Saturday, January 28, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: G.I. Joe Extreme

After last week's look at the second G.I. Joe animated show, we continue our archeological expedition into lost Joe history with this oddity, the proverbial Poochie of the brand. In order to understand how G.I. Joe got extremed, I think it's important to understand the era that birthed it. As I mentioned last time, Hasbro's "Real American Hero" line enjoyed a very successful and very long-lived run on the pop culture radar for the entirety of its run, running an impressive twelve years from 1982-1994 when most toy lines faltered after a mere fraction of that time.

But changing tastes and trends (two words: Ninja. Turtles.) as the late '80s turned into the mid-'90s left America's Fighting Man largely by the wayside, even as the toyline trotted out increasingly outlandish subgroupings like "Eco Warriors," "Star Brigade," and, most damningly, a Joe-themed line based on the Street Fighter video games, to try and keep pace. None of these attempts gained much traction, and the final, choked gasp of "A Real American Hero" issued forth in 1995 in the form of Sgt. Savage and his Screaming Eagles.

Intended as a "soft-reboot" of the Joe line while keeping the same core concept intact, Sgt. Savage was essentially a merger of Marvel Comics' Captain America and Sgt. Fury characters, centering on a legendary super soldier (the aptly named Robert Steven Savage) who is accidentally put into suspended animation during his WWII heyday, and subsequently revived in the '90s to do battle once more with his Nazi foe Blitz Krieger (yes, that was the bad guy's name).

The Savage assortment, while carrying the "Real American Hero" branding, was scaled slightly larger than its predecessor, and dispensed with the futuristic tech that typified the previous lines in favor of retro, WWII-styled uniforms and vechicles (and packaging art by legendary war comic artist Joe Kubert). Also, to help introduce the concept, one of the figures in the first batch came packaged with a VHS tape (a what?) with the first/only episode of a proposed Sgt. Savage animated series (produced by Sunbow, this time minus Marvel).

Here's the first part:

Find part two here, and part three here.

With the blocky animation and thick shadows, can you tell this was the '90s? Needless to say, Sgt. Savage didn't make much of an impact on the pop culture scene (though, who knows, maybe if it had been given a chance to develop it might have worked). Forced to reassess where to take Joe from there, the toymasters at Hasbro would look at the lay of the pop culture landscape circa 1995 and take a cue from the overmuscled, hyper-steroidal heroics exemplified by comic artist Rob Liefeld and his "Extreme Studios." The end result? Naturally, G.I. Joe Extreme:

That's team leader Lt. Stone yelling at us in the intro from the Extreme animated series, which premiered in syndication in late September 1995 and lasted for twenty-six episodes through February of '97. Unlike Sgt. Savage before it, this was a near-total reboot of the concept that ditched the "Joe vs. Cobra" mythology of the last decade-plus in favor of a new Joe team squaring off in the far-flung future world of 2006 against a new big bad called SKAR (Soldiers of Kaos, Anarchy, and Ruin -- why they felt the need to misspell "chaos" I'll never understand), led by the evil Iron Klaw (a Darth Vader-looking guy in a beret).

Produced by the same team and in the same style as the Sgt. Savage outing (with Savage himself the only character retained to signal any connection to its predecessor), G.I. Joe Extreme ("Extreme Times Call For Extreme Heroes!" the tagline screamed -- again, can you tell this was the '90s?) attempted to go a little bit deeper and a little bit darker than the previous show(s), and actually wasn't that bad as its own thing. Dark Horse Comics even gave this new Joe a go with a short-lived comic book, with the legendary artist (and noted nutbar) Frank Miller recruited to give the cover of their first ish (pictured above) a "mature readers" vibe.

The problem, however, was the "baby with the bathwater" approach the brand's minders adopted under the mistaken impression that it was the brand itself rather than the characters populating it who gave it appeal. It wasn't until a later ep featured original Joe commander Hawk that Extreme's role as a sequel (of sorts) was clarified (of sorts). More damaging, however, were the new toys from Kenner, trading down the highly-articulated, highly-accessorized, 3 3/4 in. "Real American Hero" figures for blocky plastic crap with little articulation and even less appeal. Is it any wonder kids left these things warming pegs for their short shelf life?

With the failure of the toyline, G.I. Joe's Extreme era ended with a whimper before the '90s were out, and it wasn't long before Hasbro reset the clock back to the previous model Joe, which is where the line has stayed ever since, through several more animated ventures and, of course, the live action movies. Today, G.I. Joe Extreme is barely a blip in most fans' memories, but I do hope the show gets released to DVD at some point. Though its makers were hopelessly handicapped by a flawed concept that replaced instead of building on what came before, they did the best they could. The execution was competent, but maybe it's just that the times weren't that extreme after all.

1 comment:

RobRoy said...


God, that show sucked.