Category Archives: Reading comics

Silent Interlude Redux: a Review of the G.I. Joe 40th Anniversary Special, Part 2

In Part 1, I offered some context for the new G.I. Joe 40th Anniversary Special via a trio of Marvel Comics “Tribute” issues wherein top artists of today each redrew a page from a classic Marvel story. I started making an analogy that comics like these resemble popular song remakes. I’m going to return to that analogy later, but since the selling point of this new G.I. Joe work is each new artists’ take, and the ability to see this story anew, first thought I would riff on each page.

There’s an inherent challenge to a comic like this, and that is somehow showcasing the new artists in a way that doesn’t distract or detract from the original work, and keeping something of the new artist’s own style, that it doesn’t get completely subsumed in the remaking process. For example, page 1 is by Tom Feister. That name calls to mind a particular type of photo-referenced art and a particular color treatment, think G.I. Joe Origins circa 2009.

I like this new Silent Interlude page 1, but nothing about it says to me “Tom Feister.” Partly that’s the page composition. There’s no front-on figure work, and most comics artists who took on this Larry Hama layout were going to disappear in it. Maybe an inker with a strong signature style, think a Klaus Janson or a Bill Sienkiewiez, would show through, but name any 23 current Marvel/DC/Dark Horse/IDW artists redrawing a Cobra CLAW flying in the mountains with two pairs of legs peeking through and I wouldn’t correctly guess them. So my comment that Feister disappears here is not a criticism. He draws the layout with no changes or embellishment. It’s handsome, and as per the original and Hama’s strengths as a storyteller, clear.

None of IDW’s Real American Hero issues written by Hama have had story titles, and somewhat in that spirit, and in saving time/money on a letterer (as with the 1983 original) the words “Silent Interlude” don’t appear on page 1.

Where this page falls down for me is the color. I’m on record as not being a big fan of J. Brown’s work on Real American Hero, so I’ll keep this short, but let me point out three things: 1) The original is sunset. It’s striking. Part of why that is striking is contrast. Pink (clouds) contrasts with green (mountains), and blue (sky) contrasts with brown (mountain). There are two colors in the sky, one for clouds and the other for actual-sky. There’s a different color for the mountains. And that time of day is absolutely certain. Yet in Brown’s hands, all sky and cloud and mountain are the same light purple. No contrast, and I can’t tell what time of day it is beyond “night time.”

[Left to right: “Silent Interlude” original separations on newsprint, 1983; “Silent Interlude” reseparated by Digital Chameleon using the original color as exact guides, 2002 (and used for all IDW reprints since); new art and color, 2022.]

2) Brown treats objects inconsistently. Here’s a zoom-in on the purple rock abutting the grey castle on page 1:

The highlight on this rock should also be a highight on this castle. It is not. If your response is that this is a nitpick, my counter is that this is what colorists do, they render light across space and surfaces, and they lead the eye. Brown often colors as if there are additional, invisible light sources all throughout a scene, and this rock/castle bit is but one example.

I mocked this up with real objects, a grey box and a purple piece of paper. Either the highlight can affect neither or both, but it should be consistent.–

But that third example above with the dark box and the brightened paper is what I see here:

This comment isn’t about one sliver of one page. This kind of light treatment happens all throughout the comic book.

3) Ugly gradients. Now certainly a color in and of itself can’t be ugly. As a kid, brown and green Crayola markers were the least interesting to me in those 10-packs. But now I keep a variety of brown Tombo brush pens near my sketchbook, to work both as colors in and of themselves but also to affect other colors. And certainly one needs brown for all sorts of objects — trees, skin, the cloth of a Cobra W.O.R.M.S. driving his Maggot tank. The same goes for grey-blue-purple or peach-pink-grey. Right? A color isn’t ugly in and of itself, it’s what you do with that. But this gradient, from grey-blue-purple to peach-pink-grey, is unattractive and distracting:

Here it is in situ, a distracting background swatch:

For some reason, the background grey-blue-purple matches Scarlett’s costume, while the peach-pink-grey almost matches her skin and does indeed match Storm Shadow’s. Rather than popping from the background, these foreground characters “rhyme” with it. Here, let me try something:

Not the best solution, as maybe the flat background doesn’t agree with the rendered characters, but at least there’s contrast, returning to point number one.

Then, two panels later, there’s so much activity in that background that it distracts from Storm Shadow’s mental anguish and the subtlety of his physical motion. Rather, that little electric storm of blue says “HEY, LOOK HERE AT THE TOP OF THE PANEL BY THIS GUY’S HAND!!!!” Storm Shadow’s inner conflict is adequately captured in the line art and needs no background exaggeration. And then, panels 3 and 4 below have the same color treatment, whether light can enter through the portal or the portal is closed. In both, the background is a) not rendered in a curve as per the shape of the prison cell, but as a flat marbleized texture, and b) the same muddy-violet regardless of the amount of light pouring in.

I get it, color need not be literal. It can be emotional. Certainly my yellow background above is not literal. But J. Brown uses every emotion all of the time. I don’t think his approach is a fit for G.I. Joe. And that’s all I’m going to say on the colors.

Let’s get back to me riffing on the pencil-and-ink artists and return to each art page, one at time.


Page 2 is Freddie Williams II. This is a great bit of follow-through on Editorial’s part, because I’ve been a tad disappointed that someone of Williams’ stature has done so much 1980s-toy and licensed work (18 full issues Batman/Ninja Turtles and another dozen between He-Man/Thundercats and Godzilla/Power Rangers) but has only done covers for G.I. Joe. Where’s the love for interior pages? Finally we get one. Williams wrote a fascinating book on drawing comics digitally, and while his ink washes are far too much for my tastes and his covers often get too busy, he’s a earned his place in this comic book. Bonus: No ink washes here!

Williams is the first artist to fundamentally diverge from Hama’s original layout. This is not something I would do were I involved in the 40th Special, but to Williams’ credit, his take is as dramatic and clear — no net change up or down.


Page 3 comes from Tim Lattie. He’s drawn two G.I. Joe covers, but no interiors to this point. One of those covers was for a reprint of Yearbook #2, presumably linking Lattie’s cartooning to Michael Golden’s. Lattie’s “Silent Interlude” page continues this cartooning approach, something you’d expect more from an “Animated Adventures”-type series than a “regular” one. He’s concerned with curves and rounded shapes (like I said — “cartooning”) more than anyone else in the tribute. It’s attractive, but the first jarring shift from one style to another, from Williams’ page 2 to Lattie’s page 3. That is part and parcel of such a tribute comic, and doesn’t affect my enjoyment of any one page, but does affect how I take in the project as a whole, like the second verse of a song performed by a different band.


Page 4 is Alex Sanchez, who has drawn a few covers and two entire issues of G.I. Joe. What sticks out most to me with his previous Joe work is how much his layouts and approach to drawing resemble Travis Charest. Sanchez doesn’t hide this fact in interviews, Charest is indeed an influence. I don’t see that here save some detailing on Snake-Eyes and the plane, but Sanchez is of course playing by a strict set of rules. He makes a few panels smaller so he can increase the size of the main Snake-Eyes-Falling panel, not an unreasonable change. I’m not sure why SE’s left arm is aiming back, though. It gets lost in the inking.


Page 5 is drawn by Brian Shearer. Best known as an inker of many IDW Joe issues, Shearer not-just-inked but penciled and inked issues #253 and #277, and his work is much more open than most Joe artists. It’s not cartoony, but is in that direction. He sticks close to the 1983 layouts.


Page 6 belongs to Dan Schoening, who drew a regular issue of Joe in the style of the Sunbow cartoon, which led to a 4-issue miniseries set in that animated world. Schoening has drawn a load of Ghostbusters comics, and is something of a chameleon. I don’t have a sense of what his default or base style is, so I had to check who drew Page 6, as I couldn’t tell on my own. Schoening makes a tiny but dramatic change, placing not a Cobra Soldier atop the castle, but a Crimson Guard. I’d be up for this kind of update, except that it creates a continuity error a few pages later, as Snake Eyes is going to fight three Cobra Soldiers in that spot, not two Cobra Soldiers and one Seigie. It’s small enough that some readers won’t even notice.

(I know I wrote that I was done commenting on color, but J. Brown overloads the page with green light from every monitor and screen. Okay, back to the pencil/ink artists.)


Page 7 is drawn by Casey Maloney, who drew a bit of the Chuck Dixon run in 2011 and one Real American Hero issue of G.I. Joe quite recently. His work is closer to Brian Shearer and Tim Lattie in that it’s more open and his proportions are ever so slightly cartooned. A question I had concerning this page was how the background in panel 1 would get inked. In the 1983 original inker/finisher Steve Leialoha shows the artist’s hand with a sketchy, unfinished approach. The thick black lines reveal some of the paper beneath, equally suggesting a starry sky and the cross currents of rushing wind. You are aware of it as ink on paper. In Maloney’s hands, while those tiny white slivers and triangles still recall an artist making marks, colorist J. Brown adds a white glow-fuzz to each, so they are definitely stars. No other stars appear in panels 2, 3, or 4, but I’m going to let this inconsistency go since there are definitely stars on the previous page.


Page 8 comes from Maria Keane, who has inked a bit of G.I. Joe recently. This is an unusual way to “meet” her, as we’ve not seen her pencil G.I. Joe before. This is the 7-panel bobby pin page, and Keane makes only the slightest changes to posture and posing. It is with this page that I start to wonder if the 40th Anniversary Special is less fulfilling as a comic book and more interesting as an exercise, if it’s less that the sum of its parts, even if all those parts are strange and wondrous. I don’t write that to pick on Keane, as when this comic was solicited I briefly imagined myself redrawing this very page and thought “Oh, but I can’t change anything.” More on this later.


Page 9 is drawn by Adam Riches, who’s known for Hasbro G.I. Joe toy package art — both original and recreations — as well as a few variant comic book covers. Were I contributing to this book, I would be sorely tempted to sign my page as well! As this is the only page with an artist’s signature, it sticks out a little, but in the context of this remake, where I’m always aware that I’m reading a redo of an old comic, it’s fine. This reminds me of the occasional comic where the artist signs all the splash pages, a practice I lightly disagree with. Covers, yes. Final page of a big-deal story arc or the artist’s final issue ever, sure. Page 9? Not needed.

Riches winks at the whole affair, turning Destro’s chess pieces into actual G.I. Joe action figures. They’re colored in grey and white, alluding to marble or ivory, but they are toys, right down to the arm rivets and leg joints. This reminds me a little of the difference between the real world of 1995 and 2005. When the film Toy Story was released, those characters were all invented toys. By the time Toy Story 3 hit theaters, a generation of kids had grown up with Buzz and Woody action figures and plush toys, and so our reaction to the film was subtly different. Of course there were G.I. Joe action figures when “Silent Interlude” was first introduced and 1983-Destro reflected over his chess set, but 38 years later everyone reading (and drawing!) this Anniversary comic is acutely aware of Real American Hero as a generational, nostalgic proposition. There’s no room to make a joke in this special, but Riches finds a way. When I first saw this last month I rolled my eyes, but in re-reading the story since then, I find it sweet and quite funny.


Page 10 is one of the two most interesting of the whole batch. That is because it’s drawn by Alex Milne. He was a robot-drawing wiz, a discovery during the Dreamwave era of Transformers comics. The details were impressive, but the storytelling got lost. In 2006, he pitched in on the end of Devil Due’s third G.I. Joe vs. Transformers crossover, but taking a casual glance, he may have only drawn robots. Somewhere just before the transition to IDW Publishing, something clicked with his page layout, and Milne was on a path to being the best Transformers comic book artist ever. More and more detail, yes, but clear storytelling and great acting. Humans aren’t a big part of his ouevre, especially in the extraordinary More Than Meets The Eye series (10 paperbacks plus three essential tie-ins). However, a version of G.I. Joe was wandering around the Hasbro-verse post-“Revolution” in Transformers continuity, and Milne was briefly reunited with best-Transformers-colorist-ever Josh Burcham to fill-in on issue #4 of Optimus Prime in late 2016. All of the pages are great, but I still wasn’t fully convinced Milne could pull off humans, humans acting, and Joes specifically, until then. He can indeed draw humans:

And then Flint flies a Skyhawk! I’m skipping that page. Here’s the one that follows:

Milne would certainly nail the vehicles if he became series regular on Real American Hero, amiright? Oh, also, he did a V-Wars one-shot for IDW. I’m not sure why, but Milne’s acting and action in that entire comic book are a tad stiff. Maybe it’s the script, maybe it’s because vampires are kinda stiff. Interestingly, in the 40th Anniversary Special, Milne’s page is the closest to Hama’s originals, with the least amount of changes. I don’t want this to become a blog post about Transformers, but A) Alex Milne exaggerates and slightly cartoons his Transformers, which is an amazing feat. B) Josh Burcham knew the key to coloring complicated scenes of robots covered with detail and overlapping each other was to color less, not more. C) Please someone hire Alex Milne and Josh Burcham to make G.I. Joe comics.

Where was I? Oh, right, the G.I. Joe “Silent Interlude” tribute issue!


Page 12 belongs to Netho Diaz. This is bittersweet, as it’s likely Diaz’s swansong on Joe, minus a variant cover or some end-of-year/series-finale-issue-#300-surprise. Diaz’s decent-sized association with Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe, from the “Rise of the Arashikage” arc in #246 to #250, to the Silent Option miniseries, some of “Snake Hunt,” to a pair of self-contained issues since, are a ramping up in kinetic excitement for Real American Hero. Loads of detail. His storytelling at the start was not strong, but he brought a visual flair and amount of detail that would be right at home with the house style of, say, DC Comics in the last ten years. If not for that Thunderbolts fill-in upcoming, I’d bet Diaz would be drawing Green Lantern or Detective Comics in 2022. Clearly he was never going to stay at IDW for very long, as the lure of higher profile work would call. Here’s a nice reminder of how good we had it for a dozen-plus issues.

Diaz adds a torch to the background of panel 1, another small continuity glitch I’ll chalk up as “interesting.” He draws Snake-Eyes regularly in the bottom two panels, a change from the original issue #21, where the ninja commando is drawn and colored light and almost translucent, like he’s moving too fast to see. It’s a small story change, but I prefer the original.


Page 13 is a contribution from Billy Penn. This guy drew a great issue of Joe last year and then immediately returned to his day job, so like Diaz, I’m quite aware that this is likely it for him on Joe. Penn inks his G.I. Joe more like a 1980s comic book, and is one of the most thoughtful storytellers — I mean page and panel layout — of the last 12 years of Joe comics. Penn flops the angle on Hama’s panel 1, a change I wouldn’t dare, but he pulls it off. He pushes his third panel in closer, which adds some immediacy to this Cobra Soldier falling to his doom, but since the subsequent panel hits a similar note, I prefer the original Hama breath-pause of pulling back on that third panel. Penn’s final panel manages to lose some of the urgency of the moment as all of those Cobra Soldiers don’t look like they’re rushing. I still like this page, and love the balance of gritty realism and weird cartooning he pulls off. Someone came into my shop recently and wanted to read a new issue of G.I. Joe. I heartily recommended #287, seen above.


Kei Zama draws page 14. This is a fun pick, as some of you regular readers of the current Real American Hero series may have missed Zama’s contribution. She drew the 2019 G.I. Joe Yearbook, but more recently we know her from most-of-two-years on Optimus Prime (at the finale of the previous Transformers continuity, that ended with Unicron), and a (speaking of metal bipeds with guns) Death’s Head miniseries for Marvel. Zama’s storytelling was not always clear on the former, and there are some occasional chunky bits to her anatomical drawing — style over form — but she sticks close to Hama’s 1983 layouts and slightly shrinks three panels so the exciting one of Snake-Eyes at the end gets increased real estate.

While two-thirds of the way into this comic may not be an ideal place to wrap up this post, I will be back soon with riff-thoughts on the final nine pages, the cover, and an overall reflection on the object.

[Jump to Part 1] – [You Are Reading Part 2] – [Part 3 Coming Soon]

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Liefeld’s Snake-Eyes Deadgame is a Miracle

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Filed under Comics Reviews, Reading comics

The Comic That Changed Everything – Part 15

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]

In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin placed their biggest mail order of G.I. Joe comics yet, and the excruciating wait began…

My grade school had half-day Fridays every single week, so I would have lunch at Roy Rogers with Betty, my family’s housekeeper/nanny/second mom, on the way home.  And my brother, in 9th grade at a different school, didn’t get home until 4 or 5pm, whereas I was already playing Dig Dug on our IBM XT and watching Dennis the Menace at 1.  On a Friday after what felt like months, where every day I longed to see a package awaiting me at my front door, Betty and I pulled into the driveway, my neck still careening for an angle on the screen door in case THIS WAS THE DAY.

Indeed the screen door was just a tad ajar, but in no way the amount needed to make room for an eight-foot tall box of comics.  And there had been a few false alarms — small packages for my mom, or all our regular mail bundled together with a rubber band, so I wasn’t going to get my hopes up again on the short flagstone walk to the front stoop.  But there it was anyway, another modestly sized, tightly taped East Coast Comics box!

I have no recollection of getting it inside, or forming half-words to Betty to express its significance, but soon I was kneeling on the bed in my parents’ room, an odd place for the unpacking operation, but one that makes its own sense.  Betty watched soap operas downstairs in the family room, and from an early age my brother and I knew we weren’t allowed to join in.  (At the time soap operas showed the occasional sex scene, all tastefully under the covers, really nothing more than prone kissing – tame by today’s standards.  But nonetheless we were chased out of the room if we lingered too long while fetching an action figure or an afterschool Pudding Pop.)  So that room was out.

My room was too narrow for stacks of loose comics so large they threatened to asphyxiate me should they topple over.  What I needed was a big space to spread out so I could take in all the G.I. Joe goodness at once.  We watched TV on our parents’ bed, and sometimes read for school there, so it was atop the brown 1970s bedspread and before the orange, brown, and white tulips of Vera Wang’s wallpaper that I gingerly dumped 40 new G.I. Joe comics out in front of me.

I’ve alluded to this a few times before here at Real American Book, the unattainably nostalgic feeling of reading during that first year of collecting comics.  This was when a comic took 45 minutes to finish, when I would read every page three times, and then read the comic again.  When I was legitimately concerned that whatever deathtrap or point blank pistol promised inescapable death to Snake-Eyes, to Ed Marks, to Daredevil on the cover might actually happen.  I was worried Snake-Eyes would step on that landmine on the cover of G.I. Joe #63 even though I had already read issue #s 90-95 — starring an alive and well Snake-Eyes!  (Okay, not always well, since he got hot ash thrown in his face in #95.)  But here now was an almost overwhelming tableau of those images, Marvel’s 1980s cover stock and color saturation popping off that bedspread, yellows that blinded, red that promised of blood, white in the steely eyes of determined heroes, flamboyant purples for villains, dangerous green jungles, ultramarine skies.  Like an amateur card dealer I shuffled the comics around with the palms of my hands, over and over, prepping for a game of Go Fish that would never finish, would never start.  These cover images, most drawn by Mike Zeck and Ron Wagner, are indelibly burned into my brain, and the power they hold, supported by the interior narratives, multiplied by the unassailable guilding of nostalgia make most other comics dissatisfying by comparison.

There would be no buyer’s remorse for this splurge.  Only the satisfaction of having half-completed an entire run of Marvel G.I. Joe in one fell swoop.

I must have spent a half hour just looking at them, moving them around, arranging them, picking some up, flipping through them.  Looking at them.  Looking at them.

While I was still curious how 40 comics hadn’t needed a box bigger than a coffin, that concern faded, and the entire stack went with me into my bedroom.  I sat propped up against two navy blue pillows on my lower bunk bed, Prince’s Batman soundtrack playing on my boom box.  (Oh, how I’ve tried to keep the ‘80s from overwhelming every paragraph of this blog.  Oh, how I failed on that last sentence.)  And there I read comics for hours.

I should note here once again how memory misaligns.  For years I’ve remembered this big order as my second, but the date (12/15/89) on the one I showed in part 14 of this story means this bigger order had to be our third.  And I remember it arrived in the spring of 1989, but the Batman album didn’t street until June 15 of that year.  And I wouldn’t have bought it opening day.  But school got out in early June, and not only did I come from school that East Coast day, I must have told Will all about it the following Monday.  Right?  So how was I listening to an album that I hadn’t bought yet?  Could I be conflating a later reading session with this victorious day of postal receipt?

Regardless of the answer, I have no memory of Kevin coming home later, and me telling him the good news, and him sorting through the stack, taking in the pulp bounty for himself.  But I do remember both of us spent hours that weekend reading, me prone on the family room floor, elbows digging into our soft yellow shag carpet, and Kevin lying on the couch, a tall pile of comics on the coffee table between us.  The coffee table where my father kept his coffee table books, the ones that indirectly seeded the idea for A Real American Book.

And though the dual afternoons offered us much in the way of thrilling narratives, double crosses and death-defying escapes, it doesn’t quite compare to that break in the tension storm when my months-long anxiety at last broke, and that giant East Coast Comics order finally arrived, on a spring Friday afternoon at the end of 6th grade.

I still think about that day when I listen to Batman.

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]


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Hub Comics in the news

DigBoston Feb 29 2012 Tim Finn photo at Hub Comics by Jamie Meditz

Photo by Jamie Meditz

Not much touted here is the fact that I own a comic book store.  It’s a recent development, and with our renovations still ongoing (shelves, paint, lights, awning, website), it’s a little harder to blog and write.  On the plus side, our customers always have IDW’s full line of G.I. Joe comics and graphic novels to choose from.  Both myself and the store are in this week’s issue of DigBoston, a free arts and nightlife newspaper, and I manage to give some attention to Real American Hero.

DigBoston Feb 29 2012 cover Diesel Cafe photobooth photos Tim FinnDigBoston Feb 29 2012 Tim Finn Hub Comics article by Corey Estlund photo by Jamie MeditzA longer version should be online in a week.  Thanks to interviewer Corey Estlund, photographer Jamie Meditz, and art director Scott Murray for the kind coverage.


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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part 14

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

In our last episode, Tim stretched out this story of getting into G.I. Joe comics by also including Marvel super-hero books like Uncanny X-Men.  This week he gets back to G.I. Joe.  Sort of.

After that first mail order in the early summer when my brother Kevin and I got 11 G.I. Joe back issues for $22, we were hooked on the process.  New Jersey-based East Coast Comics, the fine retailer that had filled that first order, was smart to include an updated catalog (a pamphlet, actually) with it, and some months later we gathered our pennies and plotted to fill more holes in our G.I. Joe run.  At this point, the series is on issue #95 or thereabouts, so we’ve got 70 comics or reprints to track down.  Several options offered opportunities to get those comics, each just uninteresting enough that I will probably blog about them individually on upcoming Fridays – finding other comic book stores, attending our first comic book convention, sampling a mail order company beyond East Coast Comics.  But for today:  Our second and third mail orders.

This probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but for me this image is all nostalgia:  The handwriting of my 11-year old self, my mom’s signature, specific G.I. Joe gaps we were attempting to fill, the fact that I still didn’t understand what “Alternates” were – (second choices in case a comic was sold out, so East Coast didn’t have to issue credit slips), and the fact that we were trying out a new series (Nth Man, Ninja Turtles Teach Karate).

Also, memory is funny in how often it turns out to be wrong:  This scan concretely places when we bought issue #36 of The ‘Nam, meaning I was incorrect a few weeks back in this very blog.  I must not have bought that issue at the Montgomery Mall Waldenbooks as 6th grade began.  Apparently it arrived by mail a few months later.  I have no recollection of receiving this box, although I do remember thinking Solson’s TMNT book was an amateurish affair, remarkable considering how amateurish the production in Mirage Studios’ actual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was.  So this must have arrived right around Christmas of 6th grade.  Anyway, there it is, what was probably our second ever mail order.

But let’s skip a few months ahead to spring of 6th grade.  The first two mail orders have arrived quickly.  Kevin and I have saved up enough money to place a big order, and with East Coast selling many issues for less than a dollar, this was not going to be 10 or 15 comics.  No, this time we ordered 40 G.I. Joe back issues.  It was bold, exhilarating, and nerve-wracking.  Even though we were clearly comics buyers by now (Joe, The ‘Nam, Marvel super-hero books, Ninja Turtles), it’s still a transition from being boys who spent money on toys to boys who with our own money bought things to read.  (Chapter books and the occasional Garfield collection were paid for by our parents.)  This shift represented, in a very real sense and not just symbolically, us growing up and away from childhood.  We bought toys and played with them for a few more years (me much longer than Kevin), but toys’ days were numbered the moment I bought that first Joe comic.  (Except for me becoming a vintage toy collector, another topic for another day.)

My friend Will (Hi, Will), also in 6th grade with me, was becoming a comics reader as well.  And comics had a certain currency in my tiny classroom.  One friend talked about Wolverine.  I drew a cutely terrible Batman parody in my notebook.  And new G.I. Joe issues did appear each month concurrent to all this.  But as the weeks went by, I got anxious about this big mail order.  Why was it taking so long?  Why was it taking weeks when the earlier order had only taken one?  Was the package lost somewhere en route?  Did East Coast abscond with our money?  Was the parcel stolen from our front stoop?  During lulls in class I would fantasize to Will about what it would be like to open a box with 40 comics in it.  To instantly more than double the size of our collection.

The specific scenario I kept painting went like this:  Arriving home one day, I’d notice our screen door propped open, even though it always closed shut on its own.  Something must be in the way, something I couldn’t see from the car.  We parked.  I approach cautiously.  Now the box is revealed:  It’s eight feet tall, cardboard, sealed with packing tape.  It can only be one thing.  It can only be an East Coast Comics parcel bursting with comics.  Literally, the box edges are no longer straight, parallel, and perpendicular, as if the comics are forcing their way out, the packing tape starting to tear, like a cartoon container for some magical energy, some tazmanian devil, some pressurized tank ready to explode.  Inside the house I cut it open, but a tidal wave of newsprint pages and glossy covers, G.I. Joe comics the likes of which I’ve never known, surge out as if from a fire hose, like an avalanche, pushing me back, smothering me, the sound like the crash of beach surf!

Will and I said this to each other in a stage whisper, as I’d act it out in my seat, making the rumbly sound effect for the shower of comics.  It was a vignette we’d quietly pantomime for each other, sitting in our seats during a lull in class.  Will’s enthusiasm only reflected back on me, and the wait only became more difficult.


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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part 13

Punisher War Journal issue 19 detail by Jim Lee and Klaus Janson

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] – [13]

In our last episode, Tim went on a tangent from describing buying G.I. Joe comics and this week the tangent expands!

The title of this series of articles refers to G.I. Joe issue #90, and how scanning just a few pages kicked off a sequence of events that turned me from a G.I. Joe fan who liked reading into a comic book collector/reader for life.  And how one issue of G.I. Joe became the next one, and then the older ones, and all the newest ones, and then The ‘Nam.

But something had to bridge my brother and I into the Marvel Universe proper, since Joe and The ‘Nam were both in their own universes.  Kevin and I didn’t know anything about super-heroes, which is what most of Marvel and DC Comics publish.  To put this in context, it’s important to remember than in the 1980s, super-heroes had no cultural footprint.  My 2nd grade sticker album had a Colossus sticker (from a junk store or a birthday party favor), but I had no idea who he was.  The Superman films crashed and burned with the embarrassing Quest For PeaceThe Incredible Hulk was relegated to a few made-for-TV movies that were more dramatic than super-heroic.  The 1966 Batman TV series showed up in reruns some summers, but it had little effect on us.  Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends was over, and we hadn’t ever watched it anyway.  I didn’t pay attention to the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip, but if I did I would have noticed how little happens.  This is still a decade and a half before Marvel’s live-action films, starting with Blade and X-Men, shook up Hollywood.  It’s still years before Fox’s Spider-Man cartoon, Fox’s Batman: The Animated Series, and any live-action Batman sequels.

So rather than super-heroes plural, we only had a sense of Batman.  Certainly the Batmania of 1989 was enough for our pop culture appetite, but in terms of comic books, there was no entry point.  Whatever was needed to get us into DC Comics hadn’t happened yet.  But in the pages of G.I. Joe and The ‘Nam were checklists and ads for other Marvel books.  And the Marvel logo on the top left corner was familiar, so if we were to try out something super-heroic, it would likely be Marvel.  So as 6th grade was winding down, a full year after we started G.I. Joe, Kevin led the way into the Marvel Universe, tugged by the giant gun and overwhelming coolness of this:

Punisher War Journal issue 19 cover by Jim Lee and Klaus Janson

And what a perfect entre.  The Punisher isn’t a super-hero, but he interacts with them.  As a Vietnam vet, Frank Castle was the bridge to the other two comics we read – one about Vietnam and the other with occasional flashbacks to it.  And again, we were boys who liked guns.  The Punisher may get slammed or ignored for being a one-note vigilante book, but that’s an unfair judgment.  Even the stories lacking pathos are exciting action tales, and a handful of stories from the 1980s – notably Grant and Zeck’s “Circle of Blood” and the odd Mike Baron yarn – are smart and compelling.  And to my surprise, Garth Ennis’ 2004-2008 run on the character comprises some of the most satisfying comics I’ve ever read.  (But they’re bloody and grim, and not for everyone.)

A month after Punisher War Journal #19, we picked up (the regular) Punisher with issue #35, which happened to be the start of a 6-part, biweekly-shipping story arc.  Two months later, we took the super-hero plunge with Uncanny X-Men #268.  (Which doesn’t modestly flaunt super-powers since the three spotlight characters in this one issue don’t fly or shoot eye beams.)  Another two months later it was Daredevil, with issue 286.  Again, another grounded hero.  While Matt Murdock does have enhanced senses, he doesn’t fly and he doesn’t shoot eye beams, and his costume is as restrained as super-hero tights go.  And even if he had been over the top, we were primed by now.  Somewhere in there was Wolverine #24 as well, a character a friend in school had talked up. (And written a paper about.)

I don’t want to overdo it on this street-level, depowered bit.  Super-heroes with fantastic powers could well have grabbed us earlier, and we would likely have accepted it.  Sci-fi and fantasy were a-okay in ours books.  I loved Transformers and Tron, Kevin was getting into Dungeons and Dragons, and we both liked the animated G.I. Joe: The Movie, even with its 40,000 year-old Himalayan snake man who wants to conquer Earth.  Make that re-conquer Earth.  But the path is worth noting, that we didn’t jump into super-heroes immediately.  It probably says more about culture than us.  Had we been born five years later we’d probably have been watching Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers instead of reading the black and white Turtles book and ignoring Power Rangers.

During that first year, while purchasing only 6 monthly comic book series our collection went from one comic book to more than fifty.  You’ve already read about that first mail order shipment, but what was different about the next one?  Tune in next week to find out!

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] – [13]

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Twelve

The 'Nam issue 36 cover detail by Wayne Vansant

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] – Twelve

In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin are interested in Vietnam, and have started reading comic books!

Marvel published a monthly series called The ‘Nam.  I didn’t really know what that was, but I could put two and two together:  The title design was a military stencil font, those three letters looked like the end of the word “Vietnam,” and there were Army guys in green on the covers.  While comic books starring super-heroes were grabbing some attention from Waldenbooks’ two spinner racks at our local mall, we hadn’t made that jump yet.  G.I. Joe was “realistic” in a way Uncanny X-Men (whatever that was!) was not, so if we were going to start reading a second comic book (third, counting our truncated following of Joe’s spin-off book G.I. Joe Special Missions), it needed to be similarly grounded.  I had been flipping through this ‘Nam comic for two months now.  Issue #36 had had a particularly compelling cover:

The 'Nam issue 36 cover by Wayne Vansant

I hadn’t experienced any racism in my life, but I knew what it was.  A friend of the family had been singled out a few times, and in grade school we talked about the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. every January.  There we even had a short play about mean parents not letting their kids befriend kids of other races that we performed each year.  And the nation’s capital was the next city over, so the 1963 March on Washington was referenced on local TV news and in the pages of the Washington Post probably a tad more than in the, say, Los Angeles or Anchorage media.  And as much as racism was a real topic that we talked about in history class, it wasn’t anything anyone talked about in any day-to-day fashion.  There was a heaviness to it, as if it was taboo.  So to see it a) on the cover of a comic book, and b) on the cover of a war comic, was surprising to me, a white suburban 6th grader.  The ‘Nam #36 was on-sale the same month Kevin and I got back from summer camp and bought G.I. Joe #92, our second real issue of that series, so we hadn’t passed the tipping point — we were still only buying a G.I. Joe comic book, not just any comic.  But by the time issue The ‘Nam #38 came out two months later, we had 20 or so comic books, and this cover was most compelling.  (If a little lurid for what was an otherwise tastefully done book.)

The 'Nam issue 38 cover by Mark Texeira

This moment, buying The ‘Nam (in what I believe was the last week of) the first month of 6th grade was the tipping point.  This is where Kevin and I went from enjoying more G.I. Joe stories than we could get from just the TV cartoon to becoming regular and devoted comic book readers; When we started buying a second, regular, monthly comic book series.  (So by a certain definition, it’s The ‘Nam #38 that was “The Comic That Changed Everything,” rather than G.I. Joe #90.)

This title, because of its higher quality paper stock, color separations, and limited distribution, was pricier than G.I. Joe.  It was $1.75 rather than a mere dollar.  But the dam was starting to burst.  Kevin and I just liked comics.  We liked stories, we liked art, we liked reading.  With this purchase it would no longer be confined to G.I. Joe stories, G.I. Joe art, G.I. Joe reading.  So I bought this issue of The ‘Nam, and tried to read it on the way home (but I get lightly car sick if I read, so I gave up after a page or two).  At home I discovered it’s a great comic.

Before I could buy the next one, however, I bought my first graphic novel.  Long before DC had any kind of backlist, back when Marvel had only published about fifteen trade paperback collections of famous runs of comic books and didn’t really know what they were doing (as evidenced by the ISBN number ending up on the spine of Marvel’s 1989 The Power of Iron Man and other cutely poor editorial and design choices), Marvel did have three modestly-priced graphic novels reprinting the first twelve issues of The ‘Nam.

The 'Nam TPB covers by Michael Golden

Next to the two spinner racks of individual comic books, Walden had a larger spinner rack of graphic novels (whatever those were!).  That included the second and third ‘Nam books, and for whatever reason, I found the cover of the third one the more compelling.  After hovering around for a few weeks, I bought it.  Excellent art, tight scripting, compelling characters, and the shocking death of a major character.  Regular readers had known him for nine months.  I’d only known him for twenty pages and yet it was an affecting surprise.  And soon I bought the other graphic novel, and then issue 39, and 40, and somewhere the first volume, and then we were regular readers, meaning we now collected a second comic book monthly besides G.I. Joe.

But to be honest,  besides all this grand talk of pathos, characters, and dramatic tension, my brother and I were still just boys who liked guns.  G.I. Joe and The ‘Nam had those in spades.  So it was only natural that the next comic book title we tried out was replete with fire arms as well.

And what Marvel series in 1989 was all about guns?  Tune in next week to find out!

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] – Twelve

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