G.I. Joe Review: A Real American Hero – Mini-Series (1983 & 1984)

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The “G.I. Joe:  A Real American” hero toy line was introduced in late 1983, but due to being relatively young at the time, I wasn’t aware of it until a couple of years later.  As such, the animated mini-series that came out in fall of 1983 to support that then-new toy line launch had long been an enigma to me.  I’d caught it in re-runs years later and it always confused me, since it was obviously set early in the general “G.I. Joe” storyline and it was missing many popular characters.

At the time, I was much more familiar with the 1984 mini-series sequel “The Revenge of Cobra” and initially assumed that that was the true introduction of the new “G.I. Joe” line.  Of course, logically, I never asked myself the obvious question:  ‘Why would Cobra need to seek revenge if they were just meeting G.I. Joe for the first time?’

This true first mini-series answered that question.  [SPOILER] Cobra had good reason to later seek revenge! [END SPOILER]

 

“The MASS Device (Part 1): The Cobra Strikes” – September 12, 1983

When The U.S. military prepares to launch their satellite into orbit, Cobra develops the ultimate weapon known as the M.A.S.S. device, planning to steal the satellite. G.I. Joe is called into action, their leader Duke has Scarlett, Snake Eyes and Stalker test the satellite installation’s security. But while in disguise, the Baroness tags the satellite with a homing device, causing Cobra to use their device to transport forces stealing the satellite. Meanwhile, Duke is captured during the transport and the rest of the Joes must rescue him.(Wikipedia Contributors,2011)

I was impressed that the entire episode wasn’t full of endless character introductions.  The setup involving G.I. Joe being used to test security on an ultimate weapon played out rather implausibly, but it served the purpose of getting the ball rolling.   The conclusion of the episode was notable for setting up the convention of spending the middle episodes of a given mini-series fighting over the gathering of pieces for an ultimate weapon.  That convention would be used by the successive major G.I. Joe mini-series, such as “The Revenge of Cobra”  and “Arise, Serpentor, Arise”

“The MASS Device (Part 2): Slaves of the Cobra Master” – September 13, 1983

The Joes begin the race to acquire the elements necessary to build their own MASS device. Cobra kidnaps Duke, using mind control device to put him in a gladiator type environment called the Arena of Sport. After Cobra discovers the Joes are searching for radioactive crystals, the race begins. Snake Eyes sacrifices himself to save his friends, acquiring the crystals while he is poisoned from the radioactivity. Duke is able to break the mind control device and is rescued by MEDEVAC.(Wikipedia Contributors,2011)

It was made clear that Cobra Commander was a cool cucumber when, rather than planning for possible G.I. Joe counter-attacks, he engaged in playing a joystick-controlled game of gladiators.  The game involved Cobra’s Joe prisoner, Duke fighting an anonymous giant prisoner.  Cobra ally Destro played against the Commander in this game and seemed a bit uneasy with the distraction, but he soon forgot his concerns and got into the sport of it.

Later in the episode, it was odd to witness the Russian soldiers captured in a ‘demonstration’ scene of the ultimate weapon not put up much of a fight.  This was despite appearing to greatly outnumber the Cobra commandos who had them surrounded.  Yes, the Russian soldiers were surrounded, but they were armed and I had to wonder if the ease with which they were captured wasn’t a sly cold war jab against the Russians.  Admittedly, that might be reading too much into the scene.

Duke had an amusing scene with a slave girl in which I nearly expected them to kiss.  Based on his interaction with Scarlet in the first episode, I assumed that he was dating her.  If anything though, Duke seemed free to at least flirt with the slave girl.  He also gave her a ring, which I assumed to be a homing device, but that also seemed to be a promise of something… more.

Interestingly, near the end of the episode, Snake-Eyes appeared to sacrifice himself in a sort of homage to “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”  During this scene, I was reminded of his relationship with Scarlet, although a triangle between Duke-Scarlet-Snake-Eyes didn’t seem to have materialized yet.

“The MASS Device (Part 3): The Worms of Death” – September 14, 1983

The Joes and Cobra vie to find the heavy water element. Mysterious underwater tube worms cause both teams to agree to a cease fire to thwart off the worms, allowing both teams to successfully recover the heavy water. Snake Eyes struggles to remain alive in a snow storm and is suffering from radioactive poisoning. He manages to save a wolf (Timber) who becomes his make-shift pet. The pair are rescued by a hermit who cures Snake Eyes of his poisoning and injuries. The Joes are overjoyed to see their comrade alive and with the crystals. However, his canister was booby trapped by Cobra; causing poison gas to flood the air.(Wikipedia Contributors,2011)

The battle in this episode against giant, underwater worms was a distinctly memorable G.I. Joe moment.  It represented the most vivid scene that I’d remembered from this mini-series.  The resolution of the scene wasn’t quite as clever as I’d remembered it, but it worked well enough.

I can credit this episode with giving me a false impression about the dangers of radiation poisoning.  Snake-Eyes, [SPOILER] similarly to  Spock in the aforementioned “Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan”  [END SPOILER], turned out to still be alive.  However, his ‘cure’ appeared to simply involve getting separated from his radioactive garments with the help of a mountain hermit.  One had to assume that Snake-Eyes experienced later health problems that were never covered during the show’s run.  Unfortunately, I wouldn’t bet on things being okay long-term for the mountain hermit either.

“The MASS Device (Part 4): Duel in the Devil’s Cauldron” – September 15, 1983

Both forces begin missions to retrieve the third element, a meteorite buried in a volcano. The Joes try to lift the meteorite, but are thwarted by Cobra, led by Destro, who causes the volcano to erupt, ejecting the meteor. But both forces obtain the third element. The Joes have all three elements and want to attack Cobra, but Duke has no recollection of where Cobra Mountain is located.(Wikipedia Contributors,2011)

Cobra Commander always seemed more brilliant than the G.I. Joes, but he often had to get too cocky at key moments.

The Commander appeared to snookered by G.I. Joe early on the episode.  To be fair, it did appear to be a legitimate video transmission within internal Joe communications declaring intentions for a full surrender to Cobra.  Unlike the Commander though, I suspected that it was a fake-out made for Cobra’s benefit… and wouldn’t you know that I was right?  Poor Cobra – one had to assume that this oversight was going to have a disastrous ripple effect for them.

As proof that the Commander wasn’t a incompletely horrible person though, he didn’t kill the slave girl after she thwarted his plan to blow up the Empire State Building.  That slave girl had largely disappeared since the beginning of the mini-series, but she showed up again just in time to throw some water onto Cobra’s weapon control panel and  prevent the Empire State Building from being destroyed.  After realizing what had occurred, Cobra Commander simply had her taken into custody by some of his minions and made a few vague threats about her ‘regretting’ her actions.  Somehow, I don’t think that she ended up having any regrets.

 “The MASS Device (Part 5): A Stake in the Serpent’s Heart” – September 16, 1983

Cobra attempts to destroy New York City, but the Joes counter it with their new MASS device. The Joes notice the ring Duke gave to the slave girl was a homing device, and they teleport to Cobra Mountain. The Joes arrive at Cobra headquarters to launch their assault. Destro turns the MASS device to the direction of earth’s core in order, disintegrating it. Cobra Commander, in panic, enlists the help of the Joes to stop the device. After successfully destroying the device, Cobra Commander is arrested and Destro escapes.(Wikipedia Contributors,2011)

It was nice to see the Cobra airborne aircraft carrier make a lengthy appearance near the end of the mini-series.  This appeared to have been one of many fantastical elements borrowed from the 1960s “Nick Fury:  Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” comic book stories.  Sadly, this ‘helicarrier’ doesn’t make a large number of later appearances in the general “G.I. Joe” series.

It wasn’t until the end of the mini-series that I realized that two of the more notable Joes – Flint and Lady Jaye – had not yet been introduced.  While most of the characters introduced in this mini-series would be mainstays, a few characters would largely fade into the background.  I’ll touch more on the blonde tank driver Cover Girl during later episodes; she is introduced as a major female character, but Lady Jaye’s eventual introduction would appear to have limited roles that her character might have been a good fit for.

I should note that the strange relationship between Duke and the aforementioned slave girl continued to be a mystery, even at the end.  When Duke did rescue her, she ran up and kissed her in front of Scarlet.  She didn’t seem overly jealous – or was she?   She did brake up the kiss, adding that a kiss between Duke and the slave girl would be more appropriate ‘later.’  Duke, played coy and told Scarlet that he would have brought her flowers, but that he thought she might rather have a gun.  Duke then handed Scarlet a gun and they joined the other Joes who were invading the Cobra headquarters.  In the end, the world was safe and no further romance was touched upon.

In general, it seemed as though the love lives of these Joes – particularly Duke and Scarlet – were really confusing.  A bit of online research showed that I’m not alone in the general confusion regarding who Scarlet was dating on the show.  In the Marvel “G.I. Joe” comic book series, Scarlet had a very clear on-and-off romance with Snake-eyes.  However, that seemed to be downplayed or even non-existent in the cartoon series, so my eyes and memory might simply have seen things that weren’t there in the cartoon.

That still didn’t explain why Scarlet wasn’t more pro-active with staking claim to Duke during the Slave Girl’s rescue scene.  Was Scarlet simply not jealous?  Why did she suggest to the girl that kissing Duke might be an option ‘later?’  Weird and confusing.

As I said, Cobra would have good reason to later seek revenge on G.I. Joe.  Thus, a year later, the animation company Sunbow and toy maker Hasbro would release a sequel mini-series entitled “The Revenge of Cobra.”

“The Revenge of Cobra (Part 1): In the Cobra’s Pit” – September 10, 1984

Cobra attacks a G.I. Joe convoy, and steals a high-powered experimental laser. During the battle to protect the laser, both Duke and Snake Eyes are captured by Cobra agents. Once back at Cobra’s base, Destro uses the laser to complete his latest weapon…the “Weather Dominator”. When Flint and the other Joes launch an air assault and rescue mission, Destro uses the device, and it’s stormy skies ahead for the Joe team.(Wikipedia Contributors,2011)

This episode was really the ‘true’ start of “G.I. Joe” for me.  I think that many would agree that this mini-series was what really got things with the animated series rolling, as most of the core characters that would be used throughout the main series were either established or further expanded upon within these episodes.

The opening desert ambush centered around the capture of a G.I. Joe weapon that was being pulled by a semi truck that looked suspiciously like Optimus Prime, from Sunbow Animation’s other production “The Transformers.”  I’d like to think that Prime made a cameo in this episode, but if it was him, he didn’t make his presence known during the attack by Cobra.

A favorite vehicle of mine, the G.I. Joe Sky Hawk, factored into significant screen time.  I never owned this vehicle, but I made replicas of it using my Construx childhood building toy.  This versatile vehicle really wow-ed me with its simplicity and usefulness.

I had to wonder about the gliders that Cobra used during the opening ambush.  It appeared that higher-ranking Cobra members had rocket-powered attack gliders, while other ‘grunts’ had standard gliders.  The Cobras with the standard model were picked off easily during the battle, so that wasn’t really the most efficient strategy if Cobra really had the kind of funding available that one assumed.  Thus, I had to wonder if Cobra had run into budget problems after the M.A.S.S. Device fiasco in the prior mini-series?  Or did they blow their budget on the giant secret base that was seen later in this episode?  It was hard to say, but I found it odd that Cobra had gone cheap on equipping people for such a critical attack.

During the ambush, it was fun to see Duke show his toughness.  How tough was he, you ask?  Well, he used a jetpack to fly from his Sky Hawk over to a flying platform where a dozen armed Cobra troops were stealing the G.I. Joe weapon.

Did I mention that Duke did it all using hand-to-hand combat?  He ended up using karate moves to nearly take out all of the Cobras.  Sadly though, he didn’t completely pull things off and then found himself, again, captured by Cobra in the first episode of a mini-series!

After Duke’s capture, it was fun to see the Cobra transport plane pop up.  Like the Cobra helicarrier, this plane was an interesting vehicle concept that never had a toy based on it released.

The Dreadnoks, the mercenary biker mainstays of the series, made their first appearance in this episode.  Their leader, Zartan, always had a humorously cocky rapport with Cobra Commander and it was a treat to see him pop up.  The Dreadnoks were essentially Cobra Commander’s insurance policy, in case of capture.

The episode ended with the beginning of one of the more memorable cliffhangers of the series:  the vines of evil.  Flint crashed his Skystriker into a deep canyon and Destro decided to perform a biological experiment on him by using a super-plant that Destro happened to have ready in his lab.  The episode ended with viewers wondering if Flint could get out of the canyon alive or if Destro’s giant plants would kill him first!

“The Revenge of Cobra (Part 2): The Vines of Evil” – September 11, 1984

Cobra Commander has Duke and Snake Eyes fight each other in a gladiatorial combat in his “Arena of Sport”. Cobra plans to assault Washington D.C., but Duke and Snake Eyes send a Morse code to their team. The Joes successfully defend D.C., but they destroy the weather device by splitting it into three pieces scattered globally. Weather patterns all over the world are in havoc; G.I. Joe and Cobra begin expeditions to recover the shattered device.(Wikipedia Contributors,2011)

In a sort of odd deja-vu, Duke again found himself in a gladiator-like situation whilst under capture by Cobra.  In watching these initial mini-series back-to-back, I realized how some of the story beats were similar.  Certainly, the ‘go get the weapon pieces’ trope was expected, but the additional wrinkle of more gladiatorial games was unexpected.  Cobra Commander really appeared to have a thing for unwinding with gladiatorial games during a major operation.  I would have thought that he might have learned from the past operation that had failed and avoided this distraction.

In other odd note, it was the medic character Doc who happened to be the guy to came up with the suggestion of using mirrors to deflect Cobra’s energy/laser weapon’s blast on Washington D.C.  Not only was Doc a top physician, but he proved to be a defensive genius.

“The Revenge of Cobra (Part 3): The Palace of Doom” – September 12, 1984

Cobra and the Joes head for “The Palace of Doom”, an alleged cursed Aztec temple, to retrieve the first fragment, the “Ion Corrolator”. Cutter, Wild Bill and Spirit along with Doc, Torpedo, Clutch and Rock ‘n Roll head to an unstable island in the Pacific called the “Island of No Return” to retrieve another fragment, the “Hydro Master”, and are opposed by the Baroness, Firefly and Zartan. The Joes retrieve the corrolator, but they lose the fragment to Cobra during an earthquake.(Wikipedia Contributors,2011)

 Shipwreck was introduced in this episode, somewhat unexpectedly as a mercenary.  I recalled being surprised by this twist in his origin as a kid, since one naturally assumed that he was simply a naval man.  He also turned out to be a sailor of the desert, possessing an ingenious desert vessel that was powered by large sails.

The chase-an-item-per-episode formula wasn’t completely followed in “The Revenge of Cobra.”  Rather than having a single pursuit adventure per episode, the writers devised simultaneous pursuits of the chase items.  This was a good creative choice, since it kept things interesting by allowing inter-cutting between tense situations.  The downside though was that from episode-to-episode, it was sometimes hard to keep all of the plotlines straight.

“The Revenge of Cobra (Part 4): Battle on the Roof of the World” – September 13, 1984

On the Island of No Return, Spirit saves Storm Shadow from drowning while escaping from an underground river. In return for his heroism, Storm Shadow allows Spirit to keep the fragment. Flint, Lady Jaye, Snow Job, Spirit, Gung-ho and Shipwreck head to the North Pole to retrieve the third fragment, “The Laser Core”, and are opposed by Destro and Zartan. But Zartan finds the third fragment, and he blackmails the Joes and Cobra that the final fragment will belong to the highest bidder.(Wikipedia Contributors,2011)

Storm Shadow showed a nice moment of civility in this episode, letting the Joes keep one of the pieces that Cobra was after due to Spirit saving him from drowning in a cave. One of the reasons why Storm Shadow was one of the more interesting characters could be because, although he might work for Cobra, he also operated under a higher moral code.

The North Pole segment had a fun ‘sledding’ sequence that made me want to find the frozen ‘sluiceways’ that were referenced.  They looked like iced tunnels and apparently made for great sledding.

And was that a faux hockey sequence in the North Pole as well?  Why yes, it was.

Roadblock had a really nice moment late in the episode, (literally) manhandling Cobra Commander while singing the Joe theme song in the heart of the secret Cobra Headquarters.  While Cobra Commander did restore order by eventually capturing Roadblock, the Commander again got distracted with his gladiatorial game obsession.  This time though, the game at least had an interesting hologram/”Tron”-like twist to it.

“The Revenge of Cobra (Part 5): Amusement Park of Terror” – September 14, 1984

Zartan broadcasts an unsecured message to the Joes and Cobra offering to bargain for his particular fragment. Both sides trace his call to an amusement park. Cobra captures Zartan, and now they possess all the pieces of the Weather Dominator, since Storm Shadow sneaked into Joe headquarters and stole their fragment. Duke and company raid the Cobra Command center as Roadblock uses vines to attack Destro. The Joes are able to destroy the Weather Dominator, rescue Duke and company and apprehend Cobra Commander. However, Destro and Zartan manage to escape on a hang-glider.(Wikipedia Contributors,2011)

 The final episode of the mini-series was memorable, but a bit overly-busy.  Not only did the writers throw in an amusement park-based fight, but there was the final assault on Cobra’s desert fortress hideout.  Things wrapped up a bit too quickly, particularly in the final few minutes.

Throughout the two mini-series, I kept thinking that Destro might have been a much better leader of Cobra than Cobra Commander.  After the final episode of “The Revenge of Cobra” though, I had second thoughts.  Destro appeared to be much more intelligent than Cobra Commander, but, like the Commander, he also had moments of arrogance that proved to be his undoing.  In fact, I’d say that Destro had certain ‘brain freezes’ at key moments that also undermined him.  It was as if the writers wanted to remind viewers why Cobra Commander remained in charge.

It was hard to believe that kids in 1983 had to make due with only the first five episode “M.A.S.S. Device” mini-series and, after a year wait, were only given a five episode sequel mini-series.  Of course, it isn’t a surprise that production on the main series didn’t start without first having a ‘test’ mini-series.  Since a full animated series for syndication required several dozen episodes to be created, creating initial mini-series appeared to be a common tactic when gauging if investments should be made in full series orders.  Concepts such as “Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion” never made it past that initial mini-series, presumably due to poor initial toy sales.  “G.I. Joe” and “The Transformers” ended up being the rare case that made it into full production, even if “G.I. Joe” took a bit longer than “The Transformers” to break into a full series run.

 


Wikipedia Contributors. “List of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Episodes – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Wikipedia. 29 Oct. 2011. Web. 29 Oct. 2011.

 

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