In our last thrilling episode, Tim bought G.I. Joe issue #93 and saw Snake-Eyes’ face!
Just below issue #93’s great cliffhanger was the “next issue” blurb, one that promised the beginning of “The Snake-Eyes Trilogy.” My brother and I owned enough issues of G.I. Joe by now to know that the series had never been delineated with story arcs. Chapters weren’t branded as “part 1,” or “part 2.” It was all an ongoing story, with some characters and plotlines taking the spotlight and others moving to the back or dropping out for stretches at a time. So combined with the fact that this “Snake-Eyes Trilogy” was about the mystery man, and that we had just seen his scarred face for the first time, here was ample evidence that #94 and beyond were a big deal. The tiny preview of next month’s cover showed a healed Snake-Eyes pulling the bandages off his head and brandishing a pistol, a steely look of resolve over the NINJA COMMANDO’s face.
Oddly, when that issue did arrive at Waldenbooks in September, the cover was different. The earlier image had been redrawn, and much of the space was now taken up with giant type that read “SNAKE-EYES GETS A NEW FACE!” And “THE SNAKE-EYES TRILOGY PART 1: WARRIOR REBORN!” And “TOP SECRET.” One of the important factors that separated the monthly G.I. Joe from almost all of Marvel’s other output was the lack of type on its covers. Marvel super-hero comics (and some of the licensed books) regularly had dialogue on the front, and copy that sought to pull in young readers, a decades-old remnant of once head writer and editor Stan Lee’s hyperbolic writing style (“The Day Kitty Pryde Leaves the X-Men, is the Day the X-Men Fall!”) In fact, only 16 out of the previous 93 issues of G.I. Joe had cover copy. This point is worth spending some time on. By way of example, note how impactful this random cover by Mike Zeck (issue #62) is:
There’s tension. You’re worried about the prisoners. One looks injured, one looks seriously ticked off. Maybe he’ll try to escape! Visual cues let you know they’re out of their element: barbed wire and AK-47s particularly. These guys are prisoners behind the Iron Curtain. That’s a scary thought for a soldier in 1988 or so, or a boy following his exploits. But the cover loses all its power if there’s copy:
So when Kevin and I found issue #94 at Waldenbooks, with its leading cover text, even if we didn’t consciously realize it, the “part 1 of 3” and the mere presence of a blurb meant that something was different. Now it may have just been Editorial trying to goose sales — Read this issue or you’ll miss out! – but the cover treatment, whether it pulled in additional readers or not, was an accurate reflection of the heightened stakes in this run of issues. I mean, last month the Baroness just blew up the Dreadnoks’ van. In this new issue, she shoots Scarlett point blank in the head! I’m not a bloodlustful guy, but I do appreciate edgy kid entertainment, and stories that don’t talk down to me. This kind of violence could never have flown on TV, but we knew that in war, people get hurt. People die.
And some wars come to a premature end. Which one was it, metaphorically? Tune in next week to find out!