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Monday, March 8, 2021

G. I. JOE #49 - July1986 (The Commercial, Not the Comic)

Serpentor! The most evil foe of G.I. Joe!

G.I. Joe - A real American hero!

Just the most miniscule of jingles this time, sadly. The vocals of "Ser-pen-TOR" are great, but it's really only one line! Instead, the story is now conveyed by a narrator, explaining the concept of Cobra's new emperor. It's the same narrator from the animated series, tying the comics commercials even closer to the cartoon, though anyone who's read the book knows it's clearly not set in the same world.

The issue being advertised covers most of the material in the ad in the opening few pages. The story opens with Destro and Mindbender already in the processing of gathering the genetic tissue, skipping over much of the DNA collection necessary to create this "composite clone." (Larry Hama was open about not being a Serpentor fan at the time, but decades later, did revive him for the IDW series.) The cartoon, meanwhile, milked this aspect of the story for all it's worth...and actually ended up with one of the strongest "around the world" setups for the show's five-part serials.

The second full season of the series had yet to premiere, so this marks Serpentor's animated debut. And, visually, this is another striking entry. The color scheme is a ruddy-brownish color here, while his official cartoon appearance will match the golden color of his action figure. Also curious to see Serpentor emerge from his mummy wrapping already clothed in his outfit (minus only the cloak and headpiece). The cartoon did at least acknowledge he'd be naked at birth...just shot tastefully for an all-ages audience, of course.

Serpentor casually slapping Cobra Commander away is a convenient distillation of Hasbro's attitude towards the original "big bad" during this era. The company's focus still lies in shipping the latest line of toys, instead of building any kind of mythology. The thought that kids might not accept the new-new leader of the Autobots/Cobra/whatever didn't even occur to them. Although, truthfully, I was a Serpentor fan as a kid, and wouldn't have dreamed of calling Sgt. Slaughter a "Mary Sue" after he appeared to kick all of the Joes into shape.

Also interesting to see no voiceover actors from the cartoon appearing this time. Maybe they blew the budget on getting the show's announcer? By the way, some acknowledgement must be given to just how good this voice is. We're only a few years away from the "x-treme" attitude of marketing towards kids, where every announcer had to scream at the audience like a maniac in order to grab their attention away from their Game Boys. This announcer sounds like a kindly uncle who just wants to tell you a story about some American heroes.


  1. I loved the original G.I. JOE announcer. He's Jackson Beck, who had had a long career in voiceover, both in vintage radio serials -- among many other roles, he was the narrator of the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN show -- and in animation (where he also crossed paths with the Man of Steel, voicing Perry White in Filmation's cartoon series). I've always chuckled a bit at his work on the Superman radio show, where he consistently called the character "Syuperman," really hitting that "U" hard.

    It's funny how little he was involved in the cartoon, really only providing previews and recaps for the five-part serials and any 2-parters that popped up -- but his voiceover on the opening sequence, plus his "G.I. JOE will return after these messages"/"Now back to G.I. JOE" make him as integral a performer to the series as Michael Bell, Bill Ratner, Chris Latta, etc.

    I like Serpentor and Sgt. Slaughter; I liked them as a kid and I still think there's a place for them in the JOE mythology as an adult. But you're totally right regarding Hasbro's attitude toward their toylines at this point. I think I've written a ton about this in other comments here, plus on Twitter, so I'll just boil it down to a simple thought: I find it fascinating that Hasbro viewed the Joes, Cobras, Autobots, and Decepticons as disposable hunks of plastic to be cycled through and replaced every year, and never stopped to consider that the media blitz they'd engaged in, with cartoons, comics, storybooks, and more, might have ingrained those toys in kids' minds as actual cherished characters!

  2. Put me down as a big Serpentor kid, too. I came to Joe later in its run (in the mid 80s) so I was never as put off by the wilder, more sci-fi elements (it helped that I liked sci-fi stuff more in general, too), and Serpentor's design is just cool as hell to a seven or eight year old. I mean, in the movie, he would take out his shoulder snakes and use them as spears! What is cooler than that (similarly, I just thought Sgt. Slaughter was super badass and had no idea what a Mary Sue was back then).

    I still think "Arise, Serpentor, Arise" might be my favorite miniseries. The first episode with the BAT attack is great, and it does that thing where the fourth episode is a climax (Serpentor, uh, arises), and then there's another climax in the last chapter with the attack on DC. I know it's tough to top the earlier miniseries with the more classic characters in the spotlight, but I love "Arise" nonetheless.

    Also, once again, I had no idea this commercial existed, which basically does "Arise" in 30 seconds. :)

  3. I'd blanked on Beck's name and couldn't find it with a fast Google search. A lot of the character of the show comes from that voiceover; interesting that Hasbro went with an older sounding voice and not a younger, more "kid-friendly" one.

    I still like both Serpentor and Sgt. Slaughter, at least within the context of the cartoon. The five-parter from that season has some wonky animation, then during the climatic battle in DC, the show's suddenly back to the quality of the initial miniseries.

  4. I loved Serpentor, so I didn't mind the writers adding him to the mix. I thought it was a cool dynamic having the multiple heads of Cobra all scheming against each other. I liked rooting for Baroness and Destro whenever they cooked up some plan to discredit Cobra Commander, even though I liked him just as much. If they would only cooperate, then maybe they would succeed to conquer the world. That was the difference between them and the Joes' dynamic: teamwork and camaraderie. The bad guys were ostensibly cooler (to me, anyway), but they were all selfish, dishonest, or deranged and not to be emulated.

  5. It bears repeating about every five issues or so, but it's amazing what Larry Hama managed to do with Hasbro-mandated characters that he supposedly hated. He used Serpentor to build sympathy for Cobra Commander over a half-dozen super-fun issues (including the attack on Springfield, which he'd been building to for years at that point) without dialing back on either character's outlandishness.

    It probably didn't hurt that he got to write some more (relatively) grounded stuff in the "Special Missions" spinoff around that time.


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