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Monday, December 17, 2018

G. I. JOE: Season 3.5 -- Endings without Worlds


Gene Kendall here, announcing the release of my final G. I. Joe novel. It took several months to complete, and because I’m not in a mood to tease any lawyers, it's free for you to download in any format at Smashwords.
In an ideal world, this would’ve been published under the Kindle Worlds banner. That was not to be. Still, I felt an obligation to finish the story, and the mental gymnastics required to pull these threads together turned out to be quite the writing challenge.

Did I fall on my face? That’s for you to decide. I didn’t set out to do anything this ambitious—the alternate reality world from Marty Pasko’s two-parter, the conflicting backstories for Cobra Commander, the transition of Storm Shadow from villain to hero in the post-Sunbow years—but here we are. 

If you're curious about the history of this project, I discussed its origins in this post. It's my tribute to the 1980s G. I. Joe animated series produced by Sunbow. I'm still following the same guidelines: the characters speak with their Sunbow voice actors in mind, established continuity must be respected, and while the content is all-ages appropriate, I'm writing the material as a novel, with adult readers in mind. Hopefully, the Sunbow backstory isn't just window dressing. I've put a real effort into using elements of the canon exclusive to the Sunbow episodes.
And, though this has nothing to do with the cartoon, it's hard to ignore the impact of the seminal 1980s comics series. So, naturally, there is a Larry Hama influence here. Given that a certain Cobra operative becomes a Joe member in 1988, it would be difficult to ignore Hama's canon when reaching this era of the franchise, anyway. And, as stated earlier, I'm working with the edict that every chapter or so, there must be a Mike Zeck cover-worthy image. (Really, every piece of genre fiction would do well to work under this rule.)

Initially, I only planned on dramatizing some ideas I had for a hypothetical film sequel. I’m talking live-action, here.
I despised the first film, thought the second was great, and had some thoughts on how the third could retcon away some of the stink of the original. With some encouragement, I embarked on my first Kindle Worlds entry. Had an outline fully prepared.
Then, I read the stipulations laid down by Hasbro. No acknowledgement of the Paramount film continuity. Huh.

I’d already publicly declared (or hinted strongly) I’d be writing this thing, though. So, what other Joe ideas did I have? Some thoughts about how a hypothetical comic following the 1987 animated film might go. Truthfully, only two scenes I’d played around with years earlier. One, Snake Eyes training the Rawhide recruits introduced in the movie. The other, an image of Falcon sitting anxiously at Duke’s bedside, reflecting on his past as a screw-up and vowing to do better.
From there, I began. One idea did survive my initial outline for a hypothetical G. I. Joe 3. hated the portrayal of Cobra Commander as a deranged vet (especially in a film too vapid to ever explore the concept honestly), so I worked out a way to reveal this as a lie. As a front adopted by the Commander to disguise his true identity, and possibly smear a young soldier while gaining a propaganda victory. Much of that made its way into the first novel, told through the story of the Baroness’ origin. (The “reformed” Baroness we see at the end of the first film would’ve become the “Leigh” introduced in Season 3.1.)

You Can’t Do That!
Now divorced from Kindle Worlds (and any royalty payments…ahem), I am free to violate the restrictions laid down from Hasbro. I’m not interested in using sex or profanity in a Joe story, so there’s none of that here. However, some of the rules were a bit stifling.
The 1980s Joes based on celebrities were banned by Hasbro. That means [SPOILER] couldn’t truly appear in the previous format. Also, no crossovers with the Transformers canon. Well, I’m still playing coy here, but Sunbow fans will surely guess where someone’s headquarters comes from. (There’s a “lost tale” out there of [SPOILER] claiming that sea base, during the phantom Transformers years.)

Hasbro also forbade any character to be described as nude. You might recall a particular character in the Sunbow series, however, debuting au naturale.
Finally, there’s the famous bit about no portrayals of Snake Eyes as a New York Yankees fan. (The quirky stipulation we discovered from Brian Cronin’s column years ago.) It might be fun to just toss that in, but I never truly considered it. I’m assuming it’d just come across as gratuitous, or as a total non-sequitur for anyone who didn’t catch the reference.

A Bad Girl Gone Good
I don’t give the movie producers any credit for possibly homaging the classic two-parter “Worlds without End,” with their portrayal of a Baroness going good. I’m going to guess it was just standard hack writing, a way for the screenwriters to resolve the tacked-on romantic subplot and give the hero a personal victory at the end.
Writing a Baroness who’s being forced to face her conscience, however, does immediately evoke memories of that story…if you’re working within the Sunbow universe. And looking back on those episodes, you have to wonder why Baroness seems to be the only character with a totally inverted personality in this world. How did such a decent lady end up with a high-ranking position within Cobra? And what about her relationship with Destro?
I wouldn’t address these questions simply for the sake of continuity—but if there is a story there worth telling, I want to find it. I felt there was a way to connect the Good Girl from my story with the Good Girl from the two-parter—and touch upon some of the post-1985 characters we didn’t see in “Worlds.” Actually, given how genuinely sweet the alternate Baroness appeared to be in that story…I almost feel guilty about what I’ve done here.

Silk Purse, Sow’s Ear
In my earliest outline, I’d planned on picking up with Steeler, Grunt, and Clutch still in this alternate world, fighting the good fight against Cobra. Looking online, however, I discovered all three of these characters had brief appearances in the 1987 movie.
Now, for the bulk of the show, you never saw Steeler, Grunt, and Clutch in any group shots. The producers had written them off to another world, and admirably, they stuck to that. On their primitive spreadsheet listing Joe characters and their appearances, a line must’ve been drawn following “Worlds without End”— no more Steeler, Grunt, and Clutch.
Learning they’d goofed during the movie was confusing. Then, I remember Buzz Dixon’s comment that every Joe had to appear in the film. Actual Joes; none of the nondescript background Joes from the earlier episodes. Those spots were filled, because even if there wouldn’t be a speaking part, the movie was going to work everyone in. Including, I guess, three guys who shouldn’t be there.
I could’ve ignored those split-second cameos. Briefly, I considered it. But, if I’m staying true to the premise, that means I can’t contradict the Sunbow canon. So I’m obligated to not only address their appearance on our world, but to logically tie it into the story. Fine. Challenge accepted.

Reference Section
I personally can’t stand cutesy references to other media properties or obscure parts of the canon that take you out of the story. Hopefully, all of my cutesy references to other media properties or obscure parts of the canon are far less irritating.
Fans of a certain videogame franchise (which is effectively dead, regardless of what its owner believes) will instantly place Cobra Commander’s prison. Some of the characters appearing here are so obscure, I’ve only recently even discovered their existence, even though they do go back to the 1980s. (Quarrel? Sure, I’ll go with it.) And keep an eye on the names of the Joe resistance fighters at the end. Those monikers weren’t chosen arbitrarily.

Embrace the La
No more playing games this time. I’m outright naming Cobra-La. They’re still not the focus of the story, but the characters are no longer dancing around their names. Hopefully, no one’s too traumatized by the end.
Ideally, this has all come together, even the pesky Cobra-La material. (Seriously, why wasn’t Cobra Commander using all of that advanced bio-tech during his years attempting to conquer the world? How does a H.I.S.S. tank in any way resemble Cobra-La’s organic technology of bugs and worms?) If I succeeded or failed, please let me know. 
I don’t foresee any more of these Joe novels in the future, but hopefully you guys can be convinced to pick up my other prose works. And if the license owners were to call one day, seeking to make this an official continuation of the Sunbow canon…well, of course I’d say yes. If you want to start a letter writing campaign or something, I won’t stop you.
Anyway, you can check out the novel for free over at Smashwords, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you like what you read, please pass it along.  Thanks, folks!

4 comments:

  1. I wonder why Hasbro such a strong stipulation against the Paramount movie continuity? I mean, like you said, the first movie is pretty awful, but that seems like a pretty quick disavowal of a continuity that managed to support at least two movies (and Hasbro certainly went all-in on producing tie-in figures and whatnot, so it's not like they saw what they had back then and immediately balked or something).

    (Also, I'd love to hear your case for why the second film is great; I mean, it's better than the wretched first film, but I'd have a hard time calling it great. But my mind is open to the possibility, and I'd love to hear the argument).

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    1. Unless Paramount's licensing agreement somehow prevented the Kindle Worlds deal, I don't understand what their issue could've been.

      I really enjoy the second movie, and I acknowledge I'm likely grading on a curve, since I hate the first one so much. As a action movie, I thought it was fun, with everything moving fast and most of the characters having likable personalities. I wasn't expecting the direct homages to the Hama comics, especially after the debacle that was the first movie, so that also helped. My reaction to the trailer was simply, "Red ninjas?!"

      Even if it's shallow in many ways, the devotion amongst the Joes felt real. (Apparently, the Rock was sincere in doing the movie as a tribute to the troops, and wanted this as an element of the story.) Merging the martial arts storyline with military action isn't easy, but I think the movie worked as an intro to the unusual world of the comics. They could've built something on it, but apparently there aren't enough people within Hasbro and/or Paramount that care.

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  2. I've enjoyed that you included Jinx in your continuation. She was one of my favorites from the movie. I think you've done a good job with continuing Cobra Commander's story as well. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

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    1. Thanks. Writing in the "voice" of Jinx from the movie, as absurd as it might be, is fun to write.

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