"Old Soldiers Never Die"
Written by: Lloyd Goldfine
Running Time: 22 minutes
Notes: "Old Soldiers Never Die" is the title on the outside of the tape; the title card for the actual episode is "Old Heroes Never Die."
Brief Summary: From out of the past, to save the future!
Summary: Welcome to the only episode of Sgt. Savage and His Screaming Eagles ever made. Unlike the other Joe cartoon series, which were broadcast in syndication, Sgt. Savage’s toon was a direct to video release and was packaged with the original Sgt. Savage figure. The tape is 22 minutes long and serves as an introduction to the backstory of the Savage version of the Joe universe.
But first, we’re treated to a combination animation/live-action commercial that tells us all about the new Savage toys and vehicles (including the Grizzly and the Warhawk). The animation bits are mainly clips from the episode to come and the live-action bits are just shots of the toys in action. There’s also a mail-in offer for a color-change camoflagued SGt. Savage. Dip him in water and his face gets covered in camo paint. Unfortunately, the offer ended Dec. 31, 1995 so you’ll have to check Ebay if you want the figure.
After the commercial, we’re treated to the opening monologue which gives us a more or less complete background for the Savage-verse. As the monologue plays, we see scenes that describe the action on the screen.
Here’s the monologue:
1944. World War Two. On the blazing battlefields, a legend was being born. Fighting soldier, mighty hero, Sgt. Robert Steven Savage.
Sgt. Savage. He fought the good fight until he was betrayed, captured by the enemy, an unstoppable evil empire, the IRON Army.
In prison, he was an unwilling test subject for genetic experimentation. His body chemistry was altered and he was cryogenically frozen in time. He slept for fifty years and when he woke, he was changed.
Now, fifty years later, his archenemy is still at large. The evil General Blitz still commands the IRON Army. But Sgt. Savage is back in action and the Screaming Eagles are at his side!
Note: the comments to the side are mine (natch). The team is introduced in the general football-esque way. As the guys appear on screen, their name is called. In this scene, we get to see the guys and Savage going up against the evil General Blitz, who seems WAY out of proportion to Savage and Co. Especially since in the show, he and Savage are approximately the same height.
D-Day – carries a machine gun
Headbanger – a hippy/metal-head looking kinda guy, with glasses
Grill – The team’s black guy
Tank – who isn’t all that distinguishable…
Mouse – the biggest guy on the team
Dynamite – the team Hispanic.
Savage strength, undying heroism, fighting fury…from outta the past to save the future…Sgt. Savage and his Screaming Eagles!”
Dunno about you guys, but my testosterone levels are up! WHOOO!!
After the intro, we open on a black and white titlecard reading “Cinetone News. On the March, 1944”. We now are treated to a second, briefer intro done in the style of a newsreel. From the newsreel, we learn that Sgt. Savage and his men disappeared during a top secret mission and are believed to have made the ultimate sacrifice. We also find out that Sgt. Savage was a Master Sergeant and that he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. We end with the standard, “he will be sorely missed” ending.
Interesting note: Savage is awarded his Congressional Medal of Honor, which is presented to him by President Roosevelt. Roosevelt is shown, in public in a wheelchair. I believe this is a gaff, because as I recall Roosevelt never appeared in a wheelchair in public during his presidency. In fact, the majority of Americans were unaware that their president had polio. Roosevelt could stand for brief periods of time and often did during public speeches because he didn’t want people to loose faith in the presidency.
Of course, by the 1990s, times had changed. Today, Roosevelt is best known for having been the first handicapped president. It makes sense that the animators might want to portray Roosevelt in a way that would easily and quickly give the nod to this fact of Roosevelt’s life.
When the newsreel ends, General Hawk calls for the lights to come up. We find ourselves in one of them there top secret command post debriefing room dealies. Hawk tells the men at the table (and us) that Savage was believed to be dead…until now.
Lady Jaye, who is now blonde with not quite shoulder-length hair, steps up to say that Sgt. Savage has been found in a secret, hidden lab in East Berlin. A lab that was only recently rediscovered. A note on the video screen displaying a map of Germany says that the lab had higher than normal levels of background radiation. ‘cause, y’know…radiation = freaky science stuff.
Doc, who looks almost grey instead of black, steps up after Jaye and says that Savage was used in genetic engineering experimentation. Hawk asks if Savage is still alive. Doc says that they don’t know. For now, what they have is a very old ice cube.
We then cut to another lab. Where it is, I don’t know. The last place we were told Savage was located was East Berlin, but I kinda doubt that this is Berlin. I think, though we’re never told, that Savage was brought back to the Joe base. This is borne out, I think, by the fact that the briefing room we were in earlier and this room are pretty similar in design and appearance.
Hawk, Doc and Lady Jaye are walking down a hallway. Hawk is telling the others that when he was a kid, Savage was his hero, but he never thought he’d meet him.
The Joes enter the room where Savage is still in his cryochamber. As they step into the room a big robot badly disguised in a trenchcoat is ripping the chamber open, intent on killing Savage.
Hawk tells the others to “Get him!” They try to stop the robot and succeed in distracting him. Especially after Jaye kicks the robot’s head clean off. Hawk gets grabbed around the neck and choked by the robot, and things look bad for him until a big man (pretty obviously Savage, since who the hell else could it be?) punches through the robot with both fists and rips the robot in half. ‘Course the robot’s hand is still around Hawk’s neck, but Jaye manages to get the hand off Hawk. Once she does, she and Hawk look back toward their savior.
The camera then moves up a pair of bare, muscular male legs, revealing…shorts, dangit! Savage salutes and introduces himself “Sgt. Robert Steven Savage reporting…” then collapses.
We cut to another scene, where Savage is laying in a hospital bed, hooked to monitors. Doc fills us in on Savage’s condtion. The genetic engineering has given Savage the ability to recuperate faster and made him stronger. One problem though: Savage’s strength levels fluxuate. And Savage needs to take a recombinate DNA compound in order to prevent a Methusela effect. The sudden aging of the Methusela effect could kill Savage if he doesn’t take the compound.
Savage wakes and asks about his men. Hawk tells him that his men didn’t make it and asks Savage what he remembers. Savage says he remembers being betrayed by one of his own men, a guy named Kreeger. Other than that, the details are still fuzzy.
A communiqué comes in from NASA. Hawk tells the voice-over that tells him about the message to reroute it to the medlab where he is with Savage.
On the screen, is Dr. Garret Stromm of IRON Arm Industries. He starts talking to Hawk about the plans to launch the International Orbital Space Platform (IOSP). Jaye explains to Savage that the IOSP, which Stromm’s IRON Arm Industries built, is going to be used to revolutionize communications around the world.
Savage, on the other hand, is focusing on Stromm. We’re treated to a brief flashback of Savage and his men being betrayed. Savage then recognizes Stromm as Kreeger, the man who betrayed him.
Stromm tells Hawk that a Joe guard on the IOSP launch is unnecessary. Hawk tells Stromm that it’s no trouble! Stromm consents and signs off, though he seems none too happy about the arrangement.
Cut to Savage sitting at a desk, writing in a journal:
Well, they told me what happened. How they found me and I’ve been asleep for almost fifty years. My life’s become like some Saturday matinee horror movie. These jokers toss me in a ice box and the next thing I know, fifty years later, I’m Buck Rodgers.
The white coats say I’m some kinda superman now. They say someone was trying to make a super soldier outta me. Trouble is, my level of strength changes from super to super-duper without rhyme or reason.
Until my condition stabilizes, Hawk says I’m confined to base. But, if I find out that Stromm is Kreeger, nothing’s gonna stop me from avenging my men!
Cut to a scene of Savage and Lady Jaye in a jeep, pulling up to a basketball court where a group of big, burly guys are playing a rowdy game of basketball. Savage hops out of the jeep and heads over to Hawk, asking what Hawk wants to see him about. Hawk tells Savage he wanted him to meet the group of men playing B-ball.
“Six sergeants, each brilliant in a specialized field of science or mechanics. Each one, highly trained in combat and espionage.” The men turn and start wolf-whistling and hooting at Lady Jaye (in fact, if I recall correctly, this is the first place where we hear Lady Jaye’s name mentioned) who reverses the jeep and beats feet out of there. “Each one incapable of following a direct order. These men have more court-martials for insubordination than you have years of cryo-sleep.”
Hawk goes on to tell Savage that the Army has invested too much in these men for Hawk to just shoot them. Instead, he wants Savage to take these bozos and turn them in to a solid unit of soldiers. Savage protests that he’s not a drill sergeant, but Hawk tells him that if he can’t handle training these men, then he can’t handle a real mission.
Savage consents and proceeds to lay the economy-sized SMACKDOWN on the six guys. As he mixes whup-ass and b-ball, also takes the time to instruct the men in the finer arts of military and personal etiquette. At the end, the six guys are on the ground groaning and Savage is still standing. He finishes off by squeezing the basketball in his hands until it pops.
After this, we cut to scenes of the boys being run through a junkyard/obstacle course. As they go through various obstacles, they find a mostly intact plane. It’s pretty obviously that this plane is going to become the Warhawk toy. What type of World War Two era plane it is, I have no idea. It’s one of those propeller on the front sort of planes, kind of like the planes flown in the Black Sheep Squadron TV show. Corsairs, maybe?
Grill says that he bets they can rebuild the plane and an old tank that they’ve found. Savage chuckles and tells the guys to go for it.
Another cut to a bunker where the Screaming Eagles are working on rebuilding and updating the vehicles. Tank (I think?) shows Hawk the plasma cannon he’s working on for the new tank (which if I recall correctly, is the toy known as the Grizzly).
Hawk tells Savage that he’s impressed with how quickly he’s managed to turn the Eagles from zeros to heroes (my term, not Hawk’s!). Savage says if Hawk is so impressed, then maybe he could see his way clear to letting the Screaming Eagles have guard duty for the IOSP launch. Hawk denies the request, telling Savage that he’s still confined to base because his physical condition hasn’t stabilized yet. He also tells Savage that he’s been obsessing on Stromm since he was unfrozen.
Savage insists that Stromm is Kreeger! Hawk tells Savage that his concerns haven’t gone unheeded, the Joes will be at the launch to keep an eye on things. Savage insists that he wants to be there, but again his request is denied.
We get another flashback, this time in a dream sequence. Savage flashes back to the night that he and his men were betrayed. We see Savage and his men fighting a group of robots with those weird Doctor Octopus style Waldo arms. One of Savage’s men is referred to as Blitz. We see Kreeger, the man who betrayed the group revealed as the betrayer and as a cyborg of sorts. He’s got this weird taser hand that he uses to shock Savage into unconsciousness.
Savage jerks awake, panting and sweaty as is de riguer for such scenes. Cut to Savage walking into the lab where Tank and the others were working on the new vehicles earlier. Mouse is sitting at a computer terminal, typing away with a communications headset on. He looks up as Savage comes in. Savage asks Mouse if he can get any information out of the head of the robot who tried to kill him when he was first brought to the Joe base. Mouse plugs the head into the computer system and starts doing some hacking. He manages to find out that the robot head has information on the IOSP and that instead of being a boon to global communications, the IOSP will take control of the world’s computer systems once it’s on-line. Savage asks if Mouse can find out who built the robot. As it turns out, the robot was also built by IRON Arm Industries.
Note: as I recall, there’s a scene shortly before Savage goes to talk to Mouse where he studies a picture of the IRON Arm Industries building, specifically the company’s logo which, I think, is intended to be VERY similar to the IRON Army insignia. A subtle move, it ain’t but then, kids’ shows are rarely subtle. Coincidences and heavy-handed plot devices are the order of the day.
Cut to a shot of Kreeger sitting behind a desk with a placard for “Dr. Garret Stromm” on it. Kreegar is talking to someone on a viewscreen. It’s a guy in a blue suit, with yellow epaulets, wearing a blue hood with a red insignia…yeah, that’s right, kids, it’s Cobra Commander!
Unfortunately, by this time, Chris Latta had died so was of course unable to voice the Commander. Fortunately, Scott McNeil does an excellent job on the Commander’s voice. It actually took me a moment to realize that it wasn’t Chris Latta doing the voice.
Kreeger tells the Commander: “I will say this one more time, Commander, the ties between our two organizations no longer bind! If you seek to interfere with my plans, I will destroy your organization as easily as I helped create it!”
To which the Commander replies: “This is good-bye then, Herr Kreeger. Cobra out!” Thus, solidifying the fact that it is, indeed, Cobra Commander to whom Kreeger is talking. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that we’re told of the existence of ANY OTHER terrorist or paramilitary organization in the GI Joe cartoon universe. It’s also a good way to help separate the Savage version of GI Joe from the heroes and villains of the Sunbow/DIC series, while also tying the two universes together. That and it’s just cool to see the Commander again, damnit!
A group of Kreeger’s soldiers start cheering him by the name “Blitz.” The soldiers all look like stylized versions of World War Two era German soldiers. The crowd sounds used in this scene make it sound like Blitz/Kreeger/Stromm has thousands of followers in this building with him, which isn’t likely considering the size of the building.
Blitz tells his men that their time of hiding in secret is over, that their long years of waiting are going to come to frutition. Once the IOSP is in place, the IRON Army will be able to take over the world! (Sound familiar folks?)
A Couple Things: My roommate told me the other day that she heard from a friend of hers that the reason Kreeger/Blitz/Stromm has three names is because all three were suggested and the folks decided rather than picking one, to use all three. Which, kinda work since Kreeger was probably his original birth name, Stromm was his alias after the war and Blitz is his evil, takin’ over the world name (among other things, see below).
Secondly, apparently originally Savage was supposed to be fighting a robotic version of Hitler but, rightfully, the powers that be decided against that, figuring (rightly) that such a thing wouldn’t go over so well. Clearly, based on the subtext of the show and a reference to the Axis (the bad guys in WWII for those of y’all not up on your historical terms), the IRON Army are supposed to be the Germans (maybe not Nazi soldiers, but Germans at the very least).
Please note that the above two 'factioids' are pure hearsay. I put them up there partly becasue I thought they were interesting and partly because I'm hoping someone out there can point me to more information that might confirm or deny these things. I'm going to have my roommate ask her friend for his source the next time she talks to him and will report on my findings ASAP.
And, lastly, something I didn’t figure out until while I was working on this review: during the dream flashback, Savage yells for one of his men, Blitz, to try and assist the others. The next thing we see is the guy we know is Kreeger betraying the others. Apparently, Kreeger’s handle when he was with Savage and his original crew.
We leave Blitz and his men anticipating their easy victory to find Savage preparing to go after Blitz, in defiance of Hawk’s orders (since it’d be a boring ass show if Savage was a good boy). We get a close-up of the handgun Savage is taking with him and see him do the thing where they pull back the top of the gun, which I think causes the gun to move a round into the chamber. This is remarkable mainly because the gun we’re being shown looks to be a real handgun, not a laser like was used in the Sunbow and DIC series. As Sarge heads out to the Warhawk, the Screaming Eagles tell Savage that they’ve made the Warhawk better than it was before. They’ve added a remote control system controlled by a watch that Grill gives Savage. Pressing one button will make the plane come when called. The system is highly simplified, but that makes sense considering that they don’t have the time to go into more detailed controls and that even if they had the time, chances are Savage wouldn’t have the technical knowhow to understand what was being explained to him.
Savage climbs into the plane and prepares to head out, before he goes he tells the Screaming Eagles to follow him. The boys cheer and head off to grab the Grizzly. As Savage says, “The Screaming Eagles are leaving the nest!”
At the launch, Kreeger/Blitz is telling the assembled crowd that this is a momentous occasion. He even goes so far as to say “This event will quite literally change the world…as we know it.” The crowd, which contains Hawk and Lady Jaye, cheers enthusiastically, not knowing the fate Blitz has in store for them.
Savage arrives on the scene in the Warhawk and immediately begins firing on Blitz, destroying the podium that Blitz had been standing behind. Blitz immediately activates his IRON Army and tells them to attack. There’s a flash of blue light around the soldiers, perhaps signifying that they’re actually robots (which is born out by the fighting). Several semi-trucks open their trailers to reveal IRON army vehicles inside.
Savage ditches from the plane and faces off against Blitz. In the confusion, Blitz sets the shuttle to launch in three minutes.
Hawk and Jaye fire on the robots. Hawk says they need reinforcements..and lo and behold, the Screaming Eagles show up just in time!
What follows is easily the most violent fight I’ve ever seen in a GI Joe cartoon. Which is saying something considering that we're talking about three different cartoon series all based on a military/fantasy premise where combat is a certainty. A whole lot of robots get blown to paint in a fairly graphic manner. The Screaming Eagles seem to prefer explosives to guns. There’s a whole lot of explosions and at least one more scene of a robot being ripped in half after someone punches through it.
Blitz, we learn, is a cyborg. Well, actually we already knew that, but Kreeger explains that the tests on Savage didn’t go far enough. Genetic engineering wasn’t the way to get the super-soldier that they (the IRON Army, most likely) were after. Instead, a mix of man and machine provided much better results. Blitz/Kreeger is the end result of this work.
Note: Blitz’s outfit kind of strikes me as very similar to the look Optimus Primal had in Beast Wars. Particularly the very Primal-like jetpack built into his wicked-cool armor. Which is kinda neat, considering that Gary Chalk voiced Blitz and Primal.
Kreeger runs into the shuttle, apparently planning on heading into space with his orbital platform. Savage grabs onto the shuttle, clinging to the outside in what looks to be a very futile gesture.
At least until he uses his watch to summon the Warhawk. Ripping off a hatch from the side of the shuttle, Savage tosses a grenade into the hatch and lets go of the shuttle, falling in such a way that manages to get into the Warhawk without getting chopped into hamburger by the front prop on the plane.
On the ground, we see the shuttle explode into a huge white cloud. The Screaming Eagles and Hawk and Jaye stare at the cloud for a moment, then the Warhawk comes flying out of the cloud. Savage made it!
Once Savage lands, Hawk says that it looks like the Joes have a new combat-ready unit. Jaye gets off her radio to say that Joe Skywatch detected something moving away from the explosion, something that’s obviously not just debris. Kreeger, it seems, has escaped so that he may bedevil the Screaming Eagles again and again and again in a backyard or living room near you.
The Screaming Eagles tell Savage that they learned a lot from him, that they could make a difference and that old guys are tough to kill. Savage grins and says, as he looks up at the moon:
“You know what they say, old soldiers never die. They just fade away.”
And on that note, the first, last and only episode of Sgt. Savage and His Screaming Eagles ends.
Commentary: For a twenty-two minute show, this episode is pretty much jam-packed. It feels like a much longer show, sbut in a good way. Probably partly because there are no commercial breaks, so all the available time is used to it’s fullest extent. And maybe also because I’ve never seen it before and as such had no idea of what to expect from the show.
Overall, the episode is pretty damn good, especially considering that this video was a one-shot deal meant only to introduce a toyline. There’s a lot of build-up, most of the episode is concerned with setting up the character of Savage and teaming him up with the Screaming Eagles. The fight between Blitz and Savage comes in the last five or so minutes of the episode. It might have been better if they’d given the crew a full half-hour, so that things could be stretched out a bit more, but on the whole nothing about the episode feels particularly forced.
The main difference between Savage and the Sunbow/DIC versions of GI Joe seems to be an emphasis on hard-biting, macho characters. Savage and his men are all BIG guys. Dynamite is the smallest and I’d guess that he’s probably five-nine at the smallest. Mouse is easily six-eight, six-nine and the rest of the men all fall between these two extremes.
Another difference: The Screaming Eagles are all bad boys. They weren’t chosen for this detail because they are the best they are at what they do, they were chosen because even though they’re highly qualified, they’re all congenital f’ups who need a serious head-knocking to straighten them out. I do like the fact that not one of these big, muscular guys is made into the dumb grunt character. All of them are highly intelligent. Even Savage, who isn’t a scientist, is at least of average intelligence.
Other nice stuff: Savage’s character is bang-on. Since they only had 22 minutes to work with, it makes sense that they don’t play up the fact that Savage is a stranger in a very strange land, but they at least do give a nod to it in the scene where Savage is working on his journal. The references to iceboxes and Saturday matinees and Buck Rogers are extremely period and are a nice touch. Clearly, the folks who worked on this episode put some care into what they were doing. Not something you’d expect for a one-shot promo cartoon.
Captain America fans are going to recognize elements of his origins in Sgt. Savage’s creation. I’d heard snippets about Savage having super soldier abilities, which made me cringe at first, but the show handles it well. I like the fact they handicap Savage’s abilities by not only making them unpredictable but also by making him dependent on the recombinant DNA solution.
I think it also helps that Savage isn’t a golden boy like Captain America is/was. He’s not some all-American boy scout with special abilities. Instead, he seems to be a man who is confounded by what’s happened to him but is willing to make the best of a bad situation.
I also like the Dirty Dozen style origin for the Screaming Eagles. They’re not criminals, exactly, but I like that they also aren’t a bunch of boy scouts. The scene where they’re hooting at Jaye is kinda funny and one can see why these guys aren’t in with the regular Joes.
The changes to the established Joe characters, particularly Lady Jaye, are surprising but not outside the realm of possibility. Jaye’s change in hair color and style can be explained by the simple expediant that some women do tend to change their hair color and style every once in a while. Maybe Jaye decided that blondes have more fun. Hawk doesn’t seem too different and the biggest difference about Doc is the fact his skin color looks grayish and washed out (as does Grill’s skin, which says to me that it was some sort of effect of the coloring process for black skinned characters).
And as was mentioned in the review, Scott O'Neil's voice work on Cobra Commander was outstanding. It's a shame Latta himself wasn't around to do the work, but they found someone capable of making Cobra Commander sound right*.
Considering that the 3.75 inch figure line was discontinued in 1994, making way for the Savage (and later the Extreme) toylines, I think this episode was a good way to merge the two storylines and to give the 3.75 inch characters a way to bow out gracefully. I also like the fact that this episode ends ambiguously enough that you can mix the two groups pretty easily. The Screaming Eagles aren't replacements for the original 3.75 inch Joes so much as they are another specialized unit, like the Eco Warriors or the Drug Elimination Force or Night Patrol.
Also, for those keeping score of such things, Sgt. Savage and His Screaming Eagles, was put together by Sunbow Productions, the same company that did the first GI Joe animated series. If you're expecting to see the exact same animation style you saw in the Real American Hero series, you're going to be disappointed. The animation this time around is darker, with the characters being more blocky and stylized. Savage and the Screaming Eagles, in particular, don't look like real people. They're all hyper-muscular body builder types who seem to like to spend a lot of time with their shirts off, but somehow this manages to work. It looks to me like there was also some early use of computer created graphics, particularly for use on viewscreens (there's one bit where a monitor is turned off and the static effect just blew me away).
This was the first time I'd ever seen the Savage video. Up until about two years ago, I had no idea that this episode even existed. I'd seen the toys, generally in the remainder bin at Kay-Bee Hobby, but never knew about the video. On the whole, I have to say I was pleasently surprised.
If you have the chance to pick up a copy of this episode, I highly recommend picking it up. It’s a small part of Joe animation history, but it’s worthy of being remembered.