GI Joe’s Ace Suffered a Cruel Fate in the Inhumanoids Cartoon

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Welcome to a special Adventure(s) Time’s installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we’re examining a forgotten franchise from the 1980s, and its obscure (and dark) connection to a far more popular line from that era. And if you have any suggestions for the future, let me hear them. Just contact me on Twitter.

Debuting in 1986, Inhumanoids was a 13-episode animated series by Sunbow Productions. Founded six years earlier by Griffin-Bacal Advertising, the studio counted among its earliest work animated commercials for Hasbro’s G.I. Joe toy line, and its accompanying Marvel comic book. The ads were an instant success, leading partners Tom Griffin and Joe Bacal to form Sunbow.

Griffin and Bacal remained close to Hasbro enabling Sunbow to produce numerous shows based on the toy giant’s properties. Critics alleged these shows were nothing more than toy commercials, but Sunbow did have a legitimate desire to create quality material, and acclaimed writers like Steve Gerber, Marty Pasko and Len Wein contributed scripts, and artists like Russ Heath and Bruce Timm provided character designs. Many of these series maintain a dedicated following to this day, and the two major Sunbow shows, G. I. Joe and Transformers, have been mainstays of the DVD and streaming era.

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Fans of the era consider Inhumanoids to be the last great series of the Sunbow “toy commercial” days. The plot focuses on a group of scientists called the Earth Corps, and a hideous monster named D’Compose, discovered encased in amber in Big Sur, California. When Earth Corps investigates the creature, they unintentionally unleash a great evil into the world. Subsequent episodes reveal more grotesque monsters, such as Tendril and Metlar, hidden across the globe.

Inhumanoids was animated by Japan’s famous Toei Animation, and featured many of the notable voice actors fans remember from this era. Chris Latta, the iconic voice behind Starscream and Cobra Commander, played the monsters D’Compose and Tendril. Michael Bell, the heroic voice of G. I. Joe‘s Duke and even Cyclops in the Pryde of the X-Men pilot, portrayed Auger, a distinguished archaeologist and Earth Corps’ resident mechanic. Neil Ross, who perfected a Jack Nicholson impression voicing G. I. Joe‘s Shipwreck, played the macho leader of Earth Corps, Hooker.

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The series didn’t begin as a conventional half-hour cartoon, but rather as a slate of six- to seven-minute shorts, airing as part of Sunbow’s Super Sunday half-hour block alongside Jem and the Holograms, Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines, and Robotix.

A “movie” collecting the initial Inhumanoids arc was later released, and Inhumanoids was expanded into its own full-length series, airing in syndication. It was nominally a children’s show, but Inhumanoids has become notorious for its adult content. Years before X-Men: The Animated SeriesInhumanoids attempted a clear narrative flow that linked episodes in sequence, while also introducing subplots that paid off later. The visuals employed heavy shadows, emphasizing the series’ horror film inspirations.

The Inhumanoids

Because the villains of Inhumanoids were true monsters and not armed terrorists, the show got away with some brutal content. Gore, amputations, corrosive acid eating a monster’s flesh alive… this was territory rarely seen in Sunbow shows. Writer Flint Dille has called it the “weirdest, most violent, most mother-unfriendly” of the Sunbow properties. Another of the writers, Buzz Dixon, has indicated Hasbro didn’t care much about Inhumanoids’ content after the abrupt end of the toy line. As long as Sunbow didn’t produce anything X-rated, the studio was free to do as it wished.

Hasbro’s Inhumanoids toys gave each Earth Corps member an action feature and “glow in the light” gimmick. The stars were meant to be the villains, however. Metlar, Tendril and D’Compose were 14-inch-tall figures that are now pricey collectors’ items. At the time, however, parents complained about the retail price, and many kids didn’t see a lot of play value in the giant pieces of plastic. The massive Inhumanoid monsters also took up a decent amount of space on store shelves. All of those factors hastened the end of the line after only a year.

The series’ head writer, Flint Dille, is often asked about Inhumanoids. One interesting tidbit that came up during an interview with the Excelsior Journeys podcast involves the Inhumanoids character Sabre Jet, intended as an action figure in the line’s canceled second year.

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Sabre Jet was introduced in Episode 12, “The Masterson Team,” in which tabloid-TV journalist Hector Ramirez — a parody of Geraldo Rivera who appeared on several Sunbow shows — mounted a live televised “journey to the center of the Earth” to rescue the Statue of Liberty from Metlar.

The scene cuts to a hospital, where recovering Air Force pilot Brad Armbruster, seemingly only a head encased in wrecked metal, recounts how his plane was downed over Cambodia by Metlar’s ancient rival, Sslither.

That leads to an Earth Corps investigation into Sslither’s one-time dominion over the Inhumanoids. When Armbruster appears in the next episode, he’s now a potential Earth Corps member in a cybernetic suit called Sabre Jet.

Many fans over the years have noticed Sabre Jet was given the real name of Brad J. Armbruster, which is also the real name of Ace, G. I. Joe’s famous fighter pilot (packaged with the 1983 Skystriker XP-14F vehicle, and a mainstay in the animated series). Were they intended to be the same character? Some fans argued against this, pointing out Neil Ross provided Sabre Jet’s voice, while Pat Fraley played Ace on G. I. Joe. In the interview, however, Dille confirms that Sabre Jet was, in fact, intended to be Ace… with an added piece of information that’s fairly gruesome.

Dille told Excelsior Journeys that, following Ace’s plane crash, the robotic skeleton of the mortally injured pilot was constructed out of the crashed Skystriker XP-14F jet. Presumably, there was more Skystriker than Ace left after the crash. As Dille put it, Ace “got so badly messed up, they used his jet as his body armor.” That’s the fate of Ace, following the original run of G. I. Joe episodes: He’s horrifically injured by a monster and destined to live life as a cyborg, inside his beloved Skystriker jet. It’s a pretty cool cybernetic suit, but still, a surprisingly dark fate for the character.

This is the height of hardcore fan trivia, and this continuity point has never been acknowledged in any of the subsequent comic book or animation revivals of G. I. Joe. Even as Hasbro has attempted to create its own “cinematic universe” with their properties in film and their licensed comics from IDW Publishing, there’s been no attempt to connect Ace, or any G. I. Joe character, to the Inhumanoids. 

It’s likely this trivia too obscure for the current creators to even be aware of — assuming there’s much of a fanbase for Inhumanoids today, given the show’s brief run and scant DVD releases. But it’s a clear connection between the properties that does exist. Is it unreasonable to think one day this plot thread could be saved from obscurity?

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