The series represented the first major relaunch of the G.I. Joe franchise since 1996's G.I. Joe Extreme. Story and theme-wise, it was a continuation of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series. G.I. Joe vs. Cobra was preceded by a limited run Toys R Us exclusive line that made use of previous molds for production of G.I. Joe action figures in 1997 and 1998, as well as the 2000-2001 "Real American Hero Collection" 2-packs, which were available at mass retail.
Despite having no major G.I. Joe toy releases, Devil's Due Publishing managed to acquire the license to produce new G.I. Joe comic books. The new comics' success and the media attention it spawned fueled renewed interest in G.I. Joe, and led to the production of a new line of toys featuring both old and new characters. New sculptures and body architecture were utilized for the line. Collectors/fans do not usually refer to new-sculpt figures as "Real American Hero" or "RAH" figures, in order to differentiate them from the older method of construction used during the 1980s and 90s.
The G.I. Joe vs. Cobra line ran for three years, before being phased out and replaced with the successor line G.I. Joe: Sigma 6. In that time, it was supported by the new comic series and two direct-to-video CGI animated movies. It was also supplemented by several Toys R Us and convention exclusives. Each year of the line’s release centered on a different theme on the G.I. Joe/Cobra conflict. During the new sculpt era, Hasbro launched G.I. Joe. com that has G. I vs. Cobra games.
Released in 2002, G.I. Joe vs. Cobra was borne out of the success of Devil’s Due’s G.I. Joe comics. The series brought back classic characters, as well as introduced new ones. For the first time, there was a theme to the toy line, this one focusing on the rivalries between members of the G.I. Joe Team and Cobra. The action figures were sold in two-packs carrying a G.I. Joe and a Cobra character. The file cards that came with them explained how their rivalry with each other began. The first wave of figures utilize T-crotch tooling similar to Hasbro's own Star Wars toyline, but the next wave brought back the classic O-ring to new molds, with some of the Wave 1 figures being retooled to accommodate the O-ring.
The switch from T-crotch to O-ring resulted in a slight delay in the release of Wave 2. To compensate for this, Hasbro issued a Wave 1.5 consisting of repainted figure molds from the original A Real American Hero line that included characters such as General Tomahawk (a renamed Hawk due to trademark lost) and the Headman (who was rewritten as a Cobra agent).