G.I. Rocky

By | Thursday, January 30, 2020 1 comment
G.I.Joe Order of Battle #2
I stumbled across a bit of trivia recently that I can't quite seem to get a full story behind.

Hasbro saw that the Rambo movie franchise was quite successful, and thought that would make for an obvious tie-in with their popular G.I.Joe line of action figures. The problem, though, was that the character was a little too violent (even in the cartoon version) and the license went to Coleco.

Rocky Balboa card
Still wanting to capitalize on things, they looked to license the other big Sylvester Stallone character, Rocky Balboa. While they worked on the contracts, they got Bill Merklein to design/sculpt the figure and had the folks at Marvel start working the character into the comics. Larry Hama wrote up a G.I.Joe-specific biography and Herb Trimpe did some artwork for a character file comic called G.I.Joe Order of Battle #2. (In the image at the top, you can see Rocky pretty squarely in the center of the back cover.)

The deal fell through, though, and Marvel had to print a retraction in the next two issues stating:
The character of Rocky Balboa (Code Name: ROCKY) was incorrectly included as a member of G.I.Joe in The G.I.Joe ORDER OF BATTLE, Issue #2 on page 10. ROCKY is not and never has been a member of G.I.Joe.
The Rocky art was removed entirely from the trade paperback that came later.

I understand the basics of this whole process. But what I don't get is how the contract end of things fell apart so far along in the process. According to former Hasbro product manager Kirk Bozigian, “The reason Rocky was dropped from the G.I. Joe line is because his agents got greedy. While we were designing and sculpting Rocky Balboa, a competing toy company, Coleco, was introducing Rambo action figures and vehicles to compete with us. The decision to drop Rocky was an easy one.” (Source) But that doesn't make sense since Hasbro's decision to use Rocky was in response to Coleco picking up (or at least pursuing) the Rambo license in the first place!

Keep in mind, too, that we're talking the 1986/87 timeframe. While Rocky was initially released in 1976 and thus might be considered a dated property a decade later, Rocky IV came out in 1985... the same year that Rambo: First Blood Part II came out. So both characters had a very active currency at the time, and Stallone was at the height of his popularity. Either/both proprieties were very viable. Also, why would Hasbro -- the 800 pound gorilla of toy manufacturing in the US -- be concerned about competition from Coleco, who was making any number of questionable business decisions at the time? Decisions that led to their bankruptcy in 1988. Plus, this isn't just Hasbro, this is Hasbro's G.I.Joe line at the height of its popularity -- what kind of competition did they realistically have? Something doesn't seem quite right here.

Clearly, the deal was all but done when it got pulled. That issue of Order of Battle wouldn't have gone to press otherwise. It strikes me as evidence that there's a lot more to this story than anyone has actually said.
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Matt K said...

Shatner should do an episode of The Unexplained about this instead of just revisiting all the usual stand-bys.