G.I. Joe started as a line of action figures produced by the toy company Hasbro in 1964. They were marketed as "America's movable fighting man," pioneering the term "action figure" and revolutionizing the toy industry. The G.I. Joe line successfully adapted to changing times and tastes, undergoing numerous transformations over the years, such as the introduction of the "Adventure Team" in the 1970s and the smaller-scaled "A Real American Hero" line in the 1980s.
The franchise extended into other media, most notably with the "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" animated series that debuted in 1983. This series introduced a host of new characters and a complex mythology involving the heroic G.I. Joe Team battling against the nefarious Cobra organization. The show, along with its accompanying comic book series by Marvel Comics, was instrumental in defining G.I. Joe as more than a line of toys, but as a major multimedia franchise. The series is remembered for its action-packed storylines, memorable characters, and moral lessons, encapsulated in the phrase "knowing is half the battle."
Culturally, G.I. Joe has had a substantial impact. The franchise played a significant role in popularizing the action figure format, shaping the way toys were marketed and sold. This model, where toys were tied into animated shows and comic books, has been emulated by countless other franchises. G.I. Joe also reflected and influenced perceptions of military service and patriotism in American society. The action figures, with their diverse specialities and backgrounds, showcased a variety of potential roles within a military organization and emphasized teamwork and individual contribution. The franchise's enduring popularity has led to a number of reboots, spin-offs, and two live-action feature films, confirming G.I. Joe's iconic status in American popular culture.