The Crown Jewel Of The Hasbro Universe: Aubrey Sitterson On Rebuilding ‘GI Joe’ After ‘Revolution’ [Interview]
The conversation around IDW's Revolution event has usually focused on the way that Hasbro's disparate properties have been brought together with new additions like Rom the Space Knight and Micronauts.
For GI Joe, however, Revolution presents an opportunity to be reborn into a whole new form. Despite having plenty of success in alternate continuities like Larry Hama's Real American Hero series and Tom Scioli and John Barber's Transformers vs. GI Joe, it's fair to say that the main-line IDW continuity has had a much rougher go of it for America's Daring, Highly Trained Special Missions Force.
Now, Aubrey Sitterson and Giannis Milonogiannis are stepping up to take the Joes in a new direction. To find out more, ComicsAlliance spoke to Sitterson about leaning into the sci-fi aspects of the book, the characters he's chosen for the team, and when we'll see Destro. We also have a first look at some brand-new pages from GI Joe: Revolution #1!
ComicsAlliance: You've referred to GI Joe as being the crown jewel of the Hasbro Universe, and I can tell you right now that for Transformers fans, that's going to be a pretty hotly debated statement. So with almost all of the Hasbro properties combining in the pages of Revolution, what is it that puts the Joes on top for you?
Aubrey Sitterson: Well, the glib answer is that I'm writing it with art by Giannis Milonogiannis and Lovern Kindzierski, right? But the longer, deeper answer is that we all have a lot to live up to with GI Joe. It's the oldest of the properties, but unlike Transformers, which had three ongoing series even before the start of Revolution, Joe has been, to make use of the military lingo, AWOL.
It's a steep hill to climb, since we need to remind people what makes Joe, the concept, the franchise and, most importantly, the characters, so great. But the very significant silver lining is that Hasbro and IDW have been giving us an enormous amount of freedom to redefine what Joe is in 2016.
The "Crown Jewel of the Hasbro Universe" talk has less to do with the franchise's position in the overall Hasbro line, and more to do with the new approach and the quality of the work, something that will be self-evident once people see what we're doing on the book.
CA: So with that in mind, how does Revolution change how you approach GI Joe? The conflict within the story has, of course, always revolved around Cobra, but now that you've got the Transformers, the Dire Wraiths, and all the other threats creeping in from books like Micronauts and Action Man, where and how do you focus?
AS: During my time in Marvel editorial, I worked on a lot of crossovers in one capacity or another, both the events themselves as well as tie-in books. House of M, World War Hulk, Messiah Complex and, most notably, Civil War. One of the things that we always tried to keep in mind is that in order for a crossover to be truly successful, tie-ins and spin-offs all need to be self-sufficient, using the events of the big book to seed stories, but then developing them into their own, independent thing.
I'm fortunate then that with GI Joe, even though we're building off what came before, and everything that happened in the mainline IDW continuity (separate from the awesome stuff Larry Hama is doing on RAH) still happened, we've got a real chance to start from scratch.
As you've mentioned, the world that GI Joe inhabits is much wilder, much weirder, much more heavily infused with heavy science fiction elements than ever before. That necessitates that while it will always be a military book, it's no longer just a military book. And because of that, everything about the new approach, both the one-shot and the ongoing series, is built upon this new status quo.
As for what we focus on, I think it's the same answer as it's always been, or should always be: It's the characters. My initial pitch for the series, what landed me the gig, was, of course, heavily rooted in the events of Revolution, but the bulk of the document addressed the individual Joe characters and the arcs they would be going through as people.
CA: I think that leads pretty easily to asking about which characters you plan on using. How do you narrow down a roster that big into a manageable cast? Do you just go with your favorites, or is there a matter of looking at their specialties? "Well, we're gonna need a pilot, so Wild Bill's gotta be there."
AS: Honestly, it's all of the above. There are certain characters --- Scarlett, Roadblock, and Snake Eyes come to mind --- that just had to be in there. Given their importance to the franchise, their massive popularity, and their strength as characters, it'd be ridiculous to leave them out. Others, like Rock 'n Roll and Quick Kick, are what I see as kind of rehabilitation projects. The core of the characters is solid, but they needed to be dusted off and updated, given something that makes them distinct and distinctly interesting.
And then, of course, there are characters that get brought in because they fill a role. One of the coolest things about G.I. Joe as a franchise is the depth and breadth of the roster. Taking to the skies? You'll need Wild Bill. Hitting the open seas? Shipwreck and Polly are there for you.
CA: Okay, well, first of all, Quick Kick rules.
AS: I 100% agree! But the original, shirtless, shoeless look doesn't really fly in 2016, right? It's why I really loved [Fred] Van Lente and [Steve] Kurth's approach to the character, really leaning into him as a serious hand-to-hand combatant. And with Giannis' redesign, utilizing more of an MMA fighter look, I think we're ready to find a way to communicate "martial arts master" in a way that feels current, relevant and, most importantly, awesome.
CA: When it comes to the redesigns, do you offer up any suggestions, or do you just let him run wild on it?
AS: I sent Giannis an obnoxiously long document of ideas, thoughts and visual touchstones. It wasn't long because I was telling him what to do though --- that'd be ridiculous, arrogant and self-defeating with a talent of his caliber --- but rather because I had so many thoughts on how we could retain what works about the characters, what makes them iconic, while also updating them and veering away from the "everybody in fatigues" look.
From there, Giannis went nuts. Nuts in the best possible way. Some of the designs were pretty close to what I described or the images I sent over, while others had Giannis going in a completely new and unexpected direction. No matter what though, every time he sent one over, my response was the same. "Yup. That's it. Perfect. I love you."
CA: Was there ever a consideration of wanting them to look good as toys? I mean, it is GI Joe, after all.
AS: From my end? No, not at all. Don't get me wrong, it'd be amazing to see the Giannis designs get made as toys, but that's not our job. Our job is, first and foremost, to make an incredible comic, so the thought process was always, "What's going to look rad on the printed page?"
CA: Getting back to the idea of the cast, can we look forward to seeing a dedicated group of characters, or a core that specialists will rotate into and out of for each story?
AS: It's a tough thing to juggle, right? Especially since every Joe is someone's favorite. But at the same time, it'd be difficult to have any real, meaningful, satisfying character development if we swapped out teams entirely every few issues.
So, while we'll definitely have a core cast --- more or less who you'll see in the Revolution one-shot, plus a few notable additions --- the plan has always been to bring in folks for specific missions. Once again, the Joe roster is one of the absolute best things about the franchise, and I love being able to cycle in additional characters, especially since it means we'll get to see Giannis put his inimitable spin on their designs.
CA: Who's on the main roster?
AS: The Joes you'll be seeing the most of are Scarlett, Roadblock, Rock 'n Roll, Quick Kick, Shipwreck, Doc, Snake Eyes and Helix. Oh! And, of course, the Transformer that we have joining the team! We're keeping their identity secret for now though.
I'm really proud of how diverse a cast we have. Even going back to the cartoon series, G.I. Joe has always been ahead of the curve in terms of representation and inclusion, so it's a tradition we're very excited to continue in.
To me, even though she might not be the most popular Joe, I don't think there's a character that better exemplifies the series than Scarlett, a female soldier who isn't just as good as her male counterparts, but, in many cases, is actually better. The IDW continuity has always flirted with the idea of putting her in charge, but there was always someone higher on the food chain that she was responsible to. That changes now. Scarlett is the obvious and best choice to lead the team.
With Scarlett running the show, however, that necessitates that someone else step up as go-to field commander. Similarly, I'm really excited to give Roadblock a promotion. Another stalwart, long-time fan-favorite character, it's high time that we saw him step into a leadership role. One that he can perform while also shooting an outrageously massive gun, obviously.
Quick Kick is one of my favorites, largely because of what a nut I am for kung fu flicks. While his look would be right at home inside the UFC octagon, I'm taking every opportunity I can to send Giannis reference of different kung fu styles. There's some Wing Chun in the one-shot, and I can't wait to have him bust out some traditional kung fu weapons.
Shipwreck is our undisputed master of the seven seas. I don't want to give too much away, but this is going to be an extremely important role in the book moving forward.
The IDW GI Joe continuity actually featured two different Docs, the classic Doc as well as his daughter, who used the same codename. Both will be showing up, but our focus will be on the younger one, who, despite sharing a name with her father, is eager to carve out her own path.
Snake Eyes and Helix are a tandem that I'm really excited about, as I think that their skills mesh extremely well together. How do you make a silent, devastatingly effective ninja even better? Team him up with someone boasting Total Organic Battlefield Awareness, someone capable of feeding him with updates that he can then act on in real time.
And Rock 'n Roll… he's already kind of my favorite. His arc is probably the one I'm most proud of, especially since it's going to bring some flavor and personality to a character that, despite debuting way back in 1982, remains one of the least fleshed out.
CA: With that team in place, what can we expect from your run? What are the threats? How are they fitting into the post-Revolution Hasbroverse?
AS: I'm dying to talk about this. Dying to tell you exactly what the team will be confronted with in the ongoing's first arc, but I have to be careful not to spoil anything planned for the Revolution crossover.
What I can say though is this: From here on out, GI Joe has a new, global mandate. In this new world, where the Earth is beset on all sides by magical shapeshifters, by giant robots from space, by tiny people from another dimension, by Space Knights…its the Joes who are the champions and defenders of humanity and Earth as a whole. That means that we'll be moving away from a team that exists to protect America's interests, and toward one that defends and safeguards the Earth as a whole. And since they'll be doing so in a world filled with such weird stuff... things are going start feeling less Sgt. Rock and more Challengers of the Unknown.
We're bringing back the lasers, we're putting a giant robot on the team, and we're leaning fully into what have always been Giannis and my favorite parts of the series: Those weird science fiction elements. Most importantly though, its the tone and approach of the series that's going to feel new, but also familiar to anyone who grew up with the Sunbow cartoons. This new GI Joe is, above all else, aspirational. These aren't grimdark characters confronted with the grisly reality of war and combat --- that's so very far removed from what people want from the franchise. They are passionate, talented, excited young people, whose actions are rooted in a heartfelt desire to make the world a better place.
CA: Okay, final question. You know I gotta ask. When are we gonna see Destro in this thing?
AS: Ha! Man, I've been fighting the temptation not to throw absolutely everyone into this first arc. And it's been hard. Really hard. I'll say this though: I made a list of all the characters and concepts that I want to include, and though it's huge, though it's unspeakably massive, the Laird of Clan Destro is near the top of the villains list. Right under Croc Master and Raptor.