Everyone has fond memories of the classic G.I. Joe toys -- even in countries other than the U.S. Which has to be kind of weird for them, given that they and their families might have suffered horrific terror at the hands of folks who look a lot like him. But the real G.I. Joe was nothing like his plastic counterpart.
Yes, there was a real G.I. Joe. Well, not an actual G.I. named Joe. The name is just military slang, popularized by the 1945 war movie The Story Of G.I. Joe, which inspired Hasbro to develop their 1964 line of camouflaged action figures. They apparently stopped paying attention at the opening credits, though, because the movie doesn't exactly paint a comic book picture of war.
Based on the work of war correspondent Ernie Pyle (no relation to Gomer), the characters in The Story Of G.I. Joe don't make for terribly exciting action figures. They're mostly miserable, exhausted, and terrified, which makes sense, because they're fighting a goddamn war. Scenes include everyone trying not to fall asleep during the haphazard wedding of one of their comrades, a soldier having a nervous breakdown over a recording of the voice of the son he's never seen, and the unit's leader stealing food at gunpoint from a supply lieutenant so his men can have something for Christmas dinner besides melancholy.
Pyle has to leave the front lines frequently to chase other stories, but he keeps running into those same men throughout his deployment ... only to find that every time he does, there are fewer of them. The movie ends when Pyle happens upon the corpse of the unit's venerated leader. It is just ... a bleak-ass premise on which to base a cartoon.
That's probably why the franchise veered away from it entirely. The characters in the G.I. Joe cartoon are more of a frat than a military unit, spending more time hanging out in their clubhouse than on the field. That seems like a bad way to fight a war, but can you even call it a war if nobody ends up dead, disfigured, or at the very least imprisoned? The cartoon obviously sanitizes the whole "war is hell" thing, to the extent that it looks both exciting and harmless.
The cartoon's not bad or morally wrong or anything; it's just that it couldn't have come from a weirder place. If The Story Of G.I. Joe were anything like the cartoon, the movie would have ended with Hitler fleeing on a jet pack and yelling that he'd get those Joes next time. It's like if they made a cartoon series based on Saving Private Ryan and Captain Miller had a pun-loving dinosaur sidekick. It's like turning Apocalypse Now into a theme park ride where you take the Wacky Water Slide Into Madness.
Actually, we'd be down for that one.
Yeah, this whole thing is much more "Make Love Not War" than Gears of War. War is bad.
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