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GI Joe
by yo go re

To help launch their new tv network, The Hub, Hasbro created new cartoons based on their biggest properties: the shape-changing robots got Transformers: Prime; your tiny equines got My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic; and the short soldier toys became Renegades.

When a spy mission against Cobra Industries goes awry, a group of young GI Joes is forced to hit the road as fugitives. Now the team members - Duke, Scarlett, Roadblock, Tunnel Rat, Ripcord and Snake-Eyes - must use their wits and elite training to prove their innocence to the world before being caught by the authorities, Cobra or another elite military team called the Falcons.

The plot of Renegades was basically that of The A-Team - a parallel that the show's opening narration was only too happy to point out:

Accused of a crime they didn't commit, a ragtag band of fugitives fights a covert battle to clear their names and expose the insidious enemy that is... Cobra. Some call them outlaws. Some call them heroes. But these determined men and women think themselves only as "Ordinary Joes." And this is their story.

Cute, huh? The show really turned the classic GI Joe dynamic on its head, with Cobra being the group that's admired and respected around the world, while the Joes are the ones branded terrorists. The first episode even opens with a fun little "corporate promo" video showing us just what a helpful, varied company Cobra Industries is, and introducing us to its friendly CEO, Adam DeCobray. Unless you know the history of the property, there's no reason at all to think anything shady is going on.

The scales quickly fall from our eyes, of course, and though the public at large may doubt our heroes, we never do. The team lives on the road, constantly moving from one location to the next. In this set, we visit Missouri, Chicago, Kansas, Colorado, California, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Washington DC and more. It's fun to track the team, and see if they ever end up near where you live - you can imagine that if you'd been on the road just half an hour later, you might have seen them rolling by.

Though the show is action-packed, we also get a lot of good character development. Like any GI Joe story, this one spends a lot of time on the ninjas, and that means we get to see Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes as kids; but we also see where Duke grew up, and meet his parents (voiced by a couple of folks that old-school Joe fans will recognize). And in between that we get fistfights on top of moving trains, dam explosions and even "The Arena of Sport" - just one of the many sly references to the line's long history.

The Renegades character designs were handled by Clement Sauve, and while initial fan reaction was understandably negative, seeing them in motion helps. A lot. The characters are simpler than the '80s or Resolute incarnations, but that's not a knock against them: these designs have style! Batman the Animated Series was simpler than the Superfriends, but which cartoon looked better?

This set includes the first half of Season 1 - and can we just take this opportunity to underline how much we hate this trend of releasing shows in incomplete chunks? Nobody wants half a season of a show they like, so it's just an excuse to spread out the revenue. Anyway, the episodes are presented in their intended order, not the modified order The Hub originally aired them in (so that they could get the Christmas-themed episode on air at a seasonally appropriate time). That makes a lot of difference to the story, filling in gaps and straightening out the continuity.

The picture quality is excellent, even viewed on an HDTV. The colors are bright and reproduced well - since this is animation, the only areas of pure black are the outlines around the characters and there's never really anything that's pure white, so there's no blooming or noise to worry about. There's also no artifacting or interlace errors, so this is one tidy looking image!

The audio is only available in Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 Stereo - no foreign language options, and not even any subtitles. The sound is clear, which is really all you can hope for.

What's really disappointing is that there are no special features - none at all. There's no commentary, no "making of," not even copies of the character text bios included on Hasbro's Hub website. When Transformers: Prime was released, it not only got the entire first season in one shot, it also came with commentary on 15 episodes and three other bonus features: why is Transformers getting all the love while GI Joe is just getting shoved out in the laziest way possible? For that matter, why is Transformers getting a Season 2, while Renegades is "on hiatus" until after the movie (code-speak for "cancelled")?

Renegades is the Firefly of GI Joe. That is, the Joss Whedon space show Firefly, not this Firefly. It was jerked around, shown out of order and never given the chance it deserved. There's no question that Renegades is better than the original A Real American Hero cartoon - heck, it's even better than Resolute! This was the best Joe cartoon yet, but it gets screwed over by the network, screwed over in terms of toys, and now its DVD release is as bare-bones as can be. It's still worth getting this set, just to own the episodes, but there is a lot of room for improvement here. Hopefully Shout Factory will up their game in time for the back half of Season 1.

Oh, and as one final little insult to injury, there's a sticker on the front of the package offering $5.00 off a ticket to go see GI Joe Retaliation - an offer that expires July 23, 2012. Boy, it sure is great that Paramount just pushed the release date back to 2013, isn't it? And even better that, with no Renegades Season 2, there's nothing to help us Joe fans pass the time.

-- 05/25/12

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