Read Judge Erich Asperschlager's review! This he commands!
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: 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.
"How many times must I retreat in one day!?"—Cobra Commander
After splitting up the first season of G.I. Joe into three sets, Shout! Factory finishes the series run with one set containing all 30 episodes of the show's second season. For all the craziness of the early episodes, Season Two ratchets things up with even weirder plots and the addition of new characters on both the Joe and Cobra sides, including pacifist medic Lifeline, the no-nonsense Beach Head, and genetically created evil emperor Serpentor. Adding to an already packed Joe cast probably moved a few toys in the '80s, but it doesn't help the show. The best characters from the first season end up being sidelined in favor of replacements that are mostly knock-offs and humorless duds. Despite the drop in quality, however, there is enough to recommend G.I. Joe Season 2.0 to fans and completists.
Facts of the Case
This DVD set contains all 30 episodes of G.I. Joe's second season across four discs:
G.I. Joe is cheesy, but its colorful characters and sweet action give it a goofy action serial charm. My favorite part of the show has always been Cobra's plots for world domination. They just don't make supervillains the way they used to. These days it's all money laundering and cyberterrorism. What happened to brainwashing supermodels, or creating an army of animal/human hybrids? On that front, Season 2.0 delivers the goods. Cobra's leadership may have changed, but the schemes are as ludicrous as ever. In "Nightmare Assault," for example, Cobra gains the upper hand on our heroes by terrorizing them in their dreams. In "Grey Hairs and Growing Pains," the Joes stumble on a Cobra health spa with a chamber that turns Lady Jaye, Mainframe, and Dial-Tone into little kids.
Cobra's wacky new weaponry is the brainchild of one of the second season's better characters: Dr. Mindbender. Sporting a handlebar mustache, monacle, and a revealing cape-and-suspenders combo, Mindbender replaces Destro's relatively believable arms dealing with mad science. His greatest experiment, of course, is the subject of the five-part miniseries that kicks off the second season.
"Arise, Serpentor, Arise!" is in the same mold as the three miniseries that kicked off the TV show. When Cobra Commander once again fails in his efforts to destroy G.I. Joe, his subordinates come up with a plan to replace him. Out of a dream, Dr. Mindbender describes a process whereby he can build them the ultimate emperor, out of the DNA of some of the world's greatest leaders, warriors, and tyrants—people like Alexander the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon. So Cobra sets out to collect the samples needed to conduct the experiment, much to the consternation of Cobra Commander, who tries to thwart their efforts from within. Meanwhile, the Joes—led by newcomers General Hawk, Beach Head, and Sgt. Slaughter—get wind of the plot and must race Cobra to all corners of the globe to stop them. As the title says, Mindbender is successful, and a new Cobra leader is born.
I loved Serpentor as a kid. I remember hanging out on the playground, talking to friends about this miniseries, wanting the cool action figure with his snake head and flying chariot. But I'm older now, and not nearly as swayed by shiny gold-scale bodysuits. As much as it pains me to say it, Serpentor is kind of lame. Not because he isn't as powerful as advertised, but because he's just not as much fun as Cobra's previous leader. Cobra Commander is a goofy James Bond villain; he comes up with bizarre plans to take over the world then screams and throws things when they inevitably fail. Serpentor is more like Kratos from the God of War games. He's muscular, imposing, and brooding. He ends everything with "This I command!" (a phrase, by the way, that does not work on my wife). He doesn't accept failure and demands instant results. In short, he's a real pill. Perhaps the writers realized this as well, which is why Serpentor is kept mostly in the background during the season. Except for episodes like "My Favorite Things"—an addendum to the miniseries, in which Serpentor travels around the globe gathering items that belonged to his genetic forbears—most of the day-to-day operations are left to Mindbender and, to a lesser extent, Destro and the Baroness. Thankfully, Cobra Commander still makes the odd appearance, although seeing him in a limited role is a reminder of how awesome things were when he was in charge.
On the Joe side, the new characters are a mixed bag. As with Serpentor, someone must have decided the Joe team was having too much fun, so they assigned General Hawk and Beach Head to keep everyone in line. Humorless commanding officers are a necessity in the real army, but on a cartoon like this they're buzzkills. The other new Joes aren't much better. Leatherneck and Wet-Suit have a playful Marines versus SEALs relationship, but they're pretty much just tighter wound versions of Gung Ho and Deep Six, and Lifeline's pacifism pushes the boundaries of being preachy. If you're so committed to your principles of nonviolence that you won't shoot a robot to save someone, you probably shouldn't be in the fake military. This season also introduces fan favorite Sgt. Slaughter, an animated version of the classic '80s wrestler. In the show, he has superhuman strength—fighting off entire squadrons of Cobra soldiers with his bare hands. He's pretty darn cool, except for a weird lisp I definitely don't remember him having. He's not in that many episodes, either.
Despite the lesser cast of characters, Season 2.0 isn't a complete disaster. There are a lot of cool explosions, aerial maneuvers, and chase sequences. As an action-adventure series for kids, G.I. Joe still stands as one of the best. Of course, the fact that everyone safely parachutes away from exploding aircraft and no one ever dies takes away some of the thrill. This is the only show I can think of where being punched in the face is more dangerous than being shot at.
The series is at its best when it takes on large scale operations, like combing the planet for obscure historical artifacts, or trying to raise a sunken aircraft carrier, as happens in "Raise The Flagg!"—one of the better episodes this season. It is at its worst pretty much whenever civilians are involved. Several early episodes on this set pair the Joes with kids. "Once Upon a Joe" has the team rebuilding an orphanage, which is exactly as exciting as it sounds (although the fairy tale Shipwreck invents to entertain the orphans is presented in some cool, stylish animation). Because this is G.I. Joe, this season also has some wacky supernatural episodes as well. "G.I. Joe and the Golden Fleece" actually sends both heroes and villains back to ancient Greece, where they are mistaken for Greek gods. In "Sins of the Father," Cobra tricks Dial-Tone into unleashing a primordial Cthulhu-like creature so powerful both sides must fight it together.
The bonus features are a continuation of those on the first three sets, including more public service announcements, archival toy commercials, and the featurette "Greenshirts: The G.I. Joe Legacy," which takes a brief look at the show's continued fandom. Taken as part of the larger collection of Joe extras, they're cool. As stand-alone extras, however, they don't seem like enough to carry a full season set.
G.I. Joe Season 2.0 looks and sounds as good as the source material allows. The colors are crisp and bright, and the music, dialogue, and effects are nice and clear. The only problem with the presentation is that the series was cheaply made, and it shows. Faces warp and distort, and characters mysteriously change voices. Of course, if you're that worried about realism you probably shouldn't be watching G.I. Joe in the first place.
G.I. Joe Season 2.0 is a definite step down for the series, but if like the show enough to have bought the first three sets, you'll probably want pick it up anyway. I'm sure characters like Low-Light, Sci-Fi, Cross-Country, and Zartan's sister Zarana have their fans, but they take attention (and screen time) away from the classic characters; and although Serpentor sounds awesome in theory, his TV incarnation is a boring blowhard. My eight-year-old self would be so disappointed in me.
General Hawk is right. G.I. Joe has gotten a little soft. But they sure know how to blow things up.
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