[Review by Doug Glassman]
By the time I was old enough to appreciate the G.I. Joe animated series, I was already too into Transformers and Power Rangers to really get invested in it. As a result, I don’t have too many memories of it. Instead, I was drawn back into the franchise a few years ago by the impressive “Pursuit of Cobra” toyline and I’ve been catching up on the classic G.I. Joe comics ever since. I reviewed the first two volumes of Classic G.I. Joe on my Tumblr, “Hell Yeah '80s Marvel!”, and I did that to get them out of the way so that I could review Volume 3 on Collected Editions.
The third volume of Classic G.I. Joe starts off with “Silent Interlude,” which is widely considered the greatest Joe story ever told. Done without dialogue and sound effects and drawn by Larry Hama himself, it follows Snake-Eyes as he rescues Scarlett from Destro’s castle. While the lack of dialogue is a bit gimmicky, the story itself is still excellent, with Scarlett freeing herself for the most part. Hama’s art is in a neat, scratchy style, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t do more penciling. The issue introduces the Red Ninjas (who for some reason hang from the ceiling like bats), the C.L.A.W. glider (made famous by the opening of G.I. Joe: The Movie), and a certain white ninja.
Storm Shadow makes his debut by kidnapping Scarlett; I can imagine how maddening it must have been for readers to have this great new character introduced in an issue where we don’t even get to hear his name! But the arrogant ninja master takes center stage throughout this volume, especially in the two-part “Snake Eyes: The Origin” story which makes up issues #26 and #27. Parts of Snake-Eyes’s story had been revealed to us through the brainwave scanner in the previous volume, but now we get to hear how it happened from the perspectives of Stalker, Hawk, and Scarlett. It eventually gets convoluted, involving two different helicopter incidents, but it’s a solid backstory that really establishes the hell that Snake-Eyes has been through.
Much like Transformers, G.I. Joe comics usually have to follow Hasbro’s guidelines when it comes to introducing characters. As a result, new characters arrive every few issues or so. Issue #22, for example, uses the funeral of previous Joe leader General Flagg to reveal the team’s new field leader and his gunner buddy. Duke and Roadblock make an awesome (if slightly ridiculous) first entrance defending Flagg’s coffin from a strafing run, and the two continue to have one the best G.I. Joe bromances while they help track down Major Bludd and the Baroness. This arc eventually sees the team capture Cobra Commander, and we not only learn that his helmet is armed with anti-removal bombs, but it also has a small door for a drinking straw.
The parade of first appearances in this volume rolls on as Cobra Commander escapes to the Florida swamps. Zartan and the main Dreadnoks debut during this arc, along with Firefly, Wild Weasel, Deep Six, Cutter, and Mutt and Junkyard. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with Junkyard in these issues; while the toy was clearly a Rottweiler, it was molded completely in black, which apparently made Frank Springer and other artists draw him as some strange, long-limbed black dog. He is, however, one of the most effective members of the G.I. Joe team. I’m not even kidding; at various points, Junkyard traps every member of Cobra in the swamp. I really enjoy the partnership between Firefly and Wild Weasel, an underappreciated pair of two professionals who keep getting stuck in bad situations.
After Snake-Eyes’ origin is established and the Joes and Cobras have it out in the Everglades, the trade concludes with the Joes stranded in a small Florida harbor. When the Joes arrive, they have a less-than-receptive welcoming from the natives of Ehrlinger’s Cove, taunted as they are with their wrecked hovercraft. With all the gung-ho patriotism that often drives G.I. Joe, there are quite a few of these moments. It makes sense when you consider that Larry Hama was a Vietnam vet, and their post-war reception was similarly cold. Along with ungrateful civilians, Hama also takes playful aim at Australians with Major Bludd and the Dreadnoks; supposedly, this is because Hama had been stationed with some rude Aussies during Vietnam.
I do have to say that the art has some issues, especially when it comes to the colors. For instance, Snow Job consistently gets colored with a white beard, which makes him look elderly (and which makes him hitting on Cover Girl very creepy). At one point, Wild Weasel and Firefly switch places in the Water Moccasin swamp boat, which is a bit disconcerting. Snake-Eyes has his visor on the cover, when he has his goggles in the comics. The artists also take certain artistic licenses with the toys. In issue #25, we’re introduced to the Water Moccasin as Cobra Commander, Destro, and Baroness ride three abreast in its turret. If you’ve ever owned the toy (either the original or the redone one for the twenty-fifth anniversary line), you’ll know how tricky it can be to get one figure in there, much less three.
I think you can bypass the first two trades and pick up the third Classic G.I. Joe collection if G.I. Joe: Retaliation has gotten you interested in the franchise. Don’t worry if characters seem to appear out of nowhere; that’s just par for the course for a toyline-driven comic book. Larry Hama provides a rare balance of action, drama, and humor that would be impressive even if it wasn’t being dictated by a toy company. “Silent Interlude” alone is a masterpiece of comic book storytelling. Be warned: due to its popularity, this is a trade that can be hard to find, although it is helpfully on comiXology.
Next week, it’s a modern Joe story in G.I. Joe: Hearts and Minds.