Judge Erich Asperschlager can't shoot worth a darn and always parachutes out of exploding helicopters.
Our reviews of 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), G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Series 2, Season 2 (published July 21st, 2012), and G.I. Joe: Countdown For Zartan (published October 24th, 2010) are also available.
When I was a kid, I liked Transformers, He-Man, and Thundercats almost as much as I dug their action figure counterparts. Though I certainly wouldn't want to offend any of those hunks of plastic, I think my fondest action figure memories are of playing G.I. Joe with friends. The bendable limbs. The rubber band waists. The weapons and accessories. The cut-out stat cards on the packaging. They fit into all kids of vehicles, and (even better) didn't require step-by-step instructions to enjoy.
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Season 1.1 marks Shout! Factory's first release since acquiring the rights to the show. I loved G.I. Joe as a kid, but how does it hold up today? Surprisingly well. The best thing about the show was always the variety of characters, weapons, vehicles, and settings, and that's still true. With three miniseries and a handful of standalone episodes, this is a great way for grown-up Joe fans to revisit the series.
Facts of the Case
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Season 1.1 has 22 episodes across four discs, including the three five-part miniseries that started it all:
Disc One: The M.A.S.S. Device (Parts 1-5)
Disc Two: The Revenge Of Cobra (Parts 1-5)
Disc Three: The Pyramid Of Darkness (Parts 1-5)
The best thing about Season 1.1 are the three miniseries. Even more than any individual episode, I remember watching these multi-part stories when I was a kid. Although I can see now how closely they follow the same formula, they're still fun—with varied and exotic locations, giant set-piece battles, and cliffhangers galore—even if they are completely ridiculous. The plots are riddled with coincidence, lucky breaks, and laughable science. If knowing is half the battle, suspending your disbelief must be the other half.
The first miniseries, "The M.A.S.S. Device" (originally titled "A Real American Hero") establishes the formula followed by subsequent series. In their latest plot to take over the world, Destro develops a device for the Cobra Commander that can transport soldiers, weapons, and objects from one place to another. The only problem with the device is that it requires three rare materials to function: radioactive crystals found only in the Antarctic, heavy water from the world's deepest ocean trench, and metallic shavings from a meteor in a volcano. To keep Cobra from replenishing their supplies (and to aid the construction of their own device), the Joes must race their enemies around the globe to secure the remaining elements. As the first Joe miniseries, "M.A.S.S. Device" is pretty basic stuff. The character list is limited on the Joe side to Duke, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Gung Ho, and a few others; and on the Cobra side to Cobra Commander, Destro, Baroness, and Major Bludd. It introduces many of the locations for the series, including Cobra temple and Joe headquarters, and includes the story of how Snake Eyes met his wolf pal Timber.
"The Revenge of Cobra" borrows the basic plot of "M.A.S.S. Device," trading a matter transporter for a weather-control device and the search for the three rare elements for the three main components of the device, which are somehow scattered to exotic locations when the weapon gets blasted apart. "Revenge" looks a little better than "M.A.S.S. Device," with noticeable upgrades to the character designs and animation. This is also the series that introduced fan-favorites Shipwreck, Storm Shadow, Spirit, and the chameleon-esque Zartan and his Dreadnoks.
The first two miniseries aired in 1983 and '84, respectively, before the G.I. Joe animated series began in 1985. The honor of kickstarting the show proper fell on "Pyramid of Darkness," which ups the ante on the previous stories by being, well, bat-guano insane. The actual structure of the story makes sense—for a G.I. Joe story, anyway. The titular "Pyramid" is a plan by Cobra and the Crimson Twins to control the world by using a hijacked satellite to connect four massive energy cubes strategically placed around the globe to create a blanket of darkness under which no electricity works. It's hard to pinpoint where the series goes off the rails, but it's probably about the time we meet Shipwreck's parrot, Polly, who can actually talk. She quips her way through Shipwreck and Snake Eyes having to go undercover as Cobra operatives, a storyline that has them escape from the (I'm not making this up) "Cobra Cafe" nightclub with the help of a singer who sneaks them out of enemy territory by pretending they're her backing band. It's almost worth getting these DVDs just to see Snake Eyes in drag, dancing in a Cyndi Lauper-like get up, while still wearing his trademark mask.
"Pyramid" is too goofy at times for its own good and is easily the weakest of the miniseries. Even so, it's better than the stand-alone episodes on disc four. Whether because the disc four episodes have to cram Joe foiling a Cobra plot into 21 minutes instead of spreading the story over five parts, or because none of them were written by miniseries scribe Ron Friedman, they're all pretty forgettable fluff. A couple of the episodes stand out, most notably "The Funhouse," in which Cobra Commander lures the Joes into a temple rigged with amusement park-style booby traps. Others, though, have little to do with the military action that makes G.I. Joe cool. In "Cobra's Creatures," the Commander uses an evil scientist's invention to hypnotize animals to do his bidding. While controlling lions and wolves makes good sense, siccing a pod of whales on an aircraft carrier is more of a head-scratcher. Even so, "Red Rocket's Glare" is probably the weirdest episode on the set. It centers around Roadblock helping his aunt and uncle defend their roadside hamburger joint from toughs hired by Cobra.
G.I. Joe: Season 1.1 is presented in full screen, with 2.0 stereo soundtrack. The colors are bright and vibrant, and the picture is mostly free of debris. I'm not sure how these episodes would look any better than they do. They certainly look better on my 40-inch TV than they did on the 13-inch set we had in the '80s.
The extras are spread across all four discs. The first three discs each have one part of "Looking Back With Ron Friedman." Each part is about seven minutes long. Why they didn't just put the entire featurette on a single disc is beyond me. Friedman manages to make writing G.I. Joe sound like an academic pursuit, tying in Greek mythology, child psychology, and Golden Age Hollywood. It's easy to believe that he believes what he's saying. Then again, he did write a scene in which a ninja stealth commando made his wolf wear sunglasses while he dressed up like a woman.
The fourth disc has seven "Knowing is Half the Battle" PSAs—including Barbeque helping kids get out of a burning house, Deep Six warning against being in the water during a thunderstorm, and Spirit telling some campers what to do if you catch fire. It also has three old G.I. Joe toy commercials, a printable PDF script for the episode "Jungle Trap," and the nine-minute 1963 G.I. Joe Toy Fair presentation. The '63 film is interesting from a historical perspective, but it feels out of place on this set, especially comparing the "realistic" clothes, weapons, etc. of the foot-tall dolls with the craziness of the animated series. Rounding out the extras is a sheet of temporary tattoos with the Joe, Cobra, and Arashikage symbols.
Not long after G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Season 1.1 hits shelves, Shout! Factory will be releasing a 17-disc complete series set in limited edition foot locker packaging for a cool $145. In a couple of months, they'll be releasing "The M.A.S.S. Device" miniseries as a single disc. Unless you're a Joe superfan who has money to burn, or really like the idea of buying one miniseries at a time, Season 1.1 is the way to go. It's got a good amount of content for a fair price, and considering how quickly the set drops off once the standalone episodes kick in, it's a good way to figure out if you've got enough nostalgia to buy the inevitable "1.2" set—or whether you'll just sit back and wait for the set that includes the awesome Serpentor miniseries, like I will.
COOOOOBBBRAAAA! I mean, not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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