Retrospective on the G.I. Joe Cartoons

Retrospective on the G.I. Joe Cartoons

G.I. Joe is an American media franchise owned by the Hassenfield Brothers (Hasbro). The company specializes in making toys. Their flexibility in adopting different unique forms has helped them sustain relevance and entertained children of different generations.

G.I Joe gradually became a household name in the 1960s, following Hasbro production of Action Figures – a term uniquely used by the company to describe a “Doll’ dressed in military uniform. The idea behind the replacement was that “Action Figures” would become a more familiar term among the targeted audience which are masculine.

The product represents four branches of the US armed forces, where the GI represented Government Issues. The name originated from the first world war when government materials often carried the “Government Issue” stamp to show that the manufacturer utilized galvanized iron to create the item. 

The term Action Figure describes the toy line, which features movable joints and military uniforms to convey a theme that depicts the present situation with Vietnam. The theme gained a lot of acceptance from children and parents in the United States. From the creation of the product in 1964, G.I Joe was gradually becoming a fan favorite and a product never short of diverse uniqueness.

Reinvention of the G.I. Joe name

By 1970, Hasbro decided to diversify from the military theme that characterized the first toy line produced in 1964. In 1970, the company launched a new theme with the tagline of G.I. Joe Adventure Team. The characters no longer wore military uniform but adventure dresses, reflecting their preparation for jungles, mountains, etc.

The political situation with the Vietnam war may have caused Hasbro’s decision to switch from military foes to wild animals. At the time, toy admirers turned their interest away from toys related to military engagements. By the time, Hasbro had also included a wide range of vehicles with numerous uniqueness to their collections.

In 1977, Hasbro pushed further and adopted the Super Joe Adventure Team. The new toy line adopted the theme of good versus evil. There were some advancements in features such as the battery-powered backpack. Also, unique features such as a one-two punch that activates with the press of a panel on the figure’s back. Beyond this feature, there were many others. 

Following the success of these toy lines, Hasbro adopted the use of animated series in 1983.

Join us on a retrospective of the various G.I. Joe animated series.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1983)

G.I. Joe A Real American Hero

Ron Friedman created the first animated television series of G.I Joe. Marvel Productions and Sunbow Productions produced the series. The series ran from 1983 to 1986, consisting of two seasons. The first season contained 65 episodes, including the two five-part miniseries, and the second season contained 30 episodes. Each episode lasted for thirty minutes.

Having adopted the good and evil theme in its latest line of toy lines before 1983, it was no surprise that the cartoon took a similar turn. The good forces of G.I Joe is an elite organization whose focus is sniffing out terrorist activities, particularly to stop the evil activities of the Cobra organization. The science-fiction approach adapted to the animated show made it different from the comic books.

Because series’ main objective was the advertisement of the toy line, the introduction of new characters was frequent. So, the series failed to emphasize character development. The series strategically phased out old characters that Hasbro no longer had in production. Likewise, characters for new toys suddenly appeared in the cartoon. For example, Hawk, who was the leader of the G.I. Joe, was absent in the first season. However, he reappeared in the second season when he was reintroduced.

First Two Miniseries and Season 1 (1983-1986)

G.I. Joe A Real American Hero Season 1

The first season begins with Cobra developing a weapon used in capturing a military site. The elite anti-terrorist group that went by the name G.I. Joereceived an invitation to foil their attempt and recover the satellite. In curbing such terrorist attacks, the Joe team begins the construction of a M.A.S.S. device. In the process, Duke, the leader of the Joe team, suffers a severe injury and later recovers in subsequent episodes. The last element required in completing the MASS led to a fiery battle between Cobra and GI Joe.

This series of good versus evil extended all through the episodes, with Cobra making several attacks and pursuing their goal of dominating the world. The Joe team, in turn, kept making attempts to curb such attacks and neutralize their foes. 

Although the reception of this cartoon was very positive, and the show ranked as number 19 on IGN’s top 100 best-animated TV series of all time, the change in characters was a major flaw. Also, there were suggestions by critics that the show felt rushed. Hence, leading to the improper representation of events and a highly flawed TV Show. Irrespective, the first series established GI Joe as one of the best animated TV shows and gave exceptional memories to those who lived in the 1980s.

Season 2 (1985-1986)

G.I. Joe A Real American Hero Season 2

In the second season, GI Joe’s squad leader became Hawk, who was absent in the first sequel in 1983. His absence may be due to the demand in the toy market and the need to advertise new toys. Duke also kept his role as second in command in the second season. Serpentor, Destro, and Slaughter, among others, constituted leaders of the highly aggressive and violent teams of Cobra. 

The second season maintained the ‘Good’ versus ‘Evil’ theme in the preceding animated show and toy line. Still, the series relegated even the major characters of the first season to minor roles while some new characters took the front seat. While it is not unusual for toy-based animated shows to introduce characters based on the toys released that year, the change in characterization affected the show’s reception.

Aside from the human changes, changes in materials such as vehicles which are also associated with the changes to the toy line in the second season. Tomahawks and night ravens replaced Skystrikers, Dragonflies, and rattlers.

The second season contained thirty episodes and subsequently ended in 1967. The season failed to match the standard of the first season due to its change in characterization. However, it still created exciting memories of the first season.

G.I. Joe Extreme (1995 -1997)

G.I. Joe Extreme

G.I Joe extreme is a military-themed animated television series that aired between 1995-1997. The series was meant to be a sequel to the original franchise, which aired in 1983. The sequel was meant to advertise a line of toys produced by Kenner, a toy company that Hasbro acquired in 1991. The series also ran for two seasons with about 26 episodes. A collaboration of Sunbow entertainment, Graz entertainment, and Gunter-Wahl productions produced the series.

The Plot

In close resemblance to the G.I Joe, a Real American Hero, the new series sustains the normal theme of good forces versus dark forces. However, there were some slight differences. The new series portrayed a time in a not-too-distant future where a new team of GI Joe heroes attempts to stop an extremely violent terrorist organization called SKAR (Soldiers of Chaos, Anarchy, and Ruin) under the leadership of an excessively powerful leader called “Iron Klaw.”

The series began with the narration of the collapse of a former superpower which led to the struggle for control and dominance by different factions against the terrorist organization SKAR. Iron Klaw demonstrates his confidence with a remark, “We will be Victorious!” while Lt. Stone responds with “Not on my watch!” demonstrating his obsession to foil the dominance of SKAR. Although the reporter describes the chances of Lt. Stone as “a million to one,” the colonel responds with “that’s how we like it,” showing how perturbed he is as being underdogs in the struggle against SKAR.

Lt. Stone was later convinced to join the new team of GI Joe which later engaged in several attempts to fight off the threat of SKAR and other rebel groups. 

Hasbro used the series to promote the sales of both characters and vehicles. Thus, the series introduced the combat cannon, all-terrain vehicle, armored tank, and jets.

The series received a mixed reception as it failed to attract a large audience as the original franchise, despite the company’s effort to revitalize the company with their acquisition of Kerner. The mediocre performance of the toy lines produced also led to the quick completion of the series.

GI Joe: Sigma 6 (2003-2005)

G.I. Joe Sigma 6

Hasbro produced this animated series to reimagine the characters of the original franchise in 1983. In the series, Sigma 6 was the name of a new set of GI Joe characters. They possess special abilities used in protecting the world from the forces of Cobra and its evil leader, who is often aspiring to dominate the world. Another unique feature of the new series was the Sigma suit, which reflected the high-tech feature of a state.


The animated series of GI Joe was a unique experience for those who loved it during the 1980s and 90s. Hasbro used the cartoon series to create awareness of their toys and products. Unarguably, GI Joe is one of the best-animated TV shows in America’s history.

Now you know the history of the G.I. Joe cartoon shows and knowing is half the battle.

Do you have old and used G.I. Joe toys?

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About the author

Author: Chris Ingledue 


Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!

Retrospective on the G.I. Joe Cartoons
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Retrospective on the G.I. Joe Cartoons
Join us on a retrospective as we explore the G.I. Joe cartoons of the past. From the 1983 A Real American Hero to the latest Sigma 6 series.
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Wheeljack's Lab
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