Saturday, January 14, 2017

G.I. Joe #123 - Shots in the Dark

The Joe comic is filled with keystone issues that drive the story.  #2, #10, #21, #26, #33, #40, #155 etc. are all key stories that either lay the groundwork for many future adventures or fill in major story gaps for the reader.  But, the Joe title was a monthly book that ran for over 13 years.  While there are stand alone stories throughout the run, there are many just random issues that carry on a story.  They aren't key issues.  They aren't beginnings or endings and they are not, on their own, all that memorable.  #123 falls into this category.  There is really nothing in it that you can't pick up from some other, earlier or later issues.  But, that is magnificence of the issue.  You have classic Joes, new recruits, the Headhunters, Eco Warriors and Ninja Force all interspersed into 22 or so pages.  I read this issue for the first time in 2017.  Yet, there was nothing in it that I didn't already know from the surrounding issues.  It's a good issue with lots of action, but also not important at all in the overall scheme of things.

The comic's cover is a kneeling classic Hooded Cobra Commander with the title of "Secret of the Sludge".  This alone implies that Cesspool and his Plasmatox ilk are going to be a focal point of the issue.  Only, they're not.  They're here.  But, they aren't the focal point of the story at all.  Instead, that goes to Cobra Commander leading a group of Paralyzer tanks after a squad of Joes manning the Badger and Battle Wagon as the Joes try to reach a safe border.

Marvel Comics #123, Cobra Commander
G.I. Joe #123 Cover

The cover date for the issue is April of 1992: meaning it appeared on newsstands in January of 1992, basically 25 years ago exactly.  This accounts for the odd assortment of characters appearing in the issue.  You have the Hama classic staples of  1983 Wild Bill, 1986 Hawk, 1984 Duke and 1985 Flint and Lady Jaye.  Joining them are the 1986 Roadblock, 1991 Dusty, 1989 Rock and Roll and Big Ben.  At the time, it was conceivable to really only find two of those figures on retail shelves.  But, Cobra was worse.  You have the '84 Cobra Commander, 1985 Tele Vipers, 1986 Vipers, Saw Viper and Frag Viper manning the Paralyzer tanks.

Marvel Comics #123, Cobra Commander, Paralyzer Tanks, SAW Viper, Frag Viper
G.I. Joe #123 Paralyzer Tanks
But, in addition to these more classic characters, you have three other story arcs rolling through the issue.  In the first, you have the Cesspool showcase that brings his character to the forefront.  You see 1991 Toxo Vipers and Sludge Vipers in the background.  Cobra Commander's toady is, of course, Zarana.  But, she pulls up to Cesspool's headquarters in a brand new Hammerhead.

Marvel Comics #123, Cesspool, Sludge Viper, Toxo Viper, Zarana, Eco Warriors
Cesspool being himself
The second story arc features the Ninja Force.  You see the entire 1992 Ninja Force figure contingent as well as never produced Red Ninjas.  This is a quick interlude to set up more story later.  But, it ws also the requisite appearance of Snake Eyes that seemed to be required in every issue of the G.I. Joe in the '90's.  The final arc introduces Headman and the Headhunters in Broca Beach.  It's really kind of a mess.

Marvel Comics #123, Snake Eyes, Red Ninja, Ninja Force
Snake Eyes Captures the Red Ninja Leader
At the time, G.I. Joe toys were moving away from their standard, yearly release schedule and subsets were becoming more and more important to the line as a whole.  But, seeing recent introductions that spanned three years of toy releases in one comic speaks to Hasbro's influence and demands that new toys remain part of the comic, despite their sometimes absurdity.  This point is driven home when Flint meets Clean Sweep and Ozone.  He notes their garish outfits and states they must not be covert.  Ozone replies they are made from recycled action figures.  Ouch.

One of the other great things about re-reading a 25 year old comic are the ads.  The inside cover features an ad for the BeetleJuice Game Boy game.  The next is a full page for 1992 Score baseball cards.  (One of the cards shown commemorates Dennis Martinez's 1991 perfect game and I remember working a table at a baseball card show the day that occurred.  Fun memories.)  Fleer outdoes them a few pages later with a 2 page advertisement for their new cards.  One full page is Roger Clemens and Fleer's 1992 promotion built around him.  Anyone who thinks Roger wasn't considered a future Hall of Fame player prior to his late 1990's stint in Toronto should see this as a reminder of how fans saw Clemens in 1991 and 1992.  You then get the requisite ads for Marvel T Shirts.  (Remember when the only super hero merchandise you could get was special order?)  There's then a full page ad for a series of James Bond Jr. books with a chance to win a Super Nintendo Gaming System and James Bond Jr. game pack.  Somehow, I think the SNES was the plum of that prize.  You then have the requisite role playing games advertisements in the book and on the back cover.  Not to be outdone, though, you have two more ads for trading cards: one for Marvel trading cards and another for Series II of NBA Hoops cards.

Marvel Comics #123, Cobra Commander
G.I. Joe #123 Ads

Marvel Comics #123, Cobra Commander
G.I. Joe #123 Ads

The trading card heavy content shows how that hobby had grown in popularity during that time period.  1992 was pretty much the begging of the end for that industry, too.  High end cards, endless streams of new product, difficult adults and the 1994 baseball strike pretty much killed the hobby and have left the vast quantities of merchandise produced during this time as basically worthless.  But, looking back at the ads in these old comics provides good insight into what kids of the time were buying.  Unsurprisingly, there's lots of failed merchandise in there.  But, that's almost more interesting than finding ads for popular items that have collecting value today.

I missed this issue at retail.  I was a senior in high school when this was released.  And, while I still visited my local comic shop a couple of times a month, that was down from the multiple times per week of just a year or two before.  It wasn't cool to collector or read G.I. Joe.  But, it wasn't cool to collect sports cards or any other comics, either.  So, there's that.  But, at the time, I had other distractions.  Music was starting to get interesting and I bought Nirvana's Nevermind for the first ever CD I purchased.  I stopped buying around #120 as the ninja plotline didn't do much for me.   I did come back when I saw the cover for #125 with the Eco Warriors Flint hanging over the pit of sludge with the flesh eaten hand protruding from the ooze.  Comic Carnival had #124 at the same time for retail price so I bought those and then maybe missed one or two other issues between then and the end of the series in 1995.

Marvel Comics #123, Eco Warriors, Flint, Ozone, Clean Sweep
G.I. Joe #123 Eco Warrior Introduction
The 1990's Joe comics are not as good as their 1980's predecessors.  Some of that is the nostalgia filter.  But, reading some of them critically still gives the edge to the earlier issues.  However, I also think that this was because the toy line and character library was smaller and Hama probably didn't have enough characters to use rather than too many.  By 1991, the line was huge and there were tons of Joes and Cobras.  Many of whom were nothing more than carbon copies or updates of already used characters.  So, instead of having focused plots, you got things like this issue where there are four stories crammed into the pages.  The others are setup for future issues.  But, the only way to get the characters that matched the toys on the shelf into the comic pages was to sacrifice some of the linear story telling and go with the packed story you see in this issue and its contemporaries.

Of course, this comic is worthless.  It's not late enough in the run to have had a truncated production run and there is nothing of note that occurs within its pages.  (I'm probably one of about 6 collectors who would consider the introduction of Headman and the Headhunters as noteworthy.)  But, it's still a good issue.  There's a lot in here that could have made for cool comic pack figures in the 2000's.  The white Headhunters alone would have sold a ton of 3 packs.  Seeing how Hama had to weave his tales together to appease Hasbro and comic buyers is a lesson in balanced artistry.

Marvel Comics #123, Headhunters, DEF, Headman, Siegie, Crimson Guard, Broca Beach
G.I. Joe #123 Headhunters Introduction
I don't follow the Joe comics at all these days.  The whole early 2000's comic mess pretty much turned me off to them permanently.  I've always felt that the majority of the vintage Joe line was controlled by the relatively steady hand of a few, key, creative people.  They were the brand's shepherds who kept in on course.  As others gained influence in the line, it lost its way.  The late issue comic stories and the odd figure releases of 1993 and 1994 are good benchmarks of this.  But, anything produced after 1994 for Joe just seems like an imitation of the prior good.  No matter how good a comic writer is, they will never escape Hama's shadow, even if it's well earned.  No matter how realistic the anniversary figures are, they are still treading on the blueprint laid out by the line's founders.  This prevents the brand from moving forward and is why it will never even get close to the success enjoyed in the '80's.  But, that's OK.  There's enough to keep interest alive until Hasbro figures out the next big iteration of the G.I. Joe theme.


  1. According to Mikes Dc Index, 123 came out in February 18, 1992.
    I don't know if you knew that IDW picked up the series with # 155.5 and they're up to # 234, all written by Larry Hama. Sad to say though,they're not very well written...

  2. I agree with Jeremy, in regards to Hama's continuation; the magic is gone, although I keep reading, simply because it IS Hama...

    I have always heard how great the IDW Cobra series was (focus is on Chuckles and CC), and I will always LOVE the SE Declassified issues/HC. The Joe Declassified is equally good, but IS written by Hama before his magic disappeared.