Monday, September 15, 2008

If it ain't baroque, don't fix it...

Topless Robot (that's the name of the site, really) posted a list of reasons why the G.I. Joe comic was better than the cartoon and Sean T. Collins disagrees, feeling that Cobra Commander was cooler as a mutant from the Ice Age than a pissed-off used car salesman. 

And while I'd normally agree that trying to make a cartoon series based on a toy line "serious" is going to destroy whatever charm said toy line said, I think that Sean might feel differently if he'd read the comics.

Now I'm not going to pretend that the G.I. Joe comic books have held up well or that Larry Hama, the man who wrote most of the series, doesn't sometimes betray his embarrassment at the source material. But G.I. Joe wasn't Watchmen by any means or even trying to be.  G.I. Joe was a paranoid, Peter Pinguid-style military fantasy tied to a fear of '80's conformity (and I mean that as a compliment).  Hama eschewed the ridiculous sci-fi trappings of the toys in favor of the ridiculous tropes of the spy thriller.  Cobra was actually paramilitary cult based on an Amway-esque pyramid scheme.  They made their top echelon, the Crimson Guard, get plastic surgery so that they all looked alike, then named them all Fred! This wasn't realism by any stretch of the imagination, even to an 8 year old

G.I. Joe was a great comic book to read, especially as a kid, because it located a towering battle between good and evil under the cover of suburbia.  A deadly pursuit for a Typhoid Mary footsoldier on Coney Island! A pitched gun battle in an anonymous small town called Springfield (eat your heart out, the Simpsons) populated totally with Cobra cover agents! A covert ops unit hidden under the Chaplain's rectory at a minor military storage depot! This was genius to a child to whom Metropolis and Manhattan were equally fantastic and fictional. I didn't recognize that the Kingpin was based out of the Flatiron building, but my family drove by a dozen towns like Springfield every time we went on a road trip.

Once again, this wasn't Winesburg, Ohio, but it put an amazing adventure around every corner in places just like my medium-sized Southern city, a city that rarely showed up in movies, TV shows or comic books (and only then as some podunk place that only the people in the Andy Griffith Show would find exciting). That's why I prefer pissed-off used car salesman Cobra Commander to the Himlayan mutant Cobra Commander. And it had everything to do with the fantastic.

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