After 36 years and nearly 250 issues (not counting spin-offs), G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero readers will come to understand one thing about being a real American hero: You never know where they will come from and what they’ll look like. But how many readers would have expected the next big hero to hail from the ranks of Cobra and bear a striking resemblance to the greatest Joe of all - Snake-Eyes?
This week's G.I. Joe #247, the second part of the "Arashikage Saga," features the return of Snake-Eyes - but under the mask is an entirely new character, teenager Dawn Moreno. Written by Larry Hama with art by Netho Diaz, this arc will culminate March 28 with the 250th issue of the series, originally launched by Hama at Marvel way back in 1982.
With this milestone issue quickly approaching, Newsarama spoke with the current series editor (and a Marine) Tom Waltz to explore the introduction of the new Snake-Eyes, and why he finds himself excited about what Hama and Diaz have planned ahead for readers.
Newsarama: Readers first met Dawn in G.I. Joe #226 as she dominates the competition during her tryout for a spot on the high school lacrosse team. Why do you think this was the place to showcase her raw, natural talent?
Tom Waltz: I think that scene accomplishes a couple of things - not only do we learn how exceptionally (and naturally) athletic Dawn Moreno is, but we also witness her innate fearlessness. When Dawn asks for a tryout, the lacrosse coach tries to scare her off by reminding her it’s an all-boys team and she’s “only” a girl, and that the rules that they play by are pretty loose, which results in a physically rough environment. But Dawn doesn’t back down - she’s determined to prove herself capable of not only being able to keep up with her male counterparts, but is capable of surpassing them as well, even when she’s literally outnumbered 10 to 1. A nice piece of foreshadowing by Larry Hama, as we’ll see Dawn fighting against similar odds in her ninja persona later on.
Nrama: That issue was originally published back in the spring of 2016, and I’ve heard it said that Larry only plots ahead two to three pages at most. Did you and the rest of the team know that Dawn would be taking on the mantle of Snake-Eyes or was that something that evolved as you and Larry worked on developing her story?
Waltz: Larry works in a very organic and fluid way, so Dawn’s transition is something that has evolved naturally within the ongoing story he is constantly plotting. As for Dawn taking on the mantle of Snake-Eyes, it was something that really jumped out at me when I first took over editorial duties for the series. As both the editor and a fan of the book, I saw so much potential in the Dawn-as-Snake-Eyes tale that was unfolding. It just felt like all the pieces were in place for her to take the next step toward becoming Snake-Eyes.
But not an easy step, by any means - Dawn is literally possessed by Snake-Eyes’ memories (thanks to Dr. Mindbender’s Brainwave Scanner), so the change is a terrifyingly confusing one for the young girl (and one she is not making voluntarily) all of which, in my opinion, make it more believable and far more dramatic. I wasn’t sure what Larry would think about the idea when I first brought it up to him, but to my pleasant surprise, he was immediately onboard -- not only because Dawn’s story was so intriguing, but also because he saw this as an opportunity (through Dawn’s implanted memories) to finally present stories from the original Snake-Eyes’ past that he’s long wanted to tell… and which many fans have requested over the years.
So, once we had our story plan in place, Larry quickly came up with the very cool design for the modified Snake-Eyes’ costume Dawn wears. It’s an awesome costume and I won’t be surprised if it becomes a cosplay favorite in the near future.
Nrama: By Issue #229,instead of removing the Cobra indoctrination from Dawn’s mind, Baroness and her compatriots inadvertently inject Snake Eyes’ memories into her brain granting her the full knowledge of a veteran Arashikage ninja, which leads to a sort of competition for control between the “Cobra-friendly” Dawn and the Snakes Eyes “programming.”
It seems to have some echoes of The Manchurian Candidate to it, no?
Waltz: Yes, I do see the similarity. Though, for poor Dawn, it was like brainwashing on top of brainwashing. Cobra is already using mind control to an extent to keep civilians like Dawn “Cobra-friendly,” as you describe it. Now add to that the insertion of Snake-Eyes’ memories into her fragile teenage psyche, and you've got a ticking time bomb on your hands (as has already been proven - and then some - over the last few issues!).
But Dawn’s not so much a sleeper agent as she is a child-victim of nefarious technologies and the adults who control them. I’m IDW’s resident conspiracy theorist, so it brings to my mind (no pun intended) the horror stories of MK-Ultra and Monarch programming certain espionage organizations have allegedly used on young children over the last half-century or so. If there’s any good that’s come from Dawn’s particular situation, however, it’s that having Snake-Eyes’ memories have pushed her away from Cobra’s clutches and in the direction of the Arashikage Clan and G.I. Joe. Now only time will tell if they can actually help her to overcome the horror and violence her dual personalities have brought into her young life.
Nrama: Now, in one of the letter columns - from Issue #242 to be exact - Larry responded to a question asking whether or not Snake Eyes was truly dead by stating “Yes, he is really dead” despite having more stories to tell about him. However, we also see earlier in that very issue, readers are reminded that dead does not always mean dead through re-introducing Dr. Venom as well as recalling Serpentor’s resurrection.
Are we seeing some “wiggle room” here? What is the editorial approach to Snake Eyes remaining dead? Could he come back?
Waltz: Well, that’s entirely up to Larry, and he’s never hinted to me that he plans to resurrect the original Snake-Eyes beyond telling the lost stories I mentioned in my previous answer, so my guess would be that, in this case, dead is dead. That said, this is comics, so you never know…
Nrama: [Laughs] Fair enough. Now, by Issue #244, we see Dawn in a new uniform given to her by Granny Demon, which bears a striking resemblance to that of Snake-Eyes. What held the team back from making this the official debut?
Waltz: [Laughs] This is a perfect example of Larry’s plotting technique. He plays it fast and loose from panel-to-panel, page-to-page, issue-to-issue, letting his well-honed and oft-proven storytelling instincts guide him, which means I’m consistently surprised as his editor to find out what will appear in each issue (which is both terrifying and exhilarating). This was no exception -- I had thought we’d be revealing Dawn’s uniform in issue #246 (“Dawn of the Arashikage” Part 1), but Larry chose to make the reveal in #244 instead. And you know what? He was 100% right to do it there. Not only did it give long-time G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero penciler SL Gallant, inker Brian Shearer, and colorist James Brown the well-deserved honor of being the first artists to show Dawn in her uniform, it also provided us the opportunity to hit the ground running (and slicing and dicing) in issue #246. No need for set-up… just let Dawn/Snake-Eyes loose on the world and watch the bloody chaos unfold! Larry’s a legend in this industry for a reason - he knows what he’s doing!
Nrama: That leads us to the big issue - G.I. Joe #247 - which will introduce the all-new, teenage-Snake Eyes, Dawn Moreno. Although she looks fierce in the cover images, she’s also introduced as having a still-fragile mind. What is it going to take for her to come to grips with the dueling personalities contained in her body?
Waltz: First and foremost, like any teenager, Dawn needs positive (and patient) adult influences in her life, and she’s currently getting that from the original Snake-Eyes’ former Arashikage comrades, most notably Granny Demon, Storm Shadow, and, believe it or not, Zartan. I’ve been fascinated by the story Larry’s telling in this regard - watching as these disparate and often opposed individuals are finding ways to overcome past animosities and enmities in order to rally around this young girl as a way to honor their fallen Arashikage friend. But the original Snake-Eyes was more than an Arashikage ninja - he was a beloved and respected member of G.I. Joe as well, and I won’t be surprised if his military comrades reach out to help Dawn before long, too.
Nrama: Looking still at the solicits, this new story arc is billed as a new jumping-on point, but for readers new to the series - not the core characters - how will this story acclimate them to what’s been going on in G.I. Joe?
Waltz: Well, we always try to put an informative “Story So Far” blurb at the beginning of each issue (called 'Sitrep' in our G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comics), so that’s helpful. We’ve also put together a handy Dawn Moreno character card that’s making rounds online, and we’ve got a fantastic trade paperback program that collects the previous storylines… and are available wherever comic books are sold. And as Dawn’s popularity grows (as we’re hoping it will), IDW will be working diligently to provide new readers more materials that will help bring them up to date on the many diverse and exciting storylines Larry has engineered in the pages of G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero over the years.
Nrama: What is it about Dawn that contains the “Larry Hama signature” like so many others who came before her? How do you think she will appeal to readers years from now?
Waltz: The main thing I love about what Larry does is that he creates very real and diverse characters, who just happen to find themselves in fantastic situations and settings. His massive ensemble cast has always represented all genders, ethnicities, nationalities, political leanings, etc., in a way that is both realistic and entertaining… and, most importantly, relatable. It’s never a question of pandering, but always an effort to place the right person in the right place at the right time. Again, I don’t want to speak too much for Larry, but I believe he follows his storytelling instincts in this respect. And in a military setting (which is a huge part of the JOE universe), diversity is essential.
As an old Marine myself, I can tell you from firsthand experience that military folks come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, genders - you name it - and yet they find a way to work together, to live and die for each other, solidly united by a common cause in a world that seems to be more divisive than ever before. Why should G.I. Joe be any different? In the case of Dawn Moreno specifically, it would be easy to talk about the fact that she’s a Mexican-American female and make that the focus of her story - but that’s only part of who and what she is, so to do that would sell her (and the readers) short. She’s also a confused teenager, an athlete, a friend, a ninja, a bit of a jokester, loyal, unpredictable, respectful to her elders, stubborn, brave - so many things - and Larry brings out these characteristics in Dawn wonderfully, just as he has with his many other Joe creations over the years.
Nrama: We also get to meet a new artist to the series with Netho Diaz after working with S.L. Gallant. How does Diaz’s style change the way you see the story unfolding compared to Gallant?
Waltz: I’ve known SL Gallant for many years, and he’s a person I’m very proud to call a co-creator and a friend, and I know the consistent awesomeness he brings to the table when it’s time to get to work. Moving him from the main series to bring in a new artist was a way to give both SL a fresh space to work in (G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero vs. The Six Million Dollar Man with writer Ryan Ferrier), as well as infuse a bit of unknown danger, if you will, to the “Dawn of the Arashikage” arc. Netho Diaz has proven skills, and we wanted to put his talent to the test by having him dive headfirst into the new arc, where the story being told was going to be unpredictable and very different, so we felt the artwork should reflect that change.
Luckily for us, Netho and his team were up to the challenge, and the pages they've been producing have been as surprising as the tale Larry’s scribing. And we got our cake and we got to eat it, too, because SL and his team are killing on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero vs. The Six Million Dollar Man! I know SL’s ecstatic to be on that gig - he’s a self-professed 70s and 80s pop-culture junkie, and Steve Austin is a huge part of his addiction.
Nrama: Do you see his aesthetic informing the way Dawn’s story is told? If so, in what ways?
Waltz: Oh, absolutely! Specifically, Issue #248 is a silent issue (much like the legendary issue #21) and Netho’s storytelling aesthetic will be on full display. I know Larry’s been very pleased by the artwork being produced for that issue and the others in this arc (as have I) and I won’t be surprised if we see Netho’s star rise quickly after fans see what he and inker Thiago Gomes and colorist Milen Parvanov have in store for them.
Nrama: Ultimately, we are approaching the 250th issue of G.I. Joe, which few series can lay claim to - with or without periodic breaks in publishing. Looking back on this series over the many years, what are some of your favorite moments that you’ve been a part of and in general?
Waltz: As a fan, I still remember the first time I saw issue #1’s unforgettable cover and thought, “That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” It’s a happy comic book memory for me, always. As editor, this short evolutionary journey we’ve taken so far with Dawn Moreno has been awesome, more so because I’m sharing it with fantastic folks like SL Gallant, Netho Diaz, and so many others, including our legions of loyal fans around the world. But most of all, working with living legend Larry Hama has been a true treat. He’s a tough old soldier to be sure, but this old Marine appreciates that, and I look forward to fighting more battles alongside him for years to come.
Nrama: One last question: We’ve mentioned the approaching 250th issue already. What sort of surprises do you have in store for readers to mark this milestone?
Waltz: Issue #250 will be an oversized issue, concluding the “Dawn of the Arashikage” arc. Beyond that, I can say it sets the stage for the next arc, which will be a nice surprise to many long-time fans, who have asked for something like what we have planned for quite a while now. Look for that announcement soon!