Judge Mike Rubino suddenly feels uneasy about enrolling in Cobra health insurance after college.
"Accused of a crime they didn't commit, a ragtag band of fugitives fights a covert battle to clear their names and expose the insidious enemy that is…Cobra. Some call them outlaws. Some call them heroes. But these determined men and women think themselves only as 'Ordinary Joes.' And this is their story."
The G.I. Joes have been locked in a colored-laser-light war with Cobra for as long as I've been alive. Whether they're stopping some gem-fueled cannon from melting the Eiffel Tower or blowing up an airship the size of a baseball stadium, the Joes can't keep those blasted snakes down. With G.I. Joe: Renegades, the tables are turned as a group of familiar heroes are suddenly outlaws from the law.
Facts of the Case
Cobra Industries is a well-respected conglomerate responsible for America's pharmaceuticals, groceries, energy, defense, and just about everything else. They're a corporation who has (somehow) weaseled their way into becoming a private sector titan that influences even the government. But there's more here than meets the eye.
When a group of newly assembled G.I. Joes discover that a pharmaceutical plant is actually developing weapons and monsters of mass destruction, they are framed by Cobra and considered rogue militants by their own military. Now, this rag-tag group of Joes is on the run from Cobra—and Flint, a military officer assigned to track them down. Together, Duke (Jason Marsen), Scarlett (Natalia Cigliuti), Roadblock (Kevin Michael Richardson), Tunnel Rat (Matthew Yang Kang), and Snake Eyes travel from town to town, in a van, helping out civilians while also trying to clear their name.
Season One, Volume One features the first 13 episodes of the series.
One of my favorite television themes is what I'm calling the "helpful loner" storyline. You've seen it before in shows like The Fugitive, The Incredible Hulk, and (most notably) The A-Team. The fugitive hero is on the run from the authorities, from reporters and detectives, and spends each episode trying to clear his/her name while also getting involved in some kind of problem with the local residents. It's a classic television trope. Naturally, then, I was excited to learn that's exactly what G.I. Joe: Renegades is all about.
The show is set in an alternate universe, one where Cobra is a trusted conglomerate deeply ingrained in American life; the Joes are all fresh, young soldiers who don't even have cool code names yet; and every van could be hiding laser guns and missiles. G.I. Joe: Renegades has its share of callbacks to the classic G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoon, but it's really a brand new standalone series. I assumed this would be a turnoff for a longtime fan such as myself, but the show works…because it shamelessly borrows its entire premise from The A-Team.
The opening two-parter, "The Descent," sets up the series with some smart and surprising twists. A group of G.I. Joes, led by Scarlett and Duke, are sent into a Cobra pharmaceutical factory for a fake show of protection. They stumble on to some secrets, Cobra frames them as rogue terrorists, and away we go. Heck, even the fugitive Joes are assembled like the A-Team: in a black van with Duke as Hannibal and Roadblock as B.A. Baracus.
Later episodes stand on their own, but carry the overarching storyline of Flint and Lady Jaye trying to apprehend the gang. Slowly but surely, re-imagined Joe characters get introduced (the Dreadnaughts, Wild Bill, Storm Shadow, Cobra Commander, etc.) and world starts to feel more populated like the old series. The ease in which this all naturally works together has me wondering why no one tried this in the '80s.
It's not all blue lasers of greatness, unfortunately. While the show's premise and episodes are generally strong, the characters themselves can be a little grating. I know it's a kids' show, so most 10-year-olds will eat up Tunnel Rat's wisecracks and probably run around the playground repeating them. But the writing is flat, and the Joes are about as deep as their action figure counterparts.
G.I. Joe: Renegades' animation doesn't help matters either. The characters are drawn with thin lines in a vaguely anime style. It's not outright Japanese, however, and feels undercooked and low budget. The backgrounds, which have a colored-pencil texture to them, don't mesh well with the clean cel animation on top. Add in some CG vehicle sequences and you've got yourself a hodgepodge of styles and quality. It's not enough to ruin the show, but it does hold it back from being all it can be.
G.I. Joe: Renegades: Season 1, Volume 1 spreads 13 episodes across two discs. The show's widescreen format and 5.1 surround sound are more than adequate. It's shame the special features are M.I.A.
It might feel like a slight rip-off that the latest G.I. Joe incarnation is essentially a remake of The A-Team but fans of the show should give it a chance; the premise works well. If you can get past the low-budget animation, you'll be in for a fun time. Of course, if you've got kids, you should probably stop caring how the show looks and just let them enjoy it…because they will. Then, when they're older, blow their minds by showing them The A-Team.
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