Larry Hama and the Not-So-Average Joes

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Recognized as the first “action figure,” G.I. Joe has embarked on countless backyard and sandbox missions since the original toy’s introduction in 1964. However it wasn’t until Marvel writer and editor Larry Hama revitalized Hasbro’s military franchise in the early 1980s that the “Real American Hero” became a pop culture phenomenon.

Hama’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series spanned 155 issues from 1982 through 1994.While fans also fondly remember the immensely popular G.I. Joe cartoon, it’s Hama’s more sophisticated take on iconic characters such as Duke, Snake-Eyes and Cobra Commander that continues to resonate with comic book fans.

On August 7th, G.I. Joe and the villainous Cobra organization take their fight to the big screen with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. To keep the production authentic, Paramount Pictures and director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing) enlisted Hama as a creative consultant.

Since “knowing is half the battle,” as G.I. Joe fans are well aware, Broken Frontier caught up with Mr. Hama to talk a little bit about his history with the property and what he’s been working on lately. 

BROKEN FRONTIER: What a lot of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero fans might not know is that the comic book series was born out of an idea you had for a Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff. Could you explain that connection?

LARRY HAMA:  I had put together a proposal to do a military book about a Delta Force-like special ops team commanded by the son of Nick Fury.  Nothing ever came of that, and it sat on the shelf until Hasbro approached Marvel about doing a G.I. Joe comic.  Since I already had a back story and structure already figured out (underground base, code-names, etc.) I simply revamped it for the new title.

BF: Before working at Marvel, you served in the United States Army as an engineer. How did your military experience shape your work on G.I. Joe?

LH: Mostly what I got from the experience is the attitude and mindset of soldiers.  By the time I started writing the comic, standard operating procedures, terminology and other stuff had already evolved and much of the hardware was different.  I still had to do a lot of research, but luckily I had a friend who was a military historian and had an extensive library.

BF: How would you say your work on G.I. Joe influenced your later career?

LH: I can’t seem to get away from it.  I got into comics because I wanted to do ducks, and still haven’t had a chance to do any (except for Dead-Eye Duck in Bucky O’Hare.)  Even after years of high sales volume on G.I. Joe, I still could not get a Marvel editor to let me write anything else.  They finally gave me Wolverine because it was in the dumpster at the time.  After Wolverine sales soared I still couldn’t get other work.  They told me I could only write military and loners with attitudes.  I would have liked a shot at Barbie.

BF: What was your favorite story arc of the Marvel G.I. Joe series?

LH: The origin of Snake-Eyes [issues 26 and 27].

BF: A lot of fans consider your work on the comic books—which was more mature and nuanced than the kid-friendly cartoon series—to be the definitive GI.Joe  story. How do you respond to the series’ continued popularity?

LH: I’m amazed, puzzled and delighted.

BF: You recently returned to that universe in writing the first five issues of IDW Publishing’s G.I. Joe: Origins. What was that like?

LH: Like putting on a well-broken-in pair of house-slippers.

BF: As a creative consultant on GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra how did you assist Sommers and the rest of the production team?

LH: By holding the line on one main sticking point.

BF: You’re writing the satirical Barack the Barbarian from Devil’s Due Publishing. Where did that inspiration come from?

LH: [DDP president] Josh Blaylock called me and asked if I wanted to write Obama the Barbarian, and I said he should change the title to Barack the Barbarian.  The title was pretty much all they had at the time.  The post-Ice Age Inuit legend angle came in after I decided it wasn’t going to be a Mad-type parody. 

BF: Finally, what’s next for you?

LH: I’m working on three different projects I can’t talk about.  Actually, more like five.  

 G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is out in theaters on August 7th.

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