In our last episode, young Tim paid a whole dollar for G.I. Joe issue #90!
There was much to love about this comic:
-Page one was a splash, that is, a single illustration taking up the whole page. Modern comics eschew this in favor of text recaps or several smaller panels that lead to a page two splash or a page 2-and-3 double splash, but for my oddly tuned aesthetics, comics should start with a splash on page 1. And this particular splash page showed two characters I’d never seen bicker – Zaranna and the Baroness, screaming and grappling with each other while almost falling out of a Cobra transport helicopter over Manhattan. Once again, several things rare or unheard of in the Joe cartoon: Villains fighting, more than one female villain in the same scene, and more than one female villain fighting.
-There was something “open” about the art. It would be another year before I decided Mark D. Bright, the pencil artist who drew G.I. Joe #90 (and the following 15 issues or so) was my favorite artist in all of comics. And it would be another two years before I decided I would buy any comic he drew once his G.I. Joe run had ended. But for now, there was a strong sense of spotted blacks (a term in illustration that denotes where significant shapes filled with black ink help provide a sense of form and depth to anatomy, props, and backgrounds — something you don’t see in the line-only styles of, say, the Garfield newspaper strip or Herge’s Tintin) that didn’t overpower the artwork, and that let the color breathe more than that first comic I’d ever looked at and rejected. (That would be G.I. Joe #54, drawn by the wonderful Ron Wagner, whose work I quickly came to love.) There were also more colors by now – Marvel had upped its palette in the intervening years, and slightly improved its paper stock.
-An entire scene comprising of the Cobra brass – Cobra Commander, Destro, Voltar, Zaranna, the Baroness, Dr. Mindbender, and Darklon arguing about the power balance of their organization. But the meeting is led by Destro, not Cobra Commander! This made my head spin, but in a good way. And insults are hurled:
“This throwback wears a monocle and a cape and he’s casting aspersions on my character.” (Darklon to Destro)
And they’re funny!
I had briefly seen Destro take over Cobra during the first TV miniseries six years earlier, and Serpentor (the Cobra Emperor) had permanently wrested power from Cobra Commander within seconds of first appearing, but this was more involved, humorous, and pleasantly disorienting. (And where was Serpentor, anyway?)
-Joe prisoners and Brain Wave Scanner. At last, the promise of the cover art fulfilled! Worse, Cobra agents travel into the Joes’ memories and plant false information! As a fan, my heart went out to these fictional characters.
-Old Joes and new Joes. Conspicuously each new season of the G.I. Joe TV cartoon would leave out older characters as newer ones appeared. There were debut toys to sell, after all, despite the challenge this unending stream of characters caused the show’s writers. And when it came time to populate a crowd scene, rather than place “retired” Joes in the background, it was the nonsensical “greenshirts,” anonymous, generic Joes that would fill that role. I even have a memo from 1985 where a Sunbow producer spells out for the writers which characters to no longer include for that year. It was that purposeful. But here in this Marvel comic book were the aforementioned new characters, as well as Breaker, Cover Girl, Mutt, and Bazooka from ’82, ’83, ’84, and ‘85.
-Serpentor’s corpse! I cannot overstate what an odd surprise this was. On TV, no one ever died. (My brother and I didn’t know that Duke was supposed to have died in the 1987 animated G.I. Joe: The Movie. So convinced were we by the clunky audio patches that place him merely in a coma after taking a poisoned staff to the heart that we believed the small eruption of red liquid from said wound was in fact blood-colored poison. Of course it was a coma, because no one died in kids’ cartoons.) Here, not only were Destro and Dr. Mindbender talking about hiding Serpentor’s corpse, they alluded to having plans for it. So not only had I missed his death, and any ensuing power struggle, now I had to keep reading to see what would happen to Serpentor’s body.
-Also, the B.A.T.S talked. On the cartoon, Cobra’s Battle Android Trooper robots didn’t speak. Zombie-like, they merely walked and fired their machine guns. Here they talked and piloted helicopters.
-Also importantly, one bit a dialogue in issue #90 had a footnote. Destro refers to the “Cobra Civil War,” giving me that heart-bending tingling feeling I get when a story hits a cliffhanger or I realize I’ve missed some revelation. That certainly explained him trying to sort out the chain of command and Serpentor’s body being preserved in ice. That footnote pointed us to issue #77, which could now be a likely next comic book to track down. (Footnotes, like sound effects, have most unfortunately fallen out of favor in monthly mainstream comic books, but at the time they were all the rage.) This will be important later on in the story of my brother and I starting out in comics as we bought our next issue of G.I. Joe at Waldenbooks a month later – but shockingly, it wasn’t #91!
What issue was it? Tune in next week!