This month we’ve been getting psyched for the new G.I. Joe film, Retaliation. We started things off with an interview with current series scribe Fred Van Lente, which you can check out here. Meanwhile, as I was getting prepped, I wound up rediscovering Devil’s Due’s series G.I. Joe: America’s Elite. While I read through the whole 36 issue series, which featured great work from writer Mark Powers in later issues, what really blew me away was the work that writer Joe Casey achieved over the course of his run. Simply put, it was one of the most consistent and best runs of a series I’ve ever read. Nonstop action that built into each subsequent issues; complex characters and relationships – this was a title that had it all.
On that note, I reached out to writer Joe Casey to see if he’d look back on his wonderful work and give us some insight into what went into making G.I.Joe: America’s Elite a must read for fans and novices alike. Joe was kind enough to answer my questions via email.
Joe Casey: I’d already written the INFANTRY series for Devil’s Due, so I was already on their radar when they decided to relaunch the series. They asked me what my take might be, I read up on all the Devil’s Due issues that were out by that point, had some ideas and pitched them. I guess they liked what I came up with, because they gave me the gig.
Andy Burns: As a writer working on a known franchise with decades of history both in comics and on toys shelves, was it intimidating at all walking into the G.I. Joe world? Exciting?
Joe Casey: To be honest, it was neither. It’s always cool to start in on a new gig, there’s always that kind of rush, but in terms of any intimidation of the franchise itself, the truth is… I was one generation removed from G.I. Joe. I was slightly too old to really get into it. I’d watched the original, 5-part animated series when it first aired. It ran one episode per day for a week. I liked it a lot, but for whatever reason, I never really watched the series after that. And I never read the comics, aside from a random issue here and there. So there was no nostalgia for me. I think that actually helped, since I could look at the franchise with fresh eyes and pick out what might work best dramatically.
Andy Burns: One of the things I really enjoyed reading your run was just how smooth the various story lines moved forward – from the Joes accepting Storm Shadow as one of them, to Snake Eyes’ relationship with Scarlett and his apparent death, to the slow acceptance of Joe Colton leading the team. You really managed the various characters and personalities. Was it as easy as it seems to the reader, or did you really have to plan out how much time you’d give the various characters?
Joe Casey: There was an overall plan, but writing team books is part of my DNA. I grew up reading superhero team books, I studied them like I was taking a college course. So I knew how the dynamics of writing a large cast worked. The one thing I probably did differently than a lot of G.I. Joe writers — although I don’t know, since I never read anyone else’s take — was that I made sure the cast was small enough to function as a TEAM. Or, more specifically, a FAMILY. The idea of writing an expansive “army” of characters (as G.I. Joe could be, if you were willing to include everyone on the roster) was not going to work for me.
Andy Burns: One thing you also achieved that I think the first film really missed out on was being able to make the series feel incredibly realistic, even with the use of things like Destro’s robots or the idea of Snake Eyes dying and being resurrected by ninjas. Your run simply felt grounded in plausibility. Was that a conscious decision when you began working G.I. Joe: America’s Elite? Was it mandated by editorial or Hasbro? Or am I just reading too much into it?
Joe Casey: I wanted to give the characters some emotional reality, even as I was dealing with all these fantastical elements. I felt like I had a chance to ground these characters in a way that readers hadn’t seen before. Honestly, I approached it more like a movie, with a small core cast of A-list actors that needed my attention, much more so than the obscure Joes, each of whom has at least one passionate fan out there, advocating for them to be in the book. It was my attempt at writing the property for the widest possible audience… because I was part of that audience.
Joe Casey: I liked Joe Colton. I liked the fact that I was bringing the “original Joe” back, a guy who’d seen it all. Sending Duke on his “Captain Willard/Apocalypse Now”-journey was kinda cool. I liked having Storm Shadow on the team. That gave things a new energy. Same with the death of Snake-Eyes. That gave the whole team something to chew on emotionally in a big, bad way. Destro, I liked. And Cobra Commander, of course.
Andy Burns: Alternately, was there ever a character that you just couldn’t wrap your head around?
Joe Casey: Not really. Because I’d hand-picked the characters I was interested in writing from the beginning, specifically to avoid having to write characters that I didn’t like. It was part of my initial pitch to Devil’s Due, “The cast needs to be Duke, Scarlet, Snake-Eyes, etc…” Luckily, they agreed with my choices. I knew enough about the property to know who the “big guns” were. That’s who I wanted to write about. Of course, those circumstances never last. And although I knew I was leaving the book with issue #18, but even before then, I was starting to get some editorial pressure to add more Joes, bring back more obscure “fan favorites”. But that’s when I really knew it was time to go.
Andy Burns: Finally, looking back on your run, are there any moments that stand out in your mind as special to you, a scene or an issue?
Joe Casey: It was all pretty fun. I think I left right before it would’ve become a grind for me. I feel like I’d done what I set out to do. I told three big stories and I think they all worked fairly well. Seeing the trailer for the new movie, it really reminded me of what I’d done in my time on the book. Cobra taking over the White House, entire cities being destroyed, Joe Colton coming out of retirement, the castle in the mountains with Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow… it all seemed kinda familiar. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence…
Thanks for taking the time to talk, Joe. You can find out all things Joe Casey here!