Like most guys my age, I was raised on the G.I. Joe and Transformers animated series that ruled syndication in the mid-to-late 1980s. G.I. Joe was appointment after-school viewing for me, as it was for every boy I knew, throughout my elementary school days. I have fond memories of Looney Tunes, Animaniacs, Ghostbusters, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, and plenty of other cartoons, but G.I. Joe was always the alpha dog for me.
I learned a lot of cold, hard truths about war from that show. G.I. Joe taught me the concept of risking your own life for something greater than yourself. It taught me that the bad guys on the battlefield always fired red lasers, while the good guys always fired blue ones. It taught me that tank drivers and jet pilots always escaped or ejected seconds before their vehicles were destroyed. And it taught me that human soldiers were never killed or wounded, although conscripted androids could be slaughtered by the hundreds.
The G.I. Joe cartoon was without a doubt my favorite childhood show, and all other toys paled in comparison to Hasbro’s 3.75 inch G.I. Joe action figure collection, whose sales were driven by the cartoon. I was probably 12 or so before I even learned that the original 12-inch action figure actually pre-dated the cartoon by a couple decades, and maybe 18 before I discovered that there was also a G.I. Joe comic book.
By the time the original cartoon’s syndication run came to an end, replaced by the lame knockoff G.I. Joe Extreme, I had graduated to the more sophisticated adventures of Batman: The Animated Series and ExoSquad. But the Real American Heroes that engaged in endless conflict with the ruthless forces of Cobra will always be first in my animated heart. Nothing will ever change that, not even Hollywood’s sinful attempt at making that accursed live action film in 2009. I’ve never seen it, I will never see it, and I forbid anyone reading this from ever seeing it.
This show was jam-packed with great characters, good and evil alike. No disrespect intended to Destro, Zartan, or the hysterically cowardly Cobra Commander, but I am restricting this lineup to include only members of the G.I. Joe team. Basically, this is the SeAL team I would send in to raid the Terrordrome and capture Serpentor.
1. Low Light
It’s gotta be the shades.
G.I. Joe’s number one marksman was my favorite Joe, and I have no doubt that the badass night vision glasses he sported had more than a little to do with it. Low Light was one of the more complex characters on the show, portrayed as an introvert who avoided social interaction and had a lifelong fear of the dark. He’s the best sharpshooter on the G.I. Joe team, once winning a a gentlemen’s bet on the range by actually shooting “Y-O-U L-O-S-E” into the target from long distance. Being a recon expert, Low Light was typically the first one into hostile territory, scouting for enemy strengths to avoid and weaknesses to exploit. Thus, it only makes sense that he’s the first one up to the plate.
Flint was technically third in the G.I. Joe chain of command, but he was more or less the co-leader of the team from episode to episode. I would even wager that he led more missions over the course of the series than either of his superiors. I consider him the most physically active of the Joe field commanders, more apt to lead a charge into the Cobra front line than coordinate efforts from the command post. He got to play the hero quite a bit, which may be why he was so admired by the coolest girl on the G.I. Joe team, the javelin-hurling Lady Jaye.
3. Snake Eyes
If you have anyone else in the three-hole for your G.I. Joe Starting Nine, we have nothing to discuss. This silent assassin just kicked ass in every conceivable way. The fact that he was a legitimate ninja didn’t stop him from mastering firearms, explosives, aviation, and every other facet of being awesome. He established himself as G.I. Joe’s franchise player early on in the series, voluntarily exposing himself to radioactive gas to save his teammates from Cobra’s clutches. Left for dead, he not only trekked for miles through the Arctic snow, he stopped along the way to save a wolf from a poacher’s trap and tamed the damn beast, training it in the art of wolf-jitsu shortly after. His mysterious blood feud with Storm Shadow is the most intriguing personal conflict in the series, giving us some terrific battles that were always rooted in respect. Without saying a word, Snake Eyes managed to be the best character in the entire series.
General Hawk was technically G.I. Joe’s head honcho, but Duke was the respected field commander that directed operations and led the Joes into battle. Fearless, selfless, and incorruptible, Duke embodied the Real American Hero archetype more than any other Joe. The leading man and moral compass of the series, he was John Wayne, Chuck Norris, and Jimmy Stewart all rolled into one. Serpentor spearing him through the heart with a snake in G.I. Joe: The Movie was the first entertainment-related gut-punch of my childhood, though it did thoroughly prepare me for the death of Optimus Prime.
At least Duke survived.
Or did he???
Roadblock was just a diesel delight. Always in a good mood off the battlefield, you’d almost never notice that he was a ripped giant that carried a .50 cal machine gun into combat, mowing down tanks and armored personnel carriers like an Olympic skier brushing trail markers aside. And he was just as cunning a linguist as he was a soldier, since virtually everything he said rhymed! During the infancy of hip hop, Roadblock wowed us with gems like, “Smack your lips and feast your eyes, Roadblock cooked you a big surprise” and “play it straight or there’s no doubt, I’ll turn your eyeballs inside out.” Good nature and hack lyrics aside, I dare you to take one look at this guy and tell me you wouldn’t want him in the middle of your lineup.
6. Gung Ho
Gung Ho is probably the only Joe that could bench press more than Roadblock, and his physique is pretty much his only character trait. He’s a grunt that’s good at hand-to-hand combat, and one of the most visible secondary characters on the show. Despite his lack of character depth, I remember seeing him on screen as much as anyone else simply because he was so jacked and shirtless that he always stood out in the crowd. One of his biggest claims to fame on G.I. Joe was the part he played in thwarting Cobra’s plan to steal Alaska from the United States, which I only mention here because that’s a really funny thing to type.
7. Beach Head
Beach Head was a surly cuss, a born drill instructor who was fourth in the chain of command. Duke dated Scarlett and Flint dated Lady Jaye, a breach of G.I. Joe regulations, so it drove Beach Head nuts that he had to take orders from them. I always got a kick out of his perennially ill temper. The other Joes probably couldn’t stand working with him, but undoubtedly loved fighting alongside him. I’ll take this guy in my starting lineup 162 games per year. Every locker room needs a guy like Beach Head, but I doubt that any locker room could survive having two guys like him.
8. Law and Order
Law didn’t make his debut until G.I. Joe: The Movie, so he may not be the most popular selection. But I’m going to exploit a loophole here and put him in the lineup because he comes packaged with his German shepherd, Order. Law, a military policeman and animal trainer, is a multi-talented asset. Order, who can sniff out explosives and track enemy soldiers, is even more useful. It’s a lot like having Shohei Ohtani; a uniqure variety of skills all contained within one roster spot.
9. Tunnel Rat
Another Joe who didn’t appear until the movie, I see Tunnel Rat as the perfect man to round out the lineup. A little guy who can maneuver remarkably well in tight spaces, he is the perfect entry man. He can scurry through an air duct or sewage pipe to initiate a breach, or he can burrow into a hole in the ground and lie in wait to gather reconnaissance or set an ambush. You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but Tunnel Rat is an indispensable part of the team.