The GeeksverseFrom the Fan’s Desk | Celebrating the 200th issue of the book that started it all for me

From the Fan’s Desk | Celebrating the 200th issue of the book that started it all for me
Published on Thursday, March 27, 2014 by
Put aside all the arguments about the merits and drawbacks of licensed comics for now and join Troy as he takes a walk down memory lane on the occasion of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero hitting its landmark 200th issue.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1 Special Treasury Edition (June 1982)

It’s 1982 and I’m in the department store (probably Bradlee’s or Rich’s) and I’m looking through the toys and I see this oversized comic book on the shelf: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1 from Marvel Comics. Prior to this my only comics had been the Whitman reprints of Gold Key, Disney and EC Comics, that were bagged and on the spinner rack at the grocery store.

I picked it up. Read it. Loved it. Everything about the comic was great: it featured two stories and was packed with all sorts of extra features. I especially loved the illustrated dossiers—the image of Flash peeling potatoes has stuck with me all these years. I pored over the “Heavy Artillery Laser’s” top-secret specifications. And who could forget the amazing cutaway diagram of the PIT?

And those two stories, what great tales they were. A crack team of elite soldiers going up against a larger, more powerful enemy army. Outmanned, outgunned, but they would never be outfought. They faced major risks, and death loomed around every corner. One soldier even had to leave his fellows behind to complete the mission in the back-up story (“Hot Potato”).

I still have that Special Treasury Edition version of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1. It would be years later when I would actually get a first issue of a “proper” Marvel comic.


[Tangent: I can’t remember what came first, my buying the G.I. Joe comic or buying the G.I. Joe toys, but whichever one I bought first, it subsequently led to the purchase of the other.]

A couple months after that first encounter, I found issues #3, 4 and 5 on the spinner rack. I was heavily into collecting the G.I. Joe toys by that point, and I’d read the first issue dozens of times—I was glad to find some new issues to read (it would be a couple years before I could find issue #2). I went from being an occasional comics buyer, browsing the spinner rack for comics to buy, to a regular customer checking for new issues of G.I. Joe as they came in.

Soon, Marvel would come out with a comic starring the Transformers—characters from a toy line that I also collected. Naturally, I started buying the comic, too.

It wasn’t long before I was reading X-Men (although my introduction to Marvel’s merry mutants came by way of an issue of X-Factor), Avengers, Fantastic Four, and so on. And it was G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero that started it all.


G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #200 (March 2014)

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #200 hit retail this week. That seems like a low issue number for a book that started in 1982 but that’s because the original Marvel title was canceled in 1994 (ending the original run at 155 issues). It was only in 2010 that IDW Publishing—which acquired the G.I. Joe comics license in 2008—decided to continue the original series, numbering intact, launching the property’s revival during that year’s Free Comic Book Day with G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #155½. Had the book been in continuous publication, it would probably be up around issue #384 by now—a major publishing landmark by any measure, although reaching 200 issues is nothing to sneeze at either, especially nowadays when books get relaunched and renumbered all the time.

The G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero revival has been going strong for three-and-a-half years. I remember standing at the counter talking to Mike, the owner of my local comic store, about the relaunched book. He wondered aloud if the book would make it to 200 issues. He had it pegged at hitting around #180. I said I had no doubt that it would hit the 200-issue mark. And now it has and it’s still going. It’s not selling anywhere near what it did in its mid-1980s heyday, when it was Marvel’s top selling book, but it’s doing alright, still chugging along, and with the same writer at the helm as it originally started over three decades ago. That’s amazing. Not bad for a book that no one wanted to write at the time Marvel had first acquired the license. Larry Hama, who is practically synonymous with G.I. Joe, was the last person editor-in-chief Bob Harras asked in the bullpen to take the assignment.

The 200th issue itself wasn’t anything special. There was a great new PIT diagram, but it really served to end the current storylines and set a minor rebuilding for both the Joes and Cobra. But it’s not the content that matters so much as the title hitting the landmark issue #200 number itself. And in the grand scheme of the comics industry, G.I. Joe hitting #200 isn’t all that big a deal, but to me it is absolutely huge. This is the book that started it all for me, the one book I said I would never stopped reading (until former comics licensee Devil’s Due Publications killed it for me). Books have come and gone, but G.I. Joe has been a constant in my comic book life—even during the periods when it was in publication limbo. It was the G.I. Joe comic that made me want to become a writer and I can look back now at the PIT diagram and realize that was probably the central thing that led me down the path of becoming an architect.

So much of my life can be traced back to that day when I picked up G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1 at the department store.

Thanks Marvel, and thank you, Mr. Larry Hama.

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