When Hasbro launched the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toy line in 1982 alongside the Marvel Comics series, they commissioned Marvel Productions to produce a series of fully animated 30-second television commercials to promote the toys and comics, beginning with an ad for the first issue that aired throughout Spring 1982. The popularity of these commercials led to the production of a five-part G.I. Joe mini-series which aired in 1983 (later known as “The M.A.S.S. Device” when it re-aired during the series’ syndication). The plot centers on the titular M.A.S.S. Device, a powerful matter-transporter, and G.I. Joe and Cobra’s race around the world to acquire the three catalytic elements which power the machine. A second five-part mini-series followed in 1984, “The Revenge of Cobra”, with a similar plot that involved the Joes and Cobras traveling around the world to recover the scattered fragments of Cobra’s new weather-controlling weapon, the Weather Dominator. Both mini-series were written by Ron Friedman.
G.I. Joe was promoted to a full series in 1985, with an initial order for a first season of 55 more episodes (in order to make up the required 65 episodes for syndication). This season began with a third Friedman-penned five-part adventure, “The Pyramid of Darkness”; the story sees most of the existing cast from the two previous mini-series held captive by Cobra, while a new assortment of characters (that is, the new 1985 range of toys) thwart Cobra’s attempts to surround the Earth with the electricity-negating Pyramid of Darkness. Both the new and old characters then shared the spotlight throughout the course of the remaining fifty episodes of the series, which were primarily stand-alone single-episode adventures, with the occasional two-part story. The season was story edited by Steve Gerber.
A second season of 30 episodes followed in 1986, beginning with a fourth five-part story, “Arise, Serpentor, Arise!” in which Cobra scientist Doctor Mindbender, inspired by a dream, uses the DNA of history’s most ruthless conquerors and rulers to genetically engineer Serpentor, who usurps Cobra Commander’s place as leader of Cobra. This mini-series introduced the new 1986 range of toys into the story, who were at the center of most stories across the rest of the season; in particular, the mini-series debuted former WWF and then-current AWA professional wrestler Sgt. Slaughter as a member of G.I. Joe, played by himself. For this season, Buzz Dixon replaced Steve Gerber as story editor.