|Flag waving, freedom fighting, planet saving. They did more in a half-hour cartoon block than most people do all day. They were the men and women of G.I. Joe, and nobody did it better.
In the beginning, there was simply G.I. Joe himself, one of the first "action figures" designed by toymaker Hasbro as a boy-friendly rival to Mattel's successful Barbie line. Debuting in 1964, the man-doll shot to instant popularity with its poseable limbs and military accessories. Joe's fortunes ebbed and flowed through new wars and changing attitudes, and after trying several innovations, the line was discontinued in 1978.
The onset of the Reagan Years made military power popular again, setting the stage for a G.I. Joe comeback. Now shrunk to smaller plastic proportions, G.I. Joe was now the name of a force, not a man. Led by the iron-jawed Hawk, the new Joe team sparked two successful five-part animated miniseries in 1983 and 1984. As both cartoon and toy grew in popularity, a regular series became inevitable.
The syndicated weekday G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero came to television in 1985. Hawk, buzz-cut Duke, redhead Scarlet, ninja Snake Eyes, javelin-throwing Lady Jaye, and several others kept the world safe from the ruthless terrorist organization known as COBRA. The screechy-voiced Cobra Commander (whose face was hidden first by a silver shield, later by a blue hood) headed up a nasty team that included the Baroness, face-plated Destro, and others.
As the show continued its run, the cast of characters expanded into the hundreds. Roadblock, Blowtorch, Snowjob, Gung-Ho, Lifeline, Cover Girl, Rock N Roll, Deep Six, and dozens more signed up with the Joe force, while the cause of evil was aided by Firefly, ninja Storm Shadow, and the evil master of disguise, Zartan, among others.
Like fellow Marvel/Sunbow production Transformers, G.I. Joe favored the elaborate in its storylines. COBRA's plots for world domination sometimes stretched over multiple episodes, and occasionally characters even changed loyalties. Regardless of the mayhem involved, nobody ever died (both teams seemed to go through more parachutes per episode than the Allied forces did on D-Day). And at the end of each half-hour, a member of the Joe team would educate home viewers on some important safety tip ("...And knowing is half the battle").
After years of high ratings and blossoming action figure and vehicle sales, G.I. Joe's popularity began to dip in the late 1980's. The show was brought back in 1990 minus the "Real American Hero" subtitle, now hosted by the live-action Sgt. Slaughter. The new G.I. Joe never reached the lofty heights of its predecessor, and before long, the old soldiers had simply faded away.