Though I’ve read a great many superhero books in my time, my comic book collecting habit began someplace entirely different (albeit not entirely devoid of folks in cool costumes with special skillz.)  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1 awaits!

Writer: Larry Hama
Penciler: Herb Trimpe
Inker: Bob McLeod
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Letterer: Jim Novak
Editor: Tom DeFalco
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $1.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $30.00

Previously in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Beginning in the mid-1960s, G.I. Joe action figures (the first dolls to bear the new nomenclature, one might add) were produced for all branches of the military, featuring accessories and multiple points of articulation for maximum playability.  Losing steam in the 70s, the line was reworked as the G.I. Joe Adventure Team, adding superhero types and eventually ending in 1976.  Six years later, the action figure market was in full swing, and a new generation of kids was introduced to G.I. Joe, in a much more portable 3.75 inch size, and Marvel Comics licensed the toys (as they did Micronauts, Shogun Warriors, U.S. 1 and others, and would later do with Transformers and Zoids) for adventures in comic book format.

Little did anyone know how different this one was going to be…


Whatever else you can say about 80s Marvel under Jim Shooter, the rules regarding opening pages and expositionary dialogue are actually quite helpful for first-time readers, as seen in this issue’s opening sequence.  Dr. Adele Burkhart, after accidentally creating a Doomsday weapon, has taken a pacifist stance and refused to participate any further, even testifying about the secret weapon in public hearings designed to render it useless.  Unfortunately, this makes her a target for Cobra (a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world!)


Even 30 years later, Hama’s scripts holds up and works efficiently to ratchet up the tension and to clearly explain the world in which the characters live.  His tight plotting has The Baroness escaping with Burkhart in the space of half a page, at which point the action quickly cuts to The Pentagon, where General Austin makes a veiled reference to excrement hitting the fan before activating his response to the crisis…


With an exfiltration the only rational option, Austin’s colleague, General Flagg opts to activate his team, Special Counter-Terrorist Group Delta, Codenamed: G.I. Joe!


I’ll be honest: It’s weird and unnerving to read this story in a modern context and see the word “terrorist” thrown about so freely in a pop-cultural context, but at the time of printing, when I was eleven or so, it was all just a cool adventure story.  The Thirteen members of G.I. Joe (14, if you count the obscured Shooter, a profile that was originally an in-joke referring to Marvel EIC Jim Shooter, later spawning an untold tale that takes place behind the scenes of this issue) are notified of their activation in another brilliant sequence by Hama, as Joe topkick Hawk is driven into their headquarters by transport specialist Clutch…


Hawk calls his soldiers together, allowing Hama to deliver quiet characterization (and also a few shots at Burkhart’s pacifist stance from Stalker) and setting up the comic book equivalent of a heist movie, with the team splitting up to sneak into Cobra’s island headquarters.  (The Terrordrome was, I believe, being fumigated.)


Though this is clearly NOT the Joes first mission, it is their first tangle with Cobra, as they are shown “the only known photo” of Cobra Commander before breaking down the gig, throwing in some more pointed social commentary (Hawk refuses to consider a bombing strike because “we’re the good guys”, for instance) before the team goes wheels up.  What’s most impressive to me as a reader is how well Hama keeps thirteen main characters distinct and interesting in their voices and mannerisms throughout the issue…


Herb Trimpe was long a workhorse at Marvel Comics (his lengthy Hulk run, including the debut of Wolverine, is well-remembered by comic nerds), but it’s a real treat to see his work combined with the smooth inks of Bob McLeod, with the team keeping the Joe soldiers out of superhero territory (even the masked Snake-Eyes) but still visually cool and interesting, as seen when Breaker and Flash, tasked with jamming communications, discover their task to be a bit harder than expected…


At the same time, Snake-Eyes and Scarlett stealthily make their way into the castle stronghold, tasked with taking out the power generators, sowing confusion and deactivating the electric fences…


It’s important to know that they’re not ninjas quite yet, or at least not textually speaking, making this mission a tense tightrope walk by the Joes.  Hama uses his knowledge of military tactics and comportment to make the team’s over-the-top antics still seem grounded in Army-type realism, or at least Army-type movie realism as practiced by Chuck Norris, John Wayne and Rambo…


You can almost hear the theme song playing, can’t you?  Another unusual realization for my adult self comes in realizing just how much not-quite propaganda there is in this Cold War-era story, as the team questions Burkhart’s loyalty after turning on her government, but still dedicates themselves to selflessly recovering her from her kidnappers.  Unfortunately, they are being played by the wily forces of Cobra…


Yes, Faithful Spoilerites, Cobra Commander wasn’t always an ineffectual lisping weirdo with a snake-fetish.  In these pages, he is cunning, ruthless and utterly without scruples.  The issue doesn’t shy away from death, either, as the Joes find that Cobra has decimated the small village on the island, followed by Rock N’ Roll tearing a Cobra battalion apart with the gatling gun in his sidecar.  (It’s called the “RAM – RApid-fire Motorcycle,” bee tee dubs.  You’re welcome.)  Unfortunately for the Commander, Snake-Eyes and Scarlett are still inside his fortress, and as for Adele Burkhart?  She may be a pacifist, but she is in no way cowardly…


Aaaand our youthful fascination with throwing stars is explained!  Before they can take the Commander into custody, the rest of the team busts in, and Cobra Commander sets off a time-bomb designed to bring the castle down around them.  Fortunately, his helicopter still works, and bazooka trooper Zap has flight training…


Aaand KaBOOM!  Dr. Burkhart apologizes the Joes for her assumptions about soldiers, and they realize that her questions about security don’t make her a traitor, and a good time was had by all.  The backup story in this issue shows off the pencils of another comic book workhorse, Don Perlin, in a story that puts Rock N’ Roll in the spotlight as a hero on a desperate mission that may mean Scarlett’s death…


The story has a truly terrible final line that I won’t share (though anyone who remembers the story can probably remember how flat it falls), but the story still has punch, and the no-ads first issue is filled out with profile pages on several of the Joes in this story, as well as tech specs for some of their equipment.  In short, it’s a detailed and engrossing look into America’s Special Missions Force, making it easy to see why the kids of 1982 were immediately into this issue and to the adventures of G.I. Joe in general.  G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1 is, in retrospect, more adult-oriented than I recall, and events in these pages feel like they come from a simpler time, but it still reads well and looks great, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.



Though clearly an artifact of a different time, it's still a strong story and excellent art, effectively introducing more than a dozen characters and launching a multimedia juggernaut...

User Rating: 3.7 ( 1 votes)
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About Author

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.


  1. Had to comment on this, since GI Joe was the first comic I went back and found the complete run of back issues I missed. I picked up at issue 10 or so. I love the initial run of GI Joe, especially Kwinn the Eskimo. Love the Beatles in joke. Was one of my favorites as a pre-teen, and on re-reading in college, I realized how adult oriented the book was, as well.

    Thanks for both the interesting articles and all the great podcasts. I’m a gold VIP member, and am happy to support you guys for all the hours of great entertainment you’ve provided. My 10 year old son and I even listen to Major Spoilers on long road trips.

    Jeff Butcher

  2. Scott Gunstream on

    This is another awesome comic I never knew existed when it was being printed. This was back in the day when you went to the grocery store and might find the comics you wanted, or you might not. I’m thinking I might need to try and find these and read them.

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