By Parker McCombe
First off, let me begin by saying that around my home, Larry Hama is spoke of with almost god-like respect. While already into heavily into military and war comics, Hama's work on GI Joe in the eighties cemented my love for both this type of story and of comics itself. GI Joe issue 21 – Silent Interlude – is a master-class in storytelling.
Whilst GI Joe: Retaliation was a financial success, it has been panned pretty-much universally. Hama doesn't have control over the story output of the entire franchise, and while GI Joe: Real American Hero plugs away at IDW, it's not necessarily a comic that's going create a new generation of fans for the franchise either.
Add to this the fact that, even without taking Devils Due material as cannon, there is an awful lot of back story from the past thirty-odd years to contend with. And, because some of the core characters are what makes GI Joe so great, it's almost impossible not to move forward with a solid creative base to work from without some sort of reboot.
Unfortunately, the impossible is what Paramount thrives on if the Box Office takings are good enough, which is why a writer and director are currently working on the third film, which will focus on Dwayne Johnson's Roadblock, and, for some ridiculous attempt at a Hasbro Cinema Universe, will feature Matt Trakker from MASK.
So in order to help them out, let's look at five simple ways GI Joe can not only win in the popcorn stakes, but allow Hasbro to fully capitalize on a intellectual property so good, even it's awful Rotten Tomato scores can't stop it from marching in a very tidy profit.
Mirror Real World Events
In 1982, Hasbro and Marvel decided to use current events to inform the revival of the original GI Joe line of toys which had been scrapped seven years previously. The same could be done today to resurrect the franchise in a formidable way.
There is not a day goes past that we don't hear a news story about an act of terror. These are mostly the acts of ISIL, but there are many more groups out there committed to extremist causes. Terrorism is becoming an epidemic, now not just a problem for the West to contend with, but a massive worldwide problem, especially in countries where tourism has been targeted.
If the franchise was to look at Cobra a lot less cartoony and a lot more like a very dangerous and uncontrollable, modern terrorist outfit, the reasons for the GI Joe unit's existence would take on a great deal more weight. Show Cobra mercilessly taking innocent lives and the audience will be invested a great deal more. Add 'Joes' with diverse countries of origins to strengthen its international appeal.
Of course, this does cause problems when creating a product you want to market to kids, so…
Worry About The Toy Line And Cartoons Later
These days, a franchise doesn't need to make merchandising money strictly by targeting the young, but Hasbro are a toy company and they will obviously want to convert ticket sales to toy sales. The issue is that kids just aren't really into soldiers right now. Add to this the fact that the last few attempts at GI Joe cartoons and toy lines didn't necessarily hit the mark. Maybe these elements should be separated from their cinematic counterparts to rebuild a solid foundation.
By focusing on a strong franchise for those firmly over twelve to begin with, Hasbro may find that toned down versions in cartoon form at a later date may be better accepted by under twelves more readily when they want to follow in older kids footsteps, the pull of something being seemingly out of their reach making it much more appealing. There's plenty of precident for R-rated movies spawning toy lines and cartoons so it's certainly far from unthinkable. And remember, I'm not saying make GI Joe ultra violent or add a bunch of swear words, I'm saying create good storytelling aimed primarily at an older audience.
So, how do Hasbro do that? Well, how about…
Use Recent Action/Thriller Box Office Hits As A Template
Think about how well action thrillers like The Bourne Trilogy and Mission Impossible do at the box office. If you're creating stories about an anti-terrorist unit, try aiming for a tone and strength of storytelling somewhere between these two franchises.
GI Joe has so much to give in terms of scope, to give it a weak, CGI-specticle treatment is to not use what you have of you to it's full potential. Like I've already mentioned, even a terrible GI Joe film will do well in movie theatres, imagine how well it would do if the films themselves were as well produced as the ones mentioned above.
But how do you go about creating great GI Joe stories to produce on screen?
Tap Into The Massive Market For Military Thriller Novels
Military Thrillers are big business, why not utilize this market for a series of Joe books, not like the nineties ones out their somewhere aimed at young adults, but instead aiming directly at that genre by bringing in writers already well known within it. Of course you have Max Allen Collins' tie-in books, but that's not really the pushing the boat out to make waves in the genre. It could be costly to get something like this up and running, both for the authors fees and for launching the line, but imagine the gravity serious novels could bring to the franchise.
The best thing about this is that you can simply convert the best stories to future cinematic releases that hit their target both financially and critically.
Take the Die Hard movies for instance. Now which one do you think wasn't based on an action thriller novel? I'll give you a clue, it's the one that sucked so bad Bruce Willis' soul ejaculated out of his body on live television from sheer embarrassment.
But there is no guarantee these GI Joe books would be taken seriously within the genre is there?
Tackle The Realities Of Terrorism
One of the great things and David Mamet's excellent TV series The Unit, which was based on the Eric L. Haney's memoir Inside Delta Force, was how it tackled military life. With GI Joe you can go even further and tackle the realities of terrorism too.
The GI Joe/Cobra dichotomy is one that can be used to throw light on exactly how terrorism is affecting the world and how difficult it is to tackle. Having grown up around terrorism in Northern Ireland, I can tell you that there are three main constants in terrorism. The first is that young men and women are very easily influenced and converted to 'the cause', the second is that crime and terrorism are inherently interlinked and the third is that if you jail terrorists together without a proper plan to rehabilitate them, they will just spent their time learning how to become even better terrorists. These three constants mean that terrorism continues to cycle, creating more and more dangerous and powerful groups.
To actually see the franchise allude to these things, rather than spending a ridiculous amount of time focusing on a Bruce Willis who really does not want to be there, would give GI Joe the solid narrative weight it would need to be a critically appealing franchise as well as a throwaway box office draw.
Of course, Hasbro can look at the opening weekend figures and think, "Pfft, it ain't broken, nothing to fix," and they probably will, but I for one believe it's a long-term franchise that's one of the best suited to tackling the issue of terrorism in today's world within the context of entertaining and informative stories, just as it was doing ahead of its time, thirty years ago. Maybe Hasbro might just realize the allegoric goldmine they're sitting on.
Parker McCombe co-created and writes Samurai City and has a red and blue laser if someone can help him with the other half of the battle.
If you have something you'd like Superhero Dojo to cover, you can email him or, alternatively, simply command one of your top ninjas to disguise themselves as a mail man and deliver it directly. At Night.