One of the single biggest cartoon hits of the 1980s was easily G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Kids adored the animated series about a military unit facing the ruthless organization Cobra. The animation was good and there was some sharp writing to provide thrills. True, no one ever got killed but it was aimed at kids. The comic book could be a bit more serious yet it’s the animated series everyone remembers well. As it was aimed at kids, it’s no surprise some of the storylines could be pretty silly. For a ruthless organization, Cobra came up with plots that were often nuts and sometimes made no sense. More than a few threatened to destroy the entire planet which doesn’t make them that viable to rule it. Plus, some episodes were far too comedic to make Cobra look good.
However, every now and then, Cobra could come up with some pretty good plans. They were often better with straight-on extortion schemes to make money rather than world-conquering plots. For every stupid idea Cobra had, they could work up a criminal scheme that stood an excellent chance of working out. True, GI Joe won in the end yet Cobra was always prepared to challenge them with some evil plans no other cartoon could boast. Here are 10 of the craziest schemes Cobra every came up with and 10 that actually were pretty good to remind fans why the Joes were always needed to hold Cobra off.
20 GOOD: THE SYNTHOIDS
Cobra too often went out of their way to announce themselves and their plots and that backfired on them. In the two-part “Synthoid Conspiracy” story, they went for a more subtle method. Cobra replaces key military leaders with synthoids, amazingly lifelike duplicates. Even Duke is replaced by one with the team unaware. The synthoids soon go about cutting GI Joe’s budget in half, causing them major problems. This leaves them open to a Cobra attack. Mutt’s dog, Junkyard, is able to sense the synthoids and attacks a fake general. That gives him the excuse to shut the Joes down.
As always, Cobra Commander overreaches just as he’s about to achieve victory. He tries to put Destro in his place by showing a snythoid copy ready to go. Angered at the distrust, Destro decides to secretly aid the Joes. They expose the plot and the team put back in the saddle. But before his ego ruined it, this was a good plan by Cobra Commander that came quite close to destroying the Joes.
19 WILD: SHRINKING THEMSELVES
One of Cobra’s biggest problems was that so often, they could create a fantastic weapon but then totally misuse it. Rarely has that been the case as in “Cobra Claws is Coming to Town.” Cobra has discovered a way to shrink people down to size, a technology that blows the mind. Imagine being able to shrink entire armies into capitals, agents into the White House or entire cities that can be held for ransom. Cobra’s big idea with this ray? Shrink some forces to mix into a pile of Christmas toys, get taken into Joe Headquarters, and then take it over.
Cobra then amps up the wild plotting. Their plan is to use the Joes’ vehicles to stage attacks across the country . Zartan poses as Duke to issue a broadcast claiming the Joes are tired of being foot soldiers and are out to conquer the world. So Cobra is plotting both a takeover and framing the Joes for treason. The Joes are able to save the day with the wild sight of Shipwreck’s parrot turned giant size to take Cobra down. Wasting a shrink ray in a “frame the Joes” plot was a giant misuse of a resource.
18 GOOD: ROBBING FORT KNOX
Every now and then, Cobra Commander could come up with an actually smart bait-and-switch plan. In “Battle for the Train of Gold" it appears as if Cobra is attacking the Bureau of Engraving to steal sheets of money prints that they can use for counterfeiting. It’s really a distraction so Cobra can steal a data files containing secret plans on how to access Fort Knox. Scarlett openly states that if Cobra Commander steals the tens of billions of dollars in gold inside, “he won’t have to conquer the world, he can just buy it.”
Thanks to the file, Cobra knows there’s a secret method to move the gold fast into an underground high-speed train. It takes off with Cobra Commander gloating on how he’s gotten rich while financially crippling the U.S. It’s a high-pitched race/battle by the Joes to stop the train and recover the gold. Yet it’s a surprisingly straightforward scheme that nearly made Cobra the richest force on Earth.
17 WILD: CREATING SERPENTOR
Granted, Cobra Commander’s ego and short temper caused the organization several losses. However, the attempt to solve the problem was pretty nutty. Destro and Dr. Mindbender go around the globe to collect the DNA of the greatest conquerors and military minds in history. From Genghis Khan to Ivan the Terrible to Alexander the Great, they only fail to collect the DNA of genius Sun Tzu. They then mix it all together to create a Cobra emperor in Serpentor.
It soon becomes clear that Serpentor is more trouble than he’s worth. He may have all those memories, skills and strategy but lacks self-control and refuses to listen to others. He conquers Washington D.C. but can’t hold onto it due to misusing resources. Several of his plots blow up in his face to the point he makes Cobra Commander look like a strategic genius. In trying to solve Cobra’s leadership problems, Destro and Mindbender just created a lot more.
16 GOOD: CUTTING OFF WORLD’S ENERGY
“Cobra Stops the World” wastes no time with any set-up. It opens with Cobra Commander doing one of his best global broadcasts as he informs the planet that Cobra has been launching attacks on every oil drilling platform, tanker, mine and other energy/fuel source they can find. A special weapon appears to cause a fleet of tankers to vanish into thin air. Cobra Commander states the attacks will continue and cut off the world’s energy supply until the planet surrenders to Cobra. It’s a good plot as the Joes can’t keep searching the planet forever with their own fuel running low and the governments soon pressured to give in to Cobra.
Cobra played on this again in the five-part “Pyramid of Darkness” storyline. There, they use an orbital base and special energy “blocks” around the world to create a huge field that stops anything electronic inside it. Given how the modern world relies on power so much, threatening to choke it off was a good way for Cobra to gain control.
15 WILD: BURNING A FACE ON THE MOON
Cobra Commander was never what one might call the most stable of people. But rarely has his ego gotten the better of him then here. In “Lasers in the Night,” Quick Kick is intrigued by Amber, a kung fu expert who breaks into Joe Headquarters to impress him. When data on a laser cannon goes missing, Amber is the prime suspect. It’s really the Baroness disguised as Lady Jaye and Quick Kick and Amber are captured by Cobra. Cobra Commander then shows how he has the most powerful laser cannon ever created, one that can wipe out a city with a blast. He then proceeds to use it to….
Carve his own likeness into the surface of the moon. Yes, the weapon of a lifetime and Cobra Commander uses it like this. He claims that it will be a great psychological weapon of everyone on Earth seeing him looking down. Destro throws a massive fit with the priceless line of “you spent millions on this… cosmic graffiti?!” The Joes are able to beat Cobra back and repair the damage and one can wonder how long Destro ranted afterward on Cobra Commander’s vanity wasting this weapon.
14 GOOD: USE THE JOES’ RELATIVES
Cobra truly sunk to a new low here. They want to get their hands on crystals which can be used for weapons. The Baroness realizes there’s one force of soldiers they can use that the Joes would never be able to fight. Cobra abducts Scarlett’s father and brothers, Thunder’s parents and sister, Quick-Kick’s parents, Spirit’s grandfather and cousin, Barbecue’s dad and Shipwreck’s young nephew. Cobra then brainwashes the entire group to steal the crystals for them.
The Joes are horrified to see their loved ones facing off against them. Just as the Baroness figured, the Joes can’t bring themselves to fire upon their own kin. The Joes are more concerned saving their families to stop Cobra from stealing the crystals. In the end, the Joes are able to do both. A funny bit at the end has the Baroness trying to get revenge going after Gung Ho’s family….only to realize too late she’s facing over a hundred of them at a big party. Before all that, using the Joe’s own flesh and blood made for one of Cobra’s smarter (if more twisted) ideas.
13 WILD: SHOOTING A NIGHTCLUB INTO SPACE
Cobra never got tired of the “abduct a prominent scientist” plot. However, this was one of the more bizarre turns on it. Dr. Mullaney has been working on a possible source for limitless fuel which Cobra naturally wants. Leatherneck, Dial-Tone and Wet-Suit take a night off to head to a nightclub. As soon as they’re inside, Serpentor locks the doors and then launches the entire night club into orbit. Serpentor demands the Joes hand over Mullaney or he’ll blow up the entire club. It’s a ridiculously convoluted plot and the fact three Joes are inside the club means they can find a way to get the tower back to Earth. Mullaney does give himself up but just fives Cobra the wrong formula to blow up their base. This was one plot that should have been grounded in the planning stages.
12 GOOD: THE VORTEX CONE
“Last Hour to Doomsday” opens with the Joes the ones doing a smart scheme. They intercept the Baroness’ plane and capture her. Lady Jaye then gives Cobra a taste of their own medicine by disguising herself as the Baroness to infiltrate their underwater base. However, Destro sees through the act so Jaye and Flint are captured. Cobra Commander demonstrates to the world the Vortex Cone, a machine that creates a typhoon that ravages the Panama Canal. Cobra announces that if the United States doesn’t surrender in 48 hours, a more powerful Cone will wipe out the East Coast. It’s a serious battle for the Joes to stop it as Cobra came pretty close to unleashing a monstrous force that could have gained them victory.
11 WILD: COBRATHON
There’s bizarre plots…and then there’s this. The fact it’s not Cobra Commander who comes up with it speaks volumes. Serpentor is informed that a special virus can be used to cripple international police databases and put global law enforcement on the ropes. The catch is that it will cost five billion dollars (a ridiculous sum in 1986). Believe it or not, it’s Tomax and Xamot that propose…a telethon. They argue that criminals all over the world will gladly pay to make sure the virus works and Cobra can make a good profit. Cobra thus takes over all TV stations to broadcast a telethon with Destro telling bad jokes, music acts and more.
At first, the Joes just watch in amazement as they can’t believe what they’re seeing. They change their minds when Cobra reveals that a captured Sci-Fi and Lifeline are about to become part of the “entertainment.” The Joes are able to stop it before Cobra reaches their goal. Even Cobra Commander would have to be calling this plan insane.
10 GOOD: EARTHQUAKE BOMBS
In “Cobra Quake,” an international peace conference is to be held in Tokyo. As international cooperation doesn’t work for Cobra’s interests, Cobra Commander wants to disrupt it. Hearing of how a scientist has been using explosives to “counteract” earthquakes, Cobra Commander is seized with inspiration. As he argues, the process can easily be reversed to cause earthquakes. Not only will Tokyo be destroyed and ruin the conference but it will appear to be by “natural causes,” allowing Cobra to carry out more earthquake attacks in secret. The Joes are barely able to prevent the bombs from going off seconds before Tokyo would be dropped into the ocean. It’s surprising Cobra didn’t try this plot again as this was one of their better ideas.
9 WILD: TEAMING WITH AN EGYPTIAN GOD
Crazy as it seems, the cartoon showed the Joes existed in a world of the supernatural. Cobra once used a gypsy to get the ghosts of past soldiers to attack the Joes. Even crazier was “The Gods Below.” Cobra access an Egyptian pyramid, thinking there’s a treasure inside. Instead, they awaken the Egyptian god Set. Set even takes the form of a giant snake to force Cobra to bow to him. Realizing he’s better off on the side of an evil god than opposing him, Cobra agrees to serve Set who gives him a literal hill of jewels to roll around in. The Joes find themselves meeting with Set’s brother, Osiris, who puts them through a wild challenge to prove they’re worthy enough to face Set. That both Cobra and the Joes take meeting Egyptian gods as something normal just adds to one of the weirdest episodes of the series.
8 GOOD: COBRA ISLAND
The Marvel comic had Cobra far more effective and intelligent then they were in the cartoon. They even had an entire small town to use for their secret base. In issues #39-31, Cobra stages attacks in the Gulf of Mexico. As the Joes retaliate, they believe Cobra’s base of operations is an underwater bunker. They thus drop a massive payload that’s as big as a non-nuclear explosive can be. Too late, the Joes realize this was exactly what Cobra wanted. The location is a carefully selected fault line and the explosion creates a huge seaquake and tsunami. This causes an entire land mass to rise up in the middle of the Gulf.
Cobra then unleashes their greatest and most ruthless force of warriors: Lawyers. A pack of them head to various embassies in the U.S., Mexico and South America. Just as the Joes are invading, they’re informed Cobra Island has been recognized as its own sovereign nation. The U.S. doesn’t want to cause a huge diplomatic incident so the Joes have to leave. Cobra thus has an international base of operations that it uses quite well and proves the comic Cobra were much better at pulling schemes off.
7 WILD: WIPING OUT EARTH VEGETATION
Here’s another case of a Cobra plan that starts out sounding good but goes off the rails. In “Flint’s Vacation,” the GI commander takes a break to head to his hometown. He’s a bit thrown by how everyone seems far too laid back. Flint soon finds that Cobra has taken over the town with a TV broadcast that hypnotizes its citizens into slave labor. Flint himself is subjected to it as they embark on Cobra’s plan.
Here’s where things go wild. In his usual televised threat, Cobra Commander shows Cobra has developed a new weapon that can destroy any vegetation. He uses it to turn a lush forest into an ash field. He demands global surrender or he creates a “tree-free Earth.” Obviously, this ignores the issue that vegetation is crucial to life on the planet which means he won’t have a world left to rule. Sure, he claims he’s okay in an underwater city but that ignores how he’s going to feed the populace in a plant-free world. It’s obvious how empty this threat is and a pretty big waste of a mindless town of zombies.
6 GOOD: THE WEATHER DOMINATOR
The “Revenge of Cobra” mini-series upped the stakes for the new Joe cartoon. It introduced key characters like Zartan, Flint, Lady Jaye and others while presenting one of Cobra’s best plans. Having escaped prison, Cobra and Destro unveil the Weather Dominator, a huge cannon fired from Cobra’s desert base. A simple blast causes hurricanes in Washington D.C., tsunamis in Japan, snow in the Sahara and more. Cobra states the world’s weather will continue to grow chaotic until the governments surrender to Cobra.
The Joes are actually taken aback by this (“he’s not fooling around”) and it takes a huge effort to stop the Dominator. Even then, Cobra is able to put it back together and hold the Joes off for a time. While they lost in the end, this does rank as one of the closest times Cobra came to victory.
5 WILD: DESTROYING ALL CURRENCY
In today’s world of debit cards and online purchases, this plot could never work. Even in 1984, it was pretty hard to swallow. After getting some agents to slip a “thermal molecular ignition transmitter” into the U.S. Treasury, Cobra enjoys how suddenly, all paper money burns to ash. Cobra Commander announces that he will issue a brand-new currency (gold coins with his own image) in exchange for jewels and gold.
The obvious issue with this plan is that cratering the world’s economy to the point of worthlessness isn’t going to do much to make any of this wealth valuable. It’s openly stated that Cobra can simply wait for the world to plunge into chaos and take over but “Cobra Commander doesn’t know how to wait.” The Joes are easily able to defeat Cobra and allow new money to be printed. This was a really short-sighted plan that was hardly worth spending money on.
4 GOOD: THE “FIRE INSURANCE” PLOT
GI Joe knew that when Cobra spent money on some seemingly quiet item, it meant they had some scheme in mind. Thus when, in “Where the Reptiles Roam,” the Joes learned Cobra was buying up a Texas dude ranch, they went undercover to check it out. Lady Jaye infiltrates a hidden base to find Cobra is using the ranch to gain access to a nearby computer base which controls a satellite that uses solar power. She and the other Joes are captured as Cobra completes transforms the satellite into a huge laser.
Cobra Commander then takes to the airwaves to demand an “insurance payment” of a billion dollars in gold or they start torching cities. To prove he’s not bluffing, Cobra Commander uses the satellite to melt the Golden Gate Bridge into slag. Thankfully, Wild Bill is able to rescue the other Joes and stop Cobra’s plan. However, this was a pretty good high-end extortion plot that could have worked out.
3 WILD: FAST FOOD MISSILES
The sheer logistics of making this work were wild. In “Red Rocket’s Glare,” Roadblock is on vacation to his uncle’s diner. He’s jarred to find it’s now part of Red Rockets, a new chain of theme restaurants that are secretly owned by Cobra’s business front of Extensive Enterprises. The restaurants are notable for giant rockets on the roof of each diner. As it happens, these rockets are actually real and each capable of wiping out a town. Cobra broadcasts how they have the rockets aimed at every major capital city and demand surrender before they fire them off.
The flaw in the strategy quickly becomes obvious: The rockets are literally right in plain sight and impossible to miss. Thus, the Joes have no problem targeting every Red Rocket place to wipe the threat out. Cobra might have gotten a better profit actually running a restaurant chain rather than waste millions on this plot.
2 GOOD: COLD SLITHER
This may look crazy but actually turned into one of Cobra’s smarter ideas. Facing constant defeat and possible financial ruin, Cobra Commander makes it appear as if Cobra has disbanded. He then has Zartan and the Dreadlocks pose as a rock band named Cold Slither. Their music is laced with subliminal messages that make the audience love them more and follow them constantly.
Cobra activates the messages to bring thousands of fans (including some Joes) to a stadium that’s quickly surrounded by Cobra forces. Cobra Commander then broadcasts a demand for $100 billion for the stadium of hostages. As he figures, the families of the captives are more than ready to chip in and pay up fast. The Joes save the day but this was one plot that nearly worked to get Cobra a nice payday.
1 WILD: THE FUNHOUSE
At first, “The Funhouse” looks pretty straight-forward. Cobra abducts several prominent scientists and demands $60 billion for their return. It’s a nice, simple extortion plot as the Joes go to rescue the scientists. However, they find that Cobra has created a massive “funhouse” they have to get through. Cobra Commander thinks this is a funny idea, having the Joes take on deadly robots, balloons filled with hallucinogenic gas, a crazy roller coaster and more.
As it happens, the scientists are being held elsewhere as Cobra plans to brainwash them to do their bidding. Which means Cobra just went ahead and built this huge funhouse for no good reason. Also, it just gives the Joes a way to track down where the scientists are being held. To indulge in petty fun just ruined a decent Cobra plot.