As a long-time fan of the GI Joe property, it’s very tempting for me to review episodes of GI Joe: Renegades (or any new take on GI Joe for that matter) with a skepticism colored by my nostalgia for the 1980s cartoons and comics, both of which had an indelible impact on an entire generation of Cold War children. To do so would be somewhat unfair to the people behind GI Joe: Renegades however, as well as to those people reading this review without the attachment to the GI Joe of the 1980s looking for a reasonable and even-handed examination of the show. Rants and snark are in no short supply on the internet, and I’m sure righteously indignant, unbridled, thirtysomething fanboy outrage at the show’s re-imagining of the GI Joe characters can easily be found elsewhere on the Web if that’s what you’re in the mood for.
Episode 3, entitled “The Package,” begins right where the second episode left off, with the renegade soldiers led by Scarlett driving a stolen Cobra truck, on the run from their Cobra pursuers and US Army investigators led by Flint and Lady Jaye. Scarlett and company take refuge in an SSS Mart (the chain of stores is revealed by Scarlett to be a subsidiary of Cobra), camouflaging their vehicle as a delivery truck. By virtue of their camouflage, the Renegades are inadvertently handed a package by an SSS Mart/Cobra employee to be delivered to one “Alvin Kibbey” (the mention of the name no doubt setting off fan-gasms for long-time GI Joe fans who were disappointed with certain liberties taken with character design in the recent GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra live-action film). As it turns out, Kibbey is the real name of the anti-Cobra blogger “The Coyote” and the package is a mail bomb. Duke easily disables the bomb’s triggering device by keeping it depressed with a wad of chewing gum. While the sequence in itself isn’t really anything special, I had to raise an eyebrow over the writers’ choice of using Duke as the team’s resident bomb disposal expert, seeing as how Tunnel Rat has been, in just about every incarnation of the property, that guy (an homage to GI Joe filecard and comic book writer Larry Hama, who was a US Army combat engineer and “tunnel rat” during the Vietnam War).
The team decides to go to Kibbey, to see if he can help them compile evidence against Cobra and to protect him from Cobra forces that might be looking to eliminate him. Kibbey (who shares his name with the classic GI Joe character Breaker) is a meek, be-spectacled, college student and ex-SSS Mart employee who has witnessed first-hand some of Cobra’s illegal arms dealings, which uses the SSS Mart chain of stores as a front for their illegal arms sales division. The evidence of Cobra’s sales of weapons is encoded in an SSS Mart barcode reader that Kibbey stole, although this information is encrypted and can only be decrypted (oh-so-conveniently) at an SSS Mart computer. On their way to the local SSS Mart, the Renegades and Kibbey are ambushed by Major Bludd, a mercenary in the employ of Cobra whose mission it is to eliminate Kibbey.
What follows next is a pretty well-choreographed extended fight scene, starting out as car combat and eventually transitioning to hand-to-hand combat atop the Renegades’ stolen truck. I found the battle between Bludd and Snake-Eyes particularly engrossing. Snake-Eyes, despite being billed as a ninja-cum-commando in various toy and TV show incarnations, was never allowed to unsheathe his sword and use it in combat in the 1985–87 Sunbow Productions GI Joe cartoon due to the then-restrictions on what could be depicted in children’s cartoons (fun fact: Snake-Eyes unsheathed his sword and used it in battle only once during the original Sunbow run, in a brief sequence battling “carno-trees” in the direct-to-video GI Joe: The Movie, which was rated PG).
The Renegades eventually shake off Bludd and make it to SSS Mart, successfully decrypting the information in the barcode scanner right before Bludd arrives, accompanied by a squad of Bio-Vipers. One thing that struck me about the action in this episode (and GIJ:Rs in general) is that the writers and animators aren’t bashful about showing gun violence. Bio-Vipers are dismembered and decapitated by the protagonists’ shots, a welcome change from the shooting scenes in the old 1980s cartoon, where most times both the GI Joes and the Cobras seemed to be aiming for everything but each other (and when they do hit a foe, it’s almost always conveniently a shot to the shooting hand that disarms the enemy, Lone Ranger-style). This isn’t just limited to Renegade-on-Bio-Viper violence; if you recall, the first episode also showed Scarlett taking a laser blast to chest, saved only by her armored vest.
The Renegades eventually beat Bludd and his synthetic soldier squad, although at the cost of the decrypted barcode scanner, which was irreparably damaged during the course of the battle. I realize it was an almost inevitable plot development given how the acquisition of evidence against Cobra is key to the series’ on-going plot (I knew the barcode scanner was going to be borked before the episode’s end as soon as its purpose as the episode’s Macguffin became apparent), but two of the three episodes in this series (the first episode and this one) have now ended on the same plot mechanic. I hope the writers find more creative ways to extend the premise as the season progresses.
The Verdict: A fairly enjoyable episode, although one that is more memorable for the introduction of the GIJ:Rs version of fan-favorite villain Major Bludd than for anything that actually happened with the episode’s story.
Stray Observations and Comments:
- Somebody should tell the show’s writers that sergeants aren’t saluted by junior enlisted soldiers in the US Army except in cases of “when in doubt, salute.” It’s happened twice now (in the first episode’s recruitment sequences and in the parking lot escape scene in this episode’s opening). I feel dick-ish bringing this up, it’s almost akin to complaining that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles don’t use real ninjutsu moves, but I find it quite distracting for some reason.
- Alvin “Coyote/Breaker” Kibbey’s English accent is sure to rile up many fans of the old cartoon and comic book. To those fans who are intent on waging message board war on Hasbro for this change, here’s a friendly word of advice: The existence of an alternative, British version of Breaker doesn’t invalidate the existence of “Good Ol’ Boy” Breaker. Hasbro hasn’t gone and deleted all evidence of the original character. I just re-read Classic GI Joe Vol.1 and the original was still there and looked and talked the same way he did 28 years ago.
- I liked the use of dutch angles during the SSS Mart fight scenes. I find that many animation-for-TV directors either don’t use them enough, or abuse them to the point of overuse. They were used judiciously, and helped make a rather by-the-numbers sequence much more interesting.
- Is Cobra’s SSS Mart (where SSS is an acronym for “Shop Smart and Save”) a shout out to Army of Darkness‘ S-Mart?