Aug 20, 2012

Back Issue Ben: GI Joe: The Secret Origin of Snake Eyes

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

The Secret Origin of Snake Eyes
by Ben Smith

It has recently come to my attention that some of you may not be familiar with the excellent G.I. JOE comic book series produced by Marvel in that decade of all things great, the 1980s.  While this is an error easily corrected by going to your nearest book depository and purchasing the G.I. JOE CLASSICS collections by IDW, the origin of Snake Eyes is a tale that must be covered immediately.  Now I don't know about you, but when and where I grew up, if you didn't have a Snake Eyes toy, you were shunned like the leper of society that you are.  Not only is Snake Eyes a ninja master, he's armed up with more guns than a 80s action movie star.  Sprinkle in a dose of mystery, and you've got a recipe for extreme popularity among adolescent boys.  What's he look like? Why can't he talk?  These are the questions that plagued a generation.  They are questions that would be answered in these classic chapter from the comic book series.  All issues feature Larry Hama on script and breakdowns, with finishes by Steve Leialoha.  Let's get started.

(For the purposes of this recap, I will be focusing on the Snake Eyes portion of the issues only, and not the B stories)

First, the classic silent issue G.I. JOE #21 featured the first appearance of another character that would go on to be quite popular, the Cobra ninja Storm Shadow.  Here he is seen having just captured Scarlett.

Snake Eyes comes in for the rescue.

As they make their escape, we're teased with the revelation that Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow share the same tattoo.

GI JOE #26

The story starts in Spanish Harlem, where an old restaurant owner dispatches of a would-be robber.

Meanwhile, back at G.I. Joe headquarters, Hawk and Scarlett try to uncover the secret of the mysterious tattoo.  Stalker joins them to recount his time with Snake Eyes in ‘Nam.

They came upon an enemy combatant all by himself.  Tommy took care of the situation in a most definitive manner.

Tommy and Snake Eyes had grown close during their time together.  Tommy would talk about the family business in Japan, while Snake Eyes would stare at a picture of his twin sister.

When their ride showed up to pick them up, they were set upon by gunfire, and Snake Eyes was hit.
Tommy went back to save him.

On the ride back is where Stalker saw the tattoo on Tommy's arm.  It wasn't until recently that he found out Tommy's unpronounceable last name translates directly into English as "Storm Shadow."

Hawk picks up the story from here, recalling Snake Eyes return home...

...and how he was the one that had to break the news to him that his parents and twin sister were killed in a car accident.

Back at the restaurant, the old man continues the story with the arrival of Snake Eyes in Japan.

They were ninjas, and Snake Eyes would spend the next several years training to be one of them. 
He would quickly become better than anyone had anticipated.  Better than even Storm Shadow when it comes to the sword.

But not with a bow.  Storm Shadow had the "ear that sees," giving him the gift to hit the mark and beyond.   

Snake Eyes had become the favorite of the Hard Master.

As they trained, both felt the presence of a person outside.  It was ignored, as the Hard Master offered to make Snake Eyes the heir of the clan over Storm Shadow.

As he taught Snake Eyes how to combat the "ear that sees," the Hard Master met his end at the tip of an arrow.

An arrow that could have only been shot by Storm Shadow.  With his dying breath, the Hard Master tried to convince them of Storm Shadow's innocence.

My brain thoughts: The violence of the comic series was in stark contrast to the lasers and foolishness of the cartoon series.  People died in the wars of the comic series.  Stalker, Snake Eyes, and Storm Shadow as a recon unit in Vietnam is just about the coolest thing I can imagine, and that's not always the case when the secret history of a mysterious character is revealed (looking at you, Wolverine).

GI JOE#27 

Hawk continues the story.  G.I. Joe was being formed, and Hawk and Stalker had tracked Snake Eyes to the high Sierras in hopes of recruiting him for the team.

Local legend claimed he was a werewolf, leading to this humorous exchange at Snake Eyes' cabin.

Snake Eyes agreed to join the team, leading to this pivotal meeting with Scarlett during hand-to-hand combat training.

Nothing attracts a woman like fake losing to her in a fight, and they soon found themselves becoming closer.

Later on, during a desert operation, their helicopter met some difficulties.  As everyone else abandoned ship, Scarlett got her gear trapped in the door.

Their helicopter collided with the second one, sending a plume of burning vapor right into the face of Snake Eyes.

"He was standing there holding me safe with his ruined mouth opening
and closing in his ravaged face—and no sound coming out". 
Man, what an eerie panel. 

Back in the present day, the Soft Master informs Snake Eyes about the presence of a familiar friend outside.  So Snake Eyes does the only reasonable thing and lets loose with his uzi on the street outside.

Storm Shadow comes running through, grabbing the arrow as he goes.

Snake Eyes follows in hot pursuit...

...leading them to the greatest of all battle locations; the roof of a running train.

Snake Eyes coaxes Storm Shadow into lunging at him, saving him from getting plastered across the tunnel entrance behind him.

Momentarily hidden from prying eyes, Storm Shadow tells his former sword brother of his innocence, and how he has been infiltrating Cobra to discover the identity of the real assassin.

By the time the rest of the G.I. Joe team arrives, Storm Shadow is gone.

Well, you know he can't talk, Scarlett.

My brain thoughts: The love story between Snake Eyes and Scarlett begins here.  This is just one of the primary reasons why that movie from a few years ago was such a horrible travesty.  One of many.  We got the answer of what happened to Snake Eyes' face, if not what his face looks like (that wouldn't come until much later).  We also got the very first "fight" between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, probably the two most popular and enduring characters from the series,  and  match destined to be a staple of playgrounds everywhere.

My final brain thoughts: It's not often that a story that was as anticipated as this one surely was can deliver as much as this one did.  The continued nobility of Snake Eyes in the face (get it?) of tragedy after tragedy served to make him an even better and more interesting character.  It is nearly perfect from beginning to end.  It answered enough questions to satisfy while still leaving room for more.  Some burning questions were more obvious, like the identity of the Hard Master's assassin (I know who it is), and some not so obvious, like the identity of the driver that killed his family in the car accident (you'll never believe it!).  Larry Hama would later receive much praise for writing the entire series from beginning to end, as well as providing breakdowns like he did in these issues.  While some of the coincidences in the narrative would get a little Claremont-ian down the line, he still deserves every bit of praise he gets.

That's it for this time kids. If all you know of the G.I. Joe story is the ridiculous yet beloved cartoon, well, my friend, you only know half the story.  Read the comics, know the rest of the story. Because somewhere I heard—(wait for it)—knowing is half the battle.

This story can be found in CLASSIC GI JOE VOL. 3:

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