"G.I. Joe Declassified"
Writer: Larry Hama
Artists: Pat Quinn and Valentine De Landro (pencils), Rob Ruffolo (colors)
Publisher: Devil's Due Publishing
Plot: In the jungles of Sierra Gordo, Stalker, Rock 'N Roll, Grunt and Zap observe the prisoners held captive by the Sierra Gordo Liberation Front. Back in the states Hawk, Clutch and Breaker meet with an intelligence operative. Back at Fort Wadsworth Flash, Steeler and Short-Fuse deal with soldiers getting too curious about the goings on in the motor pool.
Commentary: I am of the opinion that no one could have written this comic better than Larry Hama.
To me, Larry Hama will always be the definitive G.I. Joe writer. I have nothing against what the writers who have worked on the various Devil's Due projects have accomplished, and in some cases I was rather pleased, especially with Paul Jenkins' take on Cobra in the pages of Cobra Reborn.
It doesn't matter though. When it comes to the Real American Hero, Hama is the man. It is not hyperbole to say that without Hama G.I. Joe, as a comic book and toy line, would not have been as successful as it became. Between the wonderfully intricate storytelling in the pages of the Marvel comic and the amusing/awesome file cards he wrote for nearly every action figure, Hama set the tone for what has become an enduring pop culture phenomenon.
So when I say that no one could have written this book but Hama, I'm making a very rare statement of fact. Normally, I am all for people having opinions that are different from mine. In this case, if you think that Hama was not the only man for the job, you are dead wrong.
From start to finish this was a fantastic read. During his stint on the original Marvel book Hama's approach to the storytelling was part military procedural, part action series and part soap opera where he made the audience care about the characters and their motivations. This went beyond the good guys too. There was a depth to Cobra Commander and the other antagonists, even Zartan's Dreadnoks to a certain extent. Hama carried that feeling over in this project. The banter between Rock 'N' Roll and Stalker in addition to the frustration that the others feel for having to sit there and do nothing while the prisoners are being herded into a pit gives some insight into what these soldiers think of their mission. It humanizes them and brings up an interesting theme of duty versus conscience.
Throughout the book Hama makes good use of the history he created. The Baroness makes an early appearance, as does Chuckles, which is great because I always liked him as a character. Hama doesn't bog us down with continuity, though. His writing introduces the characters, and if you know who they are, it's fine, but if you don't then it's a mystery that will unfold over the course of the series. Hama plays to both potential audiences and does it well.
Hama also infuses his characters with their own sense of honor. Sometimes they don't make the decisions that could be considered acceptable, but they have this code that they stick to. Stalker was intent on not leaving the prisoner behind. It was important for him that they bring that man in even though it slowed them down. Steeler had a similar story, which added something to him as a character. Hawk is a different story. At first it seemed that by taking the fall for his sergeant's actions that he was simply stating that he was ultimately responsible for his men's actions. Then, during the court martial, he reveals that he would have done the same thing that his sergeant did. Now on one hand, you can think that abusing a prisoner under any circumstances is wrong, end of story. On the other hand, the sergeant's actions resulted in saving lives. Hama doesn't give a definitive answer on which side is right, but it was an interesting wrinkle to add to Hawk's back story.
I also liked the fact that Hama used an in-joke from the first issue of the Marvel series and turned Shooter into a real character. Now that's good comic books.
In The End: This is a very enjoyable book that should appeal to Joe fans old and new. That may sound clichéd, but at the same time it's true. Devil's Due has done a great job of making this a fun series (complete with the Blister Card variant cover and the SNAKE-EYES file card on the back). I'm not sure that it is worth nine dollars, but it is cool nonetheless. I was also impressed with Pat Quinn and Valentine De Landro's artwork on this issue. It had a really clean style, and I liked the detail they put in the uniforms and weaponry.
What did you think of this book?
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