A Real American Hero Returns to YouTube.
Upon the news of Hasbro releasing the original episodes of the original 1980’s G.I. Joe cartoon for free on YouTube, I’ve decided to go ahead and republish my 2004 review of the Rhino Home Video DVD release of the first two G.I. Joe mini-series. Though I was a huge devotee of this stuff as a kid, I never thought I’d be digging this review out of mothballs. Anyhow, if you’re so inclined, enjoy this run down memory lane!
Remember those cool animated TV commercials for Marvel’s G.I. Joe comic book back in the early 1980s? If you were anything like me, they not only piqued your interest for the comic, but also made you wish there was an actual animated series like that. In 1983, the kind folks at Sunbow Animation gave us just that, albeit as a mere five-part mini-series, not a daily adventure series that we dreamed of (that would come later). It satisfied our appetite for G.I. Joe vs. Cobra for at least one week and had kids on playgrounds everywhere echoing the cry “Yo Joe!”
Commissioned by the toy company Hasbro, the mini-series (retroactively known as A Real American Hero) worked almost ingeniously as both a shrewd marketing tool and as a multi-character action show for kids. Yes, after seeing this, many of us wanted to run right out to the toy stores and buy up as many G.I. Joe toys as our allowances would allow, but I am of the opinion that this reaction was earned rather than coerced.
Hasbro was smart enough to let the creative folks at Sunbow flesh out these characters better than kids’ TV animated characters were ever portrayed, and consequently, we believed it, and wanted to be a part of this world of harmless excitement and reckless daring-do. Duke, Scarlet, Stalker, and Snake Eyes, as well as the other Joes, were appealing and fun heroes. Cobra, the ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world, was led by some of the most colorful villains on TV at the time, the reptilian-voiced Cobra Commander, and the metal-masked Destro.
Cobra has built a MASS device, which allows them to manipulate matter, transporting things from one place to another. The world had better surrender, or else (for example) the Eiffel Tower stays in Cobra Commander’s garage forever! To counter this threat, G.I. Joe builds their own MASS device, and uses it to disable Cobra’s, sending its three rare key components to all corners of the globe.
From there, it’s a race against time to secure the components before the other side does. Naturally the pursuit takes the Joe and Cobra teams into the jungle, underwater, and the arctic, allowing all the latest and greatest G.I. Joe vehicles and equipment (all available at your nearest toy store) to be showcased. The whole thing culminates in a big, big battle, with G.I. Joe winning the day – for now.
The first series was a big success, so naturally, it wasn’t long before a follow-up appeared. 1984’s The Revenge of Cobra delivered more of what we loved about the first series, as well as all kinds of new characters and vehicles. I have to admit to being impartial to this mini-series over the first one, despite its more obvious shortcomings. I remember discovering this for the first time at the video rental place down the street (on Betamax!), and subsequently watching it about 15,000 times that weekend. Revenge of Cobra offered the first appearances of G.I. Joe mainstays Storm Shadow, Flint, Lady Jaye, Shipwreck, and best of all, Zartan and the Dreadnoks. I was fascinated with these characters well before I ever saw them on TV, thanks to the comics and the toys. None of them failed to satisfy me in their animated incarnations.
The plot structure pretty much mimics A Real American Hero, except instead of the MASS device, Cobra has the Weather Dominator. If the world does not surrender to Cobra, they’ll do all kinds of crazy things with the world’s weather, like make it snow in Egypt and bring tennis ball-sized hail down on Washington DC. The thing blows up, and key components go flying all over the world. Sure, it sounds familiar, but with so many cool characters and vehicles, viewers back then didn’t care.
Also, in keeping with the first mini-series, key Joes are captured by Cobra, and must do battle in Cobra Commander’s weird hi-tech Arena of Sport. By the end, Duke, Snake Eyes, Roadblock and, uh, civilian country girl Honda Lou West (picked up along the way, and gladly brought into the fray) (sheesh, shouldn’t the Joes, being professional soldiers and all, know better than that?) kick serpentine butt inside Cobra HQ while the battle rages outside. Certain action scenes owe a lot to Return of the Jedi, but Revenge of Cobra was still fresh and new enough to excite us about G.I. Joe all over again.
The deluxe edition of this set includes an exclusive Snake Eyes action figure, replicating the original 1982 version of the character. Also, you’ll get a great informative booklet, and recently taped interviews with series writers Ron Friedman and comics legend Marv Wolfman as DVD extras. They discuss what we’ve always known about G.I. Joe – that it actually has very little to do with the real military, but rather is all about simple good versus evil, on a basic mythological level. Sure, the Joes use military-esque equipment and wardrobe, but the individualism and attitudes displayed by these heroes are purely the stuff of kid’s adventure TV.
Yes, the Joes say some pretty corny things – things that even as kids we knew were goofy for any adult person to utter, much less a serviceman or woman. (“I’ll kick the mustard off of that hot dog!!”) Also, there’s a whole lot of gunplay and danger, but no one ever gets hurt. Again, I think most of us recognized this as fantasy, even if the freedom fight element rang kind of true with our latter-day Cold War knowledge. The restored picture looks terrific on this set, and the 5.1 “Rhinophonic” revisionist sound mix isn’t too bad, either. The old G.I. Joe show never got better than this. Yo Joe!