Action Figures, Comic Books, and Patriotism

How G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Inspired Patriotism in a Nine Year Old

How old were you when you started taking part in patriotic missions to protect the United States (dare I say the free world) from the evil forces of Cobra Command? I’m wagering there is one group out there that can give me an age and another group that is debating whether or not to keep reading. I’m hoping I have a little something here for both groups. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero instilled a sense of patriotism in me as I read the comics and played with the toys in the early 1980s.

I was nine years old when I bought (actually my Moms bought it) G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero issue #4. At that time I had one G.I. Joe action figure, Breaker (my Moms also bought it). That comic book and action figure were the beginning of countless hours of reading and imaginative play. I read other comics before G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and played with other action figures before the Hasbro toy line was introduced, but the combination of an ongoing comic book and an associated toy line created a mythology I could immerse myself in. It was this mythology of top secret soldiers defending their country without a need or desire for praise and glory that introduced me to the idea of patriotism.

Larry Hama, the writer of the comic book, gave the characters (which were also Hasbro action figures) developed back stories and interesting personalities. Each month I would read an issue of the comic, and Hama’s stories would influence how I played with the action figures. The comic and accompanying toys allowed me to be part of a world where brave men and women fought evil foes in order to protect the United States. What made it all seem so patriotic was that the soldiers of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic operated in secret. There was no glory, no marching bands, and no book deals to accompany their actions. These soldiers fought because it was their duty to protect the innocent. They defended their country because they felt it was their responsibility as patriots to do no less. My playtime with the action figures followed the example set by Larry Hama. My missions and storylines may not have been as interesting and detailed as Larry Hama’s but I was only nine. I may not have understood some of the finer points of patriotism at that age but Larry Hama helped begin my education.

I stopped playing with the Hasbro action figures after a couple of years but I continued reading the comic book until the end of its run, issue #155. The ideals of patriotism were just one of the many themes that Larry Hama addressed in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. I know that my definition of patriotism is different now than it was in the 1980s, but I also know that the comic book and action figures were an integral part in the development of that definition.

-K-

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