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Monday, January 14, 2019

G. I. JOE # 14 - August 1983 (The Commercial, Not the Comic)

He's the terrifying enemy of G.I.Joe
Destro is his name
(Destro is his name)
G.I. Joe a real American Hero
Fighting Cobra and Des-trooo

One of the greatest elements of these old commercials are the unique theme songs for each character/vehicle. It's 1983, and Hasbro is still pressing hard to sell this Destro character. The commercial opens with Destro entering from Cobra Commander's aide states what's obvious.

"Of course it's Destro! Who else could help us?"

Certainly sounds as if Destro's being positioned to supplant Cobra Commander in the eyes of the kid fanbase. Hasbro spends the next ten years sporadically going back to this idea. (Some of the replacement Cobra "leaders" are so obscure I barely know they exist. Anyone out there know the story behind Overlord?)

It seems to go against standard world building, especially in a franchise aimed at children. Isn't it in Hasbro's best interest for kids to associate one character as "the Cobra leader?" Why the habitual efforts to diminish the Commander in kids' eyes?

After introducing Destro, the commercial then cuts to the action. Cobra forces attack the MOBAT and APC, but never fear. Gung Ho, Tripwire, and other Joe figures on-sale-now fight off the attack with a squad of Skystrikers. I don't want to say your parents didn't love you if you didn't receive a Skystriker for Christmas in the '80s, but a legal challenge might be presented to make that case.

Fleeing the battle (a recurring theme we'll discover in the ongoing series), Cobra Commander and Destro vow to locate the Joes' homebase. All in all, there's even less plot here than the previous ads. This had to be a gift to Larry Hama, who's not being forced to incorporate any identifying aspects into the comic. All he has to work in is Destro in a prominent role, and some scenes of the Skystrikers shooting down Cobra attackers. No circuses, arctic settings, or kidnapped scientists this time.

In fact, issue #14 lacks any obvious hints it's a "commercial issue." Hama continues the story of Kwinn, Dr. Venom, and Snake Eyes, while cutting away to some Cobra intrigue and the Joes falling for a complicated plot from their enemies.

Regarding the development of the mythos, it's another commercial where all of the Cobra voices sound like Chris Latta. His Destro still has that "alien" quality to it, while the Commander is rougher. When he yells at this flunky, there is a tone reminiscent of the Commander we'll know...just without the "hsss."

Visually, the models aren't quite consistent with the upcoming miniseries. The Joes appear "cartoonier" than the Russ Heath models. And Destro still resembles Mike Vosburg's design from the comics.

Now, if you'd like to read a few thousand words on the subject of G. I. Joe, check out my Joe novel series over at Smashwords. It's a modern take on the world of the Sunbow animated series, available for free, now that Amazon has shuttered Kindle Worlds.

Finally, I have to say thanks to commenter Philip for posting a link to his Youtube page. He's archived very high-quality versions of these old commercials, the nicest I've ever seen. He says they were discovered in Amblin's archive -- I'm not sure why Spielberg's production company had these, but I'm glad he's uploaded them for us.


  1. Cobra Commander berating that officer cracks me up every time.

    Agreed on the new lyrics for every commercial. It's also cool, because you can sort of see the actual theme song taking shape over these earliest ads. I think it's the next one or the one after where they finally use "It's G.I. Joe against Cobra and Destro, fighting to save the day / He never gives up, he's always there / Fighting for freedom over land and air" and then suddenly you have all the pieces which are combined and rejiggered a bit for the series' opening.

    I am not afraid to admit that the first time I watched all these ads in succession, probably around 2001 or so in RealVideo format (remember that?), that when I got to that commercial and heard those lyrics, I had goosebumps.

    Also, I love that the JOE theme song is done with what I believe is a bossa nova beat. Or at least, what I've always thought was bossa nova, anyway. It's such an odd choice for a kids' cartoon.

    I feel like I read once a few years ago that Overlord was initially going to be a new Cobra commander figure, but there's nothing about that in the Joepedia article you linked above, so maybe it was only a rumor.

    Interesting points in any case, though. Destro, Serpentor, Overlord -- heck, even Fred VII in the comics, though he was identified as Cobra Commander and created by Hama out of necessity -- were all conceived in one way or another as possible replacements for the main Cobra leader. It is kind of odd -- and different from something like killing off Optimus Prime to make way for Rodimus or whatever. Cobra Commander existed alongside most of those guys and it created lots of internal conflict in Cobra.

    Mind you, I love the bickering (in the cartoon) and the politics (in the comics) between Cobra Commander and Destro, and the Commander's attempts -- whether as himself in the show or as Fred in the comics -- to undermine Serpentor... but it all remains a little odd nonetheless.

  2. Anyone out there know the story behind Overlord?

    I still have oddly specific memories of buying the toy (like, it was at a Target that has been long-sinced remodeled, but I could still probably find the exact spot where I picked it up off the shelf). I was always a sucker for the "new Cobra leader" types (I LOVED Serpentor), probably because I missed out on the original Cobra Commander figure, and I always assumed Overlord was, like, the next rank above Serpentor, even though I don't think there's any indication of that on his file card (I think I just assumed that Overlord>Emperor, just like Emperor>Commander).

  3. I wasn't even aware of Overlord's existence until recently. Post 1990, if they weren't in the comics, I'm basically clueless. Hama and a Hasbro exec didn't seem to have anything to say about Overlord in a recent convention appearance.


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