Elsewhere on The Retro Network is a post with my glowing review for the 35th anniversary of the GI Joe miniseries “The Revenge of Cobra”. A mere five years later and the GI Joe brand switches production companies with mixed results. Let’s admit it upfront, most fans were disappointed with this mini-series and the follow-up season from DIC. However, I think everyone involved make snake salad out of snake… poop.
For two years after GI Joe the Movie, the classic cartoon existed in repeats after school. Sgt. Slaughter filmed introductions as himself to insert into the episodes. But overall, the show was dead. I believe this is where I stopped watching, and why I missed the DIC series when it debuted. I still bought the toys and remember some of these characters fondly. There is a vague memory of moments in the cartoon. Those could have been anytime in the last 30 years that I caught some of it on TV, VHS, DVD, or streaming. Not concrete moments when I was of grade school age watching the original Sunbow series.
The template that original series laid down is attempted here but ultimately fails. Sgt Slaughter and his new repainted figures, I mean his new team – Slaughter’s Marauders – are busy installing electricity in an unnamed third world country. It should be a noble tale of what GI Joe does when they’re not worried about Cobra. Instead, cameraman and reporter Leonard Michaels (“my friends call me Scoop”) is spinning all their work Trash TV style. Questioning the Joes true motives. Without time to question this new character’s motives, Cobra attacks.
The newly golden Destro leads an attack on a nearby monastery to steal the ancient underground power source called Dragonfire. Sarge’s team, with the help of Scoop, fights back against Destro, new subdivisions of Vipers, and for some reason Copperhead. Sgt. Slaughter makes Scoop a member of the GI Joe team after his heroics and Scoop’s negative feelings towards the team seem to disappear. But nothing involving Scoop is that simple.
Turns out Scoop is actually a member of the Crimson Guard. He sets up a clandestine meeting with his best friend from the Cobra Academy, an Alley Viper. Scoop is recording GI Joe’s secrets and sending them to Cobra. He has grown up believing GI Joe destroyed his family home (with the unspoken implication that his parents died in the subsequent fire). Destro and Serpentor hatch a plan to control the sources of Dragonfire worldwide, thanks to the information Scoop has provided. Then all of it. Seriously, all of Cobra’s plans to rule the world, are ruined because of a woman.
Destro has his new military despot leader gold look (but without the Iron Grenadiers and his split from Cobra as shown in the comics). Along with his midlife crisis comes the new, younger girlfriend. Destro has kicked the Baroness to the curb and is now getting down in the swamp with Zarana. Baroness, a woman scorned, does what every single woman in the history of the world has done in just such a situation. She convinces the one and only Dreadnok on the miniseries, Gnawgahyde, to join her in abducting the snake that was once Cobra Commander (“onsssssssssse a man”) and use the power of the Dragonfire to change him back into a human. A tale as old as time.
Turns out the Dragonfire energy can be harnessed to alter animal properties. The Baroness dons an ancient mask to harness the power through her but is cut off before Cobra Commander can become fully human. He’s a mutant snake man now but at least a man. Lacking troops, a group of curious monkeys are temporarily turned into ape-men to attack the GI Joe team inside an ancient temple.
The monkeys along with parts of the nearby Cobra forces scare off the Joe team and steal their vehicles. Cobra Commander discovers a way to use a combination of the Dragonfire and snake DNA onto their weapons. Thus a new stealthy and snake powered division of Cobra is born – the Python Patrol. But that’s not all this new machine can do! It can also alter human DNA as well, as Serpentor (who was a mix of DNA to begin with) is merged with the DNA of an iguana and never seen in the cartoon again! I have to imagine the Commander got his revenge against Cobra-La off camera.
Through all of this Scoop continues to keep up his charade until a cockroach at Cobra HQ (yes, I’m serious) chews through the right wires to remove security clearance on Scoop’s file. Turns out Cobra destroyed his parents’ home and spun the story in order to add the angry young Scoop into their fold. The truth before him, Scoop sets out to right the wrongs he caused while still being a double agent, only this time on the side of good. Thanks to Scoop’s inside knowledge, he is able to send the Joe team the frequency Cobra is using to combat the Dragonfire. With the power now under GI Joe’s control they send Cobra back into hiding. Or until the show resumes next year.
From the opening music, everything that made GI Joe great is here, but just off enough. It’s still fun, there are still things to enjoy, but not quite the perfection you remember. Like when a family recipe calls for a specific brand name and you use the store brand. Doesn’t taste quite right, and a lesson is learned for next time.
The opening video isn’t new animation for the theme music but is highlights from the next five episodes. Three characters retain their voice actors from the original series, but everyone else is new or has been recast. The miniseries features a worldwide problem, as the Dragonfire is found at four sources around the world, but the cast is limited to Slaughter’s Mauraders plus one or two, and about five named Cobra characters. The massive scope of all that is the toy line is edited down to not just the newest figures, but a handful from that. No Duke, Flint, Beach Head, Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Dreadnoks, and on. Serpentor dumped to the side faster than Marvel Comics pretending the Fantastic Four didn’t exist. Cobra Commander brought back in a new suit so the DIC series can retcon the Movie.
The animation is reused with different dialogue to extend scenes and save costs. Something a kid might not pick up on but it is glaring as an adult. That might just be the main difference between the two incarnations. The Sunbow series had veteran comic book writers on staff that knew how to tell an exciting story and showcase a large cast of characters. Much like comics, it was meant for kids but written and animated with enough respect to adults. Operation Dragonfire and the DIC series takes all the hallmarks of GI Joe and simplifies them for the grade-school set. With all of the reboots and reimaginings going on throughout pop culture I would love to see Larry Hama take everything already there for Dragonfire but rewrite it.
The foundation in Operation Dragonfire comes across like classic GI Joe, but the execution is pure discount The CORPS. Close in concept to the original, but ultimately not the same.