Judge Erich Asperschlager only chews Trouble Bubble-mint Gum.
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 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.
"I pity the fool that doesn't join Cobra!"—Mr. C
America's elite animated fighting force kicks more Cobra tail in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Season 1.3, the final third of the series' massive first year. This show is ridiculous, corny, and way more fun than a glorified toy commercial from the '80s ought to be.
Facts of the Case
This DVD set contains the final 22 episodes of G.I. Joe's first season across three discs (with a fourth disc of bonus material):
It's been a long time since the heady G.I. Joe days of my youth. Along with shows like Transformers, He-Man, and (yes) GoBots, G.I. Joe was mandatory afterschool viewing, followed by mandatory action figure playing. Ask anyone of my age and gender whose parents didn't forbid them from playing with toy guns and they'll have similar stories: Christmas lists packed with Joe action playsets and vehicles; behind-the-swingset playground trades for hooded Cobra Commander figures; breathless anticipation for the newest Joe miniseries. Although I think back fondly on those times, I also realize that our parents must have thought we were idiots. I'm sure I'll wince the first time my daughter asks for whatever shiny toy is popular in a few years, but I'll probably buy it for her anyway because I love her, and because I'll remember how much those shiny toys meant to me.
Those same memories might be the reason I had fun with G.I. Joe: Season 1.3, but I don't think so. I approached this set with apprehension, especially after reviewing 1.1, which begins with the three special event miniseries that kicked off the series. Those five-part stories were a blast to revisit. The standalone episodes that came after them on the first set weren't. The idea of a set made up entirely of regular episodes made me nervous, but as I sat down to watch the last 22 episodes of Joe's first season I found myself getting sucked into these silly little war fantasies. It didn't matter that characters constantly name-checked each other and their vehicles so kids would know exactly what to ask mom and dad to buy for them, or that Cobra's plans for world domination were needlessly complicated. I was having fun. G.I. Joe might look like an army show, but its colorfully dressed, carefully named characters are closer to superheroes than anything else—makes sense considering the '80s Joe toy and TV revival was accompanied by a comic book series.
Having to come up with 50-plus episodes to fill a single season gave the show's writers freedom to play out some crazy plots involving things like alien invasions, Egyptian deities, cloned dinosaurs, and miniaturized Cobra agents hidden inside Christmas toys. As you might imagine, the most memorable episodes on the set are also the wackiest, like "Cold Slither," where Cobra takes '80s cheese to a new level by dressing up Zartan and the Dreadnoks as a glam-rock band whose hit song contains a subliminal message; and "Skeletons in the Closet," which pits Lady Jaye (dressed in a surprisingly revealing nightgown) against animal-masked cult members in a haunted Scottish manor. Conversely, the episodes that falter tend to be those that keep their feet on the ground, like the romantic entanglement plots of "Hearts and Cannons" and "Eau De Cobra."
The best episodes in the set, though, are the two-parters. Like the early-season miniseries, these longer stories tackle more involved stories. In "Worlds Without End," an experimental weapon zaps a small team of Joe soldiers into an alternate dimension where Cobra has won and G.I. Joe has been wiped out. It not only features an aerial battle that destroys some of Washington D.C.'s biggest monuments (albeit their Cobra-fied counterparts), but also brings three Joe members face-to-face with the skeletons of their dead alternate universe selves. "The Traitor" is the rather shocking tale of Dusty selling secrets to Cobra to help his ailing mother—information that puts one Joe in a coma. If it weren't for the lame switcheroo ending, it might be one of the series' best. "There's No Place Like Springfield" takes its cues from classic episodes of Twilight Zone. In it, Shipwreck is knocked unconscious during a battle and awakens several years later to find himself married, with a daughter, and living a quiet suburban life he doesn't remember. Unfortunately, the truth behind the mystery is revealed sooner than it should, but it has some genuinely creepy moments, like a scene in which Shipwreck watches fellow Joe soldiers melt before his eyes.
The fourth disc in this set is reserved for bonus features. Like the 1.1 and 1.2 sets, Season 1.3 has a brief collection of old Hasbro toy commercials and the "Knowing Is Half The Battle" PSAs that capped every G.I. Joe episode. Both are fun, and bring back a lot of memories. The longest bonus feature, at 24 minutes, is "Men And Women Of Action: Creating The G.I. Joe Animated Series," a featurette in which the show's writers, voice actors, and creators reminisce about making the show, and about their favorite characters. There is some fluff, but listening to these people describe their noble vision for G.I. Joe makes you appreciate just how successful they were.
The full frame, 2.0 stereo presentation is limited by the source material. The transfer makes these episodes look cleaner and more vibrant than they did on '80s-era TV sets, but the actual animation is hit-or-miss. Character faces, features, and bodies warp and distort; things flicker in out of existence; and in at least one episode, Gung Ho's voice comes out of Roadblock's mouth. A packaging note: the discs are numbered as 9, 10, 11 & 12, so they'll fit right in with the first two sets.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Just because you dug this as a kid doesn't mean you'll love it as an adult. Enjoyment requires that you accept the show's disregard for logic and occasional laziness in the animation department.
Though the real hero of G.I. Joe is be nostalgia, there's a lot more to these cookie cutter cartoons than you might think. It's no wonder this show hit a chord with kids back in the '80s. G.I. Joe's struggle with Cobra may be serious, but the wacky plots, action, adventure. and colorful characters are still fun today.
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