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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Twelve

The 'Nam issue 36 cover detail by Wayne Vansant

Part 1[2] - [3] - [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] – Twelve

In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin are interested in Vietnam, and have started reading comic books!

Marvel published a monthly series called The ‘Nam.  I didn’t really know what that was, but I could put two and two together:  The title design was a military stencil font, those three letters looked like the end of the word “Vietnam,” and there were Army guys in green on the covers.  While comic books starring super-heroes were grabbing some attention from Waldenbooks’ two spinner racks at our local mall, we hadn’t made that jump yet.  G.I. Joe was “realistic” in a way Uncanny X-Men (whatever that was!) was not, so if we were going to start reading a second comic book (third, counting our truncated following of Joe’s spin-off book G.I. Joe Special Missions), it needed to be similarly grounded.  I had been flipping through this ‘Nam comic for two months now.  Issue #36 had had a particularly compelling cover:

The 'Nam issue 36 cover by Wayne Vansant

I hadn’t experienced any racism in my life, but I knew what it was.  A friend of the family had been singled out a few times, and in grade school we talked about the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. every January.  There we even had a short play about mean parents not letting their kids befriend kids of other races that we performed each year.  And the nation’s capital was the next city over, so the 1963 March on Washington was referenced on local TV news and in the pages of the Washington Post probably a tad more than in the, say, Los Angeles or Anchorage media.  And as much as racism was a real topic that we talked about in history class, it wasn’t anything anyone talked about in any day-to-day fashion.  There was a heaviness to it, as if it was taboo.  So to see it a) on the cover of a comic book, and b) on the cover of a war comic, was surprising to me, a white suburban 6th grader.  The ‘Nam #36 was on-sale the same month Kevin and I got back from summer camp and bought G.I. Joe #92, our second real issue of that series, so we hadn’t passed the tipping point — we were still only buying a G.I. Joe comic book, not just any comic.  But by the time issue The ‘Nam #38 came out two months later, we had 20 or so comic books, and this cover was most compelling.  (If a little lurid for what was an otherwise tastefully done book.)

The 'Nam issue 38 cover by Mark Texeira

This moment, buying The ‘Nam (in what I believe was the last week of) the first month of 6th grade was the tipping point.  This is where Kevin and I went from enjoying more G.I. Joe stories than we could get from just the TV cartoon to becoming regular and devoted comic book readers; When we started buying a second, regular, monthly comic book series.  (So by a certain definition, it’s The ‘Nam #38 that was “The Comic That Changed Everything,” rather than G.I. Joe #90.)

This title, because of its higher quality paper stock, color separations, and limited distribution, was pricier than G.I. Joe.  It was $1.75 rather than a mere dollar.  But the dam was starting to burst.  Kevin and I just liked comics.  We liked stories, we liked art, we liked reading.  With this purchase it would no longer be confined to G.I. Joe stories, G.I. Joe art, G.I. Joe reading.  So I bought this issue of The ‘Nam, and tried to read it on the way home (but I get lightly car sick if I read, so I gave up after a page or two).  At home I discovered it’s a great comic.

Before I could buy the next one, however, I bought my first graphic novel.  Long before DC had any kind of backlist, back when Marvel had only published about fifteen trade paperback collections of famous runs of comic books and didn’t really know what they were doing (as evidenced by the ISBN number ending up on the spine of Marvel’s 1989 The Power of Iron Man and other cutely poor editorial and design choices), Marvel did have three modestly-priced graphic novels reprinting the first twelve issues of The ‘Nam.

The 'Nam TPB covers by Michael Golden

Next to the two spinner racks of individual comic books, Walden had a larger spinner rack of graphic novels (whatever those were!).  That included the second and third ‘Nam books, and for whatever reason, I found the cover of the third one the more compelling.  After hovering around for a few weeks, I bought it.  Excellent art, tight scripting, compelling characters, and the shocking death of a major character.  Regular readers had known him for nine months.  I’d only known him for twenty pages and yet it was an affecting surprise.  And soon I bought the other graphic novel, and then issue 39, and 40, and somewhere the first volume, and then we were regular readers, meaning we now collected a second comic book monthly besides G.I. Joe.

But to be honest,  besides all this grand talk of pathos, characters, and dramatic tension, my brother and I were still just boys who liked guns.  G.I. Joe and The ‘Nam had those in spades.  So it was only natural that the next comic book title we tried out was replete with fire arms as well.

And what Marvel series in 1989 was all about guns?  Tune in next week to find out!

Part 1[2] - [3] - [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] – Twelve

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Eight

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In our last episode, Tim bought G.I. Joe #93, a comic book that promised to tell much about NINJA COMMANDO Snake-Eyes, but surely would not reveal his never-before seen face!  But then Tim turned to page 18…

There it was, taking up almost the entire left side:  A full portrait of Snake-Eyes, unmasked!  Four huge scars crossed his cheeks and mouth, his right eye bugging out, a calm expression on the martial arts master’s face.  It was a shock.  I must have made some noise outloud, or burst out “WHOOOA!”  Kevin must have asked what was up.  I didn’t show him the page, but I sure wanted to.  “There’s something in here you’ll really like,” was all I could tease.  Surprises in fiction, whether they be dramatic reveals at the end, unexpected cameos, or twists and turns along the way, are the most exciting parts of reading stories and watching films or TV, and this was possibly the biggest surprise of them all.  (In a dead heat for first place are the deaths of several key characters at the beginning of the animated Transformers: The Movie, a shocking theatre-going experience that had taken place three years earlier and three miles north.)

Looking back at Mark Bright’s robust portrait of everyone’s favorite Joe I’m struck by how tame the gore is by any standards of action and violence twenty years on.  (This is a topic for another day, but it’s clear that what used to net an R-rating now is routinely PG-13, and concerning blood and violence we’re a much more permissive and desensitized society.)  When I really think about it, Snake-Eyes doesn’t look that bad.  This is the face of a soldier who took trace fire in Vietnam, and who took a face full of exploding fuel in a crashing helicopter on the way to the Iranian Hostage Crisis?  I mean, his skin doesn’t look like what little I know of burn victims.  But again, this is me being rational and methodical in an analysis that benefits from decades of hindsight and reflection.  This image, and indeed all of the violence in Marvel’s G.I. Joe, had to meet the standards of the The Comics Code Authority, the industry’s self-censorship board.  But as a soon-to-be sixth grader mired in the height of kid G.I. Joe fandom, this was a revelation without comparison.

The rest of the issue is thrilling.  The Joes arrest and then lose the Dreadnoks, Flint and Roadblock threaten civilians (not really), the Baroness learns that the same plastic surgeon who fixed her years earlier (a footnote to issue #22, waaay too early for my brother and I to register as a big deal) is the some one operating on Snake-Eyes, and that Snake-Eyes killed her brother!  And then, the Baroness blows up Zarana and the Dreadnoks’ van via remote control — while talking to Zarana on the telephone!  This ranks as one of the best cliffhangers ever, and is heightened by the cruelness with which the Baroness executes her task, frowning while she literally pushes a red “detonate” button.  (“Luckily I had a contingency plan.”  WHAM!)  It was all too much excitement, and if it weren’t for needing to shove the issue into my brother’s hands so he get up to speed, I would have read it again from page 1 that very instant.

It is this magic that I long for when I read comic books.  A thrilling hunger to know what will happen next, and a  nervous worry that anything will, and that my favorite characters might not make it out of the next story alive.

What Kevin and I couldn’t have known was that we started reading the G.I. Joe comic book right around the time that writer Larry Hama was pulling together several plot threads and character revelations, and that the next few months would be my favorite comic books of all time.

What are they?  Tune in next week to find out!

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Seven

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In our last episode, after returning home from summer camp and buying G.I. Joe issue #92, Tim went with his family to Ocean City, Maryland.

One of OC’s two malls, Ocean Plaza Mall, had a toy store near a bookstore next to a video arcade in front of a food court with my favorite pizza, so it was a destination.  And one afternoon in the August before 6th grade I wandered into Harriet’s Books, which was a small shop with (I want to say) a green sign with yellow letters.  Kevin had gotten into Dungeons and Dragons novels, and I might’ve had to pick up a summer reading book.  Just inside on the right was a newsstand with magazines and – COMIC BOOKS!  Comic books?  Why, if those had been there in years past I certainly hadn’t noticed.  But my eyes worked differently.  Now I was on the lookout.  And there on the bottom shelf was a bright yellow logo that spelled one my favorite words:  “G.I. JOE.”  It was issue #93!  Confusing!  Hadn’t we just bought issue #92?  Was Waldenbooks behind?  Was Harriet’s Books ahead?  It didn’t matter, all I knew was that I now had three comics to read over and over on the trip (we had brought G.I. Joe #92 and the Batman adaptation).

For some reason Kevin had stayed in the car – I guess my jaunt inside was going to be quick?  Mom or Dad must have been there, or both?  Maybe they were in the Super Fresh (grocery store) and I had enough time to kill to run in the mall?  Anyway, I opened the car door and excitedly showed Kevin.  “Awesome!” was probably his reply.  Contrary to his mild reaction two months earlier regarding issue #90, Kevin was now fully onboard and we were splitting all comics purchases 50/50.

The cover to #93 teased big revelations regarding Snake-Eyes, the masked ninja commando clothed in all black.  It’s important to properly set the scene of how mysterious and cool this character was:  We’d never seen his face, he never spoke, his action figure came with a sword, an Uzi, and a wolf, AND HE WAS A NINJA COMMANDO.  I also liked grenades, and his action figure had three molded onto his chest.  Very cool.  Since he didn’t speak, the writers on the TV show seemed not to know what to do with him, and besides three or so episodes, Snake-Eyes rarely appeared.  It fell to Larry Hama, who had created the character’s entire back story, to flesh out him in the pages of the monthly comic book.  Even though we only owned less than 15 G.I. Joe comics by this point, Kevin and I knew that portions of Snake-Eyes’ origin and motivations had been doled out over time – issues #21, 26, 27, 43, 84 – but we didn’t have most of those yet.  We were in the dark.

I got in the car and started reading.  The issue was great, starting with a compelling splash page of the Baroness and Zarana (two villains) grappling with each other in the open doorway of a transport helicopter over Manhattan.  At the top, the title “Taking the Plunge” only added to the drama.  In the story, threads from issue #90 continue and new story beats develop: Destro asserts his leadership over Cobra; the Dreadnoks brainwash Clutch and drive an ice cream truck; Flint, Lady-Jaye, and Roadblock (three series regulars from season 2 of the TV show) drive G.I. Joe’s Tiger Force-recolored vehicles; and seemingly innocuously, Snake-Eyes and Scarlett see a plastic surgeon in Switzerland.  Tantalizingly, Dr. Hundtkinder removes the ninja commando’s mask (the one that looks like a normal face for going about in public, not the black costume one) and rattles off anatomical mumbo-jumbo.  (Actually Hama being diligent and accurate.)  But we weren’t going to see Snake-Eyes’s real face because that was a permanent part of G.I. Joe lore.  Since early 1982, Hasbro, Marvel, and Sunbow had held back what masked characters Destro, Cobra Commander, and Snake-Eyes looked like.  It was embedded in the mythology.  Those visages would forever be mysterious and unknown.  The comic book had previously gone to some lengths to show Snake-Eyes without his mask, but always in shadow, cropped, or from behind.

And then I turned the page.

What did Tim see?  Tune in next week to find out!

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Six

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In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin returned home from summer camp and had missed an issue of G. I. Joe!

This timing has long amused and puzzled me.  In the four weeks we were away, G.I. Joe issue #91 managed to debut and complete its full sales cycle, so when we at last checked back in we were greeted by issue #92.  But how unlikely was it that the very four weeks we were away were the same four weeks that issue #91 was available?  Pretty unlikely, but it happened nonetheless, and we had to make do with #92.  On the one hand, we were excited to be reading any new G.I. Joe comic book.  On the other hand, it was disappointing that we had missed an issue.  Yes, there had been those two visits to a comic book store (with a full selection of back issues), but it was a small ordeal to mount a trip there (not really), so for the time being, we had no way of getting #91.  Fortunately #92 was excellent.

It’s actually the resolution of a storyline started a month earlier in the spin-off book G.I. Joe Special Missions (a fact that mostly eluded us, despite the footnote saying so).  #92 is a great action comic book with many moving parts – different factions of good guys, a rescue from hostile territory, corrupt politicians, a chase, and the series regulars Cobra.  And it zips along at a swift clip, and is funny, too.  Plus, to refer back to one of my initial reasons for the Marvel series hooking me in, this new issue spotlighted an obscure character, the vehicle driver Long-Range.  In fact, he (and his vehicle) get the entire cover to #92.  Whenever I lament modern action comic book writing with its poor pacing or lack of visual action, I hold this up as an example.  (Also, issue #50.  Great action comics both.)

I suspect that Waldenbooks received some of its comics late, because two weeks later the family took its annual trip to the beach, where Kevin and I found – much to our surprise, as we had only just bought #92 – G.I. Joe #93!  More on that in a moment, as something else important happened in this summer before 6th grade:

Batman Movie Comics Adaptation

Batmania.

It’s hard to adequately explain how big Tim Burton’s first Batman film was.  Everyone was talking about it, everyone loved it, and merchandise was everywhere.  I saw more than one Batman t-shirt every day that summer.  Montgomery Mall had a keyosk devoted entirely to Batman shirts and memorabilia.  I saw the film three times, daydreamed that my school would stage it as a live play and I’d be cast as Jack Nicholson’s Joker, bought the Topps trading cards with their alternatively dry and lurid captions (“Plunge Into Toxic Oblivion!”), and rolled my eyes at the high prices in the special catalog of toys and merchandise that Warner Bros. had printed for movie theatres.

Just a few days before we left for Ocean City, MD, Kevin and I were at the other bookstore at Montgomery Mall, B. Dalton Booksellers.  (Yes, the rival chains had names that rhymed – Walden/Dalton.)  We rarely shopped “Dalton,” as we inaccurately called it, since it was in a dead corner of the mall, but B. Dalton did carry graphic novels (important later) and that first week of August it did have the deluxe edition of the official DC Comics adaptation of the live-action Batman movie.  It was perfect bound, a term meaning rather than paper folded in half and stapled at the centerfold (comics, magazines), this book was printed like a book – glued, trimmed pages, and a square, though skinny, spine.  It was $5.00, a huge step up from the dollar we had spent on our G.I. Joe comics, but it was also A) generally fancy – glossy paper, increased color palette, higher quality printing, B) superbly illustrated, and C) BATMAN.  I couldn’t get this movie out of my mind, so to be able to read it over and over was exciting.  And read it over and over I did.  Every day at the beach for two weeks.

On this yearly trip I OD’ed on cable TV, Kevin and I splurged on video games (Mom saved quarters in advance of the trip), we played in the water and built sand castles, Mom and Dad read books, Kevin and I checked off summer reading, we ate out, and Dad took us miniature golfing.  And at one of two malls there, we stumbled upon the greatest revelation in all of G.I. Joe history.

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

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Five

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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

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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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