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Monday, September 9, 2019

G. I. JOE #19 - January 1984 (The Commercial, Not the Comic)

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!

I'm confident we're now past the date of September 12, 1983, the debut of G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero, the five-part miniseries that eventually launched the daily syndicated show. The jingles in the ads have been getting closer and closer to the cartoon's theme, and now it's here. The lyrics haven't been altered to "G.I. Joe against Cobra: The Enemy" but "Cobra and Destro" are the original miniseries' lyrics.

Oddly enough, the first time G. I. Joe was put out of mothballs and reaired in 2002 by Cartoon Network, they tacked on the original mini's opening to all of the episodes. They also aired versions that didn't include the episode's title and writer's credit. That might sound insignificant, but the writer's credit on these shows were a sort of milestone in my life. It's how I realized these shows were written by actual people. (Some of them with silly names like "Buzz Dixon.")

Why did this happen? My understanding is that two versions of the Sunbow G. I. Joe and Transformers episodes exist -- the original masters and the broadcast masters. The original masters were the versions of the episodes that were almost finished. They didn't include the chyron with the title and writer's credit, always added last. The producers reviewed them for mistakes, and if it was possible (and it often wasn't), some of the footage was sent back to be corrected.

Hasbro preserved the film of the original masters. They didn't preserve, however, the actual broadcast masters, which are the versions the audience at home saw. Those featured whatever corrections had been made, and the oncreen title and credits. Whenever the show was reaired years later, Hasbro sent the original masters to the networks, because those are the highest quality versions. For some reason, the original 1983 mini's opening became attached to all of the episodes' master copy, which is why it continued to run on Cartoon Network.

When Shout Factory released the show on DVD, Hasbro again provided the original masters. For the sake of preservation and accuracy, the DVD producer went in and added digital titles and credits in the same font of the broadcast masters. (He also attempted to pull as much corrected footage from the broadcast masters as possible and splice it in with the higher-quality original masters. I'm not sure if he found it all, but I do remember him soliciting Joe fans for help in locating these brief moments.)

So, all of that said...what about this commercial? Amazingly, it's for the very next issue of the comic. The ads are shifted from once a quarter, to once every other month, to now two months in a row!

The commercial again attempts to blend the physical comic book with the animation, although it's a smoother job this time. Hama has stated the shot of the cover was always the last step of the process, with the editor just splicing it in before the commercial was sent off to be aired. Interesting that this time, the cover does match an actual sequence from the animation. Presumably, the artist was given storyboards and told to work in a very specific moment.

Oddly, the version of the cover seen in the commercial isn't the official one released. The actual corner box is a cartoony rendering of the book's assistant editor, during Marvel's oh-so-zany Assistant Editor's Month. The commercial features the traditional image of Grunt posing dramatically in the box.

As I've mentioned earlier, Hama had to study the storyboards for the ads and incorporate the commercial into these specific issues of the comic. The pattern's gone from #1 to #5, to #11 to #14, to now #16, #18, and #19. Three ads in four months.

Does the actual comic read as a toy commercial? Yeah, it does. New products are appearing every few pages. (Amusingly, the SNAKE armor makes a quick debut this issue, but isn't in the commercial.) Hama even has to provide some rationale for why the Joes’ base is now the latest playset on sale. (Not that it ever matched the design of the base we saw in this commercial, which was also the design used in the animated series. I believe this commercial is the only time we saw the Joes actually using that giant cannon in the center of their base. That always bugged me as a kid.)

What the commercial doesn't capture is the ominous tone of the issue. Three major deaths this issue, lessons on morality, and a Pyrrhic victory that emphasis the brutality of war. Likely not what Hasbro wanted to sell to eight-year-olds. So, here's some generic action in the desert for the kids.

Hey, my continuation of the Sunbow series is still available for free over at Smashwords. And I'm very close to my goal of fifty Amazon reviews for my new book Black Hat Blues. If you could help me out, I'd certainly be grateful.


  1. I think I read someplace that when Rhino initially released JOE and TRANSFORMERS on DVD back in the early 2000s, they were given the original masters as well. They also added the missing chyrons, but did no other clean-up work. Their JOE sets didn't come out too bad, but the TRANSFORMERS sets were positively riddled with errors. TF must have required more corrections than JOE or something.

    I'm thankful Shout! eventually put out properly restored sets.

    Also, this is the ad I think I mentioned a while back, which gave me goosebumps the first time I watched it. I was watching all the old Joe comic ads in sequence around 2001 or so, and when I got to this one, with the lyrics I knew from the TV show, it was just a really cool moment.

    1. I totally forgot the Rhino releases, but now I'm remembering those added sound effects everyone griped about at the time. I was half-convinced the realistic machine gun fire sound from the original mini was added by Rhino, but I'm pretty sure I was wrong. I think the laser sound effects came later.

  2. Remember in the early 90s when USA used the DiC Opening for the Sunbow episodes?
    Anyhoo, today marks the 35th Anniversary of THE REVENGE OF COBRA Miniseries. What was your favorite GI JOE Miniseries? I prefer the original MASS Device Mini.

    1. I'll always be biased towards the very first mini. I doubt I saw it until after the daily syndicated series began, but it always felt like a big deal when it entered the rotation.

      I'm trying to remember if every Sunbow episode had the Sgt. Slaughter spots on the USA reruns, or just the daily rerun of the movie.

    2. I wrote a post at my blog last year about how much I love the original "MASS Device" mini-series (as I'm sure you recall, angmc43, since you commented on it at the time). I had hoped to do one for "The Revenge of Cobra" this year, but never found time to rewatch it before the anniversary snuck up on me.

      But the short is that I do like "Revenge of Cobra" a lot -- it was the first JOE mini-series I saw as a kid -- but "MASS" is my preferred. I honestly believe that the Sunbow series was never as good as that initial five-parter. The smaller cast helps a lot, plus the focus on the 1982-83 characters, who for the most part are my favorites. And of course, as I mentioned in my post, the fact that it really feels like an old-fashioned movie serial, with all the exotic locations, cliffhangers, and so forth.

      ("Revenge" had some of that movie serial feel too, but not as much as "MASS". One thing I do like a lot in "Revenge", though, is how all the threads come together at the end, with the Joes and Roadblock winding up at the Cobra Temple -- where Duke and Snake-Eyes already are -- for the big finale.)

    3. I had forgotten about the DIC opening on the Sunbow series on USA! That was... weird.

      My main recollection of the USA Cartoon Express is that it aired a bunch of what, at the time, seemed to be "lost" TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES episodes. I've since learned they weren't lost at all, but new episodes produced for syndication concurrently with the first couple seasons of the CBS Saturday morning episodes, which led to this weird scenario where you were seeing new episodes with a new opening and a chyron over the episode's animation (similar to Sunbow's TF and JOE shows) on Saturdays, and new episodes with the old opening and title card in syndication.

      (I don't think I had used the word "chyron" more than once in the past ten years or more, and now this post has gotten me to use it twice in two days. I had actually forgotten the word even existed, so thanks, G.!)

    4. As I believe I mentioned in Matt's post on the original miniseries, I've always been partial to "Arise, Serpentor Arise". I came to JOE a bit late - my first figure was Mutt & Junkyard, but it was the '86 Joes that represent the first "class" that was readily available to me. Whereas all the earlier miniseries I watched via VHS, "Arise" I got to watch unfold episode by episode in real time. And I love the goofy sci-fi built into the overarching plot (stealing DNA) and the way that turns the episodes into little history lessons as the Joe & Cobra teams fight at the various historical sites. Plus, the climax involving Serpentor capturing DC feels suitably epic, and I love the way Cobra Commander manages to hold on to a bit of power at the end (a dynamic that never really gets explored later).

  3. I saw the intro on the MASS series, so I can assume they could have been limited to the Miniseries (REVENGE OF COBRA, The Pyramid of Darkness, definitely 'Arise, Serpentor Arise!')

  4. I believe this commercial is the only time we saw the Joes actually using that giant cannon in the center of their base. That always bugged me as a kid.


    I also like the non-ponytailed Scarlet that appears in these commercials. I guess the ponytail must have been easier to animate on a regular basis.

    1. Scarlett's visual in the Sunbow series was weird. Her character model sheet by Russ Heath clearly shows her with a ponytail, and with something visible holding that ponytail together in most of the angles. But the animators got a little lazy with the design, because in the show, she's usually drawn with her hair just curving in behind her neck and then out again as it flows down her back -- but nothing holding it in that shape! It's like a phantom ponytail or something.

      I had a few Joes when I was younger, like Duke and Zartan, and I occasionally watched the cartoon, but for the most part the Joes just didn't interest me. So I never owned Scarlett as a kid -- I wasn't really all that into G.I. Joe until middle school, when my younger brother started to collect them and I began reading the comic in relation to that. Afterward, I was into Joe pretty hard, but I was "too old for toys" by then and had missed all the early ones anyway. Anyway -- I eventually got Scarlett, I think when I was in college and just wanted to round out my collection of the "original 13" -- and I was shocked to discover that the figure didn't even have a ponytail!

      I wonder if Russ Heath looked at the comics when he was doing the animation designs, and copied Herb Trimpe's ponytail, or if he just came up with it independently? Regardless, until Heath did his thing for the TV show, Sunbow seemed to prefer Scarlett with flowing locks like we see in these ads.

    2. "But the animators got a little lazy with the design, because in the show, she's usually drawn with her hair just curving in behind her neck and then out again as it flows down her back -- but nothing holding it in that shape! It's like a phantom ponytail or something."

      This reminds me of Bruce Timm talking about his days on the show, looking at Russ Heath's designs and just knowing the overseas animators wouldn't be replicating all of that elaborate linework. The simplified style he later developed for Batman was his response to the "comic book" look of G. I. Joe simply being impractical.


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