GI Joe: A Real American Hero #1 (June 1982)

A few months ago, I walked into Midwest Pickers Warehouse in Omaha with my wife. She wanted to look for some retro-ish credenza for our hallway. For those of you who don’t live here or who haven’t been, this business is exactly what it sounds like – – a couple of folks sitting in a warehouse in midtown Omaha, hocking antiques and old crap of every possible variety for “retail prices.”

Example: They had a Show-Biz Pizza glass (WANT), a Metz Beer ice bucket from the 30’s (WANT), and a baseball glove signed by Carl Sabo (not really, but it may as well have been). What I find so interesting about these places is that I used to go to places like this all the time – – thrift stores, garage sales, flea markets – – wherever I thought I could find a “cool” old t-shirt. In those days, everything was so reasonable. A shirt was a quarter or a buck. Shoes were, like, $5. Now, thanks to America’s nostalgia kick, and The History Channel’s “American Pickers,” everything in these places costs more than any sane person would be willing to pay for them. The Metz Beer ice bucket, for example, was $130 – – just so we’re clear about why I don’t own it.

We walked around the warehouse, gawking at some of the bizarre stuff and marveling at some of the others (a card catalog from the old State Capital when it was in Omaha!). Just as we were leaving, my eye caught something – – a stack of old comics, buried under a Star Wars board game (the game was super awesome, but they wanted $70. I’m in the wrong business). I dislodged the comics and carefully fanned them out on the card table. I was stunned by what I was looking at – – a large stack of GI JOE comics from the 1980s, in seemingly great condition (“great” is relative; I’m definitely not qualified to really rate them). The first thing I laid eyes on was this:

For very obvious reasons, I was overcome with the need to rescue these comics from this dusty tomb and give them one last chance at thrilling somebody. But alas! – – as I mentioned, I was with my wife. You wouldn’t know this, but trying to convince my wife that I need to spend our hard-earned Washingtons on the above machine-skuller would be harder than running for Governor. So after a bunch of muttering and passive-aggressive lusty looks at the dust jackets, I was inevitably forced to leave them where I found them.

After I left the warehouse, something bizarre happened – – I couldn’t get these comics out of my mind. I had just recently started reading comics for the first time in my life (unless you count Masters of the Universe. I don’t). This new hobby was beginning to grow and these comics were just… speaking to me. And they looked totally badass. In pretty much every way. I went online and found an e-mail address for the owner of Midwest Pickers Warehouse. I e-mailed them and offered them a serious cash offer for the entire stack (don’t tell my wife). I also mentioned that if they didn’t like the offer, I’d be open to discussion. To this day, I still have not heard a reply. I can only assume that they are so busy selling the baseball gloves of washed-up players and wood clamps from the 40’s that they don’t have time to piddle with something like a dude trying to revive his childhood with absurd sums of money.

So then – – something amazing happened. That very Saturday, as I was sulking about the fact that I never heard back from the very busy and oh-so-above-comic-fans-owner of MPW, I saw an ad on Comixology. GI JOE classic – – every issue – – on sale for $.50 a piece. The very same editions I had just been pining over. With the universe sending me every sign possible that these needed to belong to me, I instantly bought issues #1 through 20. And now, I’m going to review the first issue for you. Hope you enjoy.

Issue 1 – June, 1982

I don’t even know where to begin. So, the first page of the issue opens with a shot of the GI JOEs, in an artist’s rendition of the “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” photograph. If you think that’s over the top (it is), then you’re getting way ahead of yourself.

The issue is funny because the characters, with very, very few exceptions, refer to each other by name… in every single frame. They were trying very hard to just ingrain these character names into your subconscious. They must use Zap’s name 150 times in 12 pages. “Zap” is a good reminder to go over the names of these folks. In issue #1 you have: Hawk (the leader), Scarlett (the girl, who is constantly sexually harassed in a way that would not fly today but was funny in the 80s), Grand Slam, Short Fuse, Grunt, Snake Eyes, Rock’N Roll, Steeler, Stalker, Breaker and Zap. I think half of these names came from old Batman episodes. The rest were just random word associations.

Anyway, the plot revolves around this nuclear physicist who has done some really intense work. She is traveling across the country when “Cobra” storms the train and takes her hostage. It is noteworthy that Cobra storms the train via hang glider. A totally under-used device if I ever saw one. For those of you unfamiliar, Cobra is a the terrorist organization that serves as the main antagonist to the JOEs. They are led by the mysterious and elusive “Cobra Commander.” Cobra Commander, as far as I can tell, is some sort of homosexual circus ringmaster.

Exhibit A:

After the abduction, the US military calls in the JOEs to rescue the doctor and wipe out the terrorist organization. The JOEs strategize on how to ransack the fort of the Cobras – – an old Spanish garrison on an island in the Caribbean. We also learn about the Baroness – – a chick with glasses who serves as Commander’s right-hand lady. She becomes very important later, but for now, she’s an evil lady who gets shit done, particularly when Cobra Commander doesn’t feel like doing things for himself. Which is pretty damn often. Anyway, the JOEs come up with a plan, but as soon as they pull ashore, COBRA spots them. The resulting firefight involves Stalker riding a jetpack and ends with Cobra retreating back into the Island. The JOEs pursue, and after a lot of ado and an insane amount of tank battles, the JOEs end up in the room with Dr. Burkhart, Cobra Comander and the Baroness.

After some very pithy dialogue, the Cobra Commander shoots the doctor, only to escape via helicopter in the ensuing pandemonium. The doctor, fortunately (?) lives, and the JOEs go home, swearing and vowing revenge.

Frame of the Day:

I love that the most fearsome terrorist in the world writes a ransom note that looks like a head cheerleader writing a mash note to the captain of the football team. And I love that the best military minds in the country wasted their time putting it on a slide show projector and analyzing it, in total seriousness.

Rating: I think I’m going to rate these on a scale of 1-10. Here’s how it goes:

Camp: 10. The art work, the names, the entire production value – – just great
Dialogue: -5. Some of it is jaw-droppingly bad. But they do get better.
Character Names: 2. I mean, I know we all love the JOEs, but c’mon… other than Snake Eyes, they all have terrible, terrible names.
Overall: 8. It was a very fun read and hooked me enough that I read 19 more. Good fun. And I’m very glad I bought them.