View Full Version : GI Joe and realism

Dominic Guglieme
12-12-2006, 10:15 AM
The post that inspired this is in the Sigma 6 thread, and is quoted below.

First off, the points I agree on. The random killing off, and bringing back to life, of characters is a hallmark of bad writing, in comics and elsewhere. The only reason the twins and Baroness where killed off to begin with was that the GI Joe series was rudderless about 2 years back. Starting a bit after issue 30 or so (just to use round numbers), the series spent about a year flailing around, leaving a good number of aborted story-arcs either unfinished, or contradicted. It was the worst kind of "stuff what happens" fiction.

Now, onto the subject of realism, or even semi-realism. I fail to see how Serpentor is any less realistim than much else in GI Joe. Even limiting this to the comic (generally considered to be the more "legitimate" GI Joe), the franchise was never terribly realistic. In fact, as military fiction, it was even less so. (I generally define realism as characters reacting in reasonable ways to fictional/unlikely situations, but that does not seem to be the definition in play here.)

Putting aside the contrivancy that plagued the original series (making it seem like a badly moderated night of Dungeons and Dragons, or a shabby parody of movie serials), and the psuedo mystical ninja gibber, there were many points where the series was not strictly realistic.

Saying that GI Joe w/o Serpentor is more realistic than GI Joe w/ Serpentor is like saying the Punisher or Ironman are more realistic that the Hulk or Thor. (One might even argue that Thor is more realistic as it has a grounding mythology. At best, Punisher is a snap-shot of the times the character was created in, making it about a meritorious as A-Team or Knight Rider.)

Yes, Serpentor introduced some soft sci-fi elements into GI Joe. But, Serpentor (and for that matter Mindbender) did not introduce the idea of soft sci-fi into GI Joe. Besides the above mentioned ninjas and unrealistic coincidence (often, but not always, around the ninjas) there where many other points that detract from the arguement that GI Joe was ever realistic fiction. Zartan's holographic disguises come to mind here. We can barely get that kind of image resolution in two dimensions now, let alone in 3 dimensions outside of a laboratory. (If nother else, fueling the machinery is also a problem. What kind of batteries was Zartan using?) The current retcon about Zartan's powers being the result of scientific experiments. That is to say nothing of the brain wave scanner. While it may be conceptually simple, the technology for that machine still *does*not*exist* now, 20+ years after the original comics were written.

How about the other technology? Many of the vehicles, while technically possible, where grossly impractical, to the point of making the F22 (aka Lockheed Martin's boondoggle fighter) seem like a good idea. Who ever thought to mount a bazooka on an ATV? A missle rack right in front of an area where passengers ride (think the Ferret and Cobra jeep). A VTOL A10? The virst 2 examples do not even make sense in context, as nobody in their right mind would ride such vehicles. Nobody would join an organization that used them.
GI Joe even fought an militia style domestic terroris (Wingfoot) in the early issues. Anyone who remembers the 90s should understand how much this deviates from reality. (Or, even more basically, that the US military is not supposed to deploy inside the country.)

-continued in next post

Wait a second.

I know this discussion belongs in the Comics & Books section, but you're saying that General Rey has been Serpentor this whole time? Wow. I'd fallen way behind when the only comic shop within easy driving distance stopped carrying GIJoe, but that gives me some very, very serious doubts as to whether I want to pick up the trade paperbacks and catch up or not.

I will say it: Serpentor is the worst character to ever appear in GIJoe. He's one of the worst in the history of comics. You'd have to dig pretty deep to find a lamer character. He ranks somewhere between Calendar Man and Stegron the Dinosaur Man.

This is not an issue of "I like Hama"/"I don't like Hama." This is a case of a truly stupid concept that never, ever should have been cooked up back in 1985 or '86 or whenever.

This isn't even like Duke. No, Duke is a believable character. I hate him, sure, but he's the sort you love to hate. Serpentor is just ridiculous.

Think about it for a minute. "I am the leader of a ruthless terrorist organization, determined to rule the world. I have entire legions at my command, have undercover agents planted throughout the US, and even run an entire city without anyone being the wiser. I've surrounded myself with the most bloodthirsty SOBs on the planet: amoral leaders of industry, homicidal arms dealers, biker gangs, ninjas, mercenaries. My latest recruit is sort of odd. He was a flaming orthodontist until he drove himself insane by experimenting on his own mind. He's a strange kook, but he's a genius when it comes to mind control, and, well, I need someone to pick up where Dr Venom left off, so I keep him around. Anyway, he had this amazing idea this morning. He came up to me, and he said, 'Hey, boss! Why don't we risk all sorts of public exposure by digging up a bunch of dead conquerors and heroes and such, and then we can bring them back here and maybe I can do what no one else on Earth has been able to do, and I can synthesize all this disparate DNA and we can make a guy to steal your job!' Man, I'm glad I have geniuses like Dr Mindbender on my payroll!"

Dude, it just does not follow. There is absolutely no possible way to construct this in a way that makes a damned bit of sense.

Never mind that super-soldiers brought back from the dead simply do not fit in a semi-realistic military comic. You might say that genetically-modified soldiers and ninja mysticism and giant robots from Cybertron have no place in a semi-realistic military comic, either. I'd totally agree with you. They don't. But that doesn't change the fact that super-soldiers brought back from the dead simply do not fit in a semi-realistic military comic, either.

I was ecstatic when Zartan offed Serpentor back in the day, and felt like dropping the DDP incarnation altogether when he came back. I didn't care who wrote either version. If Rob Liefeld wrote the story with Serpentor dying, and Frank Miller wrote his return, I'd still feel the same way.

Devil's Due started with an amazing comic. I was completely astounded by how much I loved the new series... until it became clear that Serpentor was coming back. I decided to give it a few issues before dropping it, and I got a great payoff: it turns out they brought Serpentor back just so that Cobra Commander could kill the stinking douchebag himself. But they couldn't leave well enough alone, and it was revealed a month or two later that he'd somehow cheated death again. And that's when I really started losing interest, and it completely vanished with the totally pointless and silly Red Shadows storyline.

Tomax and Xamot back from the dead, too? So this makes how many returns from the dead for the current GIJoe comic? I think it rivals X-Men now. Say what you will, but the Marvel series had three. Cobra Commander and Firefly both had plausible, though comic-bookish, explanations for cheating seemingly certain death. Mindbender, well, that cloning crap happened in the Transformers Generation 2 crossover and, no matter how much I like TF, Joes, and Hama, that was one of the worst stories I ever read. On the other hand, the SAW Viper was dead. They showed his body, and that wasn't a guy having a bad day. And he came back at the same time as Serpentor, with a new name (I don't remember or care what it was). But was there a point? First time around, he single-handedly decimated a lot of Joes. Second time, well, he was a huge paintywaist--about as deadly as a cocker spaniel with no teeth. It undermined everything that appealed about the character, as well as the impact of the deaths of those he killed. Because apparently now dead people can just "get better." Maybe next issue they'll find a cocoon floating in space with Lady Jaye inside, having no memories of being killed by the Red Shadows.

Since they're hooked on stupid characters and bringing people back from the dead, hopefully Raptor, Crystal Ball, and Fred VII can come back soon and create an unstoppable army of guys who look the same and wear totally ridiculous fur and feather costumes.

Truth be told, you've just saved me a lot of money on paperback collections with the one post.

If I seem argumentative, that's not my intent. I just honestly believe that you and Josh Blaylock are the only two people who ever lived who don't think Serpentor should never have happened.

Because Serpentor sucks in ways that nothing has sucked before or since. Even the antics of AOTC C-3PO.

Dominic Guglieme
12-12-2006, 10:56 AM
continued from above------

Even the basic premise of GI Joe is fundamentally unrealistic. In the 1980s, terrorism, domestic and otherwise, was considered to be a law enforcement question. When the Weathermen were bombing civilian targets, it was not the Army nor the Marimes who where sent in, but the FBI, and local officials. When the military was a target over-seas (such as in Beruit), they would be pulled out, and *criminal* investigators sent in. One may think it was a mistake to treat terrorism as a criminal matter, rather than an existential threat, but in the 80s, it was a law-enforcement question, not a military one. And, GI Joe was military. It was shown to have a military structure, and take orders from The Pentagon. Its members where for the most part active rank-holding members of one branch of the military. (The problem was partly remedied when Cobra became an island nation of course, but initially, it was explicitly a terrotist organization.)

The worst thing about the above mentioned deviations from reality is that they were for the most part just cheap McGuffins. They where not idea based. Zartan's ability to infiltrate was not super-tech in nature for the sake of realism, it is because it was easier to write than a researched depiction of how infiltration works. Granted, Cobra was played up as a "dark side of America" in the comics, and that worked well enough. (Think Crimson Guards, especially Wade "contrivancy" Collins.)

The current "America's Elite" series is flawed. And the Phoenix Guard arc suffers for it by virtue of the fact it got polemnic (re: Gitmo) in places. The more ostentatiously realistic comics try to be, the worse they usually turn out.

In a "stuff what happens" recounting of fictional events terms, Serpentor (new and old) makes as much, if not more, sense as anything else in GI Joe.

My own guess is that the ire directed at the character has to do with the fact that the over soft sci-fi elements make it harder to sustain the illusion that one is reading realistic fiction (and possibly justify a hobby some would call intellectually dubious). Newsflash kids: Serpentor did not make GI Joe less realistic any more than Batman is more realistic than Superman.

12-12-2006, 06:10 PM
I always thought it was unrealistic that nobody ever died in those plane explosions...they always floated down to safety via parachutes.

Dominic Guglieme
12-12-2006, 06:45 PM
That was more a problem in the cartoon. In the comics, Cobra pilots tended to die, while Joe pilots had those magical parachutes you mentioned.

Similarly, I tried to focus on early issues of the comic.

Either way, my basic point is that if you want realistic fiction, you probably should not read GI Joe.