The brother series to "Transformers", two of many fondly remembered 80s cartoons that were based on popular toy lines. The difference being that the GI Joe toyline had been around for decades and seen many reduxes over the years. Prior to this series GI Joe was usually a doll that was the embodiment the Marines, the Navy, and the Air Force.
This interpretation redesigned/redefined GI Joe as "the code name for America's highly trained special missions force." In other words, the commandos of the GI Joe company were responsible for fighting Cobra, the "ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world."
GI Joe and Cobra both had a couple of different figure head/leaders. Originally GI Joe was represented by Duke (voice of Michael Bell among others), a tall blond guy with blue eyes. Later, GI Joe's official leader became General Hawk (voice of the late Ed Gilbert, who also voiced Baloo on "Tale Spin"), while Duke remained 2nd in command. 3rd in command was Flint (voice of Bill Ratner), the rugged warrant officer who later replaced Duke as the main character of the many countless GI Joe adventures. 4th in command was Beach Head (William Callaway, who also voiced Aquaman a few years earlier), a ball busting drill sergeant type. Later we met Sgt. Slaughter (voiced by an actual Professional Wrestler of the same name), who shared the ball busting drill sergeant role with Beach Head. Originally Cobra was led by the cowardly yet mysteriously charismatic Cobra Commander (voice of Chris Latta, who also voiced Gung Ho among other characters and also had the memorable of the whiny Star Scream Decepticon on "Transformers"), who was always butting heads with the iron masked Destro, who had a thing going on with the bifocal Baroness babe. Then we got Serpentor, a super strong test tube baby forged from the DNA of various tyrants plus Sgt. Slaughter (the latter's blood making him very tempermental).
Other romances include Scarlett (BJ Ward, who recently voiced Velma in a couple of those Scooby-Doo direct to video features) being at crossroads between a relationship between Duke and the scarred, silent ninja Snake Eyes (comic books later made her relationship with Snake Eyes famous) and Flint's affection for the spear tossing brunette Lady Jay.
Like "Transformers", this show had a cast of thousands on account of the constant new toys being made and many of the same voice actors worked together on both series. Not surprising, seeing as how they were made by the same companies.
This and "Transformers" were probably the most violent cartoons of the era, seeing as how "He-Man & The Masters of the Universe" and "Thundercats" didn't get too heavy on the violence. GI Joe didn't feature deaths but people did get hurt (Duke was always getting into comas) and there were a number of shoot outs and fist fights. But what made people forgive GI Joe was that these guys would show up at the end of each episode to tell kids a moral or give a public service announcement about what to do if your house is on fire or you're confronted with drugs or how to fix up your bike or how to ask for help or simply encourage kids to be nice to each other and tolerant and find non-violent resolutions to their problems and disputes (this may explain why we had to put up with the pacifist army rescue doctor Lifeline).
And like Transformers and countless other shows, quality of stories and animation often varied depending on the budget. But they did have some very memorable ones, and it sported heroes you couldn't help admiring and wishing you could either become or at least play sidekick to. Too bad you don't get 'em like this anymore.
Long live GI Joe, the real American Hero.
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