on April 25, 2002
It's an exciting time to be a nostalgia freak, especially if you're a fan of 80's pop culture, particularly G.I. Joe and the Transformers. Hasbro, the company that owns these characters, have licensed two independent comic companies, Devil's Due and Dreamwave, to produce new comics based on their products, and the company itself has (slowly) been reproducing their toy lines for a new generation of kids and toy collectors. Recently, Marvel got into the nostalgia fray by releasing "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Vol. 1", a re-colored, glossy, spiffed-up trade paperback collection of the first 10 issues of the popular early 80's comic series (which lasted more than 10 years). The series was written by Larry Hama, who, along with writing the chunk of the stories during that 10-year span, also wrote the filecards on the back of the action figure packages (that's why, I guess, Marvel wrote that Hama is the man "irrevocably" linked to the franchise).
The first 10 issues are, if one has the proper attitude, a nostalgic delight for the most part. Remember, this is pre-Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, and admittedly, one may first be a bit impatient by the classical, almost simple-minded, level of comics story-telling. More than anything else, these comics were made for kids during the early 80's. They lack the sophistication and detail of contemporary comics, which, unfortunately, are aimed towards adolescents and adult males (comics today have a limited audience after all). These stories hark back to a more innocent, simpler time; full of illogical circumstance (killer robots), over-expository characterization (evil characters describe their nefarious plans of destruction and world domination to the heroes/reader), and an artistic style/composition which hasn't evolved much since the Kirby/Ditko era of the 60's.
The stories themselves are fun and are not to be taken too seriously. The heroes are an elite anti-terrorist task force created primarily to eliminate the threat of Cobra, a terrorist organization led by the often hysterical Cobra Commander, bent on ruling the world. Led by then-Colonel Hawk, the G.I. Joe team includes a number of familiar favorites; including occasional field leader Stalker, token tough girl Scarlett, and of course, the silent-but-deadly Snake-Eyes. Writer Larry Hama certainly seemed to have a passion for the military aspects of the book; there's a lot of military lingo scattered throughout, as well as an enthusiasts' investment of detail for weapons and artillery. There are a few hokey, B-Movie style elements; not only the aforementioned killer giant robot (replete with killer bugs in its head), but also an unlikely incursion into space, and don't forget the mad scientist with mind controlling devices (with the name of "Dr. Venom" to boot). Don't take these as complaints or fanboy nitpicking; on the contrary, it adds to its distinct charm and innocence. The artists, led by Herb Trimpe, though unspectacular by today's standards, do the job; they tell the story in a forward manner without any fussy rendering or needless distraction, if lacking just a hint of individual style.
To Hama's credit, however, he does occasionally bring political topicality to his stories; quite thoughtful for that period. For example, in the two-part story "To Fail Is To Conquer...To Succeed Is To Die!" and "Walls Of Death", our heroes are sent to Afghanistan to procure a fallen Russian satellite. There, they encounter rebel Afghan fighters and C.I.A. liaisons. At the time the comics were published, the "Cold War" was occurring between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and the U.S. was in fact supporting the Afghans in their fight against the Soviets, with C.I.A. providing aid and supplies. For a little kid just wanting to read the exploits of the action figures he was collecting, he also got a partial exposure to current events. (In reading this story in particular, in light of the 9/11 tragedy and the U.S.'s current "War Against Terrorism", one can't help but be unsettled by the fact that the real U.S. Military is waging a real war in the actual place depicted in the comic against a real terrorist). And while Hama certainly isn't the first to allude to current event situations in a widely-held "children's medium", the fact that this had a focused military aesthetic, and not littered with superheroes in capes and masks, made the stories somewhat more relevant and immediate.
Besides, does one really collect these types of things for story or art? Of course not. People want to recapture a bit of their childhoods; playing in the backyard or in the living room and creating their own stories and adventures. Though just a bit on the ... side ([money]for just 10 issues is pretty high), they're much cheaper than getting the real individual issues. On the whole, Marvel, without a doubt, deserves plaudits for exceeding expectations with their packaging and re-release. Can't wait to catch the next volumes.
on September 3, 2003
Ah yes, the start of the GI Joe craze. The comics are far better than the TV series ever was. The interesting thing about the first ten issues of GI Joe is that, except for the 2-part Oktober Guard intro, they are all single-issue stories, most of which impact very little on the rest of the series.
I liked having them in a single volume, but I do not like the fact that the back-up story in issue 1, nor the pin-up extras that were in the original somics, are included in this volume. Would it have hurt them to have put those add-ons in the back? That's why I can only give this volume a 4 out of 5.