Voice actress Mary McDonald Lewis
Storyboard Director Doug Vandegrift
Story editor/writer Buzz Dixon
Story editor/writer Flint Dille
Story editor/writer Steve Gerber
Writer Christy Marx
Buzz Dixon was one of the story editors and writers for GI Joe.
Some of the episodes he wrote were Twenty Questions, Arise, Serpentor, Arise and Once Upon A Joe, amung others. He has also
written for cartoons such as Dungeons & Dragons, Transformers, Jem and Visionaries.
Jodie: What is your favorite episode?
Buzz: My favorite episode of mine is the two-parter "The Traitor," which I think really worked on an emotional level (basically, where does you real loyalty lie, with you family or your friends or your country?). My favorite written by somebody else is probably "Red Rockets Glare" by Christy Marx, though I do love Marty Pasko's "Cobrathon" for the sheer zaniness of it all (we never got to do our "We Are The World" parody which would have been called "We Want the World").
Jodie: Who is your favorite character?
Buzz: My absolute favorite character was Shipwreck. Fell in love with him from the first time I used him in a script and after that always looked for excuses to bring him in. Steve Gerber summed his character up best: "Write him like Popeye, play him like Jack Nicholson."
Jodie: What was "The Most Dangerous Man in the World" about?
Buzz: Before being informed that Hasbro was adding a Cobra Emperor character in season two (see Funny G.I. Joe Anecdote #1 below) , we began work on several scripts (plus one carry over from the previous season by the late Tom Dagenais). Since Flint Dille and I are both history buffs and political junkies, I thought it would be interesting to examine the political outlook behind Cobra. While it was ruthless and perfectly willing to commit a wide variety of criminal acts, it did seem to have some sort of guiding philosophy behind it (albeit it of a decidedly facist bent). I proposed a story in which Cobra suddenly suspended all operations to begin a world wide search for one man, a prisoner who had escaped from their most secure compound. When the Joes learn of this, they immediately look for the man, too, not knowing why Cobra wants him but figuring out he must be pretty important.
The fugitive turns out to be the Karl Marx/Frederick Neitszche of Cobra, the political theorist who laid out the groundwork for the organization but who was subsequently shunted aside when Cobra Commander began perverting his basic philosophy. He would be "the most dangerous man in the world" to Cobra because he could rob them of any claims of legitimacy they might have by pointing out how they failed to follow his teachings.
To my delight, Hasbro approved the story and I began working on an outline which would have shown the fugitive's original philosophy to be ruthless and, by our standards, amoral but at least with some sense of honor to it. It would have ended with the Joes turning him loose in the world to undermine Cobra, while at the same time feeling they may have made a deal with the devil in doing so.
Unfortunately, before I could even finish the first draft outline, I was informed by Hasbro that we were going to have to work a brand new character into the scripts already approved and written: Cobra Emperor.
Funny G.I. Joe Anecdote #1:
We were constantly adding and dropping characters to the show as we went along (somewhere at either the end of season one or the middle of season two we did a count and found out we had a whopping EIGHTY-SIX characters who appeared in two or more episodes, a number not matched until The Simpsons much later), so when I was told to make room for a new character in the first scripts of season two, I said sure. Then they told me it was the new Cobra Emperor.
"Excuse me," I said. "Cobra Emperor?"
"Yeah. Cobra Commander's boss."
"Un-huh. And where has this character been for the last sixty-five episodes?"
"Oh, he's been there all the time, we've just never seen him before."
I turned a couple of shades of purple and explained that (1) we had repeatedly established Cobra Commander as the Big Kahuna of all things Cobra and (2) there had not been even the faintest hint of any Cobra organization level beyond what we had seen in the show. Oh, they said. Well, come up with a couple of ideas to explain where he came from.
So I hammered a few ideas around and came up with two: First, that Cobra Commander had screwed up so badly his underlings decided to *build* a better leader, or second, that Cobra Commander was the front man for a vast, far more secretive, far more sinister organization which had sent him out into the world to conquer it. I liked the first idea much better (particularly since it would still permit me to write "The Most Dangerous Man in the World") and put all my efforts into it.
So of course, Hasbro selected *BOTH* ideas and said combine them. Well, that pretty much threw "Most Dangerous Man" right out the window. I made a couple of proposals as to what kind of organization could be behind Cobra, one of which as a blatant nod to James Hilton's "Lost Horizon" was set in the Himalayas and used Cobra-La as a placeholder name (i.e., the name of a character or thing until you can think of a better one, like Joe Hero and Big Bad Guy #1). Unfortunately, Hasbro fell in love with that concept and name and despite all my efforts stuck with Cobra-La. I apologize to Joe and Hilton fans everywhere; I really, really, REALLY was going to come up with a much better name than that.
Cobra Emperor was briefly named King Cobra until somebody discovered there was a malt liquor by the same name so eventually we arrived at Serpentor. "Arise, Serpentor, Arise!" was added to season two as a five-part opening mini-series. Frankly, I think we went one part two long with it and would have probably been better served by trimming it to two hours, but all in all I think it worked rather well. It certainly gave the Cobra Commander/Serpentor relationship a depth that most animated shows of that time lacked.
Jodie: Do you remember if there were any changes made to G.I. Joe: The Movie?
Buzz: The mini-series introduced Serpentor, and the movie was supposed to have been the culmination of the whole Joe vs. Cobra plot line. Sunbow Productions made three theatrical animated films that year: The My Little Pony Movie, The Transformers Movie, and G.I. Joe: The Movie, scheduled to be released in that order (due to a dispute with the distributor over Transformers, however, G.I. Joe received no theatrical release. In hindsight Sunbow said they should have started with Joe, then done Transformers, then Pony).
We were aiming for a PG rating, and I finally got permission from Hasbro to do something we had never done in the series: Kill off a character. Since Duke and Lt. Falcon were going to be revealed as half-brothers, and since Duke was being phased out of the toy line, I decided to kill Duke off as the final impetus that turns Lt. Falcon into a real Joe (Falcon, btw, was originally supposed to be General Hawk's son). The scene was animated and, if you watch the visuals and don't listen to the soundtrack, it's obvious Duke dies.
However, Hasbro decided if killing off a major character was good for G.I. Joe, it would be even better for Transformers, so they ordered Optimus Prime to be bumped off in the Transformers Movie even though that had never been the intent in the original script. The audience for Transformers was about 3-4 years younger on average than the Joe fans. The Joes fans at least made *some* acknowledgment that War Is Not Fun and People Get Hurt (sidebar: In every story I ever wrote or edited for G.I. Joe, I made it a point to show somebody getting seriously hurt. They wouldn't let me deal with death, but I could tell kids there was a physical price to combat).
The younger Transformer fans freaked when Optimus Prime went to that big junkyard in the sky; there had been nothing in the tone of the story that indicated it could take such an ominous turn (yeah, Orson Welles was going to eat the galaxy, but that was all a fun Star Wars-ish romp; it wasn't like somebody you knew and liked was going to bite it). Parents howled in protest to Hasbro, and Hasbro decreed G.I. Joe: The Movie be slightly re-edited and re-dubbed to indicate Duke survived (that clunky "We just heard Duke's going to be all right -- yea!" ending). Incidentally, there are two variant soundtracks, one for the direct-to-video release, one for the re-edited TV mini-series. The direct-to-video soundtrack for this scene is marginally less stupid than the mini-series.
Also cut at this time was Zarana's brief topless scene after she infiltrates Joe HQ. It would have worked as scripted if they had put a tube top on her under the sundress, but instead she suddenly has that off-the-shoulder shirt she wore, which makes you wonder where it suddenly came from. The topless scene would have stayed in for a theatrical release but since they were opting for a re-edited version for a mini-series, they cut it.
Funny G.I. Joe Anecdote #2
We got a complaint from a father in Pennsylvania over an episode I wrote, "My Brother's Keeper." Seems he walked in on the very tail end of the show and saw one brother clasp his brother's shoulder and the second brother pat the first brother's hand. The father started making complaints to everyone who would listen that we were promoting homosexuality! Hasbro wanted to re-edit the episode. I told them to send the father a copy of the episode and tell him to watch it from the beginning. The guy did have the decency to say, "Oops" once he realized the two characters were brothers.
Jodie: Were there ever any plans for a third season of G.I. Joe, with the characters from the movie?
Buzz: Mike Hill, who was on staff at the time, made a brilliant proposal to send the Joes off after a somewhat new foe called The Coil for the never made Sunbow season three (there was a DIC season three, but they never bothered to ask for any input from me or Flint or Steve and frankly, we were just as glad). As I recall, Mike's idea was that following the Movie, Cobra would be shattered as a world-wide organization. Under the guidance of Tomax and Xamot, a new organization called The Coil (much more criminal in nature than military) would be formed, picking and choosing among the best of the surviving Cobra units. Cobra-La was utterly wiped out, no survivors, except for Cobra Commander, who would be slithering about in the background for the first half of season three as some sinister character of shifting alliances, then be revealed in severely mutated form in the second half. He would be playing the Joes and The Coil against one another in an attempt to destroy both and rebuild Cobra.
Sunbow season three was never made. Hasbro had been funding G.I. Joe out of their own pocket; they got a ridiculous deal from DIC to take over the series and they pretty much let them. The story behind DIC is much too long to go into here; suffice it to say these guys may not have been 100% responsible for the destruction of the animation industry in the late eighties but they sure helped!
Jodie: Was it your idea to have the character Hector Ramerez appear in Jem and Inhumanoids, too?
Buzz: Hector first appeared in "Twenty Questions" as a parody of Geraldo Rivera but soon became a semi-regular whenever we needed a recognizable news anchor (for example, instead of the usual "In our last episode..." recap for "The Traitor," we began part two with Hector reporting the events of part one as if they were a news story). I think he's in two or three other G.I. Joe episodes and may have even been briefly in the movie in a cutaway scene. While writing "One Jem Too Many" I had a scene at a televised gala premiere and, since Hector needed the work, wrote him in (check out the movie marquee: "My Fist in Your Face" appeared on a lot of marquees in various Sunbow shows while the reference to "movie star Flint Westwood" was an homage to both Clint Eastwood *and* Flint Dille, who lived in Westwood at the time). Flint needed a newscaster for Inhumanoids so he wrote Hector in. I even think he made an appearance or two in Transformers.
So there you have it: Six Degrees of Hector Ramerez. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Jem, and Inhumanoids all inhabit the same universe.