Welcome back heroes! The Satellite is very pleased this month to indulge into something that three years ago when I started this thing, was intended to be one of my first topics. Every time I would begin to write I felt I wasnt doing it justice so I finally decided to jump into the fray. As we sit in the briefing room of the Satellite we must become acquainted with the art of war. This Satellite is about to touch down in 1980s Springfield..
Computer: Captain, this destination is NOT recommended ..Springfield at this time is under occupation..
Hero: *Smiles* That’s why we are going there computer…initiate landing sequence..
Computer: Captain, my programming is telling me to inform you this is no ordinary threat that surrounds Springfield..its a terrorist organization known as COBRA!
Hero: I have a feeling a few friends are about to show up to help rectify the situation…all together with me shout.. “YO JOE!!”
From Toys to The Page…
I Was introduced to GI JOE initially by the 1982 Marvel comics series G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero. On the way to a summer camping trip on a stop over to a local Pharmacy (Thank You Budget Drug Mart) I scored me an issue of G.I. JOE #2 to take along for long trip ahead. I was hooked! G.I.JOE must have been huge in my home town cause those books were available EVERYWHERE! Not the usual suspects like convenience stores and pharmacies..these crept onto magazine racks in smokeshop’s in Woolco and coloring book racks at Dalfen’s! I could not wait for each issue to hit the stands! I grew up with Hawk, Stalker, Scarlett, Flash, ZAP, Breaker, Clutch, Rock N Roll, and Of course..Snake Eyes!! The Original Joe’s always had a special place in my heart to the point that when newer Joe’s were introduced I rejected many of them up front if they replaced my originals in the comics!
The marketing team at Hasbro were smart enough to realize that the more characters they created..more figures could be made and more stories could be written! As a G.I. JOE fan in the 80s we got super served!! Both toy shelves and comic book pages were lined with scores of new Joe’s every few months..but this was something different. The Toy company for the first time used the comic book as its creative foundation! Many criticize “Toy Books” in the comics industry as being just a cheap money grab that are usually short-lived. Only a small handful were successful like Micronaughts, ROM and of course STAR WARS which all are remembered in high regard. It was the G.I. JOE comic that would forever set the pace for changing the game of the stereotypical “Toy Book” that not only surpassed its life expectancy and expectations but it became the flag bearer for all licensed titles to come.
When you talk how important a comic is to a franchise there is no better example than the Larry Hama written Marvel Comic G.I. JOE : A Real American Hero. This book literally dictated the toy line and the cartoon. Larry Hama MADE G.I. JOE and anyone who is a fan owes this man a debt of gratitude. Hama, at the time was a struggling writer fighting to get a permanent paying writing post at Marvel. On one fateful day he pitched an idea about a splinter group of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents consisting of futuristic Super Soldiers known as “Fury Force”. As with other jobs Fury Force did not get the green light but before the concept was dropped Hasbro came knocking. They were a toy company looking to relaunch an old property from the past G.I. JOE. G.I. JOE was an army based 12″ action figure line that was very successful in the 50s and 60s. Hasbro had the property evaluated but decided to partner with Marvel to develop a back story for their concept..and so was born G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero..and finally a full-time paying writing gig for Larry Hama.
In the meantime Hasbro representatives held court with with Hama, Jim Shooter, Tom DeFalco, Archie Goodwin, and Nelson Yomtov to hash out the direction of their new G.I. JOE concept. It was actually Archie Goodwin who came up with the concept of G.I. JOE’s number one nemesis..C.O.B.R.A.! Hasbro had not factored this enemy force into their original plans. It would be a meeting that Hasbro felt represented what they considered good for this new property and a partnership was born. G.I. JOE rested on the very capable shoulders of Larry Hama who would take great pride in making it work. Faced with the task of bringing character’s to life Hama jumped in and wrote elaborate profiles for each original Joe..much of which made it to the actual packaging of the action figures in the form of classified dossiers for each toy!
Suddenly characters like Scarlett Clutch, Hawk and Stalker had detailed histories. These were not your generic army men..each Joe had personality! Clutch the VAMP driver from the toy line was a womanizing hotshot with a big mouth, Snake Eyes was a silent but violent Ninja with a deep history and a romantic interest in Scarlet. To add an extra layer Hama wrote Snake-Eyes physically unable to tell her his affections due to a war injury that left him speechless. Each one of these characters were something special and were far from generic.
Hamas first 10 issues would be your classic one and done sort of issues with Herb Trimpe manning the pencil duties and making Joe jump off the pages! Issue one for example featured two short stories. Operation : Lady Doomsday was the official story-line debut of the new and innovative G.I. JOE team in the pages of G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero Vol. 1 #1 in 1982. Some highlights of the first 10 issues were issue #2. As mentioned above the classic Joe’s Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, Stalker, and Breaker are sent to the North Pole on a recon mission where they meet a special operative named Quinn who is having problems with the terrorist organization C.O.B.R.A.!!
Issue four screamed to me on the shelves..one of my all time favorite G.I. JOE covers with a very simple group shot with Hawk in command leading the Joe’s into battle! This time the Joe’s REAL leader (Sorry DUKE fans) Hawk, along with Grunt (Who rarely ever appears in the pages of the book after this), and Snake-Eyes infiltrate a cult like military camp suspected of being funded by Cobras.
We were introduced in GI JOE #6 and #7 to a radical concept of a Russian version of G.I. JOE..the Oktober Guard who begin as bad guys only to join the Joe’s against a common enemy ..C.O.B.R.A. With the political Superpower race in the early 80s this concept of a Russian Military group being portrayed in a positive light was controversial for its time. Hama was given the keys to the kingdom and he made the absolute best of his situation. In these issues Stalker leads the Joe’s ( Scarlett, Clutch, Steeler, Grand Slam, and Breaker )on a mission into Afghanistan where they get into a three-way firefight with Cobra and the Oktober Guard. The teams set aside their differences and work together to stop C.O.B.R.A. from getting control over a Top Secret weapon of Mass Destruction!
By issue six Hama continued to pump out great characters as we got our first two-part story..we begin to establish early signs of continuity. Larry was a military man himself and had served in Vietnam. As a result many of the character names and traits were said to have been based on those whom he served with as a tribute! Hama didnt stop at the toy-lines, instead he developed his own set of characters that existed in the G.I. JOE Hamaverse as it was dubbed. We meet Kwinn the massive Eskimo who has no love for Cobra, We meet Dr. Venom(Seemingly The Precursor to Dr. Mindbender) the evil genius behind Cobras experiments and technology. Believe it or not Cobras own femme fatale The Baroness, was a creation of Hama and team and was one character of which Hasbro created an action figure based on the comic book character!! Hama was one of the pioneers of showcasing strong women characters not only on the G.I. JOE team but for the bad guys as well! This fact attested to the strong female readership the title boasted during its run!
No issue showcased this like GI JOE #9 The Diplomat which showcased Scarlett chasing down a Cobra agent who threatens the lives of thousands as the clock ticks in a fast paced manhunt that shows the girls could go equally as hard as the guys.
As great as the first 10 issues of the book were they were just scratching the surface of what this book would be. At this point G.I.Joe was a certified smash on the newstand and Marvel had another huge hit!! This was no “Toy” book this was a real comic that fans were passionate for..one that would only get better as time went on!
The Rise of C.O.B.R.A.
The book would carry many central themes that would play out till the books end. First was the rise and self-destruction of C.O.B.R.A.! The origins of Cobra Command and their mission lay in the beginnings of a down on his luck sales man in the town of Springfield. This man hell-bent on making money builds a pyramid scheme that would eventually move from a capital building project to a massive bid for world domination. The elusive Cobra Commander would start from nothing but using his salesmanship to rally a small band of individuals into a Nazi like cult of industrial terrorists who would begin a war on U.S. soil. Many of Cobras early missions surrounded them trying desperately to arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction only to be turned away at every turn by the Joe’s.
Cobra Commander would go on to build his inner circle with three main unsavory characters. Early on we would be introduced to a weapons manufacturing organization nicknamed M.A.R.S. ran by the silver masked renegade named Destro. Not far behind was the sexy but deadly Baroness the director of central intelligence for C.O.B.R.A. and Destro’s love interest. To fill out his upper brass came the chameleon like Zartan. A master of disguise able to change his identity to perfectly match those he chooses to impersonate. There would be many more added to the mix but these three usual suspects would assist the Commander in all his deadly plans.
The interesting thing about Cobra Command as a group would be the inner turmoil. It was a terrorist organization always on the verge of Civil War. The key players in the organization were never able to trust each other which lead to many interesting stories. Cobra Commander would always be leery of Destro and the fact that he was the provider of weapons to Cobra and thus yielded a lot of power and influence. The two would butt heads many times and like an old married couple they would break up and reunite many times. To make matters worse Baroness was romantically involved with Destro so Cobra Commander could never truly trust her either. It would be Zartan that often proved to be the glue that secretly kept C.O.B.R.A. together. Zartan was instrumental in allowing Cobra their greatest victories over G.I. JOE. He helped them by infiltrating the Joe’s very headquarters and stealing secret intel that would be key to C.O.B.R.A.s mission. The unique dynamic between the central players would prove to be one of Hamas most exciting tools in his tool box when writing C.O.B.R.A.
The Snake Eyes /Storm Shadow Dynamic.
I cannot recommend G.I. JOE #21 enough. Its dubbed “The Silent Issue” and its a simple story of Snake-Eyes attempting to rescue a kidnapped Scarlett from the clutches of C.O.B.R.A. and Storm Shadow in a castle. Not one word outside of the Title of the story “Silent Interlude” exists in this story and it a master piece of story telling!! It also tells us that no words are needed as the writer has given you all you need to know about these characters and you are completely absorbed in this collection of silent panels. Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes were bona-fide stars in this book and their story is probably the most important one we see in the book!
One of the most exciting things about G.I.JOE was Snake-Eyes. Clearly the most popular of all the Joe’s, the Silent Ninja Snake-Eyes would be written with high intrigue as his origin was a mystery that haunted readers during the early issues. Slowly Hama twisted the knife slowly revealing Snake-Eyes Story but not giving away the whole story. Snake-Eyes was a truly tragic character. Snake -Eyes would often run military missions with his close comrades Stalker and the man who would become C.O.B.R.A’s number one assassin..Storm Shadow!! A terrible accident would occur where Snake-Eyes would be horribly disfigured in a Helicopter accident on one tour of duty and left for dead. Ignoring orders Storm Shadow would come to his rescue and bring Snake-Eyes back to safety and out of the war zone. Snake-Eyes underwent serious facial reconstructive surgery to repair the damage to his face and heal his wounds of war but would never look normal again. To make matter worse upon his return home he was told that his parents were killed in a car accident leaving him with nothing.
Snake-Eyes did not give up..in fact he accepts an offer to study the ninja arts with Storm Shadow’s family, the Arashikage Clan. Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow became brothers, battling for the attention the Hard Master. Snake Eyes was touted to take over the Arashikage clan in favor of Storm Shadow. Snake-Eyes turned down the offer noting the issues it would cause with his brother. It would be Zartan—on the direction Cobra Commander, who believed the Joe was responsible for the death of his brother—sent an order for the death of Snake-Eyes. Zartan using an arrow he stole from Storm Shadow mistakenly struck and killed the Hard Master. The Clan was officially dissolved and Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes would from that point on be blood enemies as Storm Shadow was now believe responsible for the death of the Hard Master. Upon returning to America the Sword brothers would be recruited by opposite military factions, Snake Eyes became a Joe and Storm Shadow donning a White Ninja uniform would join C.O.B.R.A.s ranks and were now blood rivals. This was truly better than I can do justice to describing it. Their respect for each other never goes from the book and Hama takes advantage of that every time these two characters are on the page..Good friends…fierce enemies..this relationship is pure magic in this book!!
The Revolving Door
Finally one of the most important themes in the book is The Revolving Door. The title essentially was still a “Toy Book”. The main focus of the book was a 24 page advertisement for the Hasbro Toy-line. Larry Hama did such a great job of writing it seemed the toy-line was based on the comic not vice versa! The reality was that Hasbro had to sell toys and as tastes changed the toys changed to meet the times. New characters, vehicles, play-sets all were developed that also had to appear at some point in the pages of the comic book for better or worse. As a result the cast often rotated. The Original 13 Joe’s that I loved so much did not make it 20 issues before they were replaced with new fresh Joe’s that Kids were buying on the Toy shelves. Main Stays like Snake-Eyes, Stalker, Scarlett and others remained but many were replaced…even their fearless leader Hawk.
I remember some of the biggest changes such as when Duke officially took over leadership of the Joe’s over Hawk. The Rock and Roll’s and Breaker’s of the world were cashed in favor of fan favorites Road Block and Gung Ho. Steeler and Zap were replaced with Sgt. Slaughter and Shipwreck. Even Duke and Scarlett were put on the back burner for Flint and Lady Jaye. Every time however Hama made us invest in these newcomers and I loved them. The Aforementioned Duke to Flint switch was exceptionally tough for me to swallow. I had began to accept Duke as the Flagship Joe only to have Hasbro sneak Flint (Very temporarily) in that role…I didnt buy it. Sorry Flint..you suck..and your Lady Jaye too!
C.O.B.R.A. was NOT Immune either. Replacements were all over the board. Storm Shadow was momentarily phased out for FireFly, Dr. Venom was killed off to be replaced with Dr. Mindbender. Even Cobra Commander at two separate times was unseated from Command of his own army. Once by Mindbender’s science project the very dumb Serpentor and was even once “Killed off ” and replaced by one of his own Crimson Guardsman Fred. Anyone remember the awful New Cobra Commander suit?
Yikes. All in all the main cast were rotated back into the mix and the replacements took their rightful backseat. It would be the changes and rotations that would essentially begin the slow death of the title. As Hasbro began going off the deep end with new creations and variations on new characters the book began to feel less special and began to show signs of it being a “Toy Book”. C.O.B.R.A. brought in horrible characters like Boa (Cobras Boxer) , Croc Master (Cobra needed a Crocodile Handler apparently??) and the ultra stupid C.O.B.R.A Accountant,Raptor the teams very own Bird Man? Like every good project the G.I.Joe series suffered in this writers opinion due to a lack of creative direction on Hasbro’s design team who served Larry Hama a plate of crap to attempt to make a steak dinner but to no avail. The title of the book changed in its dying days in a last-minute hail mary to rejuvenate the title by having the book named after Snake- Eyes…and here it comes…Ninja Force!!!??
Yes even Snake-Eyes who now led the title was saddle bagged with a neon colored Ninja team who simply fought neon colored foes in a spectacular heap of awfulness. As much as I hated it..the book I loved simply did not exist anymore. I kept buying though..no longer with the same vigor..if I missed an issue or two it was okay. Finally someone with good sense (Hama!!) stopped the Ninja Force experiment dead in its neon tracks…then it got WORSE. In a gimmick to save the book that s when Marvel went to the crossover well and Transformers appeared in a story arc with Snake-Eyes and the Joe’s teaming up with C.O.B.R.A. to cause havoc.
I will give credit where credit is due..Hama attempted to go back to his roots with GI Joe in 145 with a return to many of the original team members but declining toy sales created desperation in new character development. Horrible concepts like GI JOE’s S.T.A.R. Brigadewere introduced…yes Joe’s special Space task force arrived sadly in the pages of the book. S.T.A.R. Brigade made Ninja Force seem like an Alan Moore project in comparison. The End was near…
Then IT happened. Long before the days of the internet there was no good way accessible to me to read up on future happenings in titles..so as I picked up G.I. JOE number 155 off the newstand a wave of sadness hit me as the caption on the top of the cover yelled “This is it..The FINAL Issue of G.I.JOE A Real American Hero. I was on my way to a friend’s house on my bicycle and that day at “Butlers Grocetreria” I collected the Final issue of G.I. Joe. The only time I had ever felt like this was at the cancellation of the Marvel Star Wars title in 1986. Part of my childhood was killed off and I knew at that moment I would never collect comics with the same passion again..which remained true for many years. The book was more to be that 24 pages of throwaway action it represented every ounce of joy I had discovering the comic, and the action figures as a kid. It was a memory of the sheer adrenaline rush I had when the original mini series debuted on TV…it was a huge cache of memories that I kept alive with that one comic!!
I have a passion for the things I collected growing up but these particular comics gave me so many memories of what it meant to be a comic kid back then. Many kids these days wont have that same rush you get rotating that spinner rack and seeing that new issue of your favorite title for the first time and rushing home to see what great story was inside. Thank you to Larry Hama for making this simple Toy-line into a fond childhood memory. So as we head back into orbit I can’t help by throw my fist in the air alongside my comrades and yell a hearty “YO JOE”!!
Till Next time Heroes!!