Panels of Future Past, Episode 1: G.I. Joe #21

Panels of Future Past

Panels of Future Past are reviews of old comic books, or, perhaps, of multi-issue story arcs (in the case of the later, as long as they are tightly woven and held to a few issues, such as a 4-issue limited series). The issues can be significant milestones or just something that one of our staff writers here at comicbooked feels like looking at again. There, pretty simple.


PFP Episode One:

G.I. Joe #21: Silent Interlude

March 1984

The first column for Panels of Future Past is an easy one, but it helps the column live up to it’s name. Silent Interlude is notable in the history of comic books for being a story told only with pictures. The challenge facing editor Larry Hamar and his team: can a good story be told using no word bubbles, no thought bubbles, and no captions, and can we save money this month by not paying the “letterer”?

The answer became such an influential book that, to celebrate its significance everyone started making issue 21’s of their books into silent issues, like The Sixth Gun #21 from April 2011. What’s more, the staff of G.I. Joe did another silent adventure that was included in G.I. Joe Yearbook #3 in March 1987 featuring the same three characters. I also remember reading that a a direct followup was made to this story in an Action Force comic (Action Force was what they called the team for a while overseas).

Plus, there is a stand-out action sequence – with no words – in the (quite underrated) film  G.I. Joe Retaliation that was crafted as a specific homage to this issue.

The immediate significance of this issue when it was first published as that it served as the debut of the character of Storm Shadow. This appearance was immediately gripping, and he has remained among the most iconic characters in all forms of G.I. Joe. This issue also hinted at his “brotherly” relationship between him and Snake-Eyes, when we see that these two like-minded and skilled ninja warriors were part of the same ninja clan. As the issue comes to a close, we see that both Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes bear the same ninja clan symbol on their forearms.

I remember first “reading” (if there are no wrods, would you call it reading?) this issue when I was maybe nine or ten.. I don’t remember. It basically made me a G.I Joe fan forever. This is a series that had had military battles, sci fi technology, interwoven stories, and … ninjas? Who needs people with superpowers and lame weaknesses when you have ninjas?

I was captivated by this wordless issue. I remember being able to follow the story, and even then, I appreciated how each panel told a story. I never realized before how close looking at comic book artwork was to going to the movies until I read this issue; it is very cinematic. Where the camera is placed and how the frames are composed are all important elements.

The other thing that drew me into this issue: Scarlett.

Scarlett! Ah, Scarlett. A hot female warrior with a kind-of utilitarian outfit comprised of a sort of bathing suit kind of garment covering a skin tight and flexible protective suit. She looked hot, and she starts this issue as the damsel in distress, as we see her being transported by Cobra’s ninja, the aforementioned Storm Shadow, to Cobra’s secret mountain fortress (how gloriously awesome is it when the villains have a secret mountain fortress, right?) There is something alluring to a young boy (and even to an adult man, really) when a tough-as-nails female warrior somehow finds herself in that precarious situation where she is, in fact, a prisoner. Don’t deny it: it raises the excitement level. Right… so…

Even as Snake-Eyes (who actually doesn’t talk so there’s no way he can he can act out of character even in a silent issue) sneaks to the fortress to rescue her, our beautiful damsel, who started the issue all tied up and being carried by Storm Shadow in a large paper bag before being humiliated in front of a pleased Cobra Commander, sets out to free herself without any help at all.

Damsel Delivery for you, sir!


Snake-Eyes fights his way through some ninja guards, but Scarlett has to be more resourceful. She sues the very chains that bound her to take out a couple of traditional Cobra soldiers  and steel one of those hand-gliders. Throughout, the artwork always accentuated her femininity: she might be a skilled warrior, but the kid in you is still concerned for her safety.  The issue ends when she meets up with Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes. She looks terrified as Storm Shadow throws his sword at her; we sense her trembling and she is drawn here with more vulnerability than she is drawn in other issues. She might have largely earned her own rescue in this issue, but she is always drawn as being quite a bit more delicate than normal.

Snake-Eyes, in what was among the first notable feats that demonstrate his skills as a ninja, is able to catch the sword before it kills her, and the two fly off together, and the issue ends with a look at ninja clan tattoo they both share.

The symbol you see here was also in the live-action films!
The symbol you see here was also in the live-action films!

Since this issue was released, the “ninja” stuff  had become an essential part of the G.I. Joe milieu. It allowed for stories that were more personal stories to be told even as the series itself was sent against a terrorist organization and (especially in the cartoon) large military battles.

And if you passed over G.I. Joe Retaliation, or if you didn’t enjoy it as much as you thought you might  enough time has passed that worth another look. It doesn’t take itself all that seriously. The Silent Interlude set-piece, where in Jinx and Snake-Eyes must “steal” an injured Storm Shadow from a mountain fortress by placing him in a body-sized stack very similar to the sack that he held Scarlett captive in during the actual issue), is just as much fun as it sounds. The heroes must contend with many ninjas, and we see a lot of people zipping around on wires suspended over great cliffs. It’s all truly absurd… and glorious.

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