The Chopping Block: G.I.Joe A Real American Hero (1985-1987)
"He'll fight for freedom, whenever there's trouble" was the coda 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 would gain further moments in a span of only two Years!
35 Years ago, this was the show to watch. Goddamn Cosby Show, Miami Vice, etc! (Well, not Miami Vice, at least.)
Here is another retrospective of a show that got the axe. Ergo, the name; The Chopping Block.
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 iconic Toyline and Comics.
G.I.Joe made its debut on syndicated networks like WPIX, New York during the Fall of 1985 to a well-received acclaim and further expanding their Fanbase when 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" as often narrated by Voice actor Jackson Beck during the intro.
While many critics disregarded 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.
As with the previous miniseries, the animation was outsourced to Japan's Toei Animation Studios (Star Blazers, Dragon Ball Z) combined with exceptional writing courtesy of Roger Silfer, Buzz Dixon, Steve Gerber and Christy Marx who in my opinion, had written some of my all-time favorite episodes starting with The Synthoid Conspiracy. What I found entertaining, is when looking back, this episode served as a (Unintentional) metaphor for the controversial practice of outsourcing and unchecked 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 an asset to Cobra Commander, he secretly helps the Joes thwart Zartan's elaborate scheme. But that is nothing compared to the scene where Shipwreck makes an unwarranted advance at Scarlett only to get a resounding "no"!
Christy Marx was ahead of the #MeToo game by scripting strong female characters, who were more than being seen as some sexual object.
The Synthoid Conspiracy was just one of the many episodes that stood out, to me. Cobra’s plans of “outsourcing” both top military brass and even the Joes as in Duke himself, harkens to Sci Fi horror films Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with conspiracy elements. Very entertaining!
When going through these episodes, it was Christy's method of writing stood out as the perennial favorite to the extent that I sent a letter to Marvel Productions praising her contributions to ARAH and in return, we were pen pals and she recommended her Sword and Sorcery penned comic "Sisterhood of Steel" available here. Cristy then went on to create Jem and the Holograms, based on another Hasbro toyline but aimed toward the young female demographic.
I would be remised, if I had not mentioned my most memorable episodes and there were some doozies that redefined Children’s animation as we know it. Like There's no place like Springfield, inspired by the British TV series, The Prisoner, in which Shipwreck is tricked into thinking that he has a normal life with Maya (From a previous episode. “Memories of Mara”) and their daughter only to realize that they were Synthoids being used to extract top secret information from him.
His Parrot Polly uses a Ray gun like device to melt both Maya and their supposedly daughter. Needless to say, how the Focus group who consisted of Soccer Moms and Helicopter parents were up in arms at the syndicated Networks, for airing the supposed “death” of a child despite the fact that she was an artificial being. In turn the controversial scene was later removed from future broadcasts.
Other examples that were amusing, or just way out there in general, were: Countdown for Zartan (Bombing of government officials) episode 142 "The Primordial Plot" has Cobra concocting a plan to recreate Dinosaurs from stolen bones. It is interesting to mention how the concept from this episode, precedes the Jurassic Park/World franchise. I can recall from the 3rd 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 and that same area was reused during another episode.
"Worlds Without End" was a far-fetched mindfuck of an episode because not only did the writers entertain a “What-if” scenario of Cobra ruling the World, but this shocking two-parter served as a means to write off certain Joe Characters. I cannot tell you how alarmed I was, when I first saw those decomposed bodies from some of the Joe Team, or how most of the Joes perished in a battle against Cobra.
That episode left me numb as a kid in my early teens, because of its nihilist subject matter, but yet very ballsy and not to mention, one of the best written episodes from the series.(Well, the Baroness/Steeler romance, was hard to stomach.) You would never see Filmation’s He-Man and The Masters of the Universe be as so brazen! Then there was yet another unforgettable episode that must have been inspired by X-Men's Days of Future Past. * Some of the dialog and scenarios from G.I. Joe was ahead of its time especially when there was a time that tight restrictions from the FCC was imposed.
After Synthoid Conspiracy, Marx was on a role with "Cobra Captives" 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. They are not called a "ruthless terrorist organization” for nothing, y’know! Cobra had concocted some fucked up schemes in the past, but this is on a new level of evil!
And speaking of Cobra captives, there was that interesting sociopolitical defining scene whereas the Native American Joe Tracker-Spirit Iron Knife attends his Niece's spiritual ceremony ritual only to be interrupted by an emergency call from the Joes. His Grandfather, begrudgingly says; " Why must you go whenever the White man calls"? That was unexpected as I never recalled a Cartoon series addressing any racial content other than stereotypes.
Speaking of which, in "The Invaders" (Written by the late 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"! I am aware that the production of the series had taken place during the Eighties where tensions between the U.S. And Mother Russia was at an all-time high but damn, so much for political correctness. Or maybe Gung Ho was feeling a bit too "jingoistic"? The narrative itself dealt with suspicion and real-life paranoia from both sides however, the flying saucer plot was a bit disappointing, when I expected more from a great writer like O'Neil.
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 in Anime series as well. As much as I loved the ARAH Cartoons, there were a few nitpicks I had with this series:
Was it too hard to show Cobra soldiers being killed? Yes, I am aware of certain guidelines from the FCC, but there were exceptions where Marvel Productions, slipped in a couple of fatalities I.e. during the Mass Device Miniseries, I witnessed saw a few deaths whether it was Cobras falling off a cliff or a horrified Steeler watching the skeletal remains of Joes from the future including himself. However, they should have gone that extra mile when dealing with terrorists aside from fisticuffs or ejecting from falling aircraft. Maybe its me, being raised on Anime since I was a kid, who is biased.
Despite avoiding onscreen deaths, G.I. Joe still received its share of criticism even from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, who deemed it as being very violent. But hey, controversy sells, if not entertain as this series did not shy away from controversy.
In an episode titled; The Gamesmaster, our guest voyeuristic antagonist kidnaps Lady Jaye as she changes clothes and it does not stop there, you have a bikini wearing Baroness being abducted. While a lot of things have gone unnoticed by children, the adults were quick to pick up a few things, proving again, how G.I. Joe was not tailored just for kids.
And like the comic counterpart, there were way too many MacGuffins throughout the series, that the writers developed a self-referential episode making a mockery the extent of plot devices. (See episode "Once Upon a Joe".) Things got way out of hand during the 2nd season as if G.I.Joe hadn’t avoided supernatural plots like ancient warrior ghosts, stories got progressively bizarre from 1985 and during 1986, where the Joes experienced encounters with Egyptian Gods, Mythological figures, Cthulhu creatures and Monsters the size of Godzilla! And to think how comfortable I was, with those silly episode plots of Cobra using restaurants as a cover for missile bases, subliminal rock bands, moon engraving and satellite television programming that influences the viewer.
The second season after the “Rise, Serpentor, Rise” miniseries, went downhill with boring plots and horrible animation with the noticeable exception of “Nightmare Assault”. What the hell was Sunbow and Marvel productions thinking? It’s as if the remainder of the series suffered from autopilot, where it has become too implausible when compared to the Marvel Comic counterpart. What's next, a civilization based on reptilian humanoids? Oh, wait!
And I can tell just by looking at the bad quality animation from certain episodes, that the art chores have been funneled out to low end Animation studios that were not on par with Toei’s amazing work.
G.I. Joe was often also known for its PSAs ranged from avoiding electrical fire hazards or phone calls from potential Child Molesters. What's funny is how those public service announcements were often parodied courtesy of the infamous YouTube video clips. ("Pork chop Sandwiches", anyone?)
Despite the overall success of ARAH, Hasbro didn't want to invest any money into its 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 first would be the series’ very last.
Although G.I. Joe the Movie had made its debut during the following year. It went straight to Home Video as opposed to being shown at a "theater near you". This decision was the result stemming from Transformers the Movie's disappointing Box office results.
In my not so humble opinion, G.I. Joe the Movie would have been the perfect swan song to the series' continuity had it not been for a disappointing plot and average execution (involving an ancient civilization called “Cobra-La"? ) and let us not forget Duke "slipping into a Coma" after having his Heart pierced by Serpentor! Story Editor Buzz Dixon was not too happy when he had to do a rewrite which resulted from the backlash from Optimus Prime's demise in Transformers the Movie. You can even hear Buzz's dissatisfaction from the DVD's commentary track.
Had the third season come to fruition, we would have been treated to new antagonists like Cobra's successor; the Coil, led by the Crimson Twins, Tomax and Xamot.
But despite the toyline's success, and high ratings, Hasbro did not want to bankroll another season, thus came and went G.I. Joe A Real American Hero.
Many years later. (1989 to be exact.) Hasbro decide to reboot the G.I. Joe Animated series, with animation company DIC responsible for the production yet it garnered extremely poor reception. Both story and animation were watered down mostly for budgetary reasons and the appeal was targeted for 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 other attempts such as Sgt. Savage, G.I. Joe Extreme and G.I. Joe Renegades, respectively.
The latter despite the constant Red lasers tropes, was a decent effort albeit loosely inspired by the A-Team's premise. (Fugitives on the lam.) interesting fact is that the live action sequel, G.I. Joe Retaliation, was somewhat based its concept from Renegades.
I would say that the 2003 one shot Series G.I.Joe Resolute was the best of both worlds if you're combining the Sunbow arc 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.)
G.I.Joe A Real American Hero is without a doubt one of the most innovative Animated series that came from that decade of great popular culture, the 1980's!
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 with a catchy theme song, a cast of heroes that embraces diversity, all out action, dialog and scenarios that even an adult can appreciate. With PSAs thrown in at the end of each episode. It was a series that I felt was cancelled way too soon. However, it is better to go out on top than stick around and end up a flop. As rhyming Roadblock might say.
Now you know, and knowing is half the Battle!
*Acknowledgments to CTM for that reference.
You can watch all the episodes of G.I. Joe courtesy of Hasbro’s YouTube Channel!