Top Ten Storyline events in Real American Hero History

So news has been pretty light, and site updates have been sparse.  But I’ve taken the time to write something up that’s been rattling around in my head for a while now, and try to generate some discussion.  There’s been lots of debate and argument across the net recently regarding newer Joe concepts…how about going back in time a little ways and trying to debate some classic era discussions?

Since 1982 there have been many permutations of the G.I. Joe universe.  Obviously the two most impactful ones were the Marvel comic book and the Sunbow animated series.  But in looking back on nearly thirty years of history, which were the most impactful storyline “events”?  That’s not so easy to discern.

First of all, what does “impactful” mean?  An impact on the fandom?  The G.I. Joe mythology?  The general public?  I dunno.  I kind of went with my gut on some of these and chose the events that resonated with me personally.  I will tell you that #10 on the list was a tough call.  I had a hard time judging that one above some others, but in the end, I felt like the writer of this particular series deserved a spot on the list, and the events (plus the artwork) was important and cool enough to earn its place.

Anyway, check out the list after the break.  Agree or disagree in the comments section.  Debate is welcome!

10. Master & Apprentice

Let me get this out of the way first.  I know a lot of fans had their share of issues with the Devils’ Due run, and I had my own issues with it as well.  But Brandon Jerwa’s “Master and Apprentice” series was absolutely fantastic.  At first blush, Kamakura seemed like just another ninja to add to the roster, but Jerwa gave him life in this series, and tied him in perfectly to the Snake Eyes story.  With some fantastic, dramatic artwork and clean, crisp writing, this series was excellent on every level, expanded the existing history, and really gave some great back story to previously limited characters.

One of the highlights of the Devils’ Due series, for sure.  A must read.

09. The Battle of Benzheen and Trucial Abysma

In the end, I considered putting this much higher in the list, considering the ramifications of the story.  Killing off established G.I. Joe characters with reckless abandon, it almost seemed like Larry Hama was making up for lost time.

Doc, Quick Kick, Crankcase, and Heavy Metal…not to mention several other characters and the entirety of Battleforce: 2000 were cast aside with seeming ambivalence, showing the harshness of war.  So, considering the importance of the story, how does it fall so far back on the list?  Well, to be honest, much of the casualty portion of the story seemed somewhat forced, and beyond the deaths, the plot remained fairly unremarkable.  This wasn’t necessarily Hama’s best work, the artwork was very hit or miss, and the deaths didn’t really flow with the entirety of the title.  Not one of the highlights of the series, but because of the consequences, it had to have a place here.

08. G.I. Joe: Resolute

I’m sure this will divide some folks…many would likely want to see it off the list entirely, while some might argue, it deserves a top 3 mention if not even higher.  Myself?  I put Resolute here more for what it stood for than really what it was.

Let’s face it, Warren Ellis only had about 60 minutes to tell a decent G.I. Joe story, which is pretty tough to do. And in the end, some might argue, he didn’t really accomplish that task.  Sure, there was action, there was violence, and there was excitement, but was there really a quality story told?  I would say that’s dubious, but G.I. Joe: Resolute still gave many of us adult fans something we’d been waiting for over the course of twenty-five years.  A high quality, action-packed, no holds barred, military action animated feature that wasn’t afraid to pump Cobra full of bullets, or hack them up with swords.  Even as a kid I dreamed of a day that I could make a G.I. Joe cartoon and make it how I wanted to make it…and those dreams were realized with G.I. Joe: Resolute.  The animation quality, the action, and the seriousness of the overall story were things that G.I. Joe had been begging for, and had finally received.

So why way back at #8?  Well, because the length limitations also resulted in some serious story and character limitations.  Storm Shadow and Zartan were both reduced from complex morally ambiguous foils to purely evil whiners, killing out of jealousy and a pure love of killing, which was pretty different from their core concepts.

Destro, while he looked absolutely awesome, was just a tough guy with a machine gun, and the Cobra organization here showed no real depth or meaning.

Still, the end result was some of the coolest 60 minutes in animated G.I. Joe history, and it deserves its spot.

07. Worlds Without End

It wasn’t often in the Sunbow series that we saw the true consequences of war…  but in the epic two-parter “Worlds Without End” we got some great storyline twists, even amongst all of the “alternate dimension” weirdness.  In fact, after the episodes were all said and done, there were even some ramifications as several of the Joe team members elected to stay behind, effectively “dying” in the real world.

For an 8-year old kid, there were certainly some heady discussions and intense imagery, which was something the Sunbow series was certainly not well known for.

06. The Borovian Mission

You know, I’m not really sure why this story appeals to me so much, but it does.  Infiltrating Borovia, Stalker, Quick Kick, Snow Job, and Outback immediately run afoul of the “government” in place, and three of them are captured.  Barely escaping imprisonment, Outback finds himself on the run and desperately trying to get back to civilization to get help for his teammates.

When he returns, he is accused of leaving the men behind, and even though he risked his life to get them help, the Joes regard him as a coward.

In the end, because it’s the Borovian government that has them, the Joes can do nothing officially, so Snake Eyes and Scarlett must fake their own deaths and go behind enemy lines off the grid to launch a daring rescue.  From beginning to end, this was a fantastic story.  From Outback hiding in the sewers with his teammates blood dripping down through the grates on his face, to the G.I. Joe ninja’s all joining forces to rescue their comrades, this was one great even after another.  Certainly there were no extreme lasting circumstances, no shocking deaths, but it was a very high quality story that was gripping from start to finish.  Of course, one thing slightly overlooked in this storyline as well, was the “death” of Cobra Commander, which took everyone by total surprise when it happened.  All told, this entire run was  one of Hama’s best, for sure.

05. The MASS Device

For me, this is the one that started it all.  Certainly over time, the comic is what really captured my attention and held my interest for the long term, but my first introduction to G.I. Joe beyond the toyline was Duke flipping through laser fire and saving Scarlett’s life as Skystrikers exploded around them.  I know how many fans feel about Duke at this point, but I have always had a soft spot for him, just because of his portrayal in the Sunbow cartoon series, and no matter how many different versions of the character we get, he will always have an element of coolness.

Back before the Sunbow series was the same familiar formula…before it was too hokey for words and it had devolved into Cobra La and DiC, there was the MASS Device 5-parter, filled with action, lasers that almost sounded like bullets, and the familiar theme music that still brings a huge smile to my face.

04. The Revenge of Cobra

For everything that was cool about the MASS Device, the Weather Dominator series in The Revenge of Cobra was even cooler.  While the initial 5-parter set up the Joe mythos, it was The Revenge of Cobra that introduced timeless characters like Flint, Lady Jaye, the Crimson Twins, Shipwreck, Zartan, and many others.  The expanded cast was handled to perfection as it was used to compliment some excellent existing characters.

Sure, the lasers had lost their bullet sounds, and the overall theme of the story got just a little bit cheesier than it had been with the earlier five-parter, but the entirety of the series excels in every other way.  The global search for the Weather Dominator components, the bickering back and forth between Bazooka and Alpine.  These were parts of the G.I. Joe universe that have since become timeless.

03. The Cobra Civil War

In thinking back through the twelve year history of the Marvel Comics, my mind just kept coming back to this one…the Cobra Civil War.  So many times we saw Cobra Commander go toe-to-toe with Destro, and you always wondered what would happen when the two faced off.  Well, Larry Hama went all out with the Cobra Civil War in the comics, and you got a fantastic Serpentor vs. Cobra Commander dynamic that was done to near perfection.

Some aspects would have made it a little better…like the original Cobra Commander being involved rather than a Fred clone.  But beyond that, the four-way battle between Cobra Commander, Serpentor, Destro, and G.I. Joe was epic in scale and best of all, it PAID OFF.  So often since then we’ve been promised the battle to end all battles, and the payoff never quite seems to be worth the wait.  But with the Cobra Civil War, the pacing was flawless, the characters were terrific, and the consequences literally changed the face of the Cobra organization.  This was story telling at its utmost and proof positive that Larry Hama has always been the right  guy to write this book.  This wasn’t your common licensed fare, this was great story telling.  As someone who had grown to hate Serpentor over the course of his run through the comic and cartoon, the end was riveting, captivating, and exceedingly satisfying.

02. The Cobra Island Debacle and its Fallout

Sometimes the bad guys win.  That was essentially the moral of the story with Cobra’s first extended campaign in the comics, a fantastically written, well paced twelve issue span that marched Cobra into the Gulf of Mexico, going toe-to-toe with G.I. Joe the entire way, and ended with the Joes inadvertently helping Cobra detonate a fault line, creating Cobra Island.  Granted, this event happened in Issue #40, and the stretch I’m talking about is essentially from issues #38 – 50, but to be brutally honest I simply couldn’t find a good “breaking point” to separate one expertly crafted storyline from another during that one year stretch.  Because of this, I elected to choose pretty much a block from Issue #40 – #48.  Sure, there are a few different stories in there, but this entire sequence was purely fantastic storytelling, and for pretty much a full straight year.

But the greatest part about this entire run wasn’t only the creation of Cobra Island.  We also saw the dramatic reveal of the Silent Master’s killer, as well as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow storming the aforementioned island hunting for him.  We saw the amazing night time firefight between Ripcord and Zartan, forever cementing the Joe paratrooper as a fan favorite for the next two decades.  At least until Marlon Wayans got his hands on him.  Culminating with the Battle of Springfield, where the Joe team infiltrated an American town, pitched a violent conflict, and came away with nothing to show for it.  This whole twelve issue run was an amazing event.  Deaths, dramatic events, series-changing conflict…it all went on in spades during this run, and the payoff was well worth it.  Fantastic writing, and was so very close to being my peak choice.

01. Snake Eyes’ History

But, of course, it couldn’t quite top the “top”.  The defining moment of the G.I. Joe mythology, at least from my perspective, is Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow and how their dynamic works.  The first hints came in Issue #21 when both were revealed to have the same tattoo, and finally culminated in the two parter of issue #26 and #27 where Snake Eyes’ links to Stalker and Scarlett were also finally told to the audience.  Up until that point it was a mystery as to why everyone reacted so strongly to Snake Eyes’ appearance, how he was so well-versed in the martial arts, and exactly what his background was.

How Larry Hama explained Snake Eyes and built his backstory defined how the rest of the G.I. Joe universe was assembled.  Feeding off into Zartan’s, Firefly’s, and even The Baroness’ backstory Snake Eyes is almost the crux of every storyline in the Real American Hero.  For better or worse, this certainly makes it the single most impactful event in Real American Hero history.

And that covers it.  Certainly there were other stories that could have made the cut…  the creation of Serpentor.  The Battle of Springfield.  Heck, Devils’ Due’s initial run, while a bit iffy on the quality, certainly did its part to bring G.I. Joe back into the comic world.  I even considered putting IDW’s first G.I. Joe: Cobra series in here, somewhere, but ultimately couldn’t do it.

And let’s face it, as much as folks hate to admit it, The Rise of Cobra might have deserved a spot, if only for the attention and publicity it gave the G.I. Joe brand.  I wasn’t quite ready for that kind of debate, though.

What are your thoughts?  Share ’em below!

13 thoughts on “Top Ten Storyline events in Real American Hero History

  1. A great list. I may not agree with the order, but most of these same stories popped into my head when I read the title of the post. I would have probably tried to add the Venom/Kwinn/Snake Eyes arc because I loved that story, and RoC because it is now the way that the general public perceives joe, for better or for worse.

  2. I can’t argue with any of these choices, but I LOVE the fact that you picked Master & Apprentice. That mini-series is fantastic, and the art is awesome (I’m happy the artist seems to be getting more work over at Marvel now doing Avengers: The Initiative and Secret Warriors.) It works as a nice bridge between the end of the Marvel run and the Devil’s Due run.

  3. good list, but I for one am sick to death of Snake-eyes stories. Im sick of Snake-eyes figures, im sick of Snake-eyes repaints, Im sick of it all. there i said it. flame me for it.

  4. Maybe even better than Snake-Eye’s origin or even the Silent Issue is Sierra Gordo to Night Attack run. Starting with #12, Three Strikes for Snake-Eyes and ending in #19, Joe Triumphs, the story begins with the Joes thinking Snake is dead, having him trapped in the bottom of a river with Kwinn and Doctor Venom, Stealing a B-17 to fly home, only to be captured by Cobra before getting back to the Pitt. Meanwhile the Joes are dealing with Scar-Face, biological warfare, the introduction of Destro and Cobra’s attack on the Pitt. You have good guys, bad guys and friends dying. Hawk shot in the back by Cobra Commander, and so much more.

  5. Awesome article Justin! I’d have to agree with most of what you’ve got on there. I think I would add Cobra Reborn somewhere in the mix. While the rest of Reloaded was hit or miss that initial look at a rebooted Cobra organization through DDP’s eyes ranks up there with some of the top stories told, IMHO. However I honestly don’t know what I’d replace it with on the list.

    I have a love / hate thing going with The Battle of Benzheen and Trucial Abysma. It’s what got me back into the comics after dropping the series somewhere in the 80’s numbers. I think the shock of seeing Joes die is what reeled me in, but the unresolved way the storyline ended really frustrated me back then as a reader. There really never was any payback towards the Cobra organization and in the end the deaths were as needless as any other time in ARAH stories. This also became one of my most played storylines at the time as well, except that dang SAW Viper figure was such a shortie compared to his comic counterpart.

  6. Thanks, all!

    Yeah, the whole Dr. Venom/Kwinn/Snake Eyes arc was #11. Part of the reason I didn’t put it up was for fear of Snake Eyes overload, but it could have very easily made the list. Hell, I could have picked most issue runs from #16 – #60 and not felt too bad about it.

    Cobra Reborn is a fantastic choice as well, and would have also probably appeared in a top 15… and M6D, your thoughts on Trucial Abysma almost exactly mirror mine, which is why it only fell in at #9, even though it probably had some of the longest lasting “impact” on the Joe team.

  7. Great list!

    I really, really liked the WW3 story at the end of the DDP run. Lots of action, plenty of closure, and the closure felt solid because the series ENDED there. Maybe the DD guys never wanted it to end, but the fact that it did on such a powerful note, with Cobra being crushed, felt good.

    If anything, I’d add the overarching Dr. Burkhart arc as an excellent point of continuity. It wasn’t really an “arc” per se, but her character and her interaction with the Joes was solid and important every time.

  8. Great article Justin. I may not agree a 100% with your selections (you know how I feel about Resolute ;) ), but for the most part I do. Thanks for putting this together, I’m sure there are many fans that will enjoy it.

    As for Snake Eyes, I know many are burned out on him, but I still enjoy the character a great deal. Even if Hasbro has given us a bazillion versions of him.

  9. hmmm…

    I totally agree with your pics Justin! whether they be Impactfull, or Inciteful, or historical in the Joeverse, pretty much every storyline was something that was a major blip on the G.I.joe map.

    the only thing I would have added was G.I.Joe #1 being the first appearance of RAH, and the first comic ever to have a TV commercial, not to mention the first appearance of several major characters.

  10. Great choices. My top spot would have to be your #2, the Cobra Island issues, from the mid 30’s to 40s. This is where several storylines started coalescing towards a great finale: Ripcord and his search for Candy, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow discovering the Hard Master’s killer, Billy being trained by Storm Shadow.. Rod Whigham drew most of this run as well, and is my favorite Joe artist to date. Great, great stuff, which led into other great storylines (the invasion of Springfield, the destruction of the Pitt, etc.) Snake Eyes’ origin was also great, but only a two issue storyline, so it’s not as memorable as the Cobra Civil War for me. I loved the divvying of sides, Destro coming into his own, and the shocking fate of Serpentor, though it does seem a little rushed now that I’ve read it again recently.

  11. I would put the creation of Serpentor on the list (no idea where). No matter what media, it drove stories.

    Also, I would disavow the SE stuff. Total comic drivel in trying to make everyone and everything interconnected. There’s enough suspension of belief required in other things that it is just one of the many straws that breaks the camel’s back.

  12. I agree that a lot of the later Snake-Eyes connections became soap-operatic, but worse than that was a good bit of the ninja force stuff. Even I, a die-hard ninja fan, gave up on Joes at that point…and the horrid art at the time made it even worse. Still, the Venom/Kwinn/Snake run, Silent Interlude, and Snake-Eyes origins were some of the best Joe stuff to date.

    Also, if we got to talk about great stories, don’t forget the Shake-Down, Issue 34, and A Letter From Snake-Eyes (the end of the series and intro of Sean Collins)

  13. Well thought out and defended list, though I think I would have had a little less cartoon (like not the Revenge of Cobra storyline). I would add in its place the pre-Dixon “Reborn/Reloaded” stuff as well I think, particularly how they treated Cobra Commander. I want to include something from the Marvel Special Missions as well, but they were inherently not arcs I suppose… Good article!

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