G.I. JOE Relaunches with IDW
Back in the 1960s, the first doll to be called an "action figure" was created. The "G.I. Joe" line (named after a term used to describe a generic soldier) was a popular toy and depicted soldiers from different U.S. armed forces. In the 1970s, it was re-tooled as the Super Joe Action Team.
In the 1980s, the line was re-launched by Hasbro as "G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero" and now there was a story wrapped around the action figures. It was said that the different characters were all part of a group called G.I. JOE, essentially a counter-terrorist strike force involving the best agents from all branches of the military. Their primary enemy was said to be Cobra, an organization bent on world domination, led by the vicious Cobra Commander and aided by the Scottish war profiteer James McCullen Destro.
This new storyline ignited an interest among fans that has continued for years, inspiring multiple cartoon series, a new live-action movie coming out next year, and a comic published by Marvel and written by Larry Hama (Wolverine), who also wrote the "history files" of the characters for their trading cards and who was no doubt aided by his own experience in the military.
The series spanned 155 issues from 1984 to 1994, along with a few spin-off titles, all of which added deep layers of history and characterization to the JOEs and veered heavily away from the more light-hearted cartoons. Stories ranged from flashbacks to Vietnam to high-flying action in exotic locales to epic struggles between ninjas and battles with science fiction super-villains. In 2001, Devil’s Due Publishing began their own G.I. Joe series, picking up years after the Larry Hama series had ended and lasting over 130 issues, not including spin-offs.
Now IDW has taken the property and has new plans for their own G.I. JOE comics. But rather than continuing the original series and dealing with years of history, they’ve decided to reboot the entire universe from scratch, re-imagining the world and introducing the players to a brand new audience. And this isn’t just one new series. IDW is actually launching three titles under the G.I. JOE banner: G.I. JOE, G.I. JOE: Cobra and G.I. JOE: Origins. The third title will be written by Larry Hama himself.
The three titles will be edited under the direction of Andy Schmidt, who was Marvel’s editor for the cosmic crossover Annihilation. Schmidt spoke to CBR about the new titles and how they will relate to each other. Although each title will reflect the same people and occasionally reference events featured in the other books, the intention is to keep them separate so that readers can follow just one line if they so wish without feeling like they’re only getting part of a story. Likewise, a story that begins in one will not directly continue into one of the other titles.
Andy Schmidt remarked, “[G.I. JOE] has a large cast and will focus on characters and character beats but it’s more the ‘big action movie’ style title. If you really want to get to know Duke, Stalker and the other JOES, then Origins is the book for you. If you’re looking for more of a suspense-thriller feel then Cobra is the way to go. None of the titles is the lead book. Together they all form a strong foundation." Schmidt added, "Obviously, I’m hoping fans will want to try all three and I think those that do will be very happy, but I don’t want to twist anybody’s arm. Each book can be read on its own, but if you’re reading all three you’re going to get some extra layers."
To kick-start the relaunch, IDW is releasing G.I. JOE #0 this month to the tune of one dollar. "It’s not preview pages," Schmidt assured. "There’s actual story content in the issue, so you can see which one or two or three of the books you want to buy.”
G.I. JOE will be written by Chuck Dixon (Batman and the Outsiders) and illustrated by Robert Atkins (NBC’s Heroes online comic). Described as the "mainstream G.I. Joe book", this series will feature the team already fully-formed and ready for action. Stories will feature them on missions to protect people from terrorists. Although Cobra will be the main enemy, they will not be the only enemies and new villains will be introduced.
Concerning the book’s set-up, Schmidt said, "I think to a certain degree [a core JOE group of] four or five characters will always be the focus, but that allows us to tell spotlight stories on other guys. We’re trying to watch and make sure we’re not rolling out characters unless they actually have a role."
And what about the most popular JOEs, such as the leader Duke and the mute ninja know only as Snake-Eyes? Schmidt went on, "Duke is going to factor in pretty heavily here in terms of driving stories and certainly so are Scarlett and Hawk.
"Snake-Eyes’ role is very interesting. I’m not going to tell you that he isn’t in the comic book because we all know that’s a lie, but he’s not the central character all the time. The reason for that is Snake-Eyes is special. He’s a character that when used sparingly is absolutely awesome, but when he becomes the focal point of a story he becomes sort of devalued."
And what’s this about new villains and Cobra not being in the spotlight immediately?
“Cobra is the thing that changes the most in the reboot. We’re rebuilding Cobra in such a way that we can roll them out in a more deliberate, more thought out manner and in a such a way that it creates mystery and a lot of suspense … These are the bad guys behind the scenes. Are you going to see Cobra Commander in [G.I. JOE] #1? I’ll go ahead and tell you that you’re not. It’s going to take some time to get to him because Cobra Commander is the top dog. Or is he?”
In the old days, both in the comics and the cartoons, big battles in broad daylight between the G.I. JOE team and Cobra forces were a pretty regular occurence. But this won’t be the case in the new series. Schmidt explained, “One of the things we’re setting up with Cobra is that if and/or when it ever came down to a head-on battle between G.I. JOE and Cobra, Cobra would wipe the floor with them. So it’s basically in the JOEs’ best interest to keep the battles small. The Cobra army is much more powerful than they are … "
Adding to this threat is the fact that Cobra will have many spies and sleeper agents. "The way we’re building Cobra now, it’s almost impossible to engage them in straight on fight because you’re not always going to know who is part of Cobra and who is not.”
The Marvel comic and cartoon series were known for occasionally going into strange territory. There were stories involving ninja mysticism and the villain Serpentor was actually a super-evolved man created with cloning technology and the collected DNA of various leaders and warriors, including Julius Caesar, Napoleon and Attila the Hun. Will we be seeing more of the same in the new series?
“The world being built allows for a certain amount of both science fiction and mysticism, but those elements are going to be very controlled,” Schmidt stated. “If something is not real and is being used, it’s going to be because there’s a particular story purpose to it … I’m not going to have G.I. JOE start using futuristic laser guns because it’s cool."
G.I. JOE: Origins will be written by Larry Hama and illustrated by Tom Feister (Ex Machina). This title will be focused more on character driven stories, giving readers a clearer idea of who each member of the team is and what made them into the soldier they are today. As Schmidt explained, "“Larry wanted to focus on these really character-driven stories involving relationships and I said if you want to do that we should start at the beginning and show how those relationships were formed."
Finally, G.I. JOE: Cobra will be written by Christos Gage (Avengers Initiative) and Mike Costa (Secret History of the Authority) and illustrated by Antonio Fuso (Punisher: War Journal). This title will be a mirror to the Origins series, as it explores the Cobra organization, those involved with it, and what their agenda truly involves.
“Since we’re going to be rolling out Cobra more slowly it made sense to have a book focusing on them … It’s got a different feel to it,” Schmidt said, explaining that the book would focus on Chuckles, an undercover agent of G.I. JOE who is trying to uncover information about the organization and its members without being discovered and killed in the process. "If you’re looking for more of a suspense-thriller feel, then Cobra is the way to go."
Concerning the terrorist organization itself, Schmidt further explained, “It was sort of my feeling that Cobra had lost relevance with the world … In the ‘80s, during the Reagan era, when America was sort of carefree in a lot of ways, it was enough to say that they’re a ruthless terrorist organization out to rule the world … The audience has become more sophisticated. They want to know why you want to rule the world. What’s wrong with it the way it is? What are these guys really trying to do? … Hopefully they’re going to be scarier and seem like real characters with real issues and problems. If we do our jobs right, at one time or another, our readers will go, ‘Hey I can kind of see that line of thought.’ Not that they’re going to agree with the methods, hopefully!”
I’ve gotta say, I was never a huge fan of the cartoon and was on-and-off with the Marvel series, but this sounds like an interesting new direction and take on the characters. Be on the look-out for IDW’s G.I. JOE #0 this month. With a price of $1, why not take a chance and see what the relaunch is all about?
Alan "Sizzler" Kistler is waiting for a live-action Transformers vs. G.I. JOE movie. He has been recognized by Warner Bros. Pictures and mainstream media outlets such as the New York Daily News as a comic book historian, and can be seen in the "Special Features" sections of the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. His personal website can be found at: http://KistlerUniverse.com. One of these days he’d love to write for DC, Marvel or Doctor Who.