Running for more than a few years in the eighties, G. I. Joe remains one of the more beloved cartoons from that decade. Sure, characters were able to run through thousands of laser blasts without ever getting a scratch on them. And sure, Cobra was always coming up with the most ridiculous schemes imaginable. Regardless, the show accomplished what it set out to do, which was entertain its target audience and get us to spend money on toys and comic books! As such, it holds a special place in the heart of many a child of the eighties, and that nostalgia should not and, realistically, cannot be taken out of the equation when revisiting the series today.
For those not already in the loop, "G.I. Joe is the code name for America's daring, highly trained special mission force. Its purpose, to defend human freedom against COBRA, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world." And if that don't explain it to you right, well, you're hopeless, because this show has a very basic premise - good guys vs. bad guys. That's about it. Wrapping it up in a military guise and throwing in all manner of interesting, quirky characters and fun, interesting weapons and vehicles is what made the series work.
The complete second season of G.I. Joe is spread out across the four discs that make up this collection as follows:
Disc One: Arise, Serpentor, Arise! Part One / Arise, Serpentor, Arise! Part Two / Arise, Serpentor, Arise! Part Three / Arise, Serpentor, Arise! Part Four / Arise, Serpentor, Arise! Part Five / Last Hour To Doomsday / Computer Complications / Sink The Montana
Disc Two: Let's Play Soldier / Once Upon A Joe / The Million Dollar Medic / Cobrathon / The Rotten Egg / Glamour Girls / Iceberg Goes South
Disc Three: The Spy Who Rooked Me / Grey Hairs And Growing Pains / My Brother's Keeper / My Favorite Things / Raise The Flagg! / Ninja Holiday / G.I. Joe And Golden Fleece / The Most Dangerous Thing In The World
Disc Four: Nightmare Assault / Second Hand Emotions / Joe's Night Out / Not A Ghost of A Chance / Sins Of Our Fathers / In The Presence Of Mine Enemies / Into Your Tent I Will Silently Creep
The first season of the series did a great job of establishing it in the minds of kids across North America. Many of us who were around in those days would race home after school to make sure we didn't miss a single episode and it wasn't uncommon during the show's original run to see kids bringing their favorite action figures to school and playing G.I. Joe at recess. In fact, in certain circles, it wasn't uncommon to get into fist fights with a classmate over who got to be Snake-eyes and wind up at the principal's office, but that's another story for another time.
Getting back on topic, the second season saw some interesting changes to the core cast as it kicks off with the five part Arise, Serpentor, Arise! storyline. With Cobra Commander and Destro having been the primary source of the perpetual thorns in the Joe Team's collective side, seeing a new heavy introduced was a pretty huge adjustment for some of us. The writing team pulled it off, however, and while the nefarious Cobra Commander may have been ushered into the background, there was still plenty of sinister activity for Cobra to indulge in, some of which came from another new character, Dr. Mindbender, a mad scientist type who was full of strange ideas as to how Cobra could more effectively take over the world. The fact that Serpentor was built from the DNA of some of the world's greatest conquerors made it sound like he'd have no problem accomplishing what Cobra Commander could not, but that wasn't always the case even if he did have a much fancier outfit than his predecessor. Zartan's sister Zarana shows up in this season as well, but nobody really cares.
On the Joe's side, there were some interesting characters brought on board as well. A medic named Lifeline, an avowed pacifist, was no on hand to help out when the good guys were injured and the tough talking Beachhead was always ready for action at the drop of a hat. And of course, General Hawk was brought on board to help out with the top brass and Sergeant Slaughter shows up this season as well (WWF fans take note!).
New characters aside, however, the second season doesn't really think outside the pre-established box. The plots almost always revolve around Cobra's nutty scheme to control the world and the Joe's successful counter attack which would always inevitably defeat it. Some of Cobra's plans are worth mentioning, however - how often do you see terrorist organizations trying to turn their archenemies into little kids these days? Not often. They don't usually try to sneak into their dreams and plague them with nightmares either. Sometimes things can come back to bite Cobra, however. If you're ever going to unleash an ancient monster, make sure it will do your bidding first, otherwise you might have to team up with your rivals to make it go away again.
Those more enamored with the original line of characters may not enjoy this second season as much has the first, but the stories are still fun. Each episode is jam packed with action and adventure and there's usually a good moral to be found for younger viewers. A lot of the new characters are a blast, and while the first season will be the one that endeared us to the characters in the first place, the second one is just as entertaining even if it isn't quite the nostalgia rush as the one that came before it.
Each and every episode is presented as it should be - fullframe. There is some minor print damage in the form of tiny specks and the occasional scratch but for the most part these cartoons have survived the last two decades quite nicely. Colors look great and while there is some mild edge enhancement in a few spots, compression artifacts aren't ever a problem. The episodes look as good here as they ever did on TV and I was pretty impressed with this presentation. Black levels remain pretty stable and the image is consistently clean and clear from start to finish.
Audio options are supplied in English and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks for each of the episodes in this collection. While a 5.1 mix would have made the action scenes a little more fun, it wouldn't have made it sound like the series we all know and love. The stereo tracks get the job done nicely even if they obviously don't have as much depth. Dialogue stays clean and clear and there aren't any problems at all with hiss or distortion. Sound effects and the musical score are mixed in with the dialogue nicely and never overpower anything they shouldn't. This isn't reference quality material, but again, the show sounds just as good or slightly better here on DVD than it did on television.
The main extra is called Greenshirts: The G.I. Joe Legacy and it's an interesting featurette that explores the continuing fandom that has grown up around the series, the toys and the other spin-offs. It's basically a continuation of what was created for the previous sets from Shout! Factory and although it's interesting, you can't help but wish there was a bit more to it. Rounding out the extras is a nice collection of the beloved G.I. Joe PSAs and a fantastic collection of vintage commercials for the Hasbro toy line. Menus and episode selection are included on each disc in the set, and the slip case packaging is a nice touch.
G.I. Joe - The Complete Second Season may not hit the highs of the first season or provide quite the same nostalgia rush but it's still a lot of good, goofy fun. Yes, much of the series feels very dated but that's half the fun of the material and while Serpentor may never be as cool as Cobra Commander in many of our eyes, he and his evil sidekicks do manage to come up with some entertaining ways to keep the good guys on their toes. Shout Factory's boxed set could have used more extra features but is otherwise quite a nice addition to the collection of any fan of the series that didn't spring for the mega-set that came out last year and contained the entire series. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.