In 2011, a team of military specialists were branded as traitors to their country for a crime they didn’t commit. Promptly escaping to the underground and still wanted by both the elite military team known as the Falcons and the evil organization known as Cobra, they are known as both heroes and outlaws but consider themselves “ordinary Joes”.
This, in a nutshell, is the premise of G.I. Joe: Renegades, the latest animated incarnation of a toy line that has become an American institution. Using the 1980s Real American Hero version of the Joe team as a template and borrowing liberally from The A-Team, this is a show that, at least on paper, seems like the ultimate example of the chocolate meeting the peanut butter. As a dyed-in-the-wool child of the '80s with a love of G.I. Joe that borders on obsession, I was excited at the prospect of a new G.I. Joe animated series, especially one that shares its basic premise with another iconic 1980s series (itself being little more than a live-action cartoon). There was some apprehension, of course, after drinking from the bitter cup that was G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but since it was scientifically impossible to be inferior to that turd, I figured Joe fans were in the clear and welcomed Renegades with open arms.
Now that doesn’t mean I was able to watch it as often as I liked. Without DVR (I know it’s only like, five extra bucks a month. I’m cheap), I just caught the show whenever I was able. Quite frankly, I wasn’t all that impressed, but I chalked a lot of it up to the confusion one encounters when watching a program out of sequence and the rest of it to the fact that, having been raised on Larry Hama’s stellar run on the Marvel comic as well the less-than-stellar Sunbow cartoon, I was simply a victim of my own nostalgia. Failing to click with the new series, I vowed to revisit G.I. Joe: Renegades when I actually had the time to watch the episodes in the intended order, so that I could give the show a fair shake and hopefully accept it as “the new G.I. Joe”.
Fast forward to now, and the first volume of G.I. Joe: Renegades is set to be released on June 5, 2012. Containing the initial 13 episodes of the first season in an attractive two-disc set, this collection finally offered me the opportunity to view the show as it was intended to be viewed. So how did it hold up?
As I previously stated, the premise is pretty sweet. Rather than depicting Cobra as a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world, we get Cobra Industries, which uses communications, pharmaceuticals, and military technology as a cover for arms dealing and extortion. It seems that everyone on Earth uses Cobra products and everyone loves them. In an effort to expose the organization for what they really are, Army Intelligence operative Shana O’Hara puts together a small team to investigate Cobra Pharmaceuticals. Discovering a secret weapon, the team engages Cobra operatives in a firefight. Explosions ensue, it makes the nightly news, and before you know it, the team is on the run, trying to clear their names and discovering that the corruption isn’t limited to the corporate level, but extends all the way to some pretty high-ranking military personnel.
Unlike previous versions of G.I. Joe, this isn’t a team of square-jawed, one-dimensional do-gooders waving the flag and spouting catchphrases while they fire lasers wildly without hitting a single target. As a matter of fact, these people don’t seem to like each other all that much and trust each other even less. While several of the characters have humorous personalities and crack jokes, the series carries itself with a deadly seriousness and there’s no trace of the tongue-in-cheek stories from the cheese-filled '80s series. That isn’t to say that the show is grounded in reality; there’s plenty of tech that doesn’t exist in the real world and over-the-top characterization. But it’s not a show that talks down to its audience at all, and that is much appreciated.
The series takes its time introducing us to the world in which a hideously disfigured megalomaniac works with the largest arms dealer in the known world, kidnaps hobos to test weaponized exo-armor, and keeps ninjas on the payroll. It lays the groundwork slowly, allowing the viewer to fully grasp the many layers of the onion that is Cobra, and how firm their grip is on the so-called “free world”. As I said earlier, it’s a show that takes itself seriously, but in my estimation, that’s a big part of the problem - G.I. Joe: Renegades probably takes itself a little too seriously. One might say that Renegades doesn’t rush as it seeks to build a fleshed-out world for its characters to inhabit. Conversely, one might also say that the show is boring as hell.
I hate to be one of those fans who refuse to accept change. I hate to be the guy who says “It’s not my G.I. Joe, so it must be garbage.” I have an intense dislike for that kind of fan and I do my best to avoid being one, but I also can’t refute the facts: G.I. Joe has long been known as the realm of exotic locales and outlandish characters, men with beryllium-steel masks that somehow manage to show expression and twin brothers who finish each others’ sentences. Remember Zartan? The biker dude who changed color in sunlight and used a holographic technology, genetic manipulation, and mysticism to become the most astonishing master of disguise the world had ever seen? Well in this series, he’s a biker who does impressions and harasses waitresses in a smalltown diner. No, seriously. That’s it.
Every episode on this volume feels like it’s all set up with no payoff. Which, to be perfectly honest, seems to be the truth. It’s only the first half of the series and from the few episodes I’ve seen from the second half of the season (and a little bit of research I did online), there is some payoff yet to come. But it’s one thing to progress a storyline slowly in order to create a fully formed world in which your characters can exist and another thing to tell a story which progresses so imperceptibly that entire icebergs actually melt before there’s any payoff.
While the stories are solid and the characterizations are interesting, the show is just dull. It doesn’t have to be my G.I. Joe, but I do require that it bears some resemblance to the action-packed excitement that G.I. Joe is known for. Some of the names are the same, most of the situations are different and that’s all okay. What’s not okay is presenting an action program in which it seems nothing happens on an episode-to-episode basis.
Does that make G.I. Joe: Renegades a terrible show? Not exactly; for my money, it’s just a bit misguided. There’s plenty to like about it, but the sum is unfortunately less than the parts. While I can’t say that I fell in love with the series based on this collection, I can’t deny that the die-hard Joe fan in me does hold a bit of hope for the second half of the season, which will hopefully be released soon. Even though a solid payoff still won’t excuse a lackluster start, it might be an indication that the second season could finally provide the G.I. Joe series fans (and those who do not yet know they are fans) have been waiting for.