For the past ten years, whenever anyone mentioned Larry Hama's name in conjunction with G.I. Joe, the same statistic was cited: from the property's early '00s resurgence in comic shops to last year's big budget Hollywood film, Hama was credited not only for his creation of the core "Joes Vs. Cobra" concept but also for writing the vast majority of a staggering 155-issue run on Marvel's "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" comic series. Starting on Free Comic Book Day, IDW Publishing plans to extend that number for a long while to come.
As fans who saw the initial lineup of FCBD issues set to ship to stores on May 1 already know, the current publisher of the Joe license is continuing the original Marvel continuity right where Hama left off with "A Real American Hero" #155 1/2. At last weekend's Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo, IDW further confirmed that the title would roll right along starting in July with issue #156 by the regular creative team of Hama and artist Agustin Padilla.
"Almost anything that has to do with G.I. Joe, I haven't instigated," laughed Hama explaining to CBR News how the project came about. "It's always somebody picking up the phone and going, 'Hey! How about this?' I feel much more comfortable doing the original characters, but at the same time, they've also evolved some in my head, because, hopefully, I know a little bit more about visual storytelling. The process of telling their stories changes."
The writer said that he prepared to return to the book in a way that would synch up well with reader memories of his original run both in terms of story and character. "I read the last 20 or 30 issues [of the Marvel run.] I hadn't really read them in ten or twenty-odd years. I had to remind myself of where they'd been and refresh my memory of their speech patterns. I had to refresh my memory on the actual continuity, because there's a lot of people for whom the continuity was important, even if it's not that important to me. That's something you have to take into consideration on a commercial project."
As fans of the original "Real American Hero" comic may recall, the series ended on a down note as the terrorist organization Cobra had earned a level of respectability by establishing themselves as a private army for the Eastern Block country of Borovia. That, in turn, forced the G.I. Joe team to be decommissioned, along with their base of operations, The Pit. "There's this interim issue in the free issue that's the Cobra setup issue," Hama said of his new story. "Cobra has created a situation of a fraudulent terror alert and created these situations that make it seem like there's a huge terrorist uprising going on [in America.] And now, Cobra has stepped forward as a civilian contractor to augment the police and the national guard. It's sort of riffing on current events. They're in a position where they've got this power that's been given to them, because basic rights have been overtaken thanks to the fear of the populous. I think it's a very real fear."
When it came to casting the series, Hama found all his favorites from the original run ready to work with and often on the sides that the general public expects them to be on thanks to some late-series brainwashing that brought Storm Shadow back to Cobra. "It's my core cast that I like: Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, Duke, Storm Shadow, Cobra Commander, Destro, Baroness, Billy, Rock N Roll, Roadblock, Stalker...this basic core. The characters are ones I don't have to think about. They're already standing up and walking around."
And while he normally plots his comics as he goes, issue-by-issue, Hama explained that he had the basic idea of an arc shaping up for how the G.I. Joes would come out of retirement. "The whole point is that Cobra puts themselves into this situation of civilian contractors and are protecting the country, but they're also trying to hunt down the Joes and eliminate them because they're a real threat. It's their first strike. Not only do the Joes have to reunite, but they have to escape and evade. The first half of the arc is that escape and evasion. They're being hunted down, and then it's regroup and take the offensive. And that's as far ahead as I am. That's my basic outline. That's as much as I've got. These five issues are the most I've ever projected in my entire life.
"I just start the story on page one and move to page twenty two, and I don't generally know what's going to be on page twenty two until I get there. I come up with a germ of a situation, and that's what I stick the characters into and then I see if they can get themselves out of it. Otherwise, you're forcing characters into choreography and the artificiality of a plot. That never seemed right to me. That's my methodology of doing these."
Hama also said that the IDW version of "A Real American Hero" should serve well the newer G.I. Joe fans as eventually the classic lineup and concept for the characters always comes back around. "You start running out of combinations after 13 years. You make a guy change sides, or a character dies. You've got to change stuff up, because it's sort of like doing a long-running soap opera, except your actors aren't aging out of the parts. The fun aspect of it is playing with the characters and what makes them tick. The plot was always subservient to the characters. I can't remember a single plot. They're not important to me. But I remember who the characters are, and if you get that down on paper, that's really the important thing. People don't walk away from it liking the plot - they walk away liking the characters. That's everything."
In teaming with Padilla, who already worked on the Joe franchise with the "Operation Hiss" miniseries, Hama said, "I really like his artwork. It's very fresh and dynamic" while lamenting that more artists can't take the strong visual approach he appreciates as an artist turned writer. "Nobody does 'Marvel Style' plot and script anymore. All they do is full script. The artists aren't used to it. They don't know what to do when they're handed a plot and the methodology and storytelling is left up to them.
"You have to understand that in 1982 when I started doing the G.I. Joe books, I was not using captions or thought balloons. The captions were like 'Meanwhile, in Washington...' They weren't omniscient narrator captions, and if you look at Marvel Comics from that time, this was a radical departure. And I got flack for it. But since then, that style has become the norm. It's become very passé to have four or five narrative captions describing the event. It's all about the picture and the dialogue."
"G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" #156 ships in July from IDW, on the heels of the FCBD special, #155 1/2.