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Monday, May 15, 2023 

The time when Hasbro wanted to get rid of Duke from GI Joe, and had second thoughts

Last year, Coming Soon wrote about the history of GI Joe: The Movie, an animated extension of the mid-80s TV cartoon whose writers originally intended to kill off the leading Joe commander Conrad (Duke) Hauser, but the poor reception of Transformers: The Movie not only gave them cold feet, it apparently led to the cartoon being released only on home video. The beginning paragraph, however, is decidedly laughable:
There’s a lot of G.I. Joe media available now and it’s easy to get lost on where to start or what’s even worth watching. However, many got their first taste of the real American heroes with the 1987 animated film that still shines above almost all others in the ranks. Debuting after two seasons of the Sunbow Productions run, G.I. Joe: The Movie wanted to close out that era of the show correctly by offering its fans a grown-up and higher stakes adventure, but the project ran into numerous problems and was destined to be remembered for more of Hasbro’s meddling than all the awesome action.
I thought many got their first taste of the Joes reading the comics originally launched at Marvel, and watching the aforementioned 1983-86 Saturday morning TV show. Most peculiar they don't clearly acknowledge those aspects of the franchise. However, there does seem to be strong hints at villain favoratism here:
G.I. Joe: The Movie wasn’t just a reset for the toyline, even though it was certainly using it as a way of cycling figures in and out, but also as a point to change the battleground for a perspective third season had the series not been given to DIC Entertainment instead. There was a push for a slightly more grown-up experience for the kids that had been watching for the past several years. The beginning of the movie focuses on Cobra, the cooler characters, and shows these new soldiers being efficient and deadly. Seeing Duke get wounded in that first altercation, even if it was only a glancing blow on his arm, felt incredible and made the viewers think there was more danger involved. Watching Duke fry Serpentor after hurling him onto the dish didn’t hurt either, or seeing Tunnel Rat blast his way out of one of the Cobra-La creatures when he was swallowed. The enhanced violence added something. There’s a scene where Falcon is captured and being slap-tortured by Serpentor for information, but the hardcore part is that this new G.I. Joe recruit is just trying to hold out five more minutes, willing to sacrifice himself because he knows they’re all about to die since the Terror Drome was rigged to explode.
Oh, so Cobra's the "cooler" bunch because they're villains? Well, it's nothing new to see so-called pundits act as though villains in fiction are somehow more lovable because evil is somehow more engaging than heroism. It's been a big problem with how Batman's rogues gallery was discussed in the past, so this shouldn't be a shock. But that doesn't make this any less disgraceful.
Most people know that G.I. Joe: The Movie actually wrote Duke’s death before the Transformers animated feature came out, but due to numerous delays, that Hasbro film came out first and used their idea, killing off Optimus Prime on the big screen. This upset parents, as the average age for the Transformers franchise then skewed a bit younger and changes had to be made to make sure there wasn’t a repeat. This resulted in a few bad lines being added in and lowered stakes, considering what the movie had tried so hard for, as well as taking some of the momentum out of Falcon’s redemption arc. Sadly, this is one of the bigger things the film is remembered for now, an act from above that certainly hurt its legacy.

G.I. Joe: The Movie features several deleted scenes, a few that were animated and then removed, but most were in the final script and cut at the last minute. One of these was Duke’s funeral, which was supposed to take place before the final battle. Even though one of the Joes’ biggest heroes was clearly pierced through the heart and goes out in a brutal and fantastic way, he’s said to be in a coma. The toy was still temporarily retired and viewers were robbed of their heart-wrenching goodbye, but the live-action films did attempt to make up for this years later by killing him off.
Which begs the query: how do they know only so many fans of GI Joe wanted Duke put in the grave to begin with, no matter their age? A poor example they're setting here indeed. As noted several years ago, one of the things the 1986 Transformers movie was notorious for was the resulting traumatization of many children who'd seen it at the time, as the sight of even robots getting shredded to death was disturbing. I don't know if that'd be the result of this film, if it was aimed at older kiddies, but even so, the whole notion any of the heroes and their co-stars on the good side must be turned into sacrificial lambs is insulting and long overdone.
Not only had the film tweaked its tones and attempted to show the violence of war a bit more, but it had ramped up the sex appeal slightly too. Falcon is shown being horny through the first half of the film and even slaps Jinx on the ass when he’s ignoring his duties, only to be rewarded with a kiss at the end once the day is saved. That was going to be child’s play, however, had the original scene of Zarana changing clothes after her infiltration mission gone through. The initial storyboards had the seductive Dreadnok topless in a stylistic scene that wouldn’t have shown anything completely risqué but would have been more memorable than that one-piece bathing suit seen in the final version. That scene would have taken advantage of the PG rating, as well as the theatrical release the team believed they were getting.
And this sounds like somebody who believes sex appeal conveyed through a villainess at all costs is just fine. I must fully dissent. If I want to see a chick in a shower scene, I want to see the heroines, period. It could be Scarlett, Cover Girl or Lady Jaye, but why should I want to be attracted to a villainess, depending on the severity of her crimes? They don't explain any of this absurdity they've written up here, and I'm not amused by it in the slightest.
Due to Transformers and My Little Pony not performing well with their theatrical excursions, Hasbro made the call to send G.I. Joe: The Movie direct-to-video, which may have been just as big a mistake as not committing to Duke’s death scene. The film still holds up, even after a rough production and some bad calls, it’s an exciting adventure that stands on its own, but doesn’t sync up with the rest of the franchise. It tried to give the fans a better version of itself, leaving a lasting impression and a reason to still yell, “yo, Joe!”
So leaving Duke alive was a mistake, huh? Not planning to kill him in the first place in the original script? Wow, if I didn't know better, I'd say they sold out to a mentality represented by Anubis of Egyptian mythology. This doesn't sound like the writings of somebody who truly cares about the characters, much less the toy action figures themselves. I guess Duke - and virtually every heroic character TPTB designate for the chopping block - is only worth breaking with hammers and dumping in a dustbin. Wow, that sure is some way of showing you care. These may be fictional characters, but if this whole obsession with expendability continues to be perpetuated, it only figures the same will leak over into real life, and you won't care about innocent lives there either. Which is sadly a grave possibility in a post-September 11 world where morale and self-esteem have been lost to PC.

In the end, what's sad is that, for all we know, GI Joe may have been as woefully mishandled by corporatism as many superhero creations, and if this cartoon film had gone through with the original plan to send Duke into the afterlife, that'd only make things worse. Regrettably, it seems as though some of the most pro-American concepts end up suffering the worst.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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