Monday, August 10, 2009

G.I.JOE: The Greatest Missions Pt. 2...

- "Reinstated" (G.I.JOE Volume 2 # 1-4, Devil's Due / September 2001-March 2002)

The first storyline from the folks at Devils Due picks up years after the Marvel run as the G.I. Joe team is called back into action to confront the threat of Cobra who has been in hiding for years now planning his return. Snake Eyes has a new apprentice, Kamakura. Flint and Lady Jay are now married and after having left Scarlett at the altar Snake Eyes reunites with his beloved. A great start to the second volume of G.I.Joe tales.

- "The Return of Serpentor" (G.I.JOE Volume 2 # 16, 22-25 Devil's Due / April 2003, October 2003- January 2004)

Dr. Mindbender's clone is up to his predecessor's old tricks discovering a way to bring back the Cobra Emperor. A new revelation about the process of creating the original Serpentor adds a great new spin to the tale. The return of Serpentor also introduces us the The Coil, a secret organization of followers who want Serpentor to assume command of Cobra. The arrival of this new faction triggers a second civil war and sets the stage for a massive battle on Cobra island between the Joes, The Coil, and Cobra. The final issue of this arc is one of the most exciting and action packed ever.

- "Union of the Snake" (G.I.JOE Volume 2 # 36-41 Devil's Due / November 2004- April 2005)

The G.I.Joe team is slimmed down and the mysterious General Rey is placed in command. Cobra commander returns to take control of Cobra.

- "Dawn of the Red Shadows" (G.I.JOE Volume 2 # 42=43 Devil's Due / May-June 2005)

Volume 2 of G.I.Joe comics comes to a close with the arrival of a new threat to both the Joes and Cobra. By the end of the story both sides will have taken some heavy hits by the Red Shadows and the Joes will say goodbye to one of their fellow team mates as Lady Jaye dies at the hands of Dela Eden, a Red Shadows agent.

"Cobra Reborn" (One Shot, Devil's Due / January 2004)

An amazingly well written reinterpretation of Cobra for the 21st century. Much better conceived than the storyline for The Rise of Cobra and very respectful of the previous works by Larry Hamma. A must read.

- "G.I.JOE: Declassified" ( 3 part Mini Series, Devil's Due / June-October 2006)

Larry Hamma goes back to the events prior to the first issue of Marvel's G.I.Joe to fill us in on the early origins of the Joe team. Featuring the first batch of Joes ever including Breaker, Clutch, Flash, Grand Slam, Grunt, Hawk, Rock 'n' Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuse, Snake-Eyes, Stalker, Steeler, and Zap.

- "Snake Eyes: Declassified" ( 6 part Mini Series, Devil's Due / August 2005-January 2006)

A great presentation of Snake Eyes entire life prior to joining the team as well as his early missions including the event that led to his disfiguration and loss of speech. This tale intertwines all the classic Larry Hamma Snake eyes tales in chronological order giving readers the ultimate dossier on the life of the JOE team's greatest warrior.

"In Sheep's Clothing" ( G.I.Joe: America's Elite 13-18)

Taking place a year after the events of The Real American Hero series, America's Elite features a slimmed down team of Joes as they continue the struggle against the latest Cobra threat. The most horrific event ever for national security happens as Cobra Commander is able to install himself in the White House posing as Chief of Staff Garret Freedlowe.

"World War 3" (G.I.Joe: America's Elite 25-36)

Everything comes down to one final confrontation between the Joes and the forces of Cobra. This tale brings to a close 25 years of continuity starting with the Marvel run in the early 80's.
A storyline filled with great twists and turns and a fitting end to a quarter century of storytelling.

G.I.Joe Resolute (11 part animated mini series / Original air date: April 26,2009 - Adult Swim)

Written by Warren Ellis and featuring top notch animation this 11 part mini series comprised of 5 minutes long episodes features all our favorite characters with great action and a storyline that is very respectful of the comic book mythology. The best piece of G.I.Joe animation ever produced. Much better than The Rise of Cobra. In fact Paramount should have released a Resolute animated feature film instead of the terribly plotted and poorly executed live action film.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

G.I.JOE: The Greatest Missions...

If The Rise of Cobra left you thinking there's nothing more to G.I.Joe than mindless action and one dimensional characters think again. The G.I.Joe vs Cobra mythology is a very complex and rich story filled with compelling characters and tons of intriguing tales. Lets take a look back at some of the greatest stories from the 25 year struggle between America's Elite and the ruthless forces of Cobra.

- " Worlds Without End" (G.I.Joe, Sunbow Animated Series - Season One / Original Air date November 4-5, 1985)

A surprisingly effective and intense tale for an 80s animated series. This two part episode features a team of JOES arriving on a parallel universe where the forces of Cobra have eradicated G.IJOE and conquered the planet. The episodes give us a great glimpse at the emotional and mental state of these characters. For the first time in the cartoon series these characters come across as fully fleshed individuals with internal lives. We also get a glimpse at what its like for a team to suffer casualties in battle, something the cartoon never really dealt with. By the end of the episode some of the JOES make a great personal sacrifice by staying behind in this parallel universe in order to help fight the forces of Cobra so humanity can stand a chance once more. An epic tale and one of the best written episodes of any animated show of the era.

- "The Silent Interlude" (G.I.JOE # 21, Marvel Comics / March 1984)

A truly unique issue of the G.I.JOE comic book. No dialogue is utilized at all. The entire story is told through images. Larry Hama didn't only fulfill his writing duties, he also drew the entire issue. The issue features the first appearance of Storm Shadow and reveals the mysterious connection between him and Snake Eyes with our first glimpse at the tattoo they both share. A must for any JOE fan.

- "Snake Eyes: The Origin" (G.I.JOE # 26-27, Marvel Comics / August, September 1984)

This epic two-parter reveals Snake Eyes tragic back story as Stalker explains his past missions with Tommy Arashikage (Storm Shadow ) and Snake Eyes in Vietnam. Many of the key pieces of the JOE mythology are put into place in this storyline. The first appearance of the Arashikage Ninja clan and the details of how Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander's lives were forever intertwined are just a few of the highlights in this fan favorite storyline. Probably the greatest and best remembered tale in the history of the Real American Hero line. The book also features what I think is one of the coolest covers in the entire G.I.Joe comics run featuring a series of mementos from Snake Eyes life along with his department of defense file.

- "Crossroads" (G.I.JOE # 43, Marvel Comics / January 1986)

More details of Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Stalker's missions in Vietnam as part of the Long Range Recon patrol are revealed as well as a surprising revelation from one of the men left behind in Vietnam by the team.

- "The Invasion of Springfield" (G.I.JOE # 45-50, Marvel Comics / March-August 1986)

As the JOES execute a no holds barred invasion of the town that gave birth to the Cobra empire Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow join forces to avenge the death of their master. In the midst of such chaos Dr. Mindbender and Destro go on a quest in search of the tombs of the greatest leaders of all time in order to obtain some of their DNA. Using Cobra's brainwave Scanner he soon creates Serpentor, the ultimate Cobra leader. Two great storylines in one epic multi-part saga. Intense action combined with compelling drama make this tale a perfect example of what made Larry Hamma's writing so perfect for G.I.JOE.

- "The Cobra Civil War" (G.I.JOE # 72-78, Marvel Comics / June-October 1988)

A complex storyline that hits its boiling point after many issues of buildup. The arrival of Serpentor has split the loyalty of Cobra's members right down the middle. The JOES join forces with some of Cobra's rank and file to help put and end to the conflict and try to bring down Cobra Commander once and for all. Action-adventure storytelling at a grand scale.

- "Death in the Dessert" (G.I.JOE # 109, Marvel Comics / February 1991)

The Battle in Trucial Abysmia is another one of the most memorable sagas in the JOES mythos. Fans remember it as the tale that finally showed the consequences of war by doing the unthinkable -- killing off some of our favorite heroes from the G.I.JOE team. Larry Hamma once again surprises readers by making us realize these larger than life warriors are not invincible. By the end of this tale seven JOES have lost their lives including fan favorite Quick Kick.

- "A Letter from Snake Eyes" (G.I.JOE # 155, Marvel Comics / December 1994)

In the final issue of the Marvel Comics the government decommissions the G.I.JOE team and closes down The Pitt for good. As this is happening Snake Eyes receives a letter from Sean Collins, the adopted son of his old war buddy, Wade Collins. Sean has been thinking of joining the army but first he wants to find out what's it really like to be a soldier. Expressing his feelings about war and sacrifice for the first time to readers, Snake Eyes responds with a detailed letter. Not only does this storyline wrap up GI.JOE's Marvel run on a very touching note, but it also introduces us to Sean Collins who will grow up to become Snake Eyes' apprentice and future G.I.JOE: Kamakura.

- "The Mission That Never Was" (G.I.JOE Front line # 1-4, Devil's Due / October 2002-February 2003)

Larry Hama returns to tell the tale of what truly happened after the events of the final Marvel issue in 1994. While the public believed the JOES had been decommissioned we discover they actually remained in service for another year taking part in a series of classified missions. Here the JOE team joins forces with the first G.I.JOE: Joseph Colton for one last mission before their official decommission.

- "Icebound" (G.I.JOE Front line # 5-8, Devil's Due / March-July 2003)

A great combination of thrills and chills from an intriguing tale with some very effective horror and sci-fi elements. If you love Zombie and sci-fi flicks from the 50's this tale will keep you hooked and turning the pages in anticipation. Duke, Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, Airtight, Frostbite & Lifeline are sent to the Coldfire Laboratory on a priority mission. We soon learn that back in 1995, Duke had been part of another mission at the same laboratory. He was the only one to get out alive. The suspense is crafted beautifully thanks to the mystery of Duke's past experiences and the looming threat of an unknown group of mysteriously altered life forms.

Come back tomorrow night for Part Two of G.I.JOE's Greatest Missions.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Film Review: G.I.JOE The Rise of Cobra

In the early 1980's an editor at Marvel Comics by the name of Larry Hama took on the task of turning a line of 3 3/4 inch action figures and vehicles into a complex mythology with intriguing story lines and rich characters. To this day no one has achieved anything near what Hama accomplished in bringing compelling and exciting story lines to what would have otherwise been just another toy based comic book originally intended to help sell action figures. Hamma went on to script 155 issues of G.I.JOE at Marvel, creating a world and a mythology that is still celebrated by fans all over the world after more than 25 years.

With such a rich background and such an amazing collection of tales you'd think the folks at Paramount would've been able to come up with a film that could at least work on some levels. Unfortunately what we got this weekend with the release of G.I.JOE: The Rise of Cobra is nothing more than a mess filled with terribly written dialogue from characters that have been watered down and drastically changed in order to service one dumb action sequence after another. To make things worse the action sequences feature some of the worst computer generated effects ever put on screen which makes it even more difficult to buy into such exaggerated action set pieces.

With a reported budget of 175 million dollars at his disposal director Stephen Sommers has managed to craft a film that puts its characters in peril scene after scene without making us audience members feel anything for them. These Joes are more plastic than any character Larry Hama ever wrote. At the heart of the G.I.JOE mythos are two of the most tragic characters ever created in comic book history. On the Joes side we have Snake Eyes, a Vietnam vet who discovers his family has died in a tragic accident soon after returning home from duty. He later goes on to suffer even more as a series of tragic events leave him disfigured and mute.

On the Cobra side we have the leader of the organization: Cobra Commander, a former used car salesman who was never quite able to grab a hold of the American dream, a victim of the system who decides to take matters into his own hand after his wife leaves him for being what in the Reagan era would be considered a failure. Unfortunately the complex storylines of these two characters which form the foundation for the G.I.JOE mythology are nowhere to be found in the film. Whatever little backstory the film gives us for Snake Eyes is seen through a series of laughable flashback sequences as Storm Shadow remembers some of the regrets in his life, and without giving too much away lets say that writer Stuart Beattie has significantly altered the story regarding our favorite Ninja warriors by reducing the cause of their rift to childhood squabbles which don't justify their later actions in any conceivable way.

Cobra Commander is also re envisioned by Beattie. He's now a mad scientist wanting nothing more than revenge for events that don't truly justify his motives clearly enough since the film just brushes over them quickly in another series of terribly realized flashbacks which by the way borrow some footage from the film Black Hawk Down. The production had to purchase the rights to utilize clips from that film's action sequences in order to tell the tale of how the lives of Duke, Cobra Commander, Baroness, and to a lesser extent Ripcord are all intertwined.

I was really excited to see the film at midnight Thursday night with a crowd of hard core JOE fans at the historic Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. I thought even if the film didn't turn out to be great it would at least be a fun screening since the true fans were in the house. I couldn't believe what happened as the hardcore Joe fans turned against the film and soon began laughing and cringing scene after scene during the film's so called emotional moments. From Duke and the Baroness' tragic love story to Ripcord and Scarlett's love hate relationship, every time the film tries to bring some heart and genuine emotion to the proceedings it fails miserably.

First because the characters are so poorly written and second because the dialogue seems to belong in an after school special every time it forces its sentimentality. Good films simply evoke emotions naturally because the audience is invested in the characters. There's no reason for anyone to give a crap about any of the characters in this movie. What makes it even more heartbreaking is that if you read the comic books by Larry Hama you know there's plenty of dimension to these characters and over the years we've been treated to some pretty compelling stories about their sense of loyalty, camaraderie, and the multiple sacrifices they've made in order to fulfill their duty. None of that is present in the film either. Solid actors like Dennis Quaid and Sienna Miller are laughable in this. I never ever thought I'd be in a theater laughing at how bad these two amazing actors can come across when they are working from a bad script.

The film is full of plot holes and things that make no sense whatsoever, especially when it comes to the film's McGuffin -- a case of nanomyte missiles which is meant to be delivered from M.A.R.S. (Destro's weapons research and fabrication plant) over to NATO. Some of the film's highlights include a cameo appearance by Brandan Fraser as Sgt. Stone, a character first conceived as part of G.I.JOE Sigma Six. The scene is pretty bad unfortunately and not even Fraser's presence helps out the proceedings. As cool as it is to see Snake Eyes and storm Shadow go head to head in some pretty cool Ninja battles its pretty disappointing to feel like no matter how cool the fight looks you are just not invested. The only two decent action sequences in the film for me are the invasion of the Pit when Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow first duke it out and then their last encounter at the end of the film. Although they lack any emotional resonance they do feature some great martial arts and stunt work.

Stephen Sommers seems so committed to making everything so over the top that he doesn't stop to think for a second about the sequences he is creating. Lets take the Paris pursuit scene for example. Sommers has said in various interviews, quite proud of himself, that he had an idea for a film over ten years ago about a group of heroic characters decked out in accelerator suits and that his inspiration for this sequence came from that un-produced script. I don't buy that as a smart decision for even a minute since the sequence actually would've worked much better without the suits and the proof is actually in it. Sommers didn't realize that he was putting both Snake Eyes and Scarlett in the same sequence without any accelerator suits and the stuff they are doing is more exciting to watch because at least it feels a tad more real and there is more of a sense of danger to what they are doing since they don't have the added protection of the suits, making their participation in the sequence the only compelling bit. To me it truly feels like this scene was conceived without the suits and Sommers just forced the writer to put those damned suits in since recent hit films such as Iron Man and Transformers feature that type of extreme action. Even if that wasn't how it happened the fact remains that the suits ruin what could've actually been an exciting chase sequence.

Sommers also said that his inspiration for the film's underwater battle was the classic Bond films, specifically the great underwater scene in Thunderball. By telling us this he gives us another brilliant example of what makes him a lousy director. Even though Thunderball is a film full of fantasy elements it never looses sight of its main character and the underwater sequence in that film actually feels real by creating a sense of peril for the character of Bond. The underwater sequence in Rise of Cobra is full of fake looking computer generated imagery and so many cuts that after a few minutes you forget about the characters completely as you simply try to make heads from tails in the visual mayhem.

I went into the theater really excited. Over the last two weeks I began to think this was going to be a fun film. I knew they had to make some changes to the characters in order to be able to make it all work and come together in a two hour film but I never thought they would come up with such a mess. The reason the new Star Trek film works is because it managed to embrace the characters, respect what has come before, and update it in a way that makes it relevant to a new audience while at the same time making the fans feel satisfied. This film fails at doing that. It also fails as an action movie. The secret behind the great action films such as Lethal Weapon and Die Hard is the ability to make the audience care about the characters before putting them in peril. Iron Man also accomplishes that beautifully. G.I.JOE doesn't. It also fails as eye candy since most of the effects sequences are full of computer generated elements that don't even look fully rendered or even texture mapped adequately. A lot of shots look like preliminary shots. With a combined investment of over 300 million dollars when you add up the production budget and the prints and advertising this film will have to rake in a lot of dough to be considered a financial success. At this point that could be the only success left for this film to try and reach for.

Ben Stein remembers John Hughes...

"I've said to my wife repeatedly, I just want on my gravestone, 'He loved dogs' and 'Bueller, Bueller.”

— Ben Stein on the impact of Ferris Bueller's Day Off on his life.

1991's Producer of the Year: John Hughes...

Every year the National Association of Theater Owners puts together Showest and Showeast.
The two major events for theater owners across the nation. At this event they hand out a series of awards to the top people in the film industry as determined by theater owners. In 1991 the award for producer of the year went to John Hughes, who's films -- released at a rate of 2 to 3 a year since the mid 80's, were filling theaters across the nation with rambunctious kids and families. Here's a look at a very special tribute put together for the awards ceremony 18 years ago.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

G.I.JOE: From plastic to celluloid...

In just a few hours I'll be heading over to the Cinerama dome for the midnight screening of G.I.JOE: The Rise of Cobra. This weekend I'll chime in with my review as a long time fan of the toys and Larry Hama's amazing comic book mythology. Lets get things started with a look at the history of G.I.JOE.

"Now you know..." - Great moments in G.I.JOE history:

1964: After the huge success of the Barbie doll for girls, toy creator Stan Weston comes up with an idea for a military-themed doll for boys and sells the idea to Hasbro. The toy company gives the 12-inch-tall figure in green army fatigues the generic name of G.I. Joe, inspired by the 1945 film "The Story of G.I. Joe." Later in the decade an African American G.I. Joe figure is introduced in some markets and soldiers from other countries join the toy lineup. The first female G.I. Joe doll, Action Nurse, is produced in 1967 but is a commercial flop. Amid anti-military sentiment created by the Vietnam War, Hasbro downplays the war theme that initially defined the doll, which becomes more of an adventurer.

1978: The oil crisis and falling sales prompt Hasbro to retire the 12-inch plastic dolls, which have become too costly to manufacture.

1982: Producing a line of smaller action figures at 3 3/4 inches, Hasbro ditches the idea of the single soldier and relaunches G.I. Joe as a coed team of elite international operatives who battle a nefarious underworld organization known as Cobra.

1982: G.I. Joe characters are featured in the now classic Marvel comic book series written by Larry Hama. The series would go on for an impressive 155 issues wrapping up in 1994. Also in 1982 the very first G.I.Joe animation debuts on television in a television commercial promoting the first issue of the comic book.

1983: Sunbow produces the five-part G.I.JOE miniseries The M.A.S.S. DEVICE. In 1984, it was followed up by The Revenge of Cobra mini-series.

1985: The syndicated after-school cartoon TV show begins with the multi part episode entitled The Pyramid of Darkness. The frenzy extends to a series of posters, video games, board games and other merchandise.

1991: 12-inch G.I. Joe figures are reintroduced to great sales.

2001: G.I.Joe returns in a big way with a new comic book series published by Image Comics and a new line of toys from Hasbro.

2006: Larry Hama reports for duty once again as writer of the Devil's Due miniseries: G.I.JOE: Declassified.

2007: Hasbro celebrates the 25th anniversary of G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero with an impressive new line of figures and vehicles based on the charaters from the 80's line of toys. Larry Hama returns as writer of a series of comic books exclusively available in action figures two packs.

2008: Paramount Pictures hires Stephen Sommers to direct an action movie based on G.I. Joe in what it hopes will be the first in a new franchise for the studio.

2009: The animated G.I.Joe Resolute written by Warren Ellis premieres on the Cartoon Natwork. With a cost of nearly $330 million to produce and market, G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra debuts worldwide.

Goodbye to John Hughes...

Today is a sad day for all of us children of the 80's. The greatest comedy writer-director that ever lived has passed away at the young age of 59. Fortunately his stories of teen angst, alienation, family chaos, and first loves will live forever through his films. I'll be back later this weekend with a retrospective on his amazing generation-defining career.


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