Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fair Trade -- GI Joe: A Real American Hero v.1

Yo Joe!  GI JOE v.1
One of the tasks I had pencilled in to complete this weekend was not really much of a task so much as it was a nostalgic pleasure. Something which produced squeels of delight from your's truly and inspired this post.

See, when we were growing up, my brother and I had a devastatingly large collection of GI Joe toys. Whole battalions of Joes and Cobras (plus some Dreadnoks and Iron Grenadiers to boot!) with massive amounts of armor backing up each side as well. Coupled with the Sunbow cartoon airing in syndication nearly every morning before school (the DiC one as well, but that came later), our playroom often resembled a military base. To say we were enthusiasts of the 3 3/4" Joes is a major understatement.

Earlier this year, Hasbro, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the original "RAH" toys, released a new set of toys, each modelled after the original figures, but with the detail level and articulation in line with the new millenium. And, I don't mind telling you, these toys are awesome. The "task" I was charged with was opening and displaying my new toys -- at least, once I was done playing with them, as Duke, Stalker, and, my favorite, Gung-Ho were done storming the edges of my coffee table and opening fire on the cat. Peow ptow ptow!

I would be remiss not to talk about Larry Hama, and the Marvel comic book series (the subject of the post!). Before the cartoon series started, the comic was already solidified and creating the world of the Joe team. Hama concieved the series as a mainstream Marvel title, to be called Fury Force -- the concept being that the son of Nick Fury would lead an elite squad of counter-terrorists against HYDRA. The concept morphed into the familiar Joe-vs-Cobra battle, and the rest is history.

But what could have been just another licensed toy tie-in became something much, much bigger, again thanks to Hama. In addition to creating the characters (most famously the filecards issued with each toy, spelling out their background and personality), with the comic Hama designed and deployed a real fighting force. This may have been tied to toys, yes, but the subject matter was always treated seriously and usually strived to portray war as not just glory and explosions. Hama didn't write down to the target audience, and drew upon his own military service as inspiration for the Joes adventures. (Not that he was allowed free reign -- in an interview with, Hama explains how his line of "A soldier's job is to do the impossible, and then be forgotten" was replaced with "...and make it look easy," a saber-rattler's comment.)

This volume collects GI Joe #1-10, and like any good comic book from the early 80s, establishes what the series is about and who the major players are going to be. It's hard to look back now and be objective (a fan finds themselves too enamored, really), but the pairing of Hama's solid scripts with workmanlike, interestingly utilitarian pencils by Herb Trimpe (and later Mike Vosburg) proves to be a winner. With a high action and lingo quotient in each tale, these early issues stand up well to more "respected" War comics, such as Sgt. Rock or supernatural titles like Weird War Tales. The characters shine through, from fan-favorite mystery man Snake Eyes to the quirky Zap, from the tough guy who can back it up Stalker to the dangerous and intelligent Scarlett -- these are real people. Besides the characters and armor, we're also introduced to such lasting concepts as the Oktober Guard (the Soviet equivalent of the Joe team), the Inuit tracker Kwinn, the Joe HQ known as the PIT, Cobra's lovely and lethal Baroness, the brainwave scanner, and the Cobra-controlled town of Springfield ("A nice little town"). This is not merely the domain of Hasbro, but a vital, compelling adventure.

Is it helped by the fact that I like the property? Yes. But even if you never had the pleasure of waging war on a 3 3/4" scale, those looking to try something a little out of the ordinary in the War genre -- ironically, from a more innocent time! -- would be well served in tracking down this volume, as well as the four subsequent ones Marvel published, carrying all the way out to #50 -- amazingly not even one third of the way through this series, which ran until #155.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to kick some Cobra goons' fangs down their throat. Yo Joe!

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