In honor of Memorial Day, your Bruh Stalks here is giving a shout-out to a pop culture icon that was “killed off” too quickly and before its time. Here is yet another retrospective of a show that got the ax. Ergo, I present to you, The Chopping Block.
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1985-1986)
“He’ll fight for freedom, whenever there’s trouble” was the axiom of the once highly successful series; G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, which despite its overall positive reception, the series was cut too short before it could gain further moments, in a span of only two years.
After the phenomenal success of the first two miniseries; “The Mass Device” and “Revenge of Cobra” respectively, Hasbro, under the stewardship of both Sunbow and Marvel Productions, had greenlit a 65 episode series based on the legendary toyline and comic.
G.I. Joe: ARAH debuted on syndicated networks, like New York’s WPIX, during the Fall of 1985 to rave reviews and further expanded their fanbase thanks to showcasing the exploits of America’s Special Mission Force whose purpose was to defend human freedom against Cobra, a “Ruthless Terrorist Organization determined to rule the World“!
I fondly remember getting Geek pimples when I first heard voice actor Jackson Beck providing narration during the intro title sequence.
Many critics saw G.I. Joe as nothing more than some “30 minute toy commercial”. While the series was used to further promote the toys, as with the comic, it stood out on its own as a form of entertainment for those who could give two shits about the action figures, vehicles, playsets, and so forth.
Like the previous miniseries, the animation was outsourced to Toei Animation Studios. However, the real “aesthetic” was due to the brilliant writing courtesy of Roger Silfer, Buzz Dixon, Martin Pasko, Steve Gerber, (who also served as the story editor), Dennis O’Neil, Gerry and Carla Conway, along with many others such as Christy Marx, who in my opinion had written some of my all-time favorite episodes starting with “The Synthoid Conspiracy”.
What’s funny is how looking back this particular episode served as a (unintentional) metaphor for the controversial practice of outsourcing and bioengineering.
Cobra mercenary and Dreadnoks leader; Zartan, develops a plan to create synthetic human beings to replace important military figures within the American Armed Forces. Destro, feeling the threat of him no longer being a valuable asset to Cobra Commander, secretly helps the Joes thwart Zartan’s elaborate scheme.
Let me digress for a moment while reflecting on the style of the series’ meat and bones, which were the stories itself.
I found Christy’s method of writing to be so damn impressive that I sent a letter to Marvel Productions praising her contributions to ARAH. And in return she sent me a very nice thank you letter. We actually became pen pals for a while. What’s unfortunate was that I wasn’t too interested in her comic Sisterhood of Steel that she had suggested I check out. Was it because I didn’t care for Sword and Sorcery comics? My dislike of Mike Vosberg’s art? Vosberg also drew storyboards for the G.I. Joe series as well as handling art chores for the comic counterpart.
Or could it be ignorance? Looking back, I would say it’s certainly the latter. She was a great writer and a friend. In retrospect, I should have supported and subscribed to Sisterhood of Steel but it’s not too late to find out what I had missed out on so long ago.
“Whenever there’s trouble”
“The Synthoid Conspiracy” was just one of the many episodes that stood out from the series. And say what you will, the series didn’t shy away from controversy. And I’m not just talking about the violent content either.
In “There’s No Place Like Springfield”, Shipwreck is made to seem that he has a normal life with Maya (from a previous episode) and their daughter Alfia only to realize that they were Synthoids being used to extract top secret information from Shipwreck.
His Parrot Polly uses a ray gun like device to melt both Maya and Alfia. Needless to say, the focus group who consisted of soccer Moms and such waived their pitchforks (again) at the syndicated networks for airing a death of a child, despite the fact that she was an artificial being. This controversial scene was later removed from future broadcasts.
Other themes that were somewhat relevant to the real world or just way out there in general were:
- “Countdown for Zartan” (Terrorism. “Duh”!)
- “Twenty Questions” (Guerilla journalism)
- “The Greenhouse Effect” (GMOs)
- “The Phantom Brigade” (Death and the “afterlife”.)
- “Lights! Camera! Cobra!” (This one is interesting because not only was it a parody of franchise based Hollywood “cash grabs” that are all the rage today, but a nice little riff on Steven Spielberg who produced The Transformers films, another intellectual property from Hasbro)
- “Cobra’s Candidate” (Fear-mongering and unscrupulous campaigning. Hey, it worked for Reagan! Can you say “Willie Horton”?)
- “The Viper is coming” (Paranoia with a stereotypical reveal towards the end)
- “Spell of the Siren” (Underlying themes of sexism)
- “Let’s Play Soldier” (Abandoned orphans from the infamous Southeast Asian Conflict: Vietnam)
- “Cold Slither” (Subliminal messages from Heavy Metal songs and videos LOL)
In episode 142 “The Primordial Plot” Cobra concocts a plan to recreate dinosaurs from stolen bones. It’s interesting to mention how the concept from this episode precedes the Jurassic Park/World franchise.
Some of the dialog and scenarios from G.I. Joe were ahead of their time, especially when there was a time that tight restrictions from the FCC was imposed. I can recall from the third Miniseries, “The Pyramid of Darkness”, Shipwreck, Snake Eyes and Timber ended up in some urban cesspool area while escaping Cobra. In the background, you can clearly see a few streetwalkers among the other going ons within the slums.
You would never have witnessed rival studio Filmation be as so brazen because the He-Man series was very non violent. Then there was yet another unforgettable episode that must have been inspired from X-Men’s Days of Future Past.
“Worlds without End” was a far-fetched mindfuck of an episode because not only did the writers entertain the possibility of Cobra ruling the World, but it served as a way to write off certain Joe characters. I was shocked when I first saw rotted corpses of some of the Joe team. That episode creeped me out and it is in my opinion one of the better stories from the series.
Marx bumped things up a notch with “Captives of Cobra” an episode that showcased how low Cobra can go by kidnapping family members of the Joes only to use them as weapons both physically and psychologically.
The latter as having a brainwashed loved one attempting to kill you or commit some heinous act.
They’re not called a “ruthless Terrorist Organization” for nothing!!
There’s an interesting scene in which the Native American Joe, Spirit Iron-Knife, attends his cousin Venus’ ceremony of womanhood only to be interrupted by an emergency call from the Joe team. His grandfather, begrudgingly says; “You would dishonor Venus’ ceremony because the White Man call you?” That was unexpected as I never recalled a cartoon series addressing race relations.
Speaking of which, in “The Invaders” (written by Marvel’s Denny o’ Neil) I was shocked when Gung Ho came out and said “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, is a Rooskie“! Yeah, I am aware that the production of the series had taken place during the eighties when relations between the U.S. And Mother Russia were tepid, but damn they threw political correctness out the window.
The message mirrored suspicion and real life paranoia from both sides. However, the flying saucer plot was a bit thin and I expected more from a great writer like Dennis. Most of the episodes from G.I. Joe varied from one another instead of having that continuous soap opera plot line that’s often associated with anime series as well.
“Nobody is perfect. No, but we do Okay.”
As much as I loved the ARAH cartoons, there were a few nitpicks I had with the show:
- Was it too hard to show that Cobras can actually die? I am aware of certain guidelines from the FCC, but there’s a way of “hiding” fatalities. In the Mass Device miniseries we saw a few deaths firsthand and that alone was groundbreaking.
- Most kids during that era saw Star Wars and lord knows how many imperial troops “gave up the ghost” ergo, I see no problem with Cobra being offed by “red lasers”. Is that too much to ask for?
- There have been way too many McGuffins throughout the series to the extent of doing a riff on the commonly used plot device (see episode “Once upon a Joe”).
Farfetched plots and watered down animation
*Winces* Egyptian Gods? Mythological figures? Ghosts? Monsters the size of Godzilla?!?
What the Fuck Sunbow and Marvel productions? Stories like those were a bit too implausible especially when compared to the Marvel Comic counterpart. What’s next, a civilization based on reptilian humanoids?
And I can tell just by looking at the bad quality animation from certain episodes that the art chores have been funneled out to “other” animation studios that were not on par with Toei. I’m looking at YOU 2nd season!
Now you know
G.I. Joe was also known for its Public Service Announcements prior to the show’s closing. Said PSAs were mostly about public and private safety. Some of the PSAs ranged from avoiding electrical or fire hazards to accepting phone calls from pedophiles. What’s funny is how the G.I. Joe public service announcements are often parodied via infamous YouTube video clips (“Pork chop sandwiches”, anyone?).
Despite the overall success of ARAH, toy manufacturer Hasbro didn’t want to invest any more money into a 3rd season and this was partly due to the dismal reception of 1986’s Transformers: The Movie’s theatrical release.
Thus, the 2nd season (which paled compared to the 1st) would surely be its last.
However, G.I. Joe: The Movie had made its way over during the following year, but straight to home video as opposed to being shown at a “theater near you”.
It would have been the perfect swan song to the series had there not been for the under performing story and scenarios (“Cobra-La”?), exaggerated fight scenes, and let’s not forget Duke “slipping into a coma” after having his heart pierced.
Story Editor Buzz Dixon wasn’t too happy when he had to do a rewrite that resulted from the backlash of Optimus Prime’s demise (see Transformers: The Movie). You can even hear the disgust of Buzz’s reaction from the DVD’s commentary track. LOL
They never gave but stayed till the fight’s won!
Many years later (1990 to be exact) Hasbro decided to reboot the G.I. Joe animated series courtesy of DIC to poor reception. Both story and animation was watered down mostly for budgetary reasons and to appeal to a much younger demographic.
After all, their purpose was to sell toys even if it meant sacrificing quality and artistic freedom.
Like the series before it, it lasted less than 2 years. Same goes for others such as Sgt. Savage, G.I. Joe Extreme, Sigma Six, Spy Troops, and G.I. Joe Renegades.
The latter, despite the constant red lasers trope, was actually a decent series which loosely borrowed from the A-Team’s premise (fugitives on the lam). Interesting fact is that the live action sequel, G.I. Joe: Retaliation somewhat based its concept on Renegades.
I would say that the 2003 one shot Series G.I. Joe Resolute was the best of both worlds if you’re counting the Sunbow series and the Marvel Comic and yes, Joes and Cobras actually die for a change (which is a bit refreshing considering how the previous cartoons were intentionally marketed for the kiddies). At last, there was an animated series that treated the property with respect toward Larry Hama’s vision. I’m not pissing on the 80’s series by any means, but I waited so long for the Joes to cut loose and here it was!
And knowing is half the Battle!
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is without a doubt one of the most innovative animated series that came from the 80’s decade. And regardless of its few flaws, it’s still an entertaining series that is a big part of American pop culture from the exciting intros to the catchy theme song and of course those PSAs. It’s a series that I felt was cancelled way too soon. However, it’s better to go out while on top than stick around and end up a flop. As Roadblock might say.
Dedicated to the memory of Jim Duffy, Chris Latta, Jackson Beck, Buster Jones, Steve Gerber, Don Levine (creator of G.I. Joe ) and of course those Real American Heroes who fought and died so that our freedoms are not compromised. Oh, and so that people can go grill fucking hot dogs.