A completely unexpected turn from the Hub TV animated reboot of G.I. Joe: that it would be a recession-era riff on The A-Team with Cobra transformed from a global terrorist organization to nefarious corporatists. It's not strange that the series, aiming at slightly older viewers than its 80's incarnation, would use a big, evil corporation as the villain (Motorcity is another recent title to do so, and faceless corporate baddies are easy to hate), but the curious thing is how underneath the whole show is a seriousness and very pointed observation that life is hard and people are poor in America right now.
That's not to say that the show has anything especially smart to say about it, but it's just right there, clearly visible to kids watching the show. While the first 13 episodes in this two-disc set from Shout! Factory don't tell us what Cobra's big, evil plan is, we know that whatever it is involves upending communities, pushing average people out of jobs, and managing their media message.
In Renegades, Cobra is the name of multinational corporation with their hands in everything from construction, armaments, and pastries (would you buy a Cobra pie?). The Joes, made up of Duke (Jason Marsden), Scarlett (Natalia Cigliuti), Roadblock (Kevin Michael Richardson), Tunnel Rat (Matthew Yang King), and Snake Eyes are soldiers-turned-fugitives after accidentally exposing a Cobra weapon manufacturing operation in the middle of what's supposed to be a regular business operation. Framed by Cobra's media manager the Baroness (Tatyana Yassukovich), the Joes flee cross-country, attempting to find evidence that the company is up to something evil while helping those under their thumb along the way.
Don't go into this expecting crazy mind-control conspiracies using rock and roll or an attempt to mint Cobra currency in Renegades. In fact, based on these episodes their ultimate goals are still pretty opaque. But the TV drama-style machinations with corporate intrigues aren't especially fun to watch, and I have to imagine them now landing with the target age group. As a leader, Duke is a dour, joyless character, while the rapport between comic relief Roadblock and Tunnel can be funny, but mostly revolves around how much they irritate one another. Scarlett is also super-serious and driven (both she and Duke share the same hard-edged personality) leaving Snake Eyes to pull the slack as the fan favorite as the quintet take the the highways and byways of the U.s. in a stolen Cobra van. Along the way characters like Destro, Tomax and Xamot, and Dr. Mindbender will work their way into the show, their outsized design and personalities boxed up for this new show (well, with the exception of Mindbender, who's a possibly lunatic scientist here).
The character and vehicle designs of the series don't have that elaborate, sci-fi twist that you might expect from G.I. Joe, going instead for industrial/military plausibility alongside the thin-lined look of the overall series. I'm not really sure how to describe it, although anime influences pop up in the lankiness of the characters, but there's something almost European about the look.
To what extent viewers will want or appreciate detailed origin stories and "realistic" takes on the Joes remains to be seen (it has more in common with The Rise of Cobra film than anything else), but there might be an audience for the show that doesn't hold any nostalgia or affinity for the original series.
G.I. Joe: Renegades - Season One, Vol. 1 is available now from Shout! Factory.