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 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-tellins 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.