Sunday, May 29, 2016

Paneled Goods: G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero # 228

Today we're joined by guest writer Diana Davis, a G.I. Joe expert and owner of Gallery of Duke. We met while putting together the awesome Sunbow Celebration at The Egyptian Theatre where the movie, comic book and Joe aficionado set up some terrific pieces from her extensive collection of G.I. Joe field leader Conrad "Duke" Hauser that included rare design sketches, toys and more.

Earlier this month, comic book history was quietly made. Comic fandom was given exactly what they’ve been asking for, and most of the ones doing the asking probably missed it. Was it the fault of the publisher or IP holder? Was it the faults of the thousands of fans who should have been reading, but for whatever reasons reality and experts unearth- haven’t? No matter the hows or the whys, the Larry Hama scripted G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero # 228 was 100% female, and hardly anyone noticed. The protagonists were women. The antagonists were women. The incidental characters were women. Not one man, in one panel, on one page for the entire book. You know what else was missing? T & A. No booty shots or boob windows. No licking the barrels of guns with fingers frighteningly placed on the trigger. No need to take the cover back to the artist and demand he cover up any leather-clad asscheecks with M-16 clipart. 

This is a comic you can hand to your daughters. Or your son without wondering if the pages will be sticking together when he gives it back. Full disclosure: I’ve been a GI Joe fanatic since 1983. Second disclosure: I am a female. Let’s get this out of the way. Comic readers are by far people in an age bracket that fully embraces romance and sexuality. Both male and female heroes can sport skin-tight costumes that reveal attractive bodies that are enjoyed by male and female readers. The real issue for me is the gaze, and the context. Does the costume or pose make much sense? Many make no sense, and not just because they’re drawn by men who like skin tight costumes on a cold lonely night. Sometimes, they’re just silly- like the jacket craze of the nineties. But if there’s no real reason to draw a character, male or female, butt in the air or boobs in your face, beyond giving Jimmy a little boost through puberty, than it’s kind of an obvious kowtow to the male gaze. …and if the women in the comic don’t actually do anything but pose, sleep with, get rescued by/tied up/seduce and cling to the men, then I’m not only not buying it, I’m going to have a twingey, eye-twitchy moment when I walk by it on the rack or by you at a con. But that’s not really a problem with any GI Joe comic, save for a few issues in the aforementioned nineties when they barely dodged the “everyone gets a trenchcoat” phase but not the amazingly mobile hair and insectoid body with inflated boobs and tiny feet trend. 

The modern era of Joe, from 1983 on, has been remarkably open minded and fair when it comes to representing a spectrum of characters as actual human beings and not token guest appearances or condescending “girl power” PSA episodes. Having a massive cast and a solid team of writers on the comic and cartoon provided the kids of America with a Joe who not only looked like them, but acted in a fashion they could aspire to. We’ll just forget about that baseball issue, shall we? And yes, the Baroness is a cavalcade of male fantasies tied together, but not in her actual on screen or on page form. You can thank the fanboys and a few toy sculptors for that. Just please stop asking voice actor Morgan Lofting to record dirty phone voicemail messages. She doesn’t like it. (She doesn’t. Really.) Still, the history of GI Joe in the media has, in fact, been one that stands above the rest in terms of representation in terms of gender and ethnicity. So I really didn’t expect Larry Hama to do anything less than tiptoe up to a stereotype and smash it to tiny pieces. Such is a comic like GI Joe, A Real American Hero # 228, published by IDW, drawn by Shannon Gallant, and inked by Brian Shearer and colored by J. Brown. Gallant, Shearer and Brown also collaborated on a set of covers that I would love to hang on my wall.

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