Skitch’s Favorite G.I. Joe Comics

My colleagues over on the What’s on JOE Mind podcast landed a major interview with the legendary Larry Hama this week. As a huge G.I. Joe comic book fan, I offered to help with some cross promotion and post up my five favorite GI Joe comics.

This list will be focusing on Marvel’s GI Joe: A Real American Hero series. To me that is definitely the golden age of G.I. Joe comics, and Hama wrote around 150 of the 155 issues of that series.  That is not to say that Devil’s Due and IDW haven’t produced some excellent G.I. Joe comics, but for now, I’m sticking with the old school.

5. G.I. Joe 155 – This is still the hardest to find issue of the series. For a long while, G.I. Joe comics fell into a strange place where Hasbro had exerted more influence on the book, so the book was full of strange adventures and characters that had really gotten away from everything I liked about G.I. Joe. Everyone was suddenly becoming ninjas, and it was clear that villains were chosen just because they were the newest toy release.

The story, as I have heard it, is that Marvel and Hasbro both seemed to abruptly realize this wasn’t working and seemed inclined to give Hama back full creative control. And the last few G.I. Joe issues seemed to be a step in the right direction…and then the series was abruptly canceled with 155.

But it was a terrific issue to end on. Snake Eyes is writing a letter to the son of an old war buddy who wants to become a soldier. Snake Eyes tells him all the good and bad things he has seen being a soldier, while in the background the rest of the team is shutting down G.I. Joe for good.  It is still one of the most powerfully written comics I’ve ever read.

4. G.I. Joe #1 – It sort of seems obvious to pick the first and last issues in a list of my five favorite issues of G.I. Joe, but both of those issues deserve to be on this list. Not only is G.I. Joe #1 a very good intro to the team, it still stands up as a terrific, thoughtful comic today.

The issue’s main story is about the Joes having to protect (and later rescue from Cobra) a former weapons designer who has become an outspoken anti-war activist. Many of the Joes can’t help but think of Dr. Burkhart as a traitor to the United States, but they still have to do their duty and protect her. This prompts some terrific discussions in the book about the role of the soldier and protecting freedoms even if we disagree with how someone uses their freedom.

This is pretty heady stuff for the first issue of a comic series based on a kids’ toy line. G.I. Joe comics would often deal with these kinds of issues, which is a big part of the reason I never had all that much respect for the cartoon in comparison.  It treated the audience as childish and never challenged them like the comics did.

3. G.I, Joe #21 – I was really torn on whether to include this comic on the list. It just seemed like such an obvious choice, and there are probably G.I. Joe moments that I like a lot more, but as a complete comic, it would be a ridiculous list if I did not include the famous “Silent Issue.”

Besides, it is the first appearance of Storm Shadow who is just about my favorite G.I. Joe character behind Breaker. Unlike the cartoon, Storm Shadow is a much deeper character and not just “the evil Snake Eyes” and his story begins right here.

The issue is basically all about Snake Eyes infiltrating a Cobra base to rescue Scarlett from Storm Shadow, and there is no dialouge through the issue. In the end, Snake Eyes discovers that Storm Shadow has a tattoo that matches his and the reader realizes that the two men have a shared history.

Even without a single word, there is tons of emotion through this comic, and it went a long way to establishing Snake Eyes as more than just a silent cipher. His relationship with Scarlett and Storm Shadow are in full display in this issue, and the reader definitely wants to know more about these mysteries.

2. G.I. Joe #19 – As a long time comic reader, when yohear that “everything changes” in a particular issue, we’re used to just rolling our eyes and expecting things to go back to status quo soon after. G.I. Joe #19 truly is an issue where everything changed.

A lot of the early G.I. Joe stories formed an informal arc, and issue 19 is where that all came to a head. Heroes and villains alike all were killed in a pretty epic battle in this issue. Soon after, the G.I. Joe team would expand to include many more characters (a flood that would basically never stop…which would sideline many of the best characters in the series), Hawk’s role with the team would change dramatically as he replaced the fallen General Flagg as their director and Duke would take over more of the field leader role (Duke’s first appearance a few issues later at Flagg’s funeral to shoot down Cobra attackers is one of the best scenes of the series).

As a G.I. Joe fan, I was literally emotionally rung out by the time I finished reading issue 19, and even when I reread it now, knowing what happens, I still feel the same way.

1. G.I. Joe 34 – Not only is G.I. Joe #34 my favorite G.I. Joe comic, it is one of my top five favorite single issues of any comic. The set up is simple enough. Ace is taking Lady Jaye for a training flight at the same time that Wild Weasel is taking the Baroness for a training flight. The two pilots end up having an extended dog fight that stretches through the entire comic, showing incredible technique and creativity. In the end, the pilots both run out of ammo, and salute each other, flying off to fight another day, much to Baroness and Lady Jaye’s annoyance.

What I loved about this comic was that it was one of the few times we really saw members of Cobra acting as soldiers themselves, and not just mustache twirling bad guys. Wild Weasel’s salute to Ace at the end really helped make him a deep, character. I always wanted to see more G.I. Joe comics like this.

Plus, the action was just superb in this issue. It had the perfect balance of realism and comic book fantasy. Just like Ace, you can’t help but have respect for both sides at the end even if there is not a clear decision.

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