IPC Magazines: 1983-1986
Marvel Comics UK: 1987-1991
In 1983, the European toy company Palitoy began producing military action figures in the same 3 3/4" scale as G.I. Joe, called "Action Man: Action Force", which themselves were essentially scaled-down versions of Britain's answer to the original 12" G.I. Joe. These figures were articulated with straight arms and legs, similar to the Star Wars figures of the time. The toyline was broken up into smaller teams (Z-Force, Q-Force, etc.), and mini-comics featuring the teams appeared as inserts in comics magazines published by IPC Magazines in Britain. Shortly afterward, Action Force comic book stories began appearing in the war anthology series Battle Picture Weekly, published by Britain's IPC Magazines. The title was changed to Battle Action Force, and though originally only a small part of the book, Action Force came to dominate the magazine. Most of the stories were printed in black and white. Around 1984, the company began adding original Joe figures and vehicles to the line with new colors and names, still having nothing to do with the Joe vs. Cobra plotline of their American cousins. Action Force instead fought a group called the Red Shadows, led by Baron Ironblood. [Click here to see YoJoe.com's Action Force page, with pictures of many figures and vehicles.]
In 1985, Palitoy stopped making original figures all together and simply released Hasbro's G.I. Joe toys under the name Action Force. The stories in Battle Action Force eventually came to resemble the American storyline, as the Action Force team now fought Cobra. To help explain the change, Action Force's main adversary, Baron Ironblood, betrayed the Red Shadows and changed his identity to Cobra Commander and the character of Red Jackal became Destro. The tagline "A Real American Hero" was changed to "International Heroes", and even characters names and histories were changed on many filecards to give them international origins.Many of these stories seem to fit more with the spirit of the Joe cartoon series than the Marvel comic. The stories were very popular and lasted until the Action Force comic book rights were sold to Marvel at the end of 1986. Battle Action Force continued on for two more years, first titled Battle, then Battle with Storm Force. [You can find entire Battle Action Force stories from the original comics at the Blood for the Baron website, and more cover scans can be found at YoJoe.com's international collectibles page.]
After five successful years of G.I. Joe comics, Marvel released Action Force in 1987, the first story appearing in the UK Transformers series. The Action Force book was then published weekly, and consisted of reprints from the US series, with new, shorter stories printed in one to five parts over various issues. The series included a crossover with the Transformers, which had little or nothing to do with the US miniseries, G.I. Joe and the Transformers. For various reasons, the UK stories don't maintain continuity with the Marvel series very well. One reason was the fact that the Action Force series was years behind G.I. Joe, and new characters would appear in UK stories before they had appeared in the continuity of the US stories reprinted alongside them. In some cases, the Action Force editors occasionally changed the text in word balloons and captions to keep the story in line with the UK series. Also, in an attempt to distance itself from the American comic, the UK stories often featured characters who were used very little in America. The biggest problem is the fact that Action Force was treated as a separate team led by Flint. To make matters worse, a short story was later published to help explain why the European toyline eventually dropped the "Action Force" title completely. The story showed that the Joe team and Action Force were two different groups who then joined forces under the name "G.I. Joe". [Click here for YoJoe.com's scans of that three-page story.] Still, continuity-bending problems aside, the stories aren't necessarily bad ones because of this, and it's interesting to see the Joes mention saving the Ministry of Defense or protecting Great Britain. [See cover scans at YoJoe.com.]
In 1988, the Action Force weekly series ended and Action Force Monthly premiered, including new UK stories that followed the theme of the weekly comic. In the US, the same series was simultaneously published in the US as G.I. Joe: European Missions. That same year, the reprints of the original US stories began appearing in the Transformers UK series. The monthly series ended in 1989, and the reprints in Transformers lasted until 1991, ending in the very middle of the Cobra Island civil war storyline. That storyline was finally concluded in one of the Action Force "Holiday Specials" that had been published alongside the regular series. [See cover scans of European Missions at YoJoe.com.]
In 2005, the newest G.I. Joe series from Devil's Due Publishing introduced a new enemy faction named the Red Shadows. Though the name is mostly an homage and the group has little resemblance to the original Red Shadows (and no connection to Cobra), the group's ground soldiers are completely covered from head to toe in red uniforms, and some of the characters bear a skull and crossbones symbol like the original Red Shadows.
Special thanks to Arkady Hodge for correcting errors on the site's original Action Force page and for helping to explain the comics' confusing history.
These websites also provided valuable information:
- 26Pigs.com's Battle page
- Comics UK Battle Picture Weekly page (n/a)
- Cutts' Cartoon - UK Comic Site (n/a)
- Comics International (n/a)