"G.I. Joe is the code name for America's daring, highly-trained special mission force. Its purpose: to defend human freedom against COBRA, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world."G.I. Joenote
is a franchise created by American toymaker Hasbro
in 1964 to promote their line of military toys
. Notably, the original toys were the very first to be called "action figures" (to appeal to boys who didn't want to play with "dolls", although the line was conceived as a Spear Counterpart
). In this first incarnation, G.I. Joe was the name of the main character, and the figures were based on each branch of the United States military. However,the increasing opposition to The Vietnam War
caused the brand's popularity to decline, so in the late 1960s the franchise reinvented itself as the "Adventure Team," trading warfare for exploration in exotic locations. While the drastic change allowed G.I. Joe
to survive Vietnam, the line was eventually ended in 1976.
The second incarnation of the franchise began in 1982, four years after Hasbro's rival Kenner
launched their popular Star Wars
toyline. Unlike G.I. Joe
, which had 12" action figures, Star Wars
figures were 3 3/4" tall, allowing them to also sell playsets and vehicles at low prices and thus make even more money. Seeing the massive profit Kenner was making
, Hasbro decided to relaunch G.I. Joe
in the new scale and hired Marvel Comics
to create a story, characters, and media tie-ins for the line. Marvel eventually came up with a premise that is still the core of the franchise today - G.I. Joe was no longer one person note
, but the name of an elite American military unit engaged in a battle against the terrorist organization Cobra and its plans to Take Over the World
. To promote the line (now dubbed G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
), Marvel launched two tie-ins:
- An animated series from Sunbow Productions and Marvel Productions. Though the more remembered of the two continuities today, the cartoon is also infamous for its less realistic depiction of violence: both sides used lasers instead of bullets, there were no deaths, and whenever an aircraft was destroyed its pilot had to be shown parachuting out of it. Sunbow produced two seasons and a movie intended for theatrical release, but the failure of Transformers: The Movie caused it to instead be released direct-to-video. DIC Entertainment took over following the movie and produced two more seasons before ending the show in 1991.
- A comic book written by Larry Hama. Prior to the relaunch, Hama had an idea for a Marvel Universe comic called Fury Force, which would have seen the son of Nick Fury put together a team to fight Hydra, Marvel's resident terrorist group; his G.I. Joe series was based primarily on this unused pitch. Compared to the cartoon, the comic was the more mature of the two, since it allowed characters to be killed off and contained a functioning canon. The book proved to be very popular, and at one point it was Marvel's bestselling comic; the famous issue 21, which told a story without using any speech bubbles or sound effects, has been endlessly homaged and parodied.
- In the original run's early issues, GI JOE was revealed to be the cover-name for Special Operations Group Delta, which was the real-world designation for the (at the time) classified Special Forces unit today known as Delta Force.
By 1994, A Real American Hero
was officially dead at retail, but Hasbro has since launched several other incarnations of the franchise, though none have ever gained the longevity of the original. The versions of the brand released since the end of ARAH include:
- GI Joe Devils Due. In 2001, Devil's Due Publishing (a spinoff of Image Comics) acquired the comic rights to G.I. Joe and launched a new series, set in the same continuity as the Marvel Comic. They published an ongoing title - once again called G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, but later relaunched as G.I. Joe: America's Elite - and several miniseries exploring the backstories of the characters. Devil's Due lost the comic rights to IDW Publishing in 2008, and their final issue was printed that July. All of these books have since been declared Canon Discontinuity and are now known as the "Disavowed" comics.
- G.I. Joe Reloaded: In 2004, Devil's Due attempted to branch out with a more realistic Alternate Continuity. After two one-shots that established Cobra and the Joes, the series lasted for fourteen issues, with a massive retool halfway through.
- GI Joe IDW. As mentioned above, IDW acquired the comic rights to the franchise in 2008 and began publishing their own comics in 2009. This time, instead of continuing the Marvel/Devil's Due storyline, IDW opted to start over from the beginning and create a brand new canon. They are currently publishing three ongoing titles in the new continuity (G.I. Joe, Snake Eyes, and Cobra) and a second, Larry Hama-penned revival of the original Marvel series set in the same continuity and picked up exactly where Vol 1 had left off.
- G.I. Joe: Renegades, a 2010 animated series airing on The Hub, a network owned jointly by Hasbro and Discovery Communications. Taking inspiration from The A-Team, Renegades recasts the Joes as a group of soldiers falsely accused of terrorism, and the series follows their efforts to clear their names and expose the real enemy: the sinister Mega Corp. Cobra Industries. After one season, the show was put on hiatus; it is currently unknown if it will ever return.
- G.I. Joe: Resolute, a 2009 animated miniseries written by Warren Ellis. Aimed at the now-adult original fandom, Resolute is easily the darkest animated entry in the franchise: both sides fire actual bullets, blood and death are shown, and the entire city of Moscow is destroyed within the first five minutes.
- G.I. Joe: Sigma 6, a 2005 Animesque animated series that coincided with the launch of an 8" scale toyline. Animated by the Japanese studio GONZO, the series continued the storyline of two direct-to-DVD movies Hasbro released to promote previous toylines Spy Troops and Valor vs. Venom. Like Extreme, Sigma 6 only ran for two seasons, and the toys went back to 3 3/4" scale in time for the 25th anniversary of ARAH.
- G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, a 2009 live-action movie directed by Stephen Sommers of the The Mummy Trilogy fame. After the wild success of the Michael Bay Transformers films, Hasbro and Paramount decided to make the first live-action entry in the franchise. The movie made a number of changes to the established mythos, including making the Joes an international team rather than solely American. These changes ended up fracturing the fandom, and while the film made a profit at the box office its gross paled in comparison to the Transformers movies.
- G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the 2013 sequel to Rise of Cobranote . Featuring a new director, Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, and about half the original cast returning, the movie quickly turned heads by just how different it felt from the first film while still being clearly set in the same universe.
In celebration of the franchise's 50th anniversary in 2014, G.I. Joe
was licensed for Kindle Worlds (allowing the publication and sale of fan fiction
Now I know:
And knowing is half the battle.