Posted by: Tucker Stone on May 26, 2009
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.
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 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?
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?
Your Father’s Joe # 6: “Actual Afghan Proverb”