Sunday, September 8, 2013

Classic G.I. Joe Vol. 9

Title: Classic G.I. Joe Vol. 9

ISBN: 9781600107061
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: IDW, 2010
Artist: Marshall Rogers, Don Hudson, Ron Wagner, Paul Ryan, Tony Salmons, M.D. Bright
Writer: Larry Hama
Collects: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #81-90

Rating: 3/5

There’s a reason why IDW refers to their collection of the Marvel Comics run of G.I. Joe as “classic”. First of all, it’s a nice tag that sells the book and differentiates it from the myriad of other Joe titles they’re currently publishing but more importantly, these are the definitive tales of G.I. Joe. Unless you’re an aging baby boomer with a collection of 12-inch Joes, when you think A Real American Hero, images of Cobra Commander, Destro and Snake Eyes immediately spring to mind. And it goes without saying that Larry Hama’s excellent work on the series is the reason why both the toy line and comics were so successful. In this day and age, Hama is finally getting his just rewards and readers are coming out of the woodwork to admit that yeah, this was a pretty damn good series that definitely surpassed our expectations of a toy tie-in. And I would argue that this volume is one of the best examples of that excellence.

We see the continued battles between Joe and Cobra only now Destro has branched off to form his own terrorist organization, the Iron Grenadiers. It’s a three-way battle for superiority that builds off the events of the previous volume. The Cobra Civil War is over and new evils are introduced, including Darklon, another outlandishly costumed terrorist from some unheard of country that wishes to buy weapons from Cobra. The origin of the original Cobra Commander is more thoroughly explored, as is his connection to Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow which dates back to the Vietnam War. Eastern philosophy mixes with the excruciating and often comical training exercises that take place in boot camp and as usual, a bevy of new Joes and Cobras are introduced. And in a 25th anniversary issue (from way back in 1988), we meet the original G.I. Joe.

As to why I feel this is one of the best examples of Hama’s work on the series... I should first admit that the stories contained here actually aren’t among my favorites. As a long-time Joe fan, my personal favorites are the early issues, when the cast of characters was much smaller and every new secret and twist that was revealed was a real shocker. By the time 1988 rolled around, both the Joe and Cobra teams had expanded to a point where those characters that we’d come to know and love as real people were beginning to be shoved into the background. Obviously, the point of a comic that promotes a toy line is to sell toys and when new figures and vehicles are introduced every year, they all need to get some face time in the comics. But what’s amazing about this volume and what separates it from earlier ones is that at no point does it ever feel forced. By this point in the game, Hama had it down to a science and introduces new elements with such ease that you never realize that his hand is being guided by editorial or the folks at Hasbro.

In previous volumes of the series, a story would be chugging along at a nice, even pace when all of the sudden, something like the Star Viper would appear completely out of left field, only to have the story resume in the next issue. You definitely got the feeling that after three or four issues of the story Hama wanted to tell, you’d have to read one that he was obligated to tell. It often felt very forced and unnatural and definitely took me out of the overall story. Not so with this volume. Perhaps it’s a result of better communication or perhaps he just developed his skills but either way, it works. There’s not a bad story in this book.

Okay, the Battle Force 2000 story wasn’t that great, but you can’t really fault him for that one, can you?

And that’s why, as a huge G.I. Joe fan who read a lot of these issues when they were originally released and is re-living his childhood now, I feel that this is such a perfect example of why Larry Hama deserves so much credit for this series. I hadn’t read these comics in two decades, and I didn’t know quite what to expect when picked it up. This is the era in which I was growing out of G.I Joe and not following it as much as I used to. This is the era in which the toy line was becoming more and more outlandish and had lost much of what I considered to be its “realistic edge”. Would I be as interested with all of the new developments and new characters?

Turns out my answer is a big “hell yeah”. These are just really great stories of a highly advanced military organization fighting crazy bad guys of an almost super-villainous variety. It’s true that there isn’t quite as much character development as in previous issues due to the large cast, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely absent. In addition to the more adventurous and exciting stories, we also get a lot of insight into Zartan’s background as well as a great deal of mentoring Billy receives from Storm Shadow. The action is big and bombastic and there’s even a little social commentary and humor too. Lawyers and politicians are subtlety (and sometimes not-so subtlety) skewered and the stories are played for laughs almost as often as not. And there’s ninjas, dude. Who doesn’t love ninjas?

Overall, it’s just plain fun, something often seems missing in many comics these days. This is a book that knows exactly what it is and what it’s supposed to be, but still manages to surprise you with some great characterization and scripting. If you were into G.I. Joe back then and you’re wondering how the book held up over the years, do yourself a favor and pick this volume up. In fact, pick all of them up. There are a lot of great new G.I. Joe comics on the stands right now (and some not-so-great), but this is the real deal right here. Kudos to IDW for getting these back into print and in the case of this volume, collecting them for the first time.

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