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G.I.Joe Celebrates Two-Hundred Issues

Review by Ted Jacobson

For me the world of G.I.Joe came alive in 1982. My parents and I drove thirty-four miles from my hometown to the Grand Forks, North Dakota Target store. My ten year old self found that very first issue of G.I.Joe. It was not on the comic book spinner, it was mixed amongst the coloring books at the back of the toy department. The price was pretty high, $1.50, but I had to have it.

I already liked comic books at that point, I read many titles including Spiderman, The Hulk, and Star Wars. Not surprisingly some of my favorite comics were the Charlton Fightin' Marines, Fightin' Navy, and the slew of war comics like Haunted Tank, and Sgt. Rock. Most of those comics were ones that were bought in huge stacks at garage sales or flea markets.

I read that shiny new G.I.Joe comic all the way home on the thirty-four mile trip. That original issue is pretty much in tatters now. From the moment I picked it up off the shelf to the moment we pulled in the driveway, I was hooked. The extra bits like vehicle profiles, the pinups, and a bonus story called Hot Potato all culminated into one grand experience and childhood memory.

I must not have been too hooked however, because I left issue number two on the spinner. For some unknown reason only a ten year old me would know, I skipped that purchase. It was over a year later that I purchased it. It was quite spendy and rare and I had to buy it at a small comic book shop off the beaten path.

There was a showcase in front of the principal's office and the children were allowed to put something in the case. My choice, of course, was the first twenty-two issues of G.I.Joe; proudly on display for all the school children to see.

We made trips into my home town often to the little drug store on the corner. I was sure to be found either at the scratch n' sniff sticker rolls or at the comic book spinner rack. Turning that rack and seeing the G.I.Joe logo peering out from the top was like finding gold. Elated, I knew that day was going to be a good one.

That experience of elation shifted when I began to subscribe. I checked the mail after I jumped off the school bus, which stopped right in front of the box as the driver let out a "whoooooa bus!" Once a month there would be a brown paper sleeve in there, with my name on it. It was always a joy to gently pull off that sleeve and see the cover for the very first time. I think my Mom knew if that brand new comic was in my hand that I was going to be unavailable that afternoon.

There were several tales that stuck out. Tales such as protecting the space shuttle, rescuing hostages, and the yarn where Cobra Commander was captured and we learned all about the gadgets in his helmet. We were regaled with the creation of Cobra Island, the destruction of a few PITs, the very troubled and tragic life of Snake Eyes, battling Transformers, new characters appearing every year, space missions, the brainwashing of entire towns, original Joes getting promotions and inevitably, deaths of beloved characters.

As the years passed, there were many anecdotes I absorbed. Larry Hama would add in scenarios that highlighted common sense practices in combat, these were special touches that I appreciated very much and still remember to this day. There was sometimes a political subtext to many stories as well; It may be subtle and in a bit of a disguise, but it was there. The dialogue rich with terms like bullet stopper was also enjoyable.

Suddenly, after twelve years of monthly escape, I would soon have a comic box full of one hundred and fifty-five memories. I was numb, in shock, it was all ending. I recall the emotions and disbelief when I read that issue one hundred fifty-five was to be the final issue. No more monthly tales of G.I.Joe. I imagine many others felt the same.

There have been several years of other iterations, other companies trying to recapture the magic of those Marvel issues. There were even some tales and series by the original writer Larry Hama. Many put their own spin on the tale and while it was certainly G.I.Joe in name, it was not necessarily the G.I.Joe that had captured my heart.

Then it was announced that there was to be a G.I.Joe one hundred fifty-five and one-half. In May of 2010 on free comic book day, the tales of good and evil that so many cherished back then had returned. The ruthless enemy Cobra was going to be plotting nefarious schemes and G.I.Joe was going to be there to stop them. The style that enraptured a generation was going to continue after we were so rudely interrupted in 1994.

Larry Hama was now more seasoned, as he had been given a sabbatical from G.I.Joe. He was fresh and revitalized, and the new stories were not a drastic departure from the old ones, so they seemed very familiar, comforting even.

The drama surrounding Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander and other old favorites was back. We were also treated to new ideas and characters like Pale Peony who had emerged in the other comics Larry had written in the interim. We were getting more political commentary embedded in the story. Best of all, we were getting more grape soda with our chocolate donuts and the beautiful and deadly Baroness Anastasia DeCobray was bringing them to us.

There were some bumps along the road of course. Tiny editorial mistakes and big continuity errors that were turned into great story lines. After all those years, and all that vast morass of characters to draw stories from, those things were bound to happen, and are forgivable in most respects. They brought to mind all those letters I wrote to New York's Marvel offices in vain attempts for the coveted "no-prize" trying to find a logical explanation for a perceived error.

The last arc we have been treated to centers on the tale of Grunt. Grunt has evolved as a character, he is no longer an active member of G.I.Joe. He has become a family man after marrying Lola, the woman he met so many issues ago. Now his official stature and respected occupation has led to him being in peril. It is only fitting that the arc leading up to the two-hundredth issue features Grunt.

Grunt was the character on issue number one that was leaping into our consciousness. Grunt, for many, was their first figure, and their introduction to G.I.Joe. He was the figure in shadow in the very first commercial. Grunt was the Joe in the upper left hand corner of the cover who greeted us on that comic book spinner rack in drug stores, supermarkets and comic shops across the country.

It is only fitting that Robert W. Graves a.k.a. Grunt, is the focus of the story arc leading up to issue two-hundred. The tale of Grunt being taken hostage wrapped up in issue one hundred ninety-nine, (which technically is the actual physical two-hundredth issue of G.I.Joe), he is reunited with his wife Lola and his daughter. Grunt's life has come full circle at this point in the series. He started out as an infantry trooper who scraped the mud of combat off his boots and now is a husband, father, and a man of prominence. This is much like many of the readers of G.I. Joe. They have grown up, become fathers, mothers, spouses, and outstanding members of society utilizing some of those lessons about life that Hama tried to instill in readers thirty years ago.

G.I. Joe was worked on by many artists, letterers, inkers, colorists, and editors over the years. Some may have worked on several issues and some may have only been part of one issue. Today we recognize all their efforts in producing what has become an iconic mythos.

It all stemmed from the day that someone was needed to write, what was called by the industry, a "toy book." This was not an assignment any writer wanted. The offer to write G.I. Joe was passed from person to person until it finally reached the last person in the row. Larry Hama accepted that work eagerly. He then took those generic characters he was handed and breathed life into them creating an entire mythology, a mythology that readers latched onto. Two hundred (and one-half) issues later, the story of G.I.Joe continues.

Yo Joe!

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