G.I. Joe Renegades: Season One, Vol. 1 DVD is out now, and it’s a fun return to the classic cartoon franchise.
This isn’t the G.I. Joe you remember. All the characters are here, but they’ve all been moved to a slightly futuristic world where Cobra is a multi-national corporate conglomerate in control of nearly every consumer market, as well as most military contracting.
The commander of Cobra is not interested in taking over the world because he has already succeeded, from behind his disguise as the pleasant owner and CEO of Cobra, Adam DeCobray, he rules the world with money and connections.
The ‘Joes’ are a group of young, AWOL military personnel, who are framed for the destruction of a Cobra pharmaceutical’s facility, and must stay on the run from the military police while trying to clear their names, searching for the evidence they need to convince the world that Cobra is not the nice, wholesome company it claims to be.
Along the way they find themselves helping out those in need, when asked who they are the team responds, "Just some regular Joes like you."
The plot is a bit different - unsurprisingly, it's a tad similar to that of the upcoming film - but the biggest difference between classic G.I. Joe and Renegades is thematic. Because the Joes are not fighting in an official capacity, and not against a recognized foe, there is not nearly as much focus on how cool it is to be a soldier. It’s more about social justice, and the ability of the few to resist the many. There is, of course, also a message about the folly of giving private corporations too much power over the government and even the occasional green propaganda.
The characters have the same names, however, and mostly the same specialties and roles within their organizations, as the original cartoon, but they’ve all received brand new origin stories, and we get to see each character on all sides, as they make the transition into the mold which has been set for them. The nicknames are silly, as they always were, but as a classic part of the franchise, it’s easy to understand why they were all maintained, even if some are a bit awkward or nonsensical.
The costumes, and the whole visual style, are completely revamped. Many still contain the classic, recognizable elements, but most merely reference the originals with a modern sensibility. Even Cobra Commander has lost his iconic full face mask, in favor of a half-mask which allows him a little bit more expressive ability. The style and the writing reminds me of the new Transformers Prime series, though it’s CGI, we have the same aesthetics here, and the characters are just as grey.
Of course, Duke is still noble to a fault, and Cobra Commander is undeniably evil, but everyone else has much more dimension than one typically finds in 20-minute animated shows, though I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately, so perhaps trends are shifting.
There are sympathetic characters on all sides, and not everyone’s allegiances are rock-steady. The world is a dynamic and political one, where minds can be changed, and friendships and alliances can be formed and broken.
The episodic formula takes a monster-of-the-week approach which shows us a new villain origin almost every week, at least for these first 13 episodes. The stories and conflicts are clever, and allow for a lot of great character development, and not just of the Joes.
Beyond Cobra, there are at least three other sides to the conflict, each with its own interests and reasons for being involved. Most interesting is the Joes’ confrontations with the military police, a task force run by Flint, an old high school football rival of Duke’s, and Lady Jaye, a military intelligence personal who secretly helps the Joe’s stay under the radar. Lady Jaye is clearly on Duke’s side from the get-go, but Flint is tougher to figure out, and exploring his character and the source of his rivalry with Duke is a great subplot of the season.
The special features on the discs, however, are completely lacking, by which I mean: there are none. Usually Shout! Factory and Hasbro deliver some behind the scenes stuff or cool storyboards, or even just some character features, but here we have nothing. The only material on the discs are the episodes themselves. Perhaps the special features will be on the discs for Volume 2 of Season One.
Overall, Renegades is a well-crafted show from every angle, and if you missed it when it aired, the DVD is a great way to see it, even without special features.
G.I. Joe Renegades: Season One, Vol. 1 is out now on DVD.