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Monday, April 11, 2022

G. I. JOE #65 - November 1987 (The Commercial, Not the Comic)

 


Defiant

Defiiiant!

Joes stand defiiiant against Co-bra!

No, actually. Those lyrics are my made-up nonsense. No jingle this time, and the previous ad only barely featured one. It's an end of an era. We do have a much higher quality video this time. Austin pointed me in the direction of 3D Joes' archive of the comic book commercials, taken from the masters maintained by the advertising studio that created them.

If you'd like to see a high quality version of the last issue's commercial, it's archived here. Regarding that previous issue, I thought I'd add something to the discussion regarding Todd McFarlane's extremely brief stint as Joe artist. Only after writing that post did it occur to me that having him on Joe wasn't as outrageous as it might initially seem. McFarlane owes a lot of his style to Michael Golden, who penciled the famous G. I. Joe Yearbook #2 (and the cover for the first installment, later swiped by Rob Liefeld on a New Mutants cover. There is no Image Comics without artists aping Golden.) If I had to guess, Bob Harras came across this artist who could do a capable Golden pastiche and signed him up, only realizing later that he perhaps lacked Golden's skill for clear storytelling and rendering intricate weapons and machinery. Just a thought.

Sadly, those 3D Joes videos aren't titled with the comic book or issue number, so they're difficult to locate unless you search specifically for the toy featured in the ad (which was for the comic, of course, and any appearance of a new-on-the-shelves toy was but a coincidence.)

And what a toy we have this time. Five months after the previous TV commercial, Hasbro comes back swinging with this one. Chris Latta returns again as Cobra Commander, and Edmund Gilbert does his usual fine work as General Hawk. The anonymous Joe voices sound to me like the great Neil Ross, the voice of Dusty and Shipwreck on the original series.

One drawback of the commercial is the fact that it has to sell this massive spaceship playset, which means actual animation of the Joe and Cobra members is limited. That's a highly-detailed ship, though, that looks darn nice in the "Sunbow style" animation.

(Even though I've known for a while now that Sunbow was not in fact an animation studio, and it's likely Toei we should be praising for the animation, it's hard to let go of that term. Probably because we saw that Sunbow logo at the end of the "good" G. I. Joe episodes, and then DiC at the end of the painful ones with the cheap animation.)

In terms of the comic continuity, the placement of this commercial is during Larry Hama's extended story arc that has several Joes taken captive while doing an off-the-books mission and Snake-Eyes, Scarlett and the Blind Master teaming with a circus troupe to rescue them...and meanwhile, Cobra Commander has been killed and secretly replaced with a rogue Crimson Guardsmen who's romancing the Baroness. Not a lot of room here to shove in a space shuttle, but Hama did what he could...and then got right back to his ongoing stories with the next issue.


Looking back, it seems space shuttles and astronauts experienced a resurgence in popularity in the late 1980s (or in kids' media properties, at least). We're still two years away from the 20th anniversary of the moon landing, so I'm not quite sure what sparked this, but I suppose it's not totally outrageous for G. I. Joe to get brought into it. I was never overly interested in this massive playset as a kid, but did think those Cobra Sea Rays at the end looked pretty cool.

Curiously, the commercial features Crystal Ball as the co-pilot of the Cobra shuttle, even though he doesn't appear in issue #65. In fact, Crystal Ball's only appearance during the Marvel run was in an inventory issue of Special Missions written by Herb Trimpe and not Larry Hama. (Hama wouldn't touch the character until decades later in the IDW revival.)

Crystal Ball has his own curious history within the franchise, one revealed when Stephen King and his son Owen discussed while promoting their book Sleeping Beauties, and archived here on the Hiss Tank forums:

THE COBRA HYPNOTIST


Sleeping Beauties may be the first book they’ve co-authored, but as mentioned above, it’s not technically Stephen and Owen’s first professional collaboration.


That honor belongs to Crystal Ball, a villainous G.I. Joe character they concocted together back in the mid-‘80s, when Owen was a 9-year-old. Stephen wrote down a pitch, and sent it to Hasbro, which mass produced the toy in 1987 and put him in the Marvel comics.


“It’s true,” Owen says, sounding a little bit chagrined, and handing the credit (or blame) off to his dad. “I think that he’s much better suited to explain because, I think my contribution to the creative element was more limited to being like, ‘Yeah, Dad, that sounds awesome.’”


“Oh, I mean that is such bulls—,” Stephen King replies. “It was his idea! He had all the G.I. Joes and we watched it on TV, and we read the comic books.”


Stephen has pretty specific recall on that day. He says it was winter, snowy outside, and the two were going around the wide yard on cross-country skis. “He said, ‘Dad, it would be great if there was a G.I. Joe who could read minds.’ And I said, ‘Oh, yeah, that would be really great. What would you call a character like that?’ And Owen said, ‘Crystal Ball!’”


The character has a lenticular holographic shield and looks a little like Vincent Price crossed with Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos.


HASBRO

“I think the character that we wrote wasn’t particularly well-liked, which is the funniest part,” Owen says. “This is one of the reasons why I always feel like it’s dicey to even talk about this, because the G.I. Joe people don’t really like him.”



This does not wash with Stephen King, who dropped a mention of the toy in his 1987 novel The Tommyknockers. “I think Crystal Ball was one of the most popular ones!” he insists. There’s a clacking of computer keys on his end of the line. “I’m looking right now on the internet…”


“No,” Owen assures him. “He’s not particularly popular, but I like him.” Hasbro did, too, and the company was so grateful for the contribution that they named another G.I. Joe good guy, the recon ranger Sneak Peek, “Owen King” after the young fan.


The typing stops. “I’m gonna make you very unhappy,” Stephen says, like a doctor who has a folder full of bad test results to share. “I just scrolled through ‘The Top 50 Greatest G.I. Joe Characters of All Time,’ and… he’s not on it.”


“Would you believe — put this in the article somewhere — I don’t think Funko has sent him a Pennywise,” Owen says, eager to change the subject.


“The most popular G.I. Joe is what, Owen?” his dad asks. A pop culture test for the child of the ’80s.


Owen guesses Destro – the silver headed arms-dealing villain, who works with Cobra on its quest for world domination.


“No,” Stephen says, with a tsk of his tongue. “Snake Eyes.”


“Oh, yeah. That makes sense,” Owen replies.


Crystal Ball may not rank at the top, but that dastardly hypnotist still stands for something special. Most dads can buy their kids a toy, but not many can invent one with their son.

 That's all for now. I'll remind everyone again that my '80s-inspired thriller Blind Cerulean is available now on Amazon. I'm also revisiting the numerous 2000s revivals of 1980s properties over at CBR, if you're curious.

7 comments:

  1. Wow, that Stephen/Owen King exchange is great! Love it.

    There is no Image Comics without artists aping Golden.

    Which, while true, is also wild, given that Golden was never the most prolific of artists. The closest comp I can think of in terms of "high influence, low number of actual penciled comics" is Steranko (and Art Adams of course, without whom there would also be no Image Comics).

    which was for the comic, of course, and any appearance of a new-on-the-shelves toy was but a coincidence.

    *WINK*

    I do love how, in order to feature the GI Joe space shuttle in the commercial, Cobra needs a space vehicle of its own, but that just shows up with no fanfare because there's no corresponding toy to promote.

    Looking back, it seems space shuttles and astronauts experienced a resurgence in popularity in the late 1980s

    You're right - I definitely remember feeling that as a kid, with stuff like the Defiant and the movie SPACE CAMP - but looking back, I can't pinpoint the reason why, either. I'd be inclined to say it has to do with the Challenger disaster looming large in the zeitgeist, but you'd think that would have the OPPOSITE effect.

    I was never overly interested in this massive playset as a kid, but did think those Cobra Sea Rays at the end looked pretty cool.

    Ditto. I had some of the other playset vehicles but never the Defiant, but unlike some of the other ones, I never really lamented not having it. But I did have a Sea Ray and thought it was especially cool.




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    1. Even my friend, who had ALL the huge playsets like the Flagg, Mobile Command Center, Rolling Thunder, etc., did not have the Defiant set.

      (However he did have the Crusader, which was the shuttle segment of the Defiant complex, repainted and packaged without the gantry and booster -- but with a white Joe version of the Night Raven's little "drone" craft. Looks like that came out in 1989.)

      I agree; that bit with Stephen and Owen King is great. I had read years ago that Stephen King created Crystal Ball, but had long forgotten.

      Speaking of, Crystal Ball got an entry in the 1990 trading card series, which followed the comic continuity. I'm sure we'll see him pop up soon on Austin's Twitter. I recall that the card tied him in with Cobra-La and suggested that he died there, which I've always found interesting since Hama never used Cobra-La in the comics either. I remember pulling that card from a pack and then trying to figure out what back issues included the Crystal Ball/Cobra-La saga! I was a little disappointed when I found out it never happened.

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    2. Oh, man. I would love it if there's Cobra-La/Crystal Ball fan fiction hiding on the back of those trading cards.

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    3. There 100% is; Crystal Ball's cardback does this whole bit about how he's from Cobra-La and the seventh son of a seventh son which gives him mild telepathic abilities.

      The cards are more or less considered the only "comic book" appearance of Cobra-La, since Hama never used it but the cards are, ostensibly, based on the comics more than the toys or the cartoons. There's a whole plot point that gets repeated on several cards about how the entrance to Cobra-La got buried in an avalanche and no one knows if anyone inside survived or not, which reads very much like a "and then Poochie went home to his home planet" resolution to both acknowledge Cobra-La, and then assure it's never mentioned again.

      (The "Honor Roll" subset of cards for characters who have died is wild because nearly everyone included died in one of four ways: trapped in Cobra-La post-avalanche, gunned down by a SAW Viper, killed in the Battle of Benzheen (which wiped out most of Battle Force 2000) or buried in a ship underneath a volcano by Cobra Commander). The only exception is General Flagg, since he died early on in the series. It's *24* cards of dead characters, and 23 of them say variations on 1 of 4 different causes of death. Just supremely repetitious.

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  2. Unfortunately, I think the surge in interest in the space race in the mid-late 80s may have been due to Ronald "early stage dimentia" Reagan's obsession with the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka "Star Wars") the idea that the US could build a laser shield in the upper atmosphere around the U.S. and allied countries.

    No, seriously. He really thought this shit was feasible.

    But it did put the space race back in the public eye during his administration, which almost certainly helped fuel similarly themed fiction.

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    1. Ah, that's a good point. The way Reagan tied the space race back into national defense likely accounts for that surge. Since not enough people care about science for science's sake, but tie it in to a ludicrous "missile force field" idea and suddenly everyone is back on board (which, to be fair, a space-based force field *does* sound awesome if largely unfeasible. :P) .

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  3. I actually have the Defiant ships (1 of the large, 2 of the small). Sadly, the launch pad was destroyed years ago by some neighbor kids who thought it would be fun to break into our place and smash it with golf clubs. But, what are you going to do.

    I'm pretty sure I was almost done with G.I. Joe at this point. I was starting to get more into superhero comics and toys were starting to not be cool anymore (if I had only known that that interest comes back around).

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