GI Joe figures prominently in the Cosmic Era for a number of reasons, I spent a lot of time watching GI Joe, and later expanded from that into reference programming like Wings (Discovery Channel) and series about Wonder Weapons, and military history. GI Joe also figured prominently in the mid to late 80s when cartoons and programming in general was very friendly to the military and the action genre, with shows like A-Team, Airwolf, and plenty of other shoot em up pro-military programs. It actually became a point of contention that rather showing such things in a realistic manner, the entertainment industry was glorifying war and turning the killhappy protagonists into celebrities. This theme of pro-militarism and happy go lucky shoot 'em ups is a cornerstone of the Cosmic Era, along with all the vehicles, crazy gadgets and improbable enemies encounters. Shall we dissect the world of Yo Joe! through the Cosmic Lense?
1. The Nameless Horror
The Nameless Horror coming from GI Joe isn't some Lovecraftian terror of tentacles and sanity flaying weirdness, it comes directly from human apathy and the jarring disconnect between the values of the Cosmic Era, and our modern sensibilities. Life is cheap in the Cosmic Era, and accordingly, there is much less concern over civilian casualties, and the emotional and spiritual trauma of war is blasted over with slick production campaigns, propaganda, and merchandising. The Nameless Horror from GI Joe is the timeless horror of war, but seen through the eyes of a child watching cartoons. On the screen its flashing blue and red lasers, and stunning, and everyone bails of out their damaged vehicle with parachutes deployed, stuff is blown up, the baddies shake their fist and retreat to the hidden fortresses while the flag drops behind the heroes standing triumphant with music blasting.
Its not the actual cost of war, not the people who are killed in combat, or are incidental casualties. In modern war it's from collateral damage, bombs that miss, or just getting caught in the crossfire between insurgents and soldiers. In the Cosmic Era, its the residents of a favela building when the mech goes running through it, or the unprotected refugees who are standing exposed and too close to a mech when it fires a plasma cannon and they get cancer inducing doses of high energy radiation. It is also not the soldiers who return with emotional and physical scars, there are drugs and therapy and prosthetics for that, and after a cursory level of treatment, the soldiers are 'placed' elsewhere, leaving them to fall through the cracks, or to be recruited by the real terrorist groups.
2. Queer Folk
GI Joe has a dichotomy of Queer Folk, Cobra is stocked with all sorts of strange people and weirdos, while the Joes are all either Standard Template Tokens, or are Standard Issue generic. Thus the line is drawn that normal people and positive stereotype people are the good guys, while the intellectually arrogant, different looking, government challenging weirdos are all baddies. It certainly makes the world view of the setting very easy to follow.
Cobra carries the banner on this point. Cobra is a world terrorist organization that is lead by a bunch of dedicated strange folk: a half reptile screaming lunatic, a man with a metal head, a eastern European petty noblewoman with a penchant for leather, creepy twins with a psychic connection, and a Doctor who has a weird fetish for suspenders and no shirt, and looks like an 80s 3rd tier wrestler. Likewise, most modern world terrorist organizations come from geopolitical regions of intense unrest, war, and extreme religious viewpoints that are generally settled with terror bombings and beheading. The problem there? Cobra is largely staffed by white guys from Smallsville America, the exact sort of place that doesn't breed people willing to kill and die for what they believe. The average person reading this has much more in common with Amerikka Command than it will ever have with the Atlantic Federation or any other NEG.
3. Sinister Secrets and Societies
Cobra is both a secret society and a world terrorist organization. It has both the power and scope to launch ambitious plans, deploy wonder weapons, routinely hijack communications systems, steal unreachable things, and despite being terrorists, bust out with elite soldiers, high end gear, and stuff that blurs the line between technology and magic (arcanotech)
The thing about real world terrorist organizations is that they are ruthlessly hunted by world governments, often to the point of sparking wars between nations over violations of sovereignty and internal security. These same organizations use guerilla warfare, asymmetrical warfare, and unconventional warfare to fight better funded, better trained military forces. Their bank accounts are frozen, their guys are killed by drones, snipers, and stealth aircraft, and they respond with improvised explosives, setting traps and ambushes, and releasing random videos of captured people being forced to speak and being beheaded. Cobra's money is never touched, and Cobra forces are almost always on par with or better than the Joes, with a fully functional airforce. Al Qaeda at best had to hijack civilian airliners, Cobra has a full fledged military air force, major bases around the world, and rather than improvised gear, and zealots, they have robot soldiers, experimental technology, and so forth. The sinister secret is who is supplying the gear, the money, the training, and the logistics to Cobra.
4. Odd Occurences
Islands rise from the ocean floor, shrink rays are used, weather control devices are used to terrorize nations. All part of a Joe's regular work week.
While there were plenty of normal episodes, a very large number of GI Joe episodes dealt with abnormal situations, from being shrunk to diminutive size in one episode, to exploring the Himalayas and encountered yetis, and alien dimensions. In the Cosmic Era, GI Joe is funtionally an elite task force designed to investigate and deal with Dimensional Fatigue Events, and work as rapid response units to facing Amerikka Command's terrorist operations, a paranormal counter-terrorism agency.
5. Strange Places
The Joes fight their missions in one of two basic locales, either at home, or in some exotic location. The Joes will go on the defensive, fighting on their own base, or in their own cities, often at a major disadvantage. They will be limited in resources, or be lacking time to make a major military strike, leaving a small number of people running Die Hard through their own ship, or fortress, or the confines of a city. On the contrary, they also do missions in the depths of sandy deserts, the bottom of the ocean, volcanic islands, Antarctica, and steamy jungles.
Functionally the basis of the location depended on who was on the offense. If Cobra was striking, the Joes would be isolated in familiar places, and at a disadvantage, radios out, or out of ammo, or manipulated into looking like the bad guys. People are still making a major deal out of a US consulate in a war torn country being attacked, what sort of response would the government and military have if a major US city was the subject of a real life Cobra scheme? 9/11 was a paradigm change in the US, now imagine what would happen if another power showed up and attacked an American City like Chicago with fighters, fighter bombers, columns of tanks, and armies of robot soldiers. Likewise, when the Joes were on the offensive, Cobra retreated to their strange bases, terrordromes hidden in the jungle, or massive fortress complexes built unnoticed in the Tibetan Himalayas, or inside ancient asian Temples, space stations, lunar bases, the works.
And two words: Cobra-La.
6. Alien Artefacts
There wasn't much alien tech in GI Joe, but there was a lot of improbable stuff, beam weapons, laser rifles, shrink rays, death rays, weather control devices, energy crystals, electronic viruses, mind control devices, etc.
Cobra and the Joes both had full access to arcanotech, Cobra used it to make wonder weapons, and exotic devices, and bases in the middle of nowhere, and have things like a leader with a chrome head. The Joes also had arcanotech but they rarely used it, and when they did, it was invariably stolen by or corrupted by Cobra. The good guys didn't win with gadgets, or hacking computers, they won with grit, stoic determination, and socking the baddies in the chin with a manly fist. This was such a trope that later Sgt. Slaughter could punch robots so hard they would explode. Cobra made gear, the Joes used parapsychic supermen.
The Alien Artefact could also be the typical terror weapon or technological wonder fallen into the wrong hands of the week.
7. Total Party Kill
As a kids program, this was completely averted. The red and blue laser guns just knocked people out, stunning them. When a vehicle blew up or was shot down, there were always men bailing out of it, with parachutes slowing their falls.
This loops back to the first point, the dissociation of the romantic ideal and the horrible truth The Joes never dealt with PTSD, no one was ever wounded by shrapnel, no one lost an arm or a leg, in the most exotic weapons and strange places, no soldiers were ever killed or even wounded fighting.
In the Cosmic Era TPK isn't uncommon. With levels of engagement, TPKs can potentially be common. a group of infantry encountering a squad of power armor troopers are going to be smeared like bugs, while a single mech is going to stomp all of them like a man crushing insects under his boots. A single supersoldier can wipe the floor with a large number of regular soldiers, and then something like Goro from the Mortal Kombat/Outworld franchise can bodyslam a tank. TPK is just a signal to either send more troops or to escalate the response.
GI Joe is in no way Lovecraftian. It's horrors are entirely too real and well known to us, likewise the strange aspects, the weird events are treated in a very jaded manner, and seldom does the environment or it's inhabitants provide more than a passing mention. Likewise, there is very little horror, or sanity shredding encounters. GI Joe's main contributions to the Cosmic Era is the childhood familiarity with the romantic view of the military, and Cobra and all it's scheming. In and of themselves the individual Joes are unimportant, and for the most part, forgettable. Cobra is stocked with unique characters with unique visuals, lots of weird gear, and if Cobra Commander has more than 1/4 of his sanity left I'll eat my hat.