Reviewing G.I. Joe #1-12

Posted on Posted in Comic Books, Reviews/Commentary

The issues covered mirror what was included in IDW’s “G.I. Joe: The Complete Collection” Volume 1. It reprints material from the Marvel Comics “G.I. Joe” series from the 1980s and early 1990s that was largely written by Larry Hama. This article is part of a larger series of reviews on Larry Hama’s “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.”

 

Introduction

There were times during the 1980s when “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” was amongst Marvel’s top selling comic books.

The series was an unexpected hit, having been devised in partnership with the toy maker Hasbro. The characters and concepts were derived from what would have been a Nick Fury comic book, set in the Marvel super-hero universe. Writer Larry Hama became the mastermind behind the character backgrounds and overall mythology, re-purposing the Nick Fury concept into “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” and establishing the property inside its own distinct universe.

While Hama would not write every single issue in the series, he would write the vast majority of it, particularly after the first year.

 

First Appearances & Setup

Perhaps Larry Hama’s periodic absences were one of the reasons why the series was initially inconsistent. The quality of the stories during the first year was hot and cold. Granted, each did add to an overall foundation that built up what readers needed to know about the Joe and Cobra teams. Except for issues #6-#7, most stories until #12 were ‘done in one issue,’ with only very minor subplots running across various issues.

#1a – “Lady Doomsday”

June 1982 ~ **

Writer: Larry Hama | Penciller: Herb Trimpe

Characters –

Heroes: Breaker, Clutch, Flash, General Austin, General Flagg, Grand Slam, Grunt, Hawk, Rock ‘n Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuze, Shooter, Snake-Eyes, Stalker, Steeler, Zap

Villains: Baroness, Cobra Commander, Gregor

Civilians: Dr. Adele Burkhart

Locations – The Pit (Fort Wadsworth, New York), Unnamed Cobra Island

Dr. Burkhart, a critic of military secrecy was kidnapped by Cobra. The kidnapping turned out to simply be a way for Cobra Commander to lure the G.I. Joe team to a Caribbean island that Cobra had set up as a trap. After G.I. Joe initially thought that they’d rescued Burkhart, she turned out to be the Baroness. In the end, the Joe team managed to get off of the island and rescue Burkhart. Burkhart survived the rescue, despite being shot by Cobra Commander and becomes was thankful to the Joe team.

Being the first issue of the series, this was the first appearance of all of the characters listed above. The fake journalist Gregor and Dr. Burkhart were not regular cast members, but would again appear in issue #39. The character of Shooter, mentioned in one panel, was an in-joke reference to Marvel’s Editor in Chief, Jim Shooter. He would be next referenced in Larry Hama’s “G.I. Joe: Declassified” work two decades later.

For those knowing what would come later in the series, this issue does not read as well as one might hope. The characters and tropes were still being developed, with several fan favorite cast members not yet appearing. Hama did try to be topical with Burkhart’s perspective mirroring the opinion of some in the real world, but her seeming transformation in attitude at the end of the story felt hammy.

 

#1b – “Hot Potato”

June 1982 ~ ***

Writer: Larry Hama | Penciller: Don Perlin

Characters –

Heroes: Clutch, Hawk, Rock ‘n Roll, Scarlett, Snake-Eyes, Stalker

Villains: Colonel Sharif, Guardians of Paradise

Locations – Trucial Abysmia

The Joe team headed to the fictitious Middle Eastern nation of Trucial Abysmia, where they needed to retrieve information related to a potential bankrolling of Cobra by the country’s ruling Colonel Sharif. After the mission became rocky Snake-Eyes and Rock ‘N Roll disobeyed orders to avoid leaving Scarlett behind.

This was actually the better character-centric story from issue #1, as it established that Snake-Eyes had some manner of feelings for Scarlett. It also revealed a somewhat darker tone to G.I. Joe’s upper management, in that they viewed team members as expendable. Of course, readers came to love the characters for leaving no one behind.

This story had failed to be reprinted in many collected editions of issue #1 until IDW’s “Complete Collection” was released in fall of 2012. Note that Colonel Sharif and his Guardians of Paradise would later appear in issue #3 of the later spin-off series “G.I. Joe: Special Missions.”

 

#2 – “Panic at the North Pole”

August 1982 ~ ***

Writer: Larry Hama | Penciller: Don Perlin

Characters –

Heroes: Breaker, General Austin, General Flagg, Scarlett, Snake-Eyes, Stalker

Villains: Russians

Civilians: Kwinn

Locations – North Pole

A team of Joes were sent to investigate an artic research station that had been destroyed. While figuring out that mystery, the team encountered the mercenary Kwinn. Kwinn was a figure would be a ‘fr-enemy ‘ to the Joes in the future. In this instance, he was employed by the Russians to clean up what had been an experiment gone wrong involving ‘fear waves’ causing people affected by them to go mad. While the mystery was solved, various encounters with Kwinn involved him outsmarting the Joes and a stalemate of sorts being reached.

A mutual respect between Kwinn and the Joes was established in this issue. It would play a later role in the series. Kwinn was an interesting character whose only flaw seemed to be a bad habit for monologuing his plans to the good guys. One of the most interesting aspects related to Kwinn was his insistence on precisely following his employment contract, a trait that would sometimes help or hurt the Joes.

This issue included the first explicit mention to readers that Snake-Eyes had a facial issue. The ‘fear waves’ trope would show up again in a re-configured fashion in issue #68.

 

#3 – “The Trojan Gambit”

September 1982 ~ ***

Writer: Larry Hama | Penciller: Herb Trimpe

Characters –

Heroes: Breaker, Clutch, General Flagg, Flash, Hawk, Rock ‘n Roll, Scarlett, Snake-Eyes, Stalker, Steeler, Zap

Villains: Cobra Commander, Cobra Battle Robot

Locations – The Pit (Fort Wadsworth, New York)

The bulk of this issue focused on a ‘Trojan horse’ scenario gone wrong for the Joe team. Essentially, they had confiscated a battle robot from Cobra that Cobra Commander later remotely controlled. At the same time, there was an amusing ‘social tea’ occurring above ground at the cover location for the Joe ‘Pit’ headquarters.

The Pit was underneath the Chaplain’s Assistant School’s motor pool at Fort Wadsworth, a base located on Staten Island. In order to maintain that cover, the Joe team was constantly misleading those involved in the Chaplain’s Assistant program.

After making several impressive tries to stop the stampeding robot, the Joes were unable to prevent it from reaching the Pit’s surface level civilian garage area. The Joe team was finally able to destroy the robot by dropping it down a hydraulic left well.

One usual note in this story was the potential that Cobra headquarters was within the vicinity of New York. This was a rather fantastical idea, one of several later Cobra headquarters-related stretches of logic that readers would encounter.

 

#4 – “Operation: Wingfield!”

October 1982 ~ **

Writer: Larry Hama & Herb Trimpe | Penciller: Herb Trimpe

Characters –

Heroes: Breaker, Clutch, Grunt, Hawk, Rock ‘n Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuze, Snake-Eyes, Stalker, Zap

Villains: Strike First members, Vance Wingfield, Shary Wingfield

Locations – Montana

This story was a change of pace, with Hawk and Grunt going undercover inside a militia/extremist group in Montana. The group’s leader – Vance Wingfield –had ties to Cobra, along with a plan to start World War III by using an old B-29 Superfortress bomber to attack Russia. The Russians would have assumed that the United States had attacked them and retaliated. Wingfield’s plan might have succeeded were it not for Snake-Eyes saving the day, along with Wingfield’s wife bringing him down.

The issue ended with a nice bomb diffusion scene, as the Joe team had to stop a still-live nuclear weapon from detonating.

The use of a militia group as a potential ally or recruitment grounds for Cobra was rather inspired. Although I was a fan of the B-29 aircraft, it was a bit odd to see it being used in this particular scenario, given how it dated back to the 1940s. Cobra’s weapons-related spending in this instance was rather odd, since they usually had state-of-the-art equipment.

One other curiosity was the credit for Herb Trimpe as co-writer on this issue. He was a workhorse artist and it was interesting to come across this uncommon instance where he contributed to the writing.

 

#5 – “‘Tanks’ for the Memories”

November 1982 ~ **

Writer: Larry Hama | Penciller: Don Perlin

Characters –

Heroes: Breaker, Clutch, General Flagg, Scarlett, Steeler

Villains: Baroness, Cobra Commander

Locations – Manhattan

G.I. Joe’s M.O.B.A.T. tank was the main star of the issue, with Cobra Commander using operatives to try to take control of it during a high-profile Armed Forces Day parade in Manhattan. A crazy tank chase ensued through Manhattan, with the Cobra forces closing in on the M.O.B.A.T. in Central Park before being fended off. Back at the parade, Cobra Commander’s base of operations was revealed to be underneath the main parade stand. He managed to get away after a tense standoff with General Flagg.

This was a really odd issue, somewhat similar to Cobra’s remote robot ploy in issue #3. The original plan by the Joes to include the M.O.B.A.T. in the parade in the first place was questionable, as they were trying to convince the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the top-secret vehicle was very good at blending in. Further, it was rather ridiculous that Cobra would manage to have a base of operations so close to the Joint Chiefs. It was also unusual to consider that the M.O.B.A.T. was driving around without any offensive capabilities available to its crew, even though it was in a high-profile situation.

In the end, this was a fun issue, but the logical holes were hard to ignore. Readers were treated to the first mention by Cobra of a little town called Springfield that would factor into many upcoming stories starting in issue #10.

 

#6 – “To Fail is to Conquer… To Succeed is to Die!”

December 1982 ~ **

Writer: Larry Hama & Herb Trimpe | Penciller: Herb Trimpe

Characters –

Heroes: Breaker, Clutch, Flash (replaced Grand Slam in the actual mission), Grunt, Hawk, Rock ‘n Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuze, Snake-Eyes, Stalker, Steeler, Zap

Villains: Cobra Commander

Oktober Guard: Colonel Brekhov, Daina, Horrorshow, Schrage, Stormavik

Locations – Afghanistan, Iran

The Joes were deployed to Afghanistan to retrieve a Soviet spy plane that had crashed there. Also vying for the plane was Russia’s G.I. Joe-equivalent ‘Oktober Guard’ and, as readers learned in a cliffhanger ending, Cobra.

This was the first appearance of the Oktober Guard and also the first true multi-part issue. The Oktober Guard was not necessarily a team of villains, but they were not heroes either, owing to the 1980s Cold War tensions with Russia. Afghanistan was an interesting location for Hama to use, given both the Russian problems in trying to annex it during the time period of this issue and also later United States involvement there.

 

#7 – “Walls of Death!”

January 1983 ~ ***

Writer: Larry Hama | Penciller: Herb Trimpe

Characters –

Heroes: Breaker, Clutch, Flash, Hawk, Scarlett, Stalker, Steeler

Villains: Cobra Commander

Oktober Guard: Colonel Brekhov, Daina, Horrorshow, Schrage, Stormavik

Locations – Afghanistan, Iran

This was the second part of the story that had begun in issue #6, with the Joes having to team up with the Oktober Guard against Cobra. The combined forces tracked a crashed Russian spy plane’s vital materials into Iran, where they encountered a featureless Cobra stronghold. The Joes managed to escape that encounter, leaving the Oktober Guard to deal with Cobra.

The story’s ending was a shocker, with Hawk revealing that the recovered spy plane materials were all a diversion. The real spy plane had already been recovered and the Joe team had simply been tussling with Cobra and the Oktober guard over a fake.

The ending twist left readers with a similar ‘Can we trust the Joe superiors?’ feeling that they must have felt when reading “Hot Potato” back in issue #1. Even though Cobra Commander was ultimately duped, he did pull off a series of ploys that were rather impressive.

 

#8 – “Code Name: Sea-Strike!”

February 1983 ~ *

Writer: Herb Trimpe | Penciller: Herb Trimpe

Characters –

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

Villains: Baroness, Cobra Commander

Locations – Kennedy Space Center, Outer Space

Herb Trimpe was both writer and artist on this issue. Unfortunately, this was the first absence of Larry Hama as writer and the lack of his special touch was felt.

While operating from one of a series of undersea bases, Cobra Commander sent his S.E.A. Legs attack vehicles to confront the Joe team at Cape Canaveral. Cobra’s mission was to stop a satellite from launching that would be capable of discovering Cobra’s undersea bases. The action eventually headed into outer space, with the split Joe team defending the space shuttle and also storming Cobra’s main undersea base.

The overall premise was more fun than the actual execution. This story was something that would seem to have fit in better with the sister cartoon series than in the early comic. Longtime fans would note that the Joe team would later get its own space shuttle, but that occurrence was still several dozen issues away.

 

#9 – “The Diplomat”

March 1983 ~ **

Writer: Steven Grant | Penciller: Mike Vosburg

Characters –

Heroes: Breaker, Clutch, Grunt, Hawk, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Stalker

Villains: Cobra Commander, Derek Sutherland, Brian Hassell

Civilians: Ambassador of Al-Awali

Locations – Nebraska, Amsterdam, France, Italy, London

G.I. Joe was sent to protect the United States’ Al-Alawi diplomat from a potential Cobra attack. Through a globe-trotting series of double-crosses, the Joe team learned that the diplomat was actually a Cobra agent bent on ruining the credibility of the United States in the Middle East. The Joes ultimately managed to stop the diplomat and Cobra from committing a high-profile assassination.

This was the second straight issue without writer Larry Hama, but Steven Grant handled the writing duties marginally better than Herb Trimpe. Unfortunately, at times his dialogue was either too obvious or too child-centric. Unlike Hama, Grant too-fully embraced the idea that he was writing for a children’s comic book.

Mike Vosburg drew issues #9-#23 and his art was very inconsistent. At times he rendered an interesting layout, while at other times his characters looked oddly portrayed. The best example of this odd display was the Baroness, who appeared ‘frumpy’ in Vosburg’s illustrations.  In fairness to him though, her character’s appearance wouldn’t radically change until a costume change in issue #23

The new supporting villains and civilians who were introduced within this issue either died or never appeared in any future issues. One positive aspect of this issue was how it put a sense of fear in readers that Cobra was capable of infiltrating high-ranking levels within the United States government.

 

#10 – “A Nice Little Town Like Ours”

April 1983 ~ ***

Writer: Larry Hama | Penciller: Mike Vosburg

Characters –

Heroes: Breaker, Clutch, Flash, Grunt, Hawk, Rock ‘n Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuze, Snake-Eyes, Stalker, Zap

Villains: Baroness, Cobra Commander, Cobra Trooper, Dr. Venom

Civilians: Billy

Locations – Springfield, Manhattan

With Larry Hama back in the fold as writer, the series again became more interesting.

A botched raid on a Manhattan Cobra hangout at the beginning of this issue left Scarlett, Snake-Eyes and Zap in the hands of Cobra. They later found themselves with a boy named Billy in an underground prison cell at a different Cobra hideout. The hideout turned out to be situated amid a seemingly ‘normal’ town named Springfield. Billy helped the Joe team to escape back to New York via an aircraft amid a raging storm. Unfortunately, Billy ended up staying behind.

During much of this issue, a Cobra hired-hand named Dr. Venom tortured Snake-Eyes in an attempt to learn the location of the Pit. Instead, he (and readers) learned bits about the origin of Snake-Eyes, with his disfigurement having come through a prior helicopter accident. Readers would learn more about the origin of Snake-Eyes in issues #26-#27; Dr. Venom would return in issue #12 for a lengthy series of appearances.

Also of note was the introduction of Billy. While he seemed like an innocent civilian, he’d have a much larger role to play later in the series. The town of Springfield was a location of future importance. While it struck me as rather odd that the Joe team wasn’t able to later find the town again, their ‘blind’ escape through a raging storm must have accounted for that inability. The story of Springfield wouldn’t be resolved again in full until issue #50.

On a personal note, this was one of the first “G.I. Joe” issues that I ever read, having come across it in reprint form via the “Tales of G.I. Joe” series in the later-1980s. The tone struck me as more ‘adult’ and grittier than later issues that I was reading at the time. In hindsight, it was not necessarily ‘adult,’ but it was perhaps more serious in tone and modestly more realistic than the series would later become. The final page of the issue underscored that fact by involving people in Marvel super-hero costumes to try to set the story in the ‘real world.’

 

#11 – “The Pipeline Ploy!”

May 1983 ~ **

Writer: Larry Hama | Penciller: Mike Vosburg

Characters-

Heroes: Airborne, Breaker, Doc, General Flagg, Grand Slam, Grunt, Gung-Ho, Hawk, Rock ‘n Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuze, Snake-Eyes, Snow Job, Steeler, Wild Bill, Zap

Villains: Baroness, Cobra Commander, Destro

Locations – Alaska

The Joe team tried to stop a plan by Cobra to introduce a plague toxin into the Alaskan pipeline’s oil supply. After a series of encounters with Cobra at several oil pumping stations, the true nature of Cobra’s plan was discovered. Rather than trying to contaminate the oil supply, they were attempting to steal plutonium from a local nuclear power plant. After a fake-out with some Cobras who believed that they were accidently infected by the toxin, the Joe team was able to re-obtain the plutonium.

The large numbers of new character appearances within this issue made me realize that its publication had coincided with Hasbro’s next year of the toy line. The new G.I. JOE characters included mainstays Doc, Gung-Ho, Snow Job, Wild Bill, and Airborne. Their new vehicle introductions were the Polar Battle Bear snowmobile and the Falcon Glider.

Although readers at the time wouldn’t realize it, “The Specialist” introduced in this issue was actually Destro. His identity would remain secret until issue #14. Cobra gained two new vehicles – the iconic H.I.S.S. tan and the Viper Glider. They also added a Viper Pilot for the glider.

Amongst the new character’s best moments, Gung-Ho was involved in an amusing joke. Snow Job was convinced that Gung-Ho’s sister was a model and, upon trying to pursue her, was informed that she was only nine years old. This wouldn’t be the only time that Snow Job tried to hit on a model though, as he later became interested in the Joe team member Cover Girl.

 

Sierra Gordo & Attacking the Pit

 

#12 – “Three Strikes for Snake-Eyes”

June 1983 ~ ***

Writer: Larry Hama | Penciller: Mike Vosburg

Characters –

Heroes: Breaker, Clutch, General Flagg, Gung Ho, Hawk, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Stalker

Villains: Baroness, Dr. Venom, Scar-Face

Civilians: Kwinn

Locations – San Francisco, Sierra Gordo

A MX missile microchip (referring to a 1980s United States weapons program) heist was foiled in San Francisco that led G.I. Joe to Cobra’s latest scheme, this time in the country of Sierra Gordo. While on that mission, the Joes encountered both Kwinn and Dr. Venom, who had worked out a deal with Cobra for microchips and also a virus.

The issue ended on a cliffhanger, with the microchips destroyed, but the Baroness having escaped. From the perspective of the escaping members of the Joe team, Dr. Venom, Kwinn, and Snake-Eyes appeared to have perished near a Cobra base that the Baroness bombed from her escape plane.

This issue marked the first appearance of Sierra Gordo, a fictional, generic Latin American country that would continually seem to be in a state of war throughout the series. It was also the first appearance of the Cobra ‘Scar-Face,’ who initially seemed to simply be a low-level Cobra agent, but who would have a larger role in upcoming issues. Besides the return of Dr. Venom from issue #10, this issue also contained the return of Kwinn from issue #2.

This issue ended on a cliff-hanger; as it was the start of a story arc that would run until issue #19 and feature an epilogue in issue #22.

 

 

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