This article contains major, MAJOR spoilers for "G.I. Joe: Cobra" #12, which is on sale this week.
In comics, there are some deaths that cannot help but have a ripple effect throughout that character's universe-Superman's demise at the hands of Doomsday prompted worldwide mourning and the rise of three new heroes eager to carry on his legacy, while the death of Captain America prompted a similar period of grief in the Marvel universe and uncertainly as to who, if anyone, was fit to carry his shield. But, of course, both Clark Kent and Steve Rogers came back. In IDW Publishing's G.I. Joe universe, the all-too-human Joes and Cobra agents are more firmly bound to laws governing mortality-there's no recovering from a headshot at close range, as undercover agent Chuckles knows all to well from having to execute his handler, Jinx, in the first "G.I. Joe: Cobra" miniseries.
[SPOILERS begin below.]
This week in "G.I. Joe: Cobra" #12, Chuckles pulled the trigger again, this time taking aim at the head of the nefarious Cobra terrorist network, Cobra Commander himself. The kill shot is unambiguous: Cobra Commander is shot through the head in a close-up two-page spread. In the wake of this event, IDW held a video conference with members of the press to discuss the future of its G.I. Joe line, which will see the publication of "G.I. Joe: Cobra Civil War" #0 and "Cobra Tribute" in April followed in May by new #1 issues for "G.I. Joe" and "Cobra" and the launch of an ongoing "Snake Eyes" series. Chuck Dixon will write "Snake Eyes" and continue writing "G.I. Joe," with current "Joe" artist Robert Atkins shifting over to illustrate "Snake Eyes" and Javier Saltares taking over the core series. Mike Costa and Antonio Fuso will remain on the relaunched "Cobra," though co-writer Christos Gage will be departing due to his Marvel exclusive contract. IDW Senior Editor Andy Schmidt led a presentation covering the past and future of the Joe line, as well as the "Cobra Civil War" that will see several agents vying for the top spot.
"We're killing Cobra Commander-that's where this is all starting!" Schmidt began, laughing. He then spoke about the history of "G.I. Joe" comics at IDW, which began with a #0 issue in late 2008 and officially launched with the ongoing series "G.I. Joe" and "G.I. Joe Origins" and the miniseries (later extended into an ongoing) "G.I. Joe: Cobra" in the first months of 2009. These books, Schmidt explained, were meant to stand alone but exist in the same universe. "I think we've held pretty darn true to that. No one has been asked to read multiple books if they didn't want to, and I think people who have read all three have gotten a larger universe. The books were meant to appeal to different readers: 'Cobra' went for more of a thriller, film noir sort of thing, and 'G.I. Joe' was more your military adventure thing, and 'Origins' sort of filled in the other gaps depending on who the creative team might be."
Schmidt then said that the end of the current stable of series is not a reboot but rather the launch of a major new storyline and direction. "The event in 'Cobra' #12 is very important. The events that have been going on in 'G.I. Joe' are important. And what you're going to see in 'G.I. Joe: Cobra Civil War' #0, which comes out in April, is structured very similarly to the 'G.I. Joe' #0 we put out in October 2008. It will have three stories, ten pages each, that lead into the three new books.
"One of the major differences this time around is that the three books will be more interconnected. The universe is tightening. An event like Cobra Commander's death has to-has to-permeate and have ramifications that are going to last and impact all books," Schmidt continued. "So readers jumping on with the #0 issue or the #1 issues are not going to have to go back and read 'Cobra' #12 and #13, it's going to be made very clear what's happened: Cobra Commander has died, and we're dealing with that. The basic premise of 'Cobra Civil War,' which is the name of the event that kicks off all three of our new ongoing series, is that there is essentially a race, a challenge within Cobra: he who kills the most G.I. Joes becomes the next Cobra Commander. It's pretty simple, it's straightforward, it should be pretty brutal and it should be pretty fun, especially for those readers who are reading all three.
"We think it's big news, we think what we've got coming up is really great stuff. And it is a fantastic jumping on point for new readers or older readers who have lapsed."
A selection of covers was then shown. "Cobra Civil War" #0 will have three covers, one for each introductory story, with the "G.I. Joe" cover illustrated by Javier Saltares and the "Snake Eyes" cover painted by Gabrielle dell'Otto. (This cover is not shown here due to a continuity error in the art, which will be corrected before publication.) Schmidt said that the first issue of each new series would also feature three covers. "That's not just to soak up all your money, although we will, but it is really because we have candidates. There are Cobra candidates vying for Cobra Commander's position. So what you'll see is, there are nine covers all by Zach Howard, and they all have the same motif." Schmidt showed several of Howard's covers and said they would all include the bullet-pierced helmet and feature text along the lines of "I am the Baroness. I am Cobra Commander."
"Zach Howard, I don't understand how he has not become a huge artist out at Marvel or DC," Schmidt said. "He's amazing." The editor added that Howard will be the regular "Cobra" cover artist. "Zach has been working steadily in the industry, he's a known guy in the industry, but he hasn't broken out the way a Jim Lee has yet. But he will. It's only a matter of time."
Schmidt said that sales were not the deciding factor in replacing the "Origins" ongoing with "Snake Eyes." "'Origins' did very well for us, it just seemed strange to have a series called 'Origins' that is getting into the 20s and still telling origin stories," he said, adding that giving the popular hero Snake Eyes his own title will give the character an appropriately broad stage while not hijacking the core "Joe" series. "We've kept him out of the spotlight for these first two years."
Returning to this topic later in the conference, Schmidt clarified that Snake Eyes might still appear in other series, but "that was something that was important to me and Chuck initially was that it wasn't going to be the Snake Eyes show," adding, "I wouldn't say he's going to be out of the other two books entirely, but it's not going to be 'Snake Eyes all the time.' He's not going to turn into Wolverine, to be blunt." Schmidt also said that Dixon's enthusiasm for the new ongoing is high, and that the writer turned in a full treatment for "Snake Eyes" only a day after the possibility of the series head been broached. "He was very excited about it. He said over the phone to me that he had a 'Robin' feeling, that he hadn't had a feeling like this about a book since he first wrote for 'Robin,'" Schmidt said of Dixon. "And as you guys may know, that book lasted for over 100 issues. So that's a good feeling to have."
Recapping the publishing plan before delving into questions from attendees, Schmidt said that the schedule for coming months includes:
Briefly discussing the "Cobra Tribute," Schmidt said, "you'll get the Baroness's take on what does this mean, you'll get Hawk's take on what does it mean that Cobra Commander has passed away, or Scarlett's take. We're going to do some in-character stuff that should be pretty fun.
"I just think it's pretty funny to have a tribute to such an evil jerk."
Schmidt then answered questions from members of the press in attendance.
The first question related to the decision to kill Cobra Commander. "I believe the original idea to kill Cobra Commander came from-I don't remember if it came from Mike Costa or Chris Gage, but it came from the 'Cobra' writing team," Schmidt said. "They turned in a draft and said, 'just read it! It'll be fun! And then you'll tell us "no."' We talked about it, we looked at what would it mean to kill Cobra Commander, what would we get out of it-storywise, characterwise-and then we started a conversation with Hasbro. It just sort of evolved from there.
"I personally am not going to approve 'hey, we're going to kill Cobra Commander' without having a really good plan in place, or at least I believe in and believe to be very good in place. Because then I would not be doing my job properly if I did that. We wound up with an enormous document and I kept going back to people-what about this? What about that?-until it really did seem to make sense. Then talking with the good folks at Hasbro, they liked what we sent in as a proposal, they liked what we're going to get out of it. That's how it happened," Schmidt continued. He also said that the plan had been in place for more than a year. "Obviously, my first phone call was to Chuck [Dixon]-'hey, they want to kill your Cobra Commander! What do you think?' We had to get everybody on the same page. It all worked out."
No decision as to whether the death will affect the "G.I Joe" brand outside of comics, it was revealed.
Addressing the topic of killing merely for shock value-especially since it sounds as though many Joes will meet their end in "Cobra Civil War"-Schmidt admitted that it's "a fair question" and one that his team is careful to handle correctly. "I'm not going to lie: some of it will be shock value. But that happens. We have to remember, we dance that fine line-it's a story about soldiers, it's a story about military. It's also a story about characters that we all really love," he said. "I'll go ahead and say this, because I struggled with it too when we really got into what are we going to do, how are we going to kill off all these characters. There are different ways to take out Joes; it's not going to be a wholesale slaughter of G.I. Joe characters."
Schmidt gave assurances that this would not simply be a cleaning-house exercise. "There certainly is no behind the scenes of, oh, I want to kill that guy because I hated him when I was a toy, or I think this character is stupid. Right off the bat, I said there's none of that. One of the more interesting parts of having this job that I have, that I'm grateful that I have, is that it's fun to take a character that I think is kind of silly and find a way to make them interesting or cool or creepy or whatever," he said. "One of my favorite bits in all the 'GI.. Joe' stuff we've done is Croc Master, how creepy he turned out to be, because he's kind of a silly guy. It's not going to be a wholesale slaughter of GI Joe characters, because that doesn't do anybody any good. It doesn't do IDW any good, it doesn't do fans any good, it doesn't do Hasbro any good if we just started killing off characters randomly. And it's just more interesting to mess with the Joes rather than just killing them."
But, as to how many Joes would fall, Schmidt said, "I haven't counted them, because I ran out of fingers and toes."
The word "slaughter" prompted some chat-window banter among attendees, joking that this was "an oblique Sergeant Slaughter reference," alluding to the real-life wrestler who appeared in the "G.I. Joe" cartoon and toy line in the 1980s. I joined in with the line, "Sgt Slaughter is the next Cobra Commander." Schmidt, for his part, added that "Refrigerator Perry would be good too," referring to the former linesman for the Chicago Bears who was also a "G.I. Joe" action figure.
Several questions related to Cobra Commander himself and the role he played in the organization. Asked how readers-or even characters-could be sure the real Cobra Commander was dead, Schmidt promised this was the real deal. "There's only one Cobra Commander. When we relaunched 'G.I. Joe,' we changed Cobra [as an organization] much more than we changed G.I. Joe. GI Joe is still essentially the best of the best from the American forces. We did change a few things, like your civilian life goes away. The way Cobra is structured now is that there's always a Cobra Commander, and there's only one Commander. This is the real Cobra Commander, but they have to elect a new one every once in a while. They've never had one shot through the brain before. This isn't entirely unprecedented in that they've had previous Cobra Commanders in the organization, but it is unprecedented in that this is the first Cobra Commander that's been shot down in the line of duty."
Toward the end of the call, there was a question about the timing of this issue and the execution scene, given the recent tragedy in Arizona. "Timing of it is not good," Schmidt said, but "there's no way around it. We sent that book to the printer some time back."
In response to a question regarding the quest at the heart of "Cobra Civil War," Schmidt said that the race to eliminate the most Joes would certainly see the would-be Cobra Commanders turning on each other. "It wouldn't be Cobra without backstabbing-that's the best part! That's really what makes it a story. If it really is just eight or nine Cobra guys going out to kill Joes, they're keeping score, and they are trying to trip each other up," Schmidt said. "What are these guys going to do, to each other as well as to the Joes, is really at the heart of this. It's not going to be a fair fight, I can guarantee that."
As to the playing field, Schmidt said, "technically there are seven candidates, although there are nine real Cobra players. They're the nine guys on the different covers. When you have that many people involved, it takes some time to get into what are they all doing."
An cabal called the Cobra Council will determine who has earned the right to Cobra Commander's shiny helmet, the editor explained. "There is a governing body that will basically decide who wins. As for the rules, it's kind of like Thunderdome: two men enter, one man leaves. Everything else is fair game. These are not polite people, these are not people who like rules, as a general rule. So if there are rules, you can bet they're going to get broken anyway."
Though not one of the candidates, Schmidt said that Serpentor is "a major player." "Serpentor's pretty awesome in this," he added. "He basically runs the sort of religious aspect of Cobra. He runs a religion, the Coil, and he has a very different kind of influence on the world than the rest of Cobra, than these sort of military or military sorts of people do. His vote, so to speak, carries a ton of weight. If he is backing someone, then their stock will clearly go up in the eyes of the Cobra Court. So he's sort of a kingmaker. There are going to be people vying to get him on board with them, or just making sure that he's not backing somebody else. Serpentor is a smart guy and probably has his own agenda."
A follow-up question later in the conference asked for more details on what it meant for the history of Cobra that "Cobra Commander" is a title rather than one particular individual. "We have talked a lot about the Cobra organization, how it evolved in the IDW universe. On the flipside, I've had many conversations with the guys and women at Hasbro about it, too. We have it mapped out in a nice way. It's something that, from an editorial standpoint, I don't know that I ever really want to establish firmly because I like the mystery of Cobra. I think it's very important that we, as the people shepherding it, know what the story is, but I don't know that it's always the best idea to lay it out in detail, 'this is it, here are all the facts, straight as can be,'" Schmidt explained. "I like the mythical aspect-how old is Cobra? One of my favorite issues of the 'Cobra' series was the issue with Serpentor that told the story through paintings, every other page was a painted page, and you had sort of the mythological beginnings to the Cobra organization. I like that. I think it's pretty clear that that's not the universe in which we have it, where there really is this snake god, but I like that that story is there. I like that we did the 'G.I. Joe: Origins' issue with Mainframe, in which we got into maybe the Cobra organization's a lot older than we thought." Regarding the specific timeline and details, Schmidt concluded, "you can nail them down too specifically where you take away some of the mystery and the power."
The fight to the top of Cobra "will take less than a year," Schmidt said in response to another question. "I know exactly when that happens, but I don't think I should say that yet." He added, though, that "big things happen when Cobra Commander dons his new helmet."
Asked whether any top-tier Joes would die, Schmidt smiled. "You never know." But, returning to the idea of shock value, the editor said that he doesn't believe anything in the "G.I. Joe" series to date has been done solely for the sensationalism. "Hopefully there have been some shocks along the way. I think one of the biggest shocks was early on, when Chuckles was in a situation in which he killed his partner Jinx. Certainly that was shocking to a lot of people, but I think given how Chuckles has evolved because of that and from that, I don't think anyone could make a case that it was just for shock value, because it really impacted that character," Schmidt said. "We really carried through on that event happening and we really got a lot, from a character standpoint and story standpoint, out of doing that. And that's going to be the case here. Shocks are good for getting a few headlines and maybe getting some attention on the books, but if people come to the books and there's not a good story with characters that are interesting and intriguing and that they care about, then we have failed as storytellers."
Schmidt mentioned a few story points, as well, including that the Joes' headquarters would be invaded and that Snake Eyes would be venturing into the mountains. He also said that, while all three ongoing series will be dealing with "Cobra Civil War," they will still retain their unique styles and can be read individually. "You can read just 'G.I. Joe,' just 'Snake Eyes,' just 'Cobra,' and follow your favorite book," Schmidt said. "If you're reading the two books, something might happen to a character in 'G.I. Joe' and that character will show up in 'Cobra' different, but if you're reading 'Cobra' and you don't know about that, the character just kind of shows up and they are the way they are. We're being very careful that you can read the book separately.