Wednesday, February 20, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #7 (January 1983)

Walls of Death!

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Herb Trimpe (co-writer/artist), Chic Stone (inker), Jim Novak (letterer), Christie Scheele (colorist), Denny O’Neil (editor)

Feature Characters: Breaker, Clutch, Flash, Hawk, Scarlett, Stalker, Steeler

Supporting Characters: None

Guest Appearances: Colonel Brekhov, Daina, Horrorshow, Schrage, Stormavik (all appear next in G.I. Joe Yearbook #2)

Villains: Cobra Commander, Cobra commandos (Copperhead and Rattler named, both die in this story; Copperhead not to be confused with the character introduced in G.I. Joe Yearbook #1), Cobra troops (one impersonates Cobra Commander)

Story: The G.I. Joe team joins forces with the October Guard to retrieve the top-secret aircraft stolen by Cobra. Though victorious, Hawk reveals to the team they were merely a decoy to distract Cobra from the actual retrieval mission.

Reagan-era Goodness: Aside from the obvious US-USSR stuff, Breaker jokes about giving the Shah back upon encountering an Iranian border patrol. The Shah, of course, was overthrown in 1980 and fled to the US in exile.

Review: This story immediately follows issue #6 and is a reasonably strong follow-up. G.I. Joe and the October Guard team up only out of convenience, not because they’re willing to throw out their Cold War-honed ideologies. While everyone else recognizes the alliance for the uneasy matter that it is, Scarlett loudly bristles at the idea of working with “these lousy Reds.” And of course, once it’s clear they have the upper hand, the October Guard turns on the G.I. Joe team.

Cobra bases themselves in Iran, which was already considered a hotbed of terrorist activity at the time with the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the hostage crisis of 1980. However, their bunker is rife with ridiculous booby traps like giant falling walls of stone, flooding tunnels, and a pit of King Cobras, better found in Raiders of the Lost Ark (someone even mentions Steven Spielberg when they encounter the snakes). This is easily the weakest part of the story but it’s brief, thankfully.

Cobra Commander has shown himself to be fairly crafty so far and this issue is no exception. At some point, he has one of his troops impersonate him. This is telegraphed as “Operation Doppelganger” with the Commander saying “it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared.” Off-hand, I don't recall how often this trick was used but it was never overdone a la Doctor Doom in the pages of Fantastic Four.

The story ends with Hawk revealing the team's true purpose as a decoy. It's quite clear that he's just as pissed off as the Joes. He doesn't want to be the bad guy but orders are orders. This is the first time we see Hawk in a position like this, unfortunately it won't be the last.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Another Commercial Break

Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. It's been crazy this past week. I'm at the Farpoint convention this weekend and probably won't have time to post the entry for issue #7. However, I can leave you with this commercial for the first line of G.I. Joe action figures back in 1982.

As a kid, I loved how this ad introduced me to the characters (the comic commercial only mentioned Hawk). However, with 25 years of hindsight under my belt, I'm a little embarrassed about this commercial and its pedestrian production values. Sure, there was some recycling of the comic spot but then it segues into lazy zooms of action figures.

I'm also a little embarrassed to say that I have every single one of these figures in my possession.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #6 (December 1982)

To Fail is to Conquer... to Succeed is to Die!

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Herb Trimpe (co-writer/artist), Jack Abel (inker), Jim Novak (letterer), Christie Scheele (colorist), Tom DeFalco (editor)

Feature Characters: Breaker, Clutch, Flash, Grand Slam, Grunt, Hawk, Rock ‘N Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuze, Snake Eyes, Stalker, Steeler, Zap

Supporting Characters: General Flagg (behind the scenes, appears next in G.I. Joe #11)

Guest Appearances (first appearance for all): Colonel Brekhov, Horrorshow, Schrage, Stormavik (real names never revealed), Daina (Daina L. Janack, full name revealed in G.I. Joe Volume 2 #28, with the others as the Oktober Guard)

Villains: Cobra Commander, Cobra troops

Other Characters (first appearance for all): Ahmed (leader of an Afghan rebel tribe), a CIA agent (liaison between the G.I. Joe team and the Afghan rebels; both appear next in G.I. Joe Special Missions #9)

Character Notes: Although the entire team appears at various points in this story, only Breaker, Clutch, Flash, Hawk, Scarlett, Stalker, and Steeler figure significantly.

During Hawk's briefing, Grand Slam is specifically named as part of the mission team. However, Flash is named later. The next issue makes it clear that this is indeed Flash and not Grand Slam.

Story: A G.I. Joe team is sent to retrieve a top-secret Soviet aircraft that crash-landed in Afghanistan. However, the Soviet Union has sent their special operations unit, the Oktober Guard, to retrieve the aircraft as well. The two teams battle briefly before they are captured by Cobra.

Reagan-era Goodness: Most of this story takes place in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union illegally annexed it.

Review: Where to begin on this one? For starters, Larry Hama and Herb Trimpe throw the standard "go get it" mission into the political hotbed that was Afghanistan. Also included are a tribe of Afghan rebels (they certainly weren't the Taliban since they tolerated Scarlett's presence) and a CIA liaison. For folks not around at the time, the CIA was helping the locals wage war against the Soviets with hopes of knocking the Communist influence back over the Iron Curtain.

The invention of the Oktober Guard only makes sense though I'm curious as to why the team remained so small over the years. Still, the Soviet equivalent of G.I. Joe is a neat thing to see and would recur every so often. Originally, the team was to be named the Pravda Patrol and were to appear in issue #3. You can learn more about this here.

At the time the issue came out, there was a bit of controversy regarding Hawk's secret communication with Cobra. The good colonel reveals just what was going on at the end of the next issue.

This was a reasonably strong beginning to one of G.I. Joe's first multi-part stories. I remember being blown away by the second part, but we'll tackle that next time.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #5 (November 1982)

"Tanks" for the Memories...

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Don Perlin (artist), Jon D'Agostino and Mike Esposito (inkers), Jim Novak (letterer), Stan Goldberg (colorist), Tom DeFalco (editor)

Feature Characters: Breaker, Clutch, Scarlett, Steeler

Supporting Characters: General Flagg, General Austin (appears next in G.I. Joe #33)

Cameo Appearances: Snake Eyes, Stalker (along with Scarlett as Cobra Commander's wooden machine gun targets)

: Cobra Commander (last seen in G.I. Joe #3), the Baroness (last seen in G.I. Joe #1, appears next in G.I. Joe #8), Cobra troops (some possibly last seen in G.I. Joe #3), Cobra undercover agents (an airport gate attendant; a skycap; a taxi driver; a doorman named Hollis; Mrs. Hood; and the Springfield Drum and Bugle Corps, first and only appearance for all)

Story: G.I. Joe's MOBAT (Multi-Ordnance Battle Tank) is rolled out during an Armed Forces Day parade in New York City and tangles with Cobra during an attempt to steal the tank.

Reagan-era Goodness: Scarlett asks about plugging a Pac-Man cartridge into the MOBAT's computer system before declaring that disco is dead.

Review: This was quite the fun story that didn't lose much in the aging process. The only part I wasn't too thrilled about was the hefty amount of technobabble in the beginning where a number of the MOBAT's systems are discussed. Sure, Scarlett's humor was used to counterbalance the tech-heavy dialogue but it still came off as awkward. Of course, just about all the equipment mentioned played some part in the story so I'm guessing Larry Hama didn't want things to seem too contrived during the action. In any case, moving on...

While I like the idea of an ammo-less tank fighting a battle in New York City, the idea of driving a top secret tank around in a parade without the means to defend itself strikes me as a tad daft. The intent was to show the tank as looking as inconspicuous as the next tank and the utmost security precautions were taken, but it still came across as an unnecessary risk to not equip the MOBAT with a few shells or some bullets for the machine gun. This point is brought up in the story with the answer being that they couldn't risk hurting civilians. Maybe my opinion is a bit tainted with post-9/11 skepticism, but I still think the reasoning was a little iffy here.

The first mention of Springfield is made in this story. A more concrete connection between the town and Cobra will be forthcoming in issue #10.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Commercial Break

I mentioned the commercial for G.I. Joe #1 in the review section of its entry. Imagine being an eight-year old kid and seeing this commercial. Tell me you wouldn't have been jazzed to check out the comic.

If I don't have the entry for issue #5 up tonight, you'll see it sometime tomorrow. Thanks to my satellite provider, the entry was not up as planned, but it's up now.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #4 (October 1982)

Operation: Wingfield!

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Herb Trimpe (co-writer and artist), Jack Abel and Jon D'Agostino (inkers), Diana Albers (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Tom DeFalco (editor)

Feature Characters: Breaker, Clutch, Flash, Grand Slam, Grunt, Hawk, Rock ‘N Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuze, Snake Eyes, Stalker, Steeler, Zap (Breaker, Clutch, Scarlett, and Steeler appear next in G.I. Joe #5, then all appear next in G.I. Joe #6)

Supporting Characters: General Flagg (behind the scenes)

Villains (first appearance for all): Vance Wingfield (appears next in G.I. Joe: America's Elite #0), Carruthers (dies in this story), Shary Wingfield (appears next in G.I. Joe: Frontline #14), members of Strike First

Other Characters: Tyler Wingfield (no appearance, strictly behind the scenes in this story as revealed in flashback in G.I. Joe: Frontline #14, first actual appearance in G.I. Joe: Frontline #13)

Character Notes: Although the entire team appears at various points in this story, only Breaker, Grunt, Hawk, Snake Eyes, Stalker, and Zap figure significantly.

Story: A small G.I. Joe team is assigned to investigate the extent of Cobra's involvement with the militia group Strike First, led by the fanatical Vance Wingfield. Knowing his group is under suspicion, Wingfield attempts to bomb Russia in order to start World War III. Once the bombing raid fails, Wingfield activates the nuclear device underneath the compound. The timely arrival of the rest of the G.I. Joe team leads to the disarming of the nuclear device and the capture of Strike First.

Reagan-era Goodness: Wingfield's entire doomsday scenario relies on Cold War strike-counterstrike protocols established by both the US and the then USSR.

Review: While I liked this story well enough as a kid, it reads a lot better as an adult. The very idea that Cobra was lending aid to militia groups really sets Cobra up as an adversary to be taken seriously. Militia groups getting their hands on nuclear weapons is a scenario I really don't want to think about, but I'm sure there's some wingnut out there who would jump at the chance.

The aircraft in Strike First's inventory is a bit strange, even for 1982. For starters, they have a B-29 which was in very short supply at the time having been replaced by the B-52 in the 1950s (and still flying high today). You would think that Cobra might have provided them with something a little more modern (they did, after all, supply top-of-the-line Soviet tanks). Ditto the F-86 Sabres.

The final panel baffled me as a kid and still baffles me as an adult. If anyone can make some kind of sense about this, please feel free to use the comments section to enlighten me.

Monday, February 4, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #3 (September 1982)

The Trojan Gambit

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Herb Trimpe (artist), Jack Abel and Jon D'Agostino (inkers), Diana Albers (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Tom DeFalco (editor)

Feature Characters: Breaker, Clutch, Flash, Grand Slam, Grunt, Hawk, Rock ‘N Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuze, Snake Eyes, Stalker, Steeler, Zap

Supporting Characters: General Flagg

Villains: Cobra Commander (last seen in the first story of G.I. Joe #1, appears next in G.I. Joe #5), Cobra troops (some last seen in the first story of G.I. Joe #1, some appear next in G.I. Joe #5), Cobra Battle-Robot (first appearance, destroyed in this story)

Character Notes: Grand Slam, Grunt, and Rock ‘N Roll only appear on the splash page of this story. Short-Fuze and Zap appear only briefly.

Story: After successfully assaulting a United States Cobra stronghold, the G.I. Joe team takes a battle-robot found on the premises back to "The Pit" for analysis. Once inside their headquarters, the robot self-activates and wreaks havoc while attempting to escape. During all of this, Cobra waits for the robot to reveal the location of G.I. Joe headquarters.

Reagan-era Goodness: There's a bit of discussion about how "The Pit" is designed to survive a small tactical "nuke."

Review: This is pretty much your standard "bottle" conflict—where the heroes face some kind of peril within their own headquarters. It's not a bad story by any means, but it doesn't exactly scream "Classic" either.

This is the first story where G.I. Joe headquarters is referred to as "The Pit" in dialogue. Issue #1 provided a diagram of "The Pit," which more or less corresponds to what we're shown in this story. Also, this is the first time we're told that "The Pit" is underneath the motor pool at Fort Wadsworth. What's interesting here is that the actual Fort Wadsworth, while located on Staten Island, became a US Naval installation in 1979—three years before this story takes place. Larry Hama was unaware of this at the time and based Fort Wadsworth on his memories from the mid 1970s. Currently, the installation is home to the Coast Guard.

Given that "The Pit" is located on Staten Island and that the Cobra stronghold was within driving distance, the stronghold was probably somewhere in New Jersey. I guess with Cobra having a headquarters on an island and bankrolling a Middle Eastern dictator, sinking time and money into the development of a battle-robot shouldn't be too much of a stretch. However, it's the sort of sci-fi element that would be more common in the cartoon instead of the comic.

Friday, February 1, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #2 (August 1982)

Panic at the North Pole!

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Don Perlin (artist), Jack Abel (inker), Jim Novak (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist), Tom DeFalco (editor)

Feature Characters: Breaker, Stalker, Scarlett, Snake Eyes

Supporting Characters: General Flagg, General Austin (appears next in G.I. Joe #5)

Villains: Kwinn (first appearance, appears next in G.I. Joe #12), two Soviet agents (first and only appearance)

Story: After a US Arctic research station is discovered destroyed, a small G.I. Joe team is sent to investigate. During their mission, they encounter Kwinn, an eskimo mercenary currently employed by the Soviet Union who reveals that a failed experiment to induce "fear waves" was responsible.

Reagan-era Goodness: This issue pretty much relies on the heightened tensions of the Cold War. And since G.I. Joe is "a real American hero," the Soviets are responsible.

Review: Reading this again, I liked this issue a lot better than the first one. The use of a small team helps to move the story along without attempting to keep track of a dozen characters. Speaking of characters, we get a neat look into what a few members of the G.I. Joe team do when they're not part of the ultimate weapon of democracy: Stalker photographs wildlife, Breaker plays with computers at MIT, Scarlett fights in a martial arts tournament, and Snake Eyes chills out in a sensory deprivation tank.

While we learned Snake Eyes couldn't talk last issue, his disfigurement (hence why he wears a mask) is revealed here. We'll eventually learn how the damage to his face happened during "Snake Eyes: The Origin" in issues #26-27.

Although Cobra was built up to be the nemesis of G.I. Joe, Kwinn is an interesting adversary of his own right. He comes to respect the G.I. Joe team (particularly Snake Eyes) but cannot side with them due to his personal code of honor not allowing for breaches of contract. However, he does arrange for the team to win the day in a somewhat roundabout way (the issue concludes with the G.I. Joe team marching toward the Soviets' location).

Lastly, the device responsible for the "fear waves," the low frequency modulator, makes a return appearance of sorts in issue #68. Oddly enough, that story also takes place in a cold environment.

G.I. Joe #1A "Hot Potato"

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Don Perlin (artist), Jack Abel (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Glynis Wein (colorist), Tom DeFalco (editor)

Feature Characters: Clutch, Hawk, Rock 'N Roll (all three next in G.I. Joe #3), Stalker, Scarlett, Snake Eyes

Supporting Characters: None

Villains: Colonel Sharif and his Guardians of Paradise (first appearance for all, Colonel Sharif appears next in G.I. Joe: Special Missions #3)

Story: A small G.I, Joe team is sent to the emirate of Colonel Sharif to retrieve proof that Sharif is being bankrolled by Cobra. Although mission orders deem the team expendable, both Snake Eyes and Rock 'N Roll disobey Scarlett's orders to leave her behind.

Review: This was the short, back-up story found in G.I. Joe #1. I had to locate my copy since the collected edition I had been using failed to reprint it. Grr...

Given the lack of story space, the villains are pretty much the stereotypical Muslim fanatics we would see a million times more in pre-9/11 American pop culture. However, we do receive a bit of character development on the Joe side. We learn that Scarlett is a bit of a ball buster yet is grateful for her rescue by Snake Eyes. Via Rock 'n Roll's unexpected soliloquy, we learn that Snake Eyes has some kind of feelings for Scarlett hence why he defied orders to rescue her. It's this sort of writing that would establish the comic as being much more than a vehicle to sell toys.

This story isn't normally reprinted along with the main story in issue #1. The first time I read it was when the issue was reprinted in G.I. Joe Digest #1. Digests, for the uninitiated, were smaller, allegedly pocket-sized comics that were often reprints of older material. Unfortunately, in order to squeeze in enough material to make the page count, some stories were edited to fit the format. Every once in a while, I'd be a bit surprised to find missing material after obtaining an issue of something I'd only read in the digest.