COMMENTARY TRACK: Van Lente on "G.I. Joe" #1

IDW Publishing's relaunch of their "G.I. Joe" titles kicked off earlier this month with the release of a new "G.I. Joe" #1 by writer Fred Van Lente and artist Steve Kurth. The refreshed series assembles a new team of "G.I. Joes" facing an ever bolder Cobra as the two forces attempt to compete for, as Van Lente put it, "the hearts and minds of the United States of America, itself."

Van Lente is best known for his work at Marvel Comics, including runs on "Incredible Hercules" with co-writer Greg Pak, "Marvel Zombies," "Alpha Flight" and "The Amazing Spider-Man," as well as "Archer & Armstrong" for Valiant Entertainment.

Van Lente recently gave Comic Book Resources a peek inside his mind as he dished details on what went into the writing of "G.I. Joe" #1. The writer reveals why he picked the "G.I. Joe" line-up he did, what makes Tunnel Rat and Shipwreck two of his favorite characters, how "G.I. Joe" #1 links to a "Spider-Man" story Van Lente wrote, teases future story arcs and much more.

CBR News: That's a decent amount of covers! Do you get input in to what goes on all of them?

Fred Van Lente: Not really, but I couldn't happier by them. I was thrilled IDW asked my collaborator on "Comic Book History of Comics" (in stores now!), Ryan Dunlavey, to write and draw a history of G.I. Joe and he'll be doing that for the next five issues.

You start this "G.I. Joe" relaunch with the Joes embroiled in action right on the first page. Was it important to kick off this series this way?

Yeah, I was going for a "Black Hawk Down" vibe. Despite all the fantasy involved, our "G.I. Joe" series is first and foremost a book about a complex war, and I wanted people to know that from point one.

One of your major themes seems to be the idea of a G.I. Joe arms race against their villains, going by the reporter's comments here and some bystander comments later on in the issue. Was this deliberate?

Sure. Not only that, the G.I. Joe team is going to be competing with Cobra for the hearts and minds of the United States of America itself, as will be increasingly obvious.

Could you elaborate a bit on what you mean when you say they'll be fighting for the "hearts and minds" of the U.S.A.? That's a phrase that gets tossed around a lot these days.

Cobra wants to take over the world. Why not start with the United States? So many people in this country are disgruntled with our institutions in the story -- and Cobra is more than happy to step in the void and offer itself as a credible alternative. What happens if many in the US agree with them? The G.I. Joe has to compete with Cobra on its home soil.

How did you decide who made the cut for this team?

There were a couple of people IDW asked me to use (and a couple people I was denied), I picked a couple of personal favorites, like Shipwreck and Tunnel Rat. I chose Doc because she was from the Devil's Due series -- I wanted a breadth of characters from different incarnations of the "G.I. Joe" saga.

The rest were suggested by my two biggest "G.I. Joe" buddies: Jamal Igle, who drew the great wraparound cover to this issue, and Arune Singh, Marvel's communication guru.

What makes Tunnel Rat one of your favorite characters?

Tunnel Rat is a native Brooklynite, my adopted hometown, and is (very) loosely based on Larry Hama, God of the "G.I. Joe" story, so of course he was a no-brainer to use.

Strong grip. Seems like a bit like foreshadowing to me.

Colton's the original G.I. Joe. You could almost call it... a Kung-Fu Grip.

As you'll see, a big theme of this series is "Legacy." Colton's generation of G.I. Joes connecting to Duke's. The reason I wanted to use the female Doc is because I wanted a second generation within the G.I. Joe team itself.

Family, duty, honor -- all these concepts will be very important here.

Shipwreck isn't too happy to be donning a superhero-type suit here. It's interesting how you've made the team extremely self-aware of the idea of costumes and codenames.

I love Shipwreck because his character is modeled on one of the great Jack Nicholson performances, in the Robert Towne-scripted "Last Detail" (as should be obvious from the poster) -- All the "Badass" and Norfolk stuff comes from that.

For the curious, click here for the original Skystorm (and Windmill), courtesy of our pals at Yojoe.

Governors Island is one of my favorite places in New York, and was an army base for a couple centuries, so it was the first place I gravitated to as a public base for the G.I. Joe team. (The fact I already set a Sandman two-parter there in "Amazing Spider-Man" didn't hurt, either.) The Skystorm is shooting out of the oldest fort on the island, Castle Williams, which spent much of its life as an army and POW jail.

It's interesting that you used the same setting, Governors Island, in both "G.I. Joe" and "The Amazing Spider-Man." Are there any other hidden connections like that between this "G.I. Joe" series and any of your other works?

None really leap to mind -- but we will certainly see all sorts of references to G.I. Joe team members past and present, including the Colton-era Adventure Team, the Sunbow cartoon, the Marvel Comics... this series is really going to try to take everything from every era of the "G.I. Joe" saga and wrap it into one exciting package.

Fun Fact: Fort Lewis in Tacoma is where I was born.

And now the story has finally caught up to the scene from the first page. I'm very glad we didn't have to wait until the end of a 6-issue arc to get there!

That would've been annoying. Particularly since this arc is 5 issues.

I thought I was being so clever with making Polly a small drone -- as a few months before getting this job I happened to be at a think tank in San Francisco where they were being developed for DARPA -- but lo and behold, after this was drawn I see them featured in a video game ad for... "Call of Duty," I think it was? Keeping on top of this military tech is tough.

And, thanks again to Joepedia, for your original Maggot and W.O.R.M.S.

It looks like Roadblock, and not Duke, is turning a bit into the natural leader of the team. Who do you see as the leader of the team?

Duke is, but Roadblock is second in command. When Duke is incapacitated or captured, it's expected RB take the lead.

The Baroness returns! How did you decide which villain to use for your first arc?

Villain? Singular? Oh, my, you are in for a treat, my friend -- Many, many, many more Cobra villains are appearing in this arc... [Evil laugh.]

Care to tease any future storylines?

The origin of Duke... a competition for the Cobra posting in New York City... a traitor within the G.I. Joe team's ranks... the future of the relationship between Cover Girl (and Shipwreck?)... the return of a Cobra character fans have been clamoring for since he was first introduced... street-to-street guerilla combat in the US... field surgery... Scrap Iron? C'mon, who doesn't love Scrap Iron.

"G.I. Joe" by Fred Van Lente and Steve Kurth is available monthly from IDW Publishing.

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