Courage, honor, loyalty and sacrifice are the four American military virtues but they won't get you far in an organization like Cobra. What motivates a person to pick up a weapon and fight for the twisted ideals of Cobra Commander? In "G.I. Joe Special Missions: The Enemy," on sale now from Devils Due Publishing, writers Andrew Dabb and Mike O'Sullivan join with artists Vincente Cifuentes, Andre Dalhouse, and Mike Getty to answer that question in two new stories. CBR News spoke with both writers about "G.I. Joe Special Missions: The Enemy."
What makes Cobra's fighting men tick is something Mike O'Sullivan has wanted to explore for some time. "I've always wondered where they came from, all these guys in Cobra blue," O'Sullivan told CBR News. "How did Cobra Commander get so many people to follow him? This seemed like a story that's needed to be told for a long time. [Writers] Mark Powers, Josh Blaylock and I have talked about it off and on for a few years, and when we had the next 'Special Missions' on the schedule, I pushed for this story to be what we told in its pages. After tossing ideas around with Andrew Dabb, we both figured it needed a point/counterpoint approach, so we opted to bring the most prominent 'greenshirt' into the mix, and decided to tell Grunt's story alongside the Cobra's.
"The format was greatly inspired by a 'Fantastic Four' story by John Byrne. Gotta give him props for that inspiration."
"Yeah, Mike recommended I read that John Byrne 'FF' issue and I was just amazed at how much story he was able to fit into twenty-something pages," added Andrew Dab. "I think people forget just how efficient the comic book storytelling in the '80s and early '90s was. I'm not sure if it was better than what we have now, which tends to be a little more spread out, but those stories do feel more...complete.
"Anyway, that '80s condensed model is what I followed with 'The Enemy,' and while I won't claim I can structure a story as well as Byrne at his peak (even my ego has limits), I think it came together pretty well."
The main story of "The Enemy" was originally only to be a ten-page back-up in "G.I. Joe: America's Elite" #25, the 25 th anniversary the G.I. Joe enterprise. "The more Mike and I talked, the more it became obvious we had way more than ten pages worth of ideas," Dabb said. "So, in the end, it was decided that a longer 'Special Missions' one-shot was the way to go. I would have loved to have had something in a 25 th Anniversary issue, but, at the same time, I'm really glad this story got the space it needed to breathe."
The G.I. Joe universe is home to many complex and interesting characters, but Dabb and O'Sullivan wanted to keep the story in "The Enemy" simple in terms of numbers. "The main thrust of the story is to tell the point of view of a blueshirt and a greenshirt," explained O'Sullivan, who also edits DDP's G.I. Joe line. "As such, the story really focuses on one of each. There are lots of guest stars and cameos, but it really is the story of these two characters."
Dabb added, "Cobra Commander, Duke and a few other big guns make appearances, but this is very much the story of two regular soldiers, one G.I. Joe, one Cobra, and how the choices they've made shape their lives, for better or worse.
"The main story charts the lives of these two men, a G.I. Joe enlistee who fans know and love: Grunt; and a nameless Cobra trooper," Dabb continued. "The question we're really asking is: What does it take to be successful in G.I. Joe? And, by contrast, what does it take to be successful in Cobra? Obviously, on some level, the skill sets are fairly similar. Both are combat operatives. But, no one ever got ahead in G.I. Joe by betraying their superior or double-crossing someone. And no one ever got ahead in Cobra by being a self-sacrificing hero. There's a fundamental difference between how the two organizations are set up, and that's something I found really interesting to explore."
In order to fully understand the psyches of Grunt and the Cobra blueshirt, the "The Enemy" unfolds over a number years. "We start with both characters in their teens, so before Marvel's 'G.I. Joe' #1, and bring it all the way through to roughly the end of Devil's Due's first series," O'Sullivan explained. "That was what made this a story for 'Special Missions' rather than 'Declassified.' The stories in 'Declassified' all take place before Marvel's #1. This issue weaves throughout the whole chronology; a hair-splitting distinction, but one that was important to make to keep the theme of the 'Declassified' line intact."
"One of the fun things about writing this story was that, because it spans so much time, we got to have sort of a 'G.I. Joe's Greatest Hits' collection of moments," said Dabb. "From their initial mission against Cobra, to the invasion of Springfield to the Second Cobra Civil War. We sort of take each of those events and give each a different point of view, showing aspects of them that you didn't see the first time around."
Andrew Dabb has penned other G.I. Joe tales, but the tone of his story in "The Enemy" is unlike any of his previous work. "It's dark, but I'm not sure if most people would consider it as dark as 'Cobra Reborn,' though it's certainly in that ballpark at least," Dabb explained. "You've got to remember that one of our leads is a pretty flawed, self-destructive person who gets involved with an organization that puts very little value on human life. That's not exactly the recipe for happiness. And even Grunt, who usually makes the right choice, has some dark moments.
"It was certainly a big change for me from my previous G.I. Joe writing experiences: 'Sigma Six' (a kid-oriented book) and 'Special Missions: Antarctica' (a fun, action packed homage to the 80s cartoon). It was a different direction for me, but one that opened up a lot of interesting doors, too."
Like Dabb's main story, O'Sullivan's back-up tale in "The Enemy" is a stark look into the minds of the men and women who fight for Cobra Commander's twisted dream. "I've wanted to tell a story of a more serious nature lately," O'Sullivan said. "Sort of a complimentary story to Andrew's. His story told how a man came to get into Cobra. My story tells what someone in Cobra is willing to do in order to get ahead, and get up the ladder, so to speak. Because it was a villain tale, I wanted it to be reflective of the dark path they are on. Definitely the least happy story I've ever told!"
O'Sullivan's unhappy tale stars a number of Cobra operatives. "The second story features Blackout, as well as a few other named Cobras: One kind of all-new character, one from the Marvel run, two that fans have been asking for, two that no one has asked for," O'Sullivan said. "Keep an eye open. The characters in this story are poised to play a very important role in G.I. Joe stories very, very soon. This story sets that up."
From his recent appearances in "G.I. Joe: America's Elite," it's clear that Blackout has become one of Cobra Commander's most trusted soldiers. O'Sullivan feels the ex-G.I. Joe team member has rapidly risen through the ranks of Cobra for a number of reasons. "I think he's so angry, so jaded and bitter that he's bought into what he was offered by Cobra. In a weak moment, he gave in to his baser natures," O'Sullivan explained. "Then, once in it, the charisma and charm of Cobra Commander won him over. If we were all totally honest, it's scruples and morals that keep us from doing whatever we want, whenever we want. Those things have been removed from Blackout's considerations over the last few years. He's now addicted to the power and influence and money that he's gotten from ditching his morality. It's a pity. A completely sad tale. I find him fascinating to write and edit. What a deep well of material! This story truly shows how far he's fallen. It clinches it."
Like Dabb's story, O'Sullivan's tale in "The Enemy" features two points of view, but this time the perspectives both belong to Cobra soldiers, Blackout and a mystery operative. "I don't want to say who the second is quite yet," O'Sullivan remarked. "I'd rather fans get to that character when they look at the story. I think it's a pretty fun payoff for true fans."
O'Sullivan's story takes place before the events of "G.I. Joe: America's Elite" #18. "It fills in a gap in the 'Phoenix Guard' story," said O'Sullivan. "Not one that absolutely had to be filled, but one that I wanted to delve into, nonetheless. It was the perfect maguffin for the tale I wanted to tell. We get to see a Cobra mission on-screen that was only hinted to in two recent issues. And the result of this mission is going to be something that the G.I. Joe team will wish had never come about. The last page is a moment that I really can't wait for fans to see... It sets up what happens in #29-32 of 'America's Elite'... I cannot wait!"
"G.I. Joe: America's Elite" #29 hit's stores in November and is chapter five in the epic 12-part "World War III" storyline, which is so big and universe-altering that O'Sullivan is unsure when the next "Special Missions" one-shot might hit stores. "We've definitely got our hands full with the huge storyline, and we want our attention to go toward that, to make it the best story imaginable," he said. "We'll see how the schedule comes together over the next few months."
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