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Monday, November 1, 2021

G. I. JOE #59 - May 1987 (The Commercial, Not the Comic)


Joe's in trouble

He's got it bad

'cause Cobra's got a Pogo

And its hopping mad

On the run

For a gun


G.I. Joe -- A Real American Hero

Our last ad was for the December 1986 issue, and it's safe to say things have changed for the line since that commercial. Hasbro has stopped production on the Sunbow animated series, allowing the animated movie that introduced Cobra-La (and left Cobra Commander to slither offscreen as a literal snake) to serve as the big finale.

And yet, the toy line is still insanely popular, and the reruns keep going. And at some point, Sgt. Slaughter is brought in to film live-action introductions to the repeats...I'm not sure if copies of those bumpers have been officially released. ("It's not going to be a Merry Christmas, thanks to this Cobra shrink ray!" You weren't even there, Sgt. Slaughter.)

Within a few years, animation studio DiC will reportedly offer to pay Hasbro to produce new episodes of the cartoon, which isn't quite the relationship they had with Sunbow/Marvel. (I'm assuming DiC paid Hasbro some licensing fee and then made their money off what the local TV stations buying the show paid to air it.)

People who worked on the line have cited the monster success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as the reason why Joe became sillier and far more neon as the decade wore on, but 1987 is still very early in TMNT's licensing success. Presumably, Hasbro was already viewing the "realistic" aesthetic of Joe as limiting and producing more audacious looking toys that would draw kids' attention.

The two vehicles introduced in the ad are the G.I. Joe SLAM [Strategic Long-Range Artillery Machine] and Cobra Pogo. The SLAM isn't that impressive -- it's basically a miniature tank with tacky orange missiles that leaves two Joes conveniently exposed to enemy fire. It looks like it could be a broken off piece of 1986's H.A.V.O.C. The Pogo, however, is at least memorable for having some kind of charming goofiness. It's a "one-man ballistic battle ball" according to the box, which also boasts of its "super realistic detail."

This is the commercial that blessed us with Cobra Commander's childlike declaration "Now it's in front it's behind!" as he hops around in the newly minted Pogo. The opening line is spoken by a very-late appearing Cobra Officer (a toy discontinued years before this ad) calling for "the new Cobra Commander." This was a nod towards the comics' continuity, which had the original Commander killed in the previous issue and replaced by Fred VII (meaning he's a Crimson the comics canon, they're all given the same face and serve Cobra by infiltrating respectable American institutions.) That doesn't stop the commercial from having Chris Latta pop up and do the traditional Cobra Commander voice, though.

Larry Hama was open in the comics' letter column about not wanting to kill Cobra Commander off, but having to make the best of it. Hasbro wanted him dead to match the show's continuity, which is nonsensical. The animated movie left him alive (albeit as a snake), and they weren't doing new episodes in '87 anyway. Ultimately, it turned out to be a complicated means of introducing that new body armor, though Hama did get great material out of Fred VII's relationship with the Baroness and his inept attempts at imitating Cobra Commander. Raptor, however, Hama always knew was a dud. The character's first appearance has the other villains bewildered by this idiot dressed like a bird.

If you were a fan in this era, you'll likely remember the disconnect caused by no new episodes, but these ads that are clearly advancing some kind of continuity. This is likely one reason why I became enchanted by the comics -- if the cartoon wasn't offering the new Joe stuff, I'd read the comics instead. Of course, the ad has very little with what appears in the comic, and it's obvious during the closing "morph into the comic cover" bit that they didn't keep Raptor's color consistent.

Is this Raptor's only animated appearance, by the way? The DiC series is a few years off, and it's not as if Hasbro was still trying to push Raptor on kids in 1990. The ads in this era are the only animated appearances for Joe for the rest of the 1980s, so it's a shame they've never been properly preserved.

The commercial has impressive background paintings, but the figure animation isn't as polished as it's been in previous ads. The best ones made you feel as if you were watching an unusually nice episode of the actual show. This one has serviceable animation and some recognizable voices from the animated series -- not to mention perhaps one Joe falling to his death! -- but I wonder if it confused kids more than anything. 

Who are these new characters? What happened to Cobra Commander? Why isn't he a snake? I think a clear dividing line in Joe fandom is represented by Cobra Commander's body armor. We never saw it in the Sunbow cartoon, so for many of us, it's always going to feel wrong.

I believe this is also the debut of that obnoxious jingle singer who showed up in the later ads, the one who sounds like he should be belting out the Baywatch theme. The early stages of those abrasive, tough guy Joe commercials are here, sadly. The comic ads have another year left in them, but the toy ads keep going until 1994 with some guy yelling at you. I'm sure a roomful of Hasbro execs thought this was great, though.

And, hey, while you're here...I should mention my new novel is out in all formats today! Blind Cerulean is inspired by 1980s direct-to-video flicks and our society's unrelenting obsession with that decade. It features a teen vigilante and her cranky mentor's battle against a hedonistic drug kingpin, and the early reviews have thankfully been positive. The ebook's price is going to stay at ninety-cents for only a few more days if you're interested in picking up a digital copy. Also, if you sign up for my mailing list, you'll receive a free, exclusive chapter of the book not available in the Amazon edition. Any support you can offer, even it's just passing along a link to friends, is appreciated. Thanks!


  1. Yeah, that Cobra Officer feels way out of place in this commercial. It's kind of cool to see him as a throwback, but his visual just doesn't fit with Raptor and the Cobra Commander battle armor.

    I love your thoughts on the "dividing line" between the pre-battle armor and post-battle armor eras, too. It's totally true; everything after 1986 feels less "real" to me somehow. I still like much of it -- heck, I didn't start reading the comic until issue 120, and I love the Cobra soap opera stuff you mentioned with the Baroness and the infighting between Fred and Serpentor leading up to the Cobra Civil War -- but it has a very different feel and aesthetic compared with what came before.

    Though my own personal and artificial dividing line is between 1985 and '86. I've just never warmed up to the '86 cast and the TV show's second season as much as everything that came before. For me, 1984 will always be the high point of the line in terms of characters. I think I mentioned before that I've always been a wee bit disappointed the '84 cast never got their own dedicated mini-series. They had to share "The Revenge of Cobra" with a bunch of '85ers introduced early.

    Lastly, I have always found Hawk's line in this ad, "Set up a SLAM defense," weird. I mean, I know they only have milliseconds available for characters to speak in these things, but unless you already know what the SLAM is, it sounds like a random non sequitur.

    1. It's interesting that it's an officer and not the standard Cobra soldier. I'm sure at some point the officers were in the show, but it seems they would've used the standard soldier character model if they were going to pull from the past. And I always get the '84 and '85 Joes mixed up, thanks to the cartoon.

  2. You weren't even there, Sgt. Slaughter.


    Presumably, Hasbro was already viewing the "realistic" aesthetic of Joe as limiting and producing more audacious looking toys that would draw kids' attention

    Yeah, I think TMNT is more the nail in the coffin of "realistic" Joe than the trigger of the more outlandish Joe stuff - even before TMNT, the varied toylines of the 80s were getting busier and weirder, and more sci-fi/fantasy. MOTU was waning but still hanging around, Transformers, of course, Thundercats, more minor stuff like Silverhawks and Visionaries and Inhumanoids. If Joe started out as a more action-adventure-y take on miltary toys, by '87 the sci-fi creep was real, and then TMNT was just like "okay, it's over, we gotta go all-in on the bright and weird to compete".

    It's a "one-man ballistic battle ball" according to the box, which also boasts of its "super realistic detail."

    Ah yes, the realistic detail mimicking all the battle balls of the real world. I do kinda dig it it's WTFness though.

    Hasbro wanted him dead to match the show's continuity, which is nonsensical.

    And also weird, because I'm pretty sure the action figure bio card is just like "here's Cobra Commander in new armor", which is also what the DiC cartoon did eventually anyway.

    Raptor, however, Hama always knew was a dud.

    Yeah, I was six when Raptor came out and I LOVED him. He had a bird (and a cool, murderous bird, not a wussy parrot) and a soft goods cape that, as far as my six-year-old self was concerned, was an approximation of something like Hawkman's wings, which meant he could fly, which meant he was cool as hell (I still maintain that if Raptor actually flew he might have been better received. Not by Hama, but by others).

    Is this Raptor's only animated appearance, by the way?

    I think so. I was legit shocked to see him in this.

    I think a clear dividing line in Joe fandom is represented by Cobra Commander's body armor. We never saw it in the Sunbow cartoon, so for many of us, it's always going to feel wrong.

    It's definitely a dividing line of sorts for me, because Battle Armor Cobra Commander was the first Cobra Commander figure I actually bought, because I got into Joe after all the original figures were long gone (I had a Hooded Cobra Commander I got via mail order & Flag points, but that wasn't the same as buying one off the shelves). Obviously, I watched all the Sunbow cartoons as they were in constant rotation in '85, '86, '87 but so many of those classic characters from the show were out of reach to me as toys. So Battle Armor Cobra Commander represented my chance to finally have a Cobra Commander figure, even if it wasn't the one from the cartoons.

    1. Battle Armor CC was also my first Cobra Commander. It always felt wrong to me as a I *finally* have a Cobra Commander, but not really...I mean, they say he's Cobra Commander, but he bore no resemblance to what I knew, so I couldn't fully buy it.

  3. Just to add to the confusion in the comic this is still the original Cobra Commander testing out the battle suit for the first time. It was only two issues later that Fred VII shoots him and decides to take over the role.

    I was another late arrival. Here in the UK it seems the cartoon was never actually shown on terrestrial television and instead confined to video releases and the material came from a succession of comics. By this point the story was primarily limited to a reprint back-up in Transformers which I started reading around the time they got to this issue (summer 1989) and still using the name "Action Force".


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