Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Last Laugh

When you are a member of American's daring, highly trained special mission force whose purpose is to defend human freedom against Cobra-a ruthless, terrorist organization determined to rule the world, it takes a lot to stand out above the rest. Unless your name is Duke, Scarlett or Snake Eyes, you’re most likely going to be forgotten once the next batch of Joes get introduced to sell new toys.

1987 was a relatively strong year for G.I.Joe. There where a good number of colorful and cool looking characters introduced that year. We got Lt. Falcon who was revealed to be Duke’s brother and who was prominently featured in the animated Joe movie released that year, voiced by Don Johnson. We also got another ninja, Jinx who was trained by the blind master, featured in 2013’s live action Retaliation movie. And we also got Explosive Ordance Disposal specialist Tunnel Rat whose face likeness was famously modeled after the godfather of G.I.Joe Larry Hama. But there was one particular Joe that easily caught my attention above everyone else, unfortunately it was for the wrong reasons.

Amidst all the cool looking Joes, was a guy proudly sporting a bright blue shirt with some pink splotches that I couldn’t quite make out. Upon closer inspection, I realized that they were…..FLOWERS! And to top it all off his codename was…CHUCKLES…huh? As hard as I tried, I just couldn’t wrap my head around this new Joe. What the hell was Chuckles supposed to be? Of course I tried to rationalize his existence I thought maybe the flowers on his shirt were some sort exotic camouflage….he must be some sort of jungle warfare specialist. Maybe “Chuckles” meant he was a nunchuck specialist (I know that was kind of a stretch but hey I was a kid). Back then I had no idea what Hasbro was thinking when they created this guy and it frustrated me to high heavens.

Of course this didn’t deter me from getting his toy, unfortunately though, even having the toy in hand didn’t endear him to me more. I did learn that his specialty was being an undercover agent which I guess was cool, but it didn’t really explain to me why he had pink flowers on his shirt, unless he was meant to go undercover exclusively at Hawaiian luau parties or something. And he was rather light on the accessories department as well. All he had was a pistol and a strap on holster. Granted having a holster that could actually house his pistol was kinda cool (I could be wrong but I think he was the first Joe figure to actually sport a functional holster) it just wasn’t enough to keep me interested and he was soon a forgotten member of my Joe ranks.

To his credit, he was one of the handful of 1987 Joes featured prominently in the animated movie. Unfortunately, his undercover specialty was never utilized or even alluded to. In fact he was curiously portrayed as a silent (he had no speaking lines) strong man whose claim to fame was blowing up an oncoming HISS tank by literally throwing a missile by hand at it. Of course I could be mistaken and he was actually operating undercover as the Hulk…who knows?

Through the years, Chuckles got a bunch of toy updates. He got a modern 25th Anniversary update that mysteriously lacked the pink flowers. But he still sported a bright blue shirt this time with lush green leaves.

More recently a “Night Force” version of Chuckles with further muted down colors was released. Thankfully this version had a more standard issue military vest. But if you look close enough you’ll notice that his grey shirt underneath is still sporting some white flowers!

Anyway fast forward to 2008, a comic company called IDW took over the G.I.Joe comic license and set out on a more mature and realistic direction for the franchise. Aside from the flagship title, they released a 4 issue limited series in 2009 called....Cobra. The premise was pretty straightforward; it would feature a Joe infiltrating Cobra initially as a lowly recruit and slowly working his way up to the elite inner circle.

Spoiler warning: In the next paragraphs I will talk about major plot points from the comic series.  If you have not read it, and plan to do can stop reading this entry now.

When selecting the Joe who would star in the series, writers Christos Gage and Mike Costa wanted to stay away from the usual Joes like Snake Eyes or Roadblock. Instead they wanted to go with someone less known. In fact they wanted to look for the lamest Joe character in existence and try to make him cool. Going down the list of names, Chuckles immediately got their attention. When they found out his specialty just happened to be undercover, they knew they had their guy.

The series turned out to be a surprise critically acclaimed hit that year and spawned two more limited series run before turning into an ongoing series recognized by many Joe fans as one of the best runs ever written. Of course in the middle of it all was the Joe named Chuckles who had to do very very bad things, including executing his Joe handler (who incidentally was his lover) in cold blood in front of her captors in order to maintain his cover. In the end however he manages to accomplish what no Joe has ever been able to do; decorate the Cobra throne room walls with Cobra Commander’s brain.

This series forever established Chuckles as one of the most famous (or infamous) members of G.I.Joe. So for someone who seemingly started out as an inside joke between some Hasbro toy designers, destined to be a forgotten character, it seems like Chuckles ultimately got the last laugh.