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A Last Second Memorial Day Tribute To G.I. Joe

Tucker Stone

My relationship with G.I. Joe as a toy, cartoon, enterprise, as an anything extends to one anecdote, which always gets the same reaction, in that the bored listener doesn’t believe it and thinks it is a bad attempt at a tasteless joke. My brother and I had a couple of them until he took a hacksaw and sawed off Scarlet’s breasts while holding the figure in a vice, which is harder than it sounds. Then he tried to flush the remaining carcass and limbs down the toilet. Even my dad, whose interest in children extended to attempting to learn some of our names, felt the need to tell my mother “There’s something wrong with that one.” From then on, we were a He-Man only household. Go figure.

Did you know that IDW was publishing trade collections of Marvel’s old G.I. Joe series? Or that Marshall Rogers eventually contributed art to the series at some point?


Well, I didn’t, because I don’t keep up with that kind of stuff. After a resident Savage said that the Warren Ellis written G.I. Joe Resolute cartoon wasn’t totally awful, I thought I’d check it out and see if that were true. And no, it wasn’t completely awful, but it didn’t really change my Joe-opinions. Based off limited experience with the franchise, these are the Daves I Know: Snake Eyes is a mute ninja and is more interesting than everyone else by default, on occasion, “other stuff happens”. I’d call what I saw of the Resolute series pretty CRAP, but I’m not a big give-a-shit about cartoons type anyway. It did lead me to poke around online, which is how I found out about these GI Joe reprints of the Marvel series by a non-Marvel company, and because it was late, I bought one of them for nothing, and then it showed up I had no idea what to do with it, it’s not like I don’t have actual comics that excite me sitting around waiting for me to be an elitist prick about. But hey, Savage Critics, I haven’t been there in a while, let’s take off our pants and have reading sex with the Brothers Joe! It will be righteous! We can even do it in a sort of capsule fashion, as is reader preference!

GI Joseph, Numero Uno
This is the story of how the team has to save a woman who has decided to blow the whistle on a world-annihilation project run by the US government, the Cobra team that kidnaps her, and the squadron sent in to rescue her. If “Dr. Adele Burkhart” is to be believed, the US government is hard at work on a secret weapon that, if set off, will destroy the entire population of the world. Which is…really? That’s the US that G.I. Joe serves and protects? Now, let’s not mince words: the Joe’s don’t just fully support the US in wanting to build that Apocalypse Bomb, they’re totally disgusted that they have to go and rescue this weak-willed traitor–Snake Eyes even suggests that, in lieu of rescue attempt, they just bomb the shit out of the island they all know she’s on, silencing her traitorous mouth while killing the Cobra Commander and the Baroness to boot. Mission? Successful.

Unfortunately for Snake Eyes and the Joes, that’s not the way it plays out. No, it’s all about following orders, and the Joes don’t have a lot of time: if Cobra’s experimental lady torture works, they’ll suck national secrets right out of Burkhart’s head, milkshake style, and end up in possession of the “Doomsday Project.” What follows is, I guess, something a lot more hardcore than the G.I. Joe cartoon–I don’t know the show that well, but I doubt that it included a lot of Secret Service agents getting shot in the face at point blank range while laying on the ground. Either way, it’s relatively solid action, not too dissimilar from an 80’s Chuck Norris movie with more explicit patriotism. I’d give this one an OKAY, mostly because of the portion where the Joes plan their attack by looking at what appears to be a model train set, complete with fake fences. It might need to get knocked back a bit because of Herb Trimpe’s drawing of Scarlet’s hand, which is apparently attached to an arm six feet long. (But it earns it back by having Cobra Commander ride around on a white horse inside a small compound for the purposes of delivering his Bond-villain threats.) All in all, it’s neither an introduction to the team nor an introduction to their villains–which is actually an approach I sort of prefer, my wife’s “I DON’T GET IT, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE” refrain and all. After all, does anybody really care how Cobra came about? Does anybody (besides Daniel Way) read Daredevil and get pissy when nobody tells the origin of The Hand? I don’t want to know where Evil Terrorist Organizations Bent On Destruction come from. I want to see them ride a pony inside a building, because I like the idea that low-grade Cobra operatives–the kinds that never get a cool name–are enlisted in horse cookie detail. Besides, if I wanted to get to know the hilarious ins and outs of terrorist organizations, I’d watch the Venture Brothers. On the Joe front, it’s a similar thing–Larry Hama knows he’s writing the four color adventure of toys, why would he waste his time giving the toys some kind of wrought-in-realism back story? It’s G.I. Joe. They need to kill some Cobra. Cobra needs to kill some anything.

As an aside, it’s particularly brutal that the method in which Cobra uses to circumvent the Secret Service defenses and kidnap Dr. Burkhart is so similar to the method which al-Qaeda operatives utilized when assassinating a particularly hardcore anti-Taliban warlord in Afghanistan on September 10th, 2001. Disguised as reporters, cameras as weapon–Larry Hama’s work on this series is reportedly full of this kind of unsettlingly “real” stuff, but I was quite surprised to see it pop up in the first two pages. Here’s another example.
That’s some pretty heartless shit. Good military tactics, sure–but hey. Leaving the bodies to rot? The first issue? Nasty business. Mommy like. 

John Carpenter’s G.I.J.O.E. # 2
After a straight up Cobra v. Joe issue, this one is all about that cold day on the set of The Thing, when Snake Eyes, Scarlet, Stalker and Breaker went into the snow to get their asses handed to them–twice–by a guy named Kwinn, who has some weird religious beliefs and has worked as a Freelance Special Ops Enforcer for the secret service of every major country on the planet, except the Joe’s, who have never heard of him. This story doesn’t totally work, mostly because it’s one of those tales where the most interesting thing is Snake Eyes, who spends all his R & R time in a fucking sensory deprivation tank while everybody else does crap on a varying level of nerdy lameness. (Scarlett is in a karate tournament! Breaker plays with computers!) It is kind of interesting that Hama uses the second issue of the series to do a completely Cobra-free story–Kwinn’s employers are some random Russians–but maybe that was a regular thing with these characters, again, I wouldn’t know. But mostly it’s a story that doesn’t work because Herb Trimpe’s art isn’t as intimidating as the Hama script reads, like when the comic ends with what is supposed to be a “oh shit, bad asses coming” drawing that’s far too static and boring in the layout to read as anything other than a deadline delivery. It ain’t AWFUL or anything–oh, you know what? It’s definitely EH that I’m feeling here.


Bubblegum? Really. I don’t think Snake Eyes, a guy who prides himself on getting places quietly, is going to allow this doucebag to smack on some bubble gum. Also, wouldn’t the bubble gum be hard to chew in the Arctic cold?

Let’s move onto the day when Kirby robots arrived.

G.I. Joe’s OMAC Project # 3
The splash page that opens this story is of a destroyed Cobra base, in the background hangs an Uncle Sam by way of Cobra Commander recruitment poster with the line “Peace Through WAR”, which is just incredible, anyway you slice it, that’s some silly crazy I can totally vote for. Seriously, I don’t care if they want to eat human placentas on inauguration day while making it illegal to wear Kansas City Royal’s hats, I’d vote for any politician whose campaign regularly included the phrase “Peace Through WAR”.gijoe_3_image
Damn it Scarlett! Have you no class?! We’ll deal with the explosions after we deal with TEA.
This is a Giffen Justice League kind of story–a bunch of random Joes deal with a Trojan Robot (yes, like the horse) that they unwittingly set loose in the bowls of their compound while Hawk and Scarlett try to play off the noises of explosions and gunfire that keep interrupting the “Chaplain’s Assistant Social Tea”, since they don’t want the chaplain’s assistants to know that the Joes have a compound in the basement of the facility. It’s not terribly funny, and it’s sort of predictable, but it’s again interesting to me how this series is both deadly serious–it opens with an explanation that the lower decks of the underground bunker could survive nuclear attack, but that the upper decks, which are where all the new recruits train and sleep, would be completely destroyed, killing everyone in them–and sitcom silly, with the Joes spending a decent portion of the book’s climax chasing around tiny little robot bugs, complete with tone-deaf pun for the closer. Still, Trimpe steps it up here, in no small part because he gets to draw some Kirby style robots and machines, and with that, we’ve made it back to OKAY! I think I might be judging Trimpe harshly, but I was just blown away by his B.P.R.D. one-shot, and I was really hoping for some more of that. A lot of the non-machine stuff he’s doing here is just empty and dull. His layouts seem pretty strong, there’s nothing confusing or obtuse about them, but his figure drawings are achingly repetitive. Credit though–he really works on setting the scene–trees, lamposts, all the background stuff is pretty good. Maybe he just got tired of drawing white guys who have crew cuts.

G.I. Joe’s Uncomfortable Version of Waco & Ruby Ridge # 4
Well, that’s certainly some unsettling stuff to read about, thank you very much. Hawk & Grunt go undercover in a homegrown Montana based militia group, Snake-Eyes skulks in the forests and shawdows, and the bad guys turn out to be some serious nut jobs. Their plan? Start World War 3 with the cunning use of Cobra-provided nuclear warheads, and if they fail on that end–which they do–initiate “Plan Alpha”, which is when they forcibly arm the women and children who have been strong-armed onto the base, set off a nuke in the heart of the compound, and hope America blames Russia. 

There’s something about the way Larry Hama writes this stuff that’s pretty incredible. (Yes, that’s completely over the top, go with me for a second though.) Does any merchandising tie-in stuff work this well? I’ve never read a single video game comic that I thought was anything beyond adequate, although I still haven’t seen the Moebius Halo. I remember liking a Transformers comic, the only one I read, where a kid found Optimus Prime’s still-talking head in an empty warehouse, but I imagine a lot of my awe would fade if I read it now. These are just crap jobs for a writer, long-form toy commercials designed to run as long as the toy is profitable. That’s a claim that can sometimes be laid at the altar of super-hero comics too, I’m sure, although at least super-heroes didn’t start from that toy place. But Hama just doesn’t seem to care about any of that, and there’s no way to shove this particular story into a snide category. It’s just a brutal issue about a bunch of Timothy McVeigh types, all white, living in a David Koresh/Jim Jones style compound where children and women are considered excellent cannon fodder at best, human shields at worst. It’s a small covert team of guys trying to shut them down without giving cause to their superiors to blow the whole place into oblivion, knowing full well that rescuing these people will do nothing to change their anger with the US Government. There’s something to be said for “doing your research” when you’re reading comics–at the same time, I’m not going to plow through the monstrous history of a television cartoon just to confirm what I’m feeling here, which is that there’s no way in hell that this is the kind of story they were doing in 22 minutes. Angry mustachioed bad guys in Montana and last minute bomb defusal? I’ll buy that. But forcing guns on women and children? Mass suicide looked to as the most probable “escape”? Success only coming at the last minute because the bad guy’s wife decides she’d rather shoot him in the back then go through with the apocalypse?

I don’t believe that was on television. And while I still think that Herb Trimpe has a ways to go before his faces and action sequences catch up with his crazy tanks and industrial cross-sections, I’m not going to pretend this wasn’t a thoroughly enjoyable issue. Definitely GOOD, and I could see stronger art–maybe the still-to-come Marshall Rogers–pushing that higher.

Surprised as you.

G.I. Joe # 5, no joke, it’s called “TANKS for the Memories”
This issue of G.I. Joe is another humor heavy issue that has a nasty Girl Scout hostage-taking turn, which is so far up my alley that it just built a house. I’ll admit that I can be a soft touch when it comes to that sort of thing, that kind of joking sarcastic horror that makes some people go “oh tsk tsk, that’s just TOO MUCH”–sorry, but I love it. Random ridiculous dialog, a GI Joe soldier using his lazer guided tank scope to stare at the rear end of a marching majorette, followed closely by one of those “He’s calling from INSIDE THE HOUSE” gags, all leading to a climax where Cobra Commander straight up hides amongst a bunch of Girl Scouts–no shame, this is great stuff. Again, I just can’t believe this was on television. The jokes, maybe. (Not the ass peeping, obviously.) But was Cobra Commander really grabbing little girls to use as human shields, Stephen Dorff style? Really? That happened?

I love this joke, it’s like Beetle Bailey by way of Sealab 2021.

I like that there’s some random guy who follows around the various generals–on fleet week–and keeps whipping out the old “did I ever tell you about that time at the Chinese restaurant? Oh God, we just laughed and laughed!” 

That joke is followed up by the ass jokes, because that is the Joe way, and while I’m fully aware that any and all objectification of women in comics should be immediately followed up by blood curdling screams for heads-on-pikes, it doesn’t seem completely out of character for a bored soldier being forced to participate in a parade wherein he has to drive his Totally Incredible Tank Of Death around Times Square like it’s a shitty parade float while the marching band plays “Dancing In September” to immediately grasp on the opportunity to use his laser guided targeting system to stare at some spandex covered lady ass. Of course, the military’s decision to PARADE a SECRET WEAPON in BROAD DAYLIGHT goes wrong, and it turns out that the ass he’s staring at is the ass of Cobra herself. (Although when things get cooking, it’s highly plausible that he was actually ogling man-ass, since the only foot soldiers are packing danglers. Twist-y!) So on, so forth–right before we get to the Girl Scout moment, Cobra Commander whips out what might be my favorite line of his thus far: “How long do you think you can run around the streets of mid-town Manhattan with machine guns and rocket launchers–before the authorites start reacting?!”

There’s something really refreshing about that line: due to my own “lack of research” (read: disinterest) into the history of the Brothers Joe and their nemesis, I was operating under the assumption that Cobra Commander was just another Hank Scorpio. He’s actually quite sensible. (That being said, this was his plan, broad daylight and all.) It’s just too bad he can’t hire better employees–an entire Cobra battalion doesn’t think to check an abandoned construction site for the tank after they lose the trail, despite it being a slow-ass tank driving around in a city where the only area large enough to hide in happens to be the abandoned construction site. Which they run right by.

Here’s an aside, although this whole post is sort of an aside: I wonder how many band members were reading issue 5 and took it personally that Larry Hama wrote that the marching band was for nerds. Marching band is universally considered by high schoolers to be a long-form version of the word “nerd”, and it’s hilarious to imagine a band kid reading a comic book based on a cartoon designed to sell toys–which is another 10 letter description of “geeky”–only to have the nerdy comic book call the marching band nerdy. That’s an ouroboros right there.

Anyways, let’s look at girl scouts and crazy assholes.
And like that, I’m sold. Especially because it’s followed up by Cobra Commander getting away after shooting the Joe guy in the temple. Then the little girl tells him not to feel bad, because he’ll catch the bad guy in the end. And what does he say to that?

“I wish that were true, little girl…”
Because Ha Ha, little girl, the good guys don’t always win, and sometimes the bad guys do get away, and HA HA HA NOBODY LOVES YOU. Now, there’s a little aside where somebody questions whether General Flagg could have made the shot and taken out Cobra Commander, so maybe his failure is part of a larger story. I hope not. Because as it stands here, all by its lonesome?

Larry Hama wrote a comic book where an American soldier told a Girl Scout that he was a failure.
That’s some VERY GOOD shit right there. I think I wet my pants, and I’m not even sure I care what kind of wet it is. 

Your Father’s Joe # 6: “Actual Afghan Proverb”

The idea for these three panels? Not bad. The amount of dialog in these three panels, thus rendering it a tad ridiculous? Kinda bad.gijoe_6_image

At what rate is he walking up those stairs? Are his legs broken?
This is the first two-part story, and being as it’s a pre 9/11 comic, you get a chance to go all Rambo III, when America couldn’t hand out weapons to the warlords of Afghanistan fast enough. There’s even a moment in-story where the Joes make a backroom agreement to hand some fancy wargear over to the local fighters. Hey, they were killing Russians. It was the Cold War. If you’re willing to accept Ebony White, why not this? Besides, it gives Hama a chance to introduce the Russian version of G.I. Joe, and while I have about as much interest in the answer as I do a bowl of my own feces, I gotta ask: did Hasbro make toys based on Colonel Brekhov and his October Guards, who have names like “Horror Show”, “Stormavik” and “Daina?” I’m kind of assuming the answer is yes, since they have a fancy car–with “balloon tires”–and fancy cars are high-ticket items in the old toy shop. You can tell they aren’t as awesome as our American Joes–they smoke, some of them are a bit doughy in the middle, and Herb Trimpe keeps drawing the Russian version of Scarlett by having her face the reader directly, Animal Man style. That’s a sure sign she’s useless when clearing a room.
As the issue reaches it’s somewhat surprising Joe/October team-up conclusion–the Soviets didn’t actually get out of Afghanistan until 1989, and this issue was originally published in 1982, which means Larry Hama was essentially writing a story where American/Soviet relations were more mature in a GI Joe comic book than they were in the real world–the real enemy arrives. It’s Cobra, of course. All the big awesome car toys can’t save you know, GI Joe.gijoe_0005_NEW
I gotta say, this little image right here, along with the Girl Scout Failure Complex? That’s got me sold on this series. From what I remember of GI Joe, there’s eventually some warped thing involving a guy who is some kind of snake god, and I’m sure I’ll hate that if I read it. But this is pretty solid comics–it’s aggressive, it’s far more cynical and hard boiled than I’d imagine a comic based off a toy empire to be, and as long as I’m not having to listen to him screech, Cobra Commander is a great heavy. There’s no “here’s my plan” moment. He’s not wearing a cape, or playing with a sword. His plan–to use the accurate-to-the-time hatred between the US and the USSR as a distraction–has worked perfectly. All that’s left now?
Take these jokers out and shoot them in the head.
I’d give that a VERY GOOD.

One Response to “ A Last Second Memorial Day Tribute To G.I. Joe ”

  1. Yes, the comics were far, far better than the show.

    The snake god stuff never happens in the comics. Larry Hama never even bothered to watch the cartoons. (Thankfully)

    He does give a backstory for Cobra. But, in my opinion it’s actually cool enough to care about. It shows how sneaky Cobra actually is. And, it’s buildup is actually somewhat realistic on some level.

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