G.I. Joe #200 Review

Detail, altered, Larry Hama sketch cover to G.I. Joe #200

I wanted two things out of this anniversary:  One, a big fight with lots of characters.  More like issue #50 than #100 and #150 — a large-scale choreography of people and vehicles over geography.  And issue #200 checked that box.  Two, I wanted guest artists and back-up stories.  I didn’t get this, but I’m still a happy reader.

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Community, “G.I. Jeff” Review

Community Season 5 Episode 11, “G.I. Jeff” (airdate 04-03-2014)

Community "G.I. Jeff" screencap

If I hadn’t seen any of this series, this special episode would have bounced off me like a lot of G.I. Joe satires (the unfunny Fox ADHD “Cobra’s March Madness Bracket” skit, for one) — they get some things right, some things wrong, and don’t stay with me.  But I’ve seen season 1 of Community, and love it, which helped set the stage for the bigger concept (Jeff Winger is in denial about the parts of his life he doesn’t like) as well as a bunch of smaller jokes (Abed’s codename as “Fourth Wall.”)  In a sentence, this was both a good parody of G.I. Joe as well as a great episode of Community.  That’s a hard balance to strike.

Some of that stems from how the two universes were melded together — again, Abed as “Fourth Wall” and Britta as “Buzzkill.”  If you know the show, those are hilarious jokes, and yet they fit in this altered G.I. Joe universe because they sound like standard two-syllable Joe codenames, and because each looks like a Joe or a Joe-might’ve-been.  Some of the balance also stems from how the episode looked and sounded like G.I. Joe.  Voice acting from Bill Ratner and Michael Bell, for one.  A strong approximation of the Russ Heath/American Adventure Style and color, saturation, and telecine of the original cartoon, but all done (presumably) very fast and on a tight budget.  A 1980s episode of G.I. Joe had months for writing, animation, and post-production.  I don’t know how long Starburns Media had to animate “G.I. Jeff.”  Actors voice recorded only three weeks ago, but there appear to have been placeholders, so animation may have been in progress well before that.  But either way, ajusted for inflation this could not have compared to a 1985 Sunbow budget.  But it looked great regardless. I’m conflicted on the roto, though.  Joe drawings we’ve seen before nods to the original cartoon.  This Real Ghostbusters swipe, though, is a tiny bit jarring.  But again, tight budget, tight schedule.

Community and Real Ghostbusters screencaps

And then there were the live-action fake ads.  They looked great, and added another slice of humor beyond poking fun of the ’80s cartoon, yet managed to be integral to the story.  In fact, those ads were the best part of the show.  (And not just because I’m writing the chapter on the commercials in my book right now.)  They were the best part because the parody was funniest, and most spot-on to G.I. Joe.  Kids manipulating action figures in back yards, close-up photography of toys, that’s G.I. Joe.

Community "G.I. Jeff" screencap

Duke’s first line about the Community cast standing accused of “violence, suggestive language, and mature situations,” that’s great.  That’s a comment on the G.I. Joe cartoon, and TV, and the ’80s.  As is the joke about “constant lip sync mistakes.”  But the visual gag of repeating animation (the hitting Cobra on the head with a rock), while funny, it’s not a G.I. Joe joke.  It’s a joke about cheap animation, which G.I. Joe did not have.  And G.I. Joe never repeated animation.  That joke is better served to Hanna-Barbera, or Ruby Spears.  (Think Fred Flintstone chasing Barney down an infinite hallway.)

Jokes about Cobra Commander loving Destro, not so much.  I’ve realized that I’ll probably never love any parody of G.I. Joe except one I write and draw (or direct).  I’m too close to it, and while I’m fine with making fun of Batman or Spider-Man, I’m protective of G.I. Joe.  That this parody was a loving one, and not cheap or exploitive, means much.  It’s why I can’t get into the Fensler Film PSAs.  Yes, they’re funny, I guess, but they’re not about G.I. Joe.  It’s all random funny words.  But this goes back to 1986 or so, and someone showing me the cover of Cracked magazine, with the “inside this issue” cover tag of “G.I. Joke,” and me frowning.  So don’t worry, I’m just not built for anyone poking fun at Real American Hero.

My favorite part may have been the credits, seeing G.I. Joe producer, writer, and storyboard artist Larry Houston was storyboard artist on “G.I. Jeff.”  Not just because Houston is a Joe alum, but because he’s great.

I don’t know we’ll ever again get a parody as loving, fun, and well-crafted as this, and we certainly won’t get a cartoon that looks and sounds as much as the ’80s one as this, so I’m happy that Dan Harmon and company picked G.I. Joe for this year’s oddball episode of Community.

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Toy Trade News – Feb 1982

Toy Trade News, 17 Feb 1982

This industry publication is a fun time capsule because it was published after G.I. Joe debuted at Toy Fair 1982, but before the product really started hitting shelves.

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G.I. Joe and Jem have something in common and his name is Jon M. Chu

The news broke late Thursday night that G.I. Joe: Retaliation director Jon M. Chu is directing a film adaptation of Hasbro and Sunbow’s Jem doll and cartoon.

A Real American Book! editor Nick Nadel wonders if it might be an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke.  I’m surprised and pleased.  With so much great talent on the Jem animated series — talent we know and love from the animated G.I. Joe — it’s hard not to like the show, even if has its silly moments.  And clearly, just as G.I. Joe spoke to a whole swath of kids, so too did Jem.  And it deserves a new lease on life as much as any ’80s property, and I would see a Jon M. Chu Jem movie even though I didn’t watch the show when I was 8.  Let’s remember that Chu also directed two Step Up films and two Justin Bieber documentaries, so he’s got range.  Chu tweeted “Joe script is getting REALLY fun just taking alittle longer.I need it 2b perfect so decided 2try &fit a crazylittle movie in”  So there’s Jem news and an update on the third G.I. Joe film.

Particularly of note is the novel way in which Chu and producers Jason Blum and Scooter Braun are using social media.  If I read a text press release, I’d frown, but seeing these three principles explaining the process themselves and doing so in an enthusiastic way has me convinced.  Thoughts from readers?

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Russ Heath “Cubby” model sheet

Cubby animation model detail by Russ Heath, GI Joe "Cold Shoulder"Ho boy.  It’s difficult to discuss the 1989-1991 G.I. Joe animated series without stirring up strong emotions.  Pop culture recognizes the fun of the 1983-1987 series, whether it be Cobra Commander’s voice, the Public Service Announcements, or all the property damage.  And dig a little deeper, and you get superb voice acting, smart writing, and strong characterization.  And of course, action!  But these are not as present in the later episodes.  Artist extraordinaire Russ Heath, who designed the animation character models for the Marvel/Sunbow episodes, did come back for most of that second round, but the change in tone and lower production budget didn’t treat his design work as well.  The DIC run is hard to watch.

Case in point:  Cubby.  Winter Operations Specialist Sub-Zero has a polar bear cub named Cubby.  He wears clothes, stands upright, and he gives Sgt. Slaughter a hard time.  Man, I’m just going to have to do an episode review next post, it’s just too replete with weird and crazy.  Anyway, here’s Russ Heath’s awesome drawing:

Cubby animation model detail by Russ Heath, GI Joe "Cold Shoulder"If you want a whole book of awesome Russ Heath G.I. Joe drawings, go buy this and this.  (If you’re near Boston, buy it here.)  But don’t think too hard about this:

Screencap from 1990 GI Joe episode "Cold Shoulder"

Or do think too hard about it and let me know in the comments.

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Merrill Hassenfeld Obituary, 1979

Merrill Hassenfeld obit detail

Here’s an item that’s a little different that the art artifacts I usually show:  Merrill Hassenfeld’s obituary from The Evening Bulletin, an afternoon edition of the Providence Journal.  Hasbro was a family-owned company for three generations, and Merrill represents the middle of that.  He had no direct interaction with A Real American Hero and the 1980s iteration of G.I. Joe, but he approved the original, 1963 Joe.  Merrill’s son Stephen learned much from his father while climbing the ranks at Hasbro, and Stephen was president of the company (and heavily involved in A Real American Hero’s development) when G.I. Joe was re-introduced in 1983.  Authors John Michlig and G. Wayne Miller both paint interesting portraits of Merrill Hassenfeld in their books GI Joe: The Complete Story of America’s Favorite Man of Action and Toy Wars, and if I could be a time-traveling fly on a wall, I might go to Mr. Hassenfeld’s office circa 1970.

Merrill Hassenfeld obituary, The Evening Bulletin, 22 March 1979

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G.I. Joe Retaliation – A Real American Book! Podcast Episode #01

Tim Finn GI Joe Retaliation podcast

Today we’ve got something different and special if last week’s text review of the theatrical cut of G.I. Joe: Retaliation wasn’t enough to sate your critical appetite. Late last year my friend and editor Nick Nadel sat down with me to discuss the ups and downs of the G.I. Joe: Retaliation Best Buy Exclusive Extended Action Cut.  We chatted for 2 hours, so this 37.5 minute cut represents (hopefully) me trimming the fat from the meat while still keeping the steak understandable.  Note: spoilers abound, and someone says the s-word at the very end.  We had a great time, and I Ioved putting on my editor’s cap, so when there’s time we’d like to record another.  Let me know what you think in the comments, and spoilers will probably pop up there, so there’s your light warning.  Download or stream.

Download 90.2MB mp3, 37 min 33 sec:

ARealAmericanBook_podcast_ep01

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