G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
In honor of the DVD release of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the Joes lives in the comics.
Specifically, I’m talking about the Marvel series that ran from the early 80’s into the mid 90’s, something like 155 issues. It was based on the toys and animated series, but it veered away from those properties to take on a life of its own and, really, a canon all its own.
For me, it all started when a friend of mine bought me G.I. Joe #21, Silent Interlude, as a birthday present. I was hooked. The issue, which has become both a sought after collector’s item and a much talked about issue, was about Snake-Eyes, Scarlett and the newly introduced Cobra Ninja called Storm Shadow.
One of those plot points that had veered from the tv show was a love between Snake-Eyes and Scarlett. In the canon of the comic, Snake-Eyes had taken an explosion in the face (in Vietnam, I believe), ruining it beyond what plastic surgery could repair. He wore his black mask or a skin tight/fake rubber human looking mask with dark glasses. He never spoke. No one was certain if it was because he couldn’t speak, or if he chose not to. One of the few times I ever remember him speaking was when he whispered Scarlett’s name. She was out of earshot at the time. He also was very rarely seen without his mask on.
He loved Scarlett, and she loved him, but he kept her at arms length due to his injuries. She, of course, said that she didn’t care. It was a source of drama throughout the series. Back to ‘Silent interlude': knowing how Snake-Eyes felt about Scarlett, Storm Shadow kidnaps her and takes her to a Cobra stronghold in the mountains full of soldiers and red ninja, whom Storm Shadow has trained.
It’s a trap. Snake-Eyes knows that it’s a trap. He goes anyway.
One of the coolest issues of a comic book ever, Silent Interlude has no dialogue. No text. Nothing. It sets up many plot points that are examined in the future, like the fact that Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow share a tattoo on their forearms. (Later, it’s revealed that they were both trained by the same clan, living as brothers until Storm Shadow betrayed them)
G.I. Joe continued on in comics for a decade or more as a Marvel property. There were spin-offs like ‘Special Missions’ and crossovers with probably the only other Marvel title that ‘made sense’ from a Hasbro point of view, Transformers.
The Transformers crossover was… bad. Well, it wasn’t good. It never affected the canon of the Joe comics that I could see – heck, they never mentioned it, though I believe it did affect the Transformers title – but that’s a story for a different day.
Special Missions was a favorite of mine. It often dealt with characters that we didn’t see a lot of in the main title, and showed us situations and missions that weren’t always about Cobra, which was a nice change up. For example, one of my favorite Joes, Dusty, got to shine in Special Missions.
I could almost draw a comparison between Special Missions and Avengers West Coast. Both took the concepts of the original title but twisted them slightly and put characters who’d been relegated to the background before, right up into the spotlight. It was also grittier and more intense, which was a major difference between both titles and the tv show.
In the show, people always escaped in the nick of time – even pilots would leap clear of a vehicle just as a missile (or laser or something) would hit it, destroying and sending it into a billion pieces, but the pilot would be seen safely floating away on a parachute, completely unharmed. Not so in the comic. People were shot, they were wounded, they were blown up – they died.
And Cobra wasn’t the comical, bumbling organization they were portrayed as on tv – they were much better at what they did in the comics. They were frightening; they had plans, long, well thought out plans, for their infiltration and domination of the world. Heck, they had an entire city, Springfield, where they trained their operatives. Much slicker and more believable (to an extent).
In the comics we saw more, which is always the case. There is only so much they can do, especially on an animated show, before the costs get prohibitive or the actors get tired – usual stuff with tv. In a comic, they can take a sideline off and delve into Snake-Eyes & Scarlett’s relationship, or show us that Cobra Commander has a son (Billy), and even have Storm Shadow take him as an apprentice (which he did).
I remember people kinda giving me a look whenever they saw that I collected G.I. Joe. Almost as if to say, “Seriously? Isn’t that a little childish?” Sure, it probably was – I mean, it’s G.I. Joe, after all. But I think the comics took the Joes to a new level, and that was in no small part to Larry Hama, who wrote almost the whole series. Think Straczynski here, people.
One person essentially in control of the entire series from start to finish can have a major impact (and is almost unheard of in modern day comics). Typically, writers come and go on comics, but Hama stayed with it throughout and the end result shows the care and attention that he poured into the series.
Since Ninja’s are cool (but so are Pirates!), they got a lot of face time in G.I. Joe. I mean, you had Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow – always good for a tale or two, and then later, you had Billy learning to be a Ninja, and then Scarlett and a slew of others became part of Snake-Eyes’ ‘Ninja Force’ (and Snakes took top billing over G.I. Joe itself):
G.I. Joe ended its run in ’94 with issue #155. I was sad and a little shocked to see it end.
When Dark Horse launched a new title soon thereafter, I was disappointed. It looked terrible number one, and number two, it wasn’t G.I. Joe. Larry Hama had defined what G.I. Joe was just as Frank Miller had defined what Daredevil was.
I stopped collecting G.I. Joe at that point. But it was a huge part of my comic book collecting days and still is.
The movie is over the top, as it has to be, but it is entertaining. You should check it out. But if you want a little more depth, a little more detail and substance, check out your local comic book store and see if they have any of the Hama written series from Marvel.