Photos of Larry Hama’s signing at Hub Comics in Somerville, MA, 07 April 2012, are now up here. No log-in required. Lots of shots of Hama sketching G.I. Joe characters.
Tag Archives: Snake-Eyes
In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin bought G.I. Joe issue #94!
Part one of the NINJA COMMANDO’s spotlight reveals more about Snake-Eyes’ origin, and how he first crossed paths with the Baroness, and why she holds a grudge. (Played out in general that she’s on the Cobra side and he’s a Joe, and specifically that she goes after him in Switzerland while he’s anesthetized.) The flashback is Saigon, 1968. And Vietnam was of interest for me. Why?
My father subscribed to several military magazines, and those sat on our coffee table next to hardcover books on jets, and near novels and histories like God is My Co-Pilot, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, and Time Life’s WWII set. And while Dad was more interested in The Second World War than Vietnam, the latter was still fresh on the minds of many Americans. Saigon fell just two months after my brother was born. The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, “The Wall,” was dedicated the same year Real American Hero debuted. And President Reagan’s rebuilding of the Armed Forces was still palpable. Mom worked for Senator Dodd. Dad worked for NASA. Neither of those related to Vietnam, the place or the war, but as an “inside the Beltway” family the TV news was on every night for two hours, so though we didn’t have anyone in the family serving in the military, we were aware of it.
The Vietnam War, or I guess The Vietnam Conflict, since America still doesn’t technically consider it a war (if my 12th grade history serves me), was recent. Americans were coming to terms with it. College classes were now being taught on it. Stone’s Platoon and Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket were earning box office dollars and winning accolades. At the same time, CBS was running a great TV series called Tour of Duty. This show only lasted for three years, and had the unfortunate timeslot of Saturdays at 10pm. (Not quite the kiss of death that it would be now, but still not great.) (This meant I would watch “The Golden Girls” with my mom at 8, Tour of Duty at 10 with my brother and father, and PBS’s broadcast of the BBC Robin Hood at 11. [Yes, I watched The Golden Girls because it was a well-written, well-acted, funny show.]
Tour of Duty was an hour long drama about the regular soldiers of Company B serving in Vietnam. Season 1 was filmed in Hawaii, so it looked great, and benefited from writing that portrayed the ups and downs, and the shades of grey the average Army grunt experienced in country. That this show came along when G.I. Joe was in full bloom, combined with my brother and father’s interest in war history and military armament, was a coincidence. But it only enhanced our appreciation of the military themes in G.I. Joe.
The show lasted three years, and was about as gritty as the accepted standards of the time. It was violent, but not overly so, and the violence was tastefully done. This was before TV ratings, back when a “Parental Discretion is Advised” disclaimer was rare, and a big deal. (The show didn’t have it. ABC’s 1989 broadcast of Robocop did, for comparison. And that was quite edited from the theatrical cut.) More importantly, Tour of Duty dealt with racism, ethnic divisions, moral ambiguity and the fog of war, and the hopelessness of the day-in, day-out slog. It, like G.I. Joe, was told from the grunt’s point of view. There were no cutaways to the White House, the Pentagon, or the Paris Peace Talks.
So with all this swirling around in the cultural ether — TV shows and movies and government — it was quite exciting when Marvel’s G.I. Joe veered into Vietnam via flashback.
Moreso, those three months of checking the spinner racks at the Montgomery Mall Waldenbooks, where we went from G.I. Joe issues 90 to 92, and then to 94, offered something even more focused: An entire comic book series about Vietnam.
What was it called? Tune in next week to find out!
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!
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!
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!