G.I. Joe: A Real American Stroke of Genius


G.I. Joe

Being a child of the 80’s, I can safely say that we had the best after-school cartoons EVER. Seriously, we had giant transforming robots and laser-gun-toting paramilitary forces kicking the crap out of bad guys on a daily basis. And it was beautiful.

That sweet hour between 4pm and 5pm was a sacred time, the longest distance on a given weekday between you and more school. First up, the Transformers, followed by the amazing, the glorious, the spectacular, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

Now, I love the Transformers as much as the next guy. But this post is going to focus mostly on the Joes. Truth be told, if I had to choose, my preference leaned firmly in the Joe camp. A lot of it had to do with the toy line. That’s right, now firmly in my adulthood, I can see those cartoons for what they really were: extended toy commercials. And boy did I take the bait hook, line, and sinker. On those occasional trips to K-Mart with the folks, it wasn’t the racks full of Optimus Primes or Starscreams that I dragged them to. It was the Dukes, the Snake Eyes, and the Zartans that drew my unquenchable longing. No doubt about it. The marketing people over at Hasbro were friggin geniuses.

Those cartoons were like a siren song shot straight into our school-addled ears each and every day. And the toys they hawked were coveted by all who witnessed them.

With the memory of this still lingering in the recesses of my mind, I thought it would be fun to go back and revisit the thing responsible for separating my parents from oodles of their hard-earned money.

So I got my hands on a compilation DVD and picked an episode at random.

Countdown for Zartan.

Sounds good. Let’s pop it in and see what we got.


1:00 mark

Yes! The opening titles, a total free-for-all of badassery if ever I’ve seen one. It’s an all-out war in sixty seconds. Everyone is there, thoroughly handing Cobra its scaly posterior. Quick Kick and Snake Eyes beat the crap out of the Crimson Twins, Bazooka tosses Destro into the hands of his fellow Joes like a rag doll, and Flint sends Cobra Commander through a window like a total boss. If this doesn’t get your heart pumping, I don’t know what will.


2:43 mark

Zartan’s lackeys, The Dreadnoks, teaching new Cobra troops how to blow shizznit up, and in turn teaching a generation of kids all about plastic explosives and tracer ammo. I guess being a member of a biker gang qualifies you to be an instructor of military combat tactics. Who knew?


4:41 mark

Now the plot thickens. Scientists from all over the world are going to gather together to feed all of their anti-terrorist data into a computer because no one knows more about terrorism than scientists. And of course, that all has to be done in the same building because this is the 80’s and we haven’t even thought about the internet yet.


7:33 mark

Cool! We get a wicked fight between Spirit and Storm Shadow because this show is AWESOME! Of course, the fight ends in a draw, and these were the two action figures I could never seem to find at K-Mart. There goes my hopes and dreams of forcing plastic versions of these two mighty warriors to settle things once and for all in a titanic battle of my own making. Thanks a lot, Hasbro. Way to update your shipping manifests.


10:33 mark

Spirit’s pet hawk, Freedom, to the rescue. That’s right. All the Joes needed was to see Freedom flying back to base alone to know that Spirit was in trouble. That’s more than enough reason to deploy a million-dollar fleet of aircraft to the scene and burst in guns blazing.


12:04 mark

Oh, no. Zartan planted a bomb. But wait! The Joes caught him. Now he has until the countdown ends to tell them where it his. Countdown for Zartan. Now we know what the title means. Yay!


13:54 mark

What do you do when you capture Spirit and one of the anti-terrorism scientists? You seal off the cell and fill it full of laughing gas. Duh.


15:07 mark

Storm Shadow frees Spirit out of pure respect. Damn, I wanted those action figures so much.


19:07 mark

And what do you do when Zartan’s bomb fails? Just send a fleet of copters and blow up the buildings with rockets. Maybe they should have just done that in the first place.


20:28 mark

But it’s all good. The Joes have it in the bag.


21:00 mark

It’s not a proper episode until Cobra Commander does his patented retreat while another one of his goons escapes the hail of laser fire and exploding aircraft unscathed. Cobra’s recruitment poster probably read, “Join Cobra. We have enough parachutes for everyone.”


22:00 mark

The day has officially been saved. Yo Joe!


And there we have it. Man, it was fun to revisit this old classic, especially through the prism of cynical adulthood. Twenty-two minute long toy commercials? Maybe so. But what’s wrong with that? Now if you’ll excuse me, I think EBay is calling, and I have to see about a certain rematch between a Ninja and a Native American warrior that is long overdue.