys on store shelves and became captivated by them. I bought my first G.I. Joe figures in 1982 at a local department store, and they immediately went on my Christmas list. My father, who was a Navy Veteran, seemed to enjoy my love of military toys, and essentially bought me the entire first 1982 run for Christmas that year. Yeah, it was a great Christmas. I’ve literally never looked back.

Dave DormantAfter 30 years the franchise seems very much alive and well. What in your opinion is the succes of GI Joe as a franchise?

This is a tough question. Without a doubt in the 80’s, G.I. Joe was the premiere franchise in action figure aisles. It basically made Hasbro what it was at the time, and it owned every other toy that tried to battle against it. But as the Cold War era ended and as young minds shifted more towards super heroes, G.I. Joe really struggled to keep up. Unfortunately, it’s still struggling.

Hasbro has done a masterful job working alongside their long time fans and collectors and has produced some amazing product for those of us who remember the “good old days”. But unfortunately G.I. Joe as a brand continues to struggle finding the right balance with kids today, or potentially more importantly, finding a balance with a sometimes over-sensitive parent, who might balk at buying a soldier toy for their child. G.I. Joe was transcendent in the 80’s, but the world is a different place now, and I’m often concerned about where the G.I. Joe brand fits in the grand scheme of things. I think if Hasbro could commit themselves to a collector focused line and perhaps stop trying to make G.I. Joe something it’s not equipped to be in the 21st Century, there could be some fantastic results. But if they keep working to shoehorn a military toy into a child’s hand, they may continue to struggle.

What can you tell us about the animated series? 

It’s interesting. In most cases where one might wear the “rose colored glasses” things often seemed better in the old days, but as you revisit them in modern days you realize just how bad they were. The original 80’s animated series is almost the opposite of that to me. I really didn’t care for a lot of it when I was a kid. I was raised in my childhood on the Larry Hama comic, and I just couldn’t get my head around lasers, pilots parachuting out of planes just in time, and the general goofiness of the Sunbow animated series.

Does it hold up?

However, rewatching some of those episodes, you realize that while many aspects were childish (out of necessity due to the restrictions at the time) the writing was surprisingly mature, and the production level was second to none. There was an amazing voice cast, an amazing array of interesting characters, and a lot to love about the more outlandish aspects of the series.

Have the new series been any good? It seems like they can’t recapture the old magic.

As for new series… many collectors are huge fans of G.I. Joe: Resolute, a web-based mini series that debuted in 2009. I loved it as well for what it was, being a hyper-violent mature G.I. Joe action story…but it was short on plot and almost non-existent on character development. G.I. Joe: Renegades, which debuted on The Hub in 2011, was simply fantastic. Taking an unusual approach to the G.I. Joe mythology, in making the Joes “enemies of the state” took some folks off guard, but the writing, story development, and character building was, in my mind, the best that G.I. Joe animation has ever had to offer. Some of the artistic style of the show left people cold, but when that show was good, it was really, really good. A shame they couldn’t seem to commit to more than one season.

joe45What do you prefer? The comics or the animated series?

The Larry Hama Marvel comics are, to me, the pre-eminent storyline and development of the G.I. Joe brand. He single-handedly made the G.I. Joe universe what it is today, and I will always love those comics above all else.

Drumroll. What GI Joe products do you collect?

A little bit of everything. Okay, a lot of everything. I have a full vintage collection of action figures from 1982 – 1994. I even dabbled in Sgt. Savage and G.I. Joe Extreme, though don’t have full collections of those. I have a full collection of “new sculpt” era figures from 2002 – 2005, as well as the 8” Sigma 6 line that ran from 2005 – 2007. Beginning in 2007 I lost some of my completist focus, just by the sheer amount of toys that started coming out, but I do have the majority of the 4” figures and vehicles over the past 30 years. I have a small selection of 12” figures from the 90’s and a few Sideshow Collectibles 12” figures as well. I have pre-orders for both Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow from the upcoming Hot Toys G.I. Joe: Retaliation line as well. I’ve been buying the new G.I. Joe MicroForce figures, and having some great bonding time with my 7-year old who is eagerly collecting them as well. I’ve been trying to resist the urge to buy the Kre-O toys, too, but I feel my resistance weakening… I also have nearly all of the comics and every episode of every animated series on DVD and/or Blu-ray. If it’s got the Joe logo on it, I’ve got it.

Has the quality of the toys improved over the years?

This could be answered a couple of ways. I think, without a doubt, much of the quality has improved over the years. The figures have steadily increased articulation in recent years, the detail and sculpting work is second to none, and I continue to be amazed at just how impressive the builds are in such a small scale. The designers working on the G.I. Joe line over the past few years go beyond toy design and almost transcend into art. It’s really impressive just what they can do at such a small scale.

That being said, things haven’t been perfect. There have been reductions in articulation in some cases (most notably with vehicle drivers in the G.I. Joe: Retaliation toy line) and that leaves many collectors (myself included) quite frustrated. By and large, though, the sub-standard toys are few and far between, and you get the impression that the folks working on the G.I. Joe line are doing it out of a sense of love, admiration, and appreciation for the brand in general. It’s a great feeling of confidence in their abilities, from a design perspective especially.

Let’s hit one original question. What is your favorite figure and why?

That is such a tough question. There are literally thousands of these things, you know?

I would say one character that has had a lasting impact on me is the character of Hit & Run. He is a relatively obscure character from 1988, but his traumatic backstory (his parents were killed by a drunk driver and he grew up with no real home to speak of) as well as his great military design just really appealed to me back then (and still do).

That being said, the toys of recent years have been almost perfection. In the 30th Anniversary line, figures like Sci-Fi and Airtight are almost flawless. Storm Shadow got a recent G.I. Joe: Renegades update and is a nearly perfect rendition of that character as well. The Pursuit of Cobra Low Light will always be tops of my list. There are so many out there and so much to love for so many different reasons.

2012-Canadian-GI-Joe-Convention-3We’ve already talked to “The Archivist” Mark Bellomo, and we’ll talk to him about G.I. Joe in a later episode. What has, in your opinion, been the influence of Mark Bellomo on collecting vintage toys?

Mark is a long time friend of mine, and I cannot say enough great things about him. He has a passion and intellect for toy collecting that is unrivaled. I think his work on his G.I. Joe books and his toy books in general do great things for vintage toys and he deserves 100% credit for the tireless work he does archiving and researching these things.

Browsing through the book it becomes obvious there is a lot to collect. Is it an easy hobby to pick up?

In the Internet age, and where eBay is at your finger tips, I’d say nearly any hobby is pretty easy to pick up. There always seems to be a plethora of vintage or new G.I. Joe product on eBay, and really the cash would be the biggest obstacle. Some of those vintage offerings can be expensive, especially if you’re looking for complete options.

That being said, I’ve heard many frustrations from foreign collectors who struggle to find affordable product online, and that goes for new items as well as vintage. I suppose every collector is different.

Guess what. Here goes: what is your favorite character?

Favorite character, without a doubt, is Zartan. I’ve always loved his abilities and loved his backstory. Least favorite? Out of the always popular characters, I’d say Dr. Mindbender is probably my least favorite. I never was particularly interested in him as a kid, and I’m still really not. It’s funny how the toy design will sometimes impact how you feel for a particular character. I always hated his toy, so I kind of hated him. I loved his toy in the 90’s, so my opinion softened a little bit. G.I. Joe is such a rich toy-focused property that happens quite often with these characters.

2013logoWe want our guests to educate our readers about all aspects of the franchise. What can you tell us about the Joe conventions?

I can’t say enough good things about the G.I. Joe Conventions. The Official G.I. Joe Convention that is put on once a year is a fantastic, fun-filled gathering of some of my best friends in the world. It’s basically an excuse to hang out with some folks that I really enjoy for a full weekend. The fact that G.I. Joe is involved is almost secondary. Being able to interact and do fun things with fellow G.I. Joe fans makes the G.I. Joe Convention my favorite weekend of the year. The attendance isn’t huge. It’s not even in the same ballpark as something like Comic Con, or even Botcon, the Transformers counterpart. But in a way, that’s nice. It feels more intimate and more low key with a smaller, tighter-knit group of people you really know and get along with.

The regional G.I. Joe Conventions such as the Canadian JoeCon, the CoilCon, JoeLanta, the New Jersey CollectorsCon, and many of those others seem like a lot of fun as well. Unfortunately I don’t have many opportunities to attend the smaller regional conventions, but the guys who put on those shows obviously have a deep appreciation of the hobby. Knowing some of these guys like I do, there’s no question in my mind that these events are a blast as well.

Is there a central GI Joe community or are they (like pro wrestling fanclubs) all different?

They seem to be pretty spread out, to be honest. There’s the fans who love the vast wealth of knowledge at YoJoe.com, but there are others who appreciate the more brisk discussion at a place like HissTank.com. Folks who enjoy customizing find themselves at a place like JoeCustoms.com which specializes in that, while other news and fansites like JoeBattleLines and JoeSightings have their own appeal. A great site like JoeDeClassified specializes in the unproduced concepts and does fantastic work digging up the mysteries of G.I. Joe history (past and present).

And of course I get a fair amount of traffic at GeneralsJoes as well, though without a forum or message board it’s mostly an editorial site with discussion happening in the post comments rather than board-wide.

The evolution of social media has also given birth to some terrific groups of G.I. Joe enthusiasts on Facebook and Twitter who are always a blast to interact with on a more “real time” basis, too. I’ve had more fun communicating with fans on Twitter than I’ve had in some other places in a long time.

gijoeretaliationWhat was your opinion of the G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra movie? Personally I loved it, but can you as the expert say it was faithful to the franchise?

Ahhh, Rise of Cobra. One of the many dividing points of the G.I. Joe fandom.

I think there were many things to love about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The cutting edge technology in the Cobra Gunship and the G.I. Joe Reactive Armor suits was cool… I thoroughly enjoyed most of the action set pieces (especially that first night time assault and the attack on the Pit headquarters). Storm Shadow was fantastic. While Cobra Commander obviously bore little resemblance to his classic version, I thought Joseph Gordon-Leavitt did a great job with the character, and I actually thought his new look was a pretty cool one.

But there were a lot of frustrations to be had as well. The whole Duke-Baroness-Cobra Commander brother/sister/fiancee angle was forced, unnecessary, and frankly brought down the entire film. Any time the action stopped and the actors began talking and interacting, my eyes invariably rolled to the top of my head. So, story wise and character-building wise, no I do not think RoC was at all faithful to the franchise. From an action standpoint, though, there was a lot of great high-tech, “10 minutes in the future” based action that I thoroughly enjoyed and that really rang true as a classic G.I. Joe story to me.

Do you have high hopes for Retaliation?

As for Retaliation… I’m trying to keep my hopes realistic, but as release draws closer, I can’t help but get excited for it. I think the film makers have learned a lot from the mistakes of The Rise of Cobra, and they’re bringing Retaliation into a much more grounded and realistic universe. All of the footage I’ve seen so far has been terrific. I couldn’t be happier with having The Rock and Bruce Willis involved, and they absolutely nailed the look of Cobra Commander. Nailed it. Jon Chu has a deep appreciation for the brand and for the universe, and it’s really shown throughout all the trailers and footage that has been revealed so far. Snake Eyes looks 110% better, and it feels like they’re marrying the military and ninja aspects nicely.

So… yeah. I have high hopes. And they’re getting higher.

Thank you for this interview.

In the next part on Sunday we’ll be taking a short break from our interviews and have a fan special waiting for you that involves a lot of Joe cosplay, dioramas and tattoos!




Et alors?