Carrie Baranet gives us the long history of a GI Joe action figure in her Awful "Native Inspired" Art blog:N.A. Action Figure Pt. 1: The Not So Changing Face of Spirit Iron-KnifeThink about Native American Action figures. What is the first thing that comes to mind? Spirit Iron-Knife, of course! If you were a child of the '80s, like me, G.I. JOE was a big part of your childhood along with He-Man, Transformers and, oh yeah, Star Wars. G.I. JOE had a Native guy, though. Okay, so he was a walking stereotype with bird. What is up with the bird, anyway? I've never met a Native American falconer, have you?
Comment: For more on the subject, see Native GI Joes
and Tracker Kwinn in GI JOE
Below: Spirit the Tracker, 1984.
In the 90s, we had Mortal Kombat. The first two games didn't have an Indian, but the third did, Nightwolf.
To be fair, every character could turn into an animal as a finishing move, so that isn't a problem. Nor is the fact that he wears a leather jacket with no shirt; many male characters are shirtless, and the fanservice is actually quite balanced. His moves are kind of stereotypical, and from a meta-game perspective, he had a 100% combo in the first version of MK3, but he wasn't the worst. Some of his moves were genius bonus; if you didn't know about the Ghost Dance, you wouldn't know why Nightwolf could deflect projectiles.
The animated series made Nightwolf somewhat better. He was the genius who rarely fought, but the one time he did, you have to wonder why they didn't just have him go after Shao Kahn singlehandedly.
There's been a recent revamp in GI Joe's character's origins. Spirit's (his codename is still Spirit) past is now:
"As a child, Charlie Iron-Knife was diagnosed with sensory integration dysfunction, which caused him to overwhelmed with input in crowded situations: while most people are able to focus on only part of what's happening around them, such as one conversation or scent, Charlie couldn't shut the others out, so experienced them all equally. It got to be too much for him, and he took to going into the desert for solitude. One night, he noticed pawprints, and tracked the coyote that had made them."
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