Thursday, April 28, 2011

From the Files of Cobra Commander, “Ladies, Gentlemen, Pathetic Fools!”

First posted on April 27th, 2011 on The Retroist Retro Blog and Podcast - CW post link

          Cobra is the finest military industrial organization to ever rule the world and I will continue to be its loyal servant until the day comes that I am chosen to be a part of the monthly Death Lottery. But while Cobra is at the height of its dominance and glory now, things weren’t always so great. In fact, there was a time when Cobra was handed regular defeat at the hands of the long since defeated GI Joe. Though all the “Joes” have since been brought to justice or recruited into the ranks of Cobra, the memories are still fresh in our minds. It may be difficult to relive Cobra’s darker days, but recently a document of amazing historic significance arrived on my desk. I now present, unedited, the original notes from Cobra Commander’s 1986 address to the Cobra rank and file.

Notes for “speech to the jackals‘- 86’

(wear clean uniform, w/ dress hood…casual yet smart)

          First of all, thank you Destro, for that great introduction and I want you to know that you are STEEL the best partner to CHROME along in quite some time!

(Pause for laughter…)

          In all seriousness, I would like to take the opportunity to thank each one of you. As 1986 comes to an end, I think it’s important that we all take time to reflect. It has been a rough year for Cobra, I won’t sugar-coat that. In March, our finances took a big hit due to an enemy raid. We were left bankrupt and had to layoff, meaning kill, hundreds of loyal troops. The few of us left did our best to build Cobra back up. I tried to get a loan through a bank: I was refused! I tried to get a government grant and was almost arrested by the FBI…

(Pause for emotional effect here. Maybe look down, thoughtful, emotional… really work the heartstrings)

          Eventually, I was nearly beaten up trying to borrow money from a midget in a bar. It finally dawned on me. Get the four most worthless people I know, form a fake rock band and use subliminal messages to enslave the world!

          “Cold Slither” succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Unfortunately the GI Fools were able to break the spell we had over the world, and it resulted in the Dreadnoks retiring from international terrorism to take up being an 80’s band full time.

          We were able to salvage one small victory however. When the top Joe soldier “Scarlett” went undercover to try to stop Cold Slither she ended up becoming a huge fan, then groupie and finally left GI Joe for good. Zandar and Scarlett are to be married this spring! Our former Dreadnok will not be getting out of the weapons business altogether, however. If I’m not mistaken, this wedding may have a shotgun involved, if I you know what I mean! Am I right people?!.

(big laugh here.)

          Sure, we may have stumbled along the way. Spending 400Billion dollars to turn a 17th century fortress into a giant funhouse may have been a bit misguided, but I have always believed no success ever comes without the risk of failure. We should not settle for mediocre results, we have to reach for the sky! And if that means losing millions of dollars and the lives of 3 technicians to develop killer jack-in-the-boxes that ultimately don’t accomplish anything, then that is what a good leader does!

          In other unfortunate news, our continued program of laser tag warfare has met with mixed results. While as estimated, we have saved a considerable amount of money on bullets, we have also yet to kill a single Joe, even firing a seemingly endless amount of shots at close range. Also, the incredible amount of aircraft and other vehicles shot out of the sky or stolen has tended to offset our savings. Why we designed our war machines to be disabled by lasers, I have no idea.

          With all of that being said, 1987 looks to be a much brighter year. We’ve got some great schemes planned this year, one of which will surely bring the world’s leaders begging for mercy.

(try not to be stiff, lots of arm movement, look loose and approachable.)

          For instance, my top scientists have been hard at work designing cyber-animation computer chips. Once this technology is applied to the floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Cobra will command an army of giant gas-filled cartoon characters! We will instruct these rubber warriors to storm Wall Street and lift the World Bank off of its foundation and bring the riches of all nations straight to Cobra HQ! There is not a force on Earth powerful enough to stop rubber balloons filled with helium!

(maniacal laughter…they expect it)

          I know all of you will agree that genius like this deserves celebration! So I have a surprise..

(pause for effect)

          The Crimson Guard will be coming around to pass out brand new Cobra T-Shirts! Featuring the CLASSIC cobra logo on the front, and “Cobras do it in the grass” on the back! Just a little something the boys in marketing came up with.

(unbutton jacket to show I’m wear one of the shirts, ‘just one of the guys!’)

          Pretty stylish huh? Take one as they come past. Luckily, all of wear exactly the same size! Additionally, as part of our Employee Loyalty Program, I hope everyone remembers to try out for the Cobra softball team. We did pretty well last season. But this year, I think we have a real shot at beating those guys from V.E.N.O.M.

          In closing I just want to say that I hope next year brings you and your families all the happiness in the world. Im sure that through our combined effort, we will reach the financial goals, double our market share, and of course take over the world, crushing all of the pathetic fools that would dare to stand in our way!! We…Are…Cobra!!! Thank you and goodnight!

(Huge HUGE deafening applause!!!)


■start monitoring the tracking devises in cobra tee shirts.

■send Baroness to pick up pjs from dry cleaning.

■check on the progress of the genetically modified softball team.

■swing past Cobra commissary & pick up some more rats.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Buddy? More like My Nightmare?

First posted on April 20th, 2011 on The Retroist Retro Blog and Podcast - CW post link

          I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my reports and I have been worrying that I might not be coming off as “real” to you wonderful Retroist Readers. I realize that I am widely respected as an authority on pop-culture history but I want you to know that I’m more than that. I’ve really gone out there and done some living! Therefore in the same vein as the anecdotes that Retroist uses to start his pod casts, I thought I would tell you a little story about my own childhood.

          I can still remember when I first got the My Buddy toy. My parents had went out, fought the mobs and bought him for Christmas just before going on a month long trip to Nappa Valley. My folks had often gone on romantic getaways, but this was the first time I could remember them going together and it was kind of a big deal in our family. I was left in the capable hands of my usual babysitter Susan and over the next week My Buddy and I did everything together! Climbing trees, riding my big wheels together, making a clubhouse…All the things that are normal to do with a semi life-size doll. Many was the day where MB would say “Hey der pal a’mine! Yous wanna play?” My Buddy, for some reason, had a Bronx accent. He had spoken from the moment I received him, and I didn’t find out until years later that the toy was never designed to talk…

          For a long time everything seemed perfect, but little by little they began to change. At first it was small things, I would think that My Buddy had looked at me, but when I turned around, he appeared normal. Sometimes he would even seem to blink. Most of the “incidents“ could easily be explained away as childhood imagination. However, one night I became convinced that My Buddy was actually trying to kill me. It was the middle of the night and I was wide awake, curled up in the corner of my room, just screaming. My babysitter Susan ran into the room, and after I told her my story, she explained to me that I had just had a nightmare. She told me that My Buddy wasn’t trying to kill me, then she sat with me for a little while and finally switched off the light and left.
          After she left, of course, My Buddy tried to kill me. As my friend crawled up my bed, knife clenched between his plastic teeth, I managed to throw my blanket overtop of him and made a jump for it. I crossed my room faster than I ever had in my life and locked myself in the closet. I heard my twisted toy struggle and finally cut himself free of his comforter prison. I heard the sound of his footsteps scurrying across the floor, out of my room and down the hall. There was a lot of crashing and screaming from the living room and then sudden crushing silence. I don’t know what ever happened to Susan but I assume she lived a long and happy life. She did leave her car in our driveway though. Weird…

          While My Buddy was terrorizing Susan, I managed to escape through my bedroom window. I ran to the home of the only neighbor I thought might believe me, a young writer and film student named Don Mancini who lived next door. I explained the urgency of my situation and he believed me with no questions asked. Don was, for some reason, armed to the teeth at any given time and was immediately ready to help me to rid my home of the killer doll. Stopping My Buddy, however, would not be so easy.

          With Don leading the way, we stormed through the front door of my house. Quick as a wink, Don spotted My Buddy and placed him squarely in the sights of his Magnum. The Toy charged at Don just as he pulled the trigger. The gun jammed and My Buddy slapped the useless weapon out of his hand. The doll, who had to weigh three, four pounds tops, then managed to wrestle the full grown man to the ground and began to throttle him and then drag him to the nearby fireplace. As I lost all respect for my neighbor, I began to form a backup plan. One of Don’s pathetically kicking feet managed to flip the switch turning on the gas to the fireplace. Just as MB stepped onto the gas logs, I used a candle to light a piece of paper and ran forward. My Buddy knew right away what I had in mind and finally fear crossed his painted-on face. He spoke to me. “But JC! Why wouldya wanna hurt yer old pal? I tought we were da best o’ friends dat could be!“ I thought for a moment, clenching the makeshift torch in my hand and made a decision. I threw the torch down and snuffed out the flames. Just as I started to apologize to My Buddy and opened my arms for a hug, unbelievably, the doll attacked me again!

          Luckily, fate was on my side. You see, toys at that time were not as focused on safety as they are now. Designers wisely factored in “ease of destruction” should the toy come murderously to life and they had therefore designed the My Buddy doll with the flammability of paper bag full of oily rags. My Buddy managed to brush against the lit candle and burst into flames. Rather than die however, the evil and now burning doll began to chase me. I ran through the house pleading with the toy. “My Buddy!” I would say “My Buddy, My Buddy!!” but it was no use. Wherever I would go, he was gonna go. I stab his own knife through his heart and nothing. Don fired his gun several times into the charred body of the My Buddy doll, and got nothing but mocking laughter in return. Finally in one last desperate attempt, I manage to pull the tiny ribbon holding his batteries in place. The batteries scattered across the floor and My Buddy collapsed. Finally dead. You may wonder why My Buddy had batteries when I already explained that he couldn’t talk and was not supposed to be animated in any way? I really wish you wouldn’t.

          As we sat there looking at the crumpled heap that had been my pal and would-be killer, I said the only thing I could say. “Gosh wow gee! Nobody is ever going to believe this.” Don took a drag on his cigarette and looked into the distance. Finally he broke his silence. “Don’t worry kid. Your story WILL be told.” I’m not sure what became of Don Mancini, but I hope he’s doing well. As for me, it took quite a while but I was finally able to get over the My Buddy Ordeal and move on with my life. One thing is for sure, after that day I never had another possessed toy in the house! Except for the HuggaBunch, of course…

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Secret Military Origin of Super Mario Bros.

First posted on April 13th, 2011 on The Retroist Retro Blog and Podcast - CW post link

          Video games have had a fun, but sometimes dark history, accused of everything from lowering test scores to inspiring criminal behavior. One game, it turns out, actually had military roots and was planned as a simulator to train soldiers to kill. Those of you that are well versed in the history of gaming will know that I am, of course, talking about Super Mario Brothers.

          It all began in 1979 when the United States Military commissioned Nintendo Corporate Systems to create a video game based on an experimental training program. Seeing the enormous amount of money such a contract could bring, Nintendo immediately agreed. They began the work of re-writing a game that had just been submitted by one of there top gaming designers by the name of Giuseppe Linguini. Giuseppe, was a crude Italian stereotype and rising star of the videogame world. The original game allowed users to play as one of the two “Salvatore” Brothers (two Italian electricians living in New York City) as they hang out, eating pasta in their apartment while engaging in wacky hi-jinks with c-list celebrities.

          Strangely enough the original case study for the Pentagon program involved two actual brothers named Mario and Luigi (last names unknown). They had been enlisted in a brand new covert training program. At the time, the US was engaged in heavy strategic planning for an invasion into France using the world famous Paris sewer system. While only elite soldiers were accepted into the Subterranean Invasion Force, or the “Plumbers” as they were known in military circles, the Marine Corps had even bigger plans for them. Over the years, Pentagon scientists had been working on a way to create super soldiers and while not yet able to genetically engineer these warriors, they had developed a temporary fix in the form of serums. There were two, each providing a different temporary effect, and code named “Mushroom” and “Star”. I have been privileged through one of my MANY contacts to view select classified footage of the Plumber Training Program. At one point, Luigi and Mario are given a dose of the “Mushroom” and an amazing transformation takes place. Both men, upon ingestion of the serum, have an explosion in muscle mass and seem to nearly double in size. This enhanced state can exist only until the test subject is injured, after which they return to normal size. The second, or “Star” serum caused apparent invincibility and super speed, for small periods of time. During these demonstrations, the lab experienced power surges and the constant flickering of the lights made it difficult to focus. Suffice it to say, the content of this footage, made it nearly impossible to believe your eyes.

          The hope of the United States Marine Corps was that through the use of a video game, the trainees could be immersed in a virtual world designed to perfectly test their new found power. Because of a natural limit in their range of motion resulting from heightened muscle mass, the avatars in the simulation were given stiff, limited and awkward mobility. The play proved to be frustrating at first but upon practice, could become as natural as breathing.

          Early results of these tests proved more successful than anyone involved could have possibly imagined. In further footage, the commanding officer demonstrates to his superiors the physical abilities of his new soldiers. The brothers are put through a battery of tests while several scientists and dignitaries look on. “Take one step“, the officer barked. “And then again!” One can easily see through these choreographed movements, the extent of the enhanced muscular strength. “ Now, swing your arms from side to side! All together now!” It is remarkable to watch the control and coordination.

          Not everyone was pleased with the path that the training program and simulation had taken. When Linguini found out what his creation had become, he stormed into Nintendo Headquarters, confronting executives and demanding the program be stopped. A transcription of a Nintendo board meeting proves the extent of his rage.

          Giuseppe: “Dis isa outarage! Ima no maka my game for these things. It for da peaceful purpose of to bringa da joy to da little paesanos all-a over da world!“

          In the end, however, the large government contract proved once again to be too much to resist and Nintendo and Giuseppe Linguini permanently parted ways.

          In the aftermath of the shakeup at Nintendo, the program was thrown into disorder. During that time, Luigi escaped from the training facility and effectively went rogue. He is still being hunted to this day and reports have surfaced that he can be found in Europe exploring haunted mansions and sometimes riding in his trusty go-kart. Mario felt the call to help his fellow man and left to enroll in Medical school. Three months later the plan was scrapped altogether when no one could remember why we were invading France in the first place.

          Years later, a similar experiment was undertaken using a young army captain. This Super Soldier program was a much bigger success, yet it was still kept under wraps. Some say, a comic book was created to pay homage to this American Captain, but I have never been able to figure out which one.

          Super Mario Brothers 2 had been in development as supplement to the original training program. It too was eventually released as simple home entertainment, just as Linguini had fought so hard for. Super Mario Brothers 3 however, never had any military connection at all. I have become aware that there are several internet articles linking 3 to the Mario Bros. Defense Program. These rumors are absurd and completely false. One has to only look at Super Mario Brothers 3 to see how innocent it is. I mean, it’s a videogame! Sometimes you people need to stop taking things so seriously.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Secret History of the Cabbage Patch Kids

First posted on April 5th, 2011 on The Retroist Retro Blog and Podcast- CW post link

          War is terribly destructive, that is an undeniable fact. And yet, during wartime, some of the most important products in history have been created. I could easily fill volumes telling you about wartime inventions such as the Computer, the Segway, and the VHS Tape. While these objects have changed the world, and impacted all of our lives in a very real way, I would not want to waste the small amount of space available discussing such shallow things. No friends, I want to talk to you about Dolls. Those of us that were alive during the 1980’s will more than likely remember the famous (and Bitter) “Green Leafy Vegetable War” It was this war that would lead to the “birth” of the Cabbage Patch Kids.

          While Lettuce held onto it’s strong market share, Cabbage was dealt a nearly crippling blow by the sudden and unexpected rise of Spinach. Spinach had spent decades as a side dish of “older Americans” and was never able to find a way to appeal to the younger generation. Despite developing a character (Popeye the Sailor Man) who gained unnatural superhuman powers and tattoos by eating spinach, nothing helped it’s popularity…Until the 1980 Musical Film. The movie starring Robin Williams was an instant and universal hit with critics and audiences. The movie caused an incredible boom in the sales of Spinach to young people and to this day is considered a timeless classic. Spinach Co. realized they had struck gold and launched a major advertising campaign featuring the pipe smoking sailor. Soon, it was tough to walk down a street without seeing teenagers enjoying bowls of Spinach.

          Cabbage had to react and quickly but was threatened with a lawsuit after its own sailor character, Captain Cabbage, hit television. By 1981 the situation was beginning to look dim until a hero emerged. A junior marketing executive (and part time hippie) name Xavier Roberts had a plan. Xavier had always had a love of quilting (who among us doesn’t) But he always thought the craft could do more. He dreamed of using quilting to make dolls! Not just any dolls however, incredibly weird looking dolls! Dolls so strange that people would actually believe rumors that they were created to prepare people for the effects of nuclear war on mankind. His first few attempts at quilting dolls were disastrous. A quilt cut into the shape of a doll, a quilt made by sewing a bunch of dolls together etc… Then he hit upon it a technique of using quilting to “sculpt” fabric, and his dream become a reality.

          After some further development the dolls were introduced to the public at the annual Vegetable Growers Conference or “VegCon“. By the time they were released to retailers, riots began to break out at toy stores for the popular doll as well as grocery stores as frantic shoppers literally fought over heads of cabbage. While they had clearly found a hit, all was not well at Babyland General Hospital (the CPK home base.) Tension had begun to surface over creative control of “those leaf kids” as Cabbage executives had started calling them. Roberts envisioned a pure and non commercial (of course…hippie) existence for the Cabbage Patch Kids including the fact that children would “adopt,” rather than purchase the dolls. They would have birth certificates and real diapers. They would have social security numbers and civil rights, a good education, families of their own, a heartbeat!

          The executives at Cabbage LLC had other ideas. Sales of cabbage and dolls to both adults and children alike had continued to skyrocket and they looked for more untapped markets. Picturing dolls dressed as animals or presidential candidates. Maybe even some that could talk or attempt to eat children’s fingers and hair! The possibilities seemed endless. Faced with the loss of their cash cow, the Cabbage board of Directors voted unanimously to offer a huge buyout package to Mr. Roberts. In exchange, he would release all future rights and creative control of the characters that had become almost children to him. When his principles were really put to the test Xavier Roberts did what I hope we would all do in the end. He sold out big time, and retired to the Florida Keys with an absolutely obscene amount of money.

          News surrounding the exploits of Xavier has been pretty quiet in the years since his fame with Cabbage Patch Kids. He did sue Topps in 1989 after his sister “Trashy” Ashley Roberts sold them her idea for a card series of gross-out characters that bore a slight resemblance to the CPKs. The lawsuit was settled out of court and presumably Xavier got a few more bags of money, and Ashley got to keep telling barf jokes.

          Who knows where Xavier Roberts is now (he’s at his palatial estate) but wherever he may be I hope he’s quilting…I hope he’s quilting.