The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe 1982-1994 by Mark Bellomo is seriously a one of a kind book. This third edition, beautifully bound in stunning, classy hardcover is a fantastic blend of coffee table book with its incredible photography. It’s a toy collector’s reference book, as I’ve seen toy vendor friends of mine carrying around their copies at shows, just to check prices for G.I. Joe toys on the spot (the same can be said for Mark’s Transformers Action Figure guide, another stellar book we reviewed here on Toy Wizards).
And honestly…well…it’s kind of a history book too.
This may be unconventional for a book review on a toy news site, but I’m going to give you a little bit of background on myself to help you understand my relationship with G.I. Joe. I was born in 1985, and while the show was very much on TV by the time my consciousness kicked in, it just never struck my interest. Born into a family of all girls (five of us total), we were all more attracted to Nick Jr.’s delightfully gender neutral morning lineup or ‘girl shows’ like Rainbow Brite, My Little Ponies, Moon Dreamers, etc. unless they were based off of a video game franchise. Super Mario Super Show, Inspector Gadget, Heathcliff, and Garfield and Friends were all fair game.
But G.I. Joe was for boys.
My family never had any ‘True American Hero’ sensibilities instilled into us. I’m not sure if it’s part of my Jewish upbringing or not, because I’m sure there are plenty of Jewish people in the army. And while my Dad served in the Israeli army, as is required of men and women once they turn eighteen, he never really talked about his experience or how far into the trenches he did or didn’t go. On his side, I am first generation American. When he was twenty-two, he moved to the US, barely speaking English, married the first woman he met who was pretty (my mom) and boom. That was life.
My maternal Grandfather had enlisted into the army and was supposed to have served in World War II. However, within the weeks of him having to go do his time, he found he had contracted Polio from a public swimming pool. Remember, these were the years before the Polio vaccine was invented. Therefore, he was unable to serve in the war.
I feel compelled to say that there were never any gender roles instilled upon us in my house. It was never ‘This is what men do, how they act, who they are’ just like no hobbies or interests we were confined to being for girls. It was just life and people got to do whatever they wanted. So, the men in my life never ‘acted like men’ and the women never ‘acted like women’. We all just got it done. I think this affected my attraction to a franchise like G.I. Joe in my youth, or maybe I was simply too young.
Regardless, it made it even more exciting to crack open Mark’s book. As I’ve become more and more acquainted with the toy collecting community, I adore the number of hardcore G.I. Joe enthusiasts I’ve met. Everyone’s collections are incredible and the devotion to the fandom is just so cool. But I have to admit, unlike Transformers, Star Wars, or even just appreciating 80s toys, G.I. Joe is something I just know nothing about. The only characters I came in knowing were Cobra Commander, Destro, Sgt. Slaughter, and Duke.
Thus, we dive in.
Like all of Mark’s books, this one is perfectly organized. There’s the series number, the price guide, what the toy comes with, what parts are easily lost, information about the character, and any special extras you may need to know. While each Transformers line of toys introduced a whole new set of characters until the 90s when new radical versions of the G1 bots came out, the G.I. Joe toys seemed to be on repeat for a little bit. New or variant versions of the same character line up came out regularly every year, it seems. There’s small differences and variations, most notable in the fact that Cobra Commander wasn’t named as thus in the beginning, but instead was called Enemy Leader. That’s what I mean when I say this guide reads like a history book or encyclopedia. It really does have a lot to teach.
With every page I flipped through, I had to keep reminding myself that Mark owns every single toy in this book. Which means I’m going to find a way to get invited over to his house, sit on a picnic blanket, and drink some coffee in whatever room said toys are hiding in so I can swoon.
At the beginning of the book, I wasn’t struck with the appeal of G.I. Joe quite yet. The toys were cool, and I like the 3 3/4 inch action figure premise that these dudes nailed down, but all I saw was boy toy.
But then, 1985 hit.
And seriously– damn.
The 1985 line is where these toys really took off. Once I started looking at this series, I kind of wanted to collect them all too. The colors were bright, the designs popped, and everything was just more exciting. Possibly, this had something to do with the companion cartoon series, but who is to say concretely. All I know is that I want the Cobra Commanders. I want the Destros. I want a Baroness figure, which is next on my to-find list.
And I learned that loose for the noncommittal collector, these toys don’t even cost all that much.
Another surprising aspect is the sheer amount of product that was produced under the G.I. Joe umbrella! Not just action figures, but tanks, planes, play sets, and just more play gear than I have words to describe. As always, the best part of Mark’s books is the writing in and of itself. He has this way of writing with intense knowledge, subject matter expertise, but still manages to sound like a person you’re having a conversation with. He’s explaining to you the way something is, but there is zero pretension and never does the energy drop. He’s funny without being goofy. He’s sarcastic without being snarky. He’s friendly without losing his authoritative edge. And he’s a wealth of knowledge without being a know it all. It’s always just ‘This is the information. These are the facts. Hang out if you want to know more, I can teach you. Oh, is there something shiny over there? Let’s go look at it together.’
The layout of the book is perfect. The photographs are crisp and clean. I unfortunately saw a typo at the end of the book when the Street Fighter II action figures were being discussed. It says Capom on the title header instead of Capcom.
This book is more than just ‘an addition to every fan’s collection’ or a reference guide, or a ‘bible’ or a ‘tome.
The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe 1982-1994 is a freakin’ spell book.
The love, care, consideration, and details in here are nothing short of mind blowing. And because G.I. Joe is a franchise that really hasn’t produced new toys in quite a while (but they did make those movies, right?), the fandom, which is strong, proud, and heroic, definitely deserve a book that brings them all together.
I give The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe 1982-1994 by Mark Bellomo 5/5 Stars.