G.I. Joe Classified Team on Adding More Vehicles and Deluxe Figures to the Line

Thứ sáu - 17/05/2024 22:05
The team behind G.I. Joe Classified on how the line keeps expanding, including adding more deep cuts, Transformers tie-ins, and supernatural nods.

Some special releases here and there aside, the G.I. Joe brand was a fairly dormant one at Hasbro for several years, but if there was any doubt that a passionate fanbase still was out there for Joe, that was quickly pushed aside when the G.I. Joe Classified figures made their debut in 2020. Bringing back the characters introduced in the wildly popular G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero line in the 1980s, but now at six-inch scale, Classified quickly proved to be a huge hit for Hasbro, with more and more figures added since its launch.

That success was solidified and underlined in the past year, as Hasbro launched the first two HasLab crowdfunding projects for the G.I. Joe Classified line, which were a notable test given both the high price point and large amount of space in one’s home it would take to create six-inch scale versions of classic vehicles like the Cobra H.I.S.S. tank or the G.I. Joe Dragonfly helicopter. And yet, first with the H.I.S.S. in 2022, and now the Dragonfly this summer, both HasLab projects were resounding successes, not only achieving their goal for funding but also hitting all the possible stretch goals to unlock additional figures and elements for the vehicles.

G.I. Joe fans will need some serious shelf space for both the H.I.S.S. tank and Dragonfly helicopter

At San Diego Comic-Con, I spoke to three key members of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe team, Lenny Panzica, Emily Bader, and Tony Colella, about what’s next for G.I. Joe Classified, including the HasLab projects, the announcement of the first vehicle in the line that was neither a relatively smaller motorcycle or a HasLab project with the V.A.M.P. jeep, and how they’ve managed to find some deep cut characters from G.I. Joe’s past to add more women to the team. We also spoke about how the upcoming Mole Rat character adds both a notable supernatural element and a Transformers tie-in to the line, listening to fan requests, and much more.


Fandom: A year ago at Comic-Con, we were talking about the success of the H.I.S.S. and now we’re back here and the Dragonfly just got funded, so you’re two for two with these Classified Haslab vehicles. Crowdfunding campaigns don’t always work, even for high profile brands, so how does it feel to see just how well the Classified campaigns have gone?

Lenny Panzica: It feels good, to put it bluntly!

Emily Bader: It does.

Lenny Panzica: A lot of work goes into It. A lot of passion. So when it gets to pay off like that, it means the world to us. And then it just gets us excited for what the future holds for the brand, you know?

Hasbro's Lenny Panzica with an early, unfinished version of the upcoming HasLab Dragonfly helicopter

Tony Colella: Yeah, it’s definitely affirming to what we do. Because when we come out here to these types of events, we come back with insights. We talk to people and we have to place some bets. And I think that when you do something like a HasLab, that’s as big as that is, with a funding window, a lot of work goes into it behind the scenes, and it’s exciting to just be redeemed and see it happen. And I feel good about it, not only for the whole development team, but for all those who are gonna have an awesome thing in their hands.

Emily Bader: And I think it’s so cool to see the fans really rally together. We saw it with the [3 3/4″ scale] Skystriker, with the H.I.S.S, with the Dragonfly. It’s something that brings the community together. And so I’m really excited for the Star Wars community right now with the Ghost [HasLab campaign] that’s currently happening. We’ve been seeing our teammates working on that for so long. It’s been so much fun to get to start to see the reaction to that and how quickly it’s funding. It’s really, really cool. We’re having a good time at Hasbro!

Lenny Panzica: The HasLabs feel like a saga from the start to finish. It’s like ‘Where are we gonna go? What are we getting to?’ I think it’s an exciting ride doing the campaigns.

The upcoming V.A.M.P. (with the jeep's classic driver, Clutch) will be the first vehicle for the Classified line that is not a HasLab crowdfunded one, beyond a couple of motorcycles

Fandom: Until now, the only non-HasLab vehicles for Classified have been motorcycles, but now you’ve announced the V.A.M.P. as a regular release. The entire Classified line has been so well-received, so combined with the HasLab successes, did it embolden you to go for it with more vehicles? Because those can be tricky with six-inch figures.

Emily Bader: The more figures that we do, and the more that we see people are excited, the wider we get to cast our net and the more worldbuilding we get to think about. We start saying, “Okay, we’ve done kind of the baseline establishing of what Classified is. We’ve gotten collectors on board.” And now that people have enough figures, it’s really [thinking], “Okay, what can we do next? What can we do to continue building out these amazing collections and kind of continue that classified story?” And [the V.A.M.P.] just kind of makes sense for the next step.

Lenny Panzica: Yeah, it’s the world of play, right? So it’s like what can we do at this 1:12 scale to push it even further? Even beyond vehicles, what are other things we could do?

Fandom: Hmm, I can think of certain suits of armor and such that might be possible… As a kid who grew up in the 80s G.I. Joe, the brand wasn’t great back then in terms of how many women were on the team. But you guys have found some deep cuts to pull into Classified, like Glenda as part of the Dragonfly and now you announced Helix, on top of announcing Jinx, who was a more prominent character.

Emily Bader: Shooter’s coming too.

(L-R) Glenda, Shooter, and Helix are all more deep cut characters from G.I. Joe's past getting Classified figures

Fandom: Right, Shooter! That’s another one of those deep cuts. So is that cool for you guys to go, “Actually, there are more female Joes than you might realize at a glance, we just need to dig a little bit more to find some of them.”

Lenny Panzica: With Shooter, we were looking for that role. We needed a character that fit the role of a sniper for the storyline we’re trying to tell with the Night Force and she was kind of the perfect character for it. A little bit of a deep cut, but [that works for] Classified. She’s had a couple of figures out and it was one of those opportunities where she’s a cool exclusive that we can push her design on, especially for the storyline we’re trying to tell. And we’re really excited having a line because she kind of exudes Classified with a lot of the tactical gear on her and the weapon loadout. So yeah, it’s one of those opportunities that just make a cool toy.

Tony Colella: And G.I. Joe has always been a reflection of the world in which he lives and I think as we look at the world that G.I. Joe’s living in now, we have a lot of brave women out there serving. Being able to bring to life some of these types within G.I. Joe, and make it feel like an awesome pop culture, modern military experience, it’s a very exciting time.

The Cobra Valkyrie two-pack introduces Cobra troop builder figures to the Classified line

Emily Bader: I was really excited about that Cobra Valkyrie two-pack that we did as our first Classified female troop builder set. It was really cool to see just how positive the response was to that.

Lenny Panzica: It went really well.

Emily Bader: I think that got a lot of people’s attention, because we’ve all heard the old adage that female action figures don’t sell. And so for us, that was a really nice moment of “Yeah, but this did really well.” It was a stereotype, but I think that it’s been so much fun on G.I. Joe, to really get to flex our wings a little bit and say everybody can be a G.I. Joe… or be a Cobra, should you choose! It’s just really fun to see what’s gonna come next.

Fandom: You have the recently released Scrap-Iron and now Tripwire’s announced, which are deluxe figures with some big equipment components. Scrap-Iron basically has an amped up, modernized version of his original accessories, but Tripwire has a lot of new elements. Do you look at the various characters and see these opportunities for where you can expand upon them?

Lenny Panzica: Tripwire, in Classified, we kind of go a little extra with the designs. We knew we wanted to do a [modern] bomb expert, so we wanted to put him into full armor. At the same time, we need to harken back to his original look. So the idea was, let’s play into that. What does he need for the situation he’s handling? He doesn’t have to wear that full armor every time so what is he doing when he’s not wearing that armor? He’s gonna be wearing something a little more classic looking. So he’s a really good figure because we’re getting into more of an almost armor up [situation]. So the armor on the shoulders comes off. You can put that new armor on top of him and then the helmet. We wanted to give a more robust, almost dress up play.

The upcoming Tripwire figure comes with snap on armor allowing for different looks for the character

Emily Bader: It’s been really interesting. As we’ve kind of established ourselves and the line, we’re starting to branch out and say okay, so what are some more options that we can give to people? And so the new Deluxe price point is really cool, because there are those characters where we’re given the opportunity to put more accessories with them, and it creates so many more opportunities for what their loadouts will be and what stories you can tell with them. I think that he is a perfect candidate for that.

Lenny Panzica: The character’s gotta make sense, you know what I mean? It’s his story. Maybe the bomb that he’s gotta handle is a little more intense than another bomb so he’s got to put something heavier on.

Fandom: Now let me ask about Mole Rat, because several things stand out here. It’s an original character, he’s a zombie, and there’s a Transformers tie-in.

Lenny Panzica: We wanted to give Walmart a story that was unique for them [and their exclusive figures]. We wanted Night Force to be dealing with a particular situation. We wanted it to be something that felt macabre and dark; it’s Night Force. And so the idea is that Cobra sends their Mole Rats to go excavate a mine. And the mine just happens to have Energon in there. The idea is that they want to start making new weaponry. G.I. Joe gets word of this, so they send Big Ben to find out what’s going on. While this happens, it goes bad, and he’s gotta get out of there. Shooter goes in to give him cover fire. And while that happens, the Mole Rats’ suits malfunction, and the Dark Energon gets into their suits. That’s actually why Big Ben and Shooter have gas masks. So it gets into their suits and it turns [the Mole Rats] into Dark Energon zombies.

Like the saying goes, a spoon full of Dark Energon will turn you into a zombie - or at least that's what Mole Rat teaches us

Oh, and by the way, the toy glows! The crystal coming out of their heads – they glow. We also wanted to do something new for Classified, something that was its own character. So that works within what we’re trying to do. It’s got a lot of extra stuff going on and a lot of detail. From an army builder standpoint, it allows you to customize right out of the box. So it kind of exudes what we’re doing with the line.

Fandom: With G.I. Joe, it will always be divisive how much you dip your toes into fantasy, but you look back and there were aspects like Cobra-La. So there’s a history of incorporating these things. But when it came to the Dark Energon aspect, and tying it to Transformers lore specifically, was it basically thinking, “Well hey, it’s gotta be something behind this, so…”

Lenny Panzica: Yeah, it’s all within the company and it’s something that I think fans have always kind of wanted. So to do those little nods, like with Chuckles [coming with a Soundwave-inspired tape recorder]. We’re trying to do these fun little nods when we can and kind of pay respect, as well as have fun.

The SDCC Exclusive Chuckles figure included a familiar tape player for Transformers fans among his accessories

Fandom: I’ll lovingly curse you guys out because when Classified began, I told myself I wouldn’t get many variants of the same characters but now I’ve gotten every B.A.T figure you’ve made.

Emily Bader: You got the one with the chainsaw arm, right?

Fandom: A chainsaw arm? Of course I did!

Lenny Panzica: Chainsaw arm, I’m gonna throw it down for a second. It’s for when he needs to make an outcropping, so he can snipe.

Emily Bader: It just makes sense!

Fandom: It makes sense! You could just do the repaint but you’ve found some interesting ways to make them more distinct.

The B.A.T. (Battle Android Trooper) in Crimson and Arctic variants, among other versions released so far

Lenny Panzica: It’s gotta make sense. If we’re gonna repaint something, it’s for a purpose, right? We want to tell the story. We want to change out their loadout and their armor and stuff like that. So with the B.A.T., B.A.T.s are support troops. So it’s like, how can these guys support Snow Serpents? Though technically they were released before the Snow Serpents. [Laughs]

Fandom: You’re beginning to make more of the characters from the original batch of 13 that kicked off the 1980s Real American Hero brand and Grunt is coming up. These are classic characters, but those initial 13 were also rather plain in terms of the details of their uniforms compared to what would follow. So is it an interesting challenge for you guys to see how you can evoke that original figure, but also built it out and update them in different ways?

Lenny Panzica: Some of our demographic is way younger, so you want to kind of pique their interest. When you’re designing something for somebody who’s never seen it, you want them to stop for a minute and go, “Whoa, what is that? Maybe this is something for me.” At the same time, you’ve got to be very delicate about going away from the character too far. I feel like with Grunt being a master strategist and being kind of a troop builder back in the day, I think we kind of nailed it with his gear, with a device that flips down so you see the field… It’s a delicate balance that’s fun to do. And then maybe you’re welcoming new people into the line.

We’ll probably get to one at some point in time that is a little more classic looking. Never say never.

The classic Real American Hero Grunt figure (image via 3DJoes.com) and the new G.I. Joe Classified version

Fandom: You made some big announcements for characters people have been wanting for for a long time, like Hawk and the Dreadnoks. You can’t do everything at once, of course, but you know people want these things. So is it great when you get to check off a big box like that?

Emily Bader: Oh yeah. We listen to fan feedback and read the forums and all the posts. Fans tell us what they want. They’re not shy about telling us what they want.

Lenny Panzica: No, they are not!

Emily Bader: It’s always fun when we get to show off the things that we’ve been working on. The development process for these is so long that a lot of the time, fans will tell us what they’re excited about [us possibly doing] and in our brains, we’ll be thinking “Oh yeah, we’re already working on that but we’re not ready to tell you yet,” and so when we can, it’s really fun.

General Hawk was one of several long-awaited characters announced at Comic-Con for the Classified line

Tony Colella: The other thing that’s interesting too is we keep an eye on Instagram and other social media platforms to check out what people are doing with customs. We’re really blessed with an incredible customizer community and when you start to see things online, it’s a reflection of what people want to see.

Fandom: Between Spirit’s eagle, Shipwreck’s bird, Croc Master‘s crocodile, and Snake Eyes’ wolf, among others, I notice you have an impressive little army of animals that you are amassing among the Classified figures. And now you’ve not only announced Mutt and Junkyard, but given Tripwire a pet rat.

Lenny Panzica: Oh yeah, I love doing the animals! they’re some of my favorite stuff.

Emily Bader: Our own menagerie.

Mutt and Junkyard (and Junkyard's alternate "Good Boy" head) as seen at San Diego Comic-Con. Image via awesometoyblog.com

Lenny Panzica: For those who don’t know, Junkyard comes with a good boy face.

Emily Bader: And a bad dog face.

Lenny Panzica: Well, an angry dog [face].

Fandom: I’d say he’s just on the job.

Lenny Panzica: On the job and then being dopey.


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