“That’s right, boo. I’m the fucking emperor.“
There is so much more to G.I. Joe than a cartoon designed to shill action figures for Hasbro. G.I. Joe was, and still is, one of the edgiest cartoons made for children, featuring a rich and immersive character culture, adult themes such as terrorism, and a “too smart for their own good” series of plot-lines. While G.I. Joe was made for children of my generation, it still holds up today next to only a few other cartoons that can be enjoyed as much (or more so) as an adult than as a child.
G.I. Joe certainly had its fair share of generic throwaway episodes, but when it was smart, it was brilliant. The storyline that left the greatest impact on me is also the one that is singlehandedly responsible for my love of history. Way back in 1986, G.I. Joe ran a 5-part mega event in which Cobra, the coolest terrorist group of all time, combed the tombs of the greatest leaders in history, stole their DNA, and then cloned a perfect emperor. For an impressionable youth like myself, this was everything.
Serpentor was amazing. A man made of better men who had a bitchin’ air chariot and wore snake armor. Serpentor gave zero fucks. He didn’t ask, he commanded. He threw snakes at people and would backhand his followers with the precision of a pimp and the ruthlessness of Chris Brown.
Needless to say, Serpentor was far from perfect. The original experiment was tampered with by a jealous and hilariously inept Cobra Commander and it lacked the DNA of Sun Tzu (because some idiot dropped it). As a guy who always rooted for the bad guys, I spent the better half of my teenage years secretly hoping that G.I. Joe would make a huge comeback, relaunch the show, and right the wrongs of the past by finally letting Cobra create the perfect leader and win just once.
As there is no justice in the world, it never happened. So I attempted to diagnose how such an awesome plan went so tragically wrong. I studied the same formula set out by Dr. Mindbender and concocted my own list of modern rulers and politicians who if combined could lead Cobra into the black. A Serpentor for a modern world. One emperor to rule them all! Clearly, some alcohol was involved. In honor of Presidents’ Day today, I present to you, my very own personal Serpentor…
LEADERSHIP, LEGITIMACY AND BADASSERY: THEODORE “TEDDY” ROOSEVELT
“Teddy Fucking Roosevelt.“
Teddy Roosevelt was the most hands-on President of all time. He was a strike breaker, diplomat, a cowboy, and a natural leader. When not punching the shit out the French, or delivering a speech whilst being shot, Teddy was the enigmatic leader of The Rough Riders; the most badass band of soldiers in recent history.
Roosevelt was a man’s man who overcame more in his childhood than most normal human beings do in five lifetimes. He was a big game hunter (back when you could actually make the argument that it was a sport and not just murder), a loving and devoted family man, a pure ass-kicker, and he basically invented the teddy bear.
Roosevelt brings not only legitimate leadership skills, but also the “in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, fuck you” approach that a great leader needs. Goddamnit, we sure could use Teddy nowadays.
DECISIVENESS: HARRY TRUMAN
“Those kids are awfully close to my lawn.“
“Give ‘Em Hell” Harry is an intriguing entry to the DNA mix. Truman is responsible for the creation of the C.I.A., the N.S.A., and, by default, some of the best episodes of The X-Files and 24. He had the prowess of a statesman, the ability to cover-up alien conspiracies, and he’s the only leader in history who has nuked another country – twice.
Truman didn’t stop there. In his list of accolades, he’s accredited with acknowledging the state of Israel, entering the Korean war, and rubbing victory in the face of his opponents.
“Fuck you, Dewey.”
Truman was a leader who understood the concepts of “closure” and “making a sovereign nation suffer the effects of radiation for generations.” He’s the perfect addition to a perfect, evil emperor: ruthless, hot-tempered, and decisive.
ARTICULATION AND CHARISMA: JOHN F. KENNEDY
A perfect leader has to be able to give a phenomenal speech and be able to handle their shit in the face of public outcry. This was a tossup between my personal favorite President, JFK, and America’s favorite hillbilly, William Clinton. As both men were fantastic orators (with beautiful heads of hair) who didn’t rely on TelePrompTers, so what it came down to was their ability to overcome personal adversity.
While both men were great leaders who both suffered their fair share of public scandal due to their legendary sexual appetites, that’s where the comparisons really stop. While Clinton floundered and lied even in the face of overwhelming evidence against him (eventually leading to charges of impeachment), Kennedy publicly slept with the hottest woman in American history…and no one seemed to give a shit.
Everything about Kennedy was charismatic. In Dungeons & Dragons terms, he’d have a CHA of 25 (also know as the ability to lead 50+ followers). His home was named Camelot, he had a surname synonymous with American royalty, and he gave some of the most memorable speeches ever – including a few denouncing American institutions.
If Kennedy wasn’t taken from us prematurely by an assassin, I’d say there’s at least a paper-thin chance he would still be President today (I mean, he’d need Dick Cheney cyborg parts, but there’s an off chance).
SWAG AND BRAVADO: JOE BIDEN
“I’ll see YOU in Atlantic City.“
Joe Biden, a political robot in the body of a Hennessy spokesman, delivers more swag per square foot than a Voltron-like robot comprised of Soulja Boy, Lil B, and Drake. Biden is the subject of numerous articles pointing out his real and fictional foibles including, most famously, The Onion. He’s been known to open his mail during the State Of The Union address, deliver a finger gun that would make Travis Bickle blush, and congratulate the wrong guy on election night.
Charisma alone will not win the hearts and minds. We’re in the angsty teenage years of the 2000s for crying out loud; the kids want swagger and Biden’s the man to give it to them. “Diamond” Joe Biden is truly one for the ages. Without a Biden-level of swagger and bravado, the perfect leader wouldn’t be able to rise to the rank of personality cultist.
RELATABILITY: GEORGE W. BUSH
“Can’t get away from W that easy.“
W is less a leader and more of a college friend your spouse won’t allow you to hangout with in your adult years. It’s almost poisonous to add his DNA to the mix except for the fact that he’s the most relatable President in history. He was a man who inspired hope in class clowns that, one day, they too could be class president.
W was a complete fuck-up. He could hardly speak let alone give a speech, he has a criminal history of cocaine and alcohol, he handled national tragedies in the worst of ways, he groped the chancellor of Germany, he was taken advantage of by a turkey, he arrived via jet in a flight-suit and announced that our mission was accomplished (like Top Gun but funnier), and he started a seemingly endless war, yet he was the leader of the free world for eight years.
No President in history has been mocked to the degree of W. He had a cabinet comprised of guys who were like Cobra agents – from Cheney (Destro) to Rummy (Major Blood) – and had an endless rotation of press secretaries. Everyone knows a guy like W. I mean, you wouldn’t let him run a race let alone the country, but you can identify with his brand of lovable idiocy.
What W brings to the leader is the attribute of a built-in scapegoat. No one would ever imagine the emperor could be actually cunning and diabolical if they have a little W in them. The guy was a riot!
I’m not gonna lie, I miss W. I like having a leader so inept that our domestic and international failings make sense.