Action, Espionage, Romance & Betrayals: Marks Powers talks "G.I. Joe"

The forces of G.I. Joe and Cobra have been at war for almost two decades. This May in the pages of "G.I. Joe" #43 from Devil's Due Publishing that war will end. Victory for either side is uncertain because issues 42-43 are part of a story line called "Rise of the Red Shadows" in which a new fearsome and malevolent organization emerges to target both Cobra and G.I. Joe. In June the Joe team resumes its war on terror in the pages of "G.I. Joe: America's Elite" #0, a specially priced $.25 cent issue by the new creative team of Joe Casey and Stefano Caselli. But, "America's Elite" is not the only "G.I. Joe" project Devils Due has in the works. CBR News spoke to "G.I. Joe" editor Mark Powers via e-mail for an intelligence briefing on all things "G.I. Joe."

Earlier this year Devils Due head Josh Blaylock made an ominous post on his blog at Myspace.com "THE WAR WILL END... ONE WILL DIE... AND THE RED SHADOWS WILL RISE." Readers may have thought they saw "the one" that will die in issue #39 of "G.I. Joe" when The Baroness' plane exploded, but they shouldn't be so sure. "Maybe we have, maybe we haven't seen 'the one'," Powers told CBR News. "The twists and turns have only just begun."

Issue #39 was part four of the six part "Union of the Snake," a storyline that will bring the mysterious Red Shadows out of hiding. Powers was reluctant to give any information on this new terrorist threat. "I don't want to divulge too much here -- that sort of thing is best learned in the course of the story," he said "I will say that they've been around for quite some time -- their motivation, planning and goals are more far-reaching than those of Cobra."

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Both issues of "The Rise of the Red Shadows" story line will be double sized. Issue #43 is the final issue of "G.I. Joe" and is the last battle in the G.I. Joe-Cobra war. "In war, there are always heavy prices paid -- by groups and individuals," Powers explained. "And one conflict often leads to another..."

The new conflict takes place a year later in "G.I. Joe: America's Elite" by new writer Joe Casey, which has a new team of Joes combating the forces of Cobra and The Red Shadows.

The membership of the new Joe team for now remains classified. "Ahhh, but guessing who's going to be part of the new team is part of the fun, isn't it...?" Powers explained. "Let's just say that the new team will be comprised of both some welcome and surprising faces. Joe will be focusing on a core cast, though he may bring in guest-stars if and when the story calls for it."

The team in "G.I. Joe: America's Elite" may be different and may operate differently, but Powers promised the book would contain everything that made the original "G.I. Joe" comics great. "Action, espionage, romance, betrayals -- it'll all be there," Powers said. "I'll paraphrase Joe on this: what he's doing is taking all the elements that readers have become accustomed to over the years and boiling them down to a classic, streamlined 'G.I. Joe.' Dealing with the threat of Cobra will always be a large part of the Joes' mission -- for some, their obsession."

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Cobra still is an imminent threat to the Joe team in the wake of "Rise of the Red Shadows," although they have changed how they operate. "Cobra could not have survived this long without being highly adaptive -- and that's certainly the case now," Powers explained. "There are certain...tactics they'll continue to employ, and there will be new ones as well."

In the past G.I. Joe occasionally had to take on threats besides Cobra or that worked with Cobra like The Jugglers, a ruthless secret cabal of top military officials, Zartan's nation wide crime organization The Dreadnoks, and the Iron Grenadiers, the private army of Cobra's weapons supplier Destro. Some of these groups might make appearances in the new "G.I. Joe" book. Powers said, "Everyone that actually survives the Red Shadow arc will be available in the new serie"

New "G.I. Joe" writer Joe Casey is a fan of "G.I. Joe," although not an obsessive one. "Well, of course he's a 'G.I. Joe' fan," Powers said. "Though I think in this case 'fan' means someone who is familiar with the cartoon from childhood and has an appreciation for the work of Larry Hama -- rather than someone who's got every Snake-Eyes figure ever made."

Joe Casey's work on Devil's Due's "Aftermath" line lead to his choice as the new writer for "G.I. Joe: America's Elite." "Joe was writing 'Infantry' for us, and every time a script came in, it would get passed around the office; nobody could wait to read it," Powers said. "When we started talking about re-launching the title, Joe was the first writer we thought of."

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Devil's Due decided to relaunch "G.I. Joe" because they felt it was time to do something new with the series. "We decided on this course for several reasons -- some creative, some owing to the cold reality of publishing," Powers explained. "The sales numbers said that retailers had decided we'd taken the book and the characters as far as we could in the old series. We put a lot of thought into what that translated to in creative terms. What truly is the essence of G.I. Joe, what makes readers care? What elements could we do without, or more accurately, use more sparingly? And if we're going to come at the concept anew, what writer could best spearhead such an effort? The bottom line is we feel strongly that 'G.I. Joe' is something many readers care about, and many more want to care about. A new start was in order."

While one "G.I. Joe" title is about to restart another is ending. "G.I. Joe: Reloaded" #14 by Chuck Dixon and Nelson Blake will be the last issue in the series. "Chuck Dixon's 'Reloaded' arc comes to a conclusion, but the possibility still exists that we could go back to that world if circumstances allowed for it, if there was the demand," Powers said. "We were very happy with what Chuck and his collaborator, Nelson Blake, did on the book. "

One of Devil's Due's most popular recent titles was the "Master and Apprentice" mini-series that spotlighted Snake Eyes, the Joe's resident ninja and his apprentice Kamakura. In February Devils Due launched "Master and Apprentice 2," a new mini-series which focuses on the G.I. Joe universe's other top ninja, Storm Shadow, who has worked both for and against Cobra. "This series takes place more or less 'now.'" Powers explained. "Yes, it does have major lasting effects on Storm Shadow -- it's the Storm Shadow story fans have been demanding for a long time. "

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Reader's wanting more martial arts mayhem should pick up "G.I. Joe: Arishikage Showdown," a digest-sized graphic novel by Josh Blaylock and featuring manga style art by Tony Tamai and Chris Lee which will be released in May. "Arashikage Showdown is only loosely tied to Joe continuity; it's not set at any particular time," Powers said. "It's aimed at the bookstore market, where we hope we'll interest some readers who aren't hardcore fans of the book -- so our goal was to make it as accessible as possible. The plot revolves around Snake-Eyes and Scarlett being called to Japan to deal with an object that is sacred to the Arashikage -- a powerful object that's been stolen. It's 125 pages of all-out ninja action!"

Even though his run on the regular "G.I. Joe" book ends with issue #43, writer Brandon Jerwa is not finished telling stories about the Joe team. "Brandon is indeed just beginning work on something very special, something Joe-related," Powers explained. "Expect news about that project very soon."

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When Devil's Due began publishing "G.I. Joe" in 2001, many considered the book part of an 80s nostalgia craze which saw a number cartoon characters from the 80s getting their own comic series such as "Thundercats" and "Masters of the Universe." Now, "G.I. Joe" is still around and many of the nostalgia-oriented titles have disappeared. Powers credits "G.I. Joe's" staying power to Larry Hama, writer of the very first "G.I. Joe" comic for Marvel Comics in the 80s. "It all goes back to the characters and the personalities and relationships between them that Larry created," Powers explained. "In that way, they're comparable to the X-Men, I think, in why their popularity has endured."

Powers recommends "G.I. Joe" to fans of Marvel's most popular mutants or to anybody who enjoys well written comics with a large cast of characters "X-Men for sure, but really any team book that is driven by its characters and their interpersonal relationships," Powers said. "Let's face it, this is mainstream comics; the action quotient's going to be there. The characters are what keep readers coming back."

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