G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #21
Writer: Larry Hama
Artists: Larry Hama/Steve Leialoha
One thing to keep in mind as you read this is that I didn't read G.I. Joe regularly in the 1980s. I picked up a couple of issues here and there, but I was never pulled into the Joe universe. Even this issue's impact and influence had escaped me. However, "The Most Unusual COMIC BOOK Story Ever!" is easily the first issue that gets mentioned when I talk to anyone about Marvel's G.I. Joe comic series.
The plot is pretty straight forward. A new Cobra ninja, Storm Shadow's first appearance, brings in a captured Scarlett. Fortunately, Snake Eyes came to her rescue, although she wasn't exactly a damsel in distress. The last page sets up a connection and back story between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes as they had the same tattoos. That tattoo being an identifier for the Arashikage ninja clan.
While it wasn't the first time a comic didn't have any dialog or narration (see Will Eisner's The Spirit), but Hama pulled it off quite well. I believe one of the reason this works is that Hama not only wrote this issue, but drew the breakdowns. Interestingly, I spotted Leialoha's name before reading it and was on the look out for his work as it has its own unique style, which helped convey those subtle facial expressions. The backgrounds are minimal at best and it looks like it was intentional, allowing the reader to focus on the characters and their motions. The action is smoothly conveyed.
Since the issue spotlighted Snake Eyes, a character who didn't speak, it focused on a lot of action, delivering almost 22 pages full of action. Although there is one bit of fun narration that Hama sneaks into the story, the writing on a fragmentary grenade that's tossed at a charging ninja.
Larry Hama, in an interview with Dwight Jon Zimmerman, from David Anthony Kraft’s Comics Interview, explained his approach:
"I wanted to see if I could do a story that was a real, complete story – beginning, middle, end, conflict, characterization, action, solid resolution – without balloons or captions or sound effects. I tried to do it again, as a matter of fact, with the Joe Yearbook #3 story."
Hama actually pulled off a third silent issue in 2010 with G.I. Joe: Origins #19.
He revealed another interesting tidbit about the issue in an interview with joebattlelines.com (http://www.joebattlelines.com/interviews/larryhama1.htm):
"At first, readers hated it. They felt cheated that there were no words, that it could be “read” too quickly. That issue got LOTS of negative mail. But then, so did the annual that was drawn by Michael Golden. Readers complained that the drawing was too “cartoony.”