GI Joe Takes Sides in the Culture Wars

Larry Hama and SL Gallant made it clear on what side they and the Joes fall in today's culture wars.  Over the span of five pages in GI Joe: A Real American Hero #244 (IDW), we witness the Joes welcoming diversity while some of the "fine people" they defend show their response to outsiders.  Given current reactions that even implied criticism receives these days, I will not be surprised if this boils over into controversy as soon as someone from the mainstream press pays attention.   Minor spoilers for the issue ahead.

Leatherneck, Airborne, Long Shot, and Rock & Roll have just completed a bloody mission rescuing an ambassador trapped in an American embassy under siege in the fictional Trucial Absymia.  They return to their company mess for some well-earned chow just in time to meet Mongoose, the newest Joe, whose MOS (military occupational specialty) is unidentified but whose skills include a broad swath of mission-relevant languages.  Mongoose's real name is Naif Nasr, making him (I believe) the first prominent Joe with an Arabic background, just to change things up from the mountain of ninjas the Joes currently employ.

Mongoose breaks several stereotypes, from being a career military specialist to admitting he needed military training for his language skills (outside of high school Spanish).  He notes he grew up in Dearborn, that place made famous from lots of erroneous memes about the city operating under Sharia law.

On the very next page, Hama introduces us to Gonzo and his friend, two "Real Americans" out enjoying nature and the unfettered ability to litter that it brings them.

This pair could be labeled as caricature, except I’ve met more than one person who closely resembles them in attitude and action. But even if we accept that Gonzo and friend are walking, talking stereotypes, they provide a telling contrast with the scene on the preceding page. One way is the Joe way of being an American. The other is... well, it’s the other way. And it’s clear which way the creative team prefers to see Americans take.

The pair stumble upon a cabin deep in the woods that happens to belong to the fallen Snake Eyes, who gave his life for his country and his fellow Joes.  Gonzo and his friend are clearly upset that someone has built something nice out in the woods, seeming to rub his apparent success into their faces.  They set about wrecking the place, bits of broken wood flying about and almost obscuring Gonzo's friend's NRA hat.

Gonzo, meanwhile, wears a hat with a well known color scheme. Gallant does not tread lightly in making it clear what politics this pair supports. Having Gonzo’s friend declare he’s the kind of person that makes America great while trashing the home of A Real American Hero is not subtle. It ties directly to a certain successful candidate who boasted of his own patriotism while directly insulting more than one war hero. Hama and Gallant speak very plainly to this in both dialogue and art.

Just in case it wasn't clear who these two represent, Gallant provides a clear message scratched deep into the wall of the cabin.  If you had missed the creators’ message or who they were addressing it to before, it should be very plain now. That name defacing the home of a fallen soldier speaks volumes in a world in which football players kneeling are vilified as unpatriotic and disrespectful of the military. Hama wants to make it clear where he sees disrespect for the military really coming from.

Meanwhile, the Joes welcome Mongoose with open arms.  They're not seeing a potential enemy just because of his ethnicity.  Instead, they see a fellow warfighter with useful skills for the missions they have coming up.  No doubt we'll be seeing Mongoose in action soon, hopefully in a way that highlights more than just language skills.  With a call sign like Mongoose, I’m expecting him to be some type of counter-terrorism specialist (since the mongoose is the natural enemy of cobras).

Gonzo and his friend get a welcome of a sort as well, from an angry Timber, Snake Eyes' pet wolf and companion.  It's unclear if they'll ever reappear.  They may want to hope they don't, as if Timber is there, Scarlett may not be far behind.

In just these five pages, Hama and Gallant make it clear what perspective both their team and their comic book takes on topics of diversity, acceptance, and what makes one American.  Considering how wrapped around the axle people seem to get these days about anti-racism sentiment and statements, I fully expect to hear about angry letters and threats, especially if this ever hits Fox News.  But I also imagine Larry Hama, a Vietnam veteran who brings his military and combat experience to the world of the Joes, will very calmly refuse to back down.  Because that's what real American heroes do.

JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog,  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.

GI Joe Takes Sides in the Culture Wars GI Joe Takes Sides in the Culture Wars Reviewed by JL Franke on Friday, October 13, 2017 Rating: 5
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