?It’s easy to remember as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero as just a formula show – Cobra Commander comes up with a ridiculous plan (typically involving money, lasers, or in one episode – money-zappin’ lasers), the Joes show up and kick some butt and then Cobra retreats. Easy, right? But in that framework, G.I. Joe managed to throw in some stuff that would’ve completely freaked out even the most battle-hardened of regular soldiers. Stuff like aliens, ghosts, robot sea serpents, time travel, robot clowns, melting clones and even your plain old vanilla-style robots. Yep, even though that sounds like a season of Venture Bros., all that stuff was presented straight-forwardly in G.I. Joe on a regular basis
And while all those things might sound alright by themselves, when you combine them together (and realize that the Transformers are also in there somewhere), then we’ve got one of the strangest cartoons of the ’80s, if not ever. Here are the 10 best — by which we mean craziest — examples.
10) The Phantom Brigade
While fighting in Carpathia, Cobra Commander gets a gypsy (Romania’s full of ’em) to summon three ghost soldiers for him: a Roman soldier, a World War I pilot and a female Mongolian, who, like all Mongolians, has arrows who can turn things to ice (how did they ever stop ruling Asia with those things?). Turns out the Joes have to pull a Nightmare on Elm Street and give the ghost’s mementoes a decent burial to get them to chill the fuck out. In the end, an unnamed skeleton – you assume it’s one of the ghosts, but at this point it could be General Patton for all we know – beats Cobra Commander into dropping the trinkets. And we’re left with a beautiful image of the ghost pilot heading off into the sunset with his ghost girlfriend, presumably to have some largely transparent World War I ghost sex.
9) Primordial Plot
Sure Cobra has fleets of powerful weapons and vehicles at their disposal, what’s the best way to rule the world? Clearly, it’s to replicate Jurassic Park by cloning three dinosaurs and mind-control them to attack the Joes. Not thousands of dinosaurs. Not hundreds. Yep, their plan for world domination is to make three reptiles – and they’re not even gun-firing-or-armored reptiles – fight the other most heavily armed and technologically advanced armies in the world. Also, Destro has rocket gloves that let him fly. So there’s that.
8) G.I. Joe and the Golden Fleece
If you thought G.I. Joe wasn’t going to have the time travel episode that every 80’s cartoon show had (hell, even the Smurfs had a couple of them!) you’re dead wrong. What’s the gimmick here? Well, first off there’s a giant UFO, and most cartoons would simply build the episode around that. But not G.I. Joe, which has a stray laser shot send both Cobras and Joes back in time to ancient Greece where Sgt. Slaughter is mistaken for Hercules, the Tomahawk is mistaken for the Argonaut and the Baroness is mistaken for a Harpy (okay, that last one makes sense). Eventually, they get sent back to the present and the UFO flies off, again with nobody really caring about it. Yep, in the crazy world of the G.I. Joe universe, UFOs are considered boring as fuck even when they send people back in time.
7) Worlds Without End Parts 1 and 2
A team of Joes (conveniently containing red-shirt background characters Flash, Steeler and Clutch) get sent to a creepy alternate universe where Cobra won the war and all but six Joes were MIA and three of those were killed (they never say who got killed and how, but we’re betting Bazooka died of friendly fire). Of course, the usual alternate reality clich?s apply: national monuments are changed (the Lincoln monument becomes the Cobra Commander monument and Mount Rushmore is now Washington, Lincoln, Cobra Commander and Destro) and sexy outfits reign (Cobra female officers just wear shirts and bikini bottoms!). Oh, and one of Joes (probably Steeler, but who can tell those three apart), freaks out and thinks they’re in hell. In the end, the three non-essential Joes stay behind to help a good Baroness and Destro fight a Cobra civil war. Who wins? The viewers, of course!
6) Cobra Claws Are Coming to Town
When the Joes do a charity toy drive for the local orphanage, Cobra comes up with the only logical plan to take advantage of the situation: Shrink themselves to toy size and donate themselves to infiltrate the Joe base and steal the Joe vehicles to destroy a local town. The townspeople go for it, even though it’s clearly a bunch of Dreadnoks – we guess anyone riding a green motorcycle is a Joe in civilians eyes. Despite having to fight with Cobra weapons, the Joes end up winning solely because Polly the Parrot gets blown up to a hundred times his normal size (oddly, he becomes only twice as annoying.) This one really highlights the love/hate relationship between Shipwreck and Polly, Shipwreck clearly hates him and calls the giant parrot “his worst nightmare come true” — although it’s a nightmare he perpetually allows on his shoulder. Unsettling.
5) The Gods Below
Since Cobra Commander clearly doesn’t understand investing or robbing banks, he decides to finance Cobra by plundering the tomb of the Egyptian god Osiris – which gets the Joes and Cobras transported to the Egyptian land of the dead, where the Joe’s hearts are weighed to determine their worthiness and the Cobras have to worship the snake god Set. Yep, in the Joe universe, not only are the Egyptian gods real, but you can get to their pads by simply walking through a tunnel. Of course, the Joes and Cobras get kicked out after Duke insults one of the gods by calling him “dogface.” USA! USA!
4) Once Upon a Joe
To entertain some orphans whose orphanage he destroyed, Shipwreck (notice how most of the weird stuff happens to him?) tells a cartoony faerie tale with himself as the hero “Shipshape,” a mallet-wielding Cobra as the enemy and the Joe women as fairy princesses. Later, during a Cobra attack, he accidentally sets off the McGuffin device, which reshapes reality creating actual cartoony versions of his story’s characters to attack Cobra. Yep, there’s nothing that can terrify the enemy like the unbound terrors in a sailor’s nightmares. Also, he walks around his boxers a lot, which is disturbing in an entirely different, but no less terrifying, way.
3) Iceberg Goes South
Yep, it’s the Island of Dr. Mindbender as Cobra combines human and animal DNA to create freaky abominations to fight the Joes, because having the mind of polar bear is a big improvement over the average Cobra trooper. Apart from the the horrifying man-things shuffling around the Cobra “tropidome,” this one gets on the list for one thing in particular: The sight of a mostly naked Iceberg slowing morphing into a killer whale. Yep for our tastes, even partial nudity in G.I. Joe is weirder than just about anything.
2) There’s No Place Like Springfield Parts 1 and 2
G.I. Joe ventures into psychological torture as Shipwreck doubts his own sanity in this genuinely disturbing episode. You see, to get an explosives formula out of Shipwrecks’s mind, the Cobras make him think he’s lost his memory and living in the future town of Springfield with a bunch of tubby, over-the-hill Joes, who are actually easily melted synthoid clones. They even give him a wife, a clone of his mermaid girlfriend Mara (her episode didn’t make this list, which really says something about how weird this series is). In the end, Shipwreck tries to save his wife and daughter from a fire, only to have them try and kill him before being melted by Polly with a synthoid-dissolving ray. Man, that swabby can’t catch a break.
1) Glamour Girls
Cobra teams up with Fashion mogul Madame Veil, who’s invented a machine to suck the beauty out of a woman’s face and put it on someone else. Of course, it also leaves the donor’s face as blank as an egg, so there’s a bit of a downside. When Low Light’s sister ends up strapped to the face-sucking machine he shoots it, leaving Veil’s face so horrific they won’t show it on screen. And everyone’s terrified, including the Joes, but not as much as the kids watching at home.