G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was about as American as apple pie in the 1980s. Over the course of five years between 1983 and 1987, the original series completed two five-episode miniseries, two full seasons and a full-length movie. The show was a tremendous hit and helped make the accompanying toy line and comic books series huge hits, as well. The series is well remembered for its catchy character designs, its cartoonish violence (highlighted by the color-coordinated lasers that the G.I. Joe team and Cobra would fire at each other, never actually killing each other in the process) and its surprisingly clever plot lines written by top notch cartoon writers like Buzz Dixon and Steve Gerber.
However, the show also liked to push the envelope often on what it could get away with on a children's television program. Little bits here and there over the course of its 100 episodes of the original series somehow snuck by censors before 1989, when the series was moved from Sunbow to DIC. It was basically a whole other show from that point forward, even though it still ostensibly starred the same characters. Here, we'll spotlight 20 times they snuck something past the censors (and one time that they got caught)!
21 BROTHERLY LOVE
In Season 2's "My Brother's Keeper," the Joes help a young man, Timothy, whose brilliant scientist brother, Jeremy, has become so disgruntled with life due to being in a wheelchair that he was convinced to join Cobra. However, when Jeremy realized that Cobra just wanted him to create a deadly weapon, he wanted out. Luckily, Timothy and the G.I. Joes showed up to save him (and destroy the weapon).
As they depart, Jeremy apologized and thanked them, but in a passive aggressive way. Timothy then puts his hand on his shoulder and said he understood. Jeremy then put his hand on Timothy's for a quick caress. It really seemed like the show called them "brothers" to avoid offending anyone. One father still did protest, but withdrew his complaint when he was shown that they were brothers (yes, he protested based on one out-of-context scene. Yeesh).
20 ZARTAN IS SNEAKY
An interesting phenomenon among fans of animated cartoons is the art of the out-of-context screen grab (we even spotlighted 15 notable ones a while back). Fans take screen grabs that make it look like characters are doing different (typically lascivious) things than they are actually doing in the episode when watched at full speed. One of the most common screen grabs is when characters grab each from behind. It looks rather dirty when frozen.
The question, though, is whether the animators are aware of this phenomenon when they draw the episodes. There are certain instances where it is impossible for them not to realize how the scene would be read. Here, with Zartan surprising a scientist from behind, is likely accidental, but again, it is hard to tell for sure.
19 I HAVE NO FACE, BUT AT LEAST I CAN SCREAM
The Season 2 episode, "Glamour Girls," is disturbing no matter what, as it involves Cobra using a special brainwashing camera to force models to go to a special island where they will have their youth and beauty sucked out of them via a machine, before having them transferred to Madame Vail, a Cobra operative who wants to regain the looks from her youth. Lady Jaye and Cover Girl were brainwashed and so was Zarana of the Dreadknoks.
Vail's main target, though, was the younger sister of G.I. Joe member, Low Light. They were in the middle of the transfer when the Joes broke in and destroyed the machine. The process horrifically left Vail without a face! It was never explicitly shown (just the various people in the room gasping at the disgusting transformation) but it was still super intense for a kids' show.
18 GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN?
As noted before, a whole lot of G.I. Joe plots involved mind control. It was like some sort of obsession with the series. It seemed like every other episode involved characters being brainwashed. The aforementioned "Glamour Girls" might be the most disturbing one (especially when the Dreadknoks brainwash Zarana and it seems for a moment that they are going to do some unsettling things with her), but "Eau de Cobra" was right up there.
It involved Cobra inventing a love potion and Baroness using it to get a shipping magnate to marry her. A jealous Destro, though, ruins the plan. Lady Jaye steps in and uses the perfume on herself to stop Baroness. Then, the other single rich ladies realize what is going on. Do they try to stop this evil plot? Nope, they decide to fight over the right to brainwash the rich guy themselves!
17 FLINT AND THE BARONESS
In "The Gamesmaster," Flint, Lady Jaye, Baroness and Cobra Commander are kidnapped and taken to a bizarre island by a demented tycoon known as the Gamesmaster. They are then forced to compete against each other. Lady Jaye and Cobra Commander are quickly trapped, leading to Flint jumping on Baroness (who had been captured while relaxing at a spa, so she is in a skimpy bikini throughout the episode).
Besides how aggressive the scene looks period, their dialogue was also highly suggestive when Flint tries to get Baroness to work with him. He tells her, "What do we do now Baroness, we can either save them, or we can fight." She retorts,"You’ll get Lady Jaye out first, you might double team me. If I get the commander out first, we will definitely jump you." The sexual tension was through the roof!
16 DESTRO AND BARONESS
It really is quite disturbing when you look back on the G.I. Joe cartoon and see just how often that the Baroness was treated like a sex object on the series. Don't get us wrong, we sort of admire the show for how much it was willing to deal with the romantic lives of the main characters on the series (on both sides of the Cobra/G.I. Joe divide), but unlike Flint/Lady Jate and Duke/Scarlett, the Destro/Baroness relationship always seemed a bit more lurid.
Take "Last Hour to Doomsday," where Destro asks Baroness (secretly Lady Jaye in disguise, but that's neither here nor there) back to his quarters to practice some "hand to hand combat" moves. That's some fairly direct sexual innuendo right there!
15 A WHALE OF A DISTURBING EPISODE
"Iceberg Goes South," was one of those episodes that the basic setup was clearly dictated by Hasbro, in that it showed the various snow-based G.I. Joe members and the various nautical-based G.I. Joe members training together. Hasbro would often ask for episodes to spotlight specific themed groups of figures.
We don't think Hasbro, though, was thinking about an episode where Cobra uses a new device that horrifically transforms Iceberg into a killer whale! The level of body horror in seeing Iceberg devolve into a killer whale is the sort of thing that would give their typical audience nightmares for weeks! Luckily, he at least returned to being human at the end of the episode (and his time as a killer whale was mostly played for laughs).
14 LADY SNAKE-EYES
After two five-episodes miniseries, the ongoing G.I. Joe TV series launched in 1985 with, of course, a five-episode storyline called "The Pyramid of Darkness," which was a Ron Friedman special. Friedman was a veteran animated feature writer who Hasbro trusted to launch its property, and was notable in how often he would go to the "split a device into multiple parts and have the teams fight for each part" plot.
The story introduced Shipwreck into the series, as Snake-Eyes meets up with him and the two (and their respective pet wolf and parrot) try to escape Cobra-controlled territory with a lounge singer named Satin. When Cobra pulls Satin over, Shipwreck and Snake-Eyes have to dress up as part of Satin's band and Snake-Eyes, for some reason, dresses like a woman/the infamously androgynous Boy George, despite keeping his mask on. It's an incredible sequence for a lot of reasons!
13 A REAL UGLY AMERICAN HERO
Even when they weren't building entire miniseries around the concept of G.I. Joe and Cobra fighting for a piece of some sort of device, G.I. Joe episodes would often still be based around the basic plot of the Joes and Cobra trying to get to some important object first. In "Satellite Down," the object is, of course, a satellite that contains highly sensitive information.
The problem is that the satellite landed in a remote island in the South Pacific where the inhabitants are basically savages. The problem here, of course, is that this is right out of the "how to write indigenous people from a colonial perspective" handbook. For decades, indigenous people in Africa and the South Pacific had been depicted as grotesque. By the 1980s, this was rarer, but apparently not rare enough for it to still pop up here.
12 NOT OKAY, GAMESMASTER
The aforementioned Gamesmaster episode was a lot creepier than just Flint and Baroness' rolling around on the ground with Baroness in a state of relative undress. You see, the Gamesmaster himself is a straight up pervert. When he captures the four members of the G.I. Joe and Cobra teams, he takes Lady Jaye from her dressing room at a department store!
Not only does it then show Lady Jaye take her shirt off to change into a new one and thus show her in her bra (the first bra we saw on the series), which is inappropriate enough, but we see the Gamesmaster checking her out the whole time. His clown, Koko, even suggests that Gamesmaster has a crush on her. He retorts that he does not have a crush on her. It's all very unsettling.
11 ALTERNATE REALITY UNIFORM DESIGN
The popular two-part Season 1 episode, "Worlds Without End," saw a group of G.I. Joe members enter through a portal and end up in a world where Cobra has conquered the planet. They originally thought that they had traveled into the future, but soon realized that it was, instead, an alternate dimension. Luckily, the Baroness in this world was a double agent who had dated the Steeler of this reality.
When we first see Baroness discover Steeler and the other Joes, her assistant is wearing a bizarre uniform that involves her just wearing a thong instead of pants. It might have just been a coloring error, as later she is drawn with pants on, but the question is whether they later colored her legs blue to make them look like pants or they accidentally didn't color her pants earlier.
10 LITTLE GIRL LOST
In Season 2's "Grey Hairs and Growing Pains," the Joes are investigating a health spa that Cobra is using as a front for their nefarious purposes. They have come up with a device that can either age or de-age people at Cobra's wish. The six Joes are split into two rooms. One room (with Flint) was aged until they became old men. The other room (with Lady Jaye) were de-aged until they were little kids. Luckily, the Joes still had their training, so even in their new bodies, they were able to fight against Cobra.
In one sequence, though, Lil' Lady Jaye lost her pants when a Cobra laser shot at her. How weird is that? Later in the scene, she tumbles out of a store and for a brief moment, they even bothered animating her underwear! Who thought that this was a good idea?!
9 LADY JAYE TURNS THE TABLES
In one of the most "strikes close to home" episodes of G.I. Joe, the mother of valued G.I. Joe member Dusty was sick. Dusty's military benefits do not extend to his parents and surprisingly enough, being a member of G.I. Joe is not a well-paying gig. So when a company working as a front for Cobra offered Dusty enough money to pay for his mother's surgery, he betrayed G.I. Joe and allowed Cobra to get the formula to build impervious armor.
In the end, of course, Dusty isn't a traitor. He was in deep undercover the whole time. The plan was to let Cobra create the armor, because there was a major flaw that Dusty knew how to exploit. So all of Cobra lost their armor at once and were all in their underwear. Lady Jaye grabbed one of the Vipers, but came away with just his underpants!
8 STRANGER DANGER!
One of the most famous parts of the G.I. Joe cartoon was the public service announcements that they would do at the end of most episodes. They would feature a member of the G.I. Joe team giving advice to little kids about various things, typically matters involving safety. One of the weird aspects of these short features, though, was how to have the Joe member interact with the kids.
A bizarre one involved two boys swimming in a pond when it begins to thunder and lightning. One of the boys refuses to leave the pond. Then, Deep Six just shows up from under the water to warn the boy to get out of the water when lightning is around. Why is he just sitting underwater in a pond with two boys swimming around in just their trunks?! There should be a PSA warning kids to stay away from Deep Six.
7 THINGS JUST GOT REALLY REAL
G.I. Joe: The Movie was originally going to be released in theaters, but after Transformers: The Movie failed to impress at the box office, the plans were scrapped and the film was instead released both direct to video and also on television, where it first aired as a full-length film and then aired as five episodes of the G.I. Joe series.
The movie was meant to deal with some more mature themes, and one of them was the shocking death of beloved G.I. Joe member, Duke. For a show that always had cartoonish violence, to suddenly have a dude get clearly stabbed in the chest, with blood spurting out of the wound, was crazy intense. Luckily for Duke, since the Transformers movie flopped and they killed off a bunch of characters, G.I. Joe: The Movie was re-written so that Duke somehow survived being impaled in the heart by a spear.
6 BARBECUE'S FILTHY MOUTH
G.I. Joe is well-remembered by how offbeat some of its episodes where. One of the most acclaimed examples of this was Season 1's "The Viper is Coming," where a mysterious man keeps calling G.I. Joe member Barbecue at Barbecue's fire station and simply saying "The Viper is coming; five seventy-five." This then leads the Joes on a series of wild goose chases, as they believe that the Viper is giving them hints to secret Cobra bases.
Sure enough, they keep finding Cobra bases. Then the Viper finally arrives. He was actually the window wiper for the fire station calling to confirm his appointment and how much he was to be paid! Early in the episode, though, Barbecue says, "That guy wouldn't know a Cobra agent from apple butter!" That's an adapted quote from a famous saying, which is dirtier than that (substitute a four-letter S word for "a Cobra agent").
5 QUITE A WAY TO BE INTRODUCED TO DESTRO
The first G.I. Joe miniseries had a lot to do. It not only had to come up with a compelling story to stretch out over five parts, but it also had to introduce viewers to all of the main players on the G.I Joe team as well as the Cobra side of things. Since he was a brand-new figure at the time, Duke got the main spotlight.
The miniseries introduced us to Destro (also a new figure), and he kidnapped Scarlett and told her, "We'll break your spirit soon enough, my dear Scarlett. Seeing you a groveling slave will provide me with great pleasure." Damn, that is super messed up! No wonder she then uses an explosive arrow to try to crash the ship. She was preparing for a fate worse than death!
4 BACK THAT THING UP, ZARANA!
The second season of G.I. Joe opened with a five-part storyline called "Arise, Serpentor, Arise!," where Cobra had to get DNA samples from some of history's greatest warriors to help create the ultimate leader for Cobra: Serpentor. So of course, everyone has to split up to find multiple parts -- why yes, Ron Friedman did write the teleplay for this one!
In the second part of the story, Zarana went into a pyramid to get the DNA sample from an Egyptian general, right under the noses of the G.I. Joe team that was guarding the pyramid. After she succeeded, she bizarrely walked out of the pyramid backwards, just so we can see her behind, which the show has bothered to actually draw in her crack for some bizarre reason.
3 AN ODD WAY TO END AN EPISODE
As we mentioned, Season 2's "Grey Hairs and Growing Pains" ended up with Flint, Dial-Tone and Gung-Ho aged until they were old men while Lady Jaye, Mainframe and Sci-Fi were de-aged until they were little kids. Since they were still highly trained soldiers, they quickly came up with a plan that involved them getting into an RV and pretending to be three old men taking their grandchildren on a vacation trip. Their vacation just happened to be where Cobra had their aging device.
The Joes succeed in defeating Cobra and getting them to reverse the process and return them to their proper ages. However, remember how Lady Jaye disturbingly lost her pants early in the episode? Somehow, it did not occur to her that when she was re-aged, her shirt would be less baggy, so she's standing there without any pants and everyone gets a kick out of it.
2 OKAY, THE LITTLE GIRL WITH THE BAZOOKA TOOK THINGS TOO FAR
Perhaps the most acclaimed G.I. Joe episode of all-time was the two-part finale to Season 1, written by legendary comic book writer Steve Gerber. "There's No Place Like Springfield" has Shipwreck wake up after a battle to learn that years had passed since G.I. Joe had defeated Cobra, leading to the team disbanding. He is now married to a short-lived love interest he had on the show, Mara, and has a daughter, Althea.
The whole thing, of course, was a Cobra ruse. Mara and Althea were synthezoids. The whole thing was meant to get Shipwreck to remember a formula he had been entrusted with before he was captured. Anyhow, when his fake daughter tries to kill him, the show got enough complaints about the sight of a little girl with a bazooka that they edited out her of the scene after she briefly shows up.
1 CAUGHT: ZARANA'S MAGIC BATHING SUIT
This is the one time they got caught! In G.I. Joe: The Movie, the idea for the film was that it would be rated PG, which is a more "adult" rating than the typical episodes of the TV series would have received. Therefore, they felt that they had to add some more mature themes to the story. One of these ideas involved the first topless scene in a G.I. Joe episode!
Zarana went undercover as Lt. Falcon's girlfriend. Once she leaves the Joes' headquarters (where Falcon had foolishly taken her as a guest), we see her head to a pond where she takes off of her dress. Initially, she was going to be topless once her dress came off (obviously only shown from behind, of course). However, while the scene was storyboarded, the censors got queasy with the idea, so in the actual animated sequence, she suddenly had a magical bathing suit on underneath her sun dress.