The GeeksverseJohn Barber On The New Joe

John Barber On The New Joe
Published on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 by

IDW’s G.I. Joe line of books is starting over in 2013 with three new #1s, 2 new books and a new writer on the main book. We spoke with line editor John Barber on the upcoming changes.

The ‘Verse: Fred Van Lente talked about the new public direction of the main Joe book in an interview on Comic Book Resources. G.I. Joe was made public by Cobra in the current storyline, but what led to the much more public face/activities of the Joe team? Who came up with the idea. How/when did Fred come to be involved?

John Barber: The story with Cobra revealing the existence of G.I. Joe came out of Chuck Dixon’s story in G.I. Joe, right after COBRA COMMAND. We started thinking that it should have some big repercussions. It was a natural evolution, at least to me. “Let’s not minimize this–let’s go big” was my thought. And we’d been talking—Chuck, Mike Costa, editor Carlos Guzman, and Michael Kelly at Hasbro—about doing something large-scale to the line. I mean, we’re always aiming big since we killed Cobra Commander, but something to remind readers that we’re here, you know? COBRA COMMAND was a huge story, and wanted to make sure we emphasize how much the landscape changed there, and how much it continued to change afterward.

So the idea of bringing somebody new into the writing mix seemed like a good idea. We’ve had a lot of cool writers coming in and telling stories in this G.I. Joe universe, but the core writers had been Chuck, Mike, Christos Gage, and Larry Hama. Christos left a while back and Larry’s focused on REAL AMERICAN HERO—and that won’t be going anywhere—so it made sense to bring somebody else in. Mike and Chuck have different sensibilities as writers, and I think that works really well. So I wanted to bring in somebody who had a third different sensibility.

I’ve known Fred Van Lente for a while, and he’s just gotten better and better as a writer. Plus, his (and artist Ryan Dunlevy’s) COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS had just come out from IDW and is such a great book. So that really got me and IDW Editor in Chief Chris Ryall thinking about him. Chris might’ve actually floated Fred’s name first, much as I’d like to take all the credit… anyway, I emailed him, and he was pretty excited. By the time I talked to him on the phone, he’d done a ton of research and had a million ideas.

The main thing here will be that each book will have it’s own tone. Broadly speaking, G.I. Joe will have big action and big character drama; Special Missions will focus on the more hard-military aspects of the war with Cobra; and Cobra Files will be a noir/espionage comic set in the dark shadows of the G.I. Joe universe.

With the introduction of Hashtag, as well as an actual twitter account, the title seems to be embracing the new world of social media in a big way. How will the real account be used? Will the tweets reflect/influence the comic storylines?

This one, we’ll have to wait and see.

So far we’ve only seen the cover image, and that’s garnered some mixed responses. The new uniforms appear more costume than uniform, and seem to be moving away from a realistic military appearance. Who designed the new looks? Was Hasbro involved for possible future figures based on these new looks?

The uniforms are very intentional and very integral to the story. Not all the G.I. Joe members like the new uniforms, in-story. Shipwreck especially… well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are very direct story reasons for these uniforms to appear.

Steve Kurth designed them. We gathered up reference for all the versions of the characters that have appeared over the years, and tried to pick and choose and update as we went. As cool as going straight-military is, one of the things that’s appealing to me is how awesome the original individual G.I. Joe action figure designs were. I felt like we’d gotten away from that in the comics—which I know some fans were happy about—but we got to the point where, visually, the Cobra characters were looking way more dynamic than our heroes.

In-story, the idea is that this is the public team, and they have people designing these outfits—and the designs really follow the same logical balance of dynamic visuals versus realistic combat practicality that we go through making the comics, or that Hasbro’s designers consider on the action-figure end. But, like I said—there new looks are absolutely part of the story we’re telling.

Hasbro was involved in the new looks in the same way they’re involved with everything on the G.I. Joe comics. We’ve got a really great relationship—Hasbro and IDW. Basically, Steve Kurth, Fred, Michael Kelly and I all batted ideas around. Steve would work something up, send it around, we’d all comment… I mean, he did a cool job on ‘em right out of the gate. As far as future action figures—I wouldn’t rule anything out, but that wasn’t the focus of the designs. The designs were all centered around the story we’re telling.

There’s been a lot of speculation on the identities of some of the characters on the cover. Everyone figures that’s Hashtag in the lower left, but who is the man on the lower right with the face paint and who is the woman in the middle of the page on the right with the glasses?

The cast is Duke, Roadblock, Quick Kick, Shipwreck, Cover Girl, Tunnel Rat, Doc, and Hashtag. Doc and Hashtag being new characters. Doc’s the one with the glasses. Fans of the original Doc, do not despair. He’s in the comic. He has existed and continues to exist! I feel like that’s always a worry in comics these days. Anyway, Tunnel Rat has the face paint.

There are two other new books coming, keeping the total at 3 in the IDW-continuity. How will Cobra Files differ from the current Cobra book. It’s recently been focusing on Flint’s team, will it return to a more Cobra-centric point of view?

I’m a huge fan of where Mike Costa and Antonio Fuso have taken the Cobra book. We’re definitely following that thread, still—but what’s really important to the comic is to maintain a sense of danger. I feel like when you go back to the first couple Cobra series, there’s a sense that absolutely anything can happen to anybody, and that sense is the goal going forward. The new series is all about that feeling that anything can happen; that things can turn around at any second and nobody is safe, physically or psychologically. COBRA FILES is about the espionage team—and Mike’s first script hits hard on every level.

Chuck Dixon moves from the main Joe book to Secret Missions. The title seems to indicate that Van Lente’s book will be the public face of G.I. Joe well Dixon’s will still be covert. Who is in Chuck’s book? Will the tone differ from the main book?

I wouldn’t call any book the “main” book—all of these comics stand on their own.

Chuck is writing G.I. JOE: SPECIAL MISSIONS (I think somebody said the wrong name in an interview—a slip of the tongue, it is and always was SPECIAL MISSIONS) with Paul Gulacy joining in on art duties. The tone will be very different from Fred/Steve book—SPECIAL MISSIONS will be the more hard-core, overtly military book. Scarlett and Mainframe will pull together a mission-specific G.I. Joe team for every story. Sometimes they’ll be going up against Cobra, sometimes it’ll be other threats. SPECIAL MISSIONS is outside-the-public-eye stuff—dangerous missions that the heroes never get the credit they deserve, while Duke’s team is out getting the cameras stuck in their faces.

There’s been some chatter on the Joe fan boards about the new direction, and some of it hasn’t been positive. This does seem like a fairly radical change in the Joe team’s status quo. How do you convince those fans to buy the book?

The key thing for me is that we approach this from a military POV. I think that was the most overriding, important thing that Larry Hama established in the original G.I. Joe run. There is and always has been a lot of over-the-top elements to G.I. Joe. But if you keep at it from the military perspective—these are soldiers who strap on their weapons and go out to fight and kill and maybe die on their missions, and they follow the chain of command and they look out for their fellow soldiers, and everything that being a solider means—if you keep at it from that point of view, you can have other stuff moving outside a strict real-world reality and not lose track of what G.I. Joe means.

I remember the day my dad bought me my first G.I. Joe figures—Flash and Rock ‘N’ Roll. I mean, that’s a great combination, there—Flash in his red body armor with a laser, Rock ‘N’ Roll in his army fatigues with a giant machine gun. I think both parts of that are essential. If you just have the war stuff, you just have a war book. Nothing wrong with that, but G.I. Joe is something different. It’s a war book with a very high-tech edge, mixed with a heady dose of martial arts action… plus a lot of other elements we all love. All of those elements will be present in these new series.

Steve Kurth is an interesting choice as the new artist, considering that he had worked on Devil’s Due Publishing’s Joe book years ago. What went into picking the two new artists? Will Will Rosado, Alex Cal and Robert Atkins be doing any more Joe work in the near future, or any work at IDW?

I knew Steve Kurth from some comics we’d worked on in the past. It’s funny–he emailed me out of the blue, and I thought he’d be perfect for the new G.I. Joe series… but I’d completely forgotten he’d ever worked on G.I. Joe before. I mean, I knew he had—I’d seen those pages when I’d hired him years ago. But it completely slipped my mind. He reminded me, of course…

But the thing is, he’s a totally different artist now. He’s grown a lot—this definitely isn’t a return to that era of G.I. Joe comics. What made me think of Steve is that he’s completely at home drawing a real world environment, and a high-tech one—and he has the chops to do big action. He just all at once hit with that right mix of making things larger than life but still believable and grounded.

What’s really funny is—I was already talking to Fred at this point, but Fred wasn’t for-sure yet. He hadn’t written anything up, we were just talking. And I started seeing if Steve would be interested, and he said he would be—and he suggested, if we didn’t have a writer, that we look at Fred Van Lente. Amazing coincidence, like it was just meant to happen.

Will, Alex, and Robert are all literally working on G.I. Joe comics as I type this—we’re still in full production on the series leading up to the new number 1s—and those guys are all amazing artists. I don’t want to spoil anything yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them again around these parts.

Last time we talked, I asked about a new Order of Battle. With the new direction, this seems a good time to launch one. Any more discussions on it?

It’s come up a little. That seems like something that could be cool. We’ll see.

What goes into the decision to relaunch with a new #1?

It’s a lot of factors. One thing is trying to present a clear path that open to new readers. A number 1 has a sort-of built-in opening with that. It lets retailers know that this is something new, and it gives readers a clear signal of, “here’s a ground floor you can get on.” I know it irritates some people—and I know that a lot of time you get issue 1’s that only make sense if you’ve read 30 other comics.

But we’re setting out to make it so that’s not the case here. If you’ve read G.I. Joe from the beginning, this all builds on the foundation of what you’ve read. If you’re new—or if you had been reading but left at some point—these number 1s are all you need to know. Hopefully you’ll be a little curious to find out about how the characters got where they are, and maybe you’ll want to check out the back issues—but you don’t have to. You can come in with number 1 and be welcomed.

I mean—in my opinion, every issue should be a potential jumping on point. It’s just that at every once in a while, you have to set out a sign that says “HEY, LOOK AT US, THESE ARE REALLY GOOD COMICS.”

All three books have relatively maintained storyline pacing so that all are ready to start new storylines at the same time. Will this continue or will you move away from that?

Staggering the release over three months will naturally stagger the arcs. All three of the first story arcs are four issues—which wasn’t really a mandate, or anything… it just worked like that. And in turn, that’ll stagger the trade paperback collection releases—which will make sense, so we don’t have one month with three paperbacks, or long waits for the TPB on one series and too short a timeframe on another. I don’t think maintaining sychronization on the storyline starts and stops is particularly important. I want to leave these things open so that if we’ve got a 2-issue arc of one of the comics, or a good single issue, we can do it and not worry about the timing of a different comic.

In-story, some of the stories will be spread over several days, or weeks—and some might be one afternoon. The first SPECIAL MISSIONS story, for instance, is a completely stand-alone tale, but it also sets up why things were where they were in G.I. JOE #1. So there will be interaction like that, but overall we really want to let each of these series establish an identity of its own.

Thanks to John for talking with us and be on the look out for the new Joe books when they hit the shelves.

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