Monday, December 12, 2016

G.I. Joe and James Bond: A Few More Thoughts

Recently thinking about the G.I. Joe cartoon I was struck by how strong the similarities and connections to the Bond films are--G.I. Joe arguably being derived from Bond by way of Nick Fury, Cobra pretty closely hewing to SPECTRE in its essentials, and so forth.

However, it also seems worth considering the differences-- beyond the obvious fact that, as a syndicated weekday cartoon of the '80s, it was sanitized to a much greater degree. (James Bond stand-in Matthew Burke not allowed to smoke or drink or pursue Lady Jaye in any but the most subtle fashion when he dropped by in "The Spy Who Rooked Me," while any but the most oblique reference to death was rare.)

The most striking difference may be how much more over-the-top G.I. Joe was. This seems partly a matter of how what counts as over-the-top action had escalated since the '60s--big doses of science fiction increasingly necessary by that point. However, it also reflects that it was a drawn and animated rather than a filmed live-action product--meaning that if they could think it up, they could put it on the screen. It reflects, too, the fact that because it was made as a comic book/kid's cartoon there was more latitude to get zany (writing in ghosts, Cthulhu-like monsters and super-villains created from the DNA of famous conquerors), or just plain not make any sense. After all, when Bond blew up a SPECTRE headquarters, it usually took Ernst Stavro Blofeld a year or so to turn up again in another fortress--but Cobra seems to manage comparable feats on something like a monthly, even weekly, basis, with the new facilities usually sufficient to make even the most grandiose Bond villain green(er) with envy. (Hugo Drax could only wish his space station was as large, elaborate and well-equipped as the one we see in "The Pyramid of Darkness.")

Indeed, despite being an outlawed terrorist organization without any sign of a secure territorial base (despite which Cobra temples seem conveniently accessible everywhere), or the resources of a major nation-state sponsor (no nation is ever depicted as allied with them, all opposed to them, even the U.S. and Soviet Union cooperating), Cobra seems to have at its command the conventional military capabilities of a superpower. This extends to the ability to deploy operational fighter squadrons, tank forces, submarines (and even flying aircraft carriers!) anywhere in the world in a hurry--while however many of these the Joes capture or destroy, there are (usually) plenty of replacements available. The situation is in fact such that they regularly use all these weapons in major strikes against Joe facilities and forces on U.S. soil at will.1

The extreme casualness with such detail aside, there is also the focus of the series not on a single protagonist, or even a small, close-knit group of characters, but the big team as a whole, with its attention divided among many different characters, enabling those who ordinarily were just supporting players to often get their own episodes. (In season two, in fact, about half the episodes centered on characters only introduced in that season in one way or the other, with Mainframe, Leatherneck, Lifeline--and of course, the always scenery-chewing Sergeant Slaughter--each getting to be the star of an episode at least once.) Commensurately other earlier or more popular characters scarcely got any screen time at all.

Principally a function of the show being a promo for a large and continually expanding line of action figures, I suppose, it nonetheless wound up a far cry from the hardcore individualism of James Bond--and a rarity for American television in that way.

1. Indeed, the show was often iffy even on stuff that wouldn't have compromised the storyline much--like why the chain of command in this large, elite, joint-service military unit goes straight down from General Hawk to noncommissioned and warrant officers Duke, Flint and Beachhead; or how everyone so effortlessly switches between very different and hugely demanding combat specialties, not in a pinch but as a matter of routine. (Shipwreck, according to everything we are told about him a sailor in the narrow sense of the term, who has never been a naval aviator or a member of any other service, casually goes from driving battle tanks to flying attack helicopters to piloting space-capable fighter planes from episode to episode.)

Raymond Benson's the Union Saga (Extended James Bond Series)
Of G.I. Joe and James Bond
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
The Post-Ian Fleming James Bond Novels
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
My Posts on James Bond

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