Larry Hama has re-upped for service with "G.I. Joe."
The writer who crafted the mythology of Hasbro's Real American Hero line of characters while script nearly every installment of the properties '80s Marvel Comics heyday (anchored by a 155 issue main title) will return to Duke, Snake-eyes and the rest of the military strikeforce in 2009 as part of IDW's relaunch of the series. The monthly comic announced today at Comic-Con International in San Diego kicks off with a specially priced #0 issue by Hama and regular series artist Robert Atkins (NBC's "Heroes" web comics) and will be a total reboot for the property with, seeing Hama chart a new course for the Joes and their foes in Cobra without any reference to previous continuity.
"It sort of has to be rebooted," the writer told CBR. "The problem with any of these things is that it builds up so much baggage. It becomes impossible to do anything, especially if you have to be sort of catholic about the cannon. They gave me pretty much free reign. I don't have to stick to what happens in the movie, and I don't have to stick with how the characters developed in the '80s. I thought it all needed a revamping and retelling."
"In a smaller way, it was like giving Stan Lee 'Ultimate Spider-Man,'" said IDW Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall on giving Hama the assignment. "He turned these characters from no-personality-having toys into these fully fleshed out characters that people have loved for two decades. Now to tell him to do it again, minus what he'd done in the past, was really freeing to him. He's such a different storyteller than he was then, and a lot of the stuff was being figured out on the fly."
IDW also announced that it would be publishing a series of movie tie-in comics starting with a special prequel mini series (creative teams, T.B.D.). "I think [the license] went to us because we've really built up a nice track record with Hasbro and have shown that we treat their properties respectfully, and we can do really great things with them," said Ryall. "And like with 'Transformers' last year, we did big things with that movie and those comics outside of comic shops. Just the ability to take that property and make it connect with an outside audience was a big point in our favor there."
However, while this is a fresh start in the "G.I. Joe" monthly, longtime fans of Hama's work can expect a lineup of familiar faces. While neither Hama or Ryall would confirm the complete team roster, Snake-Eyes, Scarlet, Duke, Heavy Duty and Ripcord were confirmed as part of the core team. "Basically, I said, 'Let's start from the beginning and see how these guys came together.' That's all the starting point I had," Hama explained. "We start with a core of Joes already together as this unit, and then we follow a number of new guys as they come in. The first time around it started off full blown and everything is told in retrospect. Boom! - in the first issue, and they're all there, and then you find out how people came in. And I think that's the way to do this. You want to see something going on with the group right from the get go.
"And obviously, the Cobra characters become just as important. When you talk about concentrating on characters you talk about a core group of Joes and Cobra Commander, Destro and the Baroness. You can't really discount them as part of the core dramatic structure."
"The lineup in the zero issue is pretty close to what people see in the movie character-wise, but it's certainly not going to follow the plot or be just like the movie," added Ryall. "But we wanted to bring in some of those familiar characters just at the start, and he's fully encouraged to bring in other characters too."
The specifics of the storyline for the new Joe series were kept close to the vest by its creators, both to heighten the drama amongst fans and because Hama rarely plots anything out beyond the page he's currently writing. (Of the 16-page story in "G.I. Joe" #0, the writer joked, "I don't know where that came from, but I did it!") "They're always asking me for a breakdown of the arc, but that's something I never did in 155 issues of the original run. I never knew how any 22-page issue was going to end until I got to the end of the issue," Hama explained citing the original series' famous "silent issue" revealing the ninja clan connection between Snake-eyes and Storm Shadow as a prime example of a late in the process discovery before jokingly calling the Marvel run "basically 155 issues of retcon."
"I had to submit a really basic arc summary [for the IDW series], but by the time I get to issue #6, I don't know how close to it I'll have stuck. This is the first time anybody's ever actually asked me 'What happens in six issues?'" said Hama.
For his part, Ryall was proud to let the writer work with his own methods while challenging him with new methods of crafting G.I. Joe stories. "It's been a fun thing to take the way Larry works and the way licensed comics in the 21st Century work and find a way to make it work for both sides. So he's grudgingly plotting and working on an overall story arc in a way that he never used to before. I think in that regard too, it's going to make it a better story."
On the visual side, Hama cited Atkins' ability to accurately draw the military hardware from weapons to vehicles which have become a landmark of his work with the characters. "I dig the art. It's very precise. It owes a lot to endless depth of field where everything's in focus."
"[Robert's] been sketching like crazy," said Ryall. "He's a huge Joe fan, so he brings that to it. And he's really knowledgeable about weapons and has been doing a lot of studies in the last month or two. I think his stuff is going to look really good on paper, but it's going to have the weapons accuracy that Larry and the fans really expect and demand in this stuff."
Although a renewed focus that isn't as dependent on selling toys to kids, doesn't necessarily mean that Hama's latest iteration of "G.I. Joe" will be a strict and sober military comic with all of its eggs in the "real world" basket. "In some ways 'Joe' is a combination where you've got this military stuff, and then you've got this weird science fiction jazz," he mused. "If anything makes it work, it's the characters and the story because hardware is hardware. One chick with gun is the same as another chick with gun."
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