Classic G.I. Joe Vol. 1

When I was ten years old, I read G.I. Joe comics for the better part of a summer, which I looked at in depth when I released my podcast miniseries “Origin Story” back in 2016-2017. Those were the books that were collected in later volumes (specifically #6 and 7 of the IDW reprints), and in my collection at the time I had a number of back issues that made up basically the year prior to where I had started, with the exception of issues #26-27 (“Snake Eyes: The Origin”, of which I had second printings). So anything from 1982-1986 was pretty much completely foreign to me because it was unavailable or really expensive.

Now, if you’d been collecting in the early 1990s when I started my comics career in earnest, that might not have been the case. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was hanging in there but was not selling at the same level it had been during its height. That, of course, was the chromium age where mutants and Spider-Man and Image and Doomsday and Bane and … well, we’ve been down this recollection road many times, right? That was also around the time when the toy line was dying out because kids’ interests were shifting in the direction of turtles, Power Rangers, and more sophisticated video game systems. This is all to say that if I had wanted to go back and re-collect G.I. Joe comics, I might have been able to find a number of back issues on the cheap (with some exceptions).

Except for these, probably. I can imagine that the prices of the first few issues really didn’t go down as the market fluctuated, which would have made them wildly out of my price range at thirteen the same way they were when I was ten years old. G.I. Joe #1 was a $25 book at my LCS in 1987 and #2 was more expensive, clocking in around $40 because it had a lower print run and was therefore harder to find (I bought a second printing for a few bucks). Thankfully, at the time, Marvel knew they had a hit on their hands and reprinted the early books in both digest format and a Tales of G.I. Joe series (of which I had issue #10). But that only lasted until #15, which was in 1989 and would have been around the time Marvel’s “Nineties” started.

Still, the fact that this toy line and comic book had such longevity is pretty remarkable considering the shelf life of your average cartoon-based toy line during that decade. And the Devil’s Due relaunch in 2001 helped get enough nostalgia going among 1980s kids to get Marvel to launch a reprint trade paperback line. IDW would take this up and reprint the entire series when they got the license (and then continue the story with Larry Hama coming back). I happened to get the Marvel edition of the first volume of reprints in a discount trade bin a number of years ago, as was the case with all of the G.I. Joe reprint trades I’ve been able to find.

So my collection of the trades therefore would drive an anal-retentive collector crazy because it follows the “one of these things is slightly off” path even if there is no gap in coverage among the trades (which is the case with my various Essential X-Men volumes because I’m missing the Dracula annual–Annual #6). And it’s a really solid collection, with the coloring nicely remastered without it looking odd along with all of the stories from each issue. I guess my only gripe with the Marvel book versus the IDW trades is that they have laid out the various cover pages weirdly so that the cover is askew in the corner of the page as if it’s part of a mission dossier. I know it’s kind of a gimmick, but it doesn’t work.

The stories are actually more hit or miss than I remember from the series. Then again, I also get the feeling that it will take a year or two for the book to really find its feet because this is a toy line tie-in book that perhaps wasn’t expected to stick around very long. When you think of it, you’ve got Star Wars (which was a movie tie-in as well), Transformers, ROM, Barbie, and G.I. Joe as series that went more than just a year or two and that’s it? So I can excuse Larry Hama for writing a series of one-and-done stories that has the connective tissue of the same villains and their quest to outdo the Joes or find their headquarters.

We start off with that $25 book, which at the time was printed on baxter paper (and even got a treasury edition at one point), a story that I remember reading back in 1987 but not really getting into because it had the early figures and characters I wasn’t very used to. Here, it’s better than I remember, a tight special ops mission story that does well to introduce the team and Cobra. There are definitely “television pilot episode’ aspects to it and I can tell you that the cover is probably more iconic than the actual content (as a New Teen Titans fan, I love a good “we’re all comin’ at ya!” cover). And most of the trade is like that, with stories that are a little more violent than the cartoon series, but nothing more than adventures featuring your toys.

That’s not a knock, by the way, because reading these first few issues felt like a good afternoon snack of cookies and milk. I could read one story and not only feel nostalgic for when I would play with some of those toys in my basement or remember the days I spent rushing to the comic store on new comic day to see if the current issues were available.

That being said, issues #2 and #10 are the best of the trade paperback and show the promise of a much deeper series than a simple toy line tie-in. Issue #2 is a mission into the Antarctic where the Joes first face a mercenary named Kwinn and also investigate a destroyed Russian research station. It’s a hint at the Joes’ place beyond just the usual Cobra hijack plots with some real-world Cold War stuff mixed in; it’s also a nice survival story in addition to a special ops story. Hama had shown us the toys in the previous issue and in this one, he gives us character. In issue #10, he fully introduces the town of Springfield, a town that Cobra has completely taken over (via their MLM scheme, which seems silly but if you’ve studied the often cult-like nature of MLMs, it works perfectly … shit, Cobra could be NXIVM). It’s a callback to those 1950s Cold War comics that are about Soviet infiltration as well as a way to give the villains more depth than just a raving lunatic for a leader.

The artwork throughout is passable. Herb Trimpe is at his best when he’s inking himself, and there are some fill-ins that are okay. Again, it definitely gets better as the series gains popularity, and I am looking forward to those future volumes. But this is one of those trades that is a great piece of finding my joy.

Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?

Keep.

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