A Real American Hero

I've mentioned before that I got into comics through G.I. Joe, published by Marvel Comics. What I probably haven't mentioned is that, unlike my first serious foray into super-hero comics (Secret Wars II...shudder), I don't wonder what I was thinking as a young boy interested in these comics.

G.I. Joe was, as I recall, a great comic. It was based on a Hasbro toy line, and as any comic fan will tell you, that is usually not a good indicator. Licensed comics based on toys tend to come off as juvenile and stupid in the extreme, playing to what the toy marketers think the young lowest common denominator is. But G.I. Joe was different. In the hands of writer Larry Hama, it seemed a fairly realistic exploration of a special military unit taking on a powerful terrorist organization.

Hama took these characters, these goofy costumed guys with code names like Snow Job and Snake Eyes, and fleshed them out beyond their stereotypical origins. Don't get me wrong, the young boy that I was loved all those stereotypical costumes and names, and I won't deny that the marketers got it dead on when trying to figure out what kids would think was cool. The base designs absolutely appealed to me. But the designs alone didn't make it a classic, because while I found the cartoon mind-numbing and stupid for the most part, the comic kept me coming back for well over 50 issues.

While his writing these days does nothing for me, in those days, Hama was taking some of the super-hero genre staples and blending them with military action for something no one had seen before. He managed to keep up the soap opera, interpersonal dynamics while also telling action-oriented stories. Even better, he was able to introduce real change, not just the illusion of change, to the books, something few super-hero writers have managed.

Under Hama's tenure, heroes and villains switched sides (the Snake-Eyes/Storm Shadow story is a perfect example of how to reveal a mysterious past without destroying the mysterious characters, and how to play a morally gray bad guy), died (I'll never forget the end of G.I. Joe #19, as the Joes are celebrating victory only to find that they've lost two of their own in the fight, not to mention that the issue contained the final fate of the villainous Dr. Venom) and changed. The enormous cast, which continuously grew due to new action figures being introduced, allowed Hama to stay fresh, introducing new characters while never ignoring the old. I'd go so far as to say that his skill at juggling an enormous cast rivaled that of Paul Levitz's work on DC's Legion of Super-Heroes.

There have been various attempts at restarting the G.I. Joe franchise in comics. Dark Horse had the unfortunate G.I. Joe: Extreme, which was supposed to be a new take on the concept, and was unredeemably awful. With that kind of source material, it's hard to blame them, but oh lord was it bad. And the little known Benchmark Press supposedly had an inside track on the original license, and were pursuing Larry Hama to come back to writing the title, but nothing ever came of it, and those rumors have long since disappeared.

Honestly, I'm not sure a revival is the way to go. By the time the series was drawing to a close, the addition of too many toy characters and concepts had weakened the overall story, and it was probably time to give the Joes a good sendoff. But I sure wouldn't mind seeing the Joes again in some form.

For one thing, I'd love to see them reprinted. Marvel is notoriously bad about keeping their classics in print (Simonson's Thor still hasn't been collected, as one example), so I'm not surprised that G.I. Joe hasn't been reprinted. But how great would a series of trades reprinting the 100-some issue run be? I'd love to have them on my shelves.

Another thing I'd love to see is some kind of reunion special. Let Hama write it, take it as a given that the years between the end of the series and modern times have actually passed, and have him write a "where are they now?" story that would serve as a reunion of sorts and another conclusion for the characters. The possibilities in such a story, whether it was an original graphic novel, a one-shot comic or a mini-series, are endless.

Of course, one of my reasons for this is purely selfish. When I was just getting into super-hero comics, and didn't have that much money to buy them, G.I. Joe was hot. I sold the majority of them to Mile High Comics for trade credit, which I then used to build up my collection. I don't regret the decision, because I got a lot of classic super-hero comics during that time, but I do miss those comics. I'd love to be able to go back and reread those issues again.

Randy W. Lander figures it can't hurt to mention that he'd love to buy a complete run of G.I. Joe if anyone out there has one for sale.

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