Van Lente Recruits "G.I. Joe" For IDW

At New York Comic-Con, IDW Publishing announced the sun will set on its "G.I. Joe" ongoing series -- but the Joes are already set for a new mission at the hands of writer Fred Van Lente and artist Steve Kurth. "G.I. Joe" #1 marks a new status quo for Duke, Roadblock, Doc, Cover Girl and the rest of the Joes as their identities and existence go public for the first time. Despite their new public image, the Joes still have to contend with the threat of Cobra -- this time, with a blogger Joe in tow.

Van Lente spoke with CBR News about his upcoming work on "G.I. Joe," the rationale behind the relaunch, what going public means for the Real American Heroes, his love of femme fatale Baroness and teases the existence of blogger G.I. Joe Hashtag.

CBR News: Fred, what's the concept behind this new "G.I. Joe" series that starts with a fresh #1 -- is it a reboot, a relaunch or something completely different?

Fred Van Lente: It's a relaunch, assuming I understand these terms correctly. It's a new #1 that very much grows out of and builds on recent developments in the Joeverse, but at the same time it's a perfect jumping on point for anyone who hasn't picked up the IDW books yet, or, for that matter, people who don't anything about the Joes at all.

What kind of situation do the Joes find themselves in when your series begins? How, if at all, does Cobra come into play?

The Joes, previously a covert terrorism counter-response team, have been "outed," WikiLeaks style, by Cobra to the press. Rather than deny it until they're blue in the face, the Pentagon takes the exact opposite tack: They make the Joes 100% public, relocate to New York City -- to the formerly abandoned army base on Governors Island in the middle of the harbor, in fact -- begin to carry along embedded journalists (well, bloggers), the whole nine yards.

Cobra, on the other hand, thinking they seriously crippled the Joes by exposing them, have taken more incursions on US soil than ever before -- they're bringing the fight with the Joes to their own backyard. There's a reason the first arc is called "Homefront."

There have been a number of different takes on "G.I. Joe" over the years, especially in comics. How do you plan to distinguish your run from what's come before both in comics and other media?

For me, this is the live-action "GI Joe" TV series -- the natural succession to the kids' cartoons. This is a war book, and the war has shifted to the mainland United States. Every campaign, every operation, every shot fired has serious consequences for you, me, Joe and Cobra -- and there are going to be plenty of casualties on both sides.

The Joes are public now, their code names and faces known to the press and the gossip columns -- almost like, say, a super hero team -- and that comes across with a lot of huge opportunities -- and major dangers. New York City, too, is going to become a magnet for Cobra attacks, and how does that affect public opinion of the Joes? The pressures of an enemy like Cobra on one side and the pressures of politics and bureaucracy and living in the public eye on the other -- that's the razor wire the Joes have to walk every month.

Why do you think these characters continue to stay popular even after so many different versions have appeared?

There's a purity to the basic concept, and a fascination with military stories in general. And I think Hasbro has done a great job reinventing the brand for each new generation, speaking as a guy who had his original "kung fu" grip G.I. Joe throttle his Mego 8" Green Goblin figure. Uh, as a child, I mean.

You'll be working with your longtime collaborator Steve Kurth. What was it like for you two to transition from doing a book like "Iron Man Legacy" to a more team-oriented book like "G.I. Joe?"

Steve is awesome with battles and tech, as he proved on "Iron Man," and he's really knocking it out of the park here. I never stopped working with him -- we've been developing a creator-owned project we hope to reveal to the world sooner rather than later -- but he's going to set that aside for the time being to work on "Joe." We've already had a bunch of meetings, redesigned a few of the characters and we are ready to kick ass and take no prisoners.

Speaking of team books, you have a lot of experience working on smaller, more focused casts. G.I. Joe has a ton of members. What was the experience like for you coming up with a story that would balance all these personalities at odds?

IDW has done an amazing job building up the Cobra characters -- I see my challenge is making the Joes themselves as compelling. Each one of our main figures has a unique story thread that you'll see developing across the first few arcs -- expect Duke, Roadblock, Doc, Cover Girl, Shipwreck and Quick Kick to be major players. But everyone has a chance to shine.

I hope to do stand-alone origins for everybody -- including Baroness -- as we move along. We'll see as the series progresses whether those are better as done-in-ones or we'll sprinkle them throughout the arcs in the present.

When you were a kid, who was your favorite Joe? Did you write a role for them in the upcoming series?

I know she's not a Joe, but from the [Larry] Hama series as a kid the romance with Destro and Baroness always fascinated me. Expect lots of that here. To me, the book could just be about the Baroness and the nerd in me would be perfectly happy: Here she is, having breakfast. Here she is, reading the newspaper. Here she is, leaving anonymous mean message board comments. She really is the original geek girl sex symbol.

That said, for me Baroness is The Joker of the G.I. Joe franchises -- the A-list villain. Sure, Cobra Commander is important, but he's more the behind-the-scenes puppet master here. Baroness is the face of Cobra, and she is not a nice person. Too often female villains in comics fall in love with the heroes and go straight. That will not happen with Baroness. She is much more fun as irredeemably sadistic and evil.

While "G.I. Joe" has always been its own comic at IDW, there's no ignoring that a new "G.I. Joe" movie is headed down the line early next year. While it seems unlikely the two will interact in any super-tangible way, did you feel any impetus to include characters who have a larger role in "G.I. Joe: Retaliation?"

There was, but it came entirely from me. I was intrigued by Bruce Willis playing Joe Colton, "The Original G.I. Joe," who in this continuity is a general. In #1 he comes on board to command the Joes, Hawk having been relieved of duty in the "Cobra Command" IDW crossover. Colton is a "Celebrity General" in the Colin Powell/David Petraeus mold, beloved by the press and the people, with perhaps of a healthy dash of Eisenhower for his past exploits. He's used to the spotlight, and is here to help the Joes navigate their new public personas. But, he may have ulterior motives of his own...

One of my favorite aspects of your writing is your ability to bring in relevant humor without distracting from the main plot. How do you plan to work that into your take on the Joes?

Yeah, it's the absurdity of some of these properties that really appeals to me. The idea there are all these guys running around with super-obvious code names, and in some cases, outfits to match, is something we won't shy away from. The Department of Defense is trying to use these guys as a living, breathing recruitment poster and that's the explanation for all that -- and that there's a whole toy line about to come out based on their likenesses. They're half Pentagon, half Madison Avenue, and the Joes don't know how to deal with that themselves. A book that dealt with that really well was one of my favorite titles from the '80s, "Strikeforce Morituri," and that's been a big part of my inspiration here, albeit in a much more realistic setting.

Oh, and the new social media/blogger Joe is one of my favorites. Her codename is Hashtag. She's in charge of their Twitter feed.

What are you most excited about for getting your chance to play with these toys?

It's a big canvas, a flagship book, that I can tell an epic story of loyalty, friendship, duty and sacrifice. I'm thrilled IDW approached me to do it, and even more excited they brought one of my favorite collaborators in Steve to draw it. All I can say is: Until you read this book, you don't know Joe.

Get to know the new "G.I. Joe" in 2013 from IDW Publishing.

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