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Looking Through the Longbox – 5 best GI Joe issues

As a lot of 80’s kids, I was a huge GI Joe fan. Well, not huge. Thin. Slim. Small for my age, even. Where
was I? Anyway. The toys, the comics, the cartoon…I think I even had a pillowcase.

Every month, a brand new issue of the GI Joe comic showed up on spinner racks, for the low price of
60 cents. And then 65. Then 75. Then a dollar. Damn you Ronald Reagan!! As GI Joe went Day-glo I stopped
getting the toys and comic, which is a damn shame because I have every issue up to 122 and then only a
handful, never getting the uber-hard to acquire final issues.

But man, when it was good, it was good. As the comic went along sometimes the strings were a little too
visible, and it was obvious the story was awkwardly pitching the newest toy on the shelves, but in the
breathing room between Corporate edicts, Larry Hama (and various artists) infused the GI Joe world with plenty of grit, character, military jargon and depth. Hama IS GI Joe to me, as much as Tunnel Rat is basically Larry Hama.

So with that, at this moment I’m going to run down the 5 best GI Joe stories. This list could change
tomorrow, and by best isn’t indicative of the best best, and is in no way speaking to high-falutin’ literary merits. It’s just a list of the heights that can be reached even by a so-called “kid’s comic.”

Spoilers light to non-existent.

(To completely buck the trend, the famous silent issue (#21) will not be on this list, because it’s too obvious.)

So, in order of publication, these are the 5 best:

Issue #2, “Panic at the North Pole”

While the first issue was strong, the second issue was an early example of the confidence and strength
Hama’s writing exhibited. It introduces a recurring character, the mercenary eskimo Kwinn, who would
later go on to have a larger role in a future storyline. Not without a sense of honor, Kwinn finds
himself unhappy with the role he plays in the gambit between the Joes and the Russians (Cold War
nostalgia). Plus we get more pagetime with Snake Eyes, whose mysterious nature builds with each scene he
appears. This sets up a near poetic final page, the final three panels laid out in increasing close-ups
with Kwinn’s voice over illuminating just how badass the Joes are. Intentionally vague, but the issue has
to be read to get the impact. It’s a brilliant reveal.

Issue #26, 27 “Snake Eyes: The Origin”

Snake Eyes has been a man of mystery for over 2 dozen issues, and fans wanted to know more. What does he look like under his mask? Who is he? What’s his background? All the answers aren’t here, but we get
enough for temporary satisfaction: family tragedy, romance, acceptance, betrayal. All pieces that byuild
the puzzle. Plus it packs in some great ninja action. Who doesn’t like ninja action!

Issue #35 “Dreadnok’s on the loose.”

Basically, the kids steal daddy’s car. Except it’s not kids, and it’s not daddy, and it’s no car: it’s
Zartan’s state of the art motorcycle. This issue elevates the Dreadnok’s–and Buzzer especially–beyond
their grape soda and chocolate doughnuts buffoonery. Here they become dangeous. Unpredictable. And
especially in Buzzer’s case, genuinely creepy. In fact, there’s an uneasy, horror movie feel to the entire issue.

Issue #43 “Crossroads”

A few storylines pay off here: Wade Collins, a former soldier and teammate of Stalker and Snake Eyes
turned Crimson Guardsman. Candy, former girlfriend of Ripcord. Billy, son of Cobra Commander. And the
Soft Master, one of the few remaining masters of the Arishikage clan.

All of which is gibberish if you’re unfamiliar.

Paths cross, come together. It’s a story about destiny, heroism, and shaking off the past, and looking to
the future. Unfortunately only one of these roads leads to the possiblity of happiness. Hama never played
it safe, and he settled several secondary character fates with finality, while giving a last page grace note that tempers the grim preceding pages.

Issue #109 “Death in the Desert”

The latest and last entry in the list has the most impact of any single issue. It’s here for only a handful of
pages, and it’s not so much for the technical “best” aspect as it is for importance. Hama got word from
the powers that be: a few characters are being retired, so please “retire” them.

Death in comics is meaningless. Everyone comes back. Everyone except for Uncle Ben, and the Joes killed
in this issue. There was something ballsy about killing the good guys in what’s basically a marketing
tie-in to a kid’s toyline. Anybody who read this issue probably was thinking the same thing (maybe with
better grammar) that Quick-Kick repeated over and over, with a bit of astonished disbelief:

They kilt the Doc.

They kilt the Doc.

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