G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE
When I was a kid, G.I. JOE was my favorite. I ate it up. Watched it every day – even the reruns. Had boxes of the toys. Saved what spare pittances I got from little chores to buy new action figures. Couldn't wait for my birthday or Christmas so I could expand the collection.
As all things do at that age, my G.I. Joe obsession came to an end one memorable morning when most of it got tossed on the curb for the garbage men. I didn't regret this for one second. I had moved on to other things and had no room for the stuff anymore. The garbage men, on the other hand, had a field day for a half hour playing with my toys before finally moving down the block to the next house. It remains, to this day, one of the most memorable things in my mind. If only I did so well with my calculus texts in college.
Up until this past weekend, I hadn't seen an episode of the original animated series of the 1980s since, well, the 1980s. When I plunked the G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE DVD into my DVD player this weekend, I did not know what I was in for. I had forgotten. When the rose-colored glasses you wore as a kid are ripped off your face, the pictures you see in front of you can be very disturbing, indeed.
The movie takes place after the addition of any series' last dying gasp of air: the addition of a wrestler to the cast. If that doesn't scream "Jump The Shark," then I don't know what does. STAR TREK: VOYAGER proved its creative bankruptcy once and for all when they brought in a wrestling holodeck simulation in an episode. Of course, the ratings skyrocketed. The show remained crap. I'm digressing fairly badly right now.
This is G.I. Joe in the days of Serpentor and Sergeant Slaughter. Slaughter is relegated to a bit of a supporting role in this movie, but is still a main character given the way characters are pushed around. It's like the producers realized that they had a few extra bucks to spread around, so as many characters from the series made an appearance in this movie as they could fit in. And most of them got two or three lines of dialogue. This way, all the voice actors get a nice check for minimal work, too. Not a bad deal.
The movie is stiffly animated, one dimensional, and fairly light in the plot. It's overly melodramatic at times to the point of laughter. When Duke is thought dead, Hawk faces the camera, utters a completely forgettable line and then tears stream out of his eyes, without his head every moving or expression changing. It's laughable.
Perhaps most sad is that the entire cast is one-dimensional. You might be able to argue for a second dimension in a couple of circumstances, but even that seems forced on them. It gets really bad with the new characters they added in the series. One is a black kid who likes to play basketball. Another is an Asian girl who uses the martial arts as taught to her by her blind sensei. And, of course, there's the pretty boy blonde Californian doofus.
Of course, there are also the ever-popular shotguns that shot only laser blasts since they wouldn't kill anyone.
It's not all bad, though. There's a wonderful design sense in the finale as Joe fights Cobra in Cobra-la. (There's nothing funnier than Serpentor calling his troops into action with the memorably bad rallying cry, "Cobralalalalalalalala!") The explosions look wonderful. Obviously, the animation company had a lot of practice with that.
The opening sequence is an extended version of the G.I. Joe theme song, but this time with a full set of lyrics. The entire thing is a music video with a nice fight between Cobra and Joe that involves dozens of characters and ships. It's definitely the visual highlight of the movie.
The thing is, the series has a lot going for it. The concept of an armed force operating just slightly to the side of the standard military is good. The idea of mix and match teams using specialists is fine. (It was one used for a popular computer game at the time.) The characters are sympathetic and easy to root for. A lot of it is just plain cool. It just took Larry Hama's comic book to make any of the characters work in a way other than to provide sequences of laser blasting and bomb dropping mayhem.
The DVD is a mixed bag. The disc sports a 5.1 surround sound mix that doesn't ever really move out of the front stage, and still stays mostly centered. The picture is fine, but in full frame and not widescreen. The most amazing thing on the disc is the inclusion of more than two-dozen of the classic G.I. Joe PSAs. These are the short segments after each episode in which we learn that "knowing is half the battle." That goes for everything from nosebleeds to getting lost in carnivals to stereotyping (ironic, given the character descriptions mentioned above) to what to do if you light yourself on fire or lock yourself in a refrigerator.
In the end, though, the movie put a pin in the balloon of childhood memory. Yes, the animation is still slightly better than Pokemon, but I remembered it as on par with the Bugs Bunny shorts of the 1940s. Whoops.
As kids, we like crap because we don't know better and we're not nearly analytical enough. As adults, we analyze everything to death and belittle anything that doesn't fit our narrow view of what is Good. Somewhere in the middle of that lies G.I. Joe. Accept it for what it is. Let your imagination do the rest. Look forward to what could be done with it through fresh and more mature eyes.
That's just what Devil's Due is about to do. They've won the license to do a new generation of G.I. JOE comic books and they're starting off the series with the same characters from the 80s cartoon. This is NOT meant to be EXTREME G.I. JOE. (Yuck.) This is what everyone's wanted. And we're on the cusp, at last, of getting it.
G.I. JOE: THE CONVENTION SPECIAL
1500 copies sold of the G.I. JOE CONVENTION SPECIAL sold in San Diego this year. The He-Man Masters of the Universe booth was abuzz with activity all weekend. Transformers shirts dotted the landscape.
Needless to say, the 1980s are back, if only in cartoon form.
Fine by me.
I'm looking forward to the new G.I. JOE series as much as the next Child of the 80s. What I saw in San Diego a couple of weeks ago is very promising. The G.I. Joe booth kept busy. I never passed by it when there wasn't activity in front of it. The racks of CONVENTION SPECIALs just kept dwindling and replenishing. But by the time Saturday was over, the Specials had sold out. More will be available at WizardWorld in Chicago in a couple of weeks, so be prepared. I also get the feeling that since Chicago's attendees skew more towards the G.I. Joe age range, you might want to find the booth earlier in the weekend.
The cover of the G.I. JOE CONVENTION SPECIAL has a small color image from the inside story on the top half with a nice thick black band across the bottom, which functions perfectly as a spot to get the entire creative team's autographs. That's what I did.
I was a bit worried at what the book might look like. Although early interviews kept me satisfied that the story had potential, it was the art that remained a question mark. The book starts off with 5 black and white inked and unlettered pages from the first issue. The art by penciller Steve Kurth and inker John Larter – laid out by Joshua Blaylock -- is nothing to be concerned about. It looks reminiscent of J. Scott Campbell just a bit. In fact, if I had to say it reminded me of any particular style of art, I'd have to say mid- to late-nineties WildStorm. It's got a couple of manga bits to it. It's got some Jim Lee. It also has some peculiarities, but nothing to be worried about. (There are a couple of heads which are either too small or don't connect properly with the necks.)
The next six pages are short character biographies. While light and breezy, they do show an astonishing amount of thought that's been put into this series to update it to today's sensibilities while keeping much of what made JOE cool 15 years ago. The character transformations are things that I look forward to seeing. There's a slight bit more politics in this series, judging by the descriptions. And it looks like we'll get characters that are more interesting than just in the rhyme schemes they speak in or catchphrases they utter. These people all have backgrounds.
And, hey, Flint married Lady Jaye! Who'da thunk it? ;-)
The last portion of the book has some production art – sketches of character designs and the like, some of which make The Baroness look a little too much like Lara Croft for me – and pin-ups. TELLOS' Eric Wolfe Hanson has a beautiful pin-up of Scarlet in there, alongside art from Mike Norton, Tim Seeley, and Joshua Blaylock.
The G.I. JOE CONVENTION SPECIAL put my mind at ease with the rebirth of the G.I. Joe license. I'm no longer dreading what might be a disaster, but instead looking forward to what we might have coming from the gang at Devil's Due.
One final word on this book: Please, go ahead and enjoy it. Don't make excuses for it. Don't hide under the cover of "guilty pleasure." There's nothing wrong with enjoying something from your childhood. Whether you admire it on its own merit, or as a wistful look back at a piece of never-forgotten childhood, enjoy yourself. You're not pushing the medium back by a decade in enjoying the book.
Joshua Blaylock's pet project – one he both writes and draws -- is MISPLACED, the first issue of which just came out in July. It's a story he's been working on for a couple of years now. The second issue is currently scheduled for November of this year.
It's the story of a girl from another planet/dimension/reality who gets accidentally "misplaced" onto earth and finds out she likes it here. That's when people from that other place come after here.
It's a fun story with some real promise, but I'm not sure that all shows here. The lead character, Alysa, doesn't do all that much upon coming to earth. Aside from being a bit of a wiseass and getting adopted way too quickly by this new world, she's not showing much of a character that would endear you to her. About all she's got going for her right now is that she wants to be free and someone else is trying to stop her. (It's that and the fact that she makes for a cute punk.)
I'm interested in seeing more of the story because I think there's potential there. I hope the second issue – which looks to be the inevitable fight scene – gives us something to latch onto about Alysa other than rooting for the underdog.
Blaylock's art is nice and it fits the story. It's got a certain indie vibe going for it, with lots of greytones. It's pretty straightforward stuff with a few isolated examples of gee-whiz and gosh-wow futuristic technology. It's just a shame that the second page scanned in so poorly.
Remarkably enough, I wrote this entire column without finding some insane way to sneak in "And knowing is half the battle" or "Go Joe!" Whew!
Pipeline hits the movies tomorrow with reviews of the GHOST WORLD graphic novel and the UNBREAKABLE DVD. Thursday and Friday feature columns offering a flip through PREVIEWS and an even more eclectic mix of reviews.
Yesterday's column is still available via the archives. I talked about three books that are due out in stores tomorrow: IMPULSE, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, and CYCLOPS.
More than 225 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.
I'm also tentatively scheduled for a day at the Small Press Expo in Maryland this September.