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!