Friday, March 29, 2013
On March 29, 2013 the feature-length film G.I. Joe: Retaliation will premiere.
In honor of the new film from Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, I'll be doing a list of my top ten favorite comic book stories featuring a Real American Hero, G.I. Joe!
10. G.I. Joe #1
The short story "Hot Potato" from 1982 by Larry Hama and Don Perlin is the earliest memory I actually have of a narrative featuring G.I. Joe. Now, I realize some of you may be thinking, "Well, duh! It's G.I. Joe NUMBER ONE!" But that's not how I actually first read "Hot Potato." I didn't actually read the primary story from G.I. Joe #1, "Operation: Lady Doomsday" until six years later inside the reprint book called Tales of G.I. Joe #1 from the year 1988.
My earliest memory of reading a G.I. Joe comic book is actually issue number 6 where the October Guard and the Joes are pitted against one another in Afghanistan, but eventually perform what my fellow Fanhole Mike likes to term a "rival fusion" to keep their downed spy satellite away from Cobra.
However, my early childhood memories are exclusive to the G.I. Joe View-Master reels from the year 1983. For those of you who are too young to remember or those of you who need a refresher course, these devices were plastic stereoscopes where the user would insert thin cardboard discs that contained a rotation of seven three-dimensional color photographs on film.
The experience was slightly different from reading an actual story in a comic book, as there was no real dialogue. You felt as if you were spying on a secret mission of the Joes as you saw single 3-D images of Snake-Eyes and Scarlett fighting off Cobra funded troops in an undisclosed Middle Eastern location.
Rock N' Roll is part of Scarlett's team, but runs off before they are overrun so he can deliver the intel tape on Cobra to Hawk, Stalker and Clutch. Rock N' Roll immediately heads back for his comrades and uses the RAM or Rapid Fire Motorcycle to go after them. I think I must have imprinted on this moment, because even though Rock N' Roll never came with the RAM, I always considered it HIS motorcycle.
Anyway, Hawk is the man and comes back and blows away the Shariff's air support with Clutch's VAMP or Multi-Purpose Attack Vehicle and Stalker is already on a plane with the intel or "Hot Potato." The story by Hama and art by Perlin was so solid that you weren't even lost in the View-Master version without the dialogue.
9. GI Joe Yearbook #3
Long time G.I. Joe scribe Larry Hama was probably never fond of being told by Hasbro Executives one day out of the blue that there was a Cobra Emperor and it wasn't Cobra Commander. However, I must admit that as a child I thought the Serpentor action figure and his hovering chariot were both really cool. On that note,"My Dinner With Serpentor" by Larry Hama with some fine pencils from Mike Zeck is one of the most memorable Serpentor stories in Hama's Marvel Comics run.
The short five-page story from the 1987 Yearbook opens with Doctor Mindbender aghast and outraged. All the so-called kitchen-vipers have come down with the Bulgarian Flu and the Dreadnoks are whipping up some of their culinary finest! Of course the appetizers are staples of any good Dreadnok's diet Grape Soda and chocolate covered donuts. Any G.I. Joe fan worth his salt that could read the cardback filecards that were also written by Mr. Hama would already be familiar with the particular tastes of the Dreadnoks.
Normally Mike Zeck did a lot of covers and pin-ups during the Marvel Comics run of G.I. Joe, but this is one of the first and few times that Zeck had penciled an entire G.I. Joe story, even if it only was five pages!
When Mindbinder admonishes the mercenaries for their poor taste in cuisine, they simply tell him not to fret because the main course, some frozen microwave pizzas, are coming right up!
This triggers a faint memory in Serpentor from his days as Julius Ceasar during the Battle of Alesia. The dialogue may not come out and directly state that this is a memory of Julius Ceasar, but a reader well-versed in Roman History can surmise as much. Serpentor basically conveys to Mindbender that pizza is not something beneath him. The now Cobra Emperor tells the story of how the "origin of Pizza" and the morale it brought to his army led to one of his greatest military achievements. It's a great little short story and that's why it's one of my favorites.
8. GI Joe #131
I would feel remiss if I didn't include an issue that featured the penciling talents of Andrew Wildman. Fans of Marvel's Transformers or the current Regeneration One series from IDW should be familiar with the man's work. Also if you've ever read the X-Men Adventures comics that adapted the Fox Kids X-Men cartoon you may recognize his work from there as well.
While I'm certain that Snake-Eyes and all the ninja aspects of the franchise are extremely popular and make up a good deal of G.I. Joe's fanbase, those are not the elements that I'd point out as the shining diamonds in the rough on this particular issue of Larry Hama's G.I. Joe from 1992.
Instead, I seem to have an affinity for anytime there is a massive all-out attack or siege on the Joe's main base of operations, The Pit. In this case "Last Stand" by Larry Hama and Andrew Wildman certainly fits the bill. Also, I've always been a fan of what I like to call Duke's "Desert Storm" attire. Duke really struts his stuff as the Joe's Top Sergeant and shows why he's one of the great leaders of the G.I. Joes.
Cobra doesn't get left out of the action either. Hordes of B.A.T, troopers make their assault on the Pit via the orders of Cobra Commander.
The Commander was really in a mode of prime nastiness and villainy post-issue #100. I think because of all the regime changes from the Hasbro execs that Cobra Commander (as they might say) "lost his balls" somewhere along the way. However, by this point in the game, he was back in business and as ruthless as ever.
Plus, while Duke is given due credit as a fine and sound tactician, Cobra Commander doesn't simply come off as the buffoon he did on the old cartoon. The man was running Xanatos Gambits before anyone knew what the hell a XanatosGambit was.
7. GI Joe America's Elite #25-36
World War III Part I: Havoc
World War III Part II: Without A Hope, Without A Soul
World War III Part III: Into The Wild
World War III Part IV:Manufacturing Consent
World War III Part V: Overthrow
World War III Part VI: Cleansing Fire
World War III Part VII: Tribulation
World War III Part VIII: War Without End
World War III Part IX: Metamorphosis
World War III Part X: Enemies In Need
World War III Part XI: Scorched Earth
World War III Part XII: Hell
I must admit that I really enjoyed the second volume of Devil's Due Productions "sequalization" of the original Marvel Comics run. I was pretty torn between listing Joe Casey's 18 issue run from 2005 and the huge epic multi-part mega-battle by writer Mark Powers with art from Mike Bear, Mike Shoyket, and Pat Quinn called "World War III." Ultimately Casey's run gets the above honorable mention and of course the slot goes to the twelve-part storyline that ran for an entire year.
From July of 2007 to the double-sized finale in June of 2008 I was absolutely hooked to this story from month to month. I tend to enjoy stories that bill themselves as an epic finale. It could be the final 12 episodes of a concluding anime or something like the thirteen-part Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles storyline called "City At War." I guess it's that sense of self-importance and the ability suspend your disbelief that there will be other G.I. Joe stories coming along soon enough. Anyone can die when everything is coming to an end.
Cobra Commander penetrated White House security in the previous arc and he now had intel on every single G.I. Joe member and their families. So the kid gloves are off and the Joe's are officially sanctioned by the President to finally bring Cobra down for good.
Cobra Commander's plan is huge in scope and it's going to take the reactivation of every G.I. Joe member there is to stop his insane plan of chaos and continual war. However, even amongst all the fast-paced action and twists and turns, there are still some touching moments as well. All in all, I enjoyed the way DDP wrapped up their tenure on G.I. Joe.
6. G.I. Joe #55
I would say that while I occasionally picked up the three-packs of G.I. Joe comic books from Toys R' Us back in the day, that starting around the 40's and continuing on to this issue and beyond was the heyday of when I would regularly purchase G.I. Joe comic books at the specialty shops and newsstands. Usually there were lots of really cool covers from Mike Zeck and interior pencils from Rod Whigham.
I've already mentioned how I really dig when Cobra commits to an all-out assault on the Joe's main base of operations, The Pit. The first time this occurs is in the pages of #53, which two issues later leads to Larry Hama's revealing story titled "Unmaskings" from 1987. Cobra Commander has been hoodwinked into leading the charge on the Joe's secret HQ by Serpentor, who stands to gain much more influence in the Commander's absence. Since the top brass sacrificed themselves to stop Destro and Cobra Commander's onslaught, Hawk has been promoted to General. Meanwhile, the Commander and Destro look to be trapped beneath a mountain of debris and echoing some of the traits of his cartoon counterpart, the Commander is starting to lose it.
Eventually Destro's cooler head prevails and the two escape and go on the lamb, Hard Traveling Heroes style! For the first time readers would get to see the faces of Cobra Commander and Destro (albeit with facial hair and sunglasses to obscure their specific features).
Snake-Eye's face is also unmasked this issue and although the reader never sees his true visage, we are led to believe that it is quite the gruesome sight by Dr. Mindbender.
I have to admit to a little disappointment that once Snake-Eyes' face was finally revealed in #93, he just ended up looking like Jonah Hex.
When with such a reaction from Mindbender, I had imagined him to look worse than Todd McFarlane's Spawn.
Anyway, the reader is also given more insight into the bond between Stalker and Snake-Eyes as the former sets up the latter's rescue from the Terror Drome out of a sense of guilt and obligation from making a command decision to leave Snake-Eyes behind back when the two served in Vietnam together. Stalker ends up getting nailed on his own rescue mission and to his dismay Snake-Eyes is the one who ends up covering Stalker's escape rather than the other way around.
Meanwhile Destro and the Commander are pulled over by a state trooper who evidently recognizes the Commander from an old family photo found on his comatose son Billy. At this point with Serpentor on the rise, the Commander was portrayed with a sense of regret and Destro being a man of personal conviction and honor stays by his superior's side through the tough times.
Another great issue by Hama, where we get additional insight and three figurative, if not flat out literal, unmaskings of some of the more mysterious characters in the G.I. Joe franchise. I know I've gotten crap before in the past from friends about the Soft and Hard Masters or Bongo the Bear, but even they would have to admit that former used car salesman turned terrorist is a way better origin than, "I wassss oncccce a maaaan! Yesss, ohhh yessss."
5 G.I. Joe: Cobra #1-4
"Cobra Part 1: Charmer"
"Cobra Part 2: In The Grass"
"Cobra Part 3: Oil"
"Cobra Part 4: Eyes"
Anybody who knows me or at least my tastes in comic books could tell you that I'm not a huge fan of the G.I. Joe series since the license has gone over to IDW. Having gotten that mention out of the way, the 2009 mini-series by writers Mike Costa and Christos Gage is one of the shining jewels among the rabble. Gage would go own to write some of my more recent Marvel Comics favorites such as Spider-Man/Fantastic Four (2010) and the recently cancelled and replaced Avengers Academy. 2 months. 2 months and the sting is still fresh. Costa however, is best known for his work on the dismal ongoing Transformers series from 2009 to 2011 and the Blackhawk title that was among the first cancellations from DC Comics New 52 initiative. So I'm going to just assume that most of what strikes my fancy and speaks to my sensibilities inside this book comes from Christos Gage.
The stand out covers from Howard Chaykin certainly grabbed my attention and the interior pencils from Antonio Fuso create just the right kind of atmosphere for this intense tale of counter-espionage.
Also given my previously aforementioned affinity for Larry Hama's file card write-ups for every one of the Joes and Cobras, it's nice to see a story where Chuckles is the main protagonist and is utilized to his maximum potential.
Don't get me wrong. I love G.I. Joe The Movie (1987). Absolutely adore it. But, to be completely honest, the dim-bulb that Chuckles was portrayed as in the Sunbow animated film never seemed to match up with his specialty as an undercover agent for G.I. Joe. Larry Hama seemed to be going for Miami Vice with the character. The Sunbow cartoon treated him like the big dumb strong man on your average Super-Hero team. This comic right here? It treated him like Donnie @#$%ing Brasco.
4. G.I Joe #109
Many a fan will tell you about their love for a particular property be they comic books, toy lines or other similar franchises. Often times the ebb and flow of the fan's interest will depend on the people working behind the scenes on the property. Some comic runs will eventually see interest from readers waning.
I'm not exactly certain I could pinpoint the reason, maybe I thought with the end of the Sunbow era of G.I. Joe animation and the subsequent DIC years that I had seen all I wanted to see in G.I. Joe. Maybe becuase I almost religiously collected the action figures from series four in 1985 all the way up to series six in 1987 and I just had G.I. Joe burn out. Whatever the case, I hadn't been all that interested in G.I. Joe as a property comics, toys or otherwise since about 1987.
"Death in the Desert" from the year 1991 by Larry Hama and John Statema completely changed all that. I remember Byrne stealing" lots of comics when hanging out by the spinner racks of the Waldenbooks in the Southland Mall in Hayward, CA. This was where I first came across G.I. Joe #109 and it pretty much changed everything about the property from then on in my book. I bought it right then and there.
As a kid growing up in the 80's we were inundated with cartoons that featured good fighting evil, but where somehow nobody got hurt. In the G.I. Joe cartoon for example, there were no bullets, Just red and blue lasers. Many jeeps and planes exploded ad nauseum, but for every explosion there was a parachute and in the course of these spectacular military conflicts, not one person was killed.
Now this was probably an excuse for Larry Hama to just kill off all the characters that Hasbro had forced upon him over the years that he felt were ridiculous caricatures, like Quick Kick for instance.
But the first time Doc gets capped, I finally felt as if this story wasn't talking down to me nor insulting my intelligence. In a war people die, and G.I. Joe would now be no different.
My interest was revitalized and I once again sought out G.I. Joe back issues and of course I had to seek out the action figure behind all this chaos and mayhem, the S.A.W. (Semi Automatic Weapon) Viper. This was of course all sparked by this comic which earns it a prime spot on the list of favorites.
3. Gi Joe #26-27
"Snake-Eyes: The Origin"
I first read these issues in Digest format that I probably picked up from a local Safeway or something. To me it was like a treasure trove that finally revealed the back story of one of the most popular and mysterious characters of the entire franchise, Snake-Eyes. I think like most kids my age I was first exposed to the characters through the toy line and unfortunately prioritized the cartoon series over the comic books. But "Snake-Eyes: The Origin" once again by writer Larry Hama (who also happened to do the breakdowns for part one!) and penciler Frank Springer was probably THE story that reversed that dynamic when it came to G.I. Joe. The Transformers comic book probably only did that for me once the cartoon had been long gone.
However, this led to years upon years of me butchering the pronunciation of the Arashikage Clan. For years I would say, "AR-Resh-Zake" instead of "Ah-Rash-eh-Kah-Gay." Hell, sometimes I still say Larry HAM-MAH instead of Hom-mah, even though I'm completely aware of the correct pronunciation. Regardless, the Arashikage (which according to the story directly translates into Storm Shadow) is the famous Ninja Clan who who trained both Snake-Eyes and the Cobra Ninja, Storm Shadow. While Snake-Eyes' given name continues to remain a mystery, we learn that Storm Shadow went by Tommy Arashikage. The two men formed a lifetime bond serving together in Vietnam. As a young child, I can recall not being able to really discern the difference between wartime "brothers" and literal brothers. For a while there, I had thought that Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow were blood relations.
Initially Snake-Eyes turned down Tommy's invite to join his "family business" in Japan. However, upon his return to the States, Snake's twin sister and parents are killed in a tragic car wreck. Thus, he becomes a full-fledged Ninja whose skills surpass even that of the young master in training, Storm Shadow.
If you already haven't, you should most certainly read this two part story from 1984. The second part ends with an excellent action-packed chase sequence between Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow in the streets of New York City that climaxes in a confrontation on top of a moving subway train.
Even though I don't have any real love for the most recent G.I. Joe animated series called Renegades, there was a rather nice nod to this particular train top fight in the episode titled "Homecoming, Part 2."
This is not to say I haven't heard criticism from people I've suggested read this story in the past. Some would say that it "suffers" from the same coincidental connections between characters that "plagues" Stan Lee's Spider-Man. I guess it just depends on if you like that reveal of inter-connectivity between characters, where you, as a reader, were unaware of such a connection until that particular point in the story. Regardless, without going into too many revealing details, it answers some major questions in the G.I. Joe mythos. Where did Snake-Eyes come from and why is he such a badass? What is the connection between Snake-Eyes and Stormshadow? How did Hawk, Stalker and Scarlett come to know Snake-Eyes? Why doesn't Snake-Eyes talk? And as Mr. Plinkett might say to him, "What's wrong with your face?"
2. GI Joe Declassified #1-3
While the Sunbow G.I. Joe movie will always hold a place in my heart, I can say that I wasn't overly fond of the 2009 live-action film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Honestly, I originally planned to treat the film as I've treated the Michael Bay Transformers films. By not seeing them. Ever. But, I ended up seeing the film as it was one of the first things my dad rented on his PS3 one night, so what has been seen can no longer be unseen.
What's the reason for this long-winded pre-rant/explanation? Well, if there was any one comic book story I would point to as a proper blueprint to begin a live-action G.I. Joe film franchise, it would be this three issue mini-series published by Devil's Due Productions back in 2006. For one thing, I enjoy the solid artwork from Pat Quinn & Valentine De Landro as well as the fun covers from Francis Manapul. So if you just read this as a comic book fan, you can take the story as a prequel to Marvel's G.I. Joe #1. If you have any vision, it could make one hell of a film and is a fantastic introduction to the original team of Real American Heroes from 1982.
Regardless of my opinion on the merits of the comic as a potential film adaptation the mini-series is a helluva awesome book! It has the fanboy cred of being written by Larry Hama, who not only created the whole storyline concept for the toy line but pretty much creatively shepherded all the characters by writing all 155 issues of the Marvel Comics series. Not only that, but if you love anthology stories like "Almost Got 'Em" from Batman The Animated Series or Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, you would definitely get a kick out of reading up on how each member of the Joe Team is recruited and exactly how the organization came to be.The book is certainly action-packed and has an allure of mystery making you wonder, "Well, what happens next?" It also honors the sacrifices soldiers make for defending freedom and is quite touching and poignant as well.
1. GI Joe #73-76
"Divided We Fall"
"Alliance of Convenience"
If you are the type of comic book reader who likes "Done-In-One" stories or the "Written-For-The-Trade" mentality, my number one favorite Joe story from 1988 might not exactly be your cup of tea. But if you like the way old school comic books were written, with a variety of subplots that would interweave back and forth throughout multiple issues, then this is the run for you! Sure you'd have to be majorly familiar with the long-running plot from Larry Hama that saw the original Cobra Commander shot in the back and had the Crimson Guardsman Fred VII take his place way back in #61.
Or if you've never read the previous issues you might not know that Captain Minh is the sailor who took Fred VII out to Cobra Island in issue #64 only to be left for dead as Fred's Pogo Ballistic Battle Ball rockets away destroying the Captain's ship.
Also a major story point is that even though the Baroness had full knowledge that Fred VII was an imposter and not the genuine Cobra Commander, she came out in full support of Fred VII to get back at Serpentor.
Not to mention the Battle Android Trooper that Fred VII inserted a secret camera on so that he and the Baroness could spy on Serpentor's faction.
Then, you'd be getting caught up to speed on the events of the previous issue where the Cobra Star-Viper ripped off the Black Box MacGuffin from the secret Utah base of G.I. Joe.
Once you were aware of all of the above, you'd be all hot and ready for what is essentially the Cobra Civil War. Even with the success of the Star Viper's espionage on behalf of Serpentor, the Cobra Emperor and Fred VII still cannot see eye to eye and a full blown Civil War erupts on Cobra Island.
Mindbender, the Crimson Twins, and legions of Crimson Guardsmen and B.A.T.S. or Battle Android Troopers fall on the side of the so-called "Constitutional Monarchy" of Serpentor. Meanwhile, the Baroness, Zartan, the Dreadnoks and the foot soldiers of Cobra, the Vipers stand on the side of the "fascist dictator" the Cobra Commander imposter, Fred VII.
How do the Joes become involved in all of this hi-jinx you ask? First off, Falcon and his team are sent to Cobra Island to get HUMINT or Human Intelligence on the current status of the stolen Black Box and the Cobra Civil War. Captain Minh, who manages to survive the attack on his vessel, has been hiding out on Cobra Island all this time. Minh eventually assists Falcon's team in securing the main communications tower on the Island.
Also, since that pesky black box that was stolen by the Star Viper back in issue #72 is used as a bargaining chip by Dr. Mindbender to have the entirety of the G.I. Joe team come to the assistance of Serpentor and his faction.
Before you know it, Destro and his Iron Grenadiers show up on the "front lawn" of Cobra Island as well. Pretty much throwing in everything and the kitchen sink here!
Also there's just something really sexy about the Baroness being bound to the front of a H.I.S.S. (or High Speed Sentry) Tank.
One thing that's a little odd is that while Ron Wagner did the majority of the artwork during this run, there was a fill-in issue by Marshall Rogers. For whatever reason Rogers must not have gotten the proper reference material for General Hawk's then-current attire, because he magically has a different outfit in #75 and then he's back to normal in issue #76.
One of the best parts is during the crossfire with Roadblock. Great stuff!
The Cobra Civil War ends with one of the best pwnings in all of comic books. As I've mentioned, writer Larry Hama was never fond of having to include the bright new shiny toy Serpentor as the Cobra Emperor when he felt there already was a Supreme Cobra Leader, Cobra Commander! Thus by 1988, the new toy smell had grown musty and Mr. Hama was free to have Zartan save the day at the Ninth Hour.
If you love epic battles with all kinds of characters and huge super hero crossovers, then this is a must-read G.I. Joe story of the same scope and ilk!