GI JOE… Which Way Now for the Comics?

Hector Bala writes,

In a March 2017 interview with the LA Times, Simon Waters, Hasbro Senior VP commented, "The world has changed, and I think you're going to see G.I. Joe changing with it." He added, "There's going to be a much more contemporary approach to the whole franchise, and that will allow us to develop different characters."

This is the stick and rudder IDW needs for the direction of the comic book GI JOE franchise. The world has changed and IDW has all of the elements it needs to move the franchise into the future. With over 15 years of war, audiences and readers have become more sophisticated. The 1980's Joes fighting with laser beams and cheesy battlecry is a thing of the past, as is the deployment of America's premier Tier 1 fighting force against dinosaurs and other supernatural threats. Readers don't read GI Joe for science fiction, they read it for guns, bullets, bombs, and Americana. They read it to see the Joes fight terrorists in the form of Cobra which is bent on world domination. Chuck Dixon's work on GI Joe: Special Missions presented a much more grounded Joe world which was in line with what the country has been experiencing since 9/11. Having any new Joe titles land somewhere between Dixon's Joes and Nathan Edmonson's The Activity would be optimum.

Grounding the Joes and using real-world events as an analog for political and military-themed storylines is the way to go. This is essentially what Marvel did with the X-Men when they couched the issue of civil rights in a fictional world with the two opposing leaders, Magneto and Prof. Charles Xavier as surrogates for Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Massaging the Joes to tackle various threats with a more contemporary approach would likely appeal to more sophisticated readers who are primarily adults.

There is another opportunity for IDW here. There are many military occupational specialities (MOS) and units that do not have a GI Joe character on the roster. This presents a real opportunity for IDW to create some new and exciting characters to add to the team, instead of just reusing the same core group of characters like Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Roadblock, Shipwreck, etc. By new characters, we don't mean throwaways like Big Lob, Captain Grid Iron, Salvo, or Banzai either. Let's see some real badasses. There are second and third order benefits to moving in this direction. This injection of new Joe blood is exciting all on its own. It allows for the development of rich backstories and arcs with the pre-existing characters as mentors. Again, going back to the X-Men example, Marvel did this with Giant-Size X-Men #1, May 1975, with the introduction of new diverse team members including stalwarts like Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. These characters rose to the highest levels of popularity without compromising the popularity of the original five X-Men; Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel, and Beast. In fact, some of these characters surpassed the originals in notoriety. Marvel also did this with The New Mutants. This affects Hasbro, as well, as it poses an opportunity for merchandising and sale of new action figures, and that means money. The introduction of new characters means more interest in the GI Joe Collectors Club exclusive offerings each year at the annual convention, again, primarily attended by adults.

In January 2016, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced all MOS and positions would be open to women without exception, as long as they qualify and meet the standards required, of course. This means increased diversity for the team and not just relying on the Big 4 females in the Joe Universe, Scarlett, Lady Jaye, Covergirl, and Jinx. It would definitely be interesting to see some new women in the fight.

Racial and ethnic minority groups made up 40% of Defense Department active-duty military in 2015, up from 25% in 1990. Black people made up 17% of active-duty military, higher than their 13% share of the US population aged 18 to 44. The share of the active-duty force that is Hispanic has risen rapidly in recent decades. In 2015, 12% of all active-duty personnel were Hispanic, three times 1980's share.

I am Puerto Rican and Dominican, an Afro-Latino.  I can tell you that the only two Hispanic Joes are: Hector Delgado – Shipwreck and Rafael Melendez – Zap. There are not many Asians aside from Quick Kick and Jinx which are boring characters, at least to me.  I was never a fan of the whole ninja angle with Joe's as there are no ninjas in the military.  Besides, there are so many incredible jobs and units that do not have any Joes at all.


Let's also consider that terrorism has many faces and for the Joes, that face is Cobra. Al-Qaeda isn't the only terrorism show in town; ISIS, the KKK and a host of others are very prominent. Creating a new threat vector for the Joes in the form of a new terror organization would certainly breathe new life into the franchise. Cobra would still cause havoc but it wouldn't be the only Big Baddie anymore…Again, this means more toys and merchandising. We've seen this time and time again. Spider-Man had the Green Goblin, until Venom came along. Superman had Lex Luthor, until Doomsday came along. Batman had the Joker, until Bane came along.

When Devil's Due Publishing (DDP) held the GI Joe license to produce comics, DDP used a technical advisor to add gravitas to what would eventually land on the pulp. Sophisticated readership would surely appreciate more accurate panels on the page. Nathan Edmondson's run on Marvel's The Punisher was super accurate while remaining steeped in a fictional world of superheroes and super villains. This can be done while honoring the great Larry Hama's vision.

Whatever direction IDW chooses to go, let's hope they pursue stories with new characters involving direct action strikes, black market arms sales with Destro, Cobra plots to start proxy wars involving nation states…just please, anything but more ninjas….

Yo Joe!

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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