Under normal circumstances, I don't think that even I could recommend a $20 hardcover collection of one (1) 22-page comic book. Fortunately for me -- and unfortunately for my wallet -- "Silent Interlude" is a comic that has nothing to do with normal circumstances.

Originally released back in 1984 as G.I. Joe #21, the story is pretty uncontested as one of the all-time classics of modern comics, a "silent" story told with no dialogue, where Snake-Eyes infiltrated Destro's castle on a deadly mission to rescue Scarlett, who was busy breaking out at the same time. It's a pivotal moment for the series, setting up connection between Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes that would become one of the driving forces of the franchise, but more than that, it's a really great comic, and IDW Publishing released it in a special hardcover this week, along with Larry Hama's original breakdowns.



The story behind "Silent Interlude" is that Hama had wanted to experiment with doing a "silent" story for a while, and when G.I. Joe, one of Marvel's best-selling comics at the time, was behind deadline, he decided to take the opportunity to speed things up a bit by doing exactly that. Hama provided the script and breakdowns, with artist Steve Leialoha finishing it for the final version. The end result is a genuine masterpiece, with storytelling that's remarkably clear and evocative that holds up thirty years later.

It's pretty influential, too. A few years back, Marvel paid tribute to the issue in a roundabout sort of way with a "'Nuff Said" event that featured an entire month's worth of "silent" issues -- including a particularly memorable Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely issue of New X-Men where Jean Grey and Emma Frost when into Professor X's brain and poked around while talking to each other in pictographs. More recently, Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt used The Sixth Gun #21 as an opportunity to do their own silent issue, right down to a cover homage to the original "Silent Interlude." The neat thing with that issue, though, is that its "silent" for in-story reasons as well, with the lead character being deafened by gunfire and having to navigate through her own infiltration of an enemy headquarters without sound, letting the reader experience the story the way she does, rather than the original's idea of reinforcing the idea that Snake-Eyes was mute.

Hama himself has returned to the same idea a few times, too, including a direct sequel that was meant to fit between the panels of #21 that came with a two-pack of action figures featuring Storm Shadow and a Battle-Damaged Snake-Eyes so that you could see his Arashikage ninja tattoo) and a story about Snake-Eyes' early days that ran in G.I. Joe: Origins. The latter is included in the hardcover (so really, it's two comics for $20), but really, it's not the bonus feature that made me want to get this comic.



Seeing Hama's original breakdowns for the entire story is pretty amazing. I knew he'd done them for as long as I've known about the comic -- his name's right there in the credits, after all -- but actually seeing them, you get a real sense of just how much he did, and how much of what comes through in the finished product is there right from his layouts. Scarlett's defiance in the face of capture and her clever escape are a particular highlight, and something that's often overlooked in discussion of the issue that focuses on Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow, but it really shines when you take a moment to really sit down with it and see how it came together.

That's actually my favorite thing about it: Snake-Eyes' rescue mission is completely unnecessary. Scarlett gets herself out -- but the real contribution from this comic is showing (or at least hinting at) the relationships between these characters, and it's done perfectly.

If you're interested in the craft of making comics, I honestly can't recommend this book highly enough. I snagged one at San Diego, but it's also out this week in comic book stores and available on Amazon, and it's definitely worth grabbing.