G.I. Joe’s U.S.S. Flagg: The Greatest Toy of All Time!
In 1985, Hasbro fulfilled the dreams of millions of young boys by producing the largest playset in toy history: The U.S.S. Flagg, the (no pun intended) flagship of the G.I. Joe toy line. Thirty years later, it stands as one of the most iconic toys of all time, particularly for kids who grew up in the 1980s. For many, it is the Holy Grail of collectibles to this day.
Now, if you weren’t a ten year old boy in 1985 who was obsessed with “A Real American Hero”, you might not understand why we’d devote an entire article to one toy. Most of the toy lines from this era had large playsets that, if you were the lucky kid who owned them, drew the envy of your friends. For Masters of the Universe, it was Castle Greyskull or Eternia. For Thundercats, it was the Tower Of Omens. Ninja Turtles had the Technodrome. There was a firehouse for the Real Ghostbusters, Boulder Hill for M.A.S.K., and of course, Star Wars’s Death Star. But the U.S.S. Flagg took the action figure playset to an entirely different level.
So what was the deal with the U.S.S. Flagg? Why is this such an enigmatic piece of plastic? Why is it, three decades after it was first released, that I’m writing about it on my lunch break?
First of all, this thing was seven and a half feet long. Think about that for a second. Seven and a Half Feet. That means Andre the Giant could have used this thing as a bed, assuming that it would support his weight (and that he could sleep on cold, hard plastic, but considering it’s been reported that he once drank over 100 beers in one night, then I’m guessing he could probably at least pass out on it.) Nowadays, there are cars that are about that long. When I look back at the toys I played with as a kid that I thought seemed huge at the time, they often look rather small to me, since I’ve grown so much since then. That’s not true of the Flagg, however. This thing is still a sight to behold.
And then there’s the play features. The Flagg had two runways; one for landing, and one for takeoff. The landing runway had an arrestor cable, which actually was retrofitted to attach to the G.I. Joe Skystriker fighter jet. There were elevators on the sides that were capable of transporting your smaller vehicles from the deck to the storage area beneath it. There was a utility vehicle with a fuel tank so your Joe aircraft could stay filled up. Radar dishes spun around, gun turrets pivoted, missiles detached, and the crane could pick up stragglers who might have fallen overboard. There was also a lifeboat, known as an “Admiral’s Launch”, that lowered and detached. But one of the coolest parts of this thing was the voice modulator, a miniature PA system that let you pretend you were the captain of this magnificent ship.
Of course, the real guy in charge was the Admiral, Keel-Haul, who was also included. Keel-Haul was technically the highest-ranking member of the G.I. Joe team at the time of his introduction (as this was before team leader Hawk was promoted to General) but he was a relatively obscure character in the fiction. In fact, he never even appeared in the Sunbow cartoon series, instead replaced by a bearded old guy named Admiral Ledger. Keel-Haul was a cool figure, though. He had a badass mustache and a cool leather jacket and looked a lot like Ace Duck from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Because the Flagg had so many play features, it had a lot of parts. Most G.I. Joe toys required some assembly, but most of them could be snapped together in a matter of minutes. I can only imagine that the process of assembling the Flagg must have taken hours, which has got be to be one of the most excruciating forms of torture for a kid who just wants to start playing with the damned thing. There were lots of tiny bits, like the rivets that held the pieces of the deck together, which were easily lost. As a result, finding a complete Flagg in today’s marketplace might set you back as much as a used car. If it’s still in the original, sealed box, then expect to take out a second mortgage if you want to get your hands on one.
The Flagg itself is based on a real Nimitz-class Aircraft Carrier. It appeared in the comics and the cartoon, where it was eventually sunk and later recovered. It was named after General Lawrence J. Flagg, who was the G.I. Joe team’s original commanding officer in the Marvel comics series. General Flagg died a tragic death at the hands of Cobra, which led to him christening this lady of the sea. The fact that the G.I. Joe mythology was so deep that they named ships after fallen characters was part of why it was and still is so special to me and other kids of my generation.
As I mentioned before, if you were the owner of this toy, you were the coolest kid on your block. Unfortunately, I never had one. Of course, I begged my parents for it every birthday and Christmas (and probably even Easter too) that it was out on the market, but it never materialized. I will never forget the dashed hopes I had when I walked downstairs on Christmas morning in 1985 and saw a giant silhouette that I was sure was the box to my new Flagg, only to find out upon turning on the living room lights that it was just my mom’s new easy chair.
However, I did get to essentially “rent” a Flagg for nearly an entire summer. My best friend as a kid always had a little more robust toy collection than I did. His parents and my parents were also close friends. When I moved to Atlanta, my parents were having our new house built, but we needed a place to stay until it was move-in ready. Conveniently, my friend’s family went to Europe for a long Summer vacation, and left their house to us for that time.
And, of course, my friend had the Flagg.
I’ve never been a morning person, but there was nothing that could get me out of bed faster on those warm summer mornings than knowing that two stories down in the basement playroom was seven and a half feet worth of plastic aircraft carrier ready for some battles against the evil forces of Cobra.
What’s amazing, in retrospect, is that the U.S.S. Flagg had an MSRP of $89.99 in 1985. Considering that a single action figure is in the $10-20 range thirty years later, knowing that someone could own a toy of this magnitude for less than a C-note is mind-blowing. I could only imagine that if it were in toy stores today, it would range in the $400 to $500 area.
A few years ago, rumors surfaced that the folks at Hasbro were going to produce a new version of the Flagg. A rough prototype eventually surfaced, which was a little underwhelming in comparison to the original. The idea was eventually scrapped, probably due to cost prohibitiveness, but there were some giddy Joe fanboys whose dreams were dashed when the plug was pulled on the project.
G.I. Joe had a few other large playsets through the years. The original G.I. Joe Headquarters was the biggest set before the launch of the Flagg. Cobra’s Terrordrome, the G.I. Joe mobile headquarters, and the Space Shuttle complex known as the Defiant came afterward; but even as cool as those toys were, they all paled in comparison to the Flagg. Nothing in any other toy line before or after it could match up to its magnificence. This was truly the pinnacle of toys for boys of any generation. I consider myself lucky to be part of its perfect demographic.
Someday, when future civilizations or aliens or whatever are looking back at our society after it has destroyed itself with global warming or nuclear weapons or Idiocracy or whatever the case may be, they’ll marvel at the wonder of the U.S.S. Flagg. I just hope they can find all the pieces.