TV Review: The Transformers – Original Miniseries & Seasons 1 & 2 (1984-1986)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 17th, 1984 – January 9th, 1986
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 65 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Sometimes even the wisest of man or machine can make an error.” – Optimus Prime

*Written in 2015.

The original Transformers television series, simply called The Transformers and now commonly referred to as Transformers G1 (for Generation One) was a sister show to Marvel/SunBow’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

It had the same art style, the same producers and directors and the voice cast of both shows were pretty much identical. It was also obvious to kids at the time but we didn’t care that Starscream and Cobra Commander had the same voice. All we cared about is that this show was just as badass as G.I. Joe.

Also, like G.I. Joe, this animated series was used as a vehicle to sell a tie-in toy line produced by Hasbro. It worked well, as the Transformers characters were some of the best-selling toys of all-time. In fact, after Star Wars, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers lines have to be the hottest selling toys of the ’80s for boys.

In regards to the show, there were great multi-part episodes and many stand alone episodes. This was the typical format of male action cartoons of the era. We were treated to great stories, a rich mythos and interesting characters. The show was well executed and was one of the highlights of 1980s pop culture.

It has gone on to spin-off a bunch of other animated series, as well as live-action films (those are atrocious though), video games, comic books and thousands of toys. The franchise, born from this animated series, is still one of the most lucrative of all-time and continues to try and reinvent itself every few years.

In the end though, there has never been an incarnation of Transformers that has been as iconic and near perfect as the original animated series. And while people consider this era, the original miniseries and the first two seasons, which take place before the animated feature film, as the peak in Transformers entertainment, I am one of the weirdos that actually prefers the show after the film.

The reason why I wanted to single out the two halves with different reviews is that the second half, after the movie, is darker and has a slew of new characters and situations. The movie changed everything and it significantly altered the show’s tone. I will review the second half of this series at a later date.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987)

Also known as: Action Force: The Movie (UK)
Release Date: April 20th, 1987
Directed by: Don Jurwich
Written by: Buzz Dixon (uncredited)
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Don Johnson, Burgess Meredith, Sgt. Slaughter, Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I will stain my hands with your blood! No one defies Golobulus and lives… NO ONE! The last thing you will hear… is the cracking of your vertebrae… one… BY ONE!” – Golobulus

G.I. Joe: The Movie is where G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero jumped the shark. Granted, I don’t completely hate it and there are a few positives but at it’s core, this is not G.I. Joe.

This motion picture, which was originally intended to be a theatrical release but ended up being released on VHS instead, takes everything that was established in G.I. Joe and turns it on its head.

We find out that Cobra Commander is some snake dude and that he is from some secret Shangri-La like society called Cobra-La. The G.I. Joes and Cobra both get pulled into Cobra-La’s bizarre world and quickly discover a bunch of weird looking people who don’t use technology like humankind but instead have an organic type of technology. I guess it makes them similar to the alien Yuuzhan Vong from the polarizing New Jedi Order era of the Star Wars Expanded Universe continuity that Disney ignores now. Cobra-La is led by Golobulus, a creepy dude that sounds an awful lot like Mickey Goldmill from the Rocky movies.

The Cobra-La twist just really screwed G.I. Joe up. It didn’t feel right, at all. It just didn’t vibe with the great and rich mythos I had come to know before this movie hit video store shelves in 1987.

However, as I stated earlier in this review, there were some positives. So I’ll talk about those.

To start, I liked a lot of the new characters albeit not the Cobra-La ones. Lt. Falcon, who was voiced by Don Johnson, might not have had enough time to really have his story told properly, but he came a long way in this film and became a leader when it was all said and done. He started out as a womanizing, slacker douche but tragedy forced him to grow up and conquer insurmountable odds.

I also liked most of the new G.I. Joe recruits and it was cool seeing most of the old faces, as well. The scenes where Beachhead is annoyed at training the newbies makes for some good comedy.

Also, I like that the film scratched the surface with actual mortality. Duke dies in this. Well, they fixed it so that he was just in a “coma” and survived at the end (due to public backlash over Optimus Prime’s death in 1986’s Transformers: The Movie). Serpentor is also (presumably) killed when we see Lt. Falcon stuff his cape into a turbine engine, which sucks him in and grinds into his back as he screams in absolute agony and flies through the air to what should most definitely be his violent and gory death off screen. Although, he would be alive three years later in the Operation Dragonfire miniseries that kicked off the awful DiC Entertainment era.

The animation is consistent in style to the Marvel/Sunbow era of the cartoon. Although, the animation is also a bit better and a step up. That’s probably due to this having a bigger budget than the standard G.I. Joe television episodes. This would also be the last time we got the classic animation style, as DiC would take over after this film and they would turn out some really shitty looking art.

G.I. Joe: The Movie is better than the worst episodes of the Marvel/Sunbow era but it doesn’t come anywhere near the quality of the best episodes. Being that this was supposed to be the big theatrical film debut of G.I. Joe makes the end result a disappointment. It certainly isn’t unwatchable and was kind of fun in spite of its bizarre wackiness and major changes to the mythos. My mind doesn’t really consider this canon, even though it was made by the same people who gave us two great season of the show before it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

TV Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Season 2 (1986)

Also known as: Action Force (UK)
Release Date: September 15th, 1986 – November 20th, 1986
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: various
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Sgt. Slaughter, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, Claster Television, 30 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Know that I am the one you seek! I am the one born to rule, destined to conquer! Let those who fear me follow me. Let those who oppose me die! For I am Serpentor, and this I command!” – Serpentor

As I discussed in my review of Arise, Serpentor, Arise!, which was the start of this season of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, this was where a lot of new members of G.I. Joe and Cobra debuted, as well as a slew of new vehicles. The cartoon was a vehicle to sell toys; so with every new year, this 22 minute, daily advertisement had to evolve to reflect the new product that was hitting the shelves.

The fact that this was a glorified toy advertisement worked to the show’s advantage and also, in certain regards, worked against it. Season two isn’t as good as season one but I’ll explain.

For the most part, everything is the same from a style point of view. We have the same animation, the same voice actors, the same music and everything is right tonally. However, the inclusion of a bunch of new characters forces some of the beloved characters from season one to take a back seat. The show did really well in its first season developing characters and fleshing out backstories. In season two, you really wanted to see the continued adventures of many of those unique individuals but instead, they’re brushed aside. You can’t give us that great Shipwreck story that was the finale to season one and not properly check back in with him. In season two, he’s just a buffoon that shows up for comedic relief and is usually the butt of jokes for the newer recruits.

Additionally, there isn’t a whole lot of Duke, Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow. But then again, even the newcomers sort of get shafted due to how many characters are now packed into the series and because season two was really only half the length of season one. There just wasn’t enough time to tackle it all.

Even Serpentor, who is created to be the new leader of Cobra, doesn’t get much screen time. At least, he doesn’t get nearly as much as Cobra Commander did in season one and really, Cobra Commander probably still has more screen time than Serpentor in season two, as he’s always got some scheme to try and overthrow the new Cobra emperor.

Most of the episodes, at least in the first half of the season, aren’t quite the same quality of the majority of the season one episodes. In the back half of the season, things really start to improve but by the time the season finds a good groove, it’s over.

Following season two was G.I. Joe: The Movie, which I will review at a later date. Then the show was given to DiC to produce after that and it really dropped in quality. This season was the last of the great Marvel/Sunbow era and despite my complaints about it, it was still a damn fine show.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: Arise, Serpentor, Arise! (1986)

Also known as: Action Force: Arise, Serpentor, Arise!
Release Date: September 15th, 1986 – September 19th, 1986 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: Buzz Dixon, Ron Friedman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Sgt. Slaughter, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 22 Minutes (per episode), 108 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

“There can be no negotiation, you insignificant microbe!” – Serpentor

Season two of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero started the same way as season one, with a five-part miniseries that was edited and re-released into a feature length movie. In fact, this is the fourth and final miniseries in this canon. Although, I do look at G.I. Joe: The Movie and DiC’s Operation: Dragonfire as parts 5 and 6 of the original series of feature length films.

Arise, Serpentor, Arise! was the introduction to a lot of changes in the television series and the G.I. Joe franchise as a whole. It introduced us to a plethora of new characters, new vehicles and came with a seemingly more powerful threat, as Cobra created a new leader, had android troops and seemed to be finally getting their shit together, even if there was infighting between Cobra Commander and just about everyone else in his organization.

The biggest additions to the series through this story were Serpentor – the new leader and “emperor” of Cobra, General Hawk – the real commander of G.I. Joe and ranked higher than Duke, as well as Sgt. Slaughter – played by the real professional wrestler of the same name. We also got to meet new members of the G.I. Joe team, as well as some new faces in Cobra, most notably mad scientist Dr. Mindbender, who sort of erased the need for Cobra to have a slew of generic, one-off mad scientists in every episode.

Like the other big miniseries events before this one, we see G.I. Joe and Cobra fight all over the world in exotic locations, as there are separate pieces being collected to create another MacGuffin. The MacGuffin in this story is Serpentor, a super soldier that is sort of like a mixture between Frankenstein’s monster and Captain America if he were made for evil purposes. Cobra goes to all of these exotic locations trying to collect DNA from the tombs of famous tyrants and warlords throughout history. With all the DNA, they can create Serpentor, who is a combination of all of these historical figures.

I love these G.I. Joe stories where we get to see the Joes and Cobra duke it out all over the globe. As a kid, these big miniseries events always felt like something incredibly epic and special. This story, while not as good as The Pyramids of Darkness or The Revenge of Cobra, does not disappoint. It may feel a bit rushed and crowded with characters because there is so much going on but it still works in the same way it did with the earlier miniseries tales.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

Ranking Every Episode of the Marvel/Sunbow Era of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero

I once ranked every episode of Batman: The Animated Series. So I figured that I would rank every single episode of the Marvel/Sunbow era of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, as I just re-watched it in its entirety.

In this list I am including just the first two seasons of G.I. Joe and the miniseries put out by Marvel/Sunbow, as the show changed drastically and severely dipped in quality when DiC took over as the new production house for seasons three and four.

I will list these by episode name with the season number and episode number for reference. If a story is a multi-part episode, I list it as one body of work.

If you disagree or are puzzled with my picks, feel free to discuss in the comments.

1. “There’s No Place Like Springfield” (Season 1, Episodes 54-55)
2. “The Pyramid of Darkness” (Season 1, Episodes 1-5)
3. “Skeletons In the Closet” (Season 1, Episode 53)
4. “Sins of Our Fathers” (Season 2, Episode 28)
5. “The Gods Below” (Season 1, Episode 41)
6. “The Viper is Coming” (Season 1, Episode 29)
7. “Worlds Without End” (Season 1, Episodes 36-37)
8. “The Revenge of Cobra (miniseries)” (1984 – 5 parts)
9. “Flint’s Vacation” (Season 1, Episode 43)
10. “Excalibur” (Season 1, Episode 35)
11. “The Great Alaskan Land Rush” (Season 1, Episode 52)
12. “The Synthoid Conspiracy” (Season 1, Episodes 16-17)
13. “The Gamesmaster” (Season 1, Episode 26)
14. “Nightmare Assault” (Season 2, Episode 24)
15. “Pit of Vipers” (Season 1, Episode 48)
16. “Hearts and Cannons” (Season 1, Episode 44)
17. “Cold Slither” (Season 1, Episode 51)
18. “Computer Complications” (Season 2, Episode 7)
19. “Arise, Serpentor, Arise!” (Season 2, Episodes 1-5)
20. “The Traitor” (Season 1, Episodes 46-47)
21. “Not a Ghost of a Chance” (Season 2, Episode 27)
22. “Memories of Mara” (Season 1, Episode 45)
23. “An Eye for an Eye” (Season 1, Episode 40)
24. “Joe’s Night Out” (Season 2, Episode 26)
25. “A Real American Hero (miniseries)” (1983 – 5 parts)
26. “The Most Dangerous Thing in the World” (Season 2, Episode 23)
27. “Haul Down the Heavens” (Season 1, Episode 15)
28. “Cobra Soundwaves” (Season 1, Episode 24)
29. “Iceberg Goes South” (Season 2, Episode 15)
30. “Jungle Trap” (Season 1, Episode 10)
31. “Ninja Holiday” (Season 2, Episode 21)
32. “Red Rocket’s Glare” (Season 1, Episode 7)
33. “Cobra Quake” (Season 1, Episode 31)
34. “The Invaders” (Season 1, Episode 50)
35. “The Funhouse” (Season 1, Episode 12)
36. “In the Presence of Mine Enemies” (Season 2, Episode 29)
37. “Battle for the Train of Gold” (Season 1, Episode 23)
38. “Last Hour to Doomsday” (Season 2, Episode 6)
39. “Where the Reptiles Roam” (Season 1, Episode 25)
40. “Into Your Tent I Will Silently Creep” (Season 2, Episode 30)
41. “Sink the Montana” (Season 2, Episode 8)
42. “Bazooka Saw a Sea Serpent” (Season 1, Episode 34)
43. “Primordial Plot” (Season 1, Episode 42)
44. “Second Hand Emotions” (Season 2, Episode 25)
45. “Lasers in the Night” (Season 1, Episode 27)
46. “Once Upon a Joe” (Season 2, Episode 10)
47. “Cobra’s Creatures” (Season 1, Episode 11)
48. “G.I. Joe and the Golden Fleece” (Season 2, Episode 22)
49. “Countdown for Zartan” (Season 1, Episode 6)
50. “The Wrong Stuff” (Season 1, Episode 49)
51. “Lights! Camera! Cobra!” (Season 1, Episode 19)
52. “Cobra Claws Are Coming to Town” (Season 1, Episode 39)
53. “Captives of Cobra” (Season 1, Episodes 32-33)
54. “Raise the Flagg!” (Season 2, Episode 20)
55. “The Germ” (Season 1, Episode 28)
56. “Spell of the Siren” (Season 1, Episode 30)
57. “Twenty Questions” (Season 1, Episode 13)
58. “The Phantom Brigade” (Season 1, Episode 18)
59. “Operation: Mind Menace” (Season 1, Episode 22)
60. “Cobrathon” (Season 2, Episode 12)
61. “My Favorite Things” (Season 2, Episode 19)
62. “Eau de Cobra” (Season 1, Episode 38)
63. “Let’s Play Soldier” (Season 2, Episode 9)
64. “Money to Burn” (Season 1, Episode 21)
65. “Cobra Stops the World” (Season 1, Episode 9)
66. “Glamour Girls” (Season 2, Episode 14)
67. “The Spy Who Rooked Me” (Season 2, Episode 16)
68. “My Brother’s Keeper” (Season 2, Episode 18)
69. “The Rotten Egg” (Season 2, Episode 13)
70. “Grey Hairs and Growing Pains” (Season 2, Episode 17)
71. “The Million Dollar Medic” (Season 2, Episode 11)
72. “Cobra’s Candidate” (Season 1, Episode 20)
73. “Satellite Down” (Season 1, Episode 8)
74. “The Greenhouse Effect” (Season 1, Episode 14)

TV Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Season 1 (1985)

Also known as: Action Force (UK)
Release Date: September 16th, 1985 – December 13th, 1985
Directed by: John Gibbs, Terry Lennon
Written by: various
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Bob Remus, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, Claster Television, 55 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“As of now, your little project is deader than disco! Hmmm… Deader than disco… I like that… I would have made a great stand-up comedian.” – Cobra Commander

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is the original G.I. Joe cartoon series that ran from 1983-1986. It actually became a full series in 1985, after two separate five-part miniseries in 1983 and 1984. It was created as a big marketing vehicle for Hasbro’s G.I. Joe toy line. It also paved the way for a similar series, The Transformers in 1984. Both of these Hasbro toy franchises followed the same marketing path and also had their shows created by Marvel-SunBow. Both also had ongoing comic book series produced by Marvel.

I already reviewed the three miniseries events that lead to this regular ongoing series. However, I wanted to review just season one here, as there were a lot of big changes between seasons one and two. I will follow up with a season two review in the near future.

G.I. Joe has had several television series come and go throughout the years but none are even as close to the greatness of the original. This series, along with Transformers, created a megafranchise that was only rivaled by Star Wars, at the time.

The series created a lot of heroes and villains that were all cool and still very memorable. Cobra was, and still is, the coolest villain organization in all of fiction. G.I. Joe were the coolest heroes. As a kid who always sided with the baddies, it was hard not to love the good guys too. This was an animated show with surprisingly good character development.

The characters, for a cartoon about toys, had really good backstories and unique personalities. The stories about Shipwreck were always phenomenal. The show could tap into horrific things but serve it in a way that was okay for kids to handle. It took a lot of risks, offered up a lot of serious lessons but did it in a way that was so cool, at that age, you didn’t realize you were being taught anything. It was a perfect package of badass, cool and educational.

The art was top notch for the mid ’80s. The tone of the show was always adventurous. It was like someone took the best of James Bond, the best of The Avengers, mixed it together and gave it a military twist. G.I. Joe are mortal men without any real powers but they are superheroes. Cobra is essentially a much cooler version of SPECTRE or Hydra.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is still the best version of G.I. Joe ever created in animation form. I’m still waiting for a movie or a series that gets it because nothing since has even come close.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: The Pyramid of Darkness (1985)

Also known as: The Further Adventures of G.I. Joe
Release Date: September 16th, 1985 – September 20th, 1985 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: John Gibbs, Terry Lennon
Written by: Ron Friedman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, B.J. Ward, Frank Welker, Christopher Collins, Zack Hoffman, Kene Holiday, Neil Ross, Keone Young, Corey Burton, John Hostetter, Bill Morey, Lee Weaver, Pat Fraley, Hal Rayle, Will Ryan, Ketty Lester, François Chau, Morgan Lofting

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 22 Minutes (per episode), 100 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

“Let’s reconnoiter, Snake Eyes. Try not to attract attention… Sure. Who’d notice a wet sailor with a parrot and a silent masked man with a timber wolf.” – Shipwreck

Like the two five-part miniseries events before it, G.I. Joe: The Pyramid of Darkness was made to be combined into a feature length film for VHS release and for weekend replays. Also, this was the first five episodes of the regular G.I. Joe television show. This feels like the third part of a trilogy with the two miniseries releases before it but it is also the start of a much larger G.I. Joe television run. This would also be the last five-part miniseries until the start of season two, which would kickoff with Arise, Serpentor, Arise!

The Pyramid of Darkness really ups the ante. We have all the major Cobra officers from the previous two miniseries but we now get introduced to my favorite fictional twins of all-time Tomax and Xamot, the Crimson Guard commanders. They also run Extensive Enterprises as a corporate front for Cobra and they basically function as Cobra’s CFOs.

We also get the debut of several new members of G.I. Joe. Three of the coolest characters Alpine, Bazooka and Quick Kick have a pretty big spot in the story. In fact, I like their chemistry as a group and they are a good comedic addition to the show.

Like the other miniseries before this, Cobra has a superweapon. In this one, it is the Pyramid of Darkness. The way this one functions is a lot more interesting and cooler than the previous two superweapons. Basically, Cobra positions four giant black cubes around the Earth. They also send the Dreadnoks to space to overtake a G.I. Joe space station, which is needed to link the four cubes. Once all five points are secured and operational, the top half of the Earth is covered by an electric pyramid that works like an EMP, killing the electrical power of anything within its massive reach. This gives Cobra a huge advantage in world domination. The Joes have to then battle it out with Cobra in exotic and dangerous locations once again.

The Dreadnoks in space element is really cool, especially when their genetically engineered beasts, the Fatal Fluffies, grow to monstrous proportions. I actually wished that the Fluffies would have returned to the show and also had toys, back when I was a kid. With Duke on the space station, this makes the third time in three stories that he is a Cobra captive. Really, Duke? Get it together, bro! You’re the leader of G.I. Joe until General Hawk comes along in season two.

I also wanted to mention the character of Satin. She was a pop singer that worked the Cobra nightclub circuit. Really though, she was working her way into the organization because her father was framed by Cobra for crimes he didn’t commit, which ruined his life. Satin works as an ally to Shipwreck and Snake Eyes and was instrumental to the story, yet we never see her again after this.

The Pyramid of Darkness is my favorite story of the Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe universe. Actually, it’s my favorite Joe story, period. Well, not counting Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe comic books because that dude wrote some amazing shit.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other early G.I. Joe miniseries events: A Real American Hero and The Revenge of Cobra.