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The year 2003 (MMIII) was the twenty-second year of the A Real American Hero brand.
This year, the creators of G.I. Joe added a new thematic element to the Joe vs. Cobra line. Figures were now released under the subtitle "Spy Troops," and the Joes came with Cobra "disguises." This and the change from large, black packages to compact, bright green ones helped the Joes stand out from other soldier action figures. Hasbro also revived the practice of placing actual catalogs of recent releases with their toys (an idea only partially achieved the previous year). These catalogs included a serial comic story that featured the year's primary releases and paved the way for Spy Troops: The Movie in September. The new animated show aired on the Cartoon Network and was available on DVD.
Releases were similar to those of the previous year: four primary series of figures (in January, April, August, and November), and one series of repaints (in September). In addition, there was an unprecedented number of store exclusives and new mailaway offers, from multipacks reviving previous years' special teams to impressive repaints of popular vehicles. There were also straight re-releases of some of the previous year's figures, packaged individually with Mission Discs, CD-ROMs containing classic Joe cartoon episodes. And whereas 2002 saw the introduction of very few new characters, several began appearing in 2003. New versions of old characters continued, the most celebrated being the return of the "Marvin Hinton" Roadblock, last seen in 1994. As in 2002, most vehicles this year had Sound Attack capability. The new vehicle feature was motorized weapons systems. Most distinctive of this year was the "Built to Rule" series - Lego-like vehicles that could be rebuilt in several different modes. (By coincidence, the Joes finished the year with the same number of vehicles as team members: 189 of each.) This year's convention, June 27-29, featured an Operation: Anaconda set with a new enemy, Black Dragon, which, like 1992's Headhunters, would soon be integrated into the Cobra team.
The 12" figures continued in two series, one using the same characters as the smaller line, but now including large vehicles. The series of generic or historical soldiers now had as long a history in the 1990s and 2000s as the original G.I. Joe had in the 1960s and 1970s.
G.I. Joe was now stronger than it had been in eight years, and getting stronger, with nearly 800 figures and over 300 vehicles available. More figures were released this year than ever before. The new comic continued successfully, the Sunbow cartoon series was being rerun on the Cartoon Network, and DVDs were now on store shelves.
Spy Troops - Series 1
Spy Troops - Series 2
Spy Troops - Series 3
Spy Troops - Army-Builders
Spy Troops - Series 4
G.I. Joe Team
G.I. Joe Team
Built to Rule
- Armadillo w/ Duke
- Depth Ray w/ Wet-Suit
- Forest Fox w/ Frostbite
- Locust w/ Hollow Point
- Raging Typhoon w/ Blowtorch
- Rock Crusher w/ Gung Ho
Issues 14-24 of the Devil's Due comic were released this year, as well as issues 4-18 of G.I. Joe: Frontline and the six-issue G.I. Joe vs. Transformers miniseries. Dreamwave Productions released issues 1-4 of Transformers: G.I. Joe.