G.I. Joe: Where Do I Start?

Although born out of toys action figures in the 1960s, G.I. Joe didn’t reach its full potential until its stories were told in comics beginning in the late 1980s. Originally intended as a short lived promotional tie-in, the surprise success of the comics penned by Larry Hama became the standard bearer for the toy line, creating storylines and conflicts between the characters that live to this day.

From the legendary run of issues at Marvel to its most recent home at IDW, the G.I. Joe comic franchise is arguably the most successful comics franchise outside of superheroes and newspaper strips. But with all those varied stories, various continuities and different people pulling the franchise this way and that it’s hard to find a core group of stories that’ll give you a true sense of G.I. Joe comics… but we did it anyway. Five comics collections touching on the major milestones of G.I. Joe lore, featuring the best moments, single issues and over-arching storyarcs that’ll give any reader — new or old — a firm idea of what the Joes stand for.

G.I. Joe: Cobra: As the children who grew up playing with G.I. Joe as toys grew up, they wanted to see these militaristic men and women grow up with them — and G.I. Joe: Cobra is the answer for that. Quite possibly the mature G.I. Joe story ever told, it follows the jovial character of Chuckles as he infiltrates Cobra in its early years — like Donnie Brasco Meets, well, G.I. Joe. This story-arc garnered multiple “Pick Of The Week” selections during its run, and the collection earned itself “Book Of The Month” when released. This is an ideal choice for someone wanting to see the Joes all grown up, or as a gift for someone who thinks the team is just kid’s play.

Classic G.I. Joe Vol. 10: Overlooked by many due to it falling at the tail end of the G.I. Joe run at Marvel, nevertheless this works as an excellent treatise on what makes Snake-Eyes so cool. Comparable to Wolverine during his early days in X-Men, Snake-Eyes is a mute ninja and relative bad-ass in a team of bad-asses, and this story by Hama and M.D. Bright ranks up there amongst the franchise’s best. After reconstructive surgery fixes his mangled face, he’s sold out by the surgeon to Cobra and fights out of a multi-story building Die Hard style.

G.I. Joe America’s Elite Volume 5: WWIII Omnibus: Between Marvel and IDW’s long runs with G.I. Joe, Devil’s Due Publishing held the license for a few years and made some valiant, albiet disjointed, attempts to revive the franchise. But as their contract was winding down and they knew they weren’t going to be publishing it for much longer, they decided to attempt what had never been done — a proper series finale to the G.I. Joe story. Continuing on the Larra Hama continuity from the Marvel run, this 12-part arc sees Cobra Commander make a last-ditch effort to take over the world and the Joes calling in the cavalry to put a stop to him. Written by Mark Powers with art by Mike Bear, Mike Shovket and Pat Quinn, this is a great piece of story that sees the team go out in a blaze of glory.

G.I. Joe: The Best of Snake-Eyes, Vol. 1: Arguably one of the most iconic G.I. Joe stories ever to be told was the all-silent issue #21 from the Marvel run, and this collection brings that along with seminal origin of Snake-Eyes all in one place. Together, this issues work out akin to Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s Wolverine mini in coalescing different elements floating around about a character all in one place. From the Hard Master and the Soft Master to Storm Shadow and Scarlet, this breaks down the Arashikage ninja clan as a formidable part of the G.I. Joe mythos.

G.I. Joe: The Best of Larry Hama, Vol. 1: If Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are considered the fathers of Marvel Comics, then Larry Hama could rightly be considered the father of G.I. Joe. Although created years before he came involved, Hama’s work on the comic series as editor, writer and sometimes artist defined the characters and the struggles the team faced against Cobra and other threats. This collection cherry-picks the best standalone issues from Hama’s run on the Marvel title, including the extra-special G.I. Joe #34 by Hama and artist Rod Whigham in which two fighter pilots do an old-fashion dogfight to a standstill. Like a Clint Eastwood movie, it’s harrowing, solemn and celebratory all at the same time.


  1. The Marvel GI Joe comics were the first single issues i bought with my allowance money as a kid. Rolled em up and stuck em in my back pocket and everything. That image you used as the article thumbnail from European Missions was one of the first and my favorite issues.

    I have most of the classic trades and pick one up from time to time for good old fashioned fun.

    The Unmaskings issue was my first “OOOHHH MMYYY GAAWWWDDD NERD GASMMM!!!!! moments in comics. haha. Destro and the Commander were so silly back then. aww good times.

    The new IDW series are all pretty good as well.

    • Chris Arrant (@chrisarrant) says:

      Yeah, that Mike Zeck is amazingly good. Zeck had an incredible cover run on GI JOE.

    • That Unmaskings issue was a total rip-off. I was all fire up for it and we just got some phony disguises. I guess we still don’t really know what they look like, do we?

      Okay, I know Cobra Commander looks like that guy from Third Rock from the Sun.

  2. Issue 23 of the Marvel run was my very first comic book bought off one of those spin-racks at a convenient store. “Cobra Commander Captured At Last”. I had no idea that my life was about to be forever changed. To this day it along with issue 24 are the two comics closest to my heart. I still remember how amazing that cover by Michael Golden was and still is. Anyone remember the tv ads for these comics? Seems ludicrous now, but damn those were great.

  3. I first read the G.I. Origins comics & they were perfect for me. Highly Recommended to any G.I. Joe newbies.

  4. I love GI Joe. I think the books are very cool now from IDW, after a bit of a bumpy start.

    WWIII from Devil’s Due was very cool, like you said.

    My favorites of the Marvel run were the issues leading up to number 50, with Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow being badass and Cobra creating Serpentor. And issue 74-76 the Cobra Civil War were damn good, too.