Emily and Lenny show off the Cobra H.I.S.S. prototype | Source: Hasbro/the Pop Insider

When the Pop Insider last caught up with Hasbro’s G.I. Joe team in April, Product Design Director Lenny Panzica and Associate Brand Manager Emily Bader were looking back on the first two years since the brand relaunch while plotting a course into 2023 and beyond (ICYMI: Check out the dossier right here to get up to speed and then come back to move forward).

Now in its third year, the G.I. Joe Classified Series of 6-inch scale action figures and vehicles is still considered a “baby brand” within the halls of Hasbro, but its success carries a ton of weight as 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of the line that inspired it, 1982’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (ARAH). Much like ARAH reinvented the G.I. Joe brand by swapping the 12-inch line of action figures from the 1960s and ’70s for the 3.75-inch scale that was all the rage due to the launch of the Kenner Star Wars collection just a few years prior, Classified modernizes the brand in the 6-inch scale that is most popular for kids and collectors today (and YES, Classified series figures are for both kids and collectors).

But there is a balancing act when it comes to the constant prevalence of the past, present, and future of G.I. Joe.

Just a day after Hasbro broke records with the launch of its HasLab G.I. Joe Classified Series Cobra H.I.S.S. Tank project (crowdfunded in just eight hours), we caught up with Bader and Panzica again for some fresh intel that we can now consider declassified.

The Cobra H.I.S.S. and its Driver | Source: Hasbro

The Worst-Kept Secret from Cobra Command?

While rumors had been swirling for months, the pending arrival of the Classified Series Cobra H.I.S.S. Tank was spoiled not by a factory leak or a loose-lipped executive, but by Hasbro’s own website. A partial listing for the project appeared on Hasbro Pulse roughly 24 hours prior to launch and spread like wildfire across social media. The excitement was obvious, but no one — including the G.I. Joe team — expected the overwhelming out-of-the-gate response.

The second G.I. Joe HasLab project and the first for the Classified Series, the Cobra H.I.S.S. launched with the requirement that 8,000 backers would be required to pledge $300 each to send the vehicle and its driver — an exclusive figure — into production. With an Early Bird perk dangling a second exclusive action figure if funded by July 6, fans wasted no time in fully funding the project in under eight hours. In less than a day, the campaign had also unlocked the first of four stretch goals (as of this writing, more than 11,000 backers have gotten behind the campaign).

“We designed a H.I.S.S. Tank about three years ago,” Panzica says. “We had gone through what we thought would be cool … we had it as a dream, and having already done a design study, we could step back and look at the design process [for HasLab] as the Classified expert.”

This means that the team was able to approach the H.I.S.S. as a crowdfunding candidate with fresh eyes that had been informed by two years of having the Classified Series at retail. But why do a Cobra (“The Enemy!”) vehicle for the first 6-inch scale HasLab amid a milestone year?

“We trade-off because we did a ‘Joe [3.75-inch Skystriker] for the first HasLab,” Bader says. “We get accused of being very pre-Cobra on the G.I. Joe team, which is true.”

But the decision to do a H.I.S.S. may have finally hit the perfect notes, which Panzica says were the considerations of “price, doability, and a vehicle that is iconic.”

“In a lot of ways, the H.I.S.S. is like our [Star Wars] TIE Fighter,” he says. “It has an iconic silhouette, but since it’s Classified, we had a conversation about how much to change.”

The answer was subtle upgrades that would benefit the vehicle as being the modern version of what kids were playing with in the ’80s. But price and space were carefully considered.

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“What we had originally designed, we would’ve had to charge $600 for,” Bader says. “It was very important to keep things in reasonable price space. Now that we know that there’s an appetite for vehicles of this size, we can go to leadership at Hasbro and show it.”

Entering the office with concrete data is something desperately needed as G.I. Joe continues to expand while still being a scrappy, “young” brand in modern times.

“When [Transformers] Unicron and the [Star Wars] Sail Barge came out on HasLab, they were high priced but those collectors already had an established precedent that they’d spend on a $300+ item,” Bader says, noting that H.I.S.S. tanks are potential “troop builder” vehicles that some collectors may buy more than one of. “While it’s not inexpensive, we thought of what kind of vehicles we could scale up to be purposeful and detailed and beautiful. We wanted to make sure that we were proud of this work and that the community will be proud to own it as well. This is something that no one else has.”

Could the Door Open for Smaller HasLab Projects at Increased Frequency?

Fan requests for smaller vehicles and accessories that could potentially complement bigger projects may become a consideration going forward. I asked the team about the potential to speed up the process, but there are factors that most of the general toy community is not aware of when it comes to developing HasLab projects.

The biggest factor is time. There are two teams at play on each project — a HasLab team and a brand team —and they pass the projects back and forth through development and engineering. Any time that a brand team spends on a HasLab project cuts into their work on the core product lines.

The other major factor is approaching HasLab projects as a standalone item versus a collection.

“One big really exciting thing [with HasLab] is the little bits that go with it,” Bader says. “We looked at the Skystriker as a collection in one shot. You get the Skystriker plus a giant bag of additional pieces and accessories. The Cobra H.I.S.S. is one thing with one dude. This is looking at what makes up a ‘collection HasLab’ vs. something that could be on its own and what’s exciting and a good value proposition.”

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero 40th Anniversary | Source: Hasbro

Don’t Expect a U.S.S. FLAGG Anytime Soon

It comes up all the time, and the Hasbro team has heard all the requests for a 6-inch scale U.S.S. FLAGG. As mentioned back in April, a properly scaled version of the legendary playset from the ’80s (which was 7 feet long) is not practical, even if it was something doable.

“Even before this crazy inflation, we ran numbers and it’s 1983 anymore,” Panzica says, noting that consideration of what people will do with a large vehicle is different than what they may do with other HasLab projects. “It’s not apples to apples with Galactus and the Sentinels, and that helped to determine the final feature packs.”

“We want to make sure that the vehicles we’re growing into Classified scale can be in your home,” Bader adds, with a reminder that the team did conduct size tests at one time. “A FLAGG could be 20 feet long and I could stand in it like a tiny house!”

And for anyone hoping for a reissue or an upgrade to the FLAGG in a 3.75-inch scale a la the Skystriker? Bader says that the original FLAGG passes no current quality assurance standards and would have to be completely redesigned.

Updates on Plastic-Free Packaging and Shipping Issues

Hasbro’s ongoing efforts to roll out plastic-free packaging are becoming more noticeable at retail as new shipments arrive. The G.I. Joe Classified Series joins other 6-inch brands, including Star Wars The Black Series, Marvel Legends, and the Power Rangers Lightning Series in getting a full rethink from top to bottom.

“We think it’s an amazing opportunity to try something new,” Bader says. “We love the Classified artwork. It gets to highlight the diversity of the G.I. Joe universe, and [with plastic-free packaging] you get to see the full poster versus just the cutout. It was also a challenge for us to use the change to create something exciting. We’re learning so that we can adapt into the future”

Plastic-free packaging for Kamakura and Blue Ninjas | Source: Hasbro

The changes include the previously revealed tissue paper with G.I. Joe and Cobra faction logos (which Bader says create “an unboxing experience”) and cardboard inserts that become playable footlockers.

As expected, late shipments are catching up, though the Hasbro team once again points out that it is ultimately up to the retailer to properly handle the products once they are delivered. According to Bader, some figures that should’ve been in the U.S. for release in April have shifted as far back as October.

“We are not sitting on piles of G.I. Joe product,” she says.

More Declassified Intel on Future Figures, and More

Fans looking to add more Dreadnoks to Zartan’s crew will be excited to know that Ripper is officially in development and in the pipeline to join the Classified Series. Additionally, Firefly is in development with a brand new sculpt using all new parts.

Within the next few days, Lenny’s color studies inspired by legendary G.I. Joe designer Ron Rudat’s Cobra H.I.S.S. Tactician will be revealed. At the close of the Cobra H.I.S.S. HasLab campaign, backers will get to vote on which colorway makes its way into production as part of the Early Bird bonus.

Attendees to Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) this year will be able to see the Cobra H.I.S.S. prototype in person (Bader and Panzica both plan to attend), but don’t expect to come home with arms full of Hasbro exclusives.

No Hasbro Product Will be Sold Onsite at SDCC 2022

That’s right — the traditional Hasbro Pulse booth at SDCC is not happening. Instead, some special products will be sold online, and the much-anticipated new Sgt. Slaughter action figure will go up for preorder during the event.

A Quick Look Ahead

By sometime in 2023, the G.I. Joe Classified Series will welcome its 100th figure. It’s an impressive feat for a brand with a long legacy that will be in its fourth year since reinventing itself — something Bader notes as a reflection of the times.

Panzica says that every original figure from the ARAH line is fair game for a Classified refresh, but it’s been a learning curve in balancing the needs and wants of consumers with what’s ultimately best for the brand.

“With the original launch of Classified [in 2020], we wanted to reach a different consumer and attract a younger consumer with new tech. Going into 2022, we went more classic because of the 40th anniversary,” he says. “Now, we’re 100% drawing more from the old school figures than we did in the past … but with discrete updates.”

And if you didn’t back the H.I.S.S. yet, Bader says you better get on that because “completionists will be very sad” to miss out on the included action figures, which will be numbered sequentially with the rest of the Classified Series. If you didn’t know that, now you know …

… and knowing is half the battle! YO JOE!

This interview was conducted in a roundtable format and has been edited for flow and clarity.