When talking about G.I. Joe vehicles, everyone always talks about how badly they wanted the U.S.S. Flagg, the largest G.I. Joe playset. As impressive as the Flagg was, though, the vehicle that I always wanted was the Phantom X-19, the Joes’ stealth fighter. I’ve been in a nostalgic G.I. Joe mood lately, thanks to a mother lode of comics that I picked up, which explains I found myself watching the above video breakdown earlier this week.
As a kid, I only had a few G.I. Joe sets — specifically, the Dragonfly and the S.H.A.R.C. — and one thing that always stood out was their delightful level of detail. They even came with military-looking blueprints, which added an extra layer of authenticity and realism — in the eyes of a grade school boy, that is. The X-19 is no different — just look at the cockpit and engine design work featured in the video — and makes me lament, crotchety old man style, the crappy toys that kids have these days.
I suppose you could raise questions about the effects of releasing all of these authentic-looking military toys at the height of the Cold War, and if/how they programmed an entire generation of kids to idolize the military and its weapons. (Or conversely, how the Cold War made us more accepting of militaristic toys as a way of working out nuclear war-inspired fears and anxieties. After all, there’s nothing better than kicking some commie… er… Cobra butt.) And there’s something worth discussing there. Of course, at the time I just thought the X-19 — along with almost every other G.I. Joe playset — was an awesome-looking toy that I just had to have… and I still do.
It’s funny how things work their way into one’s mind. The Phantom X-19 was first released thirty years ago, but whenever I think of sleek, advanced aircraft designs — which probably happens more often than I’d care to admit — the X-19’s graceful lines and curves are still what always comes to mind first.
Also, the X-19 was released right around the time when public speculation over American stealth technology was running high. Everyone knew the Air Force was working on some sort of super-secret stealth plane, and so countless versions of the hypothetical F-19 stealth fighter emerged in pop culture, including a video game, the best-selling plastic model kit of all time, and the Phantom X-19. Artist imaginations were pretty far off the mark, however; the first stealth aircraft turned out to be the less glamorous-looking F-117 Nighthawk, which looked like a flying doorstop compared to the F-19/X-19. (The Nighthawk would later get G.I. Joe-ified in the form of 2003’s Sky Sweeper Jet.)
Sadly, the X-19 never figured too prominently in the G.I. Joe cartoons or comics. In fact, as a running joke, the name of the X-19’s pilot — Ghostrider — was never mentioned. In the G.I. Joe world, that was because he was so unassuming and stealthy himself. In the real world, though, this was done to avoid legal issues with Marvel’s Ghost Rider character. It did get a commercial or two (see below), but it’s a shame that a vehicle so cool never had more prominence in the G.I. Joe mythos.