If you’re a twenty-something male or a current 12 year old boy (does your mom know you’re reading this?) then you’ve probably had some experience with GI Joe, the Real American Hero. Whether you were repeatedly smashing Snake-Eyes into Storm Shadow during an epic ninja brawl and burying HISS tanks in the backyard, watching any of the 90+ episodes of the TV show or going old school reading comics and messing around with 12″ figures, you’ve been exposed to the All American toy and role model. GI Joe as a franchise has had several incarnations throughout the years, from early, basically unrelated iterations to the popular doll to the timeless articulated 3 3/4″ figures, but we’re going to learn you on the basics of what you need to know before heading to Stephen Sommers’ live action movie this weekend. Because, all together now, knowing is half the battle.
The First Recruit
As you no doubt know but I’m obligated to relay to you, GI Joe started out so many years ago as a Hasbro 12″ Doll. They weren’t called action figures yet because there wasn’t much for them to do, other than romance Barbie, but Government Issue Joe changed all that, with a toy for boys that could be equipped with rifles, military gear, and knives. There was no time to cuddle with Barbie, Joe had work to do and that work was kicking ass in the sandbox. It’s worth mentioning, barely, that there have been comics titled “GI Joe” since the 1940s, though they were completely unrelated to anything we’re seeing now. No, this American Hero was born via plastic in 1964 and was first put into print in 1967 as America’s Moveable Fighting Man. Hasbro published comics featuring their product line on and off through 1976, though little of this would influence our generation.
When speaking of the First Recruit, it’s not just a clever way to talk about the early origins of GI Joe, but a time to mention US Army General Joseph Colton, aka GI Joe Colton, the original toy and one of the premiere members of the comic book team. He would survive the earliest incarnations of the book to make a variety of appearances in later comics, including once again becoming the Joe Commander, in charge of the entire division.
The War Against Cobra
In 1982, Hasbro relaunched the franchise with the help of Marvel when they once again commissioned a comic book series based on the popular action figures. Larry Hama wrote the vast majority of the 155 issue run, a very respectable life for a comic series spawned from a toy line, one that surpassed the success of similar properties and was equaled only by Transformers, whom the Joes would later team up with. In the comic series, the Joe team is a seemingly ever expanding group of specialists task with waging war against the evil terrorist organization Cobra. Often incorrectly described or remembered as a children’s book due to its close relative cartoon, GI Joe: A Real American Hero handled adult situations and mixed real danger and death into the pages. Fan favorite Snake-Eyes suffered disfiguring facial injuries, the extent of which changed over the years and his love interest Scarlett was shot in the head at point blank range – though she survived. Other members of the team were permanently paralyzed or killed in combat. One particular arc introduced the SAW Viper, a heavy machine gun toting bad guy who executed several unarmed Joes in a medical triage center. The SAW Viper would meet a none-too-kind fate thanks to Snake-Eyes getting up close and personal with him, but death, abandonment, and even puppy kicking appeared on the pages. The Marvel series ended with issue #155 in 1994, though the GI Joe team was recommissioned by different publishers every few years since then, never really disappearing from comic racks.
In the cartoon world, 1983 saw the first GI Joe: A Real American Hero miniseries hit the airwaves, a five part pilot entitled The MASS Device. This was followed by several more miniseries, all of which generally stuck to the same tune of Cobra executing a plot to threaten the entire world while the Joes battle them across the globe. In September of 1985 the Joes became series regulars and continued with the same creative company for 95 episodes. The cartoon was, obviously, more cartoony than the comic series. Bullets were replaced by red and blue lasers and every exploded vehicle launched its occupant to safety first. Comedic characters like Shipwreck took bigger roles over the original comic Joes like Stalker and Cobra became more baffling and bumbling rather than threatening, eventually employing robot soldiers that the Joes could destroy without killing actual humans. But the fun camp of the show, coupled with lots of lasers, ninja action, and easy to understand lessons held charm for everyone and the show is still remembered fondly.
Meet The Joes
Now that you know how we got to the movie, it’s time to who made it in. Having not seen the film yet, these origins will refer to the cartoon or comic versions of the characters, though some have been changed for the film. The list will also focus only on those characters confirmed to be in the movie.
General Hawk - Real name Clayton Abernathy, a young Colonel Hawk was tasked with building the first GI Joe team and leading them into battle. After the death of his superior, Hawk was promoted and became the Commanding Officer of the GI Joe team, a position he would hold until the unit was disbanded.
Duke – Real name Conrad Hauser, this First Sergeant became a key player in the cartoon, despite a somewhat more limited role in the comic book. Duke is the Second in Command of the Joe unit and its long-time Field Leader, the one in charge when the asses need kicked. In the cartoon, Duke and Scarlett had some romantic tension between them.
Scarlett – Real name Shana O’Hara, Scarlett was the first female GI Joe action figure (not doll) and one of the only female characters to have a presence in both the comic and cartoon iterations. In all media, Scarlett is hot and deadly, preferring to use a cross bow but a master of ninja stars and hand to hand combat as well. In the comic, she becomes romantically involved with Snake-Eyes after a long courtship. Initially hired as a Hand-to-Hand combat instructor, Snake-Eyes allowed her to defeat him during an example, letting her save face in front of the other Joes. Later, Snake-Eyes risked his life and was injured severly and permanently to rescue Scarlett from a crashing helicopter.
Snake-Eyes – Real name Classified, Snake-Eyes is one of the baddest mothers on the planet. Dressed head to toe in black and often sporting a sword or two, a couple of fighting knives, a bandolier of grenades and a duo of uzis, this is one ninja-master who doesn’t mess around. Various origins have existed to the end result that his face was scarred or disfigured and his vocal cords being destroyed, though the extent of the injuries varies. Snake-Eyes helped popularize the ninja-craze era of the GI Joes and was a major player in the comics, though his role in the cartoon series was much less apparent. A Westerner trained by the Arashikage Clan, Snake-Eyes is often either the sword-brother or fierce enemy of Storm Shadow. Also, he has a pet timber wolf.
Ripcord – Real name Wallace Weems, Ripcord is a HALO (high altitude, low opening) parachute jump specialist who had little influence or appearance in the comics or cartoons. And now he’s played by Marlon Wayans.
Heavy Duty – Real name Lamont Morris has been changed to Hershel Dalton for the film, Heavy Duty is best known for being the cousin of long-time Joe member Roadblock. For all intents and purposes, Heavy Duty comes off as Roadblock light, as they both enjoy cooking and speaking in rhyme. His specialty, again like Roadblock, is carrying big-ass guns and shooting alot.
Breaker – Real name Alvin Kibbey has been changed to Abel Shaz for the film and he’s gone from bearded white guy to goateed Moroccan. Breaker is the team communications specialist and appeared fairly frequently in the Marvel comics line, though he met his death in a tank explosion after escaping the SAW Viper massacre.
Cover-Girl – Real name Courtney Krieger, Covergirl is a model turned tank driver and mechanic who served as the comedic objection of affection for Shipwreck. In the comics, she eventually pursues a relationship with the silly sailor and her personality is decidedly feminine though she’s a more than capable mechanic. In the film, they changed the pretty girl to the secretary or something.
Cobra, The Enemy!
Cobra is an evil terrorist organization bent on, what else, global domination. The terrorist group has achieved varying levels of success and been portrayed as either threatening or completely incompetent. Often a handful of Joes are enough to defeat entire battalions of Cobra troops. The cartoon series notably made Cobra an organization of failures and dullards despite looking cool, while in the comics they were a bit more dangerous.
Cobra Commander – Real name unknown, but in the film he’s named Rex Lewis. A few different origins exist for the man who would become Cobra Commander, the most oft repeated one has him as a down on his luck but charismatic used car salesman who becomes disenfranchised from the United States and slowly begins building a loyal following. His origin is often tied to that of Snake-Eyes when the Commander’s brother drunkenly crashes his car into another vehicle, killing the family of Snake-Eyes who were en route to meet him at an airport many years ago. Through his own distorted machinations, the Commander blamed Snake-Eyes and set about trying to destroy him. Portrayed in every light from campy puppy kicker to evil terrorist mastermind to stumbling idiot in the cartoon, Cobra Commander has none the less remained an awesome and badass villain.
Destro – Real name James McCullen Destro, this close Cobra confidant heads up M.A.R.S. the Military Armament Research Syndicate and provides advanced weaponry to the Cobra organization as well as fielding his own army of soldiers. Destro is best known for the silver (or sometimes gold) mask he wears, a family heirloom that has been passed down for generations. The mask originated as punishment for his ancestor selling weapons to both sides of a war, a tradition that continues to this day. He is often romantically linked to the Baroness, in the comics even conceiving a child with her.
Baroness – Real name Anastasia DeCobray, the Baroness puts the hot in “hot dominatrix” whether she is in the comics or the cartoon. As Second in Command of Cobra and its chief intelligence officer, she is a major player in many of the comic storylines and often seen in the animated series. Portrayed as absolutely ruthless, the Baroness is responsible for the deaths of many and attempted to kill Scarlett by shooting her in the face. Scarlett survived but the Baroness escaped vengeance and continued to plague the Joe team, though her loyalties to Cobra have often been less than solid. In the film, she is the ex-fiance of Duke and the sister of Cobra Commander.
Storm Shadow - Real name Thomas “Tommy” Arashikage, Storm Shadow is the flip side to the Snake-Eyes awesome ninja coin. Dressed all in white, or sometimes in a white-gray camouflage, Storm Shadow became a fan favorite with his first appearance in issue #21, referred to as “The Silent Issue” because there is no dialog throughout. In the story, we see Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow are both excellent fighters and share the same tattoo. In his origin, Storm Shadow was accused of murdering his Uncle, the Hard Master, and fled in search of the assassin who killed him. He is often a rival to Snake-Eyes as Snake was the better student while Tommy felt entitled because of his blood link to the Arashikage clan. Later, they would become like brothers.
MARS Soldier - MARS Soldiers are called Iron Grenadiers in the comics and make-up the bulk of Destro’s sizable army and are dressed in battle helmets that resemble Destro’s ancestral face covering. In the film, they are the bulk of the army the Joe’s face off against.
Now You Know
I could talk about GI Joe for days, but the movie is already in theaters and any more delays on this guide would be failures of Cobra proportions. If you think the movie looks cool (or bad) I would suggest you explore the comic books. All the classic Marvel stories are being collected in trade paperbacks and are pretty cheap and definitely worth a read. There is some great war action, awesome ninja fighting, and plenty to keep you entertained. The cartoon series is also recently on DVD, so keep a look out for that, and the full length animated movie GI Joe: Resolute was praised for being a realistic, darker take on the subject matter. Yo Joe!
Discuss GI Joe below for the other half of the battle.