In the numbered 30s, the monthly G.I. Joe comic was a scheduling challenge. The series was about to get a new regular artist, certain issues needed to advertise key toys based on the scheduling of particular TV commercials that hyped the comic, and of course, every issue needed to be approved by folks at Hasbro. Issues #35 and #36 had six artists between them, one of whom was Mark D. Bright.
Tag Archives: Mark D. Bright
In our last episode, after returning home from summer camp and buying G.I. Joe issue #92, Tim went with his family to Ocean City, Maryland.
One of OC’s two malls, Ocean Plaza Mall, had a toy store near a bookstore next to a video arcade in front of a food court with my favorite pizza, so it was a destination. And one afternoon in the August before 6th grade I wandered into Harriet’s Books, which was a small shop with (I want to say) a green sign with yellow letters. Kevin had gotten into Dungeons and Dragons novels, and I might’ve had to pick up a summer reading book. Just inside on the right was a newsstand with magazines and – COMIC BOOKS! Comic books? Why, if those had been there in years past I certainly hadn’t noticed. But my eyes worked differently. Now I was on the lookout. And there on the bottom shelf was a bright yellow logo that spelled one my favorite words: “G.I. JOE.” It was issue #93! Confusing! Hadn’t we just bought issue #92? Was Waldenbooks behind? Was Harriet’s Books ahead? It didn’t matter, all I knew was that I now had three comics to read over and over on the trip (we had brought G.I. Joe #92 and the Batman adaptation).
For some reason Kevin had stayed in the car – I guess my jaunt inside was going to be quick? Mom or Dad must have been there, or both? Maybe they were in the Super Fresh (grocery store) and I had enough time to kill to run in the mall? Anyway, I opened the car door and excitedly showed Kevin. “Awesome!” was probably his reply. Contrary to his mild reaction two months earlier regarding issue #90, Kevin was now fully onboard and we were splitting all comics purchases 50/50.
The cover to #93 teased big revelations regarding Snake-Eyes, the masked ninja commando clothed in all black. It’s important to properly set the scene of how mysterious and cool this character was: We’d never seen his face, he never spoke, his action figure came with a sword, an Uzi, and a wolf, AND HE WAS A NINJA COMMANDO. I also liked grenades, and his action figure had three molded onto his chest. Very cool. Since he didn’t speak, the writers on the TV show seemed not to know what to do with him, and besides three or so episodes, Snake-Eyes rarely appeared. It fell to Larry Hama, who had created the character’s entire back story, to flesh out him in the pages of the monthly comic book. Even though we only owned less than 15 G.I. Joe comics by this point, Kevin and I knew that portions of Snake-Eyes’ origin and motivations had been doled out over time – issues #21, 26, 27, 43, 84 – but we didn’t have most of those yet. We were in the dark.
I got in the car and started reading. The issue was great, starting with a compelling splash page of the Baroness and Zarana (two villains) grappling with each other in the open doorway of a transport helicopter over Manhattan. At the top, the title “Taking the Plunge” only added to the drama. In the story, threads from issue #90 continue and new story beats develop: Destro asserts his leadership over Cobra; the Dreadnoks brainwash Clutch and drive an ice cream truck; Flint, Lady-Jaye, and Roadblock (three series regulars from season 2 of the TV show) drive G.I. Joe’s Tiger Force-recolored vehicles; and seemingly innocuously, Snake-Eyes and Scarlett see a plastic surgeon in Switzerland. Tantalizingly, Dr. Hundtkinder removes the ninja commando’s mask (the one that looks like a normal face for going about in public, not the black costume one) and rattles off anatomical mumbo-jumbo. (Actually Hama being diligent and accurate.) But we weren’t going to see Snake-Eyes’s real face because that was a permanent part of G.I. Joe lore. Since early 1982, Hasbro, Marvel, and Sunbow had held back what masked characters Destro, Cobra Commander, and Snake-Eyes looked like. It was embedded in the mythology. Those visages would forever be mysterious and unknown. The comic book had previously gone to some lengths to show Snake-Eyes without his mask, but always in shadow, cropped, or from behind.
And then I turned the page.
What did Tim see? Tune in next week to find out!
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!
In our last episode, Tim saw the G.I. Joe comic book that would change his life forever, but his brother told him not to buy it!
I looked at Kevin stupidly, desperately. Cobra Commander was in his battle armor! Insulting Voltar! Destro had his gold helmet! His GOLD helmet! Darklon unloaded his (non-lethal) weapon into Road Pig! The show was in reruns, and we would never see these characters animated in our entire lives! The cartoon adventures of this most engaging brand ever was over, doomed to eternal repeats and diminished relevance like those horrible 1960s Flintstones reruns we caught where there was nothing else on.
“It’s a dollar.”
The emphasis: “It’s a dollar.” What he was saying was “It’s a third of another figure. We could be going to Toy”R”Us again any week now, and you wouldn’t want to be there without enough money to buy your next G.I. Joe figure, would you? It will be a wasted trip, and I’ll buy my next figure, and our next game – the best games happen on the days we bring home new figures (O! The inspiration!) – will be lopsided. And all you will have to show for it is this flimsy paper THING. Whereas a figure is interesting forever because it’s poseable and a concrete object. But a comic book – whatever that is – can’t be any more evergreen than any book, and how often do we reread books? Never.”
That’s what he was really saying. And he was right. It was a waste. It might be a waste.
But on the other hand, a dollar felt like a great trade for this significant amount of entertainment. (And sadly, today the standard cover price of four dollars is not a commensurate exchange for the satisfaction offered by the average single comic book of 2011 – improved paper stock and color production, inflation, improved wages, and corporate greed having ruined today’s comic.) And it was just a dollar. A third of an action figure wasn’t all that much. Plus I was feeling experimental. Contrary, even. I might have made the decision just to spite my brother’s admonition.
So I bought it. I can still remember standing at the register – Waldenbooks had three side by side, the counters higher than most bank tellers, the woman selling me this gateway drug, a giant black placard high up on the white wall behind her listing all important up-coming book releases by date.
I don’t remember telling (or showing) Kevin that I’d bought the comic anyway, but it must have happened on the way out of the store. He probably just said “Oh,” a non-committal reaction that would neither encourage nor pity my decision to vote out of lockstep with my political party. (I tended to do whatever Kevin did. A little brother, my independent streak arrived in high school.) I probably did not look through this comic book – whatever it was – on the ride home since I couldn’t read in a car (still can’t) without stomach discomfort. I don’t remember reading G.I. Joe issue #90 on the family room floor at home 45 minutes later, but I probably did. I don’t remember enjoying every moment of it, but I certainly did.
How did my brother come around? Tune in next week to find out!