Following the assassination of Cobra Commander in "Cobra" #12, IDW Publishing's "G.I. Joe" line of comics enters a new phase beginning in April's "Cobra Civil War" #0. That issue will introduce a new status quo for the three new ongoing series: a relaunched "G.I. Joe" title by current writer Chuck Dixon and artist Javier Saltares, a "Snake Eyes" ongoing series also written by Dixon with art by Robert Atkins, and a relaunch of the "Cobra" series by the current team (minus Marvel-exclusive writer Christos Gage) of Mike Costa and Antonio Fuso. The three new series begin in May and, while they can still be read individually, they will now be more closely integrated than they have been since IDW began publishing "Joe" in 2008.
CBR News caught up with writers Dixon and Costa and editor Andy Schmidt for a broad discussion about plans for the line as a whole, the treatment of each new series, the details that set "G.I. Joe" fans apart and how to make the unlikeliest characters cool.
CBR News: First, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how fans have responded to Cobra Commander's death.
Mike Costa: To me, it seems like everyone's very positive. And Andy, I think you have done a really good job of getting out in front of it and saying, "This is not a gimmick, this is not a fake-out, this is real and it's going to affect the stories." I think that probably helps, because the reaction would have been somewhat different if that news hadn't come out simultaneously with the event.
Chuck Dixon: I was kind of surprised by how big of a deal this seemed to be. You know, we always want these things to be a big deal, but this one apparently impacted, and people are talking about it, which is great.
Andy Schmidt: I think it's one of those things where a lot of people care about "G.I. Joe," but over time, since the height of its popularity years ago, have just fallen off. So when you wind up doing something that affects one of the icons of the franchise, I think a lot of people are interested in that. It's a smaller version of the "Death of Superman," which got national and even international media attention. Not all of those people went out and bought the comics, but they were interested when something like that happens.
I think with G.I. Joe, it sometimes gets undersold as 'a comic book thing,' or 'a toy thing,' or it's a cartoon, and while all of those things are true, I think it's managed to elevate, partially because of those three things. It had a very successful cartoon, it also had a very strong and impactful comic book. If you talk to a lot of comic book creators, they'll talk about "Joe Point One" [the Marvel series] as an influence on the industry or on them personally. And the toys were fairly revolutionary, as well. So I think "G.I. Joe" as a whole is elevated above the sum of its parts. It's a much broader and well known thing than a lot of people realize.
Costa: I think this is the most attention something that I have worked on has received since Jimmy Fallon made a joke about Optimus Prime quitting in his monologue, which is still the greatest moment of my life.
Dixon: I think it's also that readers can see a potential for a really great story coming out of it. Whereas "Death of Superman," death of whoever's gonna die in "Fantastic Four..." We all know that's kind of a stunt. But because we know that G.I. Joe is essentially a war comic -- characters dying are more logical parts of stories, and they know this Cobra Commander ain't never coming back, because we don't deal in that kind of stuff. Then who will succeed him is a potentially fantastic story.
Schmidt: I will go one step further, Chuck, and say that it doesn't have the potential; from someone who's read the scripts, it is a fantastic story.
Dixon: Well, I wasn't going to say that.
Schmidt: Yeah, it's much more egotistical if you say it.
Dixon: Well, I was trying to get you to say it!
Schmidt: [Back to the topic of death as a stunt.] One of the things that I tried to stress when we held our press event is, yes, we want to shock you; we have your attention. But we have your attention because we want you to start reading now. It's the perfect time, either with "Cobra" #12 or with April's "Cobra Civil War" #0, to really jump on and be on the ground floor [of] what we think is going to be a unique, really wild ride.
Andy, in the press call you mentioned that when the "Cobra" guys suggested killing Cobra Commander, one of your first calls was to Chuck. Chuck, I'd be curious to hear your perspective about that call.
Dixon: I thought it was a terrific idea. It would give us a way to show the inner workings of Cobra, which was really only hinted at. How this operates, with the governing body of the Council, and also how this Cobra Commander got his job, and we'll find out through the course of this story the process that Cobra uses. I think it's a fascinating look inside how this outfit works. Also it's a great way to bring in and highlight Cobra members that we really haven't had much of a look at and bring in a few new ones. Really take a look at the organization as a whole -- because we have an understanding of the way G.I. Joe works, but [we're] not that clear of the day-to-day operations at Cobra, beyond all the sneaky, noirish espionage stuff that Mike's been doing.
I think Joe fans like to know how stuff actually works. They like the gadgets, they like the vehicles, they like the ordnance, they also like to know the chain of command and all this other stuff that a lot of other comic book franchises just take for granted. Joe fans want us to explore that stuff.
Costa: I totally agree. And since it came up, I just want to tell the story of how incredibly gracious Chuck is and how this all works, because when I first talked with Andy about introducing Cobra Commander in issue #4 of the second "Cobra" book, and then killing him in ["Cobra" #12], I thought this was just awesome. It was going to be fantastic. Then Andy rightly said, "Yeah, you know Chuck writes the main book. You want to introduce the main villain and kill the main villain in not-the-main-book?" I had never thought about that before! [Laughs.] Oh, right. He goes, "I kind of have to make sure this is all right with Chuck." I thought, well, there goes my idea. He got back to me the next day and said, "Chuck thinks it's great. And he specifically said" -- I don't know if this was actually said by you, Chuck, but it makes you look good so you should own it if you didn't say it -- "Chuck has been the guy who's been the guy who's writing the spinoff before, and he never gets to do what he wants. So he said yes." That was really fantastic and I will always remember that as one of the most gracious moves that any writer has ever made. Because if it was me, I don't know if I'd do that.
Dixon: I just thought, storywise, it logically had to take place in "Cobra." It would be stealing a moment from that book that belongs in that book. We can reference the hell out of it in the regular "Joe" title and get the bang out of it, too. And, you know, years of writing "Detective [Comics]," where I would get what happened just after the big event. [Laughs.] You don't get to see Batman's back get broken in "Detective," you get to see him put down. [All laugh.] He's dropped to floor after his back is broken -- oh, that's a big moment! I was used to getting a lot of that. We didn't want to play it this way, we wanted a team thing. We want the whole event to succeed. I mean, the goal of any event is to get the titles to sell about the same amount, because we want people to follow the story throughout. This will give "Cobra" a leg up.
As you've said, the death will be referenced in the regular "Joe" title, and things will be more tightly integrated than they had been previously, but can you say anything about how the Joes learn that Cobra Commander is dead, and what their first instinct is to do about it?
Dixon: Because they really know so little about Cobra, they're not sure how to react to it. The first time they even hear of Cobra Commander is that he's dead! They don't know what to make of it. And of course they don't call him "Cobra Commander," it's just, "The Commander is dead." They get part of an encrypted radio message and it repeats "the Commander is dead" a number of times. But they have no idea the significance of this. Of course, the bloody events that follow impress upon them the significance of this. I actually have it where they learn about it, and the reader will go, "Oh my God, they don't know?" and then an event that they consider even more significant happens just after they learn, and they forget about it until horrible things begin happening.
What else can you tell us about the first arc of the new series?
Dixon: It's a trial by combat, but not between Cobra. They're basically going to show how efficient they are at military leadership and planning operations and having a negative effect on the enemy, and the enemy in this case is G.I. Joe. Cobra's rules of engagement are, there are no rules of engagement. Basically, the Joes are like the teenagers at "Sleepaway Camp," they don't know what's happening. It's all just one horrible thing after another. Being Joes, they don't take it for long, but they're rocked back on their heels at the beginning, and you're going to see that this is war. This is open warfare between Cobra and G.I. Joe. The problem is that the Joes don't know what game is being played or what the board looks like, or what the heck is going on. They have to put the pieces together as they're making plans to strike back at these guys.
Costa: This has been interesting for me, because this is Chuck's original concept. He was ahead of me by the time I got around to wrapping up my "Cobra" series and working on this new one, so I already saw a lot of the stuff that he had done. Some pretty huge stuff happens in the first eight issues, or the first two arcs, of the new "G.I. Joe" book. I really had to think about how to make it worse for the "Cobra" book. I feel like the "Cobra" book always has to be worse, whatever's happening there has to be way more awful because it's about Cobra. I've really been trying to up the ante. In the second issue of "Cobra," I think like six Joes die on this horrible mission that goes completely wrong and they're all just brutally killed. So we're trying to make it as bad as possible for G.I. Joe. G.I. Joe will not be the same, that's for sure.
Dixon: Oh, absolutely. We're going to come out the other end of this with a transformed G.I. Joe and certainly a transformed relationship between Joe and Cobra. Joe's going to know a lot more about Cobra by the end of this.
For Chuck's other series, we have Snake Eyes striking out on his own. Andy mentioned on the earlier press call that you had a really good feeling about this series; I'd be curious to hear what makes you feel that way.
Dixon: I told Andy that I didn't want to do it until there was a reason to do a "Snake Eyes" book. Finally I emailed him that I had an idea in my head, that I had a "Robin, the Boy Wonder" feeling about it. Because I held DC off on a "Robin" monthly for two years -- I didn't think he warranted his own book, until I came up with a concept that made it necessary, and then after I wrote the first script, I had more of a "Nightwing" feeling about it, because everything went so perfectly.
It's a daunting task. First of all, this guy doesn't talk. Secondly, he's a ninja, with all these crazy expectations for a ninja. But as I said before, put too much ninja in it, everybody falls asleep. But he kind of carves out his own core of this war, and goes after someone on a personal mission, a new villain named Vikrim Khallikhan who's like a self-appointed raja who lives up in the Himalayas who did Snake Eyes dirty. So Snake Eyes is gonna go get him. Khallikhan just happens to be one of the candidates for Cobra Commander, so it all fits in and we get an arc with rock'em, sock'em crazy action.
Schmidt: I have to say, I was pretty worried about the book, too. I remember I called Chuck up and said we've got this "Origins" book that I like and I like doing, but getting into the twenties and thirties of a book called "Origins" seems kind of silly to me. Actually, I think the last arc on "Origins," the David Lapham-written arc that introduced Mad Monk, was a really great note to go out on; it was a top-notch story. But we were talking about wanting to weave the books a little tighter together, and so having a book that takes place in the past wasn't going to be all that helpful. One of the things I really liked about Chuck's book is that it had not been "The Snake Eyes Show." But that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of Snake Eyes fans who would like to see more Snake Eyes. We figured this might be a way to give them what they want without forcing Snake Eyes down everybody's throat in the "G.I. Joe" book at the expense of the other characters.
I think Chuck's found a way with his first year's worth of stories, that Snake Eyes still feels special, that when he does something that is completely awesome, it's completely awesome, and it doesn't ever feel stale or pedestrian -- when he does something awesome, it's clearly awesome.
Dixon: I think it's a matter of thinking of a story and putting Snake Eyes in it, not making each story about Snake Eyes. But of course it is about Snake Eyes, because it's what he does that makes the story.
Schmidt: Yeah, and you're getting to stuff that's about him, that is important to him, and is revealing layers of his character, but it's coming out in body count. Which is awesome.
Costa: Snake Eyes speaks in a language of violence.
Mike, in addition to the Cobra agents going after Joes, it seems like you have the immensely fun job of setting these nasty people against each other as well. Who would you say is a character to watch?
Costa: Serpentor. He is not a candidate, but he was the character I was most interested in working on. Because he's not a candidate, he has the ability to cozy up to candidates and then play them off each other and use his own influence for his own gain. He doesn't want to be Cobra Commander because Cobra Commander gets shot in the head. Cobra Commander is too in-front, but if he's the guy behind the guy, he gets all of the benefit and none of the exposure. Working him into the actual Cobra command structure -- because the arc where we introduced him, he's only ever seen alone with one or two of his guys, but you never saw him talk to the Baroness before -- you never saw him dealing with Major Bludd, and now you're going to get to see that. It's been a lot of fun.
It's really fun to write characters who really hate each other. My take on Cobra is that, outside of relationships like Tomax and Xamot -- and even there, there was obviously a big wedge pushed between the two of them -- these characters don't like each other. They don't trust each other and they're not friends. They work together, but they dislike each other almost as much as people on the other side, as G.I. Joe. There's no love lost, there's no loyalty, they're always looking with suspicion on each other and they're always looking to get a leg up and kill somebody before they kill them. It is a lot of fun.
Dixon: I could write Destro and Baroness scenes for the rest of my life. I just love the relationship that those characters have. Obviously, it's a relationship that I've projected upon them, that they didn't originally have. Or maybe they did and I didn't realize it. But Destro will dominate Baroness, and she kind of realizes that eventually that'll happen, but she's resisting it at every step of the way.
Schmidt: [Laughs] We'll just make that its own series.
Dixon: Oh yeah! I could do that forever!
Schmidt: It's interesting to me in that we've only recently introduced Storm Shadow and Oda Satori, and I think they're characters that people are going to really like and be surprised by them. Not that people are going be surprised that Storm Shadow's awesome, because, historically, Storm Shadow's awesome, but he plays differently than he's played before. Oda Satori's basically the master of Storm Shadow, and their relationship is really going to evolve and come to the forefront in the "G.I. Joe" book in a way that I think is going to be interesting and game-changing.
Dixon: That's the problem with Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, they're so awesome that it's daunting to write about them because everybody expects awesomeness. If you do a Clutch story, you know, you do pretty good [and] everybody's impressed. [All laugh.] If you make him a little more interesting than he usually is, that's great; "You know, I didn't know he liked peanut butter!" But you deal with ninjas, it's like less is more; you do too much ninja, you spoil the whole ninja thing. So it's like this weird balance with these characters.
Costa: I totally agree. Everybody was complimenting "Cobra" on making Chuckles so cool, but I'm like, "Well, it doesn't take much."
Dixon: Yeah, but you did a great job. You took this character, somebody we cared about -- he was just a guy in an aloha shirt. You probably could have had him change into another kind of shirt and everybody would be impressed.
Schmidt: I think the fact that he still wears the Hawaiian shirts, even by the end of that series, is probably one of my favorite things about it. Even that any normal human being would never wear that shirt -- except for me, because I actually have a shirt exactly like it -- that just cracks me up, because he's so patently a ridiculous character.
Costa: He's got to be true to himself, man. He wears that shirt.
Schmidt: He loves that shirt. He's got to have, like, twelve of them at all times because they keep getting bloody.
Dixon: They hide the blood! Blood, ketchup, mustard, they all vanish.
Schmidt: [Returning to the subject of writing "Cobra."] We're having a call with our two head writers, and Chris Gage, too, has done a really nice job with "Cobra" as well. We're sad to lose him, but we're happy for his exclusive [with Marvel], too.
Costa: I owe everything to Chris Gage. I really would like to say that.
Schmidt: The artists we've had on these books have been really tremendous, too, Robert Atkins and Shannon Gallant, and Alex Cal on the "G.I. Joe" book have brought a sense of reality, I think, to G.I. Joe. Not that their art is necessarily photorealistic, but all of those guys have really gotten into, like Chuck was saying, how things work. How the guns work, how the uniforms work and the vehicles. Robert is insane because he loves drawing the vehicles. He's like, "When do I get to draw this thing?" I've never even heard of that! What is that? And I'll Google it, and Google has never heard of it. Having artistic partners that are that into it, into bringing it to life, and having on "Cobra" a guy like Antonio Fuso who's so stylistically different -- he's the guy that designed our Cobra Commander. I don't think we gave him much in the way of direction other than, "You're designing the Cobra Commander of the future, so make him look cool -- but make him recognizable as Cobra Commander." So he kept the dome helmet, came up with the fangs and the European businessman look. Once we saw that, at least for me, then I knew who he was. He became real for me.
Costa: I agree. I think Antonio did an amazing job. Antonio is Italian, I think he lives in Rome, and the only line of direction I gave him was, I want there to be a creepy European vibe. That's what I said, to a guy who is European. I don't know how he took that, but he did a great job. So much of how I wrote that character came out of how he looks, because I hadn't written a word of dialogue for Cobra Commander before I saw the designs for him. He came alive because of the design, for sure. It is my favorite thing that Antonio has done, and he's done a lot of cool stuff. He designed a HISS tank in the first "Cobra" special, and even though we tried to keep the book less about the science fiction military action and more about espionage, the HISS tank fit perfectly into the world, because Antonio's just that good. It just really surprised me, that he could pull off that kind of stuff that would never exist -- a tank with an open dome, what's the point of that? But he did such a great job.
Dixon: That's the thing that impresses me about all these artists, is how integrated the world looks. It looks real. It's not just guys with grenades and guns hanging off them, these guys think about the gear and how it works, and the physicality of how the characters are using it. It's all very natural. You can blow that big time.
Costa: We did a panel in I think it was San Diego, not this year but the last, and we had the artist who did the Snowjob "Origins" issue [Klaus Scherwinski], how he did all this research on snipers. How they have all their gear on their sleeves because they lay down all the time, and they can't be getting at their belt. He drew that into the issue, and I just thought it was awesome. I would not think to look for that.
Dixon: Yeah, with guys who don't understand how the ordnance works, you've got to lead them by the hand. But these guys came fully formed, they knew what to do. They know that when you're firing guns in an enclosed space, it actually changes the air pressure in the room, and they deal with all that stuff for maximum destruction. And we need all that for this stuff to look impactful -- it's not superhero action, it's military action.
Costa: I've got to say, every time I turn in a script and there's some action sequence, I'm very nervous about what's going to happen when Chuck reads it [Dixon laughs], because the guy's almost a military forensics specialist.
Dixon: I wouldn't go that far. I have a like a toy soldier fascination for this stuff, but I just know visually whether it's working or not. Because I can call Andy, when I email Andy with a correction it's always "there should be smoke coming from this action" or "this guy wouldn't grip this that way."
Schmidt: That is what the corrections are. It's never "the hair color is wrong..."
Dixon: Oh, I don't care about that. But spent rounds, that's the other one. If a guy draws an automatic gun and there's no brass flying out... because so many of our fans are either military or ex-military, and they notice that stuff. You gotta get it right. Our guys get it right, they do their homework.
Schmidt: We had just a great cover that Tom Feister did for "G.I. Joe: Origins" where Snake Eyes was hanging upside-down, he's shooting uzis and all the shells are on the floor below him. And Larry Hama wrote in after seeing it, "That's a really great cover, but, um, those bullet shells are not the bullet shells that come out of uzis." [Dixon laughs.] "And also, you've got like 200 bullet shells on the ground and he's only got two uzis." And Tom actually wrote back within seconds, and said, "Yes, I know, here's the bullet" -- he'd done the research, and just made the artistic decision that the actual uzi casings just wouldn't look as cool. And Larry was like, "OK, as long as you know what you're doing." It was very funny because that's the kind of notes you get from the writers on "G.I. Joe."
Dixon: When I started working for Larry years ago at Marvel, he went on and on about some writer who included the cliché about a "cordite stink of gunsmoke." And he went on to tell me that this guy was an idiot because you had to know that cordite was only included as a chemical in gunpowder in one armory in India in the 1890s and was never used again, so modern guns don't have the stink of cordite in them. Of course, I was the guy who wrote that script. [Costa laughs.] But I never did that again. And all the time, I see stuff like that from guys that should know better.
Schmidt: Yeah, you can't put anything past Larry. He catches it all.
Dixon: And he did that a few times, hammered one of my scripts while pretending he didn't know I wrote it. [All laugh.] Somehow it's just ten times more humiliating.
Schmidt: I'm going to start doing that to you guys.
Anything else you'd like to add about "Cobra Civil War" before we go?
Costa: It's the funnest thing that I've worked on in a long time. Even though it's still really dark, I really, really love the "Cobra" book, and it's probably the thing I'm proudest of so far that I've done. Working with Christos was great. It's not "fun," necessarily, to write about the total destruction of one man's soul, it's not like "this is great!" But, "Cobra Civil War," when I heard about that, I thought of a way this could be fun and still have that kind of flavor. That's sort of the best of both worlds for me. It's really exciting and I hope fans feel the same way.
Dixon: There's a lot of surprises. And when you think the surprises are done, there's other surprises on top of them. I think we've really constructed a multi-layered story here that dollops out the action. There's wheels within wheels, and you never know what Cobra's up to until it's too late.
Costa: And we will definitely have a new Cobra Commander by the end of this, and when that happens things get even more awesome.
Dixon: Yeah, things get crazy after that. This is just the beginning of the insanity.
Schmidt: I really think, like Chuck said about getting a "Nightwing" or a "Robin" vibe, "Cobra Civil War" and killing Cobra Commander gives me that sort of charge I had back at Marvel when I was working on "New Avengers" and "Secret War." It feels like we're building something that people are going to want to read.
IDW launches "Cobra Civil War" #0 in April.