Band of Vipers

Since I started working from home, I’ve been putting that GI Joe box set I bought for myself last year to use, putting it on so I’ll have something to watch that isn’t daytime television while I eat lunch. Given my noted obsession with affection for Destro, this has worked out pretty well, and while I even thought about doing daily episode recaps on Twitter, I figured Marvel Editor Jordan White’s mornings with Sailor Moon had that market pretty well covered.

But today… Today, I finally got to the episode that is only matched in the world of awesome television by “Once Upon a Time,” the penultimate chapter of The Prisoner. The definitive pinnacle of the world of America’s daring, highly trained special missions force.

I speak, of course, of “Cold Slither.”



Anyone with fond memories of GI Joe–or really, anyone with fond memories of having fond memories of GI Joe–remembers “Cold Slither,” but they tend to only remember the titular highlight of the plot. What people tend to forget, however, is that the rest of the episode is the craziest Goddamn thing ever put on TV.

The show opens with the GI Joe team on their sweet-ass dune buggies executing a raid on a Cobra operation, and while GI Joe’s actions are necessary for world security in the face of global weather domination and the literal theft of Alaska, Cover Girl and Ace still manage to go out of their way to be total dicks about it. Once they’ve blown up enough trucks and put the fear of God into the Cobra rank and file, we find out that the purpose of this operation was to disrupt Cobra finances, which is actually pretty easy since Cobra Commander keeps his entire bankroll in a bunker somewhere in the desert.

And by “bankroll,” I of course mean “Scrooge McDuckian amounts of gold coins and the fucking Mona Lisa.”



This, incidentally, is what I love most about the treatment of Cobra Commander in both the cartoon and the comics: For all his insane, shrieking bluster (of which we’ll see quite a bit in a few minutes), there was a time before the creation of the GI Joe team where he was just running roughshod over the entire world, stealing art treasures and basically ruining everything. He’s Snidely Whiplash, and yet it takes a specialized unit composed of the best soldiers in every branch of the military devoted only to his master plans to keep him from controlling the world. How do you not love that guy?

Anyway, owing to the fact that the Commander keeps all of his money in one room with the Mona Lisa, GI Joe’s raid has completely bankrupted Cobra, as evidenced by the fact that every Cobra soldier has signed up for unemployment.



At this point, the story has essentially become Cobra Commander vs. The Recession. He tries to keep up apperances, but Tomax and Xamot–who, quick reminder, are a pair of identical twin circus acrobat high financiers, putting them squarely on the lower end of Cobra personnel in terms of sheer bat-shit craziness–are foreclosing on Cobra Headquarters, with plans to sell it off to the various anti-American interests of the mid-80s:



Yes, like so many Americans, Cobra Commander has lost everything he’s worked for thanks to one lousy investment, although to be fair, in his case it was not investing in multiple secret desert bunkers in which to hide his stolen priceless art treasures. Either way, he’s out of money, and with creditors breathing down his neck, he’s forced into yet another all-too-familiar: turning to a predatory lender to make ends meet.

A predatory lender that comes straight from the mind of David Lynch:



Seriously, between the camera angle and the Little Loanshark’s Spooneristic speech patterns, I’d totally call this one an homage… except that this episode aired six years before Twin Peaks.

In either case, Little Loanshark offers Cobra Commander a million dollars in cash at 400% weekly interest–a slightly better rate than your local title loan establishment, I’m sure–but then he makes the fatal mistake of demanding that Dub-C remove his mask to settle the deal, at which time Cobra Commander shocks a three foot-tall loan shark with his electric face



…and then punches him square in the mouth:



At this point, I think it’s important to note that everything mentioned thus far has taken place in seven minutes, and now it’s time for things to get strange when the actual plot shows up.

So, having face-lightninged his way into a cool million, one might think that Cobra Commander would use that money to get some of his troops back or to get the liens off of a couple of HISS tanks, but no. He uses it to hire Zartan and the Dreadnoks and then book a television studio, because he has A Plan.

As revealed in the single greatest quote in GI Joe history (which I am amazed has not been sampled in every single hip-hop song for the past twenty-six years), “Destro has designed a program that creates rock and roll music,” with the added benefit that it also layers 100% effective subliminal mind control messages under the tracks.

Now, I think it’s important at this juncture to note that Cobra Commander already has a fully functional mind control device. He didn’t need to go to the loan shark. He didn’t need to hire Zartan. He didn’t even need to put up with Tomax and Xamot’s smarmy asses foreclosing on his Terrordrome. He already has the mind control device. But he also has a plan to corrupt the youth of America with rock ‘n’ roll, and thus, Cold Slither is born.



Yes, with the judicious application of some gently worn “Diamond” David Lee Roth stage gear, the Dreadnoks are transformed into a hair metal band called Cold Slither, whose debut song, “Cold Slither,” off the album Cold Slither, rockets to the top of the charts. And here’s the thing: The song, which is meant to have a subliminal pro-Cobra bent to it, has actual, audible lyrics like “with an iron fist / and a reptile hiss / we shall rule” and “too late to resist / ‘Cause Cobra is strong.”

Even more telling is the fact that at least one member of the GI Joe team, Scarlett, is both familiar with the band and completely oblivious to the fact that they’re actually singing about Cobra. She even makes fun of Duke for thinking that a band with a snake-themed name might somehow be tied to Cobra, thus proving that Scarlett is both a dope and a total jerk.

And she’s hardly the only one, as the Joes only respond to Cold Slither by chance, when Shipwreck, Breaker and Footloose get hypnotized into attending their concert. But fortunately for the good guys, the Dreadnoks are equally dopey, failing to recognize the lovely ladies of our armed forces when they “infiltrate” the backstage area, even though Lady Jaye’s only disguise is tarting up a little:



They seize control of the concert, but they get paralyzed by a high-frequency tone from Cobra Commander’s rock ‘n’ roll machine, at which time Cobra Commander makes his escape by jumping out the window so that he can crash into a popcorn stand…



…instead of using the stairs that were three feet to the left. Unfortunately for the Joe team, he’s still able to get away, owing to the fact that when the three most wanted people on the face of the Earth are momentarily trapped in the wreckage of a concession stand, Scarlett opts to make fun of him on the PA rather than taking him into custody. Because, you know, she’s a jerk.

Scarlett then destroys the mind-control console with a chainsaw (yes, really), and then, to add the final note of surrealism, the Joes take up instruments and entertain the crowd as “The Average Joe Band”…



…performing a version of their own theme song that not only has a synthesizer, but that I am 90% sure also featured the theremin.

And they crammed all that and the credits into a total runtime of 22 minutes, 17 seconds. I am legitimately surprised that televisions across America didn’t just melt from the sheer amount of incredible madness being transmitted to them in 1985.

44 thoughts on “Band of Vipers

  1. After being reminded of this bolt of lightning from heaven, I can’t help but wish Cobra Commander had been ranked in the People I Want to Party With article.

  2. I think Euge’s next song needs to include “Destro has designed a program that creates rock and roll music”…

  3. So if this was Once Upon a Time, which Joe episode was Fallout?
    Because that’s a Joe episode I want to see.

  4. This ranks up with there with the time Destro tried to take over the world using gigantic vegetables.

  5. Holy crap! I want to see this so bad now!

    Man, none of the GI Joe cartoons I can remember seeing were anywhere near this batshit insane.

  6. Oh come on, everyone remembers the Viper episode, and that is at least as crazy as this one.

  7. I would like to remind everyone of the episode where Destro hosts a telethon to raise money for Cobra. A “Cobra-thon”, if you will.

  8. One of the things I love about both the GI Joe cartoon and Homestar Runner’s “Cheat Commandos” parodies is that the Cheat Commandos cartoons are only marginally less insane than the real thing.

  9. I’m sorry Mr. Sims but you’re wrong. The most awesome episode of G.I. Joe is the one where Stormshadow gets Excalibur. Because it has a ninja beating up tanks with Excalibur…

  10. From 1993 to 1995, I was in a band called ‘Average Joe.’ We didn’t have a Theremin…but we should have.

  11. I always think of “Raise the Flagg” when I think Cold Slither, since BA LaCarre was playing it when the BATs were going to execute Roadblock and Zarana.

  12. Best exchange in “Cold Slither?” When a union rep comes up to Cobra Commander:

    Union Rep: Excuse me, sir, but we are now into overtime and the union rules specifically state—

    Cobra Commander (getting up and grabbing the rep by the lapels): The only union they should be concerned with is the one between their heads and their shoulders.

    Union Rep: Uh, yessir!

  13. Man… I have most of the GI Joe episodes on DVD, and I’ve only watched a few. I really need to start watching them.

    One of the ones I did watch was the one where they go to Egypt and mess with the Egyptian pantheon.

  14. This is one of my favourite eps–not only for the reasons listed above, but because that song is so damn awesome!

    Another favourite of mine is the episode where COBRA clones dinosaurs from stolen fossils–FOUR YEARS before Jurassic Park was published! The scene where the Crimson Guardsmen herd Tyrannosaurs with giant cattle prods was fantastic:

    COBRA COMMANDER: Your Crimson Guardsmen are either incredibly brave, or incredibly foolish.

    TOMAX: A little…

    XAMOT: …of both…

    TOGETHER: …Commander.

  15. Ha! I like how in the G.I. Joe world, Castro smokes mere Cuban cigarettes (and is rich enough to buy old Cobra assets).

  16. Oh, Steve Gerber, how we miss you. This, like a whole lot of G.I. Joe season 1, has his fingerprints all over it. When I was a wee lad watching these on TV for the first time, I thought the show was awesome while pointing and laughing and saying, “But that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen!” Now as an old man watching these on DVD, I think the show is awesome while pointing and laughing and saying, “But that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen!” but I mean something TOTALLY DIFFERENT by it.

    I think the only shows on the air today that can compete with G.I. Joe for sheer, batshit crazy is probably Batman: The Brave and the Bold and The Super Hero Squad Show.

  17. Am I the only one who thinks CC looks exactly like Dangeresque in that punching-the-loan-shark screen cap? It’s not just me, right?

  18. Cody – not only are you correct, but as seen later in the episode…. he’s going to have to jump!

  19. Identical twin circus acrobat high financiers who are also WORLD-CLASS ASSASSINS! I’m trying to convince my wife that having twins is a good idea for this very reason. So far she is not on board, but we’ve only watched about half of the DVD episodes. I’m sure I’ll win her over, eventually.

  20. Man, this episode is AMAZING. Another thing that’s incredible about it is just how bad the art gets at certain points. The random people in the crowd at Cold Slither’s concert look like they were drawn in MS Paint by someone with three fingers using a touchpad. There’s seriously one guy that looks like he’s about three feet tall, most of which consists of his giant head, which is the same size as the torso of the person next to him. And near the end, there’s a shot of Shipwreck where the animators have reversed the colors of his beard and mouth areas, so that he’s got this skin-toned beard and dark-brown lips. He’s basically sad hobo clown Shipwreck for a couple of seconds.

    Have to say though, that I feel like this episode might actually be slightly less insane than the one where Cobra Commander makes a super-potent perfume based on an ancient Egyptian recipe and then has the Baroness seduce Aristotle Onassis with it.

  21. Scarlett probably doesn’t think the G.I. Joe Killaz were singing about Cobra, either.

  22. Best line in any GIJoe episode:
    Cobra Commander: “idiots! I have idiots on my payroll!”

  23. The episode where Cobra took over all the TV channels to broadcast subversive stuff was awesome, if only because it allowed the show to totally rip on the Smurfs.

  24. I like the credit for “Written By: Michael Charles Hill”. It implies someone actually sat down and thought all of this up. I imagine him doing it in the back of Spicolli’s VW van before school one day, rolling out in a cloud of doobie smoke with the finished script in time to get to Mr. Hand’s class.

  25. CabanaJack:

    Best line in any GIJoe episode:
    Cobra Commander: “idiots! I have idiots on my payroll!”

    I did not remember that line.

    If I could figure out how to make ringtones, that would be one of the ones for my phone (the union line would also be there).

  26. I always thought that it was a no-brainer that they would have called themselves the Average Joes. That they did not bugged me.

  27. “The actual line is “Morons! I’ve got morons on my payroll!””

    Wait what? Did Cobra Commander quote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Wow.

    As much as I enjoy a lot of what you write, posts like these are my favorites: the ones where you read (or see) something so CRAZY that you need to share it with the world (this, the Bat-Witch, the little man in Sun Boy’s ankle). I’m not sure you can find someone to pay you to write “The craziest shit Chris Sims saw this week,” but if so, you have my support.

  28. I’ve seen more than a few punk bands cover “Cold Slither” just for the hell of it. This episode had a profound effect on a generation of DIY musicians.

    Other totally fucking crazy GI Joe episodes: Stormshadow gets Excalibur (mentioned above), GI Joe + Cobra + Egyptian gods = good TV (mentioned above), Cobra builds a huge-ass robotic sea serpent, Cthulhu lives in Destro’s basement, Shipwreck does acid (this one actually scared me as a kid), and so on.

  29. “The Viper is Coming” has the nuttiest twist ever.
    Accent and pronunciation are important kids

  30. 1) That also appears to be Guernica in the background of the Cobra art vault.Take that, Guernica!

    2) Who is the bald guy at the Cobra fire sale? I recognize fake-Castro, Commie General, and Islamic Guy. Is he just browsing? Doesn’t he know what happens to people who waste Cobra Commander’s time?

  31. Sorry, but the craziest GI Joe episode is the one where Shipwreck loses his shit and everyone keeps melting, including his bird and OH GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING

  32. Lady Jaye looks like Dexter’s sister from Dexter. In the next awful movie (was Lady Jaye in the Ruse of Cobra?), Dexter Morgan’s sister can play her and dress like a tart!

    Yo Joe!

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