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Comic Book Legends Revealed #459

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COMIC LEGEND: After Hasbro bought the company that made the equivalent of G.I. Joe toys in England, the comic adaptation had to transform the Action Force main villain into Cobra Commander!

STATUS: True

Action Force was the British equivalent of G.I. Joe. After G.I. Joe became really popular here in the United States in the early 1980s with the 3 inch figures, Palitoy Limited came out with a version in England called Action Force based originally on their Action Man toy series. Their line of soldier toys sold very well and eventually they began re-painting Hasbro G.I. Joe figures and vehicles.

The toy line proved popular enough that it soon added a feature in long-running British war comic, Battle Picture Weekly. It grew SO popular that the comic was even renamed from Battle Action to Battle Action Force!

In 1985, Hasbro purchased Action Force from Palitoy and just officially made it the British version of G.I. Joe. Same figures, just called Action Force.

However, a problem with the transition was the fact that in the comics, the bad guys were Baron Ironblood and the Red Shadows.

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So in a storyline in Battle Action Force #507-513, Ironblood decides to break up the Red Shadows and re-invent himself…

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One of the surviving members of the Red Shadows, the Red Jackal, tracks him down and check out the awesome transformations into recognizable characters…

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Isn’t that fascinating? Rather than just rebooting the comic, they went through all that effort.

Thanks to Anthony Durrant for the head’s up about this one!

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42 Comments

“The editor behind the project, Rich Marshall, soon left Marvel Comics.”

Left, or was pushed out the door? I mean, somebody had to take the fall for the money they threw away on those pulped comics.

I was being delicate. ;)

Ah, the infamous Baron Ironblood!

I loved this stuff back then but it made a lot of long-term Battle fans very unhappy, seeing not only half of the comics given over to the new franchise but also because it was responisble for the legendary John Cooper being co-opted from Battle and onto the new Action Force stories.

There’s a nice site that re-prints all the old strips from the AF era of Battle – fun stuff.

I met Baron Ironblood in a toy shop in Malton, North Yorkshire, about thirty years ago. Part of a promotion for the latest batch of AF merchandise, if I recall… :-)

When DDP had the license for the GI Joe comics they introduced the Red Shadows as a new threat that if I remember right was fighting both the Joes and Cobra. I didn’t realize there was a previous incarnation.

As Karl indicates, Battle Action Force wasn’t a comic just about Action Force, it was half strips typical of the old Battle comic and a half a pull-out section about Action Force.

At least on of the repainted GI Joe vehicles was assigned to the other side in the Action Force line (I think it was a Cobra helicopter being marketed as an Action Force “good guys” copter) and they even had a story detailing how Cobra had now captured one of these Action Force vehicles and was making their own. I think the story was called “Death of the H.A.W.K.).

The Red Shadows in DDP were a piss-poor version, Jazzbo. They didn’t use any of the original UK characters. Some fans do like to think ‘Wilder Vaughn’ was the Black Major and Artur Kulik was Red Jackel but I don’t buy it. Thankfully, though, that continuity no longer counts!

AF started in 1982, same year as GI Joe. They were originally scaled down versions of the 12in Action Man figures (UK version of 12in Joes, but without the ‘Adventure Team’ stuff) which the company launched off the back of the success of their deal to produce Kenner Star Wars toys for the UK. Plus, this was after the ’70s oil crisis and smaller toys use less plastic, thus are cheaper, of course. The 1983 AF was the series which rebooted the line with the Red Shadows as villains and introduced the heroes of SAS Force, Q Force, Z Force and Space Force. Most of the toys were repaints of the 1982 stuff, some new stuff and then some repaints of Joe figures and vehicles. Red Jackel was a repaint of Destro, driving the red ‘Hyena’ tank, a repaint of the HISS.

1985 saw the rights to AF sold to Hasbro and they brought over Duke, Stalker, Scarlett and several others as AF, with one new original character ‘Ton Up’ driving the Wolverine tank. Two AF characters survived as repaints of Short Fuse and Zap, driving two of the AF vehicles that survived. One Red Shadow character survived, Red Wolf (a renamed Wild Weasel figure) to go with the Roboskull aircraft.

1986 saw no new toys arrive. Then Hasbro relaunched the line in ’87 using all American figures and vehicles, with packaging styled like the Joe stuff (the ’85 line used Pallitoy style packaging). 1990, the line got renamed ‘GI Joe: The Action Force’. 1991, it went to just ‘GI Joe’.

Interestingly, the Red Shadows did return in the Battle AF comics, now led by the Black Major, fighting Cobra as well as AF.

When they changed the name in 1990, Marvel UK did a huge retcon story themselves. Fodder for another legend, maybe?

You got it, Tilt. SAS Force had the Hawk helicopter, flown by a Tripwire repaint called ‘Blades’. It was a repaint of the FANG with yellow replacing the red tail rotor, gun and rockets. When the US stuff arrived, it included the Cobra FANG, which the comic explained as Baroness stealing the blueprints and Cobra destroying all of the Hawks.

Quite logical, your thinking about the grown-ups not needing to carry Superman code. And while it might seem complicated for kids, I think we underestimate today’s kids. If they are motivated to understand something (like this because it’s Superman), they would certainly figure it out.

Also just as an FYI the next-to-last paragraph has “Pluto” spelled “Pluot.” Which, I hear, is a tasty hybrid of a plum and an apricot.

While I agree that kids today would be able to figure it out, I just don’t think that a company would ever try to make them work that much, ya know?

Yeah, but somebody explain to me how Andy Capp became Serpentor.

I remember reading the BSG comic and being completely baffled by Baltar’s execution. Of course, I was all of seven years old at the time.

Baron Ironblood’s costume looks a bit like Black Knight’s (Nathan Garrett).

No all the editions of the Battlestar Galactica Super Special were pulped I recall (seeing through the mists of time and memory) reading the spanish edition of the comic were Baltar was killed by the Cylons. It is a bit hazy after all these years, but I remember that panel with Baltar’s body in the floor under the sword wielding cylon.

You can see the complete ORIGINAL version of the BattleStar Galactica adaptation (the magazine-sized full-color one that was pulped, not the treasury-sized comic-book color one) by clicking on my name above…

My brother bought the Treasury Edition of Battlestar Galactica at a garage sale a few years after it came out. We were somewhat confused over the death of Baltor, but I was even more bothered by the fact that he was bald. (Does anybody know why his appearance was so different? Was the book actually drawn before he was even cast? That doesn’t sound likely.)

“Divided We Fall” was the later ‘good guy’ equivalent of the Ironblood/Red Jackal story (and is now most easily found in #245 of Transformers UK.) Marvel explained how the British Action Force (headed by Flint, Snake-Eyes, Dusty and Lt. Falcon) joins forces with the U.S.’s G.I. Joe (Hawk, Scarlett, Duke and Roadblock) to form G.I. Joe The Action Force, because individually the teams were failing against Cobra.

The GI Joe Collectors Club brought the Black Major and the Red Shadows into the Club’s Joe continuity a few years back. The way they have it, the international Joe repaints (from Brazil, Argentina, the UK’s Action Force) are inspired by the US’s Joe team and coordinate with them to an extent (like our real life militaries do).

You could dedicate a whole column on the interesting differences between US comics and their foreign counterparts.

Another memory of the British comics is that when Battle lost the Action Force tie-in licence, the last story they published had Cobra Commander flipping out completely after a huge defeat and Destro saying to another character that a lot of Cobra’s best people were dead and Cobra would probably never recover.

Interesting- the Action Force issues feature Destro as a coerced minion of Cobra Commander, who was transformed by Cobra Commander into his current state. I wondered where the G.I. Joe movies got that version of Destro from.

Re: Battlestar Galactica-licensed comics were often done based solely on the script and a few cast photos; so, no, Marvel probably didn’t have a picture of John Colicos. I had the treasury edition; and, from what I recall, they didn’t have the design of the Galactica correct in the interior. The most infamous case of this kind of thing was the Gold Key early Star Trek comics. They were done by Italian artists, who couldn’t even view the tv show, so they had rocket exhaust coming out of the engine nacelles! The Western (formerly Gold Key)
adaptation of Buck Rogers had the same problem (same art crew, even) where the adaptation of the pilot did not feature the ship designs and instead used old school rocket designs, which looked like they came out of Disney’s Tomorrowland programs. The covers had the correct designs, but I believe that covers were usually done after the interior work, and often by someone else. You also have to remember the Marvel Star Wars adaptation, where Darth Vader is holding a cup of steaming liquid up near his mask. Howard Chaykin didn’t draw him drinking from it, but it was pretty close. From interviews, they were only shown a little bit of rough footage. Ironically, as originally conceived, Vader’s armor was just supposed to be a pressure suit for space, not a constant survival mechanism. The original idea for the attack on the rebel ship had the stormtroopers breaching the hull from the void of space (inspired by a plot point from the EE Smith “Lensman” novel, The Galactic Patrol).

Never really got into the GI Joe comics. I read about the first half dozen, but the art didn’t do anything for me. To me, GI Joe was a guy with a fuzzy head and beard, who stood about a foot high, though mine was an “adventurer”, not a soldier, as this was when Vietnam was winding down. I had the red-headed pilot version, which was apparently rarer than the brown haired version my brother had. If I had hung on to that, my Steve Austin doll, my Mego superheroes, and my Evel Knievel, I could be sitting on a pile of cash right now. Oh, well…

As for the code thing, military codes are far more intricate than that. The kind of substitution cyphers used in cards and decoder pin premiums for comics and radio shows were the kind of things code experts would break as children. Actual agents would generally use what is known as a “one-time pad.” These code pads would be used to transmit a coded message, then destroyed, and a new code pad would be used for the next transmission. That way, even if the code was broken, it wouldn’t be reused. I used to own a books about the equipment developed for the OSS, which included pictures of one-time pads and even some of the cypher machines of the period. It featured some fascinating stuff that made a lot of things in the Bond films look like mere toys. Most were never used in the field, but my favorite was a hand weapon that was developed. It was a metal handle, somewhere in size between a kuboton and a mini-mag light. On one end was a weighted sphere, for striking, on the other was a springloaded spike blade (like an ice pick). It also had a wire garrotte, on an internal reel. So, you could bludgeon, stab, or strangle the enemy with this thing. Pretty handy!

Marvel’s Battlestar comics were pretty solid! One of the best TV show adaptations in comics ever.

Somewhere, a spy is sweating bullets.

The Ernie Colon artwork on Battlestar looks fantastic.

Drancon: yes, that was the bit i was alluding to. and which made absolutely no sense whatsoever since MUK had always told us that GI Joe was merely the American name for Action Force and that they were all the same unit and the characters had crossed between America and Britain frequently; especially Snake Eyes, Hawk, Scarlett and Roadblock.

Surprised no one’s brought it up, but in the current continuation of G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero, Larry Hama recently introduced the Red Shadows as a sort of third organization in the mix. They were portrayed as a mysterious but very credible threat, though not the ridiculous “kill half the existing Joes and Cobras for no reason, then disappear for equally no reason” fustercluck that we got in the DDP version.

They’ve only been seen once so far, but the Joes seemed boggled that a non-Cobra group could have their level of tech and still remain completely under the radar, and I’d be surprised if they don’t sort of bubble under the surface for a while before emerging as a major threat.

That is some really nice artwork on the Battlestar Galactica adaptation. I have almost all of the Marvel issues that had original stories, but I never got around to picking up any of the early ones that adapted the televisions scripts, including the Super Special. I’ll have to keep an eye out for a copy next time I’m at a convention.

And does anyone know what Ernie Colon is doing nowadays?

“Somewhere, a spy is sweating bullets.”

This post just made my day.

‘Yeah, but somebody explain to me how Andy Capp became Serpentor.’

I remember being surprised to find that Buster from IPC/Fleetway’s Buster comic was originally ‘son of Andy Capp’, apparently this was downplayed to pretty much non-existence after the first year of the comic weekly, and never acknowledged in the Daily Mirror ‘parent’ strip – which was later linked to Mandy Capp, now simply Mandy, whose parents no longer seem much like Andy or Flo

Things were way different in the pre-internet days — I actually bought the magazine-sized Battlestar Galactica from a magazine rack at a pharmacy just outside of New Orleans when it was released. It wasn’t until YEARS later that I discovered that it was rare and the backstory as to why.

I think I bought the treasury, also, AND the comics but I’ve never actually compared the different versions.

It was the magazine version that I bought off the racks in the UK.

SPY ONE: “What’s the code?”
SPY TWO: “Code Uranus!”
SPY ONE: I’m not decrypting that, man…

Marvel’s Battlestar comics were pretty solid! One of the best TV show adaptations in comics ever.

Can’t have been very faithful then!

I read Battle and was one of those disappointed when John Cooper got moved from drawing the Johnny Red strip. Although he hadn’t been the original artist his was, for me, the definitive version, and the artist who took over (whose name) I forget just didn’t capture the feel of the strip for me………

I remember owning, that Battlestar Galactica super special, the tabloid sized edition, which my mom bought for me when I was nine, at my local Roses discount store… and for the next 10 years, every time I visited the store, there was a STACK of those treasuries, discounted down to a quarter. No joke, I was in college when the store closed, and there was still a stack of them, in the toy section, waiting to be liberated. And I didn’t buy them, to my eternal shame.

Devil’s Due’s version of the Red Shadows appeared and disappeared very quickly, but the writer of that storyline intended to continue his story and use them even more, but the company decided to relaunch the comic as “G.I. Joe: America’s Elite”, and replaced the previous writer. The Red Shadows story got crammed into the last couple of issues of the previous series. I think Baron Ironblood would have eventually appeared.

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There’s actually a fourth version of the Battlestar Galactica movie/pilot published by Marvel – a paperback edition, with the panels cut up and arranged on the small pages. I’m not entirely certain which version of the story that contained (all of these are in storage and I can’t access them right now), but I know I have all 4 Marvel editions. :)

Yes Keith Bowden is right about the paperback edition. That’s what I had. I wonder where it ended up?

I’m a bit confused by the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA story. You say that the magazine was pulped and Marvel couldn’t afford a reprint and issued it as a Super Special instead. But… the Super Specials WERE glossy magazines (the Battlestar edition even included a selection of text features) so I can’t really see the difference.

I heard (or read, although I can’t recall where) that the approval problem lay in the full-page art pieces scattered throughout. Marvel’s license didn’t extend to actor liknesses (fairly standard terms) but those pages included photo-realistic art of several cast members. And that’s what Universal had a problem with. As they still appear in the final version (and, as far as I can recall, the paperback and treasury versions), I assume the deal was made.

I’ve never had the impression that the Super Special was particularly rare. Copies crossed the Atlantic and still turn up in British back issue boxes. They also recieved a (minimal) plug in the pages of the British Marvel weeklies… although no where near as much as Marvel’s CLOSE ENCONTERS OF THE THIRD KIND adaptation.

One thing to note. The treasury and Super Special editions had similar – but different – cover art. I’m not sure why. I later saw the SS cover art adorning a ringbinder folder which – I assume – was an officially licensed piece of merchandise issued concurrent with the show. The paperback used the key advertising art for the movie/ pilot.

My blog (starlogged.blogspot.co.uk) has more on the Marvel BG books (and their British editions) and a lot more besides….

You know, there are so many characters running around the Marvel Universe that were originally associated with licensed properties (Bug, the Spaceknights of Galador, Doctor Demonicus, Kulan Gath, Shang-Chi, Death’s Head, Blacksun, Machine Man, etc., etc.) that I’m a little sad that Marvel didn’t manage to keep any characters from many of the licensed sci-fi properties: Star Wars, Battlestar, Logan’s Run, John Carter, etc. Just because I love the cobbled-together weirdness of it all.

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