"The Cobra Strikes"
(a.k.a. The MASS Device Part I)
Written By Ron Friedman - Directed By Dan Thompson


.....Somewhere in the desert, four jets land on a runway at a military base. Their approach is witnessed by three men in uniform: the first, a black man in camouflage fatigues, declares these jets, called Skystrikers, to be "real beauties", while the second man, a blonde man in military fatigues, replies that they'll need the Skystrikers with Cobra around. The third man, who is wearing a midnight blue uniform, turns around, and immediately dives to the pavement. His companions follow suit, barely avoiding a gruesome demise.

.....As the Skystriker lands, Duke begins to give the pilot a severe dressing down, but stops when a familiar face removes her helmet and playfully scolds him for not having a sense of humor. After being helped down, Scarlett tells Duke that she's missed him, which invokes a sarcastic reply from him.

"Yeah, by that much."

The jovial attitude is shattered when the air raid siren sounds off, announcing the presence of a squadron of Cobra fighters! The jets start firing on the Skystrikers, sending Duke and the others scrambling.
.....The other Joes, meanwhile, rush to the defense of Joe Headquarters and the Skystrikers, buckling under the heavy fire. Exposed on the tarmac, Duke and Scarlett run for cover, but when one of the Cobra fighters has Scarlett dead to rights, Duke dramatically dives to her rescue, and merely shrugs the action off when Scarlett scolds him for going to extremes.
.....Taking a moment to survey the battle, Duke realizes that Major Bludd's assault force is specifically after the Skystrikers, and orders the team to get the jets in the air. Narrowly avoiding missile fire, Duke and Scarlett manage to safely reach a Skystriker and enter it.

Things don't get any easier, as the Cobra jets start a kamikaze run in a vain attempt to keep the Skystrikers out of the sky. Excellent piloting allows Duke and Scarlett to avoid the same fate as the Cobra pilots who perish when their jets crash, and they are able to drive off Major Bludd's attack squadron. Once he has landed, Duke orders the Joes to full alert, as he is certain that Cobra has bigger plans than a single attack.
.....Elsewhere, a group of people make their ascent up a great mountain range that has a foreboding fortress hidden between the many peaks.....and they are being watched.

"He comes."

Once the group reaches the front door to this horrible place, a hooded figure calls to the door asking for a sign, which sends his fellow travelers running, dropping a huge chest on the ground. Laughing at the men, who have left without bothering to get paid, the hooded man approaches one of four blue snakes sticking out of the ground. The odd creature speaks and opens its mouth to ask for identification, revealing its mechanized nature in the process. The mysterious man sticks his silver-colored hand in the snake's mouth, and it is scanned, opening the front door to the fortress.
.....Inside, the man, Destro, is scolded for his tardiness. Destro removes his cloak,

"The shipment was difficult to assemble, and I lost more time..."

revealing his silver helmet and matching gloves while firing back at Cobra Commander that not only was his shipment hard to assemble, but that the location of his headquarters was beyond ridiculous. The Commander brushes off Destro's complaints, choosing instead to concentrate on the three glass containers that the Cobra Officers have unpacked.

Suitably impressed with the contents of the containers, Cobra Commander declares, "Raise the MASS Device," leading to the revelation of a huge machine.

"These three elements..."

As he and Cobra Commander approach the MASS Device, Destro declares that it will help them rule the world. Cobra Commander wants to know if the MASS Device will hit its target, and Destro reveals that not only will this be possible, but that a homing device is being placed at the first target as they speak. Sufficiently convinced, Cobra Commander orders that the MASS Device be readied for use as he and Destro preside over the start of their sinister plan.....

.....At a US military base, Duke is being briefed by his superior officer with something to test the G.I. Joe team, with apologies for the poor timing after Cobra's attack on Joe Headquarters. A woman approaches the two men, clipboard in hand, and asks if General Flagg has indeed filed the proper paperwork to request the services of the Joes. Flagg introduces the woman as Major Juanita Hooper, a budget and and accounting person....from the Pentagon. After a polite salute, Duke walks by her (much to Major Hooper's consternation) and is told by the general that his job is to keep her happy, a prospect that Duke finds to be highly unlikely.
.....Arriving at a huge closed door in the middle of an immense silo, General Flagg declares that he can take Duke and Major Hooper no further, as there is a new satellite behind the doors that Flagg must protect until tomorrow's launch. Duke astutely surmises that Flagg wants him to stage a break in (again to the chagrin of Major Hooper, who tugs on one of her ear lobes in frustration), and further one-ups the general by stating that the break-in can begin....NOW!
.....Outside, Snake Eyes watches as an Army truck drives by before leaping onto the rear of the vehicle, gives him a free ride inside the base's gated entrance. Snake Eyes leaps off the truck and dashes behind a pile of crates, evading guards with guard dogs until he is able to climb a water tower, where he manages to ride a rope line to the roof of one of the base's building, where he checks in on his watch with.....
............Scarlett, who is inside a cargo plane, which she jumps out of and flies to meet Snake Eyes with a JUMP jet pack before checking in with.......
...........Stalker, who is waiting outside the base on a RAM motorcycle. He turns on the vehicle, and bum rushes the base, shooting down the gates with the RAM's laser cannon and using a ramp to jump over a blockade while Scarlett and Snake Eyes look on. At the apex of his ascent, Stalker leaps from the RAM to meet his teammates on the roof of the building, while the RAM falls into a pile of oil drums, creating a huge explosion. At Stalker's urging, Scarlett kicks down the door into the building.
.....Inside the building, Duke, General Flagg, and Major Hooper watch the smoldering remains of Stalker's RAM.

"It looks like your team blew it on the first try."

Major Hooper attempts to add salt to the wound by declaring that the very idea of anyone, much less G.I. Joe, infiltrating the base to be "ludicrous", but as if on cue, a ceiling panel falls to the ground, and out drops Scarlett, Snake Eyes, and Stalker.

"You were sayin'?"

After both groups salute each other, General Flagg congratulates Scarlett, Snake Eyes, and Stalker on a job well done, but says that it simply proves that the base's security is up to snuff. When Duke expresses his confusion, Flagg explains that more than three soldiers, with a great deal of heavy equipment would be required for such a heist. Major Hooper suggests that Flagg show the the satellite to prove his point, to which the general hesitantly agrees.
.....General Flagg's point is made instantly clear: the satellite is huge.

Major Hooper considers the satellite to be impressive, although far too costly for what it does, prompting Scarlett to ask just that. The satellite is the Relay Star, and it can send powerful energy to any place at any time. Hooper begins to take the Joes on a tour of the silo, but orders them to leave their weapons behind. As the four comply, Major Hooper grabs her earring, placing it against one of the tail fins of the Relay Star.

However, closer examination reveals that the earring is not what it seems.....

.....Meanwhile, at Cobra Temple, Cobra Commander marvels at the earring/homing device on the MASS Device's control monitor while Destro explains that the MASS Device shall convert the Relay Star to energy and send it to the Cobra Temple: Molecular, Assembler, Scrambler, and Sender. However, when Destro pushes the button to activate the MASS Device, it malfunctions, and begins to produce smoke, angering Cobra Commander. Destro maintains that it's a problem with the operating temperature of the MASS Device, and orders troopers and two HISS tanks to the transport grid, so that he can send them to the Relay Star so that they can remove it by more conventional means. While the Commander is still skeptical, Destro proceeds, as the troopers are enveloped in a blue light......

.....and vanish!

The blue light is absorbed back into the MASS Device's beam emitter, and shoots out through the roof and through a giant cobra at the top of Cobra Temple,

while at the military base, a rumbling prefaces the arrival of the Cobra troops!

"No! It's not possible!"

The Cobra forces start firing, sending the Joes running for cover, as only Duke and General Flagg are armed (and even then only with handguns). Duke tells Major Hooper to run, but little does he know......

"Thanks, but I have other....plans!"

......that Major Hooper is really the Baroness!
.....As the Baroness joins her allies General Flagg and the Joes are driven from the silo as the doors slam shut. Scarlett mention that the Relay Star had to have been put into place using gantry elevators, which Duke suggests can be used to lift the walls off their foundation. The plan is a success, and the regrouped Joes (now with some much needed backup) are able to drive back the Cobra forces, destroying both HISSes and a RAM in the process.
.....At Cobra Temple, Cobra Commander is almost apoplectic as he starts hurling insults at Destro, who merely brushes off the verbal assault as he declares mastery of the MASS Device before activating it.
.....With their forces humiliated, Major Bludd and the Baroness peek out from behind the Relay Star and are ordered by Duke to lay down their arms and surrender. The two humbly comply, until their troops and the Relay Star begin to be covered in the blue light of the MASS beam.

Both Cobra agents quickly rush back to their men, and are follow by Duke, who manages to grab hold of the Baroness just before the Cobra forces disappear!

"Good grief! He's vanished, and the satellite with him!"

.....The MASS Device delivers its cargo to Cobra Temple, and Duke immediately starts fighting. First by shoving the Baroness into Major Bludd, and the by taking out two Cobra Officers before making a break for a HISS tank before Bludd starts firing at him, forcing Duke to change direction. Cobra Commander orders Bludd to cease fire, as he demands that Duke be taken in alive. Duke manages to take out four more Officers, both in pairs, before a total of seven Cobra Officers wrap him up, with one giving the Joe leader a karate chop to the back of the neck to knock him out. Duke is then ordered to the slave pens with a future in whatever arcane sport Cobra Commander has in store for him. Destro launches the Relay Star into space, enabling Cobra to bring the power of the MASS Device to the world.
.....Later, the MASS Device turns its eye to Paris, as an anonymous Cobra agent places another Cobra homing device on the Eiffel Tower......
.....At Joe Headquarters, Breaker is stymied by Cobra's attack, and has no answer as to where Cobra is, or where they will attack next. He does, however, have a lead on how Cobra pulled off the heist of the Relay Star: molecular transference, with the leader in the field being the Nobel Prize-winning, scientist, Dr. Laszlo Vandermeer.

"If so, a Nobe Prize-winning scientist, Dr. Laszlo Vandermeer, is the world's leading expert."

Vandermeer has a house in New England, but before Breaker can say anymore.....

"Looks like Cobra took over every television and radio terminal in the world!"

......Cobra interrupts the world's TV and radio broadcasts! Cobra Commander uses the opportunity to tell the world that he has a weapon like none seen before. Destro activates the MASS Device, and with the Relay Star directing the beam,

the MASS Device fires on the Eiffel Tower.....

.......and it disappears!
.....Cobra Commander declares that this was merely a demonstration, and the first of many. His demand from the people of the world: beg your leaders to surrender! And then, only statics fills the screens and radios of a now very frightened planet.
.....Seemingly a world away from this is Duke, who awakens in Cobra's slave pens, asking for answers that do not come. Duke guesses that it may have to do with the headbands that everyone is wearing, with their electronic readouts pulsing rhythmically. Duke eventually begs for some water, and one girl stops, seeming to listen to Duke's request.

The Baroness then enters the area, and informs him that talking to the other slaves will be useless, and that he shall soon be like them, but not before entering the Arena of Sport. Then she has two slaves grab Duke.....
.....A squadron of G.I. Joe Dragonfly helicopters approaches a small New England farmhouse, and are greeted by Dr. Lazlo Vandermeer.....

.......but all is not as it would appear.
.....The Joes are welcomed to New England by the seeming Dr. Vandermeer.....

"Welcome to New England.......and to your

......and Major Bludd reveals himself, sparking a battle between G.I. Joe and Cobra!
.....At first, the Cobras drives the Joes back, going so far as to send Scarlett and Snake Eyes hiding behind a pile of logs. Despite the highly flammable nature of their cover, Scarlett is able to safely call for air support, which brings the Joes back on the offensive. Scarlett advances towards a windmill where she faces off with Major Bludd, who fires at the female Joe, only for the attack to backfire as the windmill collapses after Scarlett dodges his laser blast. Meanwhile, Gung-Ho puts the squeeze on a trio of Cobra troopers, and Major Bludd chases down Scarlett, who is now unarmed, near a pig sty, but is knocked into the sty by Snake Eyes, sending the pigs running, and embarrassing the major just enough to order a retreat.
.....Just as Scarlett orders a cease fire, Breaker and Steeler brings out a weakened and freed Dr. Vandermeer, who admits that the MASS Device is his invention, its secrets laid out to the snakes through torture. Furthermore, the only way to oppose Cobra will be for the Joes to build their own MASS Device. Later, as they are flying back to base, Dr. Vandermeer tells the Joes of the three catalytic elements that power MASS, and of their rare nature.
.....Meanwhile, at Cobra Temple, Duke's preparation for the Arena of Sport has been finished, and he is led out by armed guards. Watching him is the girl from earlier, who resolves to help G.I. Joe's leader.

"I must find a way to help him."

.....Duke arrives in the Arena of Sport with an unhelpful shove by his guards. The huge, sand-covered ring is bare save for two large Roman-style columns, which are some distance in front of Cobra Commander's box. The hissing tyrant welcomes Duke to the arena, and then angers Duke by thanking him for agreeing to take part. Duke rushes the box, attempting to climb a large banner with the Cobra logo in order to get to his foe, but Destro produces a video game controller, and by using it, forces Duke to the ground, and makes him bow in submission.
.....The shaming complete, Cobra Commander decides to bring in his champion as a door in the floor opens and rises a huge behemoth of a man to the arena floor!


Duke is barely able to avoid getting stepped on by the giant, who proves his strength by smashing both columns into rubble.


As the giant advances on Duke menacingly, Destro affirms that Duke is now his slave, as will be the case for the rest of humanity soon enough.......

"You are my slave, Duke, and soon, the whole world will bow to Destro and Cobra!!
Ha-ha, ha-ha-ha-ha-HAAAA!!!!!!

....."In our next episode of G.I. Joe, Duke finds an unexpected ally in the shadows of the Arena of Sport, while Snake Eyes, Scarlett, and Stalker join with Snow Job in a treacherous search for the radioactive Crystals of Death. Cobra terrifies the world with the impossible capture of an entire army, and Duke's desperate bid for freedom seems sure to end in disaster. All in 'Slave of the Cobra Master', the next exciting episode of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero!"


.....Thanks to Lou Scheimer setting the record straight in his autobiography, we can definitively declare "The Cobra Strikes" to be the half hour of television that sparked animation's syndicated revival in the '80s. While this in no part takes away He-Man's storied place in history (in no small part because He-Man was a year-round, 65-episode series from the get go, as opposed to a one-week event that was rerun once in December of 1983 before retreating to home video until the 1985-1986 season), there is something important, something special about being first.
.....The one thing to remember is that this miniseries, and with it, all of Hasbro's dealings in film and TV, almost didn't happen. When developing the promotional campaign for the revived G.I. Joe toyline, Hasbro had wanted an all-animated commercial, which in order to skirt around network restrictions regarding the amount of animation in toy ads, had to be for something like, for instance, a comic book. Since Hasbro's bitter rival, Mattel, was allied with DC, this meant that Marvel Comics was Hasbro's only real choice to partner with to create a comic to pair with these commercials.
.....This was highly fortunate for Hasbro in the end, as writer and artist Larry Hama was trying to sell a series called Fury Force to the brass at Marvel at the same time, which would have featured Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan leading a hodge-podge team of SHIELD troops fighting HYDRA. This concept was brought over almost completely for G.I. Joe, with Archie Goodwin naming G.I. Joe's foe Cobra and Hama (despite being such a poor writer that he had special permission to freelance because none of Marvel's editors wanted anything to do with him) was drafted to write the comic and develop the characters.
.....For the ads themselves, Hasbro's ad agency, Griffin-Bacal, had formed a production company in 1981 (after having backed the first two seasons of Star Blazers as a company called Sunwagon), Sunbow Productions, to produce a children's show, The Great Space Coaster. The scope of the show included animation, and Sunbow created the first comic book ad, which a massive success and made the comic book and toys immediate hits. Sensing the possibility for far greater success, Joe Bacal and Tom Griffin lobbied Hasbro to make an animated series. Hasbro approved a five-episode miniseries at a point when most considered Filmation's 65-episode run for He-Man to be pure folly.
.....Luckily, Marvel had its own studio, Marvel Productions, which was essentially DePatie-Freleng Enterprises reorganized following the retirement of Friz Freleng, and with an infusion of new talent poached from Filmation. With their overseas partner, Toei, making this five-part miniseries would be challenging, but not unreasonable. For the story, though, Sunbow decided to go in a completely different direction by hiring Ron Friedman. Friedman was very much not an animation writer-he broke into writing for television in 1965 writing for a seeming who's who of situation comedies-from Gilligan's Island to All in the Family-until 1976, when a single episode of Wonder Woman marked a massive sea change into writing for hour-long action/adventure shows. While not exactly the best writer of his time, Friedman knew how to write a good script, and had a firm grasp on storytelling. But, most importantly, he wasn't likely to fall into the same tired tropes that were endemic in animation at the time, which Griffin and Bacal were extremely keen to avoid. (This decision would backfire in a way, as Larry Hama was incensed by what he considered to be a snub, which would help lead to a feud between Hama and future Sunbow writers, as well as a degree of animosity towards the Sunbow series that persists to this day.)
.....While Friedman had been given character biographies (most likely the same as the filecards that were on the G.I. Joe toys), he proceeded to throw much of it out the window, preferring to start from scratch, in part because there was literally nothing to the characters except for job qualifications. Additionally, two characters packaged with vehicles, Hawk and Grand Slam, were purposely omitted from the series (and, proving Friedman's point, they were not missed). Another big decision made was to split up the heroes at various points in the episodes so as to give everyone a fair chance to appear as something approaching actual functioning characters and not just Random Guy #1, 2, 3, and so on. His scripts were finished in early 1983, and by March, character models, layouts, and other design works was underway.
.....The final piece of the puzzle to be put in place was the voices. Sunbow turned to Wally Burr (with a big assist from Marvel producer Don Jurwich), who was at the time most famous for voice directing the various incarnations of Superfriends (again, frequently alternating with Don Jurwich), and for his epic length recording sessions that used all of the union-allowed 8 hours to get the performances just right. He remains, to this day, highly controversial, but the results speak for themselves, as he was one of the first voice directors in the TV era to take the job seriously, and make sure that the performances were consistent and of the highest quality. Not shockingly, the cast for G.I. Joe has many names from his work at Hanna-Barbera, in addition to a few newer faces.
.....Unsurprisingly, the theme song for the series is a re-orchestrated and extended version of the toy jingle conceived by Ford Kinder and Spencer Michlin. However, unlike later openings for the series, the opening has three "acts": the Joes defending Joe Headquarters from an attempt by Cobra (and Destro, as specifically emphasized by the lyrics) to infiltrate and/or destroy the base, a training montage that invokes the memory of the first toy commercial (including the re-use of the animation of Flash from that ad),

"......daring, highly trained...."

and the defeat of Cobra forces attacking a generic city. The credits ends with what would become the standard for the show's openings: a selection of the newest Joes raising their arms skyward as the show's title is displayed. Here, though, we encounter a bit of a problem:


The series title slides into view, but the "A Real American Hero" tagline never rises into the "title safe" area of the film frame where producers can be assured that text will be displayed on even the oldest of TV sets. This snafu would have two effects: firstly, every episode of the miniseries has this last shot re-staged to mixed success, with only the final episode (which has certain framing issues with its telecine transfer) getting the title just right. Secondly, when the earliest produced Season 1 episodes were prepared for home video release and international distribution (as the Season 1 credits were prepared much later than the episodes themselves), this version of the "MASS Device" opening would be recycled, poor framing and all. In fact, until Rhino started mucking about with their poor restorations of G.I. Joe, this erroneous version of the title sequence would be the only one most people would see for years.
....."The Cobra Strikes" does one very helpful thing that most animation pilots fail to do: it actually understands that the viewer has just seen the intro that explains the basic idea of the series. So, instead of exposition, we're dropped into the plot proper, with new concepts and characters introduced in a far more natural way. Another big plus is that we get a dynamic opening, with the Skystrikers landing in a tracking shot where the runway zooms along in a smoothly animated sequence that looks miles above anything you'd normally see on a televised cartoon (which usually began with a panning establishing shot, eating up time). Furthermore, in a pre-CGI world, this bit of animation was amazingly difficult to get right.
.....While the sequence with Duke, Snake Eyes, and Stalker almost getting turned into street pizza by a Skystriker has become cliché in the wake of movies like Top Gun, it was novel at the time, and particularly in animation (in fact, it's done in a way that would have been utterly impossible at the time in live action). Best of all being the twist on the identity of the pilot:

"Oh, come on, Duke, where's your spirit of adventure?"

It's a girl! At the time, women had been flying in the military for only nine years, and even now the combat status of women is highly debated (even though the idea of "warrior women" has existed in popular culture for ages). G.I. Joe has a heavy female following, and this seems to be why: it treats its female characters are equals to the guys, while never losing sight of their femininity (to the point that almost all of the women on the show are able to successfully balance a romantic life with their status as fighters). The networks were openly struggling with this issue in 1983, as liberated, independent women were few and far between on Saturday mornings. But with Scarlett, G.I. Joe managed to set the bar a lot higher for syndication in less than two minutes of total screen time.
.....The Cobra attack is chillingly effective, and provides a context for every battle we'll see from this point on. It begins with the actual sound for air raids (something very familiar to adult viewers at the time, and something the networks would never have allowed on a cartoon), and continues without music and without banter. This is war, and it is simply not glorified in any way.
.....And then, as we cut to Duke and Scarlett, Johnny Douglas' music begins anew, and the show we have signed up for, filled with exciting adventures, can truly begin. It's a simple moment, but much as with the moral to the classic He-Man and the Masters of the Universe episode "Double Edged Sword", it gives a moral context to the series, and in doing so, proves that just because the characters and the world they inhabit started out as toys, this cartoon is not just a half hour commercial.
.....These moments are instrumental in establishing the character of the series, as we see Scarlett and, more surprisingly, Duke performing acrobatics to avoid enemy fire and Duke's first act of supreme stupidity in the name of saving someone's life (and, not shockingly, the first person he saves is Scarlett). One of the great forgotten qualities of Duke rears its head here as well, as he's a bit of an unrepentant wise ass in declaring his status as a "man of action". This entire miniseries is lighter on the humor than much of the rest of the series (Scarlett for instance becomes downright caustic with her wit once the first season starts), we see signs of the Duke that will call his troops "mutton heads" immediately.
.....Something that does not last is the casual depiction of death as the unseen and unmentioned pilots of Major Bludd's attack force do not parachute to safety.

G.I. Joe regularly gets criticized for the lack of realistic violence (read: lack of deaths), especially in comparison to the comic, which notably killed off a bunch of Joes for little more than shock value in the early '90s, and again towards the end of Devil's Due's (now non-canonical) run in the early part of this century. A lot of this, rather sadly, is because comic fans really wanted to see Duke die as originally intended in G.I. Joe: The Movie (a move that would have been even more catastrophic for the franchise's popularity than any of the deaths in Transformers: The Movie), and see the change as a massive backpedaling (which it was) in a film these people can't stand anyways because it's too fantastical for their narrow view of G.I. Joe. But here, without Stephen Hassenfeld's personally mandated "parachute rule", the complaints appear quite weak.
.....The closing of Act 1 at Cobra Temple is one of the more impressively realized scenes in the entire miniseries. The Temple itself is suitably creepy, with Clutch's description of the place as looking "like the Hotel Dracula" in the final episode being as simple and as accurate as is humanly possible.

Cobra Commander is given an imposing pre-introduction here, and Chris Latta's voice, aided by a sinister reverb (which would disappear starting with The Revenge of Cobra), is most unlike the familiar Cobra Commander/Starscream delivery for which he would become famous for. The Commander's megalomania takes a back seat to his more menacing qualities, which fits the drier, straighter tone of this miniseries, but is a bad fit for the character.
.....Arthur Burghardt does better as Destro, in part because he is unburdened by Destro's fantastic countenance.

"Oh, Great Cobra, we await thy bidding!"

His voice is fearful and frightening, with more than a bit of zealotry. But once his fearful employees scatter in fear, we know that this man is far too intelligent to believe in any superstitious foolishness. Adding to the mystery is the shot of Destro's hand as it is scanned by the serpent-like security device.

It looks as if there are electronic components in Destro's hand, frankly, and is never full explained, in part because the answer would likely be a disappointment compared to what the average viewer could imagine.
.....Inside, Cobra Commander and Destro bicker much as would become the custom, with the Commander acting like an impatient child who wants things to go his way, but can be swayed with promises of power. Destro, for his part, seems to hold his associate with a degree of contempt, and he plays to Cobra Commander's lust for power by giving him three substances that invoke the classic elements of fire, earth, and water (one can assume that Destro believes that Cobra Commander has more than enough air, both in his lungs and in his head). So, it comes as no surprise that the act ends with a gloating bit of ceremony by Cobra Commander (who, in accordance with the Law of Diminishing Cartoon Villain Dreams of Conquest, begins the series hoping to rule the universe). The thing is, Cobra Commander has not yet been exposed as a total dweeb yet, so this gloating has a powerful edge to it that would slowly diminish as the series continued.
.....As Cobra Commander has no face, the animators compensate greatly by making his movements overly expressive. The thing is, the "rules" for how to animate his face plate are clearly not established, as we get a rather odd angle here.

"Then we shall not fail!"

Cobra Commander's neck (which is rather conspicuously colored with the same shade of blue as his jacket in this miniseries, as opposed that of the blue in his shirt) appears as if it is above his face plate. Additionally, the traditional crease (an invention of model designer Russ Heath and, like the stripe on the top of his helmet, something missing from most "helmet" versions of the toys) is utterly missing.
.....Act 2 introduces General Flagg, who serves as a surprisingly effective "authority" figure for the Joes. As for "Major Hooper", she unintentionally establishes a trend where the Baroness comes off as unnecessarily chilly while in disguise, because she's just too much of a witch to be able to hold it in for too long. However, unlike most other disguised Cobras, the Baroness has a big "tell": she constantly is seen tugging on her earring.

"Not a very wise procedure, dollar wise."

.....Next, we get the infiltrations of Snake Eyes, Scarlett, and Stalker, which is pure filler plot wise, but quite instructive for all three characters. Snake Eyes gets established as the man of mystery by sneaking onto the base, Stalker makes a big splash by taking on the direct approach, and Scarlett.....she basically ignores the whole point of the mission by flying in on a JUMP Jet. This eventually becomes a trend for Scarlett, as she will, excluding for that big Duke-sized blind spot in her eyes and heart, happily ignore the conventional approach when she pleases, often going for the sarcastic approach, or, in "Cobra Soundwaves", to do what she simply feels like doing. It's quite possible that Scarlett is, quite unintentionally, "trope aware" at a time when no one even knew what that meant. [Feel free to insert a "soulless ginger" joke here if you feel like it.]
.....In this instance, however, Duke might just be in on the gag as he has a goofy grin on his face as General Flagg and the Baroness declare his plan to be a failure.

"....that the G.I. Joe team could breach these defenses was totally ludicrous."

The problem is, Duke did not anticipate that the Relay Star would be as huge as it is, so General Flagg is right in principle about security.
.....A chink in Destro's armor presents itself as he first uses the MASS Device, and it doesn't work. It's clear that Destro sold the machine as one of his inventions (and really, it's not that wild of an assumption based on Destro's later inventions) when he hasn't even tested the thing because of his ulterior motives behind allying with Cobra (which begin and end with the words "personal" and "gain"). Immediately, the burden is not on whether or not such a device can be made (as I can say with some confidence that the station I watched G.I. Joe on, WVNY in Vermont, was not the only one that paired this show with reruns of Star Trek), but whether or not Destro can do it. This helps the viewer suspend disbelief, as a savvy viewer is like, "Holy shit, Destro did it!" when the characters on screen are amazed that people appear and disappear out of thin air.
.....It speaks incredibly well of Friedman's script and the direction that the most unbelievable thing in the closing moments of Act 2 is the Baroness's change from Major Hooper to herself. The pounds literally melt away as the mask is ripped off and the Baroness' hair darkens to black. This is the reason why, as silly as it seemed, later unmaskings would involve a full body switch and a quick cut to distract the viewer.
.....There is, however, one aspect of this scene that should probably be discussed: the weapons that the G.I. Joes use. While the sound effects of the Skystrikers firing their weapons at the start of the episode were clearly the familiar sound effect for the G.I. Joe lasers, from this point on until the end of the miniseries, Joe weapons will largely alternate between other "generic" laser sounds and conventional machine gun fire. This has led some (mostly fans of the comic, looking to take shots at the perceived lack of realism in later episodes) to speculate that the original plan was for Cobra to use lasers (as their weapons fire in this miniseries almost exclusively uses the familiar sound effect for Cobra lasers) and the Joes to use regular machine guns. The problem with this is that Joe weapons fire is still red (neither side's weapons fire uses the then-complicated and time-consuming double-exposure effect needed to achieve the "glow" in this miniseries) and their guns commonly destroy armor plated vehicles (such as the HISS tanks while pushing the Cobras back behind the Relay Star). Lastly, the Joes' rifles are modeled after the one that came with Snow Job's toy-which is called out even on the filecards as being a laser rifle. (Interestingly, Cobra's rifles are modeled on the German MP-40, the primary machine gun of that country's soldiers during World War II.) So, yes, the Joes were pretty much always intended to use lasers.
.....Duke's reaction to the Baroness and Major Bludd rushing away is classic.

"Ah ha-ha-HA! I'm afraid our surrender has been cancelled!"

It's so wonderfully overplayed, and something that would not pass today (for fear of painting Duke as a queen, I'm sure). Not so wonderful is how Scarlett looks when crying out with surprise.


The animators in this miniseries really seem to struggle to keep Scarlett's face on model, but this is by far and away the worst shot of the five episodes, as she is not properly proportioned at all.
.....Duke's struggle in Cobra Temple to start Act 3 is well conceived, as it not only highlights his determination, but it's well animated. One shot in particular stands out:

Not only does Duke run across the frame in a manner that gives the shot depth, but the Cobra lying on the ground is seen breathing, a detail usually ignored in cartoons.
.....Paris is suitably introduced with a brief bit of "La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. We truck in on the MASS Device's monitor and end up transported to Paris, with an unusual pan that's shaped like the arc a windshield wiper makes.

One of the more effective recurring musical touches makes its formal debut here, as there is an electronic stinger that is not unlike a rattlesnake when the Cobra agent places the MASS homing device. While one of these stingers is a part of the series signature cliffhanger cue (which has already been used twice in this episode) and opened the act, this use, to emphasize menace, is where the stinger makes occasional, and wildly effective, appearances.
.....This episode has been everywhere, and has set up so much, but oddly it is some 15 minutes in before we enter the Control Room of Joe Headquarters, which is nearly as iconic and as familiar as the base's facade. Despite being hopelessly outdated in its appearance (as it reflects an '80s outlook to the "five minutes in the future" approach), it's so marvelously effective in its simplicity. The room's seven monitors (with the center one being larger than the others) would probably become a mess of smaller and larger monitors with computer-aided junk confusing the viewer today.
.....Friedman clearly had problems describing what the MASS Device does without saying "transporter" (and I strongly doubt he was familiar with Doctor Who's equivalent term, transmat), as Steeler's comments on the matter are painfully generic sounding. This is not Ron Friedman's fault: the very concept of matter transference has been so defined by Star Trek that any alternative paradigm is unimaginable. But boy does this episode step in it.
.....Woefully unexplored are the implications of Cobra's first big televised shakedown of the world. The fallout from the 9/11 attacks continues to this very day and has been pretty much catastrophic. Here Cobra Commander makes the Eiffel Tower vanish into thin air and he even promises to do even more! Granted, Friedman uses the Pearl Harbor attacks as a model, and has the world unite to take a stand against Cobra (ignoring the blatant issue of American military might being the only thing that actually opposes the fang gang), but even then there was a healthy does of fear, and the miniseries does nothing to address it. It's a great gaping hole in the series, and since the comic fans don't care for a public G.I. Joe/Cobra war (something painfully outmoded in the wake of the aforementioned 9/11), it seems unlikely to ever be addressed.
.....The prison scene with Duke seems like something lifted from World War II, but with an especially creepy twist. Cobra's prisoners are rendered as little more than vegetables, with the exception of Selina, who is unexplained as a setup for the next episode. This miniseries dances around painting Cobra as expys for the Nazis and the USSR, and here Cobra is clearly running a TV friendly concentration camp, herding a vaguely Eastern European group of people and slapping mind control headbands on them. Then, we have Dr. Vandermeer, who seems to be a stand in for the type of scientist that the Nazis, the Russians, and America all herded up in an effort to create the nastiest weapons of death humanity has ever conceived.
.....Surprisingly, Major Bludd not only fails to mimic the doctor's voice, but his mouth doesn't move while masked. Given that Destro's masked mouth is always seen moving when he speaks,realism in this area is not a priority, and would continue in this fashion for the rest of the series. The thing is, Major Bludd is never in this position again, so it works in retrospect.
.....The battle here is quite a bit like later ones, though it is quite short, and there are a few surprising cheats here and there with the animation. One of the more interesting shots, has a problem, as Major Bludd runs into the camera, his laser (which is a rather bizarrely faithful reimagining of the rocket firing gun his toy comes with) firing until it fills the screen......with a strobing effect. Granted, this is ages before this technique (which was extremely common in video games and cartoons until the notorious Pokémon incident in the late '90s) was revealed to induce seizures, but it plays very poorly in a modern context, especially since The Hub airs this bit intact using the even more dazzling Rhino remaster.
.....Things go from bad to worse to downright evil in amazingly quick fashion. The Arena of Sport, which will become increasingly over the top in later appearances, is played as straight as possible, and the Roman influence is at its clearest with the columns and the Coliseum-like layout of the arena and the stands.

"Welcome to the Cobra Arena of Sport, Duke. We are pleased you have agreed to participate in our games."

Duke does manage one of his better insults ("I've agreed to nothing, Reptile Breath, and the only game that interests me is kicking in your fangs!"), but it's a game he simply cannot win. Destro then dates this episode by producing an Atari 2600 controller.

"Come, now, Duke, where's your...."

While the 2600 was the dominant console of the day, the Great Video Game Crash became a thing while this miniseries was in production, rendering the controllers a tad obsolete (and even more so when one considers that Nintendo's Family Computer, which would create a new paradigm for video game controllers, was released in Japan in July of 1983). Interestingly, a company named Wico had a controller with this exact design on the market, in a very Destro-esque red-and-black color scheme.
.....Destro uses his Wico Command Control Famous Red Ball™Joystick to force Duke to bow, which is amazingly played straight here.

With Duke's humiliation now complete, Cobra Commander decides he needs to crush the Joe leader.....literally. Ramar is beyond huge, which creates a bizarre situation when watching all five episodes in a row, where a character shrinks from being a 12 foot tall behemoth to maybe eight feet as he becomes less monstrous. Since Ramar takes a powder in "The Worms of Death" and returns for the final two episodes at his new height, watching the miniseries on a daily basis masks the switch a bit. The true reason for Ramar's initial height is, of course, because this is the cliffhanger (and a fine one at that), with all the pressures and conventions that that entails.

Final Verdict

....."The Cobra Strikes" is a great introduction to the MASS Device miniseries, and the series in general. However, the tone is wildly different, and a lot of the really important pieces are missing or decidedly different from their final form. But what's here works, and it works well, even after 30 years. This episode can rightly be regarded as a classic, but it's only the beginning.

Today's Moment of Whimsy

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