WARNING! Really long “review” ahead…
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Series 2) – Season 1 (2012, Shout! Factory)
Originally Aired: September 2, 1989 – February 13, 1991 syndicated
Run Time: 9 Hours
So it finally has happened. The DIC series is finally on DVD. There was a time I never thought we’d see it. Sure, episodes have been on YouTube for years and I could’ve probably bought the entire DIC run on a bootleg DVD-R somewhere but where’s the fun in that?
First, let’s talk about the presentation of this DVD set. As far as the packaging goes, it’s nice, clean, colorful and bright. I like it for the most part and it actually looks like new artwork designed for the DVD but I’m not sure. Unlike the previous Joe releases, there is no booklet that summarizes the episodes for you. The only insert included is one that advertises other Shout releases. It’s always nice when you buy a season to have the episode info readily available. I swear, for as many websites and books there are about G.I. Joe it seems like they all go out of their way to avoid addressing the DIC series any deeper than just the title of the episode and the air-date. Shout is out there selling this stuff and even they can’t be bothered to write any summaries like they did for the Sunbow series or Transformers! At least there’s a rundown of the episodes on the inside of the cover slip.
There are NO bonus features. No toy commercials, no PSAs (Did DIC even do PSAs?). Nothing. Given that the DIC run isn’t much-loved or respected, I guess I can kind of understand Shout going bare-bones but still it would have been really nice to get a 15 or 20 minute documentary with writers, producers, animators and fans talking about the changeover from Sunbow to DIC.
My initial reaction when this series originally started airing on TV (and I mostly remember catching it on USA Network’s Cartoon Express) was that it sucked. This wasn’t my G.I. Joe. All of my friends agreed. We didn’t like seeing a gold-faced Destro, Storm Shadow as a Joe or Cobra Commander dressed in armor that looked suitable for space warfare. We didn’t like all of these re-designed characters with all of those bright color schemes. Seriously, you guys take Low-Light, G.I. Joe’s residential “night spotter”, out of his black/dark gray outfit and put him into a bright blue, yellow & green costume?
My friends and I had more questions like: Where were classic characters such as Roadblock, Dr. Mindbender, Shipwreck, Alpine, Wild Bill, Beach Head, Gung-Ho, Quick Kick, Snake-Eyes, the Crimson Twins and Zartan & most of his Dreadnoks? Why is Flint dressed like he’s either from the Super Fright Features Real Ghostbusters or Centurions toy lines? Why does Hawk have a jet-pack and look like he was designed by Rob Liefeld? Who is this Captain Grid-Iron guy with the lame football puns that’s calling the shots and getting so much face time? Why is Duke pretty much missing?
The Joe cartoon and toys during this time were more gimmick-based than ever and they were designed by people who were seemingly colorblind. The entire brand was becoming less military-based and more sci fi-inspired. Lots of bright blues, greens, yellows, purple and oranges were used on characters old and new. Even the vehicles went from a straight-ahead military design to more far out there looks & color schemes. Cobra Commander even introduces a Python Patrol during the Operation Dragonfire mini-series that features vehicles and characters with snake-like outfit designs and colors. How does he do this? By transferring the essence of snakes onto the people/vehicles. Or something like that using his “Pythonizing Ray”.
Most of the voice acting is pretty terrible. The great thing about the Sunbow series is that the voices were recognizable and you really felt like each character had their own personality. Not so much here. Without looking at Wikiepedia or IMDB, it seems like most of the original voice cast has been jettisoned with only Sgt. Slaughter, Cobra Commander (Season 1 only unfortunately), General Hawk and the Baroness retaining their original voice actors. At least the new voice actor playing Destro tries to make him sound like the original and does a decent job of doing it too. Chris Latta’s work as Cobra Commander puts everyone in this series to shame. Legendary voice actor for his work as Cobra Commander and Starscream. It’s good or bad however you wanna look at it but Season 1 provided him with a number of chances to show off his comedic skills. Whoever is voicing Scoop is absolutely terrible, same goes for Serpentor and Stalker (who has traded his camouflage, that he could y’know… stalk people in, for a canoe and an outfit that makes him look like Iceberg). Serpentor’s redesign is lame as well, he actually gets some darker colors added to his costume but he’s drawn with a smirk on his face all the time. Coupled with the bad voiceover work, he doesn’t come off as the fearsome short-tempered force that he was in Series 1.
As far as music goes, the Dragonfire mini-series uses the original Joe opening theme but with some altered lyrics (instead of “A Real American Hero” they are “International Hero” and there’s no Cobra or Destro mentioned, just “the ruthless enemy”) that I think was used for the internationally syndicated version of the original series. The animation during the opening is new. During the show itself, it’s a mix of the typical and generic background music of early ’90s toons with rare moments of using some of the classic Joe score. If they had the rights to the original music, why not just use it during the whole show? The closing theme is more generic stuff. Once you get into the proper season, the infamous “Got To Get Tough” theme is used with more new animation and any trace of the original score is now gone.
I will say that, ultimately, some of the new character designs are pretty cool. Rock ‘N’ Roll has a new look that is a lot less generic than the previous series, Cobra’s new troops known as Alley Vipers are pretty cool (one of my favorite Joe figures) and even Destro has a cool new look once you get past the gold. My only issue is that I think it was a missed opportunity to not explain how he went from being chrome-plated to gold-plated. Could’ve made an episode out of it. I also have come to accept the Series 2 Cobra Commander as being a pretty cool version of him as well.
The series kicks off in traditional G.I. Joe fashion with a 5-part story called “Operation: Dragonfire”. For the 1989 wave of toys, a sub-series of Joes was introduced called Slaughter’s Marauders. The group consists of team leader Sgt. Slaughter, plus Barbecue, Low-Light, Mutt, Footloose and Spirit. It was basically a bunch of repainted figures. This group of re-colored Joes are the stars of this mini-series with Stalker and Lady Jaye making appearances. I’m pretty sure I saw an updated version of Tollbooth but I can’t find any confirmation online.
Four new Joes are introduced in Dragonfire: Long Range, Downtown, Backblast & Scoop. Of those four, only Scoop has a speaking role and he is a major part of the story. He is the head of Cobra’s Crimson Guard and originally starts off as a Cobra spy posing as a reporter but by the end of mini-series he becomes a legitimate member of G.I. Joe after seeing the error of his & Cobra’s ways.
Interesting to note that the DIC era got off to a slow start. Just as both the ’83 & ’84 mini-series were followed by a year of inactivity, it would be another year before new DIC episodes arrived in September 1990 to officially kick off the first season. I guess you can consider this mini-series sort of a soft relaunch. It’s a mix of old and new and I’m sure Hasbro was standing backing waiting to see how successful it was going to be before going all in and ordering a full season.
While the show does ignore some things from G.I. Joe: The Movie like Cobra-La and most of the new characters that were introduced, it does carry the plotline about Cobra Commander being turned into a snake. As the series starts, he is encased in a glass bowl and is Serpentor’s pet. Feeling scorned by Cobra and Destro (who is now dating Zarana), a vengeful Baroness gets Dreadnok member Gnawgahyde to steal Cobra Commander and they try to restore him to human form but he is only restored to a humanoid form that still is covered in scales. As Cobra Commander plots to take control of Cobra back, Serpentor and the rest of the organization have been trying to harness a natural weapon known as Dragonfire while the Joes are out to stop them.
“Operation: Dragonfire” starts off slow, and it isn’t up to snuff with previous Joe mini-series, but once Cobra Commander is brought into the mix, it starts to pick up. We not only see the Joes battling Cobra but also Scoop’s dilemma and the Commander’s rise to power again. Sadly, the battle for power between Serpentor and Cobra Commander is a short one. Serpentor is captured by the Python Patrol and the Commander uses the pythonizing ray to turn him into an iguana and he is last seen during the series running away from Gnawgahyde (who threatens to barbecue him!). Pretty anti-climatic way to write him off.
Another thing that bugs me about Series 2 is that a number of characters seem to be analogues of previous Joe characters. I guess Hasbro felt maybe they’d be better off trying to sell an entirely new, yet similar, characters rather than just redesigning the same ol’ guys. Pathfinder is Recondo, Ambush & Pathfinder have a bickering friendship like Wet-Suit & Leatherneck, Airborne is um… Airborne (yes, they re-used the name), Salvo is similar to Gung-Ho, Heavy Duty is like Roadblock (they are cousins after all), Grid-Iron is the new Duke, Stretcher has phased out Lifeline just as Lifeline phased out Doc and so on and so on.
If “Operation Dragonfire” was an acceptable if disappointing effort, the rest of Season 1 goes back and forth between “sucks” and “decent”. In regards to the battle roster, Lady Jaye & Sgt. Slaughter make frequent appearances while General Hawk, Low-Light (in yet another redesign and a proper one at that), Rock ‘N’ Roll, Dusty, Sci-Fi and Duke (YES!) make a few appearances, as do the Oktober Guard’s Big Ben & Colonel Krimov (he’s referred to as Captain Krimov in the show). It should be noted that Ben & Krimov act as full-fledged Joes during their appearances. Maybe there was a roster swap and the rest of the regular Joes are off having missions in Russia..?
The majority of the season revolves around Captain Grid-Iron, Bullhorn, Ambush, Heavy Duty, Pathfinder and Salvo. That’s pretty much the core Joe team by this point with other newbies Scoop, Rampart, Stretcher, Sub-Zero, the Sky Patrol (team leader Skydive, new Airborne, Altitude, Drop Zone, Static Line & Airwave) and Topside pinch-hitting at various times. These really aren’t bad characters (other than Grid-Iron who is obsessed with making football puns and analogies) but I just hate the fact that they got shoved down our throats with no introduction as to who they are or when they joined G.I. Joe. It was just “Here they are! G.I. Joe!” and everyone else got ignored. Granted, the whole point of the show is to sell toys but it still sucks for fans of the original series.
On the Cobra side, Night Creeper Leader (yes, that’s his name), Metal-Head (who I HATE, he’s so over the top he should’ve been a villain on C.O.P.S.), Baroness, Zarana and Gnawgahyde are the top henchmen while Destro and/or Cobra Commander continue to appear in every episode. Although there are TONS of new and various Vipers, the Cobra side seems short on actual characters. It’s like they refused to use any of the old characters and couldn’t be bothered to create any new Cobra villains. During Operation Dragonfire, an Alley Viper actually figures into the whole Scoop thing heavily and during the awful “Pigskin Commando” episode (maybe the silliest and worst episode of G.I. Joe ever) it’s a nameless Range Viper who is the main villain due to his football rivalry with Grid-Iron. Then there’s another episode that centers around a female Range Viper and her history with Ambush. Range Vipers, by the way, are really ugly and look so out of place with Cobra. They look like they belong on Masters of the Universe. Too much of a horror/sci-fi look for this show… are the Range Vipers’ helmets supposed to look like brains?
One thing I have to point out again is how lame the color scheme is for characters and vehicles. It gets really bad after Operation Dragonfire. Other than Slaughter’s Marauders and Lady Jaye’s ugly jumpsuit, most of the Joes look decent. They’ve all got some kind of brown/gray/green camouflage going on and the vehicles are the color that you’d expect from the military. Cobra on the other hand… They’ve gotten absolutely flamboyant. In the previous series, Cobra’s primary colors were blue, red and black. For uniforms and vehicles. Now, you’ve got all kinds of Vipers running around wearing baby blue, neon orange, purple, yellow, fuchsia and lime green. The same can be said for Cobra’s vehicles. They have PINK tanks! A bright lime green floating fortress! Purple speed boats! It’s just ugly, man.
Some of the stories as just awful and are played more for laughs than anything else. Everyone in Cobra is portrayed as a bumbling fool. There are no more serious and competent threats like Zartan, Storm Shadow, Major Bludd, Dr. Mindbender, Firefly or Tomax & Xamot. Night Creeper Leader hits his head and starts to think he’s a pharaoh. Metal-Head’s granny comes for a visit. G.I. Joe plays Cobra in a football game (wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t pushing Grid-Iron so hard) with Sgt. Slaughter at stake. Cobra Commander masquerades as a superhero. This is terrible! And they even recycle premises from the previous series about a Joe traitor, G.I. Joe getting disbanded and Cobra Commander & a Joe having to work together to survive a situation. I can’t decide if DIC & Hasbro dumbed down the show on purpose or if they were dumb themselves.
The look of the show, the feel of it, the plots, the music… It’s all just so bad and low-budget. The entire show screams early ’90s and not in a good way. The only reason DIC even got the rights to the show is that they offered to do it on such a low-budget that Hasbro couldn’t refuse. The animation can be downright ugly at times but generally it is decent even though it doesn’t hold a candle to Sunbow.
Even though the DIC series has been disliked for years, a release such as this is still targeted to the hardcore Joe fan. I mean, who else is gonna buy this? They know we’re completists!
Overall, Season 1 is a below-average effort but because I am a completist, I’m still happy to have it in my collection. There are some good episodes here but there’s also a number of terrible plots that insult your intelligence as well. A lot of the season is used to jokes. Humor is fine but it was done much better during the Sunbow years when it was done for spoofs and satire. Here it’s just straight up goofy stuff. The second half of the season is definitely better than the first though. Maybe everyone started getting a better feel for the show by that point.
Season Highlights: “Operation Dragonfire” mini-series, “Victory at Volcania” Parts 1 & 2, “General Confusion”, “Night of the Creepers”, “That’s Entertainment” (because it co-stars Jackie Love — a spoof of Bob Hope), “The Mind Mangler”, “BIOK”, “Stuck On You”