(Written by Steve Charlton and used by permision of the GIJOE Collectors' Club)
Many attendees of GI Joe Collector's Club conventions have seen
the Defenders of Bulletman (DOB for short) at the show. A group of people
wearing red t-shirts, dawdling behind the tour group, saluting each other
with strange hands-over-head motions, chanting "All hail DOB!" and expounding
the glories of Bulletman. This tradition continued for the 2003 show in
Burlingame, but this year, the movement took on a momentum and life of its
own. By the end of the convention, Bulletman had ceased to be the pariah
of the 12" community, and had been embraced by the movers and shakers of
Joe-dom, including Don Levine himself.
Who is Bulletman?
Towards the end of the AT era of GI Joe, the Adventure Team found itself with the AT Commander, Mike Power, and the new guy on the block, Bulletman. Bulletman was basically a comic book superhero. He was a man with red boots, a red unitard, chrome arms and a chrome bullet-shaped helmet. He could fly, he had great strength, and he could ram into things with his head to cause havoc in the name of justice. A perfect fit for the Adventure Team.
The Bulletman figure had an interesting gimmick to support the 'fly' thing; a set of loops on the back of his unitard. A kid could run a line through them, and have Bulletman 'fly' along the zipline.
Years pass and GI Joe becomes the collector's hobby we know today. For some reason, Bulletman was not one of the more popular collectibles. Actually, that is being kind - most 12" collectors have either never heard of Bulletman, or hold him in the same regard as a bowl full of SARS virus.
What is DOB?
In 2000, the GI Joe Collector's Club held its convention in Irvine California. The normal formal Saturday Awards Dinner was not held that year - instead, a field trip to Knott's Berry Farm was scheduled. There was a meal there, and the awards were done, but then instead of unleashing the room-to-room trading the convention-goers got to go into the park for the evening.
There was a group of attendees who were not terribly interested in the park. Instead, they decided to get a taxi back to the hotel after the dinner. There was a minor flaw in this plan; two sedan-sized cabs were secured to transport a group that included Steve Charlton, Buddy Finethy, Brian Becker, Lanny Lathem, Keith and Angel Zang, Jeff Pell, Dean Morrison, Bill Underwood and a few others. It was a little crowded in both cars.
Once at the hotel bar, the conversation ranged far and wide (as bar conversations often do). We met up with some other folks; a few members of the Hasbro GI Joe team were there, and shortly thereafter Rex Adams came in with a couple of people from a competing company. Trying to keep things from getting too competitive, we began speaking of GI Joe concepts that did not quite make it. Naturally, Bulletman was fairly high up on that list.
But it was at that point that the conversation took on a more philosophical or psychological turn. What if you wanted Bulletman to be cool? What if you felt sorry for the guy, and wanted him to share in some of the love and glory that his AT and vintage brethren had basked in for years?
It was this pity, laced with alcohol, that brought forth The Defenders of Bulletman (DOB for short). By the end of the evening, we had all sorts of ideas. The DOB Salute (the hands steepled over the head in the shape of the Chrome Helm) was born that night, as well as much of the Coda of DOB. As other Joeheads came into the bar, the group began to grow. We spent the rest of the convention saluting each other with the DOB Salute, much to the confusion of everyone else.
The next year, in Kansas City, the joke continued. Some new members were added to the group. As with any new movement, there were skeptics who rolled their eyes in amused disgust over the whole thing, but the DOB members pressed onward. We all tried to find some Bulletman figures, or at least some parts, but found little on the convention floor. The group decided that we needed to do more on this whole thing.
For the 2002 show in Norfolk, Dean Morrison came up with a cool t-shirt with the DOB logo, which the rest of the brotherhood bought up and wore throughout the convention. It suddenly became a thing of interest. Lots of folks asked what was going on with this DOB thing and the funky hand-sign. The salute started showing up at convention tours and events. Bulletman is suddenly interesting!
By 2003, the brotherhood had expanded, and there had been some online activity in support of DOB. Dean had spent some time trying to corner the EBay Bulletman market. Photos and dioramas featuring Bulletman started flying through the internet ether. For the 2003 convention, we found ourselves with new Dean T-Shirts, and an agitated base of members. Brian Savage and Lanny Lathem put together a fantastic 2003 commemerative Bulletman box. Derryl DePriest was seen giving the DOB salute during the Awards Banquet. More convention-goers were curious about Bulletman and the whole DOB thing. The DOB logo had become an expected part of the convention establishment. Bulletman was suddenly something people were interested in, and wanted.
But DOB was still a cult, a minor movement along the fringe. Until the Saturday night Awards Banquet. In the post-dinner activities, what was a burgeoning cult following suddenly exploded. What was a group of a dozen people trying to generate fun out of what was a joyless toy found itself at the center of a firestorm of enthusiasm. Bulletman IS cool! Bulletman IS fun! Even Don Levine (who said earlier in the Con that he had never even seen Bulletman before) had fun playing with Bulletman.
How Did Bulletman Achieve Love and Happiness?
During the normal after-dinner antics that follow the Saturday awards dinner, somebody decided that we needed to up the intensity of the Bulletman phenomenon. Tod Pleasant suggested we rig up a Bulletman zip-line in the open atrium space of the hotel. There were 9 levels of rooms, so of course the zip-line would need to start there and run all the way down to the atrium; well over 100' of vertical dive over a 200' horizontal plane. The Bulletman in question was a custom model, crafted by Dean Morrison. Appropriately, it was a flight-specialized Bulletman with a flying scarf and rocket pod. Very cool.
The crowd began to gather as word spread. Teams formed, and tasks were assigned. The Spy Island team (who did up the very cool pirate ship this year) were to be the launch crew. The bulk of the Defenders of Bulletman were to be the ground crew down in the atrium floor. A spool of fishing line was produced, and a quick experiment run; Bulletman would literally race down this plastic line!
The launch team enlisted Charlotte Becker to gain access up to the ninth floor. Suzanne Richards (whose husband has crafted some amazing 3 3/4" Bulletmen) stood at the base of the wall and grabbed the line dangled from the launch team 9 floors up. She walked it over to the ground team across the atrium, while Jeff Pell secured it on the ground end. The rest of the crew scattered and tried to look innocent. They failed. Pathetically.
While this is going on, a hotel security guy walked through the atrium, and totally failed to see the fishing line. In fact, he was about a foot away from being strangled by it at one point. He gave the ground crew an odd look, but moved on. The coast was clear. Radio messages were sent to and from the launch team, and then...
He raced down the zip-line like a silver rocket. The roof spotlights caught his chrome perfectly; as he raced past the sixth floor on the way down he blazed in silver glory. With a resounding WHACK, he struck the chair being guarded by the ground crew. All heck broke loose!!!!
Yells, screams, and jumps for joy rose from the atrium and wafted down from the 9th-floor balcony. Bulletman had flown, and landed perfectly intact.
Not surprisingly, security appeared, and things looked ugly for a second, until, without warning - DON LEVINE saved us. He was watching all of this from the side (he was clued in a little earlier that something was going to happen). When the security guy showed up, Don went up to him and told him he was the creator of GI Joe. The guard suddenly shifted from enforcement mode to awed mode. He asked for Don's autograph, and immediately called the other security guys to let them know all was well.
So then Don came down and shared the joy with us. The launch team rushed downstairs, and we all tried to explain to Don what was happening. Don got really caught up in the moment, and like the 8-year-old kid in all of us, asked if we could do it again. This time, Don was part of the launch team. He and the team stood on the 9th-floor balcony and played with Bulletman for a bit, and then Don was given the honor of launching him on his second flight.
This time, Bulletman suffered some damage - a broken arm, a helmet flying off into Fred Jeska, and the silver fingers of one hand all snapped off. As we scrambled to find the bits, Don and the launch team came back down, and the whole session dissolved into a frenzy of shouting, handshaking and picture opportunities.
We had played GI Joes with the creator of GI Joe. And we had done it with the most reviled of 12" Joes, Bulletman. And several dozen people had the time of their lives.
And Don Levine? He wanted pictures of everything, to tell the New York Times reporter about what had happened, and to share the story with Alan Hassenfeld. He seemed to genuinely enjoy himself (and his wife seemed to have a good time too!).
So what is the lesson to be learned here? I think its simple. GI Joe is just an object. The fun of GI Joe, whether he is a cool AT Commander, a sharp Action Marine or even a bulgy-muscled Sgt Savage, is in your head. The Bulletman fun was always there; folks just never looked for it before.
Thank you all for the fun - looking forward to more in the days and years to come.
D.O.B. is Copyright 2003 by the D.O.B. membership. Some rights reserved. All Hail D.O.B.!