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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Silent Interlude": 25 years later, G.I. JOE comic still rattles the industry

Twenty-five years ago this month, in January of 1984, G.I. Joe #21 from Marvel Comics hit the newsstands. The cover promised "The Most Unusual G.I. Joe Story Ever!!"

What an understatement...

Marvel might as well have declared G.I. Joe #21, the now-legendary "Silent Interlude" issue, as being "The Most Unusual COMIC BOOK Story Ever!" and now, a full quarter-century later, there would be very few fans of graphic art literature who would disagree.

"Silent Interlude" was the issue that broke all the rules of what a comic book was supposed to be. And I think it could even be argued that it forever shattered conventional wisdom on what a licensed property tie-in was fully capable of achieving. From the day that G.I. Joe #1 came out in the spring of 1982 onward, the comic book was generally regarded as a glorified advertisement for the popular Hasbro line of action figures.

And then came Issue #21. Written and drawn by Larry Hama, "Silent Interlude" would become the most talked-about, the most widely praised, and at the time among the most controversial comic books ever published. It permanently elevated G.I. Joe away from its perception of being a "toy franchise" and into the realm of exceptionally mature narrative.

"Silent Interlude" also laid down the foundation for all the G.I. Joe continuity that was to follow for the next ten years and beyond. It established mysteries and connections that have come to be regarded as some of the finest storytelling that the medium has yet produced.

And "Silent Interlude" did it all... without a single word of dialogue or any other written exposition.

Hama's now-classic tale of Snake-Eyes infiltrating Destro's castle to rescue captured fellow G.I. Joe team member Scarlett, and his battle with the Cobra ninja Storm Shadow, was experimental theatre of the highest form. The absence of text proved that it could not stop a well-executed, high-stakes tale loaded with action and enigma. If anything, having no written words escalated the intensity of "Silent Interlude".

Two and a half decades later, G.I. Joe #21 is widely hailed by many of the recent generation of comic artists and writers as the single issue that most inspired them to enter the industry. And as if it needed further testament to its impact, "Silent Interlude" has consequently become one of the most parodied graphic stories in history (including one especially memorable cover for an issue of Deadpool).

But there is one more praise that I am obligated to give "Silent Interlude". I can say now that G.I. Joe #21, and how its story continued to play out over the next few issues after that, was what began turning my very young mind toward what became a life-long interest in modern history. And I think that many people of my age bracket will also readily admit that Larry Hama's work on G.I. Joe made us very curious, for the first time, about what happened in Southeast Asia. Until Issue #26 a few months later, "Vietnam" was just a word that I didn't care to understand. The G.I. Joe comic book first opened my mind about the conflict... and a quarter century later, I'm still trying to grasp it all. A lot of us are.

So let's pretend that Yo Joe Cola is a real drink, and hoist our glasses in raising a toast to "Silent Interlude": not just the greatest G.I. Joe story ever, but one of the greatest comic book issues of all time! :-)


qemuel said...

Hard to believe that it has been a quarter of a century since I purchased this issue (and I still have my copy as well). I remember walking down the railroad tracks to get to the convenience store where I bought my comics out of a spinner rack; it was sunny, and I read the comic as I walked home. It blew me away; I had never seen anything quite like this before in my ten plus years on earth, and I stopped at the local football field, climbed the bleachers, and read it again and again.

This issue, coupled with the discovery of Bruce Lee and Frank Miller’s "Ronin", began my lifelong love of the Orient and all things Asian. The comic fueled my already growing taste for history (I was a mythology kid, and already well on my way down that path), and also holds a special place in my heart for doing something completely new in my young world: it made me consider how comics are made. A whole new world opened up to me with that issue, making its discovery one of the most important events of my silly little life.

Anonymous said...

Worldwide fascination with ninjas, began with this comic book. If there has been no Silent Interlude, there would be no Ask A Ninja on Youtube today. Larry Hama changed culture with GI Joe #21 just like George Lucas did.

Anonymous said...

I think the modern age of comics began with Marvel's G.I. Joe 21. Along with Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. Those were whole miniseries though. Silent Interlude was only one issue.

If anybody wants to read this story it's been rereleased along with a Snake Eyes action figure at Walmart and other stores.

Anonymous said...

In the late eighties there was an issue of a Batman comic that tried to do like Silent Interlude and be all without dialoge. But it got ruined because they let Commissioner Gordon say "get out!"

Newt said...

"From the day that G.I. Joe #1 came out in the spring of 1982 onward, the comic book was generally regarded as a glorified advertisement for the popular Hasbro line of action figures."

That's not really true at all. Yes, the comic was regarded by many as a shill for toys because, well, it was. However anyone who actually read the comic knew otherwise. Which is exactly why the comic even made it to issue #21.

The GI Joe comic was great, especially the first 50 or so issues. Silent Interlude didn't change anything. I actually doubt it even got more people to take notice. What it did do, was reaffirm was most already knew, Larry Hama was telling one of the most exciting and starkly different comic tales on the market at the time.

The fact that you could buy 3 inch figures of the characters, was simply icing on the cake.

Anonymous said...

The first 115 issues of GI Joe were the most unique and fascinating story telling I have ever read in comics. Nothing comes close!