In 2001, a new era began for one of pop culture's most enduring match-ups as Devil's Due Publishing launched its new comic book series chronicling the battle between G.I. Joe and Cobra, "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero." The war escalated to new heights last year in the twelve-part "World War III" storyline in the spin-off title "G.I. Joe: America's Elite," which comes to an end this week as does a whole era, with #36 marking the final chapter of the epic storyline as well as being the final G.I Joe release from DDP. CBR News spoke with "America's Elite" creators Mark Powers and Mike O'Sullivan about the series and issue #36, which just might be the final chapter in a 26-year continuity that began with the 1982 release of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toy line.
"World War III" has featured a multitude of both G.I. Joe and Cobra operatives, but one character in particular rose to the challenge and surprised everybody: William S. Hardy, also known as Wild Bill. The G.I. Joe chopper pilot showed even Cobra' Plague Troopers that he's just as dangerous outside a gunship as he is inside. "It actually was a challenge from a friend of mine in the military (hey SD!), who said if he were to go up against the G.I. Joe team, he'd go after Wild Bill first -- hoping and banking on him not being as capable out of a chopper cockpit," Mike O'Sullivan told CBR News. "So, hearing that, I thought it would be great to show an example of why someone was a G.I. Joe. They're not just good at one thing, they are the best. Wild Bill is a prime example of that. Not just a great pilot, an excellent soldier and warrior."
Mark Powers added, "Bill is a guy who hasn't had the spotlight on him much, if at all, in recent years. We needed someone whom the Plague could (erroneously) believe is as close as you can come to a 'weak link' on the Joe team. Once we began talking about featuring Bill more, things just fell into place -- his personality is very engaging and works well in a large, diverse cast."
Another character who's proven his worth over the course of "World War III" is Special Agent Delta, a deep cover G.I. Joe operative within Cobra, who over the years had to perform many morally grey tasks to maintain his secret identity. At the end of "America's Elite" #35, G.I. Joe field commander Duke proclaimed Delta a hero after he helped disarm a nuclear bomb. "I think Delta is a guy who will never, ever feel like a hero -- but then again, what hero does?" Powers remarked. "When you live with the type of anguish and guilt he has for so long, it can't be reconciled quickly, if at all. He'll always have to live with what he did, regardless of what the extenuating circumstances may have been."
Two other characters who've found themselves doing unexpected things during "World War III" are Destro and the Baroness. When the duo passed control of M.A.R.S. -- Destro's weapons manufacturing company-- to Cobra Commander as ransom for their kidnapped son, they thought they could escape the Joe-Cobra conflict and have a quiet life raising their child. Issue #34 of "America's Elite" saw Destro and the Baroness enter "World War III" reluctantly, and on G.I. Joe's side. Issue #35 ended with the couple poised to liberate London with the help of the Baroness's mysterious organization, Athena. "WWIII was enabled, in essence, with Destro's decision to trade M.A.R.S. for his son -- it was the culmination of years' worth of planning on Cobra Commander's part," Powers explained. "Destro realizes this, and it'll be clear that the conflict as a whole very much impacted him and Baroness. It hasn't changed who they are -- rather, it's further emphasized their strengths and weaknesses as human beings."
In "America's Elite" #35, G.I. Joe struck a blow against the forces of Cobra on three fronts. G.I. Joe operatives in Antarctica and Brazil disarmed Cobra-controlled nuclear bombs, while a third team infiltrated Cobra-controlled Fort Meade and used the national Security Agency computers located there to crack Cobra's communications network. When Cobra Commander was informed of these setbacks, he seemed unphased. "Cobra Commander's state of mind is the same as it always is -- he believes he's in control," Powers stated. "He knows the conflict that became WWIII is inevitably racing towards its end -- but he believes that regardless of what happens on the battlefield in issue #36, he will have won a lasting victory. In his mind, not everyone can see that -- he sees a long range significance to WWIII that he thinks others are too shortsighted or naÃ¯ve to glimpse. And he may be right."
O'Sullivan added, "My take on him is this: he's not an idiot. He always knew this campaign would come to an end one way or another. While he has conquering goals, I think he always knows that somehow, the world will rise against him. He wanted to sew as much chaos and violence as possible to show that the systems in place are flawed and faulty. Not just war for war's sake, but also to systematically undercut those in power in an attempt to give power back to the common man. He's a terrorist and villain, no doubt about that. But deep down, he's still a man that feels like he's been trampled by a monstrous system that destroys the little person. This was his ultimate temper tantrum, basically."
Over the years, Cobra sympathizers Tomax and Xamot commanded both Cobra's Crimson Guard division as well as their economic arm. Even though Cobra Commander tried to destroy the world with two nuclear bombs in "America's Elite" #35, Tomax was right by his side at the end of the issue. Part of the reason for this is that the Cobra leader holds Tomax's comatose twin hostage and will kill him if double-crossed. "Obviously, Tomax's overriding concern is for his brother," Powers said. "But he also has a longstanding loyalty to Cobra, and having invested so much of his life and his being to the movement, it's difficult to pull away. Especially since doing so would require self-sacrifice, which is not in his character."
"I wish we could have gone more into Tomax and Xamot," O'Sullivan confessed. "I think they are some of the most fascinating Cobra characters. They manage to steer clear of an actual criminal record, but are some of the most lethal adversaries--using (mostly) only paper and computers. I think Cobra offers them the opportunity to indulge in their passion for power and wealth without scruples. After this story, though, it'd be interesting to see if Tomax really is willing to follow Cobra Commander after seeing him go to such extremes -- further than Tomax ever thought he would."
In "America's Elite" #36, the entire world is the stage for the climatic final battle of "World War III," which is perhaps the final conflict in the 26-year G.I. Joe-Cobra war. "This is the final battle between the two groups -- certainly, that's what everyone involved, on all sides, believes," Powers remarked. "So what's at stake is the eradication of the greatest threat to world peace, or its survival and expansion. If Cobra wins, you can start turning out the lights; if the G.I. Joe team wins, the world gets a fresh start."
"Our mission was to wrap up 'WWIII' in a satisfying manner, but also to try to tie up the entire continuity in case future storytellers wanted to have a fresh start and not tap into what's come before," O'Sullivan explained. "We just tried to be as faithful to the story and to the entire history as we possibly could with all the challenges facing us."
Powers and O'Sullivan have been consistently amazed by the way artist Mike Bear has depicted all the action, emotion, and intrigue of "World War III," and its final chapter is no exception. "Mike's art on issue #36 is the same as it's been since day one -- incredible," Powers said. "Mike brings a lot of strengths to the table, but the one that stands out the most to me is his ability to portray emotion and interpersonal moments. His characters genuinely act."
"World War III" has been an immensely rewarding experience for both Powers and O'Sullivan, but crafting such an epic tale presented them with a variety of challenges. "It was a blast to work on the story -- from having the opportunity to use every toy at once, to collaborating with people I have enormous respect for," Powers remarked. "There were a number of different challenges in working on this project. First, on a story level: we knew we wanted this to be huge, to encompass every major (and as many minor) character of the Joe-verse, and we wanted all those characters to have moment(s) that make their presence worthwhile and necessary to moving the plot forward. Simultaneously, we were tasked with writing the story as if it might be the last tale in this continuity -- so we needed to wrap up as many character and plot threads as possible--but in a non-binding sort of way."
"For me, the most challenging part was the constantly changing landscape," O'Sullivan said. "One day we're allowed to do one thing, the next, we're not--with the floor shifting so much through the story, it had its moments of frustration. But all in all, I think when read from start to finish, the whole storyline reads as a complete, fun tale. Elements of all aspects of G.I. Joe come through: the fun of the cartoon, the detail of the toyline, and the soap operatic elements of the comic. I think we managed to tie all the parts together. Not an easy task with all we faced!"
Over the seven years Devil's Due has published "G.I. Joe" comics, both Powers and O'Sullivan have been involved with the books both as editors and writers, and each has many fond memories of their experiences. Said Powers, "I've enjoyed working with a large number of talented people on G.I. Joe -- people like Brandon Jerwa, Stefano Caselli, Joe Casey, Tim Seeley, Mike Bear, Mike Shoyket, and too many others to mention, as well as our partners on the Hasbro side. Foremost among this long list of collaborators is Mike O'Sullivan, who is a tremendously gifted editor and writer. And artist, for that matter!
"As to things I'm most proud of -- the stories and projects that stand out most to me are 'Master and Apprentice,' the 'America's Elite' relaunch, 'Snake Eyes,' and of course my experiences writing the book the past year or so."
"I've said it many times: 'G.I. Joe' was the first comic book I ever picked up, so to work on it in such an intense capacity has been one of the most fulfilling activities of my life," O'Sullivan added. "Not many creators can say that they've gotten to do the work they love with characters they've loved their whole lives. I'm extremely fortunate in that regard. I've always loved these characters and always will--who knows, maybe someday I will work with them again. Life's crazy like that. All in all, this has been a thrill of a lifetime, and I'm glad I got to be a part of it. Of the most significant results of my time on G.I. Joe is my relationship with Mark Powers --wouldn't want to have been in this sandbox with anyone else. It's safe to say there will be more Powers/O'Sullivan collaborations to come down the road."
Both Powers and O'Sullivan feel all their fond memories and experiences wouldn't have been possible without Larry Hama, the man who created the G.I. Joe vs. Cobra saga. Powers said, "The mythos he's created remains compelling, engaging, and fun."
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