Talking about comic books, TV shows, movies, sports, and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Monday, May 20, 2024

G. I. Joe #88, July 1989 (The Commercial, Not the Comic…The Final One)

Girl, each time I try

I just break down and cry

Pain in my head

Oh, I'd rather be dead

Spinning around and around

Although we've come

To the end of the road

Still I can't let go

Gene Kendall returns, for the last time! (Maybe.) There isn’t a jingle in this installment, so I decided to open with some fitting words instead. We have reached the end of the road, the final animated commercial produced for Marvel’s long-running G. I. Joe series, the comic that personally steered me into fandom.


And I’ll confess…I have no memory of this commercial, and issue #88 is one of the very few of this era I didn’t pick up off the newsstands. I was a fan of Python Patrol, however, and those elaborate repaints are some of the final Joe toys I acquired before moving on to the era’s other slickly-marketed kids’ properties.


This commercial is a bit of an oddity, considering that it’s only fifteen seconds instead of thirty, and it wasn’t archived with the rest of the advertisements during the earlier years of online Joe fandom. I had always assumed that the previous ad was the final one, until a reader corrected me a year or so ago. (And, thankfully, this commercial has been archived by 3D Joes.) The length is what strikes me as genuinely curious -- is there also a thirty-second version out there that simply wasn’t archived? I’m leaning towards “no,” but who knows? Considering that there was a commercial for G. I. Joe Special Missions that was lost for around thirty years until I stumbled across it, it is possible there’s material out there waiting for discovery.


Opening with Cobra Commander boasting of his “python experiment,” which somehow translates an actual python into stylish new paint jobs for Cobra vehicles, the commercial then cuts to a battle between the Python Patrol vehicles and Sgt. Slaughter and his Slaughter’s Marauders. (Another 1989 series of repainted figures. My only opportunity to buy a Sgt. Slaughter figure as a kid.) Low-Light leaps onto a Python Patrol STUN, and the terrified driver has a literal python hiding behind him, ready to strike Low-Light in retaliation. What happens next? Find out in Marvel Comics! (Jim Shooter has indicated that he was particularly proud of that outro line from the ads.)


Maintaining continuity with the previous seven years of this marketing campaign, Chris Latta returns as Cobra Commander, and Jackson Beck once again acts as narrator. I’m wondering now if Beck narrated every G. I. Joe comic commercial; Beck was a preeminent voiceover talent in this era (the voice of Little Ceasars, MTV contest promotions, NFL promos, Saturday Night Live sketches, and several movie trailers…which doesn’t include all of his work before 1982) his voice is intrinsically linked to this brand in my mind.


This ad doesn't have that Sunbow (or Toei, to be more precise) look to it, the style we associate with the 1980s syndicated G. I Joe cartoon. Thin lines, simplified faces, with no real variety to the line weights. Everything’s just a little more angular. That frightened Cobra driver at the end looks very sparse in detail, almost like a Batman: The Animated Series era Bruce Timm design. It doesn’t truly feel like a DiC cartoon either…and that universally beloved DiC revamp of G. I. Joe was only a few months away.


I suppose it’s possible that the alternate Python Patrol looks for the Cobra soldier and Crimson Guardsman meant production didn’t have the option of reusing Russ Heath’s existing work, another factor making the commercial seem “off.” There is one element that reminds me of the Sunbow look, and that’s the cool lighting effects when the python goes through whatever that beam is meant to be. The effect passes by in a second, but it reminds me of the extra mile the “Sunbow shows” used to go to when conveying lighting and shadows.


I’m assuming the budget’s been reduced by this point. Simplified character models would align with a fifteen second spot instead of thirty seconds -- we’ve got one more of these things to grind out and we’ve already blown most of the budget on that CGI Ultra Magnus in the Transformers ad, so let’s just do what we can. 1989 was also the year that saw numerous G. I. Joe spinoffs at Marvel reduced to one single title, indicating something was going on behind the scenes. To this day, I’ve yet to read an explanation for why Marvel so dramatically reduced the G. I. Joe line in only a few months. There are conflicting memories from Larry Hama and Jim Shooter on whether Marvel was paying Hasbro royalties/licensing fees on their titles, so I wonder if both are right -- no royalties when Marvel developed and launched the titles, but years later, Hasbro attempting to renegotiate the deal and wet their beak, and Marvel responding “nah.” The main title still sold well enough to justify paying out to Hasbro, but the spinoffs had to go. All speculation on my part.


Even if the budget’s been hypothetically cut for this final commercial, the actual direction is impressive. We have exciting vehicle animation and camera movements when the new toys show up, the kind of elaborate action the commercials have done so well in the past. I don’t think official credits for the entire run of these commercials have ever been released, but I’m assuming there were still a few animators left who knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, the ad’s too short to have the same impact as previous installments, and those character models aren’t effectively selling the “Russ Heath comic brought to life” promise of the Sunbow days.


Sgt. Slaughter and his Slaughter’s Marauders definitely take a backseat to the Cobra promotion, and it’s interesting to see Low-Light receive the camera time at the end, instead of face of the brand, Sgt. Slaughter. By the late 1980s, Hasbro was testing the viability of rereleases, with the Python Patrol, Slaughter’s Marauders, and Tiger Force sublines, which consisted of repainted molds. In the massive Art of G. I Joe compilation from 3D Joes, we’re offered some insight into how these lines came to be. Python Patrol, for example, was able to receive such elaborate paint decos because the molds had already been shipped to South America to be used by a toy company who’d licensed Joe in that region. Even though Hasbro was still using American labor for new product at the time, these molds were already in South America, and factories there had the capacity to do intricate paint applications at much cheaper rates than American factories…hence, Python Patrol.


As a commercial for a specific issue of the comic, it doesn’t seem as if anyone involved in the production cared about the actual contents of issue #88. I don’t think any of the Joe members in this issue are represented in the ad, and there is no scene that has Low-Light facing down a literal python. The story does however justify the Python Patrol concept as Destro’s new product: paint that’s invisible to radar and infrared, marketed toward various despots like the dictator of Wolkekuckuckland. It is interesting to see Tony Salmons as the issue’s guest artist, given that the ad’s airing on children’s television and Hama’s acknowledged in the era’s letter columns that Salmons’ work didn’t go over well with the younger readers. (Salmons is apparently an artist’s artist; viewed by some as a real talent unjustly overlooked by fandom.)


As the end of an era, it’s unfortunate that the comic commercials close with what’s likely the weakest of the batch. The Marvel/Hasbro partnership might’ve gotten a little rocky in this period (Marvel’s animation division wasn’t involved with the late ’80s Sunbow adaptations of Hasbro properties, and Jim Shooter and Flint Dille have independently spoken of a deteriorating relationship between the companies as the ’80s progressed), but this marketing campaign is truly one of the greats. Countless kids were inspired to pick up comic books thanks to these ads, and the sales success helped convince newsstand vendors to keep these cheap, thirty-two page floppy periodicals around, instead of racking a few extra magazines.


Regarding this review series…is it outrageous to think that I would continue with the other animated commercials for Hasbro’s other big ’80s property? If there’s any interest, I could do a few more entries on the Transformers animated ads. There weren’t that many Marvel Transformers commercials -- I know the first issue was advertised, and personally remember a TV spot for the first issue of Headmasters, but don’t know what else is out there. If anyone can point me in the direction of a comprehensive archive, I’d appreciate it.


Before we go, I suppose I should plug my CBR articles, and the NoSleep Podcast’s production of my short story “Dogteeth.” For the first time, one of my short stories has been produced with a full cast, sound effects, and musical score. “Dogteeth” is the story of a grizzled bounty hunter seeking a warrior’s end, following a bad doctor’s visit. He finds what he’s looking for in a neighborhood dominated by Dogteeth, the leather-clad ghouls who no longer hide in the shadows…and don’t you ever call them vampires. The performance evokes memories of classic radio drama (hopefully) and I think the team did a great job. My story begins at around 25 minutes in.


And the text version of the story, along with nine other tales, can be found in my new short story collection Dogteeth and Other Tales of the Paranormal (free on Kindle Unlimited).


  1. "for the last time! (Maybe.)"

    Hopefully not the last time...

    There was this commercial that was also 15 seconds long, though it was for G.I. Joe Special Missions...

    1. That was also for a 1989 issue, I believe produced after this one (although it looks closer to the Sunbow episodes than this one, certainly.) I assume 15 seconds was the new standard for whatever Hasbro budgeted for the 1989 campaign. Maybe somehow the budget for a 30 second ad was split into two?

  2. This was a terrific series, thank you.

    I recently ordered Box Brown's "The He-Man Effect: How American Toymakers Sold You Your Childhood," which is pitched as a deep dive into how deregulation turned 80s children's programming into toy commercials. Brown's a terrific storyteller (his Tetris book is great,) but I hope he makes room in this one for some examples of legitimately neat art that managed to sprout from such an ultra-capitalist wasteland (Hama's comics are the obvious crown jewel here, but these short 30-second clips have some genuine merit, regardless of their origins.)

  3. Yep, I remember this particular comic well as it is the one that made me feel that the Joe comic had jumped the shark, as I hated the artwork. You'd have no idea the comic's story features the comic's main two couples running around in a Camaro.

  4. Isn't that Art of GI Joe book from 3D Joes a delight? So much good stuff.

    There are conflicting memories from Larry Hama and Jim Shooter on whether Marvel was paying Hasbro royalties/licensing fees on their titles

    Are there particular sources for those recollections you've encountered, or just general scuttlebutt that's been passed around through the years?

    s it outrageous to think that I would continue with the other animated commercials for Hasbro’s other big ’80s property?

    I for one would love to see that - and it would be especially apt in this, the 40th anniversary of that particular property. :)

    I don't know of a good source for the commercials offhand, but I'll poke around a bit and see if I can find any.

    1. In the past year or so, Hama and Shooter have done separate interviews on JOE YouTube channels, and it seems Shooter says no money exchanged between Marvel and Hasbro (except Hasbro getting some royalties if the books sold over a certain number), and Hama remembering that Hasbro was paid upfront and the money was taken out of the freelancers' pay. Ron Wagner was asked about this and couldn't remember either way. I'm pretty sure this was all on the Talking Joes YouTube channel.

    2. Thanks! I'm hoping to start a Joe project of my own soon, and am trying to compile as much background info as I can before I start. Gonna check out that channel (I'm old-fashioned enough that I'm always looking for print sources and totally forget to check for videos. :P)


Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Are mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!