G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was based on the successful toyline from Hasbro and the comic book series from Marvel Comics. The cartoon had its beginnings with two five-part mini-series in 1983 and 1984, then became a regular series that ran in syndication from 1985 to 1986. In total the show ran for 95 episodes over two seasons.
Ron Friedman created the G.I. Joe animated series for television, and wrote all four miniseries. The fourth mini-series was intended to be a feature film, but as noted subsequently was released as a television mini-series instead because of production difficulties.
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
This five-part pilot mini-series was alternately aired under the title “The MASS Device” during the series’ syndication. Destro and Cobra Commander use an experimental machine known as the MASS device, which has the ability to transport matter to any global location, using a powerful satellite to relay the teleportation beam. G.I. Joe must stop Cobra by creating a MASS Device of their own. But first, they must gather the three rare elements that power the device.
G.I. Joe: The Revenge of Cobra
Cobra has returned in force, armed with a new weapon created called the Weather Dominator, which is able to manipulate storm systems. In the beginning of the second mini-series, Cobra steals the power core for a new laser cannon the Joes were transporting to their headquarters and adds it to the Weather Dominator, giving it unlimited power. Damaged in battle, the device breaks into its three component pieces, which scatter across the world. The G.I. Joe team must recover the pieces before Cobra can reclaim them to rebuild the Weather Dominator.
G.I. Joe: The Pyramid of Darkness
The third mini-series installment of the G.I. Joe series originally debuted in its complete form during prime time and was later adapted to the more familiar five-part daily mini-series format for rebroadcast on syndicated television. The story centers on Cobra’s attempts to build and maintain a new weapon, the Pyramid of Darkness, a weapon that neutralizes all electrical power in the Earth’s Northern hemisphere. Four giant control cubes are to be placed at key locations around the globe. Once the Joes’ orbiting space station is seized, the cubes are activated and the pyramid is complete. The Joes battle Cobra to destroy the pyramid and find the terrorist organization’s secret headquarters.
G.I. Joe: Arise, Serpentor, Arise!
The fourth mini-series deals with Dr. Mindbender being inspired by a strange dream to create a new leader for Cobra to replace Cobra Commander. Using genetic engineering, he intends to use the DNA of history’s most ruthless historical figures to create the ultimate Cobra leader. The Joes race to the various locations to attempt to intercept the Cobra operatives. However, Cobra is successful in delivering the necessary genetic information to Mindbender. Having captured Sgt. Slaughter in the process, Mindbender decides to substitute Sarge’s DNA for the DNA of Sun Tzu. However, Slaughter manages to prevent this, and Mindbender later remarks that without the military discipline that his creation would have inherited from Sun Tzu or Slaughter, his maniacal drive for conquest has no counterbalance. The resultant creation, Serpentor, takes control of Cobra and immediately sets out to seize Washington DC. Partly due to the lack of discipline exhibited by Serpentor, the Joes are able to thwart his bid for world domination. Upon his defeat, Serpentor intends to leave Cobra Commander for dead. However, Cobra Commander convinces Serpentor to spare his life, convincing him that he will make an excellent scapegoat for any of his failures. The GI Joe Team vows to continue to defend the world from the threat of Cobra even as their enemy now has a powerful new leader.
Following the initial two mini-series, the regular series began airing on September 16, 1985 concurrently in line with the second season of The Transformers, debuting with a third five-part story, The Pyramid of Darkness. A public safety lesson was usually featured at the end of each episode, using G.I. Joe characters in brief scenarios to impart safety tips to children. These lessons gave birth to the catchphrase: “And knowing is half the battle”.
In each episode’s opening title sequence voice actor Jackson Beck states that, “G.I. Joe is the code name for America’s daring, highly-trained, Special Mission force. Its purpose: To defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world”.
Because the cartoons were produced as a vehicle to sell the toys, each episode typically focused on a particular G.I. Joe character. The animated series was not directly tied to the comic book produced by Marvel Comics (due to the Sunbow Productions/Marvel Productions animated series based on Hasbro properties), although several concepts, such as the Oktober Guard, Springfield, and Serpentor were all featured in the comic book and the animated series.
Season 2 featured former WWF and then-current AWA professional wrestler made cartoon hero Sgt. Slaughter, who first appeared in the five-part season-opener Arise, Serpentor, Arise!
Sunbow/Marvel’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series ended on November 20, 1986 after 95 episodes. Despite G.I. Joe ’s success, no other studio offered to produce a new season until 1989 when DiC took over.
In 1987 G.I. Joe: The Movie was released; originally it was intended as a theatrical release to be closely followed by The Transformers: The Movie. However, the G.I. Joe film encountered unexpected production delays which allowed the Transformers feature to be released first. Due to the poor box office performances of the Transformers film and My Little Pony: The Movie, G.I. Joe: The Movie was instead released direct-to-video as well as aired on television in syndication, first in feature length format and later split into a five-part miniseries format as part of the show’s syndication package.
The film opens with Cobra Commander and Serpentor blaming each other’s stewardship of Cobra as the root cause of the organization’s failures, Pythona, a woman from the secret civilization Cobra-La, infiltrates the Terror Dome. While there, she reveals to Serpentor that Cobra-La was responsible for inspiring Doctor Mindbender to create Serpentor through dream manipulation. At her urging, Serpentor plans to capture G.I. Joe’s latest weapon, the Broadcast Energy Transmitter (BET).
Cobra assaults the Joes as they test the BET in the Himalayas. The Joes use the BET to activate their automated weapons systems. Serpentor is captured and Cobra Commander orders a retreat. Cobra Commander leads his troops into Cobra-La.
As the Joes celebrate their victory, a new group of rookie Joes are brought onto the team, including the allegedly clumsy kunoichi Jinx, military police officer Law and his dog Order, former basketball player Big Lob, EODspecialist Tunnel Rat, undercover officer Chuckles, and Duke’s reckless half-brother, the green beret Lt. Falcon.
In Cobra-La, the Joe forces are ambushed and detained within the Lovecraftian living environment. The Cobra soldiers are met by the civilization’s leader Golobulus, who has Pythona and his other henchmen the Nemesis Enforcer arrest Cobra Commander. While there, Cobra learns about their history: 40,000 years ago, Cobra-La was an ancient civilization that ruled Earth. However, the Ice Age, the evolution of humans and their development of scientific technology resulted in Cobra-La’s survivors being forced into caverns within the Himalayas. Cobra-La rebuilt their society in secret as centuries passed. Golobulus vowed to destroy humanity so that his people could re-claim the earth. He eventually discovered a nobleman who was working on biological weapons. The nobleman later became Cobra Commander, charged with conquering the world for Cobra-La. However, Cobra Commander’s repeated failures caused Golobulus to use a Psychic Motivator on Doctor Mindbender to create Serpentor.
Meanwhile, Zarana tricks Lt. Falcon into infiltrating Serpentor’s holding cell. For abandoning his training, Duke puts Lt. Falcon is put on guard duty until he says otherwise. After Lt. Falcon abandons his post to flirt with Jinx, the Dreadnoks and the Nemesis Enforcer free Serpentor, injuring Alpine, Bazooka, and Gung-Hoin the process. General Hawk scolds Lt. Falcon for abandoning his post and condemns him to his quarters until court-martial.
In Cobra-La, Cobra Commander is tried and Golobulus reveals his plans to launch spore pods, filled with mutative spores into space and use the BET to hatch them thus dooming humanity. He punishes Cobra Commander for his repeated failures following his trial by exposing him to the spores, which transforms Cobra Commander into a snake. He flees and makes his way to the Joes’ camp with Roadblock.
Convinced by Duke to spare Falcon a harsh punishment, General Hawk reassigns Lt. Falcon to the “Slaughter House” where he is to be retrained by Sgt. Slaughter and his “Renegades” consisting of ex-Viper Mercer, former football player Red Dog, and former acrobat Taurus. On a weaponless recon mission in the Terror Drome, the five learn of Cobra’s plans and that the Baroness has discovered the location of the BET. As Lt. Falcon and the others destroy the Terror Drome, Cobra launches an assault on the Joes. The Joes launch a counterattack on Cobra, but the BET is stolen. Serpentor attempts to kill Lt. Falcon, but Duke intervenes and falls into a coma.
Lt. Falcon, the Renegades and the new recruits head to the Himalayas to stop Cobra-La. The G.I. Joe team is led to Cobra-La’s lair by Cobra Commander. The new recruits prove themselves valuable soldiers as the Joes rescue their captured teammates. Lt. Falcon, Jinx and Sgt. Slaughter confront Golobulus, Pythona, and Serpentor. The ensuing fight culminates in Jinx and Slaughter sending Pythona and the Nemesis Enforcer falling to their apparent demise. Finally, Lt. Falcon sends Serpentor out of Cobra-La and reconfigures the BET to incinerate the spore pods in space. The BET overloads, destroying Cobra-La as Golobulus escapes. Immediately following the battle, the strike team receives news that Duke has come out of his coma and is recovering.
The writers did not originally intend for “Cobra-La” to be the name of the rival civilization; this was merely a placeholder name in the drafts until a more alien label came to mind, but Hasbro executives fell in love with the name and forced the writers to keep it.
In the film’s original script, Duke dies in battle after receiving a wound from a snake spear hurled by Serpentor. After this was written into the script, it inspired the death of the Autobot leader Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie while both films were in production. However, Optimus Prime’s death sparked a severe backlash among both fans and parents, and Hasbro reversed their decision on allowing Duke’s death. While the scene was kept, replacement dialogue was inserted stating that Duke had gone into a coma. At the end of the film it is stated that he had come out of the coma. Writer and story editor Buzz Dixon said in an interview with JoeHeadquarters.com, “[If] you watch the visuals and don’t listen to the soundtrack, it’s obvious Duke dies.”In the original script, the Joes also held his funeral prior to the final battle.”