The Life of the Hard Luck Soldier: Jerwa talks "Snake-Eyes: Declassified"

For over twenty year's he's been dispatching the agents of Cobra with style and panache. He's G.I. Joe's resident mute, masked bad ass, Snake-Eyes. Throughout the years readers of the "G.I. Joe" comic there've been glimpses of Snake-Eyes past, but the entire story of the man behind the mask remains a mystery. That will change starting this August when issue 1 of "Snake-Eyes: Declassified," a six-issue mini-series from Devils Due Publishing written by Brandon Jerwa with art by Emiliano Santalucia is released. Retailers are accepting pre-orders for the series right now. CBR news spoke to Jerwa via email for an intelligence briefing on the project.

"Snake-Eyes: Declassified" came about when Devils Due began contemplating giving the Joe Team's most popular member his own book. "I'm honestly not sure what the exact starting point was," Jerwa said. "I know I had mentioned wanting to work on some historical pieces around the time Josh Blaylock and Mark Powers made the decision to re-launch the book. Shortly thereafter, Mark came to me with the notion of a Snake-Eyes solo book. Originally, it was supposed to be a present-day setting, giving Snake-Eyes his own 'Wolverine' style title. I'd still like to do that, but somewhere along the way we started tossing around the idea of tackling the origin story, and that's where we ended up."

For Jerwa the goal of the series is to show the experiences that turned a man into the soldier code-named Snake-Eyes. " I think Snake-Eyes has a pretty complex emotional structure that gets lost behind the creative conceit of his mask and the personal conceit of a 'mysterious past," Jerwa told CBR News. "This is a man who's seen some of the ugliest things the world has to offer, and the mask belies his impartial perspective on that ugliness-- he's not here to pass judgment. He's a soldier, pure and simple. My goal with this book is to show what turned him into that soldier. Yes, he joined the Army at a young age and went straight to a theatre of war, but I tend to believe that's it's actually his non-military experiences that have forged Snake-Eyes the soldier."

The series opens with an 18-year-old recently enlisted Snake-Eyes saying good bye to his family before he ships off to Southeast Asia. There is a motivating force behind Snake-Eyes's enlistment at a young age. "The desire to Do The Right Thing, but it's not as 'apple pie' as I'm making it sound," Jerwa explained. "Snake-Eyes looks around and sees people 'surviving on luck' and a world in real turmoil every night on the news. He's young, he's questioning his place, and he does the only thing that makes sense to him…he signs up. He's a good guy, but he chooses a dark path-- and that's the sadness for me. He makes the choice himself and finds there's no turning back."

Readers should not expect "Declassified" to rigidly adhere to all of Snake-Eyes previously revealed background details. "I think it's important to revisit the origins of the Joe-verse when we can, because they need some cleaning up in the timeline department. The Marvel book tied everything to the Vietnam War, but it's time to let that go, without destroying the stories. We need to start working to make Joe timeless, and the story that gives birth to so many key pieces of the mythology is the most natural place to start."

The specific details of the Vietnam War and the new unnamed conflict are not important to the origin of Snake-Eyes; the story is more about the effects of war. "As I'm writing it, I'm finding that the 'South East Asian Conflict' isn't really even a key player; it's more of a vivid backdrop for the first act of the play," Jerwa said. "The situation does inform the decisions of the players, but the focus here is really so much more on character that we're not tied into the mechanics of the war - we're concentrating on the effect it has on Snake-Eyes and the others around him."

Snake-Eyes activities during the war and shortly after it tie directly into the origin of Cobra. A fatal car crash involving Snake-Eyes's family and Cobra Commander's brother was the last in a series of misfortunes that pushed Cobra Commander towards forming his organization. Also, the Baroness mistakenly believed that while he was still a young soldier in South East Asia, Snake-Eyes was involved in the assassination of her older brother. Jerwa plans to address these events, but not in the exact way they were originally presented. "Here's the thing: we can't come out with a Snake-Eyes origin story that alienates the long-time fans, and we understand that. That's 'Ultimate Snake-Eyes,' which isn't at all what we're going for here," Jerwa said. "Still, I think most ongoing readers would agree that Snake-Eyes has a little too much connection to the rest of the Joe-verse. This story does involve the man who would become Cobra Commander, but I prefer to approach their relationship differently. Snake-Eyes isn't the reason Cobra was founded-- he's simply an objective for the organization early in its development. The fact that the Commander has a grudge against him simply moved Snake-Eyes to the top of the list. As for the Baroness thing, well, I'm not going to ret-con it, but I'm also not going to devote more than a passing comment to it. If people choose to believe it, the door is open, but please shut the door on the way in so nothing else like that gets in here!"

After he lost his family in the car crash, Snake-Eyes was given another chance at a family. His war buddy, Tommy, adopted Snake-Eyes into his family. Tommy's family were members of the Arishikage ninja clan. The murder of one of the clan's members, "The Hard Master," drove a wedge between Snake-Eyes and Tommy and lead to Tommy becoming Snake-Eyes bitter foe, the Cobra operative known as Storm Shadow. The second act of "Declassified" details Snake-Eyes ninja training and the murder that turned friends into archenemies. "I'm hoping to devote some time to the days right after the Hard Master's murder. We haven't seen that - we haven't been shown the painful aftermath, just the eventual effects. I want to color in that picture."

The Hard Master's murder did not cause the rift between Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow; it just marked the end of their friendship. Jerwa plans to reveal the real reason the two friends became enemies. "One word: pride," Jerwa said.

The third and final act of "Snake-Eyes: Declassified" deals with the formation of the G.I. Joe team and its first year in operation. "I can't wait to do those issues," Jerwa said. "Part of me is just excited about getting to write Breaker, one of my very favorite characters (who died before I could use him). Past that thrill, we'll be seeing the initial stirrings of love between Scarlett and Snake-Eyes, the horrible accident that would change Snake-Eyes - FOREVER! MUAHAHA! - er…and, um, the first time he puts on the mask."

Since the bulk of "Declassified" takes place before the accident that scarred Snake-Eyes and rendered him mute, readers will see him do something they've never seen him do before, talk. "No 'Ultimate Lassie,'" here," Jerwa explained.

One-thing readers won't learn is Snake-Eyes real name. "If we'd had our way, they would have learned his real name," Jerwa explained. "My first version of the issue one script had Snake-Eyes as a child-- but Hasbro wasn't comfortable with that. There will, however, be an explanation for his code-name."

Even though "Declassified" takes place primarily before the G.I. Joe team is formed, readers can expect appearance by characters that will become prominent members of G.I. Joe and Cobra. "Firefly and Zartan are hired by the man who will become Cobra Commander, and they are tasked with killing Snake-Eyes. We'll see them in early versions during the second act. Stalker and Hawk, of course, appear during the first chapter and again in the last two."

The series features a different supporting cast for each of the three periods of Snake-Eyes life. "In the first chapter, his Long Range Recon Patrol teammates; in the second, some new characters you'll learn more about soon," Jerwa said. "While the third chapter will feature Snake-Eyes early G.I. Joe team mates."

Snake-Eyes life has been difficult and full of loss. The tone of "Declassified" will reflect this. "It's a dark story in the sense that Snake-Eyes is the original Hard Luck Kid, even when he wins, he loses," Jerwa said. "There's more to the character than that, and therein lies the challenge-- I want to make sure we see the foundation of this man as something infinitely stronger than the forces that conspire against him. Make no mistake-- I'm out to show why he's The Man, but I also intend to show why he's The Good Man."

Jerwa met "Snake-Eyes: Declassified artist," Emiliano Santalucia, when he did a fill in issue of "G.I. Joe." "I felt like Emiliano did a great job of translating the pictures in my head to the printed page. That's especially commendable, as we never really spoke while making that issue! Soon, he was not only doing half of Joe 42 and 43 - our double sized finale issues - but he was also given the art duties for 'Snake-Eyes.' We'll be talking a lot more now and he'll probably want to assassinate me after he reads some of the details I'm wanting in the panels, but his detail work is exactly why I wanted him."

With the launch of "G.I. Joe: America's Elite," Joe Casey takes over as regular writer of the monthly "G.I. Joe" book, but Jerwa is not done playing in The Joe universe. "I've gained a good relationship with the Joe fans and I think they like to have my voice in the mix, so as long as the re-launch is a success, I'm certainly willing to keep hanging out with the Joes," he said. "I've pitched a 'second team' book to Mark Powers, but I don't know if that will ever come to pass. The Snake-Eyes project could certainly lead to other things, maybe more historical work or an ongoing Snake-Eyes book, but again, sales are the key."

In addition to "Snake-Eyes: Declassified" Jerwa has two other secret comic projects in the works. "One will be announced at San Diego and the other I'm expecting to announce literally any time now," Jerwa explained. "I'm very excited about both projects and I'm doing my best to get work in as many places as I can. I'll admit, I think some people peg me as the 'lucky fan' coming in the door and don't take me seriously. I'm hoping the second half of 2005 will punch some holes in that myth and show the world what I can do."

Readers looking to keep track of Jerwa's work or learn about his non-comic related work should check two Internet sites. "Please visit www.brandonjerwa.com and www.sd6online.com-- the first is devoted to my work as a writer, the second to my band," Jerwa said. "We're hoping to have our first CD out in early 2006, but we have free tracks available now. Stop by and have a listen if you like beeps and beats and melody."

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