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Action Force was a 1980s range of European action figures initially based on Action Man and later used to introduce G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toys to European markets. Several publishing companies have produced comic books based on the figures.
First generation (1982)
The action figures were first produced in 1982 by Palitoy Limited and released in two waves. They were a response to falling sales of the company's larger Action Man range and the comparative success of the smaller Star Wars action figures, which the company was licensed to sell in Europe.
Called Action Force, the figures were a mixture of historical military figures (e.g. - Desert Rat and German Stormtrooper characters) and more contemporary soldiers (e.g. - Arctic and Naval Assault characters). In contrast to G.I. Joe, the range was kept international by including British, German, Australian and American soldiers. However, unlike later releases, the figures were not accompanied by file cards giving the figures back-stories, nor were they featured in comic books (other than a series of mini-comics that were packaged with some of the vehicles, notably the AF-3 and AF-5).
List of figures
- Arctic Assault
- Australian Jungle Fighter
- British 2 Para
- British Commando
- British Royal Marine
- Commander (available by mail in offer only)
- Deep Sea Diver
- Desert Rat
- German Stormtrooper
- Ground Assault
- Helicopter Pilot
- Mission Pilot
- Mountain & Arctic
- Naval Assault
- Night Patrol
- S.A.S Frogman
- S.A.S Trooper
- US Paratrooper
Vehicles, weaponry and armour
- Action Force Base (a cardboard headquarters with zip-line feature)
- AF-3 (a Jeep-style patrol vehicle)
- AF-5 Multi-Mission Vehicle (a wheeled patrol vehicle with extendable wings for flight and a detachable flotation collar for amphibious use)
- AF-7 Deep Sea Diver Platform
- AF-9 Mountain & Arctic (a snowmobile-style vehicle)
Second generation (1983)
Following the success of the first range of figures, a second, much larger range was launched in 1983. Action Force sales figures were in the region of almost one million over six months in 1983, and the range was further expanded with a new wave of figures and vehicles released in 1984.
Palitoy Limited took a different approach with this second range of figures by grouping the allied action figures and enemies each with accompanying weaponry and vehicles (see below).
At this stage the figures were given comic book identities and were featured in a new range of stories in the Battle Action Force comic (see Battle Action Force tie-in below). The toys were also supplied with file cards giving a brief profile of the character. Often for key figures, these profiles were in turn expanded in Battle Action Force comics with their own multi-issue storylines (e.g. - The Black Major.)
See Z Force
- An allied infantry and artillery-based unit
See SAS Force
- An allied special operations team
See Q Force
- An allied ocean-based team
See Space Force
- An allied space operations team
See Red Shadows
- The unified enemy force known as the Red Shadows and led by Baron Ironblood
Special Weapons Force
According to research undertaken by collectors at the Blood for the Baron website, a fifth team was initially planned. Five prototype figures were created but never released. The Force was to have been characterised as a 'special weapons' unit. Initially believed to be called 'F-Force', later research revealed a pair of photos from a toy catalogue which showed the figures in different colour schemes, along with vehicles featuring a 'SWS' logo. The catalogue photos also showed US G.I. Joe vehicles, which were released as part of the SAS Force and Z Force groups; these vehicles were a white and grey Jeep, a white artillery piece and a white missile battery.
Both the action figures and the vehicles themselves borrowed elements from the first generation models and the new casts licensed from the G. I. Joe toy line from Hasbro.
At this time the Action Force toy line was marketed heavily and branched out into Atari video games (see Action Force), audio stories on cassette tapes, stationery and toiletries. There was also an Action Force fan club promoted both on the figures’ packaging and in the Battle Action Force comic book.
In 1984, additional figures and vehicles were cast, borrowing heavily from the G.I. Joe and Cobra ranges.
Third generation (1985)
See also AF (Action Figures)
In 1985, Palitoy ceded control of the European market to Hasbro following the death of one of Palitoy's owners (Alfred Pallett) and the winding-up of operations at their Leicester factory. Hasbro purchased the Palitoy factory, copyrights and moulds and began to package G.I. Joe figures under the Action Force brand. In characterisation terms, this move marked the end of the sub-grouping of the Action Force team and a new unified Action Force (or AF) also faced a new enemy in the name of Cobra.
The parallel comic book storylines also maintained continuity with a number of plot lines that blended elements of the second range of figures with the third, featuring the new characters as an international elite anti-terrorist unit of a wider Action Force. The Force was still backed up by the Z Force, SAS and other units fighting Cobra, the Red Shadows and even a re-animated Adolf Hitler and the Nazis (despite being ostensibly set in the present day). Over time, however, the range evolved into an unreconstructed G.I. Joe force and its enemy Cobra.
The G.I. Joe animated series was re-titled and re-dubbed for release in the UK. Any mention of G.I. Joe was replaced with Action Force, however, the G.I. Joe logo remained on vehicles and equipment shown in the cartoon.
Battle Action Force tie-in
See also Battle Action Force
During July 1983, the Action Force characters initially guest-featured in a comic strip serial in Battle. The strip proved to be so popular that a further five promotional mini-comics were included free with every IPC publication in the weeks to follow. On October 8, 1983, Action Force joined the pages of Battle full-time and the magazine was retitled Battle Action Force.
The comic took on the role of providing back-stories and plotlines to the popular action figures, and helped to maintain the continuity of Hasbro’s move to marketing the G.I. Joe range in Britain. In addition, the yearly annuals, mail-in offers, advertisements and free gifts were all focused towards adding detail and context to the Action Force universe.
Following the closure of Palitoy in 1986 and Hasbro acquiring the various intellectual property rights to the Action Force toy line, the Action Force strip was cancelled. The Battle Action Force magazine was subsequently merged with Eagle.
Marvel UK's Action Force comic
Following the demise of the Battle Action Force strips, a weekly Action Force comic was launched by Marvel UK on March 8, 1987, consisting of reprints of the US G.I. Joe comic book and new UK-exclusive short strips. The G.I. Joe comics were adjusted to fit into the UK strip's continuity and had all references to G.I. Joe replaced with Action Force, and the UK-exclusive strips maintained a separate continuity from the U.S. G.I. Joe comic. The Action Force comic was cancelled in 1988 after fifty issues due to low sales and was replaced with Action Force Monthly, which was itself cancelled after fifteen issues. The Action Force Monthly title printed new stories as well reprinting stories from the weekly title. The magazine was released in the US under the title G.I. Joe – European Missions.
In late 1989, the G.I. Joe story reprints were continued in the UK Transformers comic under the name G.I. Joe the Action Force to conform to the toyline. The reprints changed back to G.I. Joe until they were dropped in 1991. In 1995, Panini Comics obtained the Marvel UK licence and began publishing an Action Man comic the following year, without reference to Action Force or G.I. Joe.
Distinction from G.I. Joe
The characters created by Battle Action Force were altered in the European market to have mixed nationalities in contrast to the US-centric G.I. Joe characters.
In late 1989, the toy line and accompanying merchandise were renamed G.I. Joe the Action Force. In a mini-comic distributed free in stores and in issue #245 of the Transformers comic, it was explained that the European Action Force had merged with its US counterpart G.I. Joe. However, this story did not match all previous portrayals of Action Force as an international team with branches in Europe and America.
In 1991 the name was further changed to just G.I. Joe.
Action Force Canon
Due to its split comic book heritage, there are some irreconcilable difficulties regarding the continuity of Action Force storylines. The Battle Action Force universe should be regarded as stand-alone, while the Marvel UK stories were designed to coincide with Marvel US continuity.
The Battle Action Force creators retconned several aspects of the series to smooth over the transition to G.I. Joe-influenced characters and vehicles. However, due to fan pressure, the first wave of Palitoy releases and characters returned to the pages of the comic time and time again (see above).
Several fan attempts have been made to establish an official Action Force canon, building on accepted official works (such as the Battle Action Force publications and Palitoy-endorsed releases). The most comprehensive of these to date is the Action Force Datafiles.
Action Force in Germany
The second-generation Action Force figures were also released in West Germany during the 1980s, albeit without the benefit of a comic book tie-in. The German toys went under the title of Action Force and fought the "Terror-Bande" (roughly translated as "Terror Gang"). The German release only extended to the first wave of second-generation figures and characters (some 30 figures and vehicles), however the characters and vehicles were still grouped in their sub-units: anti-terror team (or ATT) corresponding to Z-Force, the special anti-terror team (or SATT) corresponding to SAS Force, the deep-sea anti-terror team (or TSATT) corresponding to Q Force and the space anti-terror team (or WATT) corresponding to Space Force.
Without comic back-stories, the figures were given context by the following statement (translated) which was retrospectively attached to the German packaging:
"The world of Action Force. The story of Action Force takes place in the year 2011. The world population has for a long time lived in peace and liberty, united under the rule of a democratic world regime. Baron Ironblood, the last criminal, strikes terror with a gang of enslaved adventurers, with intelligent robots and the world's most innovative weapons. His goal: to take over the world. Action Force was set up by the world government and fights this dangerous enemy with various special units: ATT, SATT, TSATT and WATT. Their orders: all terrorists must be captured, no one shall be killed."
In a country still concerned by its destructive past, German toy distributors modified certain aspects of the Action Force range to appear less violent. According to researchers of the German Palitoy range, most of the guns supplied with the figures were replaced by "less violent" stun-weapons, laser-weapons or knives. Also the human skull on the Red Shadow (or Terror-Bande) figures was removed from the toyline.
Devil's Due revival
In 2005 and 2007, the Action Force characters were partially revived. The Red Shadows organisation was featured in the two part Dawn of the Red Shadows storyline in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (vol. 2) #42 and 43, following a series of mysterious attacks against both G.I. Joe and Cobra. This Red Shadows organisation was led by Wilder Vaughn, a British military officer gone rogue, and viewed organised governments as corrupt and in need of removal. After this appearance, where they caused substantial damage, they were not seen again; Vaughn made a cameo in the Black Major uniform in a later storyline, stating Cobra had decimated the organisation off-panel.
2009 and 2010 G.I. Joe convention revival
Action Force characters have appeared as limited edition toys and comic characters as part of the International G.I. Joe Convention, under the name Special Action Force or SAF (a riff on the SAS; not to be confused with the Philippines' real-life Special Action Force). Instead of being an international group, the Special Action Force are solely a British team and that nation's equivalent to G.I. Joe, though they have several foreign expatriate members.
In August 2009, a limited edition Blades (complete with "SAF Copter") was released in both toy and comic book character form as part of the 2009 G.I. Joe convention. He was portrayed as British rather than retaining the American nationality of the original character and assisted both G.I. Joe and their Argentine counterpart Commandos Heroicas.
In April 2010 the Red Shadows and Black Major returned in o-ring style articulation form as part of the G.I. Joe convention. Dubbed 'Vacation in the Shadows' the set featured new versions of Black Major, the Red Shadow trooper, Flint and Cobra's Interrogator as well as six new 'Red Torch' figures who were part of the Red Shadow forces, armed with flamethrowers. In addition to the boxset, other convention releases included Dolphin of Q-Force, a 3¾in Natalie Poole figure – based on the 1990s Action Man character and retroactively made an SAF agent – and Z Force's Jammer and Gaucho (who appeared in a three-pack with a new version of Joe medic Lifeline). Unlike Blades, Jammer and Gaucho kept their American and Mexican nationalities. Starduster appeared in the comic tie-in. The convention comic featured Flint vacationing in Europe with Dolphin and Natalie before running afoul of Black Major and Interrogator, who were planning an alliance between Cobra and the Red Shadows. In a twist ending, Natalie is brainwashed into being a Shadows sleeper agent.
2012 Roll Out Roll Call convention
In March 2012, at the 'Roll Out Roll Call 3' convention, the Action Force fan-site 'Blood for the Baron' released a convention exclusive action figure of Baron Ironblood to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Action Force and the 9th anniversary of the website. A commemorative book was also released to mark the anniversary.
- The Action Force collection at Leicestershire County Council Museum
- Deep Sea Diver figure at Leicestershire Council Museum Collection
- Night Attack figure at Leicestershire Council Museum Collection
- Mini-comic storyline related to the AF-3 vehicle courtesy of Blood for the Baron!
- Mini-comic storyline related to the AF-5 vehicle courtesy of Blood for the Baron!
- The Black Major storyline courtesy of Blood for the Baron!
-  at Blood for the Baron!
- Carded Red Shadow figure, part of the collection at Leicestershire County Council Museum, describing promotional packaging
- History of Palitoy at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London
- Death in South America storyline courtesy of Blood for the Baron!
- Mini-Comic scans at Blood for the Baron!
- Action Force at JMM's G.I. Joe Comicbook History
- What comic fits where? from G.I. Joe Action Force.co.uk
- "Action Force Datafiles". Archived from the original on 2009-10-24.
- Action Force in Germany at ToyArchive.de
- Dawn of the Red Shadows – Part 1 and Part 2 from the G.I. Joe comic book archive at YoJoe.com
- Union of the Snake – Part 6 from the G.I. Joe comic book archive at YoJoe.com
- Action Force Forum Announcement and example comic book art from issue 30
- Action Force Forum Announcement including reproduced comicbook artwork and photographs of toy
- "International G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention – GIJoeCon 2010!". Gijoecon.com. Archived from the original on 11 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-18.
- Action Force on Joepedia, an external wiki
- Blood For The Baron!!! Action Force Website.
- Battle Action Force Battle Action Force comic scans.
- MUK Action Force Marvel UK Action Force comic scans.
- YoJoe.com figure and vehicle archive.
- A short history of Action Force from ActionFigure.com.
- G.I. Joe – Action Force Website covering both G.I. Joe and Action Force.
- Action Force Info Page Action Force Info Site With Pictures.