"World War Z" author Max Brooks explores another kind of horror in May, when he shifts gears from wars against the undead to a war against a powerful criminal organization in "G.I. Joe: Hearts and Minds." Published by IDW, Brooks's five-issue miniseries will spotlight the heroic soldiers of G.I. Joe and Cobra's network of terrorist agents from a perspective more grounded in the realities of armed conflict than what is seen in the regular series. The mini is illustrated by Howard Chaykin and Antonio Fuso, and an ashcan preview edition will be available at this weekend's WonderCon in San Francisco. CBR News caught up with Brooks to discuss the series, the motivations of its heroes and villains and its potentially unfortunate lack of zombies.
"Hearts and Minds" is billed as a grittier, more realistic version of the Real American Heroes and their villainous counterparts in Cobra. Brooks said, though, that his approach is not quite as muckraking as early promotion might suggest. "Sorry, that's my fault," Brooks said of the tone of the solicitation and press release. "I'm not going to pretend that I've done something that revolutionary with the franchise. I guess what I really mean is that it's just a little deeper and dirtier than the Joe I grew up with. I just wanted to try and see who these characters would be if they had to live in the real world. We talk about the Geneva Convention, human evolution, science versus morality, medical malpractice and a few other things that I'm still amazed Hasbro let me get away with."
"Basically, I just wanted to answer some of my own questions. I wanted to go deeper into these people's lives, figure out what drives them to be in this position," the writer continued. "What makes someone a Joe or a Cobra? The project really should be called 'Up Close and Personal' but 'Hearts and Minds' sounds a little better."
The first issue of "Hearts and Minds" will feature solo stories starring Cobra's Major Bludd, illustrated by Chaykin, and the Joes' Spirit by Fuso. Brooks said that both stories will flesh out the characters beyond their usual portrayals. "Growing up, Major Bludd just seemed like the biggest scumbag. I mean, c'mon, to kill people for cash? That's just low. I wanted to see if there was a plausible reason for what he does, something that might make him a little harder to judge," Brooks said. "As far as Spirit was concerned, I used to be a huge fan of his, mainly because he had a gun that shot arrows (hey, we all gotta start somewhere). When I got a little older I realized what an ignorant stereotype he was...The Injun tracker? That would be fine for G.I. Joe circa 1880. He was a real challenge. How do you make him a natural tracker and not make it part of his heritage?"
Previewing future installments, Brooks said that other issues would star Joes Deep Six, Blowtorch, Doc and Tripwire, and Cobra operatives Firefly, Dr. Mindbender, and Interrogator.
"We also have a compilation of Cobra troopers, and the path they took into becoming terrorists," the writer told CBR.
Brooks's success to date has been largely zombie-centric, with "World War Z" and "Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks" building his name in the horror community. Asked what led him to tackle military-focused stories in "G.I. Joe: Hearts and Minds," the author said plainly, "a bad business sense. If I had any brains, I'd do zombies, and only zombies until I squeezed the last penny out of it. I'm not saying I'm done with the dead, but right now, this is where my passion took me."
That said, the style and attention to detail Brooks brought to his zombie war epics will be in play in "Hearts and Minds."
"As with my other books, I did a lot of homework. I tried to ground every story in reality," Brooks said. "A couple of the stories are actually personal. I took elements from my own life and put them in this series. You don't get much more real than that."