If you’re like me, you probably listen to too many political podcasts and don’t exercise as much as you should. But you also probably learned everything you know about GI Joe from the famous 80s cartoon.
But America’s Special Mission Force didn’t start out with stilted animation and high-pitched shouts of COOOOOOBRAAAAA. Larry Hama, the architect of the mega-franchise, started the GI Joe comic for Marvel in 1982 (and is still writing GI Joe: Real American Hero for IDW).
The old comics are a ton of fun, and have a distinct feel from the “Knowing is half the battle!” of the cartoon, but they aren’t free of the kind of weirdness that made General Flagg decide that a football player needed to be a covert operative.
7 Craziest Panels from the First 7 Issues of GI Joe
Click on the photos below to embiggen!
Issue #1: Operation Lady Doomsday!
In the very first issue, we meet the Joes: Grand Slam, Short-Fuse, Zap, Steeler, Flash, Grunt, Breaker, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Clutch, Stalker, Shooter, and fan favorites Scarlett and Snake Eyes.
Now, it’s peculiar that Special Counter Terrorist Group Delta, code name: GI Joe would allow a mute dude in a ninja mask to join in any kind of operational capacity, but in the RAH universe, the Army has an extraordinarily progressive hiring policy.
The Joes are dispatched to a Caribbean island to rescue a whistleblowing nuclear scientist from the clutches of Cobra, and during their stealthy approach to the beach, Stalker (who, we should remember, is a medic and interpreter), goes Rocketeer on a Cobra emplacement:
Look, I’ll give Stalker a pass for seeming not to have a grasp on the whole “stalking” thing. After all, it isn’t wise to criticize a man whose idea of percussion is heavy ordnance.
Issue #2: Panic At The North Pole!
In issue #2, Stalker, Breaker, Scarlett, and Snake Eyes are dispatched to an Arctic research station to investigate the commando-style raid that wiped out all personnel. There’s a mind-control device involved (because of course), the Joes end up building a sail-sled out of a wrecked plane (sure), and they rig up an improvised explosive to drop an ice bridge on an Eskimo named Kwinn. It’s actually all pretty standard. Until this happens:
I just love how matter-of-fact he is about it, like rigging up a grisly trophy to protect against harm is something this guy does daily. The cheerful grin makes it even better–he’s clearly so proud of himself. This is a man who has found a way to enjoy his work.
And in an election year like this, it’s important to remember that really, that’s what the American dream is all about.
Issue #3: The Trojan Gambit!
Larry Hama was famously accurate when depicting military hardware and operations, drawing from his experience as a Vietnam veteran to lend some credibility to the life of America’s Special Mission Force. And even though the show regularly trades in weather dominators and shrink-rays, the comic keeps things slightly more grounded, focusing on international terrorism and intrigue.
At least, until the third issue, when a robot head sprouts tentacles and runs into the vents:
Hama doesn’t even attempt to offer any sort of justification for this. The frequent captions that inform the reader that V.A.M.P. stands for “Vehicle: Assault, Multi-Purpose” are nowhere to be seen. This is just a robot head that will subsequently vomit up tinier robot heads.
That is not a joke.
Issue #4: Operation Wingfield!
Perhaps aware of the sharp left turn into lunacy in the previous issue, Hama sets the next story in a survivalist’s compound. It’s run by a fellow named Commander Wingfield, who has a serious burr in his saddle about the whole of human civilization. He has nuclear devices with which he intends to kick-start World War Three, after which Wingfield and his followers will rise up from a reinforced bunker to take control of the earth.
It’s a powerful issue, playing off some very real fears from that time, fears that don’t seem to have gone anywhere. Homegrown extremism is a very real threat, then as now, and Hama addresses it with solemnity.
Naturally, he concludes the issue with a redneck joke:
Issue #5: “Tanks” For The Memories!
Anyone who’s familiar with the greater fiction of the GI Joe universe has heard of Springfield; it’s (thirty-year-old spoilers) a town populated entirely by Cobra sleeper agents masquerading as red-blooded, “Aw, shucks!” American patriots. The Springfield plot is (rightly) one of the most famous and well-regarded of the early Joe comics, up there with the “silent” issue. This panel has nothing to do with that.
This raises more questions than answers. Who is this guy? Why is he the only person not in uniform? Is he a Congressman? Why does he think this is an appropriate time to talk about choking on Chinese food? Is this normal? Is that why all the Army brass are ignoring him?
All I know is, maybe we would’ve been better off if Heimlich had sat this one out.
Issue #6: To Fail Is To Conquer…To Succeed Is To Die!
In the ’80s, we had a different relationship with Afghanistan. Rambo and James Bond both teamed up with the mujaheddin, which, at the time, we thought of as the plucky freedom fighters in a righteous war (righteous in the sense we were hoping for a Russian Vietnam, but I digress).
Reading issue #6 now is a little uncomfortable, for a lot of reasons, which is why I will ignore all of those reasons and proceed to a really neat splash page: Look, I like to think of myself as a man with complex tastes. But every now and then, I just need a splash page with a bunch of Russians in a jeep shooting at a giant tank holding a dune buggy.
Issue #7: Walls Of Death!
This one picks up right where the previous issue left off, with the October Guard (the Russian version of the Joes) teaming up with their temporary American allies to infiltrate a Cobra operation. Skulls are duggled, backs are stabbed, and ins are filtrated, until a climactic showdown that culminates in the Supreme Leader Cobra Commander being captured.
Everything looks pretty great for the Joes, until the untrustworthy Commies break their end of the deal and execute the hostage, only to reveal:
That’s right: Cobra Commander is a man who not only uses actual body doubles (instead of the tried-and-true Doombat method), but doesn’t trust them to imitate his voice. At the very least, you’d think vocal lessons would be cheaper than speakers.
And now you know the seven weirdest panels from the first seven GI Joe comics. And, of course…