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Monday, July 20, 2020

G. I. JOE #37 - July 1985 (The Commercial, Not the Comic)

Until now Joe's had it easy,
But now it's gonna get real hard
Cobra's hired evil twin brothers
Leaders of the Crimson Guard
They're double twins so much the same
If one's in trouble the other feels pain
The Crimson Guard is the most dangerous foe
of G.I. Joe A Real American Hero

Okay, perhaps the worst of the song lyrics so far. Silly rhymes, and maybe the lamest attempt at overselling the newest menace yet. Proclaiming the heroes have "had it easy" in their previous adventures, but now it's "gonna get real hard" because they're facing two gymnast twins feels just desperate. And, sheesh, "gonna get real hard" -- was this written by a scrappy ten-year-old in 1957 with a slingshot in his backpocket and bullfrog hidden in his bindle that he's going to use to scare off Bessie Lou whenever she comes around?

The Crimson Twins don't officially debut until "The Further Adventures of G.I. Joe" (the five-parter that opened the daily show in 1985), so this is likely the first time kids were exposed to the characters. Michael Bell is already cast as Xamot, but Tomax doesn't speak in the ad. (He'll be portrayed by Corey Burton a few months later on the show.)

Their central gimmick, that they feel each other's pain, is brought to the forefront immediately, literally in the first second of the ad. I've always enjoyed that bit, although it's perhaps a cruel joke to play on a kid...I genuinely believed as a child that this was a real experience between twins.

Aside from introducing Tomax and Xamot, we also see the Crimson Guard for the first time in animation here. In the comics, Hama seems to have little affection for the twins, but he sure loves the Crimson Guard. They're still appearing to this day, either infiltrating corporate America or the political realm. The brief flash of businessmen transforming into the Guard through the funhouse mirrors is a cute touch. (There actually is a scene in the issue featuring the Guardsmen in a hall of mirrors, though they were incorrectly drawn as H.I.S.S. tank pilots in this appearance.)

The previous commercial (originally attached to issue #30, but so nice Hasbro used it for a later comic as well) was possibly the finest looking one to date. This one is not quite to that level, but it looks decent. Likely the closest we've come so far to the true look of the cartoon. In fact, I could swear that shot early on of Flint leading the charge of attacking Joes was later recycled for the cartoon.

Speaking of Flint, you only see him from the back on the comic cover, but it's becoming evident by now that he's the new golden boy of the team. Most of the 1985 Joes never received their fair share of attention from Hama in the comic, but he didn't seem to have a problem using Flint on a semi-regular basis. In the animated series, meanwhile, Flint is clearly meant to be the star of the show once the daily series begins.

It's become a part of the lore that Flint was named after animation writer Flint Dille, who worked on some of the earliest episodes. Dille recently stated he's not entirely sure this is true, but he did say that people at Sunbow used Flint to persuade him to take a job on the daily series, claiming (seemingly as a joke) they'd named a character in his honor.

To be honest, looking back, it's hard to articulate just what makes Flint so special on the show. People like his relationship with Lady Jaye, and the character design is cool, but...why is Flint specifically the Joe you're supposed to care about? His established personality from the comics and action figure dossier has him as a gruff intellectual who doesn't relate well to others, but this didn't translate at all to the small screen. The cartoon's Flint is serious, heroic, and free of the quirks that defined many of the other Joes. I suspect much of the affection for Flint comes from Bill Ratner's performance on the animated series, which had a friendly yet tough tone to it that spoke to kids. (You can check out an interesting interview with Ratner over at the Who Did That Voice? Youtube channel.)

Over the years, Hasbro seems to have settled on the idea of Duke as the face of the franchise, nudging Flint into the background. During the early production of the Joe live-action film, Hasbro and Paramount pursued Mark Wahlberg for months to play spite of the fact he'd be far more appropriate, physically, as Flint.

By the way, the closing shot of the team in the commercial just looks goofy. Why is Flint waving a flag? Someone hand that Warrant Officer a laser rifle! What's on that thing, anyway?

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  1. Okay, perhaps the worst of the song lyrics so far.

    Oh man, rhyming "hard" and "guard" is just...that's amazing. But I don't know what's better: these lyrics, or your biogrphy of the writer.

    I genuinely believed as a child that this was a real experience between twins.

    I am still not entirely convinced that twins DON'T have special powers, despite knowing some in real life.

    Also, I was entirely too old before I first realized that "Tomax" is "Xamot" spelled backwards.

    People like his relationship with Lady Jaye, and the character design is cool, but...why is Flint specifically the Joe you're supposed to care about?

    I was never terribly into Flint, despite the cartoon's insistance that he was, as you say, the guy to care about it. I always much preferred Duke in terms of my square-jawed, somewhat-square, Cyclops-esque leading men (in part because I liked Scarlet more than Lady Jaye). I honestly think the visuals might be a big part of Flint's popularity: he has everything Duke has (a leadership position, a voice that rings with quiet authority, a love interest, which is what passes for character development in the cartoon), but with his beret and green camo, he more looks the part of a prototypical US military man, especially in the 80s.

    PS the link to the commercial video is no good, and I really wanted to hear those amazing lyrics belted out in song. :)

    1. Oh, no...looks like the Yo Joe channel is gone. They had much higher quality copies of the old commercials. The person who ran it stopped by the comments once...maybe he'll come back with new links. I've replaced it with the only other version I could find on Youtube.

    2. Even the lower quality version is worth it to hear "they're double twins so much the same" crammed in without disrupting the rhthym. :)

  2. I love Cobra Commander just randomly screaming everything he says in this ad. We’re only two years removed from the “M.A.S.S. Device” mini-series here, but Chris Lara’s voice for the character has evolved a lot. In those original five episodes (and much of “The Revenge of Cobra” too), Cobra Commander sounded a bit deeper; more restrained and menacing. Then through the series proper, he becomes this screeching caricature for some reason.

    (As you can surmise, I prefer the Commander of the 1983-84 minis more than the series. In general, I prefer everything about those first two minis over the remaining 85 episodes, in fact! Which isn’t to say I don’t like the series — I love it. I just think “M.A.S.S. Device” and “Revenge” were its peak.)

    I like that the jingle says “Cobra’s hired evil twin brothers...” Like they placed a want ad or something and these guys applied (which, given some of the antics in Hama’s comic stories, could well have happened).

    Also, to my ear, it sounds like he’s saying “daredevil twins,” but I could be mistaken.

    Based on the light blue color, I’m wondering if maybe Flint is waving the flag that came with the original G.I. Joe HQ playset...? Why he’s doing so remains a mystery, however.

    The shot you said feels familiar — Flint advancing toward the camera with the Joes behind him — reminds me of two similar shots from the series, just not with Flint: near the end of the “Revenge of Cobra” opening, Duke leads the joes in a very similar fashion, and Recondo does likewise partway through the G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE opening.

    And then there’s Flint: I think his prominence in the show is largely due to the fact that his figure was brand new in 1985, plus Buzz Dixon and Flint Dille were apparently big fans of the character (I’ve gathered Steve Gerber was a “Duke Guy” and they were the “Flint Guys”.

    When I was a kid, I sort of resented Flint for stealing the limelight from Duke. As I got older, my memories became such that Duke practically vanished in the first full season, becoming the rarely seen “boss” at HQ, while Flint was the main field leader. I was surprised when I rewatched the series on DVD in my 20s (seeing many episodes for the first time since I wasn’t a massive JOE fan as a kid) that Duke actually did have several spotlight episodes in the season where he was still the “man of action” from the first mini-series. I don’t think it was a 50-50 split of screentime with Flint, but I bet it was close. It was really season 2 where he vanished almost entirely, while Flint stuck around.

    Nowadays I like them both. I still like Duke more, but I don’t resent the Flint episodes like I did as a kid. And some of my favorites are the ones where they both have fairly large parts, such as “Excalibur” (which has great banter between the two) and “Haul Down the Heavens” (which I love for many reasons, Flint and Duke co-starring being only one of them).

    1. Since nobody asked, I started thinking about my favorite JOE episodes after writing the above. For me, besides “M.A.S.S. Device” and “Revenge of Cobra”, which, like I said, I consider the series’ pinnacle, my preferred episodes mostly seem to be early season 1 stuff — which isn’t a surprise. I mentioned a while back that I read a vintage interview with Steve Gerber some years ago about the series. One of the things he mentioned in it was that early on, they tried to replicate the tone and formula of the first minis, then as they got more comfortable moving forward, they started to deviate from that.

      I wrote a post on my own blog a couple years ago about “M.A.S.S. Device” in which I posited that it was heavily influenced by 1930s adventure serials (I feel similarly about “Revenge of Cobra”, though not to the same extent). And since I rented VHS tapes of those minis often as a kid, they became, in my head, the definitive presentation for animated JOE: action-packed, fast-paced, melodramatic, and extremely quippy. Thus, any episode that hews closely to the tone and style of the early minis is a favorite of mine, more than the more serious (and sometimes satirical) stuff that you see as the show goes along.

      So my favorites tend to be the ones with lower production numbers, when the writers were still actively trying to emulate the mini-series: “Haul Down the Heavens”, “Cobra Stops the World” (which basically is a mini-series condensed into one episode), “Jungle Trap”, “Countdown for Zartan”, “The Phantom Brigade”, “The Synthoid Comspiracy”, and “Excalibur” are all episodes that come to mind immediately, but there are others which I think replicate that feel.

      (These early production numbers also tend to be episodes that spotlight 1983-84 characters more than ‘85 characters, which also adds up since the ‘82-‘84 lineup contains most of my favorite Joes. There are diminishing returns for me in terms of characters each year as the toyline goes along. As with the show, I feel that 1983/84 was JOE’s peak in terms of new characters.)

      So... there’s that.


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