On the G.I. Joe episode of the UnderScoopFire Podcast, I asked our esteemed panel of Joe enthusiasts the following question:
In your childhood, what brought G.I. Joe to life?
The question was crafted as a means of identifying the role that the TV series, the toy line and the comic books played in cultivating their Joe experience as a youth. For me, as much as I loved the show, it was the comic books that brought G.I. Joe to life.
The events that unfolded in each month’s issue of Marvel’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero influenced the way I viewed the characters, the way I played with the action figures, and the way I judged other comic books.
Larry Hama will always be my favorite comic writer of all time. He shaped my views of what a comic book should be. For me, his run on G.I. Joe is the mark against which all other comics are measured.
As an 8 year old kid, I’d have to tag along on my mother’s weekly grocery shopping trips in hopes of scoring the latest issue from the comic spindle. Issue #14 is the first comic book I ever remember getting. In the days before spoilers and sneak previews, laying my eyes on the cover of each new issue for the first time was near euphoric.
With the help of YOJOE.com‘s A Real American Hero cover gallery, I’ve compiled a list of the ten best Marvel G.I. Joe covers from their 1982-1994 run.
10. #63 “Going Under”
Snake Eyes in his best iteration (we all know how I feel about 1985 Snake Eyes), paired with Scarlett on a classic cover. The reader can see the warning but the characters can’t, creating a tense and dangerous feel. His stance conveys concern, as he senses they are in danger- and there’s no one on the planet he cares for more than Scarlett (more on that later). Brilliant artwork.
9. #22 “Like Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust”
The villain playing chess with pieces modeled after the heroes. We’ve seen it before, and it’s always awesome. Like the cover of issue #35 of the Marvel Star Wars Comic, Dark Lord’s Gambit, where Darth Vader is shown playing what we can only assume is “space chess” with pieces modeled after our favorite rebels and droids, images like these are always stimulating.
Seeing Destro play with a Cobra Rattler only made me (and every other kid) want one more.
8. #49 “Serpentor”
That open eye peeking out from the mummy wrap. What great imagery! Whether you were onboard with the Serpentor story arc or not, you have to admit this is a fantastic cover.
Destro and Dr. Mindbender, desperate to replace Cobra Commander, go on the ultimate grave robbing expedition to collect the DNA necessary to create a ruthless new leader. This was when G.I. Joe started to cross over into the supernatural realms, and I loved it.
7. #10 “A Nice Little Town Like Ours”
Years before issue #63 would hit newsstands, we see Scarlett and Snake Eyes unwittingly walk into trouble again. As with #63, we can see the danger that looms, but the Joes cannot. The sign in the background introduces us to Springfield, a Cobra front town populated by terrorist operatives. This cover applies the “front” concept literally, as it shows Cobra Troopers hiding behind the false front of a suburban style home.
6. #131 “Last Stand”
The Cobra B.A.T.s* (Battle Android Trooper) were introduced as a way for the Joes to start hitting their intended targets without actually shooting humans. The FCC has always viewed violence against robots as more acceptable than human-on-human violence, enter the Cobra androids.
If allowing the B.A.T.s to get shot was the equivalent of 80s male housekeepers, this cover was the Tony Micelli. The artist truly flexed his creative muscles on this cover. Duke isn’t just shooting an android here, he’s obliterating it point blank. What are essentially the B.A.T.’s guts are exploding out of his back, a fate they could never show a human suffer.
5. #33 “Celebration”
The existence of Cobra Commander’s son Billy is one of the most significant differences between the G.I. Joe comic and TV world. CC’s past is explored much more deeply in the comics, which led to some great story arcs and panels. This cover invoked immediate intrigue- who is holding the gun? Will Cobra Commander be shot? How did a potential attacker get so close??
It’s hard to convey an emotion such as pure panic and shock when only a character’s eyes are visible, but the artist captures it perfectly. CC and the Cobra Trooper are taken completely off guard, while Storm Shadow is all business, poised to diffuse the threat.
4. #21 “Silent Interlude”
Often referred to as one of the greatest comic issues in history, “Silent Interlude” followed Snake Eyes’ one-man quest to rescue Scarlett from the Silent Castle. Besides being the first appearance of Storm Shadow, this issue was historic in that there was no dialogue. The entire story and countless emotions and intentions were conveyed without words.
The cover is great because it shows Snake Eyes in commando mode, on a singular mission, under heavy fire. The “The Most Unusual G.I. Joe Story Ever!!” label added to the intrigue as well.
3. #20 “Home is Where the War Is”
In issue #20, Clutch takes some leave and heads home. It was the first time we’d been treated to a glimpse into the life of an off-duty Joe (not that he got much of a vacation). The cover reminds me of one of those episodes of a show where it begins with a dramatic scene in which the hero is in some sort of unsolvable peril, then before we reach resolution it flashes back 24 hours and we spend the rest of the episode seeing how they got to that point.
From the start, you know Clutch is going to get into some trouble. This cover invokes the basic human fear of free falling, and it gives you that little “holy f— that would be the WORST!” tingle up your spine. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t wait to read the issue and learn Clutch’s fate.
2. #41 “Strategic Diplomacy”
This was a prime example of an ARAH cover dictating how I subsequently played with the G.I. Joe toys. I remember staring at this cover endlessly. I had never seen my beloved Joes in such peril.
Where the animated series had to adhere to television guidelines, comic books were less regulated. Bullets were fired in lieu of lasers, and they connected with their target at a much higher rate. Seeing Gung-Ho, Snake Eyes, Roadblock and Tripwire in a hail of bullets, with Gung-Ho heavily bandaged, changed the way I used the action figures. I began making “bloody” bandages out of toilet paper scraps and red pen, and fashioned gurneys out of popsicle sticks as severe battle wounds became a frequent theme of my action.
1. #55 “Unmaskings”
Covers, I said- not issues. Keep that in mind as you react to the #1 entry on this list. While the issue contained a fine story, it was a bit of a let down after seeing this cover.
The ultimate tease for an invested G.I. Joe fan, issue #55 led us to believe we’d learn the identities and see the long-hidden faces of Snake Eyes, Cobra Commander and Destro. While Destro and CC did remove their masks to conceal their identity as Cobra operatives, we did not in fact get a look at them fully unmasked. Regardless, this is about the covers, and this is still one of the coolest of all time.
The fact that we wanted to see their faces so much that it warranted a cover tease like this shows how well G.I. Joe had captivated our imaginations and earned our interest. Over the long run, fans eventually got their payoff when Snake Eyes and Destro’s faces were revealed, but we’ve still never seen the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero version of Cobra Commander’s face.
What is your favorite A Real American Hero cover? Which other covers should have made the list? Hit the comments!
ALL IMAGES COURTESY YOJOE.COM