Retro Review: G.I. Joe Declassified #3 (October 2005)

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Way back in 1982, Larry Hama created a legendary group of characters, a baker’s dozen soldiers who represented the best and brightest of the American armed forces, each one with a special set of skills and an awesome codename.  It was nearly a quarter century later when he returned to tell the tale of how those thirteen soldiers were recruited and brought together…

…and in so doing, revealed the best hidden secret in the history of G.I. Joe.  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of G.I. Joe Declassified #3 awaits!

GIJoeClass3CoverG.I. JOE DECLASSIFIED #3
Writer: Larry Hama
Artist: Pat Quinn/Valentine DeLandro with Joe Dodd
Colorist: Rob Ruffolo
Letterer: Brian J. Crowley
Editor: Mike O’Sullivan
Publisher: Devil’s Due Publishing
Cover Price: $4.95

Previously in G.I. Joe Classified:  The concept that would become G.I. Joe began with Larry Hama, with an idea called ‘Fury Force’, wherein the son of Nick Fury would lead a team of agents against Marvel villains Hydra.  At the same time, Hasbro and Marvel Comics were working to reactivate Hasbro’s G.I. Joe property for the end of the Cold War, and when the two concepts came together, Hama was writing the book that would become a smash hit at a time when Marvel quite needed one.  Fans of the cartoon series (or, perish forbid, the movies) might be surprised to see the team’s line-up in their first issue, circa 1982, featuring a couple of high-profile names, but no Roadblock, Shipwreck or Flint…

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The lineup here was my first introduction to the G.I. Joe team back in the summer of ’80-something, through a giant-sized treasury presentation of issue #1 of the ‘Real American Hero’ ongoing series.  The original 13 members represent the first run of action figures, with the obscured figure an in-joke reference to Marvel’s then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter.  Of course, it should be noted that there are two places where no continuity stone goes unturned: The Star Wars expanded universe, and G.I. Joe comics.  Time for… the REST of the story.

G.I. Joe Classified #1 & #2 revealed the events that led to the soldiers of the Joe team being chosen (Steeler carried an injured compatriot for miles across the desert, Flash showed amazing acumen and technical prowess, Clutch saved the life of a superior officer through his skills as a driver, etc.), and #3 continues the trend, with a squad of Joes behind enemy lines in the hostile territory of Sierra Gordo.  The team’s bazooka specialist, Zap, takes a moment to reveal his “origin” after getting called out by one of Sierra Gordo’s guerilla troops for oppressing his people, citing Zap’s Puerto Rican heritage…

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It’s a pretty cool chunk of story, with Larry Hama’s customary terse-but-individualized dialogue showing its strengths, made even more interesting by the team’s decision to carry a badly wounded enemy soldier out of danger regardless of the consequences.  Unbeknownst to Stalker, Zap and their team, however, the FOURTEENTH member of their team is under deep cover at the same time, shepherding their trek through dangerous territory…

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Even the leader of the G.I. Joe team, Hawk, is unaware of the agent code-named Shooter (sent by ramrod General Flagg without his knowledge.)  After Hawk contacts the general, he returns to The Pit (the Joe team’s underground headquarters) to find his squad ready for action…

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Man, I know that I’m old, but it’s really good to see so much of the team in full uniform and ready to go.  Reminds me of the warm feeling I get when Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl’s headquarters is drawn as an upside-down rocket ship or when Batman’s costume is drawn by Jim Aparo: awesome, yet somehow comforting.  Back in Sierra Gordo, Zap, Grunt and Breaker finally talk their commander,  Stalker, into explaining how he got his slot in America’s special missions force…

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Once again, Hama uses detailed accounts and accurate-sounding military jargon and procedures to explain why these soldiers were chosen above all others.  As for the man who made those choices, General Flagg, he is watching closely to ensure that he doesn’t lose a quarter of his battalion all at once, thanks to the aegis of his secret weapon, Shooter…

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It’s interesting to see the mission *behind* the missions (or, to be more specific, the mission before the missions, as this part of the story takes place prior to ‘G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1′) with new information along the way, such as the reasons WHY the pursuing forces were unable to catch up to our Joes on their flight from Sierra Gordo…

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Shooter lives up to her name (in a most nonlethal capacity, though, shooting radios and destroying weapons with pinpoint accuracy), keeping the forces of Sierra Gordo off her teammates backs, while Stalker and his team make good time to their designated evacuation point, all the while showing off the trademark Hama dry wit and attention to detail.

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Jumping forward in time, we join General Flagg and his second-in-command Sparks immediately after the events of “Operation: Lady Doomsday” (aka issue #1), a mission during which, unbeknownst to most of the Joe team, they actually LOST a man.  After invading Cobra’s island headquarters, the Joes fought their way through to Cobra Commander’s castle, where they saved one Doctor Adele Burkhart, a lady scientist whose experiments could be used for great evil.  During the final moments of that mission, the 13 Joes fought their way out to the Commander’s personal helicopter, once again unaware that Shooter is also in play…

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After her actions in the jungles of Sierra Gordo, Shooter had second thoughts about the lethality of her tactics, but when faced with a situation where she would have to shoot unarmed civilians, she leaps into action without hesitation, facing down a squadron of Cobra’s finest faceless mooks…

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It’s a real shame that the coloring that Devil’s Due choose to add makes the sequence muddy and hard to follow, because it’s truly a heroic moment for Sergeant Craig, giving her life to once again protect her team (and also the innocents that Cobra forced to do their dirty work.)  After a trip to meet her mother, Flagg assembles his entire unit, taking them to Shooter’s memorial service (even though the rank and file don’t know *why*).

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It’s a really cool moment, a powerful moment that overcomes one of the worst problems with the original ‘Real American Hero’ series; a lack of mortal consequences for a group of soldiers constantly in hostile fighting conditions.  The realization that we didn’t see everything that happened, and that the team’s very first mission also gave their very first casualty adds a new depth to Hama’s now-thirty-year-old story.  Certainly, it’s a book that reads better if you’re already a fan of the property, but this issue wraps up the “origin” stories of both team and individual members, turning a decades-old in-joke into a meaningful and powerful plot point.  G.I. Joe Declassified #3 is visually a little rough, with some inconsistent art, and coloring that doesn’t do the storytelling any favors, but delivers enough storyline punch to earn it a more-than-respectable 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  Now you know…  And know is, reputedly, roughly 50% of any given conflict.  *musical stinger*