geoffsebesta: (Default)
geoffsebesta ([personal profile] geoffsebesta) wrote in [community profile] scans_daily2009-11-20 01:04 am

A liberal apologia for GI Joe, Part One (v. 2.0)

This is a repost from the original s_d. It was written when Bush was president, and things have changed. Moreover, it had remarkably interesting comment threads, so I've changed my mind a lot based on new evidence and analysis. So it's edited, and we can go from here. Call this version 2.0.

I read all the old GI Joe comics. All of them. Thank you internet! One hundred and fifty-five issues, plus 26 of Special Missions, 13 of European Missions, 4 of GI Joe and Transformers, and a bunch of other stuff here and there. They were great.

I consider myself a liberal activist. You can dispute my effectiveness, whatever, the point is that's the way I see the world. I try to work on liberal causes and help make them happen, I go to protests and stuff, I work tables and sit in trees and so on and so forth.

I love GI Joe comics. I always have, ever since I was a kid and they were new and I owned half the toys.

I oppose military adventurism in all the forms that I can. I think America should get out of Iraq tomorrow. I protested the bombing of Iraq when Clinton did it! I think Bush should be tried for war crimes.

But I do love G I Joe comics.

Because they're that damn good.

In this post I discuss issue #1. Note to new readers: GI Joe comics have NOTHING to do with the cartoon. There are characters in common but the structure, goal, and tone are entirely different.

As Mr. Andersen said last time, "looks like the guy is telling Scarlet to GTFO of the little Iwo Jima re-enactment." Not exactly fair to the series as a whole (we'll discuss sexism in G I Joe soon enough, especially as it compares very favorably to the prevalent cliches of 80s comics) but certainly a cogent point.

See, G I Joe isn't afraid to ask the tough questions.

As you know our posting guidelines have gotten even tighter and I'm afraid I'm going to have to remove even more awesome from this than before, and it is at this point that the story begins to suffer. This sucks and I'm sorry. ree pages of the first comic. From this point in I'm just going maximize awesome at the expense of comprehension. That said, lucky for you the story is most of the awesome so you'll be able to pick up most of the plot.

I'll follow a simple rule: if it ain't by Larry Hama it ain't crap. He made the series good. He turned what should be total toxic sludge -- a story about a bunch of toys that promote the American military-industrial complex -- and made it great. And it is great. Sometimes jaw-droppingly so.

We've got a five-page streak on already. They kidnapped her with balloons! And then picked up the balloon with a helicopter which is impossible, but still. Larry Hama obviously agrees with John Ostrander and the Suicide Squad, in that you should introduce the villains first. So here you have them, front and center, the two types of people who give the Joe team the most trouble:

dastardly techno-terrorists
and angry civilians who just don't get it, man.

Now, Hama is astoundingly even-handed through the whole series. I read a really great interview with Jim Owsley that talked about him and made him sound like the greatest, least prejudiced guy ever. That comes through in GI Joe. Every race, color, and creed is well-represented. You even grow to like most of the bad guys. Maybe not Doctor Mindbender. But then, Doctor Mindbender is but a simple orthodontist who accidentally drove himself evil with a mind-control ray, so you have to give the poor guy a break.

You will never see that combat training center again. Guess they didn't feel like making a GI Joe Sensory Deprivation Tank.

The beginning of a long tradition: Cobra lurks in a castle or on an island, again, for the first time. There will also be many cabins in many woods.

Moral complexity! Ah, the first intimations of the Dostoyevskian plunge into the depths of responsibility, of a soldier's burden and a soldier's duty, and also civilians are stupid. So dumb. They should just shut up and let GI Joe protect them.

Meanwhile in Cobra Castle the First:

I didn't read all those words when I was a kid and I'm not reading them now. But isn't it cool! Herb Trimpe could have been excused for phoning it in, because this is a comic book about toys for little boys. But he didn't. This is pure Tothian storytelling win, and it's a shame that people like this don't get work these days. His style's pretty damn rough, lets be honest, and the Baroness looks like she has a weird growth. But it's great! There are mysterious soldiers and a big awesome logo and this freaking dynamic shouty guy in a mask and computers and's good stuff.

These are the bad guys, and they got their act together. They are serious people, seriously dressed. It is never Casual Friday in Cobra Castle the First.

Hey, Cobra. You want to know the difference between the comic and the cartoon? Panel four.

Lots and lots of people die in this comic. More than an episode of the Sopranos plus one of Six Feet Under, and from a similar variety of reasons. Gunshots "through the center of his mass," heads disappearing "in a fine red mist," and car accidents are the main causes of death. I can't count how many times somebody fires a gun and "breaks his mother's heart."

I'm a little troubled by what Scarlett thinks Snake Eyes is thinking. I don't know how often hostage rescuers think about just shooting the hostage and knocking off early for the night, you know, catch a beer and watch the game. Heck, I usually want to get off work easy, so I know how they feel. I guess job dissatisfaction is natural to any career. And that woman is a traitor. Opposing doomsday weapons and all.

Cobra is one step ahead. Cobra is always one step ahead. Cobra usually wins. Wait until you find out where their funding comes from.

I have a theory that this comic is actually about 'Nam. What do you think? PS Stalker rocks, consistently.

Yes, let us all don our special combat helmets. It's the thing to do. Mine's a Kangol.

Story ends. I don't have enough pages to show you. Cobra Commander escapes, by the way.

Backup story (this was a very long issue)

Don Perlin is not as good as Herb Trimpe. Note the way that Snake-Eyes is completely invisible on the page. Bad placement, bad lighting. You can say it's the colorist's fault, but they knew the colorist was going to do that and should have planned better. Whatever. Larry Hama is a great damn writer and introduces one heck of a story on this page. I love the radio dialogue.

And this is technically a kid's comic. I wouldn't say that GI Joe shows all the consequences of violence, but it certainly shows that there are some. Anyway, if they tried to put in all the screams of the dying the letterer would quit.

Now, I'm writing this here partly to give myself an opportunity to revisit a minor classic, and to examine it in depth. This has confirmed something fairly obvious -- Snake-Eyes is the main character of the story, and he represents the trauma of combat and the Vietnam experience. He is extremely, extremely unhealthy. It's sort of amazing that he never snaps and kills somebody.

Oh, wait. He does. Constantly.

Is this what war is about? I've never been in a war so I don't know, but Larry Hama has and that seems like what he's telling me. I know that it's necessary to fight Cobra but was the Vietnam war worth this?

Sigma 7 said this last time: "I don't think I could do justice to a comparison of classic Joe and 21st century asymmetrical combat engagements -- I'd need to be more comfortable with my awareness of both before I'd even pick up those particular threads. I find food for thought, but no answers -- actually, no questions, yet, even. Just...thought."

I agree with that entirely. I do not feel comfortable making these sorts of observations and value judgements. I'm not a veteran, I've never been in a war, I don't know much about it. What gives me the right to have an opinion? Why do I feel like I need to have an opinion?

Because we live in a world where we must. Like it or not, all of us have some (highly variable) responsibility to know about the world around us and act appropriately, and in modern times that means developing the skills to judge situations that you have never encountered, and maybe (hopefully) never will. I seriously hope that I never fight in a war. But I feel that war is something that I should know something about. Larry Hama does us all the great gift of attempting to educate us, and I approach this series with profound gratitude.

But his point of view is that civilians should shut up and be protected, and I could not agree less, and I think that his very attempt to educate us undermines this premise. If it wasn't important for children to understand war, why bother writing this at all?

Now, this work could not be more influential.

In all seriousness, has anyone else noticed how they talk about Al Qaeda exactly like Cobra? Down to the mysterious leader in his mountain lair. I think it's pretty obvious to everyone now how George Bush's life was shaped by the movies he watched and the books he read. I'm not saying he read G. I. Joe, though I wouldn't be surprised. I'm just pointing out a cultural meme. Don't fall into this habit. Do you honestly believe Al Qaeda's motivations are as simplistic as Cobra's? They aren't.

Do you understand that to a lot of people in the world, Al Qaeda is their G. I. Joe? Why do you think that may be?

Silly as it may be (and we are all shaped by the media around us), one of the most shocking moments in my life was when I realised that, to a lot of people, they are the Rebellion and we are the Evil Galactic Empire.

I know a lot of you hate that analogy with all your heart, but think about it now -- there are no real politics in the first three Star Wars movies, you don't know anything politically about the Galactic Empire. They have lots of of soldiers and spaceships and bombers and they shoot innocent civilians and bomb people with space stations and torture politically marginalized figures for information. That's all you know. When you're watching, that's all you need to know. They blew up Alderaan and they killed his aunt and uncle and now they're going to pay.

I am very sorry to tell you that there are places in the world where that is exactly what is going on. But Luke Skywalker is not an American in that analogy.

There's an Afghani man out there whose city was bombed, whose aunt and uncle were killed by Americans. This is a fact. How does he feel? If Luke decides to do something about it, and he's a hero, what is he?

There's no easy answer to that question.

To them, we are the bad guys. And they are not automatically wrong. It's not impossible.

That bothers me.

I love America, with all my heart, and always will. I can neither love it more nor less.

But I could also be prouder of America, and less ashamed for things we have done. Pride and shame are not love. It's not the same thing. The love will stay the same. But every time there's another Abu Ghraib, pride is smothered.

And we all must understand that Al Qaeda is not Cobra.

Whatever you say about the Middle East, you can't say they're angry about nothing.

Maybe we're fighting for principles. Sure. Principles mean nothing to people with dead children. I am reminded of the (apocryphal) conversation between the Vietnamese peasant and the American soldier.

"Why are you here?"

"We are fighting communism and the soviet system."

"Couldn't you do that in Russia?"

It's a very reasonable question, and one that any Iraqi might feel some resonance with.
deleonjh: (Default)

[personal profile] deleonjh 2009-11-20 04:22 pm (UTC)(link)
As I recall, whenever I watched GI Joe I'd spend the entire episode shouting for Snake Eyes to appear. I'd only be satisfied whenever he was on screen. Seriously, I can't remember the plot of a single episode. I even recently watched an episode of the new GI Joe and ended up reiterating my childhood habits.

Anyway, when viewed retrospectively it's ridiculous how gung ho the 80s was. You could pretty much sum up American pop culture in the 1980s by watching the scene in Predator where the heavily-armed and musclebound commandos level a jungle in fear and paranoia. It's almost like the US was overcompensating for having a small penis. That or something that starts with V and ends with War (or as the other side calls it, the American War).

Seriously, the idea that civilians betray the country by refusing to support the military 110% clearly comes from the US military's sense of betrayal following the Vietnam War. The extreme view holds that the war could have been won had those civvies just kept supporting the war. I believe this is snarkily referred to as the Green Lantern theory of geopolitics: the view that anything in the world can be solved by applying military force as long as you have the willpower to keep it up.

It's both odd and unsurprising that Cobra should be shown to be so high-tech for a terrorist force. Anyone with a passing familiarity with real life asymmetrical warfare (not just the 21st century kind, any kind at all) would know that a centralized command would be pure lunacy for the terrorists/guerillas/what-have-you. But once you remember that the comic book is a fantasy then all is well. After all, you get an enemy who stands up and fights instead of cravenly maximizing their use of force. No wonder WWII movies got a sudden boost after 9/11.

Anyway, I don't mean to lessen your realization of American complicity in all kinds of horrible shit but it's almost painful for us non-Americans how shocking that realization should be. Indeed, American perpetuation of horrible shit is as old as the US itself. (Yes, every country does it. So what?)

Damn, I can't believe I wrote so much. I guess I really do need to start my blog again, if I'd been writing for it I would have brought up utopianism and Walter Benjamin and whatnot.

[personal profile] jlbarnett 2009-11-21 12:56 am (UTC)(link)
yeah, cause the Cold War wasn't over our heads in the 80's. People were aware of the world back then.

[personal profile] jlbarnett 2009-11-21 11:44 pm (UTC)(link)
oh, I definately disagree about the outside world being optional.

And Cleese should do a little fact checking.