GeneralsJoes interviews Fred Van Lente, new writer of IDW’s G.I. Joe

The news broke a few weeks ago at NYCC that in 2013 a new writer would be taking over the reigns of the main G.I. Joe title, and that new writer is Fred Van Lente.  In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Mr. Van Lente revealed some details about the upcoming title, including a new look for the team, a new philosophy, and an updated roster.  While the story will continue the IDW G.I. Joe universe, the Joe team is undergoing some fundamental changes.

As usual, this news was greeted with some… “enthusiastic” reactions from different portions of the G.I. Joe community, so I reached out to Mr. Van Lente, hoping to clarify some details and get some more information about this upcoming book.  He was very kind enough to get back to be very quickly, and I wanted to thank him for taking some time out of his most assuredly busy schedule to humor my fanboy oriented requests.

For folks who want to hear even more about the new G.I. Joe title from Mr. Van Lente, make sure you’re also keeping your eyes (and ears) open for What’s on Joe Mind Episode 69 as we’ll be featuring a great round table discussion with the new G.I. Joe writer as well as Marvel Director of Communications Arune Singh.

Until then, click the read the rest of the story link below to check out my interview with Fred Van Lente!  And a huge thanks once again to Fred for his quick responses to my questions.

GeneralsJoes – What previous work that you’ve done has best prepared you to work on the G.I. Joe title for IDW?

Fred Van Lente – I recently did a long-form project (currently unannounced) that involved a lot of research in the US Special Ops and how they work — in ways that are similar, and completely different, than the way GI Joe has been portrayed in the past.

A lot of fan reaction to our new direction seems to be discomfort that GI Joe isn’t a covert team anymore — but they have tanks and fighter jets! They’re a lot more than a spec ops group, and this new series will address that. The US military has to deal with politics, recruitment, PR, nation building, various important health issues like PTSD — I want to GI Joe to get involved with all sorts of issues and themes in the armed forces today, not just the “Rainbow 6” stuff.

But there were still be plenty of that stuff, too.

The tone and outline of this new G.I. Joe title seems to use the Sunbow animated series as an inspiration as far as the roster and themes.  Was that done on purpose?

Sort of. I see it as an adult continuation of the cartoon. When I took the job over the summer, I chatted with a lot of pro fans about who I should put on the team. Artists, execs … the list I settled on was combo of my faves and theirs, combined with the kinds of stories and themes I wanted to explore.

What makes G.I. Joe stand apart from other military properties?

They’re literally archetypal — they strip away all the political and national allegiances that allow us to deal with purely military themes and adventures in a way that people across the ideological spectrum can enjoy and that’s a very special thing.

You’ve obviously done a lot of creator owned work as well as work for existing properties…what are the unique challenges in working with a licensed property like G.I. Joe?

You have to work with the licensor, make sure they agree with the direction you’re taking with the property is one they’re comfortable with. I gotta say in a small sampling so far Hasbro has been terrific to work with, and their suggestions and guidance has been terrific so far.

Notable by his absence in the new G.I. Joe title is Snake Eyes…  can we assume we’ll be seeing more of him somewhere along the way?

Read Snake Eyes’ book.

You mentioned The Baroness as being one of your favorite Cobra characters…are there other more obscure characters from either side that you want to try and use?

Oh, of course. Windmill, anyone? Windmill?

I’d give a full list, but why spoil the surprises as they’re rolled out?

So what issue will Hit & Run or Interrogator appear in? ; )

#36 and #148, respectively.

Is the third title “Special Missions” or “Secret Missions”?

I’m pretty sure it’s “Special Missions.”

I’m a huge fan of Mike Costa’s work on the Cobra title…will you be working closely with him on the tone and themes of this new G.I. Joe universe going forward?

Definitely. I love “Cobra” too and got a chance to hang and have lunch with Mike while he was in New York for NYCC. What we have cooked up moving forward will excite and thrill lots of fans.

Great to hear that.  Aside from the major IDW cross over events, it seemed like the Cobra book was kind of operating in its own corner of the IDW universe.  Can we expect a more homogeneous experience going forward?

Not really. The plan is to have each book stand on its own two feet, which generally means COBRA characters will stay there, SPECIAL MISSIONS characters will stay over there, etc.

Why such a change from more realistic military to a more super hero themed book (at least in appearance)?

I’m not sure how that specifically informed the new looks for the characters (which were, let’s be honest, pretty distinctive to begin with) and for me, the only similarities between this book and a superhero book is the idea that the GI Joe team is the personification of the military in the public eye. It gives them a lot more responsibility and makes them shoulder a lot more challenges than they did before, but for me, it gives us a chance to tell even more realistic stories — or, at least, with more modern themes — because it forces the GI Joes to deal with things like public image, hearts-and-minds type operations, and so on.

A pure op-execution series is not really something that particularly interests me — I want character development as strong on the GI Joe as on the Cobra side — and a level of mission complexity beyond locating, infiltrating and destroying targets. Expanding GI Joe’s public role is really going to help us do this.

Though, again, many, many things will be shot and blown up in the process. (grins)

You bring up a great point when it comes to character development on the G.I. Joe side.  One thing some fans have had issues with are these “Greenshirt” characters who have come in only to be cannon fodder or to fade into the background.  When building character development on the G.I. Joe side, can we expect to see more familiar characters and less of the new folks with no established background in the G.I. Joe universe?

It depends. I like a mix of stalwarts and newbies. Roadblock, Duke, Shipwreck, Cover Girl … these are super important characters, but so are the all-new Hashtag and the female Doc.

Over the past several years, G.I. Joe has had a hard time maintaining a consistent voice or theme. Sigma 6, the Rise of Cobra, Resolute, Renegades, and now Retaliation, it seems like G.I. Joe is sort of all over the map and can’t strike a chord with its target audiences. Why do you think that is?

Well, it’s hard for me to answer honestly, as I’m the guy expected to provide the consistent voice/theme now. All I can say is: I want GI Joe to reflect the reality of the US military as they currently exist today, and that motivates all the changes/realities of our current series.

The uniforms for the G.I. Joe characters have obviously drifted away from the vintage look quite a bit.  Will we at least see some vintage themed vehicles or familiar throw-backs within the issues somewhere?

Oh, yeah. One in particular is a big part of #1…

In recent IDW issues, Zartan has taken a much larger role within the Cobra hierarchy, and has been much more front and center…as a huge Zartan fan, I like this quite a bit.  Is that going to continue going forward?

You may seem him more in the other books. I’ve got my own roster of Cobra villains … in particular one fan-favorite you’ve been clamoring for…

What is your favorite story from G.I. Joe history?

Probably the Springfield story from Larry and Herb’s run. That’s a huge influence on my entire approach to the book, which relocates the war with Cobra firmly to US soil.

The first arc is called “Homefront” if that gives you any idea. Imagine that original story combined with “Black Hawk Down”…

Ah, a great choice.  I’m glad to hear that.  Many folks just point to issue #21, Silent Interlude, and while I really enjoy that book for obvious reasons, I think the whole Cobra Island/Springfield arc was masterful.  Glad to hear you found some inspiration there.

That is a terrific story, but enough with the ninjas already…

I think I love this book already.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is coming out in March, and from all appearances looks to be going for a much more gritty and real-world military approach, meanwhile the IDW comic looks to be going (at least somewhat) away from that.  Was that a conscious decision, or just the way you guys feel like the universe is unfolding?

Uh … I would say you’re reading too much into a single cover. Or getting the wrong impression…

Also, the trailer for Retaliation I saw had Jonathan Pryce as The Evil President addressing his Cobra hordes… So you and I seem to have a radically different definition of a “real-world military approach.” (laughs)

Our first arc is pretty much the definition of “gritty.” This is a war book. People get shot. People die. A guy from our side dies in #1, in fact.

I have a feeling — and perhaps it’s personal bias, or the fact I am such a sunny optimist — that a reading of #1 … hell, a reading of the first page of #1 … will dispel any concerns that this book is going to be anything other than the balls-to-the-wall military action book “GI Joe” deserves to be.

Ha!  Point taken.  With the election coming up on Tuesday I’ll refrain from any political commentary about Cobra agents masquerading as the President…  I guess I’m talking mostly about the uniform design shifting from black “reactive suits” to more camouflage military based gear, and a pull back of the super futuristic weapons to more currently used military armaments.  Have you done some research on modern real world military gear, and we will see that stuff integrated into the story?

I have, but you’ll see that reflected more in weapons, vehicles, and support than in the uniforms. The redesign of the characters, though I gave my advice on them, weren’t really integral to my conception of the book. In general — counting super heroes as well — I think we all in comics get a little too obsessive over the outfits.

I’d rather avoid straight-up science fiction concepts if I could. All the tech needs to have some real-world basis. As a kid it always irritated me that they used lasers on the cartoon…

You read my mind.  And in spite of my question about it, I actually agree with all of this.  I’ve always thought character and personality were priorities over the uniform they happened to be wearing at the time.  

Do you plan on looking to the recent toys as any inspiration for character design or story ideas?

I am looking for inspiration for story ideas any and everywhere including to pre-1982 sources, as will be obvious from reading #1…

Good to know.  I suppose I’m more thinking about some of the recent Pursuit of Cobra or 30th Anniversary G.I. Joe toys.  Have you taken a look at any of those recent items and considered pulling those characters or themes into the comic?  It seemed as if Hasbro was building a vague storyline into the themes of their action figures, and I was just  curious if we might see some of those elements in the comic itself.

The volume of GI Joe material is … well, voluminous … and every day I’m learning of more of it — such as here! We will see, if I get to it… (grin)

If you could pick one other media property, either video game, film, or animated series, and compare it to G.I. Joe, what would it be?

I’m drawing my inspiration for my run in a lot recent military movies and books: “Black Hawk Down,” “Generation Kill,” “Jarhead,” and so on, plus a bunch of non-fiction books on the modern US military that may be less familiar to your readers. GI Joe should reflect a lot of the current responsibilities and challenges of the armed forces today, and that’s what I’m looking forward to telling in our series… in the context of some seriously kickass war stories.

A lot of folks have remarked about this recent change to a much more public face for G.I. Joe and have commented that pretty much all G.I. Joe members were thought to be dead by their friends and family.  How will that whole dynamic work now that they’re in the public eye, and can we expect any stories to be built around that change?

Yes. Read #1. It’s a major problem for them.

One story that many fans really latched onto with IDW’s G.I. Joe title was Beachhead’s amnesia…will that play into this new story at all?

In all seriousness, every day I’m hearing a new thing from a GI Joe fan he or she wants to see addressed — and they all sound pretty awesome! I hope my run lasts five years so I get a chance to investigate all this stuff…

I do want to say I’m getting pretty excited to see this new take on the G.I. Joe universe…with an established history going back over 30 years at this point, do you still feel like there are a lot of stories to tell within this universe?

Thanks! I do. I have my first year’s off stories already planned out, and now I’ve got Beachhead’s amnesia to address…

Ha! …my bad.  While you’re at it, check out Hit & Run’s filecard…  there’s a pretty rich potential story to be told there, too.  Yes, I’m a Hit & Run fanboy, sorry.

I will add him to a long and growing list. :)

Fans have complained a little bit over the years about the changes to certain characters, most notably changing folks like Dial Tone and Doc to female versions of themselves.  Do you anticipate more of that going forward?

Well, the female Doc existed before I showed up. Like I said above, I’m drawing from all different incarnations of GI Joe for this run.

Speaking of Doc, I assume that is her on that initial image we saw?  She seems to bear some likeness to Lifeline, was that homage on purpose?  Does that mean we won’t see Lifeline at some point in this story?

Uhhhh… I clearly have a disconnect with larger fandom, as the Lifeline I know is white. And a man. Will I now be pwned as a n00b?

Dude, TOTAL noob.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!! It burns, it burns!!

In all seriousness, I was mostly referring to Doc’s uniform, which has a lot of the same color and design elements as Lifeline.  Some folks have brought up the similarity and were wondering if Doc and Lifeline were somehow being homogonized into this character…

No, the female Doc — Carla Greer — predates me, and was created for the “Reloaded” series . As I’ve said, this incarnation is a mishmash of a number of previous (in some cases, way previous) teams.

Okay, last question…  are the full codenames going to be used for the Joe characters, or are we still going to have to deal with short form names like “Mains”, “Ship”, etc…  it may seem like a silly complaint, but a lot of readers haven’t liked the somewhat forced nature of those names.  The Joes have code names already, do they really need nicknames for their code names?

There is a scene in #1 you will adore, then.

Go ahead, tell me how nit picky we are.  : )

Thaaaat’s pretty nit picky. But I’d have to agree with you and Britta on this. Some words are already short enough:

Fred, thank you very much for your time.  I really appreciate the conversation, and I look forward to talking to you again on the What’s on Joe Mind podcast!  Can’t wait to see this new iteration of G.I. Joe.

Thanks for having me. Do we have anything to talk about on the podcast now?!?

Well, there’s always football… and wait until you hear Chuck’s Major Bludd impression.

8 thoughts on “GeneralsJoes interviews Fred Van Lente, new writer of IDW’s G.I. Joe

  1. “a new writer would be taking over the reigns”

    That’d be “reins.” Respect.

    Good interview

  2. although I’ll be passing (at least initially) the writer seems like a class act, and I really appreciate his openness, including coming on Hiss tank and allowing any fan to ask him a question.

    I do feel designs matter, Slap Batman in orange and it’s going to be distracting, no matter how good the character arc is. Comics is 50% (at least) a visual media, it doesn’t make sense to deny that.

  3. I’m already excited about a writer who is starting a new Joe book and says “enough ninjas already.” I think he has a point about developing the characters of the Joes. I think it’s easier to develop a bad guy character in “secrecy.” Good guy characters are hard to get a background on when all they do is go on missions.

  4. Gotta say. After that (admittedly cool) interview I have very mixed feelings about this book. Right out of the gate it seems to have a major identity crisis as what he wants the book to be and what the cover looks like it is, are two completely different directions. The other great worry is the non stop moments about reflecting what the real world US armed forces is dealing with. How exactly does one do that without bringing in all the political crap? The last thing on Earth I want to do with the little free, fun time I have is read about political issues.

    Regardless I’ll be giving it a fair shot. Cobra is a must as always and I’ll even give Special Missions a shot as Dixon does seem to be able to do action stories half way decent.

    All in all I hope IDW does kill off Snake Eyes in the current titles and we can move on without all the ninja crap. Now that would really be something.

  5. “Read Snake Eyes’ book.”

    I’ll take that as a “no” since he was too chicken shit to actually come out and say it

  6. Hola, I hope you are doing well

    Well, Firefly, , DreakNoks were out for 3 years, now that appearing..series end!, honestly I do not know what to expect this time- IDW in the beguining was veeeeeeeeeeeeeeryyyyyyyyyyyyy slow to start…this looks a mang-kind-of (NO; NO for Gijoe…..GiJoe is a very rich universe that IDW has not being able to explore it and show it in a large manner, focused to much in some characters..anyway, expect the best, get ready for the worse….

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