1988: Vintage Joes
1988 is a year I don't have many childhood memories of as it was a full 2 years after I had quit collecting GI Joe, I was 14 years old and by this time I think all my friends had also stopped collecting Joes. At this point, we played with our Joes by either taking them apart and swapping their body parts to make new figures, blowing them up by putting a firecracker between their waist and torso (not as easy as you may think! these were some tough toys!) or even smashing them with hammers.
My main memory from this year is seeing some of these figures in the store (I would still check out the toy section when I went shopping with my mom, just out of curiosity/boredom) and actually felt a bit of regret about not collecting Joes anymore.
For one thing, the had finally made a version of Storm Shadow where he officially switched sides and became a Joe! He had already been an ally of the Joes for several years in the comics, so it was cool to see something from the comics acknowledged in the toy line. He even had the cool ninja clan hexagram tattoo from the comics on his forearm where it belonged! I was sorely tempted to break my self-imposed ban on buying Joes and get this figure. The other major temptation was the new version of Destro that debuted this year, and the fact that they were finally developing the idea that he had his own private army into a new group of enemy troopers.
This was an important year for GI Joe, as it really marked the first time that there were any "sub teams" of Joes, a concept that would, for better or for worse, come to dominate the upcoming decade of the 1990s. At this point, the sub teams consisted entirely of repainted figures. Up until this year, repaints had been used very sparingly, so much so that you could almost count them all on one hand (Clutch, Grunt, Viper pilot, Stinger Driver, Listen n Fun Tripwire, Sgt Slaughter - Hooded Cobra Commander reused and repainted the body from the '83 CC with a new head ), and all these were either vehicle pilots, or exclusives. '88 was the year that repaints went from being an occasional oddity to a way of life. The biggest bunch of repaints this year was something I was not even aware of at the time, because it was only sold at Toys R Us - I speak of Night Force, in which the entire line of new Joe characters from the previous year were repainted in much darker colors and re-sold along side some similarly re-colored vehicles. This was a very cool idea, and many of these Night Force versions of the figures look much better than the originals, in my opinion.
The sub team I was aware of at the time was Tiger Force. I kind of liked Tiger Force back then and still do. On the one hand, it was a sort of vindication of my feeling that Hasbro was running out of ideas, as they were literally re-releasing old toys in place of new ones, yet I liked the idea of Joes being split up into squads and the squad members having a somewhat uniform look. I also thought it was cool that the new generation of kids coming up behind mine would get a chance to literally play with some of the same toys I enjoyed as child. On the other hand, some of the TF designs were a bit on the loud side, and some of the character choices (Tripwire!) little odd, but I still found them to be oddly appealing, particularly the vehicles which employed a "Flying Tiger" design that I really liked.
So due to all of these factors, '88 was a year that really tempted me to come out of "retirement"!
As an adult, I have quite a few of the '88 Joes. I chose the '88 Sgt Slaughter because he looks the most like a real soldier rather than a wrestler pretending to be a soldier and he has a cool removable hat. Tripwire, Recondo and Bazook I purchased years ago from an online GI Joe store and I decided to get the TF versions as I found them to be more interesting than the traditional ones. TF Frostbite, Storm Shadow and Spearhead were all given to me by different Flickr friends as part of trades. and Muskrat and Repeater I got off of eBay because they are awesome.