And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Hama talks "G.I. Joe: Declassified"

Wed, April 26th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

In the 1980s, a war began that captured the imagination of a generation and rages on today. The combatants in this epic conflict are the forces of the G.I. Joe team and the legions of the terrorist organization Cobra. This June, readers will learn what lead up to the epic Joe vs. Cobra struggle, as writer Larry Hama and artists Pat Quinn and Valentine DeLandro take readers back to the early days of the Joe team in the three issue mini-series "G.I. Joe: Declassified" from Devils Due Publishing. CBR News spoke with Hama, the original writer of "G.I. Joe," about the book.

When Devil's Due contacted Hama and offered him the chance to chronicle the early missions of the Joe Team, he approached the task in his usual style. Instead of "what's the story about," for Hama the most important question of story telling is, "Who is the story about?" "If a story is all about the moves, the plot, and not about the people, I don't care anymore," Hama told CBR News. "The problem with people like editors and script readers for movie studios is that the only parameters these people have for judging a story is plot. None of their parameters have anything to do with characters and the vast majority of the audience really doesn't care about plot. They care about the characters."

When it comes time to weave the plot of a story, Hama doesn't follow a rigid plan. "I really believe in the Robert Frost dictum, 'If you know how it's going to end, you can't help but telegraph that to your reader,'" Hama explained. "It's why Dickens still works, he never knew how those things were going to end and you can tell. I read comics, I go to the library or I buy paperbacks and I swear I only get through about one forth of what I borrow or buy. If I get to the second or third chapter and I can tell exactly what's going to happen I don't care anymore."

So he can keep his readers caring and not telegraph his endings, Hama's writing style is very loose and improvisational. "I have a very, very sort of vague outline," he said. "A lot of times when I wrote stories that a lot of people considered very sort of complex stories, basically I was just trying to get from point A to point B.

"Probably the best example of that is not a 'Joe' story but a 'Wolverine' story," Hama continued. "I forget what issue it was, but it was bridging a gap between the X-men getting from this orbiting space station and back to Earth in the Blackbird. During the course of this thing, we learn about Wolverine's claws after the Adamantium has been taken out of them. That was all I had. I had to fill forty pages or something with what happens on this like five minute flight, but in a way that sort of opens up a lot of stuff. I was able to do a lot of weird riffs.

"It's the same thing with the 'Joe' stuff. A lot of my methodology, if it was anything, was to try and to have the Joes in some sort of impossible situation at the beginning of something and then try to get them out of it, but have them fall into another impossible situation at the end so there would be some continuity. I always tried coming up with some other twist on it. That's the fun of it. If you don't make it fun for yourself and don't make it a surprise, then it's just an exercise."

When "GI Joe: Declassified" begins, the team has been assembled and moved past exercising together and have begun to tackle missions. "There will be a vignette of how each guy got to be there," Hama explained. "The selections will be in flashback. I'm really trying to make it be organic to the story so it will all fit rather than just to have hem say, 'Well, here's how I got here.' Which is the difficult part. I'm very happy with how the first installment works. I think I've set up everything with a lot of neat surprises."

It shouldn't come as no surprise that one of the most popular Joe team members, Snake Eyes, is on the team in "Declassified." The story is set after the helicopter accident which destroyed his face, robbed him of his speech and turned him into a mask wearing bad ass. "There's a scene with him in this issue on the ferry with Scarlett," Hama stated. "It's sort of a reprise of previous ferry episodes and they meet a surprise person on the ferry."

"GI Joe: Declassified" will include a number of surprise appearances. Hama hinted that the secret military cabal The Jugglers would play a role in the story, "In a Jugglers sort of way." He also said, "Chuckles is showing up. So is the original Fred Broca and somebody that people have been asking me about for twenty five years."

Some reader might incorrectly think that the "G.I. Joe" unit was created twenty-five years ago to solely combat the terrorist organization, Cobra. "They didn't even know Cobra existed," Hama explained. "In the incident where Snake-Eyes gets his face ruined, they're not fighting Cobra. They're not even sure who Cobra is at that point. It's this mysterious terrorist organization and there's a certain degree of them trying to gather information. That's sort of a threat that's going on in the three issues that I'm doing. They're getting some hints of what's going on, but they can't quite put it together. They've got a blurry photo of what looks to be some woman piloting a helicopter. Is that a helmet? Her hair? Are those goggles? Glasses? Things like that. They're trying to put the pieces together."

In addition to uncovering the growing threat of Cobra, the Joes must also learn to come together as a unit in "G.I. Joe: Declassified" Each issue of "Declassified" takes place in about a day and the series leads directly into Marvel Comics' "GI Joe: A Real American Hero" #1. "It's like Marvel's AH #1 is the first time where they all go on a mission together," Hama said. "There have been smaller missions. Even the mission where Snake-Eyes gets messed up isn't the entire unit by any means. It's been like little lead ups to the big event. The big event is #1. That's when they all really have to function as a team for the first time together."

By telling the early tales of the Joe team in "GI Joe: Declassified" Hama has a chance to write about the beginning of the characters relationships, which is why he believes is the main reason the series has had such long term appeal. "I always felt that it was more about their dynamic as a group of friends rather than the military," Hama stated. "It's like my take on why 'Harry Potter' works. It's the dynamic between those characters more so than the magic. If you don't have that dynamic between those main characters it's sort of wanting. The fantasy is sort of imagining yourself within that group dynamic and in that environment. The magic is just sort of extra. That's how I think about what the Joe fantasy is. It has to be about a dynamic between the characters rather than 'this is how you load the weapon' or 'let's jump out of the air plane.' That's just frosting."

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