In the letter column of a 1991 issue of Marvel's G.I. Joe, a fan wrote in asking about rumors of the series coming to an end. An editor responded that not only was the series going strong, but also a "live-action motion picture" would soon be made by Warner Bros.
That film never appeared, and the comic series ended two years later. Over the following 15 years, the property bounced from one publisher to another, never managing to capture the same success or longevity it had previously had, although the most recent Devil's Due series, America's Elite, regularly ranked among the top 150 books in direct market sales.
Now the license from Hasbro has landed with Idea and Design Works, which is wagering that G.I. Joe is poised to once again be a big seller. In a bit of synchronicity, original G.I. Joe writer Larry Hama is returning to the property, and a movie is set to come out next year, though from Paramount Pictures, not Warner Bros.
IDW has announced that a team of four writers and eight artists will be launching three new G.I. Joe series next spring, with former Marvel editor Andy Schmidt overseeing the books. IDW publisher and editor-in-chief Chris Ryall said picking up the license was a no-brainer.
"Like all licenses we pursue, we start with 'Do we like it?’ and then head toward 'Do we have a good take on it?'" Ryall said. "With resounding yes answers to both those questions, we jumped at the chance. We've also had a great working relationship with Hasbro on the Transformers and did some great things around that movie last summer, and we look forward to growing our partnership and doing more of the same for next summer's G.I. Joe movie."
IDW will release four one-shot movie prequel comics featuring Duke, Destro, Snake Eyes and the Baroness, all written by Chuck Dixon, who had an unceremonious split with DC Comics this summer and was quickly and secretively signed onto IDW's Joe team. Dixon will also write the main ongoing series, titled simply G.I. Joe.
Beyond that, Hama is writing G.I. Joe: Origins, and Mike Costa and Christos Gage are writing a four-part miniseries, G.I. Joe: Cobra. The three series will be previewed in a G.I. Joe #0 comic in October. While that may seem an overabundance of material for the comics market, Ryall has high hopes for the property, in part because of the movie.
"I think when people read the #0 issue and see what we've got planned, they'll be as excited as we are about these books," he said. "There's some great talent on all the books, and I think people are always open to good, quality comics. The movie will ideally focus new eyes, or eyes that had drifted on to other things, back on the comics as well."
For Hama, this was a chance to return to his signature series, which he wrote for nine years. Even before IDW got the license, Ryall had contacted Hama with an offer the veteran writer never expected, to completely relaunch G.I. Joe. "I thought 155 issues was a pretty respectable run, and it didn't occur to me that interest in the characters would continue," Hama said.
IDW is scrapping the years of G.I. Joe comics continuity, which Ryall said had become "muddled," and allowing Hama and Dixon to rebuild it. They'll also be doing reprints of the old series, starting with Hama's Marvel run.
While on the surface G.I. Joe is a book based around toys, Hama thinks the comic can offer something that's become absent from comics shelves. "There may be a yearning for heroes again," he said. "I mean, heroes who aren't psychos, who aren't interested in self-promotion, and who have a quiet integrity."
Dixon views the property much the same and said that approach will allow the book to appeal to readers across the spectrum. "It’s about heroism and sacrifice and team spirit rather than wholesale slaughter," he said. "But look at other toy lines like Star Wars and Batman. Those are based on violent franchises, but the characters appear on pajamas and playwear. No one seems to be troubled by that. So why should Joe be dumbed down just because he started as a toy? Kids know if you make things squishy for them. They can handle the material. They get it."
While a licensed property like G.I. Joe is a known quantity to potential buyers, it also requires the publisher to work with Hasbro. The company has been closely involved in setting the direction for the new comics series, the movie tie-ins and comics that will be inserted in toys, Ryall said, but they're not pushing for the comics to be purely kid-oriented. "Hasbro has been eager to push Joe in new directions and has pushed us to think even more adult in our storytelling," he said. "Not 'Marvel Max' adult, but just something that works for teens and adults alike, and doesn't talk down to anyone."
Hama said that corporate involvement is a change from his first run, when "I did 155 issues without Hasbro ever requesting a story change," he said. "Sometimes they would tell me they wanted to push certain characters or vehicles, or they might get upset about a gun being too big on the cover, but I had absolute freedom to write the stories I wanted to write. Everything is micromanaged by committees now. Maybe it's a good change. I'm not a business mook, I'm just a guy who makes stuff up, so I couldn't really say."