Monday, April 1, 2013

1982 - G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1

And back to our regularly scheduled programming...

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1
June 1982
"Operation: Lady Doomsday"
Writer - Larry Hama
Penciler - Herb Trimpe
Inker - Bob McLeod

Marvel Comics was the first company to produce a comic book version of the famous Hasbro toy franchise. The comic book series’ launch was timed with Hasbro’s new toy line in 1982. They moved away from the single, larger G.I. Joe action figure and to a team concept with figures of 3 ¾” scale.

The first issue, as the cover described, was a Blockbuster 46-pages long and featured the first appearance of G.I. Joes: Breaker, Clutch, Flash, Grand Slam, Grunt, Hawk, Rock 'n' Roll, Scarlett, Snake-eyes, Stalker, and Short-Fuse. As well, Cobra Commander and the Baroness made their first appearances as well.

From Jim Shooter’s blog (, he revealed that after the initial meeting with Hasbro, he “went straight to Larry’s office.  He, with his military background, was the obvious choice to do the heavy lifting.  I told him what happened.  He thought, and I agreed, that much of what he’d already cooked up for Nick Fury could be adapted to the project. [Archie Goodwin] came up with the first bad guys, the Cobra Command and the Cobra Commander.

Larry Hama was interview in Comics Interview #37 in 1986: “The big, really major difference was they wanted to give all of the guys characters and backgrounds, and they wanted to have a comic book. They wanted to have a back story. That’s why Marvel was brought in at the very beginning. When we showed up they had basic designs for the figures. What they knew about these figures at the time was that one was a basic infantryman, one was a commando, one was a mortar, one was communications, one was a laser expert, and so on and so forth. We agreed to do dossiers on each figure, to come up with the background and characterization and the way they would fit together as a team. The surprising thing for all of us was they hadn’t even though of doing a bad guy.”

The kidnapping of a prominent scientist prompted the US military to engage its new counter-terrorism team, G.I. Joe. The team came together quickly and assaulted Cobra Island where the scientist was being held. Each member got to show off their unique skills and Hama didn’t waste time bringing out the hardware and vehicles.

But, Hama wasn’t really writing this series to promote toys. The comic book character used real-world firepower and the combat was handled with a stark realism. Characters suffered injuries and there was usually a deadly cost to these engagements.

Larry Hama would go on to write all but a few issues of the 155-issue series and was recently brought back by IDW Comics for the relaunch of an ongoing series that kicked off where the 1980s series had left off.

The core story was backed up by 10 page story called “Hot Potato” featuring Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, and Rock 'n' Roll. The extras seemed endless with a double-page spread detailed the G.I. Joe Base called "The Pit", heavy weapon and vehicle profiles, and classified personnel files.

I found the art to be a bit lack lustre  Herb Trimpe, who had penciled the Hulk’s adventures in the 1980s, was never, in my humble opinion, the best fit for the book. Although, for issue #1, the talented and underrated Bob McLeod inked Trimpe’s work and gave it that extra punch. Unfortunately, after the premiere issue, Trimpe’s inkers weren't as well suited and really didn’t do his art any favours.

G.I. Joe: The Complete Collection Volume #1 hardcover was recently published by IDW reprinting the first twelve issues and they’ve done a great job. They’ve faithfully reprinted all the extra materials and all the military dossiers. The reprint quality is great and even the format is slightly a bit larger than the original comic size and has been beautifully recoloured.


  1. My favorite artist was Ron Wagner, who penciled most of the issues around #59 - #76 or so (including the Cobra Civil War arc). That's when I was reading it regularly as a kid, so I might be biased, but I've been re-reading the entire series in the IDW reprints, and those are still the issues with the best visual pop for me. MD Bright's issues in the 90's through middle 100's also work really well. I feel that after this, the series succumbed to the same Image- style imitation art that took over Marvel as a whole, and the series really suffered for it.

  2. Thanks for the heads up on those later issues, I'll have to track them down!

  3. I was never a fan of Marvel’s G.I. Joe back in the day. I recently reread and reviewed this issue and it only earned a C-. I know a lot of readers have really fond memories of this series, though.

    Comics Bronze Age editor

  4. Hey Andrew, thanks for the comment.

  5. The comic book & toys had actual commercials which really got my attention as a kid. The comic (so much better then the weak cartoon) was actually my gateway into collecting a monthly comic book.

  6. How about those Mike Zeck covers? - those, for me, really captured a sense of urgency and suspense... and certainly made up for any short-comings associated with the interior art.

    Larry Hama was a very talented writer and kept the momentum going on this series. The stretch of issues from around #20 - #50 was very memorable for me. Can't say I've re-read these issues lately, though.

    This comic being promoted via TV commercials was also an interesting bit of cross-promotion... as a kid I always thought the commercials added an extra dimension of legitimacy to my collecting... particularly since they had a very short window of time to promote a monthly title before being replaced by the next issue.

    1. I felt the series got good around the #20's also. It's when Hama really started delving into the Snake-Eyes-Storm Shadow backstory that provided his central mythology for the series, as well as longer story arcs for the Joe-Cobra conflict. Before that, many of the issues were done in one adventures.

      Not that you couldn't just pick up most any given issue during the entire run and just run with it, but I feel like the series and fans benefited from the more serialized elements that were introduced around there.

      Like I posted above, I'm a big fan of the run from 59-76, which was basically the saga of the fake Cobra Commander that culminated in the Cobra Island Civil War. Reading the IDW reprints, the series felt like it kinda lost focus after that.

      I tell you what, G.I. Joe Special Missions is a really good pulp war comic. It has specialized teams of Joes taking on non-Cobra missions, for the most part. It has more of an anthology feel, and the non-Cobra themeing lets Hama get in more digs about military, politics, and culture with his usual wit than he could in the main title. Do check it out if you're a fan. Herb Trimpe happened to draw almost all that series, though, but I think his work is quite good there.

  7. Thanks for the comments. Definitely a lot of reading to catch up on! :)

  8. I was on board from issue #2 and it's the only comic I still will read unconditionally to this day. I think the first 12 issues were the best as that was when Cobra was a serious terrorist organization. Issues 30-50 were really good to with great art.

    Once they killed Cobra Commander was when I started to waiver. I disliked issue 108 when they killed a bunch of Joes seemingly just to end the question of why no one ever dies. If they killed one or two here and there I think it would of have been better.

    The Mark Bright run in the 90's was good and also the Michael Golden Yearbook #2 is great. I remember being so disappointed when he didn't do the 3rd yearbook.

    I would rate this my all time favorite comic series with the exception of issues 122-155. Those were just terrible.

    If you have read all the original issues and want more I would recommend looking up the Australian issues as they had original stories. It was a hybrid of Action Force but if you are reading the current Hama IDW series they just introduced the Baron that was the enemy in the old comic.Look up "Blood for the Baron" and some of the issues are online.

  9. Hey Conanxxxv, thanks for the recommendations!

  10. The G.I. Joe comic was great from the very start and remained so up until just after the Cobra Civil War. I read G.I. Joe from the beginning and I believe that the "Kwinn-Dr. Venom-Snake Eyes Epic" (#12-19) is the best arc this book ever had. Maybe it’s because I came of age (11 years old in 1982) with the comic and despised the cartoon but loved the Marvel-animated commercials. Perhaps one’s favorite period of G.I. Joe depends on the age you discovered it in childhood. It’s my belief that the majority of fans came on board later with the success of the cartoon and so the characters that were emphasized in the comic were different than what the cartoon covered. It’s like the cartoon fans and comic fans were two different groups and the cartoon crowd is the dominant and more vocal group. Of course I was starting high school by the time of the daily cartoon but even the first two miniseries were not to my liking (1983 and ’84) though I was initially thrilled at the prospect of a G.I. Joe cartoon—but my friends and I thought they were a big disappointment. Perhaps if we had been a few years younger we would have appreciated it more but we were spoiled by the excellence of the comic book and so anything else was bound to fall short.

    I'll also say that I loved both Mike Vosburg and Herb Trimpe's artwork. Trimpe's style always reminded me that I was reading a Marvel book. IMO no one drew "prettier" aircraft in G.I. Joe than Trimpe. His work in Special Missions was outstanding and as already mentioned, was largely more inspired than his initial run on the main title. For me, G.I. Joe Special Missions was how G.I. Joe always should have been. I was a big fan of the original Mission: Impossible series and felt that the preview “Best Defense” from G.I. Joe #50 was as close to capturing that essence of M:I, even if that wasn’t its intention. I loved the cynical, downbeat feel of Special Missions. In fact, issue #2 of that series, “Words of Honor”, is in my view the single-best issue of G.I. Joe, period.

    In the world of comics, Larry Hama is to G.I. Joe as Doug Moench is to Master of Kung Fu and Michael Fleisher is to Jonah Hex; they didn’t create the characters per se, but they as much as did and no one before or since added as much to those respective characters’ mythos as they did.

    Excellent blog, by the way! Please forgive my long-winded ramble but I haven’t voiced these old G.I. Joe opinions though they have been rattling inside my head for these past thirty plus years!



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