G.I. Joe, Reconsidered
February 13th, 2012

The best $3 I’ve spent in the last month was picking up the DVD of the very first G.I. Joe miniseries, what my friends and I all referred to colloquially as “The M.A.S.S. Device.” This weekend I re-watched it for the first time in probably 25 years. Some thoughts:

* It’s ridiculous in the particulars. I was really struck by the various accents used for characters, which are mock-worthy. Cobra Commander’s terrible hissing lisp. Snow Job’s wicked Bahstan accent. The most ludicrous was the eskimo who finds Snake-Eyes in the snowy forests of the North Pole. (Yes.) He’s blind, of course. And he has a thick Irish brogue.

* Some of the artwork is similarly ridiculous. Destro, for instance, has a red medallion on a gold chain around his neck. Maybe that would have fit in the ’70s, but this is an ’80s production. It’s nuts. But not as nuts as the fact that Destro’s mask has thick, dark eyebrows on it. And that, in many scenes, he’s drawn to be about 7′ tall.

* Sample dialogue: “Eye in the sky, go in hi! Gung Ho Joe is goin’ in low!”


* All of that said, “The M.A.S.S. Device” holds up really well because at the core, it’s well-constructed story-telling. The plot establishes very clear motives and objectives for both the G.I. Joes and Cobra. The playing field it sets up is large-scale–from the North Pole to the deepest ocean. Volcanoes! Jungles! The Cobra gladiator arena! You name it. Yet the story never spends too much time in one place, moving relentlessly forward at a brisk pace. And it’s efficiently told, too. There’s nothing included that doesn’t pay off in some way.

Most importantly, the writers went to some trouble to establish Cobra as a worthy adversary early on. The Joe’s meet with several defeats so that, while we all know what the final outcome will be, the outcome of each of the intervening conflicts is always in doubt.

* And while a lot of the execution of the story-telling isn’t top-shelf, overall, more care was put into this than Hasbro/Marvel needed to. The scene transitions are done artfully. There’s some rudimentary character development. There’s a real effort made to give even minor figures–such as Breaker and Steeler–character moments.

All in all, it’s a nice piece of cartoon story-telling. You can see now why a generation of boys regarded it as one of the great epics of our time.

  1. WershovenistPig February 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Where did you find it? Is it available on the torrents? I never thought I’d need to see this again, but hey, revisiting our youth is what we do.

    You’re talking about the first G.I. Joe animated miniseries. The one that cleared my neighborhood’s streets of Wiffle bat-swinging, Nerf football hurling kids. My shitty little piece of Blackwood would have had tumbleweeds blowing down the street, if there were tumbleweeds within a thousand miles of the place.

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  3. mattymillhouse February 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Holy cow. You know how sometimes, someone will say something, and it just makes all the pieces fall into place? You think, “How could I not have realized that before? It’s so obvious!”

    Destro wears a mask. Somehow, I’d never realized that until now. I always thought that was just how his face looked.

    So embarrassed.

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  5. John Sterling February 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    I rushed home from elementary school to catch that mini-series. I was really concerned about glowing, radioactive Snake Eyes. Their concept of sending subteams of characters to grab various Macguffins kind of reminds me of the approach that they took in Cosmic Odyssey.

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  7. Fake Herzog February 14, 2012 at 11:24 am

    I can’t share in this awesome geek moment, but I will say that based on your description of the cartoon, you would be surprised at how well the live action movie from last year achieved many of the same worthy elements you describe for “The M.A.S.S. Device.”

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  9. Jason O. February 14, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Yo Joe!