In our last episode, Tim bought G.I. Joe #93, a comic book that promised to tell much about NINJA COMMANDO Snake-Eyes, but surely would not reveal his never-before seen face! But then Tim turned to page 18…
There it was, taking up almost the entire left side: A full portrait of Snake-Eyes, unmasked! Four huge scars crossed his cheeks and mouth, his right eye bugging out, a calm expression on the martial arts master’s face. It was a shock. I must have made some noise outloud, or burst out “WHOOOA!” Kevin must have asked what was up. I didn’t show him the page, but I sure wanted to. “There’s something in here you’ll really like,” was all I could tease. Surprises in fiction, whether they be dramatic reveals at the end, unexpected cameos, or twists and turns along the way, are the most exciting parts of reading stories and watching films or TV, and this was possibly the biggest surprise of them all. (In a dead heat for first place are the deaths of several key characters at the beginning of the animated Transformers: The Movie, a shocking theatre-going experience that had taken place three years earlier and three miles north.)
Looking back at Mark Bright’s robust portrait of everyone’s favorite Joe I’m struck by how tame the gore is by any standards of action and violence twenty years on. (This is a topic for another day, but it’s clear that what used to net an R-rating now is routinely PG-13, and concerning blood and violence we’re a much more permissive and desensitized society.) When I really think about it, Snake-Eyes doesn’t look that bad. This is the face of a soldier who took trace fire in Vietnam, and who took a face full of exploding fuel in a crashing helicopter on the way to the Iranian Hostage Crisis? I mean, his skin doesn’t look like what little I know of burn victims. But again, this is me being rational and methodical in an analysis that benefits from decades of hindsight and reflection. This image, and indeed all of the violence in Marvel’s G.I. Joe, had to meet the standards of the The Comics Code Authority, the industry’s self-censorship board. But as a soon-to-be sixth grader mired in the height of kid G.I. Joe fandom, this was a revelation without comparison.
The rest of the issue is thrilling. The Joes arrest and then lose the Dreadnoks, Flint and Roadblock threaten civilians (not really), the Baroness learns that the same plastic surgeon who fixed her years earlier (a footnote to issue #22, waaay too early for my brother and I to register as a big deal) is the some one operating on Snake-Eyes, and that Snake-Eyes killed her brother! And then, the Baroness blows up Zarana and the Dreadnoks’ van via remote control — while talking to Zarana on the telephone! This ranks as one of the best cliffhangers ever, and is heightened by the cruelness with which the Baroness executes her task, frowning while she literally pushes a red “detonate” button. (“Luckily I had a contingency plan.” WHAM!) It was all too much excitement, and if it weren’t for needing to shove the issue into my brother’s hands so he get up to speed, I would have read it again from page 1 that very instant.
It is this magic that I long for when I read comic books. A thrilling hunger to know what will happen next, and a nervous worry that anything will, and that my favorite characters might not make it out of the next story alive.
What Kevin and I couldn’t have known was that we started reading the G.I. Joe comic book right around the time that writer Larry Hama was pulling together several plot threads and character revelations, and that the next few months would be my favorite comic books of all time.
What are they? Tune in next week to find out!