Okay, I'm going to be really honest here... I don't really care if they repeal Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell, because even though I'm hella old now and it wouldn't affect me either way, the thought that I'll ever have to serve in the military fills me with more dread than the thought of going to prison. Well, maybe not more. They're about even. Thoroughly unpleasant prospects, the both of them.
I think most geeks my age feel the same way. We could never serve in the military, but we all LOVE GI Joe!
The secret behind GI Joe's broad appeal with my age group is that secretly, GI Joe didn't really have anything to do with the military. It was a SUPER HERO show, in military drag. I mean, they had ray guns and jet packs and code names and the whole works. In fact, the Joes always referred to each other by their code names, unlike in comics where certain writers NEVER have the characters use their code names, even in public! They're called "secret identities" for a reason!
The first batch of GI Joes was kinda boring actually. All the guys kinda looked the same, drab olive green uniforms. My favorite, of course was "the girl," Counter Intelligence Agent, Scarlett!
To this day, I have no idea what the hell she's supposed to be dressed as. Grey (sometimes colored lavender!) bodysuit with a yellow leotard over it, tall yellow, high-heel boots, and her weapon was a crossbow. WHAT?! Nothing against crossbows... I think they'd be highly effective at killing zombies. But it's all just so nonsensical!
According to her file card, her real name was Shana O'Hara... yup, she was "Scarlett" O'Hara! I think she was supposed to be Southern, but she never spoke with an accent. Oh and she was from a family of martial arts experts and was a certified ninja!
Has anyone ever SEEN a ninja? I mean, fictional universes would have you believe there are more ninjas running around than Jehovah's Witnesses, but in the real world? I think I've seen more unicorns than ninjas in real life... suddenly making my life a far hollower existence than it was just one minute ago.The lady Joes were decidedly butch. The original Scarlett figure looks like a man with two pebbles in his shirt. Even though she had a long flowing ponytail on the cartoon, her figure had shorter hair than a Jonas Brother.I was captivated by the second female Joe, Covergirl, a former model who wanted to prove she was more than just a pretty face, so she wheeled around in a missile-firing tank called the Wolverine, not to be confused with the short, Canadian X-Man. I guess her action figure looked vaguely more feminine than Scarlett's. Barely.
Luckily, she's always been drawn much prettier. Sadly, in the live-action movie, Covergirl was killed about 10 minutes in. Boo!
The original leader of GI Joe on the cartoon was all-American, blond-haired, blue eyed man-of-action, Duke. Of course he got the girl, as on the show, he and Scarlett were a couple. The comic books were different, in that, she was in love with Snake Eyes. More on him in a bit.
Also, in the comics, the Joe team, was led by General Hawk, who didn't appear on the cartoon until it's second full-season. Then, all of a sudden, Duke wasn't the team's leader anymore.
Mixing things up further was the introduction of Flint, the group's snappy beret wearing Warrant Officer. I found it funny that the rest of the male Joes came with a veritable arsenal of weapons, a few guns, backpacks, helmets... Flint only came with what looked like a Buccaneer's pistol. I guess he was that kinda old school.
Flint served as Duke's right hand and was the field leader on most of the first season's episodes. Like Duke, Flint had a main squeeze, Lady Jaye.
Maybe Hasbro realized that they kinda sucked at making female figures, so they decided that Lady Jaye was just going to be butch and not worry about girling her up.
However, with her smokey voice and confident demeanor, she actually wound up being the sexiest lady Joe!
Lady Jaye was one of those Joes whose cartoon image and toy image were very different. The Lady Jaye action figure wore a black baseball cap and carried a harpoon gun.
On the cartoon, Lady Jaye was headgear free (I guess Flint wore the hat in that relationship) and carried a quiver full of gadget-y spears that she threw. It... never made that much sense. Trick javelins? Whose idea was that? Finally, in the 00s, they issued a Lady Jaye action figure that more closely resembled her visage from the cartoon series.
Sarcastic sailor Shipwreck kind of wound up being the star of the cartoon. He was originally conceived as a "gray area" character, not bad, but not all-the-way good either. But by the time the show went from a series of miniseries to a full series, he'd completely crossed over to the side of good. On one of the commentaries on the DVDs, they reveal that his voice was supposed to be a Jack Nicholson impression and when you listen to it now, you can TOTALLY hear it! You can't NOT hear it!
He was the focal point in several of the most memorable episodes of the series, first when he fell in love with a amphibious woman named Mara (created by Cobra of course) and then in a later episode where after being knocked unconscious in battle, he wakes up seemingly years in the future after GI Joe has been disbanded and finds himself living a suburban life married to Mara (now cured of her amphibious nature), but things turn all Stepford Wives pretty quickly!
GI Joe tried making their team multiethnic, but their efforts reeked of tokenism. Every year, they released something like twenty new action figures and out of all those crackers, there's be like two ethnic characters. And then, they'd be fairly stereotypical. Case in point, Quick Kick.
OF COURSE the Asian-American Joe was a kung fu expert! He was also probably a math whiz and not allowed to drive the tanks. I will say, at least on the cartoon, he didn't have an Asian accent of any sort. On the flip side, he was always doing dreadful John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart impressions, which is kinda worse. Wait... are those gardening sheers he's holding?
Spirit (also commonly called Spirit Ironknife, Ironknife being his real last name) was the token fur boot-wearing, loincloth-sporting Native American shaman/tracker on the team and had a pet bald eagle named Freedom. He was like GI Joe's version of Apache Chief. Oh and did I mention his gun shot arrow heads?!
Feel free to disagree, but GI Joe jumped the shark very quickly. After a great first full season of the cartoon, the second saw the introduction of... sigh...
Sgt. Slaughter a real-life WWF wrestler, introduced as the Joe's drill sergeant who also led the team on several missions.
He always growled his dialogue like he was taking a stubborn and painful shit. He somehow managed to overact even by cartoon standards! Bugs Bunny called and said, "Hey, try taking it down a notch. Be more natural with the dialogue." And then he dressed like a girl and kissed him.
I GUESS Sgt. Slaughter proved successful, though. The following year, they introduced a second "Drill Sergeant" for the team, once again, based on a real-life personality, The Fridge, a.k.a. William "The Refrigerator" Perry from the Chicago Bears.
Nice football shaped mace. The Fridge did not make it onto the cartoon series, however.
A THIRD trainer was planned for the line, codename: Rocky, real name Rocky Balboa.For whatever reason, the character was scrapped, although he was listed in the comic book "GI Joe: Order of Battle" in what was supposed to be a teaser for the upcoming action figure.
Rocky would have even had an evil counterpart, the Cobra trainer Big Boa, who was included in the toy line despite Rocky's absence.
Of course there were over a hundred GI Joe characters and I can't discuss them all. Those are the biggies... and of course I saved the biggest for last.
The most popular Joe was silent ninja, Snake Eyes... silent after being injured and disfigured in an accident that killed his entire family. Everyone loves a man of mystery!
He was like the group's Batman and Wolverine rolled into one. He was the first character in the line to receive a second alternate action figure:
This one had a cooler visor and came with a pet wold, Timber. Sure, why the hell not?! On the cartoon, Timber found Snake Eyes wandering through the frozen wilderness and helped save him. This kicked off the trend of characters including pets, Spirit's eagle, Shipwreck's parrot "Paulie," Croc Master's crocodile, etc.
And in a genius move, Hasbro gave Snake Eyes an arch enemy, the Cobra ninja Stormshadow.
Stormshadow proved so popular that Hasbro and Marvel comics decided to make him a good guy, revealing that he'd only been undercover, pretending to be a Cobra. Ugh, BOO! A lot of fans were ticked that he was used as a villain in the live-action Joe movie, but since his switch to the Joes didn't occur on the cartoon, I was fine with him staying a villain. Cobra was officially led by, who else? Cobra Commander, a hissing dictator, who sadly grew sillier and more bumbling as the series progressed. Like Snake Eyes, Cobra Commander had two versions of his action figure. The royal-blue version with helmet with mirrored face plate...And the FAR cooler navy blue suit with a "cloth" hood. His file card indicated that he was a used car salesman that formed his own army to conquer the world. I think that was supposed to be funny. Destro was originally a free agent arms dealer, but very quickly became an integral part of the Cobra hierarchy and proved to be the real "brains" of the organization.Destro wore what was supposed to be a full-head metal helmet... but somehow on the cartoon, it really seemed like he just had a metallic head, complete with pronounced lips that moved when he spoke. In the movie, they actually ran with that idea!
OF COURSE, my favorite baddie was "the girl," The Baroness! The Baroness' action figure is the closest Hasbro came to a pretty female figure.
I liked how they gave her "real" long hair (via a separate rubber piece that attached to her "bald" head). In a sign of her treacherous nature, she began doin'-it with Destro, when she realized he was a better leader than Cobra Commander.
Another cool baddie was mercenary/master of disguise, Zartan! He was some sort of mutant who hated sunlight, which caused him great pain AND made him turn blue. Although it's been a while since I've seen a lot of these episodes, I'm fairly certain that was a condition that they went to when it was convenient and just ignored it at other times. Zartan was one of the first color-change toys I remember being created.
Zartan lead a rag tag gang of thugs called the Dreadnoks, which would eventually include his siblings Zarana and Zandar, both of whose action figures also possessed the color change feature.
Zartan used rubber masks to disguise himself as anyone he wished, but he lived in the swamp (which swamp is never explained... was it the same one where the Legion of Doom parked their base?) so wouldn't the stench give him away most of the time?Like I said, the show jumped the shark in its second full season. Cobra's Mad Scientist, the shirt-free, handlebar mustachioed Dr. Mindbender hatched a plot to replace the bumbling Cobra Commander with a genetically created super leader, by mixing the DNA of history's greatest conquerors, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Vlad the Impaler, Hannibal, Napoleon, Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible, Philip II of Macedonia, Genghis Khan and Rasputin.
The result was the pompous and ridiculous Serpentor, who pranced around barking orders which he punctuated with his catchphrase, "This I command!"
Oh but wait... there's more. Along came GI Joe: The Movie. In what was supposed to be a theatrical feature which instead went straight-to-video, it was revealed that Cobra Commander was a SNAKE CREATURE from a hidden society in the Himalayas called Cobra-La. Not to be confused with nearby Shangri-La, although I'm guessing they got their mail ALL. THE. TIME!
The leader of Cobra-La was serpentine Golobulous, who was aided by his silent winged bodyguard, Nemesis Enforcer and the slithery, seductive Pythona, who sneaks into Joe headquarters in the most bad ass sequence in the movie. It seems that Golobulous had the idea to create Serpentor implanted in Dr. Mindbender's cranium via earworms, after his initial subject Cobra Commander had repeatedly proven inept at destroying GI Joe and conquering the world. Golobulous then hatches a plot to launch evil spores into outer space that will rain down on humanity mutating everyone into mindless inhuman creatures. (He tests this by exposing Cobra Commander to the spores, devolving him into an actual snake creature!)
During the course of the action, Duke is KILLED by a snake-shaped spear through the heart! Oh wait, nevermind... they changed their minds and flip-flopped the artwork so that Duke is impaled on the right side of his chest and simply injured. At the end of the movie, a line of dialogue is dubbed in where via radio, Breaker informs the Joes that Duke will make a full recovery! Huzzah!
Sgt. Slaughter (aw, fuckin'... REALLY?!) leads the newest Joe action figures... ahem, recruits into battle and they defeat the Cobra-La citizens with the mystical city crumbling to ruins and the forces of Cobra being shut down, seemingly permanently. YO JOE!
So... we started out with a some-what realistic military strike force, battling a terrorist organization and wound up... in Cobra-La. Strange journey. GI Joe actually continued past this. The toys continued for YEARS and a second cartoon series, by a different company, was produced, but I'd outgrown the concept. Even so, it was one of the best toy properties of the 80s!