Like it’s counterpart series The Transformers, G.I. Joe is renowned to have a massive roster of heroes and villains, each with their own defining traits in both aesthetics and personality. Ranging from the highly memorable to the patently absurd, there is no shortage of characters in the everlasting battle to protect human freedom (or eliminate it). As a result, there are also myriad candidates for “Best” and “Worst” lists for the franchise’s characters, for which this article is our contribution. Like anything it’s not a definitive list and opinions may differ, but maybe there’s something new for one to think about once all is said and done.
TOP 5 BEST CHARACTERS
The Baroness – The skin-tight leather outfit. The “we catch moose and squirrel” faux Russian/German accent. The distinctive eyewear that proves Dorothy Parker was wrong. The fact that she’s a successful woman in an organization overwhelmingly dominated by men, serving as a visible foil to Scarlett, Lady Jaye, and Cover Girl on the Joes. Did I mention the skin-tight leather outfit? There’s a whole bunch of reasons to love the Baroness, and I would be lying if I said that all the aforementioned reasons weren’t part of it. But over and above that, there are two more reasons why the Baroness from the original series ends up on the favorites list. The first is the amount of damage she inflicts in the episode “Skeletons in the Closet” out of jealous pique, proving the maxim “Hell hath no fury like a woman scored” in a way that’s oddly empowering rather than trivializing. The second is the hilariously numerous times when someone would rip off a rubber mask and — surprise! It’s the Baroness! Usually wearing her trademark eyeglasses under the rubber mask. And, if I recall correctly, impersonating a man at least once. The Baroness was also a heap of fun in G.I. Joe Renegades, acting as Cobra Commander’s primary aide de camp and showing off her own brand of bad-assery more than once. She’s one of the great, definitive femme fatale Bad Girls who you just know would be really, really bad for you and yet you can’t look away.
Destro – Everyone’s favourite Scottish arms merchant. Destro has the wonderful distinction of truly being one of most intelligent characters in G.I. Joe, if not the most intelligent character. He serves as a great foil to Cobra Commander, and some of the most interesting plotlines of the show are the result of his technology. We all remember the M.A.S.S. Device, the Weather Dominator, and the Thermo-Molecular-Ignition Transmitter (a.k.a. the one that makes money explode into nothing), and those are all the result of Destro being his usual awesome self. He was smart, his services were valued, and he knew he could get away with a lot of things because of it. In a world where villains are usually known to be bumbling and incompetent, somebody competent like this silver-headed stallion is always welcome.
Shipwreck – Ah, the seafaring curmudgeon. There’s a winsome charm to Shipwreck who was reportedly conceived to sound like a cross between Jack Nicholson’s Buddusky character from The Last Detail and Popeye the Sailor. I don’t know if it’s his surly demeanor, his charming use of sea terminology, or his squabbles with his parrot Polly, but he knows how to draw attention and love in his direction whenever he’s on screen. It probably also helps exponentially that his voice actor, Neil Ross, gave such a memorable performance. The show wouldn’t be the same without this bilge rat. Plus he has the distinction of being in one of the most awesome two-parters in the entire series: “There’s No Place like Springfield,” where he’s thrown into a world that seems like it should be his dream come true and turns out to be…well, something else. The choice to use him in that story was absolute genius, and he’s really the only Joe that could have carried that story. It hinged on both his subversive, defiant personality and his strong emotional connection to Mara, the water-breathing Cobra agent he fell for in the earlier episode “Memories of Mara,” with Ross’ performance sealing the deal. The episode just wouldn’t have the impact that it does if we didn’t already love Shipwreck, and it only makes us like him even more once the end credits roll to part 2.
Snake Eyes – If you don’t know why he’s a part of the Best Joes list, then you clearly have not been watching the show or reading its comics. Sure, he’s overused and overexposed, but really, there’s a reason for that. Snake Eyes is a commando ninja, which means he’s a mammal and he fights ALL the time and his only purpose is to flip out and kill people. Except without killing people because BS&P doesn’t like those imitable acts.
OK, maybe not. But the fact remains that Snake Eyes is a soldier badass enough to march into combat with a sword strapped on his back when the bad guys have got body armor and lasers and tanks. He really stuck in fans’ minds right from the first mini-series when he deliberately trapped himself in a mine filling up with radioactive gases, dooming himself to save his Joe buddies, and then proved he was tough enough to survive the experience AND make friends with a timber wolf. A lot of his popularity also comes from being such an overt man of mystery. Other than his original gloveless look in the first mini-series (or when he was wearing “peach colored gloves,” if you like), Snake Eyes is covered head to toe and he never says a word. He could be anybody under there, and that makes him an incredibly powerful audience identification character (at least if you’re a guy, or you’re willing to believe that’s a lot of man-shaped padding for the ultimate deception).
Snake Eyes is cool, and while he shouldn’t dominate a G.I. Joe show, the franchise is much poorer without him sneaking around in the shadows, waiting to flip out and kill a mess of Cobras.
Cobra Commander – It sort of goes without saying that Cobra Commander is best pony erm… Joe. It’s a peculiar perfect storm of design (whether it’s the silver mask or the Ku Klux Cobra hood), voice, and personality. Sure he lost pretty much 100% of the time, but by golly he tried. Cobra Commander just had a unique way of exercising his megalomania that made us curious about what he was going to do next. There was a sense of passion in his works, and it helped that while he was insane, he had some intelligence to know what he can and will not do. But mostly, he was insane, and that insanity might have made him a spectacularly ineffective would-be world dominator but it sure made for some wildly fun entertainment. There’s also true greatness in the indelible vocal portrayal by the late, great Chris Latta (who recycled a lot of Cobra Commander’s character traits to create the equally memorable Starscream from the original Transformers series). Plus in later iterations where he’s shown to be incredibly competent (like in G.I. Joe: Resolute and G.I. Joe Renegades), he can be genuinely threatening and absolutely wonderful.
TOP 5 WORST CHARACTERS
Big Lob – The military occupational specialty for the infantry is “11-B,” so maybe someone at Hasbro thought that the “B” stood for “basketball.” It’s the only rationale to explain Big Lob, introduced in G.I. Joe: The Movie and thankfully never seen again. It was kind of dumb for Bazooka to be running around on battlefields wearing a bright red football jersey, but at least he had a useful battlefield skill of blowing stuff up real good with his eponymous weapon. It also makes sense to have a football player’s build if you’re going to lug around the rocket launcher and extra ammo for it. Big Lob doesn’t even have that going for him — his major contribution to the team seems to be to speak only in sports metaphors (an annoying trait that Capt. Grid-Iron picked up in the second series). They tried making throwing grenades his specialty, which would make sense if grenades were nine-inches in diameter or if basketballs exploded when you hit a three-pointer. Even with that stab at relevance, he’s still a black soldier whose only distinguishing features and abilities revolve around basketball. I’d be offended if it wasn’t so blitheringly stupid.
The only redeeming quality of Big Lob is that he makes the other ethnic stereotype characters, like Spirit and Wong from the Oktober Guard, look less embarrassing.
Cross-Country – In the 2nd season of G.I. Joe, we got a lot of new characters to fawn over and buy toys of. Unfortunately, we also had to meet Cross-Country, the team’s H.A.V.O.C. driver. Equipped with Confederate regalia, a love of country music, and a Southern drawl, the guy is a perfect storm of annoying for any decent human being. It doesn’t help that he’s not even a well-done character. He whines — a lot — and is a bit of a jerk. Worst of all, he has the distinction of being the focus of the final Sunbow G.I. Joe episode “Into Your Tent I Will Silently Creep.” G.I. Joe: The Movie was a weird way to end the Sunbow version of G.I. Joe, but that last episode? Kind of embarrassing.
The only redeeming quality of this guy is when Storm Shadow almost beat him to death in that episode, which is quickly lost when Cross-Country takes down Storm Shadow instead. Come on…redneck Confederate wanna-be vs. ninja master? You’d have to hit the “World’s Without End” everything-is-wrong alternate universe to find a place where the ninja doesn’t come out on top in that contest.
Metal-Head – This annoying punk made his first appearance in the DiC G.I. Joe series, and the world was never the same. One of the appeals of Cobra was that its members had some modicum of intelligence if they were in the higher ranks, and had the good idea not to rock the boat if they were of a lower rank. Unfortunately Metal-Head is absolutely insane and not very good at what he does, usually deciding to blow up everything in his path whenever he’s on the job. When something like that happens in Cobra, it’s usually the result of a bit of madness from someone who otherwise retained their faculty of thought. Not with Metal-Head. His overwhelming stupidity and really annoying character tics are lame enough to make “blows up everything around him” a bad thing, and there’s just something fundamentally wrong with that. He’s also the focus of not just the last non-recap DiC episode, but also the focus of the recap episode that happens to be the LAST episode of the DiC series. Sad times. Sad times.
The only redeeming qualities of this guy is if you think the DiC series is just a fever-induced bad dream and that he was kind of an easy win when you fought him in the G.I. Joe arcade game. There’s also this.
Golobulous – Nothing says G.I. Joe more than a Snake Man voiced by Burgess Meredith, seriously. As the leader of the underground snake people empire Cobra-La, Golobulous manages to retcon the entire Serpentor backstory as nothing more than a literal bug of inspiration in Dr. Mindbender’s brain, while ruining the chances of the Sunbow series continuing from then on. He not only knocks fan favourite Cobra Commander into a pitiful position, he then has the amaaaaazing idea to take over the world by distributing copious amounts of spores instead of the usual happy, technological, SPECTRE fervor that made Cobra’s usual world domination plans charming. He only waited, like, CENTURIES, to decide to do this. I guess lasers that always miss their targets were a less lethal alternative than trying to conquer the world where there’s lethal stuff like gunpowder and pointed sticks. He’s so embarrassing that I swear that instead of killing him off, the animators just had him literally slither away offscreen after he has a hissy fit over losing.
The only redeeming qualities of this guy is that he, along with the rest of Cobra-La, are summarily dumped in the DiC series, and that he got stabbed in the eye by Miami Vice’s Don Johnson.
Serpentor – Ah, the crème de la crap of G.I. Joe characters. Of ALL the people they decide to try and replace Cobra Commander with, they chose this one. The result of combining all the major military geniuses of the world, Serpentor sadly is one of the most irksome failures of Cobra ever. Apparently, all it took was for Sun-Tzu’s DNA to be missing to turn Serpentor into a ranting, gaudily-dressed, madman who lacks even Cobra Commander’s charm and social skills. I mean, I know Sun-Tzu was a genius or something, but so were the rest of the people they took DNA from and none of them were slouches in the “personal restraint” department, either. He pretty much made the second season of G.I. Joe to be rather irksome. Cobra Commander may have been crazy, but at least he was entertaining and the writers made it clear that we were supposed to think he was stupid and incompetent. With his uber-warrior pedigree, Serpentor’s continuing failures against G.I. Joe make him look even worse. He’s just pure, unironic id with none of the cunning or charm that made Cobra Commander a fan favourite. Plus, once the movie was released and he found himself to be the product of Cobra-La, this so-called ultimate leader just blindly follows them. Tool.
The only redeeming qualities of this guy is that the concept of his existence is interesting, he’s memorably sidelined in the DiC series for Cobra Commander’s return, and they threw out everything about him and just made him a gigantic snake in G.I. Joe Renegades. I can’t say much for the comics, but I heard he’s pretty good there.
So… Dost thou agree or disagree with this list? Let us know.