Fun fact: I was one of those kids who wasn’t allowed to watch G.I. Joe! My mom was convinced that animated men shooting each other with lasers was too violent for me and forbade me from seeing it, instead leaving me to watch animated robots shooting each other with lasers, which was apparently not a problem. Look, I don’t know. I was five, I wasn’t able to press the issue beyond “That’s not fair!”
G.I. Joe has been something of a flashpoint for Hasbro in recent years, with the controversy surrounding former writer Aubrey Sitterson and the generally flat sales of the franchise following a couple of poorly-received movie adaptations. There haven’t even been any G.I. Joe toylines on shelves since 2016! So it feels significant to me that IDW has a new series for the franchise, and that they’ve tapped Paul Allor to write it. Allor has both history with the franchise and a certain considered approach to his writing that excites me on a project like this. I spoke with him some about this in advance of the first issue’s release:
How did this project come about?
IDW and Hasbro were looking to reboot the G.I. Joe comic, with a brand-new continuity and a fresh approach. Hasbro had some loose ideas in mind, I presented them with the direction I would take based on that, and from there it’s been a really wonderful collaboration, developing this book in concert with artist Chris Evenhuis and colorist Brittany Peer, IDW editor Bobby Curnow and the folks at Hasbro.
In this book, Cobra is no longer a shadowy terrorist organization; instead, its a global power that already controls large swaths of the world! And where the old G.I. Joe team was based on special forces units, its now more akin to WWII’s Office of Strategic Services, the “Glorious Amateurs” who were recruited from the civilian populace to become spies, assassins and saboteurs!
It’s a pretty radical and very exciting shift for a franchise that’s nearing its 40th anniversary.
What is it about G.I. Joe that drew you to the property initially, and what is it that’s brought you back?
The thing I love about G.I. Joe is that it has big things to say about heroism, about loyalty and duty, about the inevitable tension because ground-level troops and the bureaucracies they serve. But it says these things on a big, weird, wild canvas! That’s what I love about a lot of genre work in general, and I think G.I. Joe is particularly well-suited for it.
And as for what brought me back, so many things, really! The chance to work with editor Bobby Curnow (whom I’ve worked with on a bevy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stuff) and artist Chris Evenhuis (whom I’ve become a very dear friend with over the years—and by this point we’re practically sharing the same storytelling brain) was a big part of it. And when Brittany and letterer Neil Uyetake came on board, I was so additionally thrilled!
There was also the chance to tackle my first ongoing, to help build a new chapter of G.I. Joe from the ground up.
And, of course, I really appreciated that Hasbro and IDW were very supportive of creating a sleek and modern comic, one that honored G.I. Joe‘s diverse roots by leaning even more heavily into that aspect of it, creating a cast of both civilians and soldiers, from diverse backgrounds. The head of our main field team is a Pakistani Muslim, and the team also includes the franchise’s first queer rep. That last one was pretty important to me as a queer creator.
And honestly, it feels a bit weird to even bring the representation issue up, because I personally can’t stand it when companies, you know, put out a press release to announce that one male character is going to briefly waggle his eyebrows at another male character in an upcoming animated movie, or something like that. But then someone tweets at me saying how much easier their childhood would have been if there’d been gay characters in G.I. Joe, and it reminds me that maybe it’s worth waving the flag on this a bit … while mostly letting the story speak for itself, ha.
The other thing that brought me back was the opportunity to work on a property that honors those who serve — not in a corny way, not in a way that shies away from the horrors of war, because to shy away from that would be disrespectful of their sacrifice.
My Dad was a career Air Force enlisted man. He retired an E-7 after 20 years in (he probably would have stayed in longer, but he had some injuries that would continue to grow — he spent the last couple decades of his life living off military disability), and was deeply, fiercely proud of his service. I was born in Wilford Hall at Lackland AFB, so while I never served, the military has been a part of my life from when I took my first breath.
My Dad was also a lifelong smoker, and spent most of 2018 fighting lung cancer. Last fall things took a turn for the worse, and it became clear that his fight was almost over. I was out of the country at the time, but I started talking to him by phone daily instead of weekly, and during one conversation, in early October, I told him that I had been hired to write a new GI Joe book. And he was so, so proud of me, and so absolutely overjoyed. My older brother was there, and told me that after he got off the phone, he kept talking about it, and said, “Yeah, so I’m gonna go ahead and take some of the credit for that.” Ha.
The next day, he collapsed and slipped into a semi-coma that he never recovered from. I flew back, and he died a few days later. And telling him that I was hired to write GI Joe turned out to be the last fully lucid conversation I ever had with him.
So, yeah. Our book, at Hasbro’s request, is largely about civilians being recruited by an espionage organization during a time of war, but it will still absolutely honor those who serve, by telling a story that, while not jingoistic or nationalistic, will be rooted in stories of heroism, duty and sacrifice. No GI Joe story will make everyone happy, but I believe that the story we’re telling will make the majority of the readership very happy. And I also believe that it would have made my dad very proud. So… that’s a big part of what brought me back, ha.
A lot has happened in the world since your last time in this particular sandbox, do you feel that’s brought a significant change in the kind of stories you want to tell?
Oh, yeah, it’s brought a tremendous, significant change! The original G.I. Joe comic run—which I absolutely adore—was extremely rooted in the Cold War, in a lot of really smart and subversive ways. And when the Cold War ended, those elements of G.I. Joe endured.
But the world is very different, now, marked by asymmetrical warfare, and counterinsurgencies aimed not at winning the war, but at fighting their larger more powerful opponents to a perpetual draw. At the same time, large swaths of the world are increasingly ruled by despots and strongmen who are often welcomed by the people under their rule.
So yes, with this new continuity, we took a fresh look at how G.I. Joe can be adapted to reflect the world around us. And just as the 1980s comic was an allegorical look at the Cold War, rather than a one-to-one comparison, our book operates in the same way.
What do you think is the strength of G.I. Joe as a property? What do you think it has to offer comics as a whole?
I think it’s that combination I mentioned, of having big things to say on a weird, wild canvas, but also the small character moments that it uses to say them. Character work is a big strength of both mine and Chris’, so we’re really leaning into that on this book, hoping to make the most character-driven and pathos-fueled G.I. Joe book ever—which is really saying something!
G.I. Joe is also based around one-shots to a much greater extent than most comic books these days, which allows us to do a deep dive on different characters, to bounce around in time and across continents, to really have some fun with it! Of our first several issues, issue one is the exciting pilot episode, issue two is a quirky, character-driven bottle episode, issue three is a tale of intertwined pathos and sabotage, issue four is a noirish story that takes a deep dive into the psyche of a Cobra operative, and issue five is a simultaneously dark and wacky dystopia!
Branching off of that, what’s your elevator pitch for someone (like me) who’s never gotten into G.I. Joe before?
G.I. Joe is the story of a diverse group of ordinary people who come together to fight back against tyranny—and against the hopelessness that creeping tyranny can create within us.
In other words, it’s a character-based action story that reflects our current political climate—but fun! This book is simultaneously not at all what you’d expect when you hear the words “G.I. Joe,” but also true to the spirit of the franchise, updated for our modern times.
How far out do your current plans for the series extend?
I have the issues mapped out to issue 12. And in my mind, beyond that … well, let’s just say we won’t be running out of stories anytime soon!
G.I. Joe also includes the likes of penciller Chris Evenhuis and colorist Brittany Peer, and you can look for the first issue on September 18th.