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Yo Joe!

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For children of the 1980s, the battle between good and evil was waged in backyards, sandboxes and living room floors as we pitted G.I. Joe, an elite American fighting force, against Cobra, a terrorist organization bent on world domination. Like most epic battles forged in plastic during that decade, the struggle spilled out onto lunchboxes, bed sheets, a cartoon show and a comic book series.

Launched in 1982, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toys ignited many a young boy’s imagination. The line of futuristic action figures and vehicles — a bold departure from the company’s original 12” series of articulated military dolls — was accompanied by an acclaimed Marvel comic book series penned by Larry Hama, which spanned 155 issues from 1982 through 1994. Hama also wrote most of the file cards appearing on the backs of the action figure packaging, which detailed each character’s military background and training. When Paramount Pictures confirmed that Hama would be involved in the 2009 G.I. Joe live-action film directed by Stephen Sommers, most fans heaved a sigh of relief. Broken Frontier tracked down the renowned comic scribe — who has written stories for titles such as Wolverine, The Avengers, Batman and many others — to talk about the recent 25th anniversary re-launch of the G.I. Joe: RAH action figure line, his role in the upcoming film’s production and why we all love Snake-Eyes so much.

BROKEN FRONTIER: What was really great about the G.I. Joe comic series — much like your action figure file cards — was that it gave each team member their own unique backstory. Where did you find the inspiration for these characters

LARRY HAMA: I based almost every character on people I know or knew, or on famous personages. This is so I can keep them consistent. I found it kept me from going off course if I had somebody to reference back to, like “Gee, would Freddy really have said something like that?” I figured if the trick worked for Dickens, Twain and Hemingway, it might work for us mere mortals as well…

BF: While Hasbro is reprinting several classic issues of the G.I. Joe: Real American Hero series in its 25th anniversary figure two-packs, you've also written some new stories for these sets that take place within the Marvel continuity. What is it like jumping into that universe 25 years later?

LH: Harder than I thought. Luckily, I now have all the RAH comics in digital form so that looking up stuff is a lot easier than thumbing through the actual issues.

BF: What goes through your mind when you see the new action figures on store shelves with your original file-cards intact?

LH: I’ve not been to a store that sells them yet. I haven’t been to a toy store or a comic shop in ages.

BF: Speaking of toys, word on the street is that the character Tunnel Rat, first introduced in 1987, is loosely based on your likeness. What can you tell us about that?

LH: I modeled for the head of the figure. A good number of figures in that period had head sculpts that were based on Hasbro employees at the time. The sculptor came to my office at Marvel and took Polaroids. He was the same guy that did the hologram sculpts for major credit cards.

BF: What can longtime fans look forward to in the upcoming G.I. Joe film?

LH: Had to sign a confidentiality agreement on that...

BF: Understandable. Can you tell us anything about your involvement in the film’s production?

LH: I am a consultant, and I did a cameo as a NATO general.

BF: What other projects are you working on?

LH: I’m writing SPOOKS for Devil’s Due, and working on the “sort-of sequel” Omega Team that’s a bit more hard-edged, but pursues the theme of a specialized military unit that battles supernatural beings. I’m working on some film and animation projects I can’t really talk about just yet.

BF: The Joe with the biggest cult following, arguably, is Snake-Eyes. Why do you think that is?

LH: I would think it is pretty up-front and apparent. He’s the baddest ninja on the block, but there is a core of real compassion in him. He’s always had the coolest costume of the bunch as well.

BF: What was your favorite character to write about during the series' run?

LH: Snake-Eyes. Ha ha.

BF: Why do you think G.I. Joe continues to remain relevant after all these years

LH: The relevance might be explained in something that has been attributed to George Orwell — "Nobody ever made a single penny from selling little toy pacifists."

Seriously, though, I think a lot of the actual "play" that has always gone on with toy soldiers had less to do with shooting and blowing things up than it did to do with acting out little playlets about loyalty, valor, honor and the esteem of one's peers.

BF: Finally, since we are talking about G.I. Joe, I have to ask: Is knowing really half the battle?

LH: Knowing is 99% of the battle. But that 1% can be a BEAR.

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