As a young Joe fan, 1989 was a personal milestone for me. It marked the year in which I bought my last GIJoe figure “as a kid”. The line was in transition, and had been for two years now, from more realistic military to military science fiction. The characters were becoming more colorful in terms of both palate as well as persona. In other words, it really was a new era for GIJoe. Gnawgahyde is a great example of this—part Crocodile Dundee, part Kraven the Hunter in design, the Dreadnok poacher was a far cry from the villains of the early years of GIJoe. He was loud, over-the-top and just didn’t seem to fit in with my preconceptions of what made GIJoe work. I had written him off and not given him a second thought until a fateful afternoon of web browsing. I was reading Violentfix’s dio-story “Operation: Rapier” when I stumbled across Gnawgahyde’s appearance. My opinion was forever changed and I knew that I had to own this figure as soon as possible.
At first glance, you might be tempted to write off Gnawgahyde’s mold as “rather bland”. After all, his uniform consists of a leopard skin vest (sorry PETA), blue jeans, and black boots—how much detail could Hasbro sculpt into something so basic. Yet once I got the figure in my hands I began to see what I had original dubbed “basic” as “practical”. The leopard skin vest is subtly textured to give the impression of real fur; a sheathed knife is fastened at the small of his back. The chain around his neck features not only dog tags but also what appear to be crocodile teeth and an animal claw. His belt has three grenades fastened along the back and a canteen at his hip. His left arm sports an archery arm-guard while his right wrist has what appears to be an outdoor watch/compass. The pants are simple—adorned with only a few side pouches. His left boot has a large molded knife sheath to accommodate one of his many blades. In other words, this is the uniform of someone who is not only proud of his hunting accomplishments (the vest, the neck chain) but is also extremely good at it. His garb is practical without being utterly garish and the simplistic nature of it reflects that of a consummate hunter who takes nothing with him that he doesn’t really need. He is efficient, deadly, and practical.
Back in the late 80’s I always saw Gnawgahyde’s head sculpt as more of a caricature than a realistic design. Perhaps it was the exaggerated bags under his eyes or his near Joker-rictus grin, but he always seemed completely over-the-top to me. However, I now see this as part of his persona. Based on his facial sculpt, Gnawgahyde is a brawler; the evidence is found in a nose that has been broken more than once. His snarl—once seen as garish—is now a part of his reputation. A hunter/tracker such as this has to rely on reputation for his credibility and having a “persona” would help with that rep. The head sculpt belies the cunning ferocity of man who will hunt any and all prey—if the price is right. In many ways, I’m reminded of the character of Muldoon from Jurassic Park—a hunter who understood the psychology of his prey, anticipating how it thought, how it would react. This is not the face of a boorish Dreadnok as featured in the Sunbow cartoon—this is a deadly killer who is feared in the right circles.
If there’s one statement you can make about the figures in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it’s that most of them had a great selection of gear. Gnawgahyde is no exception; the Dreadnok poacher packs a knife, machete, bow, quiver, hat, sniper rifle with bipod, and a wild boar. (I’m a bit puzzled by this last one. Perhaps he had a moment of weakness after watching a double feature of “Charlotte’s Web” and “Babe”.) This selection of gear is both logical and practical—giving him the capacity to “do his work” either close up or from a distance and still maintain some semblance of “quiet hunting”. One of the most puzzling aspects of the Big G’s gear is found in his machete. Rather than holding the cutting instrument in his hand, Gnawgahyde has a case of “Wolverine envy” and instead has a forearm-mounted blade. Now, had this figure been designed in the past 5 years, I would have assumed that this was Hasbro’s way of cashing in on the recent popularity of the X-Men. However, when this figure was designed, the X-Men were a phenomenon that was limited to comic fans only. It’s a puzzling accessory choice, but one that works well with this Aussie hunter.
Gnawgahyde is one of those figures that walks over and hands me a big serving of crow to eat. I’d initially taken one glance at him and just written him off; in doing so, I had missed out on a truly terrific action figure. It took Violentfix’s “Operation: Rapier” for me to really give this character a second chance, which I’m certainly glad that I did. While I don’t see him so much as a regular member of the Dreadnoks, I do see him as a valuable “Cobra ally”—functioning as either Spirit’s or Recondo’s opposite number. He is both a guide and a tracker and I’ve come to see his moniker of “Dreadnok Poacher” as something akin to Low Light’s status as a “Night Spotter”. Both terms are simply more kid-friendly ways to express the character’s true purpose. In the end, I’d recommend this “poacher” to just about anyone. However, if you’re going to track one down look for one that has the gear included with it. Gnawgahyde is a one of those figures that is really improved by his equipment and one that you’ll want to have fully “kitted up”.