Tales from the Longbox – G.I. Joe #21 (1984)

Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.

G.I. Joe Classics vol 03p004G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #21
March 1984
“Silent Interlude”
Writer: Larry Hama
Artists: Larry Hama/Steve Leialoha

One thing to keep in mind as you read this is that I didn’t read G.I. Joe regularly in the 1980s. I picked up a couple of issues here and there, but I was never pulled into the Joe universe. Even this issue’s impact and influence had escaped me. However, “The Most Unusual COMIC BOOK Story Ever!” is easily the first issue that gets mentioned when I talk to anyone about Marvel’s G.I. Joe comic series.

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The plot is pretty straight forward. A new Cobra ninja, Storm Shadow’s first appearance, brings in a captured Scarlett. Fortunately, Snake Eyes came to her rescue, although she wasn’t exactly a damsel in distress. The last page sets up a connection and back story between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes as they had the same tattoos. That tattoo being an identifier for the Arashikage ninja clan.

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While it wasn’t the first time a comic didn’t have any dialog or narration (see Will Eisner’s The Spirit), Hama pulled it off quite well. I believe one of the reason this works is that Hama not only wrote this issue, but drew the breakdowns. Interestingly, I spotted Leialoha’s name before reading it and was on the look out for his work as it has its own unique style, which helped convey those subtle facial expressions. The backgrounds are minimal at best and it looks like it was intentional, allowing the reader to focus on the characters and their motions. The action is smoothly conveyed.

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Since the issue spotlighted Snake Eyes, a character who didn’t speak, it focused on a lot of action, delivering almost 22 pages full of action. Although there is one bit of fun narration that Hama sneaks into the story, the writing on a fragmentary grenade that’s tossed at a charging ninja.

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Larry Hama, in an interview with Dwight Jon Zimmerman, from David Anthony Kraft’s Comics Interview, explained his approach:

 “I wanted to see if I could do a story that was a real, complete story – beginning, middle, end, conflict, characterization, action, solid resolution – without balloons or captions or sound effects. I tried to do it again, as a matter of fact, with the Joe Yearbook #3 story.”

Hama actually pulled off a third silent issue in 2010 with G.I. Joe: Origins #19.

He revealed another interesting tidbit about the issue in an interview with joebattlelines.com (http://www.joebattlelines.com/interviews/larryhama1.htm):

 “At first, readers hated it. They felt cheated that there were no words, that it could be “read” too quickly. That issue got LOTS of negative mail. But then, so did the annual that was drawn by Michael Golden. Readers complained that the drawing was too “cartoony.”

Jason Shayer has been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blog at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com.

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