Tag Archives: G.I. Joe issue #90

The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Five

Part OneTwo - Three - Four – Five – SixSevenEightNine

In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin ordered G. I. Joe back issues by mail!

Exactly 7 days later, Betty (our housekeeper/nanny/second mom) was taking Kevin and I miniature golfing.  It was a perfect early summer day.  Blue sky, bright sun, green grass, low humidity.  On our way out, I noticed a light, slim, cardboard parcel wedged between our heavy front door and the screen door.  It had my name on it, which was odd since 10-year olds don’t get mail, but putt-putt beckoned, so whatever this was could wait.  On our return I opened the box.  Kevin and I were thrilled.  It was the mail order!  East Coast Comics was real!  Inside were our 11 comic books, all in pristine condition, along with a giant, updated fold-out order form, and three coupons!  One was for a free “grab bag” of 15 comics for a purchase of $30 or more.  (Again with these terms we didn’t understand!  What was a grab bag?)

Kevin and I spread out our booty over our yellow shag carpet, ah-ing and gawking at the saturated colors and compelling cover art.  (Betty sat in her chair, watching soap operas or folding laundry.  We had played with our action figures, sound effects and all, in front of her for years, so she paid us no mind.)  Overnight the two of us had gone from owning the one newest issue of a comic book to having ten times that amount in back issues.  We were now collecting a series.  We were on our way to having a run.  Someday, somehow, a complete run!  (That was a daunting task since East Coast didn’t even have about 15 issues in stock, and we would soon learn that issues #1 and #2 were valued at over $40 each.)

Reading these comics piecemeal, #54, #77, #84, was tantalizing.  No consecutive issues to link story threads together.  We had to do that ourselves, or live with the pleasant anxiety of not knowing the whole story.  This is an anxiety I miss in the age of graphic novels reprinting whole comic book arcs and DVD box sets (or Hulu) laying out for me everything start to finish.  Before on-demand and MySpace Music, if you didn’t own an album you only heard a song when it played on the radio.  Before home video transformed itself from just top movies to everything ever, you only caught an episode when it premiered on TV, when it reran later in the season, or if you were lucky, when it was syndicated.  But half that was random.  It’s a topic for another blog post, but the serendipity of hearing/seeing just what you need when you least expect it is a tremendous feeling, and a rarer one when you can watch or listen to anything anytime you’re near any electronic device.  And that carries over to sequential storytelling.  To get those G.I. Joe issues we didn’t have, we’d have to save up and order again from East Coast Comics.  But to track down the ones East Coast didn’t have… we’d have to… Well, we didn’t know.

After issue #90, it would be safe to assume Kevin and I returned to Waldenbooks the following month to pick up issue #91.  (And that was a weekly trip anyway, so we were on the lookout.)  But summer camp happened instead.  My budding interest in comic books was frozen, pushed aside by four weeks in the woods of Cedar Mountain, North Carolina.  Besides regular outdoor camp stuff, I drew, and read prose books, but didn’t ask my parents to mail me care packages of comic books, and didn’t know anyone at camp who had brought any.  This wasn’t a hobby or an obsession yet.  It was still just an engaging lark.    Kevin and I would get the next issue of G.I. Joe when we could, but we had no concept that five years later we’d own 10,000 comics and I would work in a comic book store.  For now, it was just a G.I. Joe thing.

(I did draw a comic at camp, but I believe it was actually the summer before, and it feels as disconnected from me being a lifelong comics maker as much as those first two Yearbooks feel disconnected from me being a lifelong comics reader.  Like a prehistory thing, and not a part of a changed mindset.  It was called “Thorax the Ant,” and is about an ant on a quest.  But it’s more connected to me reading newspaper comics and occasionally illustrating story drawings than wanting to draw comics.  So it was also a lark.  Which is to say that after I finished drawing it, I didn’t have strong feeling to make more comics.)

But when we returned to suburban Maryland, and made our Wednesday rounds at Montgomery Mall, issue #91 was nowhere to be found!

What did we do?  Tune in next week to find out!

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Four

Part OneTwo - Three - Four – FiveSixSevenEightNine

In our last episode…

Tim Finn buys his first comic book, "G.I. Joe" #90

In addition to all those other thrilling attributes of G.I. Joe issue #90, there was also this:

G.I. Joe #90 East Coast Comics ad

A full-page ad for a mail order comics retailer.  My brother and I were a little confused – comics by mail?  Or anything by mail, really.  How did we know this operation was trustworthy?  So, what, we just send them money and they send us comics?  What if they ran off with the money?  My 11-year old brain tried to reconcile the risks.  I had subscribed to a magazine or two, but that was direct.  Mad Magazine sent Mad Magazine.  (Not really, but play along.)  This third-party could be anyone.  My mom, who had done her fair share of mail order shopping (and whose father had owned a department store), didn’t see a problem.  My brother and I would give her our money, and she would write a check or provide her credit card information with our order.  But again, what if our letter was intercepted?  Or what was stopping this company from racking up excess charges on Mom’s Mastercard?  It’s funny to me that compared to today’s world of internet banking, online credit card purchases, and PayPal, I was so hostile to this by-then already old-fashioned mail order concept.  It seemed like a step was missing, like they should tell us they’d received our order, or we should call and confirm our wants were in stock.

Also, there was no individual’s name on the ad.  And no phone number.  Just the company moniker and a PO Box.  I only ever had positive experiences with East Coast Comics in the ten or so years I ordered from them, but at the start it looked entirely shifty.  I mean, Trenton, New Jersey?  Come on!

G.I. Joe #90 East Coast Comics ad

The first thing Kevin and I noticed was that the prices were low for the most recent thirty issues.  But there was much that didn’t make sense.  What was “Tales of G.I. Joe”?  What was “G.I. Joe Digest”?  What were “2nd prints?”  What were “alternates,” and why did we need to list them?  Instead we focused on what we did know, that we couldn’t get all of the regular back issues, so we’d have to pick and choose.  We retrieved Yearbooks #3 and #4.  What I didn’t mention earlier was that those Yearbooks had cover galleries showing thumbnails of a year’s worth of the monthly G.I. Joe.  At the time we first read the Yearbooks, those galleries didn’t mean much, but now they offered a roadmap.  We picked the issues with the most compelling covers, the ones with favorite characters or dire situations, and added on the one cited in issue #90’s footnote.  All tallied it was 22 comics for $11.  I typed a letter in Word Perfect, but I didn’t know how to frame the order, so I awkwardly wrote “Dear East Coast Comics, I would like to ask you to send me the following issues.”

I had sent away for a few premiums in my young life – t-shirts and pencils from cereal boxes, G.I. Joe toys from Hasbro Direct Mail, and the aforementioned subscription to Mad.  And everything took 4-6 weeks.  It was as if all the mail order retailers, warehouse workers, and courier and postal delivery people of America had united to make the nation’s kids wait in agony.  No matter the distance or the complexity, no matter the item, you wouldn’t see it for at least a month.  So after Mom fired off our order to East Coast Comics (from the office, by phone, with credit card – probably early in the morning before anyone else arrived, when she was most productive), I put it out of my mind.  It was summer vacation!  That meant bike rides and Slurpees and gameshows on TV.

But something arrived exactly seven days later.

What was it?  Tune in next week to find out!

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Three

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In our last episode, young Tim paid a whole dollar for G.I. Joe issue #90!

There was much to love about this comic:

-Page one was a splash, that is, a single illustration taking up the whole page.  Modern comics eschew this in favor of text recaps or several smaller panels that lead to a page two splash or a page 2-and-3 double splash, but for my oddly tuned aesthetics, comics should start with a splash on page 1.  And this particular splash page showed two characters I’d never seen bicker – Zaranna and the Baroness, screaming and grappling with each other while almost falling out of a Cobra transport helicopter over Manhattan.  Once again, several things rare or unheard of in the Joe cartoon: Villains fighting, more than one female villain in the same scene, and more than one female villain fighting.

-There was something “open” about the art.  It would be another year before I decided Mark D. Bright, the pencil artist who drew G.I. Joe #90 (and the following 15 issues or so) was my favorite artist in all of comics.  And it would be another two years before I decided I would buy any comic he drew once his G.I. Joe run had ended.  But for now, there was a strong sense of spotted blacks (a term in illustration that denotes where significant shapes filled with black ink help provide a sense of form and depth to anatomy, props, and backgrounds  — something you don’t see in the line-only styles of, say, the Garfield newspaper strip or Herge’s Tintin) that didn’t overpower the artwork, and that let the color breathe more than that first comic I’d ever looked at and rejected.  (That would be G.I. Joe #54, drawn by the wonderful Ron Wagner, whose work I quickly came to love.)  There were also more colors by now – Marvel had upped its palette in the intervening years, and slightly improved its paper stock.

-An entire scene comprising of the Cobra brass – Cobra Commander, Destro, Voltar, Zaranna, the Baroness, Dr. Mindbender, and Darklon arguing about the power balance of their organization.  But the meeting is led by Destro, not Cobra Commander!  This made my head spin, but in a good way.  And insults are hurled:

“This throwback wears a monocle and a cape and he’s casting aspersions on my character.”  (Darklon to Destro)

And they’re funny!

I had briefly seen Destro take over Cobra during the first TV miniseries six years earlier, and Serpentor (the Cobra Emperor) had permanently wrested power from  Cobra Commander within seconds of first appearing, but this was more involved, humorous, and pleasantly disorienting.  (And where was Serpentor, anyway?)

-Joe prisoners and Brain Wave Scanner.  At last, the promise of the cover art fulfilled!  Worse, Cobra agents travel into the Joes’ memories and plant false information!  As a fan, my heart went out to these fictional characters.

-Old Joes and new Joes.  Conspicuously each new season of the G.I. Joe TV cartoon would leave out older characters as newer ones appeared.  There were debut toys to sell, after all, despite the challenge this unending stream of characters caused the show’s writers.  And when it came time to populate a crowd scene, rather than place “retired” Joes in the background, it was the nonsensical “greenshirts,” anonymous, generic Joes that would fill that role.  I even have a memo from 1985 where a Sunbow producer spells out for the writers which characters to no longer include for that year.  It was that purposeful.  But here in this Marvel comic book were the aforementioned new characters, as well as Breaker, Cover Girl, Mutt, and Bazooka from ’82, ’83, ’84, and ‘85.

-Serpentor’s corpse!  I cannot overstate what an odd surprise this was.  On TV, no one ever died.  (My brother and I didn’t know that Duke was supposed to have died in the 1987 animated G.I. Joe: The Movie.  So convinced were we by the clunky audio patches that place him merely in a coma after taking a poisoned staff to the heart that we believed the small eruption of red liquid from said wound was in fact blood-colored poison.  Of course it was a coma, because no one died in kids’ cartoons.)  Here, not only were Destro and Dr. Mindbender talking about hiding Serpentor’s corpse, they alluded to having plans for it.  So not only had I missed his death, and any ensuing power struggle, now I had to keep reading to see what would happen to Serpentor’s body.

-Also, the B.A.T.S talked.  On the cartoon, Cobra’s Battle Android Trooper robots didn’t speak.  Zombie-like, they merely walked and fired their machine guns.  Here they talked and piloted helicopters.

-Also importantly, one bit a dialogue in issue #90 had a footnote.  Destro refers to the “Cobra Civil War,” giving me that heart-bending tingling feeling I get when a story hits a cliffhanger or I realize I’ve missed some revelation.  That certainly explained him trying to sort out the chain of command and Serpentor’s body being preserved in ice.  That footnote pointed us to issue #77, which could now be a likely next comic book to track down.  (Footnotes, like sound effects, have most unfortunately fallen out of favor in monthly mainstream comic books, but at the time they were all the rage.)  This will be important later on in the story of my brother and I starting out in comics as we bought our next issue of G.I. Joe at Waldenbooks a month later – but shockingly, it wasn’t #91!

What issue was it?  Tune in next week!

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Two

Part One – Two – Three - FourFive – SixSevenEightNine

In our last episode, Tim saw the G.I. Joe comic book that would change his life forever, but his brother told him not to buy it!

I looked at Kevin stupidly, desperately.  Cobra Commander was in his battle armor!  Insulting Voltar!  Destro had his gold helmet!  His GOLD helmet!  Darklon unloaded his (non-lethal) weapon into Road Pig!    The show was in reruns, and we would never see these characters animated in our entire lives!  The cartoon adventures of this most engaging brand ever was over, doomed to eternal repeats and diminished relevance like those horrible 1960s Flintstones reruns we caught where there was nothing else on.

“Why not?”

“It’s a dollar.”

The emphasis:  “It’s a dollar.”    What he was saying was “It’s a third of another figure.  We could be going to Toy”R”Us again any week now, and you wouldn’t want to be there without enough money to buy your next G.I. Joe figure, would you?  It will be a wasted trip, and I’ll buy my next figure, and our next game – the best games happen on the days we bring home new figures (O! The inspiration!) – will be lopsided.  And all you will have to show for it is this flimsy paper THING.  Whereas a figure is interesting forever because it’s poseable and a concrete object.  But a comic book – whatever that is – can’t be any more evergreen than any book, and how often do we reread books?  Never.”

That’s what he was really saying.  And he was right.  It was a waste.  It might be a waste.

But on the other hand, a dollar felt like a great trade for this significant amount of entertainment.  (And sadly, today the standard cover price of four dollars is not a commensurate exchange for the satisfaction offered by the average single comic book of 2011 – improved paper stock and color production, inflation, improved wages, and corporate greed having ruined today’s comic.)  And it was just a dollar.  A third of an action figure wasn’t all that much.  Plus I was feeling experimental.  Contrary, even.  I might have made the decision just to spite my brother’s admonition.

So I bought it.  I can still remember standing at the register – Waldenbooks had three side by side, the counters higher than most bank tellers, the woman selling me this gateway drug, a giant black placard high up on the white wall behind her listing all important up-coming book releases by date.

I don’t remember telling (or showing) Kevin that I’d bought the comic anyway, but it must have happened on the way out of the store.  He probably just said “Oh,” a non-committal reaction that would neither encourage nor pity my decision to vote out of lockstep with my political party.  (I tended to do whatever Kevin did.  A little brother, my independent streak arrived in high school.)  I probably did not look through this comic book – whatever it was – on the ride home since I couldn’t read in a car (still can’t) without stomach discomfort.  I don’t remember reading G.I. Joe issue #90 on the family room floor at home 45 minutes later, but I probably did.  I don’t remember enjoying every moment of it, but I certainly did.

How did my brother come around?  Tune in next week to find out!

Part One – Two – Three - FourFive – SixSevenEightNine

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