Sunday, November 8, 2015

Kid's Stuff, Part XIV: G.I. Joe #34

The original Real Marketing Hero is still “kung-fu gripping” the competition

G.I. Joe just misses being in the Holy Trinity of hot marketable toy brands. Sitting currently at my number four spot, G.I. Joe has a longevity unrivaled in comic book tie-ins. Created by Hasbro in 1964 (which makes Joe older than me, BTW), G.I. Joe was created as a “Barbie for boys”, coming in three varieties (Pilot, Sailor, Solider/Marine). His arrival actually brought about the term “action figure”.

There some terrific G.I. Joe sites out there like this one HERE. If you’re a fan of the animated series, check out the episode guide with screen caps HERE.  If you loved the Joe comic books, all you need to know is HERE.
I’m not trying to overcompensate for anything when I say that my G.I. Joe was probably bigger than yours. G.I. Joe began life as a 12 inch tall doll the same size as Barbie. I got mine sometime in the very early 70’s. He was a full foot, had realistic hair (which was somehow a selling point back then) and came with Kung Fu grip. That Kung Fu grip was just a marketing ploy back then. When you think about it, they don’t really grip a bunch of stuff in real life martial arts. Just hit, kick and chop people.

Mostly, Joe’s accessories back then were many changes of clothes, canteens, belts and a Jeep that no child owned because it cost like a kajillion dollars. So playing with G.I. Joe was much like playing with Barbie, you dressed him in scuba gear, then in cameo fatigues, then in shorts, etc, etc while dreaming of one day being rich enough to afford that Jeep.

$10 was a lot of money back then. A loaf of bread was a nickle.

After a costly failed revamp in the late seventies making him fight space aliens, Hasbro tried to revamp Joe yet again in the early eighties. They shrunk him down to just under four inches in size, made him completely out of molded plastic and then crafted an odd half dozen varieties of “G.I. Joes”. They even gave him an arch enemy with a band of evil henchmen. To top it all off, they cross promoted the new G.I. Joe line with an animated series and a comic book both put out by Marvel productions. 1982 saw G.I. Joe become THE hot toy once more.

I have an admission to make about that G.I. Joe cartoon. For years I had an intense dislike of the program. This is not from any misguided loyalty to the 12’ Joe who was my childhood companion either. When G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was first shown in the U.S. I was just as excited as the next kid. More even, as I love animation and Joe appeared to have a top-notch team working on it. Although I was a bit old to still be playing with action figures, I found myself rushing home the day the first episode aired to plop down in front of the TV with millions of other teens and pre-teens. I liked what I saw. Great animation and a good story.

The second episode was where I truly fell in love with the show. Because in the second episode of G.I. Joe a character died. Well, not exactly died, but was doomed to death. Not only that, it was in the heroic rescue of other characters. The character was Snake-Eyes, G.I. Joe’s own “ninja with a past clouded in secrecy”. During a mission to retrieve some object of importance, Snake-Eyes prevents a poisonous radioactive gas from reaching two other Joe characters by activating a glass panel that slides down from the ceiling. Unfortunately, Snake-Eyes is trapped in the room with the gas when the panel comes down, so he effectively sacrificed himself to save the others. They even show a tearful farewell scene between the characters and their glowing radioactive comrade.

I loved this! I had just finished the first Starblazers series which featured multiple character deaths and I thought “finally Americans are making cartoons that depict real life.” Because, as we all know, to depict real life you have to kill a bunch of people. I even rationalized that Snake-Eyes wouldn’t be back because there were so many Joe figures being introduced. Hasbro could kill off a few here or there and it wouldn’t hurt them in the least. I even resolved to buy a Snake-Eyes figure that weekend in honor of the fallen hero.

Then episode three aired and all that went to crap. One of the Cobra bad guys opened the glass panel after the Joes left. He did it to retrieve the McGuffin thing in the room. Snake-Eyes wanders out and the Cobra agents let him go. They obviously think it’s a waste of bullets to kill a man already dying of radiation poisoning. Snake-Eyes strolls out into the cold winter snow and then rescues a wolf. He finally succumbs to the effects of the gas and passes out in a snow bank. The most awful and horrible thing happened next: a blind hermit with magic herbs rescues Snake-Eyes from the snow and cures him of the radiation poisoning. I turned the TV off right there in the middle of episode 3 and never watched another G.I. Joe cartoon. They had betrayed my faith in the system and I wasn’t having any of it.

Snake-Eyes went on to become the most popular G.I. Joe figure, even getting his own by-line on the regular Marvel comic book turning it into “G.I. Joe featuring Snake-Eyes” for 11 issues, starting at issue number 130. Heck he even got his own team called “Ninja Force”. Pretty good going for a guy who was dead to me. I guess I really can’t pick them.

After 155 issues and many specials, one-shots and a team up with the Transformers, Marvel sold the rights to the series back to Hasbro. In 1996, Dark Horse tried out an “Extreme” G.I. Joe mini series that lasted four issues and then followed it with an ongoing that only lasted four issue. 2001 saw a rebirth of G.I. with Devil’s Due comics printing a new G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero book using the Marvel characters and publishing under the Image label. Sales of this four issue mini were so strong that it was extended into an ongoing and several spinoffs. It lasted to issue 43 before switching titles to G.I. Joe: America’s Elite. The issue we have here is part of the Devil’s Due GIJ:ARAH series and it comes across as a bit more mature-themed than the Marvel series. Maybe Snake-Eyes time is coming up?

The issue begins with one of the baddest of the bad guys, The Baroness trying to deal with a bit of brainwashing and the guilt she feels for shooting the Cobra Commander. But first she has to deal with a giant snake-human hybrid.

The art in this is decent, but the vibrant color schemes make them look like something really special. Anyway, Brood-lite snake dude gets the best of Baroness Anastasia and is just about to chow down on her, when she does her best Rikki Tiki Tavi impression. She kicks his teeth in and runs for it. Unfortunately, what waits around the corner is even worse.

Seems Cobra Commander needs a better moisturizer. He’s looking all scaly. What this ends up being is a bad dream brought on by the effects of Cobra’s brainwashing treatments. She awakens in a hospital bed beside her husband Destro. 

So far the book is giving off an edgy, realistic vibe. Next up is a government press conference where they admit that the destruction of a news publisher’s building was not an accident, but a Cobra attack. They are disclosing this because they have a wounded Cobra Commander incarcerated and are bringing him to trial. The parallels are pretty clear that we are suppose to get this is a veiled reference to a 9/11 type of disaster, except the government was able to keep the public from ever finding out about it. See how creepy that is? No clear-cut white hats here.

While the press conference continues we check in on the latest arrival on the Joe squad, a dude who looks like my old 12 inch Joe! And he’s even named Joe. And he is taking Hawk’s place as leader of the Joes! That is so righteous! Sadly it’s because Hawk has disappeared since Cobra Commander shot him and made a paraplegic out of him.

Next we watch as Destro solidifies his hold over the Cobra organization in a meeting with Tomax and Xamot. They are like the Cobra version of Tweedledumb and Tweedledee. They do have some good points. Cobra has been subject to just too much infighting, brainwashing and mismanagement for it to continue. Sort of like what happened with Enron, only with less bitching about the 401K losses when it was all over. Needless to say, they’ve had it and now they are going to give it back to Destro. Courtesy of two heavily armed Cobra Crimson Guards. That is until Wraith shows up.

Wraith is Destro’s ace in the hole. He can make himself invisible and has more firepower than a small battalion. Destro makes it clear he’s not afraid to use him either.

The boys quickly fall into line and move from the intrigue portion of the story to the action scenes. It appears Mirage and a trio of new recruits have been infiltrating a Cobra operation in Colorado. Trouble is, they haven’t reported in for several days. Snake-Eyes, Roadblock, Clutch and Mayday are sent in to extract them as quietly as possible. Here they discuss whether or not they will see any fire on this run.

Meanwhile Mirage is trying to make it out of dangerous and scary New Moon, Colorado. I’ve been to Colorado and this book is pretty accurate. After dark no one is on the streets and firefights with missiles and automatic weapons are common place. Mirage has all that to contend to as well as shepherding an injured and unconscious green shirt and two noobs. No, it won’t turn out pretty. First let’s give them an order that could mean life or death.

I’m suddenly wishing for blind miracle workers to step out of the snow and save these guys. To add some fuel to the fire, lets have Mirage hotwire a car only to be discovered by a handful of heavily armed Cobra agents. Since it would be illogical to lead them back to the men directly, he takes off in the car to give the agents the slip before doubling back. This is where the big mistake is going to come in.

Which leads the other inexperienced solider to run out firing at the Cobra troopers, giving away their position. Unable to completely leave his injured comrade, Cobra troops quickly find their position and proceed to draw down on the shooter. In short, this rash action gets the other two Joes, well, see for yourself…

No herbs are going to cure that, I can tell you. Mirage is major-league pissed at stupid greenshirt number three, but tries to get him to hustle to the pickup point. This pickup point is where the other four Joes will be dropped in a van from a helicopter. Which is silly, because couldn’t they just board the helicopter and leave instead of having to drive out? I don’t write this stuff, folks. 

Anyway, it’s a good thing they are in that van because Cobra hits the copter with a missile, blowing it to bits and dropping our Van right down to the street. It gets a bit banged up, but the Joes are okay. Until they look out side to find this as their welcoming committee.

Looks like this is the book I should have had when I was 15. And yes, that blurb at the bottom did make me upset I didn't find the next issue in the quarter bins.

I was hard press to pick a top dog for the coveted #3 spot between Joe and Transformers. One has more animated series, one has more comic books. One has five big screen adaptations, the other only a cartoon movie and two bland action fests. One has been around forever, the other made a huge impression in a relatively short period of time. Both titles definitely aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But Pokemon is a contender that has legs as well. And there is still the matter of those elusive top two on my list. Who might they be? Stay tuned to find out...

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