The Greatest Evil – Part One
Written by Bob and Eve Forward
Season Two, Episode 11

Brief Summary: Kids, Just Say No – To Shameless Moralizing!

Summary: Open on a blighted urban area, most likely inner city, where various atypical people are purchasing drugs from dealers dressed in strange, way too blatant uniforms.

A young blonde teenager comes up to one of the dealers and begs for a fix. The dealer turns her down since she’s got no money, but the Headman comes up and offers Cindy a new drug called “Spark.” The drug in question is dispensed in what seems to be a small cloth drawstring bag. Maybe the Headman got a hella good deal on Crown Royal pouches?

The locals rise up and try to chase off the Headman and his dealers. “No more selling drugs to kids” one of them yells…even though there’s no kids in the area. Well, other than Cindy, who looks to me to be at least eighteen, putting her out of kid range. The Headman and his goons retreat to their headquarters, which is a rundown abandoned building that’s more heavily fortified than NORAD. The Headman raves at the locals, telling them that this is the Headman’s city and the Headman reigns supreme!

And on that note, we let the opening credits roll. Got to get tough, Yo Joe!

We come back from the opening theme to find the Joes scrambling for a mission. Apparently Cobra is going after a shipment of diamonds. Lt. Falcon jumps into a Battle Copter and decides that this is just the time for a pick me up. That’s right boys and girls, Falcon’s on drugs. The same sorts of drugs that Cindy was buying earlier, which we know because he’s got his own Crown Royal bag. We also learn that Falcon’s apparently the type of junkie who carries his entire stash with him at all times.

So, Falcon takes off after the Cobras and his behavior seems to the others to be highly erratic and reckless. To me, it looks like the same sorts of behavior that were pretty common in the Sunbow episodes and the sorts of things we’ve seen in other DiC episodes. But, hey, this is an episode with a message so we’ll go along with the idea that this behavior is somehow strange for Falcon.

Meanwhile, Crimson Guardsman #1 gets a message from what could be the Baroness saying that his sister Cindy has been taken to the local hospital. Cobra, an evil terrorist organization that’s really concerned with family values.

Falcon tries to take out a Night Vulture by jumping out of his Battle Copter onto the Night Vulture’s glider. He also manages to shoot down his own ride in the process. He and the Night Vulture make it to the ground safely enough that they then proceed to chase each other with baggage cars (we’re at a local airport in an unnamed city, by the way).

For someone who’s supposedly exhibiting erratic behavior, Falcon seems to be doing a pretty good job of handling the baggage car. No signs of impaired driving here.

Even so, the Joes fail to catch the Cobras who make off with the diamonds. Duke orders the Joes to stay behind and help the rescue squads clean up the mess that the Joes in general and Falcon in particular made of the area.

Back at base, Duke chews Falcon a new one for his general stupidity and recklessness. Falcon ends up stomping off, telling his big brother to back off, that he’s fine and there’s nothing wrong with him.

After Falcon stomps off, Duke turns to Bulletproof, saying he doesn’t know what went wrong, that Falcon was doing so well and now he’s changed so much. Bulletproof commiserates with Duke.

Finally, we get a shot of Falcon suffering the shakes, apparently because he’s coming down from his high. He heads off to take more drugs.

Crimson Guardsman #1 discovers that his sister Cindy OD’ed (though, she looks surprisingly good for someone who did). Cindy tells him that she got the drugs from the Headman in the city.

Oh yeah, this must be some open-minded hospital ‘cause the Crimson Guardsman showed up in his uniform.

There’s a brief bit where the Headman chews the scenery, generally raving about how he’s gonna reign supreme and all that.

Back at the Joe base, Falcon drops his Crown Royal bag of drugs and ends up busted by Duke. Duke gets pretty understandably pissed and refuses to listen as Falcon tries to explain. He then tosses Falcon out of the Joes and out of his life before stomping off.

Bulletproof stays behind to talk to Falcon, who explains that he only started taking drugs because he thought they’d make him a better Joe. He only wanted to feel better, have more energy and for Duke to be proud of him. He also mentions that he got the drugs from the Headman.

Bulletproof listens and tells Falcon about how he used to be a junkie himself but he got the help he needed and kicked the habit and now he’s a Joe. He tells Falcon that he needs help and, amazingly enough, Falcon agrees.

Back at the hospital, Cindy has slipped into a coma. Crimson Guardsman #1 stomps off, angry beyond belief.

Duke and the CG1 are each out flying around in their side’s version of the mini-chopper. Spotting one another, they decide that a good fight is what each needs to take his mind of his troubles. The end result of which is they manage to blow each other’s choppers up. As they’re falling to earth, their chutes get tangled and, finally, Duke cuts his own chute and he and CG1 hang onto the guardsman’s chute as they drift back to earth.

During the fall, they discover their common problem and talk it over. They come up with a plan for the Joes and Cobra to work together to fight the bigger enemy of the Headman.

Back at the Cobra base, CG1 convinces Cobra Commander to go along with the plan by pointing out that the Headman is going to have a whole lot of untraceable cash lying around his base from all the drug dealing he’s been doing. Cash that the perpetually broke Cobra can use for all kinda nefarious purposes. Like destroying the ozone layer or stealing the world’s food supply. But not drug dealing because dealing drugs is WRONG!

Actually, I think this is one of the cleverer bits in this episode, since it actually gives Cobra a motive for fighting the Headman that makes more sense than “drugs are bad.”

Back at Joe Headquarters, we find out that Falcon’s in the hospital trying to dry out. Bulletproof is trying to get Duke to go see him, but Duke refuses. Instead, Duke heads off to meet with the Joes and tell them about the plan to join with Cobra.

There’s a surprisingly small number of Joes in the meeting room and none of them are at all thrilled about the idea of working with Cobra. In fact, they react angrily to the suggestion of working with the guys they’ve been fighting against for all these years. Duke more or less has to order them to go along with it, at least until Bulletproof steps up and makes an impassioned (sorta) speech:

“As far as we’re concerned, drugs are the world’s greatest evil,” Bulletproof says. “Drug dealers enslave minds, they destroy lives…” There’s more in this vein and it manages to convince the other Joes that maybe this is a good idea after all.

Me, the only thing I’m convinced of is that I could use some Spark to get me through the rest of this episode…

Later on, the Cobras and Joes meet up. Duke welcomes the Commander with a line that’s halfway witty: “As long as you fight the Headman better than you fight us, we’ll be okay.”

The Joes and Cobras are formed into combat teams, since neither side really trusts the other enough to go in on their own. This kind of makes sense, since it means neither side will be able to ambush and/or get the drop on the other side.

The names are pulled from a pair of helmets. Cobra Commander’s has a small snake crawl out of it (no, we don’t’ get to see CC’s face, it’s a spare helmet). Duke asks if this is Cobra dandruff.

The pair-ups are as follows (as near as I can tell, since some are only shown, rather than being announced):

The Baroness and Mutt/Junkyard
Metal-Head and Bulletproof
Crimson Guardsman #1 and Shockwave
Roadblock and a Night Creeper (maybe Night Creeper Leader)
Interrogator and Scarlett
Overkill and Snake-eyes (I’m not too sure on this one)

And, finally, Duke and Cobra Commander.

Apparently, the mayor of the city has given the teamed up Joes and Cobras permission to go in after the Headman’s distribution house. Which makes one question the mayor’s sanity, considering the fact he’s just given a group of terrorists carte blanche in his city.

The crew arrives at the distribution house, where we see that the Headman is amazingly well-armed for a drug dealer, complete with pop-out laser cannons mounted to the sides of the building. Seriously, there are Cobra bases that are less well-armed than this loony is.

Now, from a storytelling standpoint it makes sense that the Headman is so well-armed. He has to be enough of a threat that he’s worthy of facing off against the combined might of Cobra and GI Joe, otherwise what’s the point? You don’t send Superman out after pickpockets, after all.

But, realistically, the heavy armaments are more than a bit farfetched. But then, a lot about the Headman and his people is farfetched. More on that in a bit.

Crimson Guardsman #1 and Shockwave are sent in to infiltrate the distribution house and see if they can knock out the Headman’s gun batteries.

Inside, the Headman chews some more scenery (apparently it’s got fewer calories than celery, you burn off weight while you work). He also gives us a heaping dose of exposition about how bad-ass he is. I think we get another “Headman reigns supreme!” or two here as well. When he finds out about the attack on his distribution center, he decides that it’s time to go after Falcon and Cindy as hostages.

Back at the hospital, Falcon goes looking for someone to talk to and stumbles across Cindy’s room. From her window, he sees the battle at the distribution center in the distance and whines about not being able to go help his friends because of his disgrace.

Y’know, for someone who’s in a coma, Cindy looks really good. And amazingly enough, she doesn’t seem to be hooked up to any sort of monitors or any sort of medical equipment that comatose people are generally connected to.

We also learn from Falcon, who looks surprisingly well for someone who’s drying out, that withdrawal isn’t fun and that drug use is stupid. By now, I’m waiting for the Headman and his goons to show up and finally drag Falcon and Cindy off in the hopes it’ll finally shut up Falcon and his whining.

Whohoo! The Headman and his men finally show up! We can leave these idjits and go back to the other idjits.

Shockwave and CG#1 go in to the distribution center to take out the window cannons. As they head in, Shockwave goes in first and the pair runs into a group of the Headman’s guards who order them to surrender. Which Shockwave and CG#1 do.

Outside, Cobra Commander and Duke are flying along with Cobra Commander backseat flying. A stray shot manages to knock out the plane and fuses the cockpit shut so that Duke and CC are gonna die!

And on that note, the episode ends…..

Commentary: Okay, if you’ve read my review of The Sludge Factor, you already know that I cannot stand shameless moralizing. If you haven’t read my review of the Sludge Factor, but have read the first sentence of the Commentary, you know I cannot stand shameless moralizing.

Now that the facetiousness is out of the way, let’s get on with it.

In the 1980s, television in general and children’s programming in particular, came under attack from groups of concerned parents who wanted the government to Do Something to protect innocent children from acts of violence and shameless marketing. Cartoons like GI Joe were seen as a bad influence on children because they seemed to exemplify the worst of what was out there. After all, this was a show that owed its existence to a loophole in FCC regulations and some sneaky manuvering on Hasbro’s part.

In a nutshell, Hasbro made a deal with Marvel to do a comic version of their new 3.75 inch figures. They then produced animated advertisements based on the comics. FCC regs apparently didn’t allow for toy companies to create animated ads, but comic books, even ones based on a toy line, weren’t prohibited. From the animated ads, Hasbro got the idea to then move on to an animated series (the Sunbow/Marvel series) loosely based on the comic series as well (*VERY* loosely in the eyes of many fans, yours truly included).

So, because of this, it’s easy to see why some parents groups would consider a military fantasy cartoon based on a toy line to be little more than a half hour toy commercial. Especially since GI Joe wasn’t the only series based off a toyline. Transformers, Jem and the Holograms, MASK, and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe were among the other series that owed their existence to toy companies seeking to promote their product.

But what these angry groups of parents weren’t paying attention to was the fact that children’s programming had always been tied closely to advertising. Radio programs in the 1930s offered giveaways and secret clubs that were designed to move products off shelves (remember Ralphie in A Christmas Story? Always eat your Ovaltine kids). Kids programs in the 1950s had characters hawking products in between sections of the story. A tape I have of Space Patrol has ads for Chex cereal and Nestle chocolate in between acts of the show. Compared to some of this blatant hawking, the cartoons of the 80s were masterpieces of subtlety.

Unfortunately, most concerned parents groups were more interested in having someone else take over the responsibility of watching over their children. It was apparently easier in their eyes, to change government regulations regarding children’s programming than it was to simply tell little Billy and Janie to turn the TV off.

And even more unfortunately, it’s easier for legislators to promise to keep an eye on the number of violent acts per hour in kids shows than it is to worry about keeping art and music in the schools.

So, by the time the DiC episodes came around, animation companies had to worry about keeping programs educational and uplifting, as well as cheap (particularly in DiC’s case). Which is why we got episodes like The Greatest Evil and The Sludge Factor as well as the odd spot of moralizing in several other episodes.

And this is part of the reason these episodes suffer so much. They’re trying to be educating and persuasive as well as entertaining. The issues they’re taking on are complex and not easily broken down into simple black and white.

The intent of this two-parter is to convince the kiddies that drugs are bad, that doing drugs will ruin your life and that drug dealers are evil, nasty bastards out to destroy your body, mind and soul. Which, to an extent, is right. Or at least is something I can partly agree with.

But like most anti-drug scare tactics, this episode gets a lot wrong. The Headman and his goons are the products of Hollywood, not reality. While groups like the drug cartels in Columbia might be a real-world rival of the Headman, they aren’t stupid enough to operate as openly and blatantly as he does. Drug dealers of the type that Cindy and Falcon would be dealing with aren’t running around with small armies. They’re local people, generally known to everybody in the neighborhood and aren’t necessarily any better armed than the local SWAT team.

Also, anti-drug propaganda like this only focuses on illegal drugs that are bought from dealers. We don’t’ see the Joes going to talk to Footloose about those grow lights he keeps in his closet. Or to Shipwreck about the three kegs he brings in every weekend. Granted, drugs are a problem, but there are more ways to get high than to visit one’s local dealer. Some people grow their own, some focus on legal drugs. If you’re going to address the problem, particularly a problem as widespread as drug use, you need to focus on more than just one small bit.

But, to do that takes time and money, things DiC either didn’t have or didn’t provide. So we get an episode that treats drug abuse superficially. We do get to see a Joe/Cobra teamup, which is kinda cool but it coulda been done better.

A few nice bits: - The way CG#1 gets Cobra Commander to go along with the teamup idea actually plays off the personality of the character.

- The fact that they show atypical people buying and using drugs. A housewife, a businessmen, and several other people who are adults, rather than dumb junkie kids. Also nice to see that most of the folks buying are white, rather than them going for the ‘all junkies are minorities’ stereotype.

- Bulletproof as peacemaker and voice of wisdom to Falcon.

- The fact that Falcon is shown going into a hospital, rather than simply beating drugs on willpower and a quick bit of writing in the script.

Interesting Tidbit: The name Bob Forward might strike a few of you Transfans as familiar: he was one of the writers on Beast Wars in the later 1990s, where he had the money and time to come up with much better stories. On to Part Two