Fans Get Their "Due" (Part 1 of 4): Brandon Jerwa talks "G.I Joe"

Thu, June 17th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

Brandon Jerwa writes "G.I Joe" for Devil's Due Productions.

Now you know.

And knowing is half the battle.

As part of CBR's week long spotlight on Devil's Due, CBR News spoke with rookie writer Brandon Jerwa about writing "G.I. Joe" and the scribe was happy to re-introduce fans to the main concept of the series.

"The old cartoon voice-over still sums it up best: 'G.I. Joe is the codename for America's daring, highly trained special mission force. Its purpose: to defend human freedom from COBRA, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.'

"Basically, 'G.I. Joe' is about a team of top-notch military agents who fight enemies that border on super-villainy without being Doctor Doom. It's a world of next-gen soldiers and Ninja clans, political intrigue and big-budget widescreen action. G.I. Joe is a concept with many layers and many different executions, but it's still surprisingly accessible for new readers, and the sci-fi elements always keep at least one boot firmly planted on the ground.

"Our story picks up where the Marvel Comics run left off, but you can read a Devil's Due 'Joe' book without knowing the Marvel history."

Many of you probably know who Snake Eyes is, the mute ninja protagonist, but the series has a large, diverse cast- both a turn and turn off to various readers- and Jerwa stepped up to the plate to briefly introduce each character. "You don't want much, do you?" laughs the writer. "Sometimes I'm not sure who the main characters are in this book. I try to shift the focus often, and rotate the players around depending on the situation.

"Starting with the good guys:

"General Clayton 'Hawk' Abernathy: he's the team commander who has now become a Washington power-player. Hawk belongs to a cabal of shadowy Generals called the 'Jugglers;' these are the puppet masters, the old warhawks who pull every string they can to move their own agenda forward. Hawk isn't like them, but he knows that being apart of their assemblage will only help his own team further their goals.

"Agent Conrad 'Duke' Hauser: here's another transformation in progress: Duke used to be a hard-line Army sergeant, the tough First Shirt of the team. When Josh Blaylock brought Joe back for the current run, he revealed that Duke had gone into Black Ops. Now he's wearing sharp suits and his rank is classified. This is quite simply not the same person many of the Joes remember; he's still a good guy, but he's clearly been down some dark paths since the days of the Marvel book.

"Snake-Eyes: hands down the most famous G.I. Joe characters, Snake-Eyes is a Ninja commando who lost his ability to speak while rescuing his teammate and lover Scarlett during a mission. That circumstance also destroyed his face, but he has since undergone plastic surgery and looks quite normal. Hell, I'd almost say he's a handsome fellow. Silent and mysterious, Snake-Eyes is the 'Wolverine' of the Joe universe.

"And now for Cobra:

"Cobra Commander: Played like a complete dolt in the cartoon, our Cobra Commander is a ruthless leader. Take the lives of innocents? Check. Betray anyone who crosses him? Gotcha. Shoot his own son at point-blank range? Done and done.

"James Destro: Easily the most dangerous man in the Joe-verse, Destro is an arms dealer who really doesn't want to be a crazed terrorist, but often finds himself with no other recourse. His love for the Baroness has long been a motivating factor in his actions, but these days he seems to be working his own agenda.

"The Baroness: She's brilliant and beautiful, cold and remorseless…but we're going to see another side of her soon, a side you would never even think existed in her little black heart. The Baroness has also let her affection for Destro interfere with her personal agenda, but that has taken a turn recently."

A lot of readers who look at "G.I Joe," and can look at the series independent of the toys and cartoon, still find "Snake-Eyes!" is their first thought. "For the life of me, I will never understand how a mute character whose face was rarely even seen in the Marvel book became the franchise player!" exclaims Jerwa. "It really goes back to the Marvel book, where they tied several characters and plot elements directly to Snake-Eyes. Now we spend a good deal of time trying to give those characters a life of their own while downplaying the connections to Snake-Eyes. The Marvel covers actually read 'G.I. Joe starring Snake-Eyes' for more than a few issues…we'll never do that. The guy gets his screen time, but I've also put out two issues in my run that have nothing to do with him. It's a balancing act: if we show him twice in two months, the haters line up and scream as if we had him cure cancer…and the fans cry for more Ninja stuff.

"When I came on the book, I was already suffering from 'Snake-Eyes burnout,' as many fans were. I wasn't entirely sure what to do with him at the beginning, but then I began to see my own kind of potential in Snake-Eyes, and it just clicked. My 'Master and Apprentice' mini-series throws down a sort of deconstruction for the guy, and I can tell you now that I wish I could write a monthly Snake-Eyes book! I really feel like I nailed him in that book."

Though Jerwa kindly outlined the main cast, each team of characters seems to have an endless supply of characters at their disposal and it can be quite daunting. To further complicate matters, many new characters have been added and while many have been well-received, it does make one wonder why and if it makes the cast harder to juggle. "The big cast is hard to balance but it's also fun, because with each story arc you get to focus on different characters," says Jerwa. "It keeps the book fresh, in my opinion…and it allows me to grow as a writer, having to write many different types. As for new characters, it's the nature of the beast…if the JOES really existed, then they would see plenty of new faces on a regular basis."

As with many children in America during the fondly remembered 80's, Jerwa was a big fan of "G.I. Joe" but unlike some, the series still resonates with him for personal reasons. "My parents divorced when I was 9, and 'G.I. Joe' was just making its big 80s rebirth then. Here was something that captured my imagination and distracted me from the mess of my personal life…I'd say it actually became a sort of therapy for me. I gave it up for years as an adult, but then I was drawn back in by the re-releases. It was like coming home."

One of the subplots that piqued the interest of many fans was a possible romance between Flint and the Baroness, something explored briefly by write Josh Blaylock but left open for the future. "That was a fun subplot, but…let's just say that the Baroness shouldn't be hanging around other guys right now," laughs Jerwa. "There's a reason for that."

Of course, with the way Jerwa has put his pawns into play, there may not be a chance for Flint to pursue romance- G.I. Joe is facing down Cobra, the U.S government and the Coil… at the same time. "Yeah, they're pretty much boned," says Jerwa, who makes a noise similar to that of a bomb exploding. "Seriously, things are going to get bad. When I say bad, I mean 'take the worst situation you can think of and magnify it 1000 times, then just dump a big barrel of nastiness on top of it.' The Joes have some serious stuff coming their way, and that's not just the hype machine talking..."

There's also been internal friction- yes non-believers, the book is full of characterization- within the Joe team and it will come to a head soon. "Yes, the friction will take its toll, and the Joes are going to find themselves with some decisions to make. Expect some shuffling and a new direction for the book after the first two big story-arcs. We're not re-inventing the wheel, but we're also not going to just throw the same 10 classic Joe plots at you either."

The idea of working with a major toy company- in this case Hasbro- may be a turn off to some potential Joe writers, but Jerwa says the company has been great. "Hasbro is pretty cognizant of the fact that we have to produce comic books that appeal to our established fanbase and still retain an open door to new readers. We know our audience, and we know what they expect from us. Hasbro seems to be more and more willing to let us just do that, which is great."

That includes the creation of a new character, Wraith, in collaboration with superstar artist Talent Caldwell and an interesting way of introducing the character- back up stories. "Talent has really delivered the goods on this back-up story. I've heard a couple of fans grousing about the 'main' story being shorter due to the back-ups, but what they're not understanding is that the events in the back-up story are part of the 'Players and Pawns' arc, they're just drawn by a different artist.

"Wraith is an original character I created, and he was in my pitch for the book. He was originally scheduled to appear in the second big arc, but the Talent situation came up and we decided to move him up. I am so glad we did…Talent has done some awesome work on the story and designs.

"I'd like to tell you there's an awesome Wraith figure coming, but as far as I know, Hasbro hasn't made any decision about that. If they do, I hope they'll at least let me write the file card. They did ask for a couple of particular things in his design, so that gives me hope.

"I think Wraith is going to be that 'cool' character that captures a lot of people's attention, like Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow…but he is not a ninja. If the fans want a figure, they have the power to make it happen."

Seeing as how this is Jerwa's dream job- yelling "Yo Joe" around his house is now tolerated by his wife and sometimes encouraged- you won't hear complaints from the writer, though he wants to clarify something; "It's fantastic, but I always try to mention that my dream job is writing comics…the next person who calls me a G.I. Joe 'fan writer' is going to get a kick in the biscuits. I am a comic writer…I just happen to write a book that I have a huge love for.

"I started my career with 'G.I. Joe' because I know the material…but that holds true for many books. I love 'Spider-Man' and 'Batman,' 'Rom,' 'Firestorm,' 'Moon Knight,' 'Hellboy,' 'Grendel,' 'The Ultimates'…I want to work for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image and any others that come along."

Also along for this new era of 'Joe is artist Tim Seeley, who previously contributed covers to the series, but began regular art duties on issue #26. "Tim's my boy. He gets grouchy at deadline time, but he's also quick with a joke and just a hell of a nice guy. As an artist, he literally improves with every issue. Look at the pages…he comes alive every time he picks up that pencil. His style is a slightly cartoony sort of realistic, and it suits the book quite well. The fans love him.

"Tim is a DD mainstay, so when the book was ready to change hands, I just don't think there was another choice in anyone's eyes."

If you're intrigued about the future of "Joe," Seeley is happy to tease at future events. "Well, issue 33 is a major event for us, and it really will affect the status quo for a long time to come. The Joes face a tragic event, Cobra undergoes a rebirth of sorts, and many big secrets will be revealed. From there, we head into a couple of shorter story events - a two-part tale, and then a revisit of the classic team - before starting the next big arc. After that, everything goes to Hell in a hand-basket!

"There's also the 'Master and Apprentice' mini-series coming out in May. This is a four-issue mini that tells the origin story of Kamakura, an insanely popular Ninja character created by Josh. I'm working with Stefano Caselli on this, and the art is nothing short of staggering.

"I'd like to publicly beg all non-Joe readers to check this book out; because it's something you can pick up and understand on its own. If we can get this book into people's hands, it might just change their perceptions of what G.I. Joe can deliver in terms of emotional depth and storytelling. Josh Blaylock and our fantastic new editor Mark Powers really went to the mat for me on this one, and allowed me four issues instead of the planned three. That's dedication to a good story, and the book is better for it. Now if I can just convince them to make it a monthly ongoing…

"If comic fans will try 'G.I. Joe,' I think they'll find a mythology as rich as any super-hero book out there. We're not an 80s revival book, and we're not a toy catalog....we're a team book with action, suspense, romance and real emotion. You expect that from books like 'The Ultimates' and 'JLA'. Don't be afraid to expect it from us."

Look for more on "G.I. Joe" this Friday in an interview with artist Tim Seeley.

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