Comic review: “G.I. Joe: Origins” issues 1-5

Thanks to the little miracle that is IDW Publishing‘s iPhone app, I had a chance this week to take my first look at the first five issues of its “G.I. Joe: Origins” series, covering the origin of Snake Eyes in the IDW version of the G.I. Joe universe.

The five-issue arc was written by Larry Hama, who for all intents and purposes *is* G.I. Joe. He wrote everything that mattered in the original Marvel Comics series in the 1980s and 1990s and also wrote most of the file-card bios that came on the backs of the Hasbro action figures. In other words, any character and personality that existed in the vintage G.I. Joe line was thanks to Hama.

I would imagine that his work on the series was intended to legitimize IDW’s universe with the hard-core old-school G.I. Joe fans. I’ll really have to go through and give the arc a second reading, with the added caveat that I know for a fact that an iPod Touch is a horrendous platform for viewing and reading comic books. The one-panel-at-a-time nav destroys any sense of page unity and eliminates any sense of “place” while you’re reading – that tacit knowledge that, for example, you’ve only got a few pages left, which leads to some anticipation for the book’s conclusion.

For a story that was supposed to introduce arguably the core character in the G.I. Joe universe, Snake Eyes, I think this five-issue comic arc was a disaster. Trying to give a concise recap of a five-issue story arc would be difficult, so I’ll just focus on Snake Eyes.

He’s first seen in a hospital, recovering from (follow along) injuries suffered in an explosion; he was in a plastic surgery clinic awaiting a facial reconstruction procedure from previous facial injuries, and was hurt again when Chimera, the story arc’s bad guy, blew up the clinic to erase everyone who had seen his real face following a surgical procedure to change his identity (I’m guessing Chimera ends up to be revealed as Cobra Commander). Joes successfully extract Snake Eyes from the hospital; he recovers in a hotel, where the owner/manager is also a war veteran and has a katana – with Arashikage markings – hanging on his wall because “his dad brought it back from Iwo Jima.”

Anyway, the three Joes at the beginning of the arc become six and are sent out to infiltrate a desert base where Chimera might be hiding. Chimera springs a trap that will likely kill the Joes. Snake Eyes ignores his injuries and orders to rest if he’s to have any hope of having his face repaired, steals the katana, trades his Silver Star for a plane flight into the battle, and saves the Joes’ collective asses.

Snake Eyes and Chimera fight; one of the Joes attempts to throw some liquor on Chimera so as to set him on fire or blind him or something; liquor hits Snake Eyes instead in a feat of pure Comic Physics Impossibility; Snake Eyes’ entire head catches fire; he and Chimera continue to fight; both of them fall down an elevator shaft to an unknown fate; and the Joes are able to thwart one of Chimera’s two Evil Schemes.

So let’s point out the three enormous things that are wrong with this story.

1) Snake Eyes gets his signature weapon – his heirloom katana sword – not because it’s a prized and valuable weapon that’s been around for generations, passed to him in some regal and important manner. No, he has his signature weapon because he found it on a wall in some craphole motel in the middle of the desert, and he stole it.

2) It’s obviously not bad enough that he wears his full-face mask because his face has been scarred in some previous incident. No, in Origins, Snake Eyes suffered some face-scarring accident at some point in the past; was blown up a second time and further scarred during Chimera’s attack on the hospital; then had his head set on fire Ghost Rider-style and scarred in completely absurd and incomprehensible fashion for a third time during the battle with Chimera in what I guarantee will become The Pit (G.I. Joe’s headquarters) at some point later in the series. It’s a ridiculous level of overkill; how freaking burned does he have to be in order to get the point across? Triple-burned, apparently.

3) Finally, “Snake Eyes” isn’t even his G.I. Joe-given codename; he had it before he even met Scarlett and Duke, when they extracted him from the hospital. That just seems… wrong.

Back to the location for the story’s concluding conflict; the underground base where the Joes battled Chimera will almost definitely become The Pit later in this series. Roadblock (well, they called him Heavy Duty, but come on – it’s Roadblock) even says “this place is dark as a pit” when the Joes first infiltrate the facility and make their way down the main cargo elevator.

So, assuming this base does, in fact, become the Pit later in the series (and I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t), how ridiculous will it be that a super-secret paramilitary organization would choose the exact location of its first battle with what will become its arch enemy as the location for its equally super-secret headquarters?

There’s a lot wrong with this story arc, and I really hope the Origins series improves over time. Through five issues, it’s not off to a very good start.

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