Comic Book Curious


June 13, 2021

By Brian Sheridan | 

G.I. Joe is a real American hero. He’s the very first action figure, making his debut in 1964 and exploding into a line of toys that would be reborn in 1981 in the now-standard 3 ¾ size that millions of children played with, blew up, buried, resurrected, and have now handed down to their own kids. 

G.I. Joe is an icon. A symbol of the US’s love affair with the military and bald-faced propaganda. G.I. Joe is everything we envisioned ourselves to be and nothing we were, both in 1964 and 1981. First they were clean-cut, do-good, all-American average military men (of course, there no women or colored soldiers, though); then they were a rainbow collection of men (and a couple of women - because progress!) from all walks of life, fighting for capitalism and the flag and grandma’s apple pie. 

G.I. Joe is a cartoon. One of the most well-known and well-loved staples of after-school programming (which, surprisingly, only ran for three seasons between 1983 and 1986). To this day, I dare you to say “And now you know” in a public space and count the number of people who reply with “And knowing is half the battle!” This cartoon has been the inspiration for two major motion pictures, and has been spun off into other cartoon series, all trying to capture that incredible lighting in a bottle that was 50% blue lasers and 50% red lasers. 

What G.I. Joe is not, is a terrorist. 

Except when they are. 

Colloquially known as G.I. Joe 2019, the latest series to bear the name takes a frighteningly realistic approach to the heroes of old by making them the right kind of bad guys. Imagine a world where corporate interests have bought their way into the halls of power and unlimited money has paid for laws to be written and re-written so that not only is federal control in the hands of the highest bidder, but the very best defenders of freedom have been painted as traitors, cast down from their watchtowers, and are now criminals.

A man in a red jacket with a tiger printed on it stands in front of a motorized scooter staring at a wanted poster of Duke and Scarlet. In the background is a building with a glowing Cobra symbol on it

Credit: IDW Comics

Imagining this shouldn’t be too hard, and that’s why this book is terrifying in its depiction of these United States, and why it is so engrossing. 

Given the typical lead time for comics publishing, one has to wonder about writer Paul Allor’s prescience in creating this book before the horrifying events of 2020; police starting riots, assaulting random, and committing war crimes as unmarked vans full of military-geared men snatch journalists off the street and whisk them away, promising to release them only if they waived their rights. 

Soldiers pull a man into a van

Except in comics, we can hold out hope that the Joes will track down their missing comrades and free them from the fascist police state, and they often do, but in this particular series the production team isn’t afraid to show what happens in war…

People die.

Important people.

Characters you could name even if you’d only tangentially followed the comics or cartoons of the 80’s. 

That’s how real this comic gets in its story, because that’s how god-damned good it is, and that’s why this comic is so important. 

A series of plans show Duke fighting off armored Cobra soldiers as they pour out of a van to attack him in front of a cafe.

Credit: IDW Comics

In a time when bad guys have been emboldened to commit open insurrection, spurred on by the mad ramblings of a shit-stained wanna-be tyrant, it’s important to know that our childhood heroes are still relevant, and that they can still win the day. Not through the rah-rah flag-waving of our childhood - that innocence is long lost and it was a blind, ignorant innocence in the first place. What G.I. Joe 2019 does is thrust the Joes into a grown-up world so it can take on that world and win. The right way. 

Currently collected as G.I. Joe: Castle Fall, the whole series is available from IDW (proudly publishing G.I. Joe comics, off and on, since 2008). If you were ever a fan of G.I. Joe, this is a great book to pick up and see how your childhood heroes survive in the adult world. If you were ever a fan of democracy, this is a great book to pick up and find hope within.

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