Friday, June 20, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #16 (October 1983)

"Night Attack!"

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Mike Vosburg (artist), Jon D'Agostino (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), Andy Yanchus (colorist), Denny O'Neil (editor)

Feature Characters: Airborne (last seen in G.I. Joe #11, appears next in G.I. Joe #18), Breaker, Clutch, Cover Girl (Courtney S. Krieger, first appearance, full name revealed in G.I. Joe: Order of Battle #1), Doc, Flash (last seen in G.I. Joe #10), Grand Slam, Grunt, Gung Ho, Hawk, Rock 'N Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuze, Stalker, Steeler, Torpedo (last seen in G.I. Joe #13), Tripwire (Tormod S. Skoog, first appearance, full name revealed in G.I. Joe Yearbook #1), Wild Bill, Zap

Clutch, Doc, Gung Ho, Rock 'N Roll, Wild Bill, and Zap were all last seen in G.I. Joe #14. Grand Slam, Short-Fuze, and Steeler were last seen in G.I. Joe #11

Supporting Characters: General Flagg (last seen in G.I. Joe #14, appears next in G.I. Joe #19)

Villains: Baroness, Cobra Commander, Cobra troops, Destro, Dr. Venom, Major Bludd, Scar-Face

Character Notes: Doc, Flash, Grand Slam, Grunt, Short-Fuze, and Stalker are strictly behind the scenes in this issue. Their presence in Washington, DC is revealed in the next issue.

Story: Cobra quietly invades Washington, DC in an attempt to poison the US money supply with Dr. Venom's biological toxin. When Cobra Commander implements his plan to assassinate Destro (using Major Bludd), the Baroness purposely crashes her tank to save him. Hawk faces off against Destro, leaving the Commander in a quandary of whom to kill.

Review: This was the very first issue read by young De. My friend Kevin and I read this issue aloud while sitting on the swing set outside his house. I think we might have made hang gliders for our action figures out of heavy bond paper earlier that afternoon. Anyway, enough reminiscing for now.

This is a fairly solid issue that advances the storyline at a fairly brisk pace. The training session that kicks off the story is pretty routine and does a decent job of introducing the new Wolverine missile tank and its driver, Cover Girl. While I had hoped there wouldn't be friction between Scarlett and Cover Girl, it's not outside of Scarlett's personality to bristle at outsiders. Tripwire introduction as a clumsy explosives expert is pretty hilarious if you think about it. Thankfully, this aspect is not played up for laughs too often.

My favorite scene in this issue is easily the dinner scene at Cobra headquarters when we get a glimpse into everyone's head to see how all of them are scheming in one way or another. The old adage of "no honor among thieves" is certainly in play here. Major Bludd is formally introduced to the rest of the Cobra cadre here; his true purpose as Destro's assassin a secret until later in the issue.

Hawk's meeting with General Flagg is rather telling. Cobra announces the Capitol building as their target, but Hawk is convinced that the Treasury is the actual target based on the clues found in Sierra Gordo and Vermont. However, Flagg is having none of it based on the incident in Vermont (where the G.I. Joe team blew up a furniture factory in broad daylight) and hoping to avoid a public panic. Speaking from personal experience, I live and work near DC and a panic would not only affect the city but a surrounding radius of about 25-30 miles. On September 11, 2001, getting out of the city and its immediate suburbs (such as Arlington, where the Pentagon is located) was a nightmare.

For the record, money is not printed at the Treasury Building, it's printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Yes, it's a division of the US Treasury but the buildings are located at a considerable distance from each other. The main building is near the White House while the Bureau is over near the tidal basin at the Jefferson Memorial. Oh, and the printing presses are underground and have been for a long time (I used to work there). You can't just walk inside and be greeted by printing equipment. All right, enough nitpicking.

The real barometer of the Destro-Baroness relationship comes when the Baroness sacrifices herself to save Destro from being killed by Major Bludd (manning the turret in her tank). Destro eventually composes himself to fist fight Hawk where the good colonel manages to land many a blow on Destro's steel mask. It's a bit silly but it's very minor in the face of the overall story. The Commander's decision to shoot Hawk is a pained one but it's a decision that allows Cobra to escape and fight another day.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #15 (September 1983)

"Red-Eye to Miami!"

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Mike Vosburg (artist), Jon D'Agostino (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Andy Yanchus (colorist), Denny O'Neil (editor)

Feature Characters: Breaker, Grunt, Hawk, Scarlett, Snake Eyes (appears next in G.I. Joe #17), Stalker

Supporting Characters: Kwinn (appears next in G.I. Joe #17)

Villains: Baroness, Cobra Commander, a Cobra lawyer (first and only appearance), Cobra troops (disguised as renegade Sierra Gordo troops, no further appearances, all killed by Kwinn), Destro, Dr. Venom, a group of smugglers (first and only appearance), Major Bludd (Sebastian Bludd, first appearance, named revealed in G.I. Joe #16), renegade Sierra Gordo troops

Character Note: There is one other Joe at Hawk's meeting but only that person's hands are visible.

Story: Dr. Venom, Kwinn, and Snake Eyes escape from Sierra Gordo aboard a stolen airplane. Meanwhile, the intrigue begins to heat up within the Cobra organization.

Review: This issue is unusual in that most of the story doesn't directly involve the G.I. Joe team in any significant capacity. They appear for a few panels to briefly foreshadow the next issue, but that is it as far as their participation in this issue.

Kwinn returns and, once he kills the Cobra troops, it's time for the unlikely trio to get out of the jungle despite Dr. Venom being the most undesirable of traveling companions. They manage to steal a World War II-era British Avro Lancaster bomber from the airfield attacked by the G.I. Joe team last issue. I'm not entirely certain how a banana republic would have access to a vintage WWII bomber in working condition 40 years after the war, but hey, I'm willing to suspend a little disbelief for a decent story.

During the escape is a neat sequence between the bomber and a fighter pilot dispatched from the airfield. Dr. Venom flies below the cloud cover and gives the fighter pilot's eyes a chance to dilate in the darkness before switching on the bomber's running lights and blinding him. Later, Venom unsurprisingly betrays Kwinn and Snake Eyes by attempting to murder them. Kwinn nearly kills him but Snake Eyes tells his Eskimo friend to spare the life of "the weasel."

At Cobra headquarters, it is learned that Dr. Venom is alive and well and offering the biological catalyst for the toxin. While Cobra Commander acknowledges Venom is crafty, he's still not sold on how the G.I. Joe team learned the location of the furniture factory from last issue. Destro blames Scar-Face but the Commander doesn't buy it and calls in Major Bludd to deal with his Destro problem. However, Destro tells the Baroness of his actions which tears her loyalties apart. We'll see both of these items dealt with next issue.

The smuggler plot point was a little dumb but I suppose somewhat necessary to add a bit of urgency. With the fuel line shot, the three escapees dump everything and then are in the process of removing the plane's paneling in the hopes of making it to shore. The old married couple strolling down memory lane as the plane crash lands was a bit silly.

Landing a plane on a beach is apparently a crime, so Kwinn and Snake Eyes are taken into custody while Venom escapes through his lawyer. While Dr. Venom appears next issue, Kwinn and Snake Eyes aren't seen until the issue following next.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #14 (August 1983)

"Destro Attacks"

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Mike Vosburg (artist), Jon D'Agostino (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), Christie Scheele (colorist), Denny O'Neil (editor)

Feature Characters: Ace (Brad J. Armbruster, first appearance, name revealed in G.I. Joe: Order of Battle #1, appears next in G.I. Joe #17), Breaker, Clutch (last seen in G.I. Joe #12), Doc (appears next in G.I. Joe #17), Gung Ho, Grunt, Hawk, Rock 'N Roll, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Stalker, Wild Bill, Zap (latter two last seen in G.I. Joe #11)

Clutch, Gung Ho, Rock 'N Roll, Wild Bill, and Zap appear next in G.I. Joe #16.

Supporting Characters: General Flagg (last seen in G.I. Joe #12, appears next in G.I. Joe #16), Kwinn

Villains: Baroness, Cobra Commander, Cobra airborne troops (first and only appearance), Cobra operatives (posing as furniture factory employees, first and only appearance for all), Destro (first full appearance), Dr. Venom, Scar-Face

Story: While Dr. Venom, Kwinn, and Snake Eyes attempt to escape the sunken bunker, the G.I. Joe team follow the micro dot (found in Sierra Gordo) to Springfield, Vermont in hopes of finding Cobra's headquarters.

Review: Obscured in shadow or behind objects, Destro finally makes his first full appearance here and it's a doozy. His relationship with the Baroness heats up big time and we learn that he had a hand in Scar-Face's activities down in Sierra Gordo. However, we have no idea what Destro's agenda is at this point but we do know he's out for Cobra Commander's blood given that he had the micro dots switched so the G.I. Joe team would attack him in Vermont. And the plan might have worked if the Baroness hadn't been the Commander's pilot. By saving the Baroness, he also saved the Commander, and he's not happy about it.

Before the battle in Vermont, the Baroness notes that the micro dot originally planned to be planted in Sierra Gordo was to have Cobra's headquarters underneath Ft. Wadsworth! Little does Cobra know what lurks beneath that small Army base. Cobra's other plan is to introduce Dr. Venom's biological toxin into G.I. Joe headquarters by having one of their troops captured. But Dr. Venom being the wily sort, notes (after his escape from the bunker) that the toxin is useless without his secret catalyst.

Dr. Venom and Snake Eyes escape from their watery prison only to run into the disguised Cobra troops from last issue. Kwinn was clubbed on the head by the bad doctor and left for dead. Of course, we'll see Kwinn again quite soon.

My last item deals with the G.I. Joe team's new weapon, the Skystriker jet. Sure, it's likely that there will be occasions when air support might be necessary. However, the jet literally blows up a furniture factory outside of Vermont. Yes, it's an evil furniture factory that probably made tables with uneven legs but that sort of thing is hard to hide from the public. In issue #16, General Flagg alludes to the Vermont mission not ending well despite the clues found there.

Monday, June 16, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #13 (July 1983)

"Last Plane from Rio Lindo"

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Mike Vosburg (artist), Jon D'Agostino (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist), Denny O'Neil (editor)

Feature Characters: Breaker, Doc (last seen in G.I. Joe #11), Gung Ho, Grunt (last seen in G.I. Joe #10), Hawk, Rock 'N Roll (last seen in G.I. Joe #11), Scarlett, Snake Eyes (behind the scenes), Stalker, Torpedo (Edward W. Leialoha, first appearance, name revealed in G.I. Joe: Order of Battle #2, appears next in G.I. Joe #16)

Supporting Characters: Kwinn (behind the scenes)

Villains: Baroness, Cobra Commander (last seen in G.I. Joe #11), Cobra troops (some disguised as renegade Sierra Gordo soldiers), Destro (last seen in G.I. Joe #11, face obscured in this story), Dr. Venom (behind the scenes), Scar-Face, a group of mercenaries (Emil and Richter named, first and only appearance, all killed in this story)

Character Notes: As revealed in G.I. Joe #14, Dr. Venom, Kwinn, and Snake Eyes are alive in the sunken bunker and are thus, behind the scenes in this issue.

Reagan-era Goodness: Scarlett throws $1,300 at the Sierra Gordo cabbie when the rescue team takes his cab. The cabbie goes nuts, exclaiming, "American dollars! Hundred-dollar bills!" Pretty sure it'll be a good, long while before anyone goes that nuts over American currency again.

Story: With Snake Eyes believed dead, the remaining team members prepare to leave Sierra Gordo and find a courier pouch containing a document with a micro-dot. Meanwhile at Cobra headquarters, Cobra Commander reveals his plans to the Baroness.

Review: This issue takes place immediately after issue #12 and doesn't really take a rest until the end. So we'll proceed as apace as we can...

Intrigue presents itself early in this story when Scar-Face insists on leaving immediately while the Baroness wants to finish the job of killing the G.I. Joe team. As we'll learn in the next issue, Scar-Face had his reasons for hightailing it out of Sierra Gordo. The Baroness even lets Cobra Commander onto her instincts that Scar-Face may be a pawn in someone else's agenda. However, Cobra Commander later reveals that Scar-Face was under a post-hypnotic suggestion to make him appear duplicitous (umm... yeah). Once again, the Commander is pulling the strings to get the G.I. Joe team to hopefully chase its tail while they engage in evil. We'll soon learn that the Commander isn't totally in control. It's this sort of subtle layering that would go on to hook many a reader and make it clear that this comic was more than marketing for toys.

If jumping off an exploding boat wasn't enough, poor Stalker is attacked by a crocodile. His rattling off of biology info while he fights the crocodile is a bit silly. Taking the cake for silliness is Breaker building a fire in enemy territory, which is rightfully chastised by Stalker. I guess we're to assume that Breaker is a bit young but it seems a bit convenient for a special forces operative to relax his guard when he's still in the middle of a hostile area. Gung Ho would have probably kicked his butt had he not gone into town to phone headquarters.

The fire does attract some mercenaries who believe that they can glean some information about Cobra and sell it. It's not entirely clear who the mercenaries worked for: the recently-collapsed government or the rebels responsible for its collapse. Despite having seen action in Algeria (presumably during the Algerian War in the 1960s), they are no match for a squad of Cobra troops. This is the sort of enemy G.I. Joe should be up against, not the buffoons seen later in the series or in the cartoon.

Based on the abandoned research station found by the G.I. Joe team, it would appear to be the location where Dr. Venom crafted the biological toxin currently in the possession of Scar-Face and the Baroness. While Stalker immediately discounts Breaker's finding the courier pouch, no one really questions the micro dot found. We'll see the ramifications of the micro dot next issue.

The issue's end of letting us know that somebody was still alive in the bunker was a nice way to cap off the issue. We're not sure who's still alive in there but somebody certainly is.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #12 (June 1983)

"Three Strikes for Snake-Eyes"

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Mike Vosburg (artist), Jon D'Agostino (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), Glynis Wein (colorist), Denny O'Neil (editor)

Feature Characters: Breaker, Clutch (last seen in G.I. Joe #9, appears next in G.I. Joe #14), Gung Ho, Hawk, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Stalker (last seen in G.I. Joe #10)

Supporting Characters: General Flagg (appears next in G.I. Joe #14)

Villains: Baroness, Cobra troops (some called Cobra commandos by Kwinn), Dr. Venom (last seen in G.I. Joe #10), Kwinn (last seen in G.I. Joe #2), Scar-Face (first appearance, a Cobra courier, name never revealed)

Story: Investigating stolen missile guidance chips, a small G.I. Joe team is sent to the small South American nation of Sierra Gordo. There, they encounter the Baroness and Dr. Venom, along with the mercenary Kwinn. Snake Eyes learns the chip theft was a ruse to disguise the delivery of a biological toxin but is apparently killed when the Baroness escapes.

Reagan-era Goodness: This story begins with Cobra stealing MX Missile guidance chips. The MX Missile was a hotly debated topic at the time due to nuclear proliferation concerns and a number of other issues. You can read more about it here.

Breaker and Stalker begin their mission undercover as video arcade owners. The basis for this was Cobra's hiding the missile guidance chips in boxes full of video game circuits.

Review: This was the first issue I ever owned. I remember my brother bringing it home from school and the two of us would read and re-read this issue several times over the years. The cover eventually fell off and was subsequently lost. Oh the joys of youth.

This issue sets in motion storylines that will continue throughout the next six months. Although we had seen seeds planted in earlier stories, this is where things are really set into motion.

It's good to see Kwinn again, even if he is working for Cobra. Pay special attention to the penultimate page to get a sense of Kwinn's temperament in future issues. It stays quite true to what we've already learned about him back in issue #2.

Scar-Face makes his first appearance here and it's not very remarkable. He's essentially a lackey here but his future appearances make it quite clear there's more to him than it would seem. The origin of his odd scarring has never been revealed but I have a feeling it wouldn't have passed muster by the Comics Code Authority anyway.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention poor Snake Eyes. He manages to get beaten up, set on fire, and blown up in the span of a day. If that isn't the textbook definition of "bad ass," I don't know what is.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #11 (May 1983)

"The Pipeline Ploy!"

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Mike Vosburg (artist), Jon D'Agostino (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Christie Scheele (colorist), Denny O'Neil (editor)

Feature Characters: Airborne (Franklin E. Talltree, first appearance, appears next in G.I. Joe #16), Breaker, Doc (Dr. Carl Greer, first appearance, full name given in G.I. Joe Yearbook #1, appears next in G.I. Joe #13), Grand Slam (last seen in G.I. Joe #8, appears next in G.I. Joe #17), Gung Ho (Etienne R. LaFitte, first appearance, full name given in G.I. Joe Yearbook #1), Hawk, Rock 'N Roll (appears next in G.I. Joe #13), Scarlett, Short-Fuze (appears next in G.I. Joe #17), Snake Eyes, Snow Job (Harlan W. Moore, first appearance, full name given in G.I. Joe Yearbook #1, appears next in G.I. Joe #19), Steeler (last seen in G.I. Joe #8, appears next in G.I. Joe #16), Wild Bill (William S. Hardy, first appearance, full name given in G.I. Joe Yearbook #1, appears next in G.I. Joe #14), Zap (appears next in G.I. Joe #14)

Supporting Characters: General Flagg (last appearance behind the scenes in G.I. Joe #6)

Villains: Baroness, Cobra Commander, Cobra troops, Destro (James McCullen Destro XXIV; first appearance; full name revealed in G.I. Joe #96, known only as "The Specialist" and face obscured in this story; appears next in G.I. Joe #13)

Story: Investigating reports of Cobra activity along the Alaskan oil pipeline, the G.I. Joe team discovers Cobra's plan to introduce a plague toxin into the Alaskan oil supply. The plague is revealed as a diversion for Cobra to steal plutonium from a nearby nuclear power plant.

Review: The first story to introduce Hasbro's new toys for the year oddly flows a lot better than it should. Also odd is that the introduction of new characters and equipment doesn't feel too forced. The sole exception in my opinion was the brief aerial battle using hang-gliders. I know the Airborne character needed something to do, but it felt like Larry Hama was merely shutting up a Hasbro executive by including the gliders so he'd never have to use them again (and he didn't).

The new characters are actually interesting. Snow Job's little con game with Rock 'N Roll about setting up a date with Gung Ho's sister was amusing, as was Gung Ho's reaction. Doc is a neat character and a little devious. His end run around the Geneva Convention was inspired as was deceiving the Cobra troops with a tetanus booster (instead of the plague vaccine) to exchange for the plutonium.

"The Specialist" working for Cobra is, of course, Destro. According to Cobra Commander, Destro was to be his field commander but this role wouldn't stick for very long as the political intrigue within the Cobra organization dictated Destro taking a bigger role. A key part of this intrigue is the Baroness, whom we learn, in this issue, already had a prior relationship with Destro. The groundwork is being laid for Hama's intricate plot weaving that will last for years to come.

Friday, June 13, 2008

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #10 (April 1983)

"A Nice Little Town Like Ours..."

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Mike Vosburg (artist), Chic Stone (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), Christie Scheele (colorist), Denny O'Neil (editor)

Feature Characters: Breaker, Clutch (appears next in G.I. Joe #12), Flash (appears next behind the scenes in G.I. Joe #16), Grunt (appears next in G.I. Joe #13), Hawk (also in flashback), Rock 'n Roll, Scarlett (appears next in G.I. Joe #12), Short-Fuze, Snake Eyes (also in flashbacks), Stalker (appears next in G.I. Joe #12), Zap (appears next in G.I. Joe #14)

Guest Star: Billy (first appearance; name unrevealed in this story; last name never revealed; earliest chronological appearance in flashback in G.I. Joe #38; appears next in G.I. Joe #29)

Villains: Baroness (last seen in G.I. Joe #8), Cobra Commander, Cobra junior officers (Rollo named, first and only appearance for all), Cobra troops, Dr. Venom (first appearance; a Cobra scientist and inventor of the Brainwave Scanner; real name never revealed; appears next in G.I. Joe #12), the citizens of Springfield (some may have appeared last in G.I. Joe #5)

Cameo Appearance: Clutch (in flashback)

Story: While attempting to neutralize a Cobra stronghold in Manhattan, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, and Zap are captured and taken to Cobra's headquarters in a town called Springfield. While Snake Eyes is tortured, Scarlett and Zap escape with the help of a young boy sworn to defeat the Cobra organization.

Reagan-era Goodness: Dr. Venom's laboratory is underneath the town video arcade. For all the young whippersnappers out there, arcades were huge in the 1980s with the advent of Pac-Man. Aside from beach boardwalks and amusement parks, I rarely see them anymore with a few notable exceptions (like those seen in the movie The King of Kong).

Review: Larry Hama returns and sticks around for the next ten issues before taking his next break. This story really sets things into motion by establishing quite a bit of backstory without going into a lot of detail. In the case of Snake Eyes, this was accomplished through single-panel flashbacks (I'll get to those in a minute). We're also introduced to Springfield, which will figure a lot into the next 40 issues.

The concept of Springfield is, to me, a very scary prospect. You more or less have an entire town full of terrorists who are training their children to be terrorists. The town appears very normal and can therefore operate clandestinely without arousing suspicion. Also, it's location is kept secret and has never been revealed though there is a lot of speculation among fans. Some swear up and down that it's located in Vermont based on the events of G.I. Joe #14. However, most agree that it's somewhere along the East Coast.

As previously mentioned, we're treated to some insight into the origins of Snake Eyes through his torture in the Brainwave Scanner. While his childhood is fairly unremarkable, we learn that he was involved in a helicopter crash in the Middle East. For years, I thought this alluded to the botched rescue of hostages in Iran. Larry Hama would revisit the circumstances of the accident several times and reveal its purpose several years later. Also seen are a flashback to Vietnam, the death of Snake Eyes' family, and a ninja shrine. It won't be for another couple of years before Larry tackles all of these items head on in G.I. Joe #26-27.

Speaking of the Brainwave Scanner, the story attempts to explain how it works without resorting to too much technobabble. The device's inventor, Dr. Venom, becomes a very prominent character in the months to come. He fits the archetype of mad scientist very well without coming off as silly though he is a bit one-dimensional. The other technological aspects to this story i.e., the odd aircraft and the laser gun in the arcade are a bit silly.

Lastly, this would be one of the last times we see most of the original Joes working as team. Beginning next issue is something we'll see quite frequently during the run of the series: the introduction of Hasbro's new toys into the comic book.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

We Now Return to G.I. Joe

Hiatus was a bit longer than I expected, but that's what happens when a new baby enters your life. This morning, we pick up where we left off and hopefully don't encounter any more life hiccups that would interrupt daily updates.