While I don’t think that I can ascribe great personal significance to any of the comics I’ve covered in this series, I’d have to say that G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #48 is probably one of the most important because this was the series that would become the most read and collected of my brief foray into comics in 1987. This was also a book that when I would read through the back and current issues that I had collected (and by the time my collecting fell off, there were quite a few) would have a cracked cover and rolled spine, showing the beating it had taken since I first got my hand on it at my friend Chris’s birthday party.
I’ll admit that when I got the book as a party favor, I wasn’t as excited as some of the other kids at the party because some of them got issue #47 (I assume that this issue was part of a Marvel Comics three-pack), and that comic book had an incredible Mike Zeck color of Wet Suit, Beachhead, and Hawk on the Devilfish (full disclosure: I had to look that up) firing weapons and yelling. Plus, issue #47 conclues with The Baroness shooting and killing Storm Shadown on a beach. Issue #48, on the other hand, features another Mike Zeck cover–one that is no less great–of Zartan holding Gung Ho in a choke hold with a sign behind them saying “G.I. Joe Headquarters: Level 3.”
That’s basically the main plot of the book, as it’s very much a “bottle episode” of a television show because it takes place mostly at The Pit, which was the nickname for the Joes’ HQ. Back in issue #46, Ripcord had infiltrated Cobra Island in search of his girlfriend Candy and was knocked out cold. Zartan decided that this was a great opportunity for him to infiltrate the Joe headquarters, so he disguised Ripcord as himself and then took Ripcord’s form using his morphing powers. While Ripcord wakes up in a hospital Springfield (a town in the United States that Cobra completely controls) and then proceeds to continue to search for Candy while fighting his way through Cobra operatives, Zartan is “treated” in The Pit’s infirmary, but his cover is quickly blown.
Ripcord’s story continues in the following issue (whose main focus is Destro aiding Dr. Mindbender in the creation of Serpentor), which means that the main focus here is Zartan, who is chased around The Pit and tries to elude capture by changing form several times and nearly gets away with it but is ultimately brought down by a brand new Joe, Sgt. Slaughter, who was a character I always had mixed feelings about because I knew him from the WWF (although in an interesting bit of trivia, Slaughter’s role in G.I. Joe is what led to him leaving the WWF in the mid-1980s, as Vince McMahon did not want to allow him to license himself to Hasbro; Slaughter would return in the early 1990s as an Iraqi-sympathizing heel), and therefore he was more like an “imported” character than one of the more “home grown” characters. And yes, I felt like this when I was nine years old. Plus, his solving the problem, while it definitely was meant to be slightly comedic (two Gung Hos come at Sarge and he punches one. When asked how he knew which one was Zartan, Sarge basically says, “I didn’t.”), also seems a little forced in that “look at how awesome this new character is” sort of way that didn’t always work on television shows, cartoons, or comic books. I haven’t read much beyond this issue recently, so I can’t really say how much of a role Sgt. Slaughter plays in future storylines, and I know that Larry Hama focused more on the ninja-type characters anyway (as we’ll see when I get into the actual “Origin Story” podcast).
The end of the issue is a meeting between Hawk and several of the U.S. military’s top brass, which carries on one of the running subplots of the time–Cobra has its own island and has managed to get “sovereign nation” status from the United Nations and the U.S. is hamstrung as to what to do. Cobra is a terrorist organization, so attacking Cobra Island would be considered an actual act of war, so the brass tell Hawk that the island is off-limits. This sets up what will be a huge story in issue #50, which is where the Joes invade Springfield and ultimately find nothing, something that leads to the team’s downfall (which includes Cobra invading The Pit around issue #53).
It’s a testament to Larry Hama’s writing that he could create such a continuity for an audience whose primary desire in picking up the comic was to see their action figures have adventures, although that’s not something I realized at the time, even though it would be soon enough.
And that’s it for my “Comics Prehistory.” Tune in on September 30, 2016 for the first episode of “Origin Story,” where I will cover G.I. Joe and The Transformers #1.