Or – “Worth A Thousand Words…”

It’s a rare comic book that transcends it’s own medium.  This issue promises to be ‘the most unusual G.I. Joe story ever,’ and nearly 30 years down the line, that promise still holds true…

G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO #21
Writer: Larry Hama
Breakdowns: Larry Hama
Finished Art: Steve Leialoha
Colorist: George Roussos
Letterer: Not Applicable
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 60 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $14.00

Previously, in G.I. Joe- A Real American Hero:  G.I. Joe is the code name for America’s daring, highly-trained special mission force.  Its purpose: to defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world!  Occasionally, though, Cobra gets the upper hand, as this issue opens in a secret hidden Cobra temple, with the arrival of a mysterious operative on a flying jetpack…

You’ve probably figured out what the first unusual bit of this issue is:  It has no dialogue at all, and the only words in the issue appear on a computer terminal screen for one panel.  If you’re unfamiliar with G.I. Joe, the man in the evil-looking hood is Cobra Commander, while the white ninja is called Storm Shadow (here making his first appearance, I might add.)  The captive readhead is code-named Scarlett, a founding member of the G.I. Joe team, and a pretty badass hand-to-hand combatant herself, which sells the threat here.  Also worth noting:  she has very skilled friends.

Enter: Snake-Eyes.  The G.I. Joe teams commando and hand-to-hand specialist, Snake-Eyes also has a bit of a soft spot for Scarlett, in a very subdued British television sort of way.  The amazing thing about this issue is that Hama, the writer, is a former comic artist himself (notably as the first artist to succeed Gil Kane on the earliest Iron Fist tales), and did the layouts of this issue himself.  It makes for some particularly cinematic moments, as Snake-Eyes parachutes into the temple, making an almost impossible landing on the very top of the parapet and rappelling down to find his lady-friend.  Scarlett, for her part, isn’t very good at playing damsel in distress…

It should be noted that before picking her shackles, Scarlet also BIT the ninja who captured her, which always cracks me up.  While Snake-Eyes takes out a battalion of Cobra soldiers topside, Scarlett breaks free and begins working her way upward (stealing the experimental rocket glider, just to add insult to injury.)  Of course, Storm Shadow didn’t leave the temple completely unguarded…

NINJA ATTACK!  Snake-Eyes takes out his attacker with swift and blinding violence, and dispatches yet another with a grenade (!!), as he hasn’t quite been established as a super-ninja just yet.  But when G.I. Joe’s masked combat expert comes face-to-face with Cobra’s version of same, things start to become more complicated…

Hama and Leialoha’s art reminds me a lot of Frank Miller’s then-recent work on Daredevil, right down to the red ninjas, but there’s a fluidity here that Miller’s work often lacked in the 80’s.  Still without saying a word, the black and white ninjas find themselves evenly matched, each striking a glancing blow on the other, before Snake-Eyes capitalizes on his sensible military-grade footwear…

Scarlett arrives (Remember Scarlett?  This is a comic about Scarlett.) just in time to save the man who came to save her, but it is only Snake-Eyes superhuman speed that saves her from a sword in the face.  As the Joes pull off a daring escape (which, to be frank, looks really uncomfortable for Snake-Eyes, lying as he does across the glider’s probably-hot engines), Storm Shadow silently watches, not yet fully realizing that he’s just crossed swords with a very old friend…

I remember being very puzzled and intrigued by the matching tattoos that the two men sport in this last panel.  The ink is the 63rd hexagram of the I Ching, and can be translated as “already completed” or “already fording,” and it is eventually revealed to be the traditional marking of the Arashikage clan of ninjas.  Hama’s background in martial arts and eastern philosophy would eventually be conscripted by other writers into a ninjafication of the entire G.I. Joe premise, but this issue is an awesome introduction to a character who would change the course of the book forever.  Add to that the difficult task of clearly telling this story with no speaking roles at all, and the creators have truly created one for the ages. While reading G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #21, I found myself remembering nearly every moment vividly and admiring the impressive creative achievement it represents, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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12 Comments

  1. June 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm — Reply

    Ahh, undoubtedly one of the greatest single issues ever. This is such a great comic, and it proves just how fantastic of a writer Hama is…so fantastic, he doesn’t even need to write. Ha. Thanks for reminding me of this one Matthew!

  2. N
    June 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm — Reply

    Hey Matthew, awesome review but what are the chances if a TOP 5 SILENT ISSUES podcast? I don’t think I can even think of 4 off the top of my head.

  3. Slappy
    June 3, 2012 at 6:40 pm — Reply

    I can only think of two silent issues at this time,
    New X-Men 121 & the Manhunter story after Archie Goodwin died.

    • June 3, 2012 at 8:16 pm — Reply

      Marvel did an entire month of silent issues in 2001. I recall a well-done issue of X-Factor (Milligan/Allred version) and the strange choice of a silent issue featuring Banshee…

  4. June 3, 2012 at 9:41 pm — Reply

    As I recall there was an all-silent one-shot commemorating 9/11 that gets reprinted sometimes on the anniversity. I only ever skimmed through it though, and I don’t recall what company put it out.

    Been thinking of reading the old GI Joe comics for a while now. This just makes me want to even more.

    • June 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm — Reply

      Some of them are pretty good, especially the first two dozen or so.

  5. Tbirch42
    June 4, 2012 at 6:06 am — Reply

    I still have this issue saved! True.. the finnish version.. but not that it matters when its silent. ;)

  6. Trey
    June 4, 2012 at 7:35 am — Reply

    This is was the very first issue of GI Joe that I ever got. I thought it was fantastic and made Snake Eyes one of my most favorite characters of all media.

  7. Sydness
    June 4, 2012 at 7:35 am — Reply

    “(Remember Scarlett? This is a comic about Scarlett.)” Alice’s Restaurant reference?

    • June 4, 2012 at 12:13 pm — Reply

      Alice’s Restaurant reference?

      You can get anything you want at the G.I. Joe commissary (excepting Scarlett.) :)

  8. Cozmicdawg
    June 5, 2012 at 11:17 am — Reply

    Thank you so much Matthew!! This was one of my gateways into the world of comic books. Still have my GI Joe run from 21-75, but it was the silent issue that really cemented my love of comics as a medium. Hama was masterful.

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