Catching Up with "G.I. Joe" Architects Dixon, Costa & Van Lente

IDW Publishing re-launched their entire "G.I. Joe" line-up earlier this year with three core titles: "G.I. Joe," "G.I. Joe: Special Missions," and "G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files." Written by Fred Van Lente, Chuck Dixon and Mike Costa, respectively, each book deals with a different aspect of Hasbro's "G.I. Joe" universe; from the public face of the team in "G.I. Joe," to their covert operations in "Special Missions," and even an elite Joe black ops team in "Cobra Files."

Six months after the re-launch, IDW's G.I. Joe architects Costa, Dixon and Van Lente (who announced on Newsarama last week he's leaving "G.I. Joe" with next year's issue #11) assembled to speak with CBR News about the success of the relaunch and what's been going on in their respective titles. They reveal plot details, what they love about each other's work, admit which one of the three has actually seen "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and much more.

CBR News: Guys, you're all well into your respective "G.I. Joe" runs at this point. What's the reaction from fans been like so far?

Fred Van Lente: Some love it, some hate it. The response I've gotten personally has been very effusive. People seem to really like the mixing of the various eras of "G.I. Joe" -- we've managed to get bits and pieces of the classic Larry Hama era, the Adventure Team, Devil's Due, with Sgt. Savage and "G.I. Joe Extreme" coming down the line later...

Mike Costa: It's been really gratifying. "Cobra Files" is definitely the book that changed the least in the re-launch. We re-focused a bit with issue #1, but essentially we're still dealing with the same characters in the same location written and drawn by the same creative team. I was initially worried that readers might feel a little burned by that, but "Cobra Files" continues to be the book I get the most love for. All gratitude to my readers for that.

Chuck Dixon: Well, the fans that hated me have stopped hating me. I suppose that's a good thing.

I'm surprised to hear fans hated on you Chuck because you're a pretty big fan-favorite writer. Where did the negativity stem from?

Dixon: In any franchise there's a tiny core of fans who have a very particular way they feel the whole thing should be going. They are easily disappointed. I think it's the serial nature of the form.

Fred, how important was it to you to mix all the different "G.I. Joe" eras together in your book?

Van Lente: It was important, I thought, to give "G.I. Joe" the same legacy and continuity other major franchises have, so I've managed to mix the Hama era (my favorite) in with Adventure Team, Sgt. Savage, "Extreme," and we'll even being doing a manga-themed "Sigma 6" story in #11!

What's going on in each of your books right now?

Van Lente: Our Cover Girl origin in ["G.I. Joe"] #6 leads directly into my second storyline, "Threat Matrix," that has New York City coming under direct attack from a Cobra villain fans have been clamoring for since he was first introduced, Michael "Mad Monk" Monk. He has a personal reason to hate Duke as well -- I see him as Duke's Cobra counterpart -- which will lead to an explosive confrontation between those two characters.

Dixon: My second ["Special Missions"] arc re-introduces Zartan after his "death" back in "Snake-Eyes." And he is united with the Dreadnoks who are making their first big appearance in this continuity. After that I have a couple of standalone issues including a Bildocker solo mission. Those are followed by Destro arc.

Costa: Well, the most recent issue of "Cobra Files" (#6) is the second half of a little diptych that focused on Clockspring, the tech guy of our team, and Flint, our leader. These are two characters I haven't really explored previously, and in a lot of ways they are mirror-images of one another, so issues #5 and #6 are structured in a reflective way. The Cobra book has always been preoccupied with duality, and this is just another pretentious manifestation of unnecessarily complex form following intellectually bloated theme. In other words -- G.I. JOE COMICS GOLD. Fear not though, the next three issues are called "The House Always Wins" and a bunch of characters die. So there's that.

Chuck, what's your take on Destro for your upcoming arc?

Dixon: In any story like this, the villains are the key. Your heroes are defined by their enemies. Take a look at any lasting comic book franchise. The one thing they have in common is a deep bench of intriguing bad guys.

My Destro will be the same guy I was writing before; ambitious, ruthless and with a bottomless well of scientific curiosity. He's always pushing boundaries. Destro is always "all in" on anything he does.

Fred and Chuck, you both used Baroness as a main villain in your first arcs, and Mike made mention of the Ohio incident from "G.I. Joe" in "Cobra Files" #3. How much contact and collaboration is there between the three of you to make sure your plots line up?

Van Lente: We've been left to our own separate sandboxes, although Chuck's "Special Missions" team does play a pretty important guest starring role in "Threat Matrix."

Costa: When we were planning this re-launch, we had a few big conference calls where Chuck, Fred and I, (plus editors John Barber and Carlos Guzman) all discussed the stories we wanted to tell, who would be using which characters, etc. I already had almost a whole year already planned out from the end of the previous "Cobra" story and I'm lucky in that I'm not writing the "big" book, so I can do what I've sorta always done and hide in my dark little corner, playing with all the weird toys nobody else is all that interested in. Half the characters in my book are original to it, and Flint is the most recognizable by a country mile, so I don't have to worry all that much about stepping on toes. In that way, I get to sit back and react to what happens in the other, much more high-profile books, rather than adjusting to them.

Dixon: The editors come in and break us up when our continuities tangle.

Can you give an example of when your continuities tangled and the editors had to break you up?

Dixon: I had to hold off using Roadblock for an arc. But that's the only one I can think of.

Fred, how is the Special Missions team coming into play in "Threat Matrix?"

Van Lente: For those who haven't yet read #7 -- on sale now! -- I'll just say the main team needs one of its own members to be investigated, and Scarlett's team is contacted to do it without the others finding out.

Any plans for crossovers between the books?

Costa: Hmm... Not a bad idea...

Dixon: That's been discussed for some time down the road. I don't believe there are firm plans, right?

Van Lente: Right.

What are some of your favorite moments from each other's work?

Van Lente: What comics fan doesn't love new Paul Gulacy art? He's been doing beautiful stuff on "Special Missions."
Costa: I think Fred's first arc is one of the all-time greats. It does everything a Joe comic should -- bring big, fun action with real stakes and just the right sense of humor. It's the kind of book I could never write, and I love seeing things like that done so well. As for Chuck... well, this is sort of cheating because it's not really a "Special Missions" story, but his concept for the Cobra Civil War is still probably my favorite thing in the entire franchise. That idea was the one that made me decide to stick around on Cobra after the original "Chuckles" story was over, and I still think it's a high-point for the book.

Fred, your book seems to deal with the public face of G.I. Joe more than Mike or Chuck's titles, whose books deal more in the shadows. Was that a deliberate decision?

Van Lente: Yeah, that was an idea I had when IDW first approached me to do the book -- leftover, actually, from a leftover concept when Marvel asked Greg Pak and I to develop a new "Alpha Flight" series. The idea was that there was a public team that would be the shiny happy super hero team, allowing an "Omega Flight" team to do the dirty Black Ops stuff in the shadows.

Did any of the stories from those "Alpha Flight" and "Omega Flight" concepts wind up being directly adapted for "G.I. Joe?"

Van Lente: No, the "Alpha Flight" book ended up being something quite different, and Greg and I never got beyond the pitch stage with the other one. Also military and super heroes aren't necessarily analogous genres...

Mike -- First off, how could you kill off Copperhead so unceremoniously in your first "Cobra Files" arc?

Costa: Hey, if I don't kill someone in a sudden, surprising way every now and again, people will say I've gone soft. Not to worry though, there are plenty of bad guys left.

Where do Chameleon's true allegiances lie at this point? Does she even have any?

Costa: Well, hopefully this is becoming increasingly clear through in the story, but while Chameleon originally joined the Joes out of self-preservation, her conscience has slowly been eating away at her cynicism and at this point she legitimately cares about the people she works with and she wants to do a good job for them. Remember -- Chameleon was never a murderer or sadist, and for most of her career at Cobra the "evil" they did was an abstract concept to her. Her defection happened very shortly after she was made to actively participate in really heinous things. The irony is that it wasn't until after she joined the Joes that she actually killed anyone. Now the real question Chameleon struggles with now is where, exactly she belongs, if there's any non-compromised "good" in the world and whether or not it's something she needs, or maybe even deserves.

Chuck, Baroness got rescued by Cobra at the end of your first "Special Missions" storyline even though she literally just killed a boatload of Cobra soldiers. Is Baroness tied to Cobra for life no matter how hard she tries to fight it?

Dixon: She's like Michael Corleone!

I figure she assumes she's heading for a Cobra gulag or possible execution. I mean, she SERIOUSLY messed up this time. But the Commander is full of surprises.

Has "Special Missions" strayed at all from your original idea of a covert team as you've been writing it?

Dixon: It's all worked out pretty much as I planned. I wanted "Special Missions" to be kind of the Joes' post graduate on Cobra. They've learned most of the bad guys' tricks and strategies.

I've written to issue #14 and I'm planned out to #17 with approved arcs. After that I have blue sky plans to issue #24.

What did you guys think of this summer's hit film "G.I. Joe: Retaliation?"

Costa: This sounds like a cop-out, but I honestly haven't seen it. The trailer looked awesome though. Maybe Paramount can send over a Blu-ray?

Van Lente: I got to see it with Larry Hama at a theater down from his apartment in Tribeca -- that was a blast.

It was super-fun! It was me and Hama and a bunch of Brooklyn artists -- including #6 penciller Jamal Igle.

Fred, you don't actually mention what you thought about the film's quality in your response. What did you really think?

Van Lente: Oh, I'm not really the target audience. But it was well-made, certainly.

Dixon: I'm waiting on the DVD.

"G.I. Joe," "G.I. Joe: Special Missions" and "Cobra Files" are available monthly from IDW Publishing.

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