Free Comic Book Day is like our own special geek holiday and it’s only one week away. While there are many interesting offerings from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Boom! Studios, Image and a bunch of other publishers, there’s really only one book we’re interested in: IDW’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #155 ½, a comic that we’re referring to as “The Return of the King”. Larry Hama, the man who is rightfully credited for creating the core concept as well as writing the vast majority of the original Marvel Comics’ series, will return to the series he is best known for.
It isn’t exactly the first time Hama has stepped back into his old combat boots for another tour of duty: he’s written the Storm Shadow and G.I. Joe: Declassified mini-series’ for Devils Due Publishing as well as the first arc of G.I. Joe: Origins for IDW. But A Real American Hero # 155 ½ is a whole different animal, as it will function in a similar manner to X-Men Forever – Hama’s picking up right where he left off and continuing the original continuity he began back in 1982. No reboots, no restarts, no boring Chuck Dixon stories; this is the real G.I. Joe, the one you grew up with and are most likely re-reading in those handy 10-issue volumes that IDW has been releasing over the past couple of years.
G.I. Joe as we know it began life as a rejected pitch for a would-be Marvel comic called Fury Force. The book would’ve featured Nick Fury’s son and a covert group of S.H.I.E.L.D. special agents. When everybody else in the Marvel offices turned down the opportunity to write a comic based on the new 3 ¾-inch version of the classic toy soldier, Larry Hama stepped up to the plate, dusted off his old Fury Force ideas and went to work.
This is stuff that’s been rehashed a million times over the years, especially since IDW’s recent relaunch of the franchise and the big-budget turd of a movie that hit the silver screen last summer. We don’t want to beat a dead horse, so we’ll try to give you the nutshell version of the rest of the story: it worked because Hama treated the concept with respect. Yes, the purpose of the series was to sell toys and sometimes that was blatantly obvious. But for the most part, the guy just wrote a really good comic book with really interesting characters and even when you could tell that his hand was forced by Hasbro, it still turned out awesome.
The book never felt like it was written down to a child’s level and it never pulled any punches. People didn’t miraculously parachute out of their helicoptors when they got shot down and Cobra Commander wasn’t a bumbling idiot. The double-dealing and backstabbing politics of the Cobra organization were just as interesting as the comraderie and teamwork of the Joes. Hama regularly showcased the horrors of war and had a number of issues that dealt with the negative aspects of American foreign policy. He also managed to work in a dude with a full face mask made of beryllium steel, twins with a psychic link, a master of disguise, ninjas and a guy made from the combined DNA of history’s greatest conquerors and he made it all work alongside of a cutting edge military outfit without ever seeming too terribly ridiculous.
Seriously folks, go back and re-read those old Marvel comics, especially the first 50 issues or so. Yes, certain elements of the book are a bit dated and it’s pretty obvious when Hasbro told him he needed to work a new figure or vehicle, but for the most part, those stories still hold up today, even when viewed through adult eyes. When we read them as kids, they were mindblowing. Especially the ninjas.
The #1 reason G.I. Joe was so badass was the level of respect Hama gave the series, but we can’t forget the icing on the cake: the attention to detail and the ninjas.
Up until we got cable and started watching the History Channel obsessively, all of our information about Vietnam and the military came from G.I. Joe comics, as several of the team’s members served during the Vietnam War and much of the mythology of the team comes from that era. We learned that a DMZ was a demilitarized zone and that an LZ was a landing zone. We learned that “willy pete” was a term for white phosphorus and that “mike-one-six” was slang for an M16.
But the best thing we learned about was dodging a hail of bullets while transporting your injured buddy to safety and replicating someone else’s heartbeat through a technique known as The Mantle of the Chameleon. We learned that it was possible to shoot a squirrel on the other side of a brick wall if one had mastered The Ear that Sees. We learned about the subtle art of the ninja! Nowadays, people like to compare ninjas to pirates and chuckle about who would win in a fight, but anyone who grew up in the ‘80s knows that it’s simply no contest. Larry Hama also knew this and he showcased it on a near-monthly basis as he revealed the backstory between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Though they may have worn contrasting black and white shinobi sh?zoku, the story of these two men who became closer than brothers but were torn apart by betrayal and deceit was anything but simple. We loved it then and we love it now.
We mean no disrespect to any of the creators who worked on the later G.I. Joe comics, but they never felt right to us. If it wasn’t Larry Hama, we just weren’t that interested (with the notable exception of G.I. Joe: Cobra, which is one of the most amazing books we’ve ever read, period). The fact that Hama will be continuing along the same story we grew up with makes it even better. Cut loose from the guiding hand of Hasbro, we’re expecting the new series to be even better than the old. Hopefully this means no neon-colored Ninja Force or Battle Force 2000 and no oddball issues where 5 new characters and 3 new vehicles were shoehorned into the middle of a storyarc, only to dissappear by the next issue, never to be seen again.
Larry Hama is still writing comics on a regular basis and as we pointed out earlier, has previously returned to G.I. Joe – we’ve read that stuff so we know he’s been keeping his writing skills in working order. Our only question is how it’s all going to make sense. The seeds of the Joe team’s story began during the Vietnam War, where ironclad bonds were forged between several members. That worked just fine in 1982, when the conflict was still fresh on everyone’s minds and hadn’t ended all that long ago. But even if Snake Eyes, Stalker and Storm Shadow were only 18 in 1975 when the war ended (which they weren’t, as we know that they were involved in the Tet Offensive in 1968), that would make them at least 53 years old today. So it’ll be interesting to see just how intact the original history is when this new series launches. Will we see AARP-eligible ninjas or we will see a sliding timeline similar to the one used in long-running superhero comics?
Ultimately, we don’t really care how it’s dealt with, or if it’s just swept under the rug with a wink and a smile. We’re just excited to finally get the Real American Heroes back in action!