Judge Mike Rubino has a rubber band holding his torso together.
Our reviews of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Season 1.1 (published July 13th, 2009), G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Season 1.3 (published February 15th, 2010), G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Season 2.0 (published April 13th, 2010), G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Series 2, Season 1 (published December 23rd, 2011), and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Series 2, Season 2 (published July 21st, 2012) are also available.
"Eat hot knuckle, snake face!"—Duke
Classically, heroes are forged with unwavering courage and self-sacrifice under moments of imminent danger; chivalry in even the direst of circumstances; and love of country, catchphrases, and lasers. Each generation has had their share of mythological heroes, but perhaps no decade in modern history has produced as many as the 1980s. While most heroes of the '80s were busy shredding communists and terrorists to bits with machine guns in hard-R blockbusters, the children were not forgotten. The children had G.I. Joe.
Those real American heroes, comprised of every nationality and skill set imaginable, were locked in a never-ending but always winnable battle against Cobra, a bumbling group of faceless, nationless villains set on taking over the world with the most complex and piecemeal schemes imaginable. It was great. I can still remember getting those rubber-spined figures for any holiday that warranted presents; waking up each morning and catching an episode before school; and not noticing that the Joes' red lasers never actually hurt anyone, or that no one ever died—thanks to an abundance of parachutes.
If you can't tell, this is one of those shows, like He-Man and The Masters of the Universe or Transformers, that is loaded with nostalgic value. The original Joe series, created by Hasbro and Sunbow, burned brightly for two epic seasons and then lived on as a syndicated legend. Most recently, the show was revived by Shout! Factory in some impressive DVD sets; for some, the G.I. Joe footlocker containing every original episode was a no-brainer, but the more cautious nostaglist may have held on to his $150.
Enter Mill Creek, who has licensed a small slice of Shout! Factory's American Hero Pie. G.I. Joe: Countdown for Zartan features eight chronological episodes from the show's first season. Technically, they're the first stand-alone episodes, which began after the show's initial three mini-series.
To be fair, the episodes included in the disc are a little goofier than their mini-series brethren. Without the luxury of five episodes to lay the groundwork for some serious Cobra scheming and Joe complications, the writers had to get efficient…and a little goofy.
The majority of these eight episodes are solid:
"Countdown for Zartan" follows that masked, pseudo-vampire mercenary, Zartan, and the honorable ninja, Storm Shadow, as they try to plant a bomb in Joe headquarters. It's fairly tense, and features some a lot of prominent Joe characters. A good opening episode.
"Rockets Red Glare" finds Cobra muscling its way into a hamburger franchise in order to install and launch missiles all across America. Coincidentally, one of those Red Rocket restaurants belongs to Roadblock's parents. It's ridiculous, but still fun.
"Satellite Down" makes that last episode look like a Tom Clancy novel. In this baffling adventure, a satellite crashes in the African jungle and is captured by half-human, half-ape creatures called primords. Both the Joes and Cobra are after the thing, but they'll have to beat up these man-apes first. This was a tough one, folks.
"Cobra Stops the World" almost makes up for those stupid primords. Here, the Joes are racing against time to find a secret Cobra base before the terrorists steal the world's oil supplies. The Joes really tear it up in this episode, destroying cobra-shaped temples and bases all across the world (there's a lot, apparently).
"Jungle Trap" features another go-to Cobra scheme: mind control. Here, the bad guys brainwash a doctor who has a laser that can flood a city with hot lava; the Joes have to traverse a dangerous jungle in order to stop them. The lesson here: Snake Eyes has no qualms about roundhouse kicking a hyena.
"Cobra's Creatures" finds their mind control devices turned towards our four-legged friends. Cobra Commander decides to use a gun called the "High Freq" to sic whales on naval ships, birds on Washington, and faithful G.I. Joe dog, Mutt, against his owner, Junkyard. It's a pretty silly episode, all things considered.
"The Funhouse" begins with the Joes rolling their eyes at yet another threatening television broadcast from that hissing commander. They don't start to take Cobra seriously until they're trapped in another one of those snake-temples, which happens to be rigged with carnival traps. This is a clever, fun episode.
"Twenty Questions" closes out the set on a good note. Going right for the real life jugular, this episode features a skeptical news crew doing a hit piece on the G.I. Joes—they're saying that the Cobra threat is fake. Shipwreck decides to prove that Cobra's real, but they end up stumbling on to a major taking-over-the-world plot. It's a strangely poignant episode for a show trying to sell kids toys.
All eight of these episodes look decent enough, with bright colors and outstanding animation for a syndicated children's show. All of the commercial breaks are intact, and that opening theme song is as rocking as ever. This bargain set is devoid of any supplements, however, and comes in another bizarre Mill Creek package: a jumbo DVD case containing a single paper sleeve with one DVD.
G.I. Joe: Countdown for Zartan is a decent collection of episodes that will most likely sate the cravings of fans looking to check in on their childhood. I can happily report the show holds up like a fine cheese. And yes, there's a lot of cheese to go around.
Yo Joe. Not guilty.
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Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
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