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AICN COMICS Q&@: Yo Joe!!! Ambush Bug talks with Andy Schmidt & Mike Costa about the Death of Cobra Commander and the upcoming COBRA CIVIL WAR!!!


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AICN COMICS: Q&@ is our new semi-weekly interview column where some of your favorite @$$Holes interview comic bookdom’s biggest, brightest, newest, and oldest stars. Enjoy this latest in-depth interview filled with @$$y goodness and be sure to look for more AICN COMICS as we gaze into the future of comics every week with AICN COMICS: SPINNER RACK PREVIEWS returning soon every Monday and then join the rest of your favorite @$$Holes for their opinions on the weekly pull every Wednesday with AICN COMICS REVIEWS!

Q’s by Ambush Bug!

@’s by Andy Schmidt and Mike Costa!

Hey all, Ambush Bug here. If you’re a child of the eighties, you were a GI JOE fan. Admit it. I’m not ashamed to. And I was pretty damn excited to see IDW take GI JOE to new and exciting places a few years ago. Since then, the GI JOE series has been going strong and as of last week, the Joes’ arch nemesis suffered a huge blow when Cobra Commander had his brains blowed out real good in GI JOE COBRA #12. Now with the Cobra Commander gone, every ambitious snake is vying for the title of Conra Commander and in April, the “Cobra Civil War” event is going to begin with new first issues of GI JOE, SNAKE-EYES, and COBRA. I had a chance to talk with GI JOE editor Andy Schmidt and GI JOE COBRA writer Mike Costa about the death of Cobra Commander and the upcoming war. Here’s what they had to say…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): First off, I read GI JOE: COBRA #12 and it really was a fantastic issue. What went into the decision to off Cobra Commander?

MIKE COSTA (MC): Actually, it came out of our very first conversation about doing a sequel to the original COBRA series. I had submitted some ideas about a possible sequel, but they were mostly vague - though what we ended up doing with Erika is very close to one of those original ideas - and mostly I just figured I'd set up an alley-oop for Chuck to bring Chuckles back in the main book at some point. But once the first issue came out and we were so lucky to get the attention we did, Andy, Chris and I had a conversation that same week about seriously perusing a sequel. I think it was Andy who originally suggested making it a trilogy, in fact.

That conversation was pretty general. I don't remember any specific plot points being discussed. But my big concern - and I think we were all on the same page with this - was that I didn't want the sequels to feel like we were just repeating what we thought was a winning formula. We wanted to make sure they had an actual purpose outside of just trying to give readers more of the same. That night I was lying in bed, and suddenly it all came to me at once - the two biggest ideas for the sequels. We'd introduce Cobra Commander at the end of Cobra II, and then we'd kill him off in Cobra III! (what we originally were referring to as "Cobra III has now become Cobra #10-13.) I knew the ideas were crazy, but crazy ideas were what I felt made Cobra work. I literally typed all of this into an e-mail on my blackberry in the dark, I was so excited.

Chris signed on right away, but Andy, as the editor, saw our major problem immediately - we were only an ancillary book. Chuck Dixon was writing the flagship, and here we want to both introduce and then kill off the main villain of the franchise in our little spinoff. Since I happen to be incredibly self-absorbed and unaware of other peoples' needs or feelings, this had not occurred to me. Luckily, Chuck is not just a great writer, but also incredibly supportive to insolent punks that want to steal his glory, and he agreed.

ANDY SCHMIDT(AS): Mike and Christos came up with the idea. On my end, I just want to make sure that I get more out of a stunt like this than just shock. I wanted to be sure we got new stories and something really fun and cool out of it--and we definitely will. It's also the kind of thing that will bring readers back to the books, I think. And with the start of COBRA CIVIL WAR in G.I. JOE: COBRA CIVIL WAR #0, it's also a great jumping on point for readers.

But really, for me, I wanted to make sure that something like this is character driven and moves the story or stories forward. And this really, really does.

BUG: I don't believe the true identity of Cobra Commander has been revealed. Am I right? Will this search for a new leader of COBRA lead to the revelation of the man behind the first Commander mask?

AS: It has not, no.

MC: It has not been and I, at least, don't ever plan to reveal it. Chuck has a really interesting idea about it that he hints at in the first issue of the GI Joe relaunch, but other than that little tease, I don't think it really matters who he was.

BUG: GI JOE: COBRA, the series, seems to have always functioned in a different universe as the other two GI JOE titles. I definitely have noticed a difference in tone in COBRA than with the other two series. I even categorized it as the Vertigo title of the GI JOE series. But now it looks like those definitive lines are crumbling a bit with this upcoming crossover. Care to comment on that?

AS: It's intentional. One thing I like about G.I. JOE is that it's flexible. You can do a whole lot in terms of style and tone that all works with the concept. And we've taken the books in different directions, but it's time to show people that it's all still one universe, even though it may not feel like it all the time.

I've talked about this with fans since the beginning--it's one universe, and those who read all three books get a really interesting and more complete picture. And now it's all coming together. And I think fans are going to love it!

MC: Absolutely. One of the things that made me excited about this project was getting to work more closely with Chuck. To be honest, I didn't really have any plans for Cobra after we finished up this current storyline (which I affectionately refer to as "The Chuckles Saga.") Even the Serpentor storyline we did was more Gage than me - he came up with all the big concepts for that one. So I was sort of thinking that after we finished with the final Cobra special, I'd move on to something else. I'd helped tell the story I wanted to tell, and that would be that. I had some vague idea of what might happen after the death of Cobra Commander, but my attitude was that was more Chuck's problem than mine. I'd just throw a big bomb into his franchise and let him rebuild it. That's the kind of guy I am.

But Chuck's concept about where to take the story after the Commander's death, and his ideas for what role the Cobra book could play in it, were so good that I immediately agreed to stick around. Even though Chris had to leave (which is a bummer) I am still excited to work on this book, because it's such a different story than what we were originally telling. Just like in the conversations we had after the first Cobra book came out, my biggest concern was not repeating myself. But the Cobra Civil War, and Cobra's role in the story, is such a different animal that I can have fun doing something different while still maintaining the tone and feel of the original book that I think a lot of people responded to.

BUG: How will the death of Cobra Commander affect the rest of the GI JOE titles?

AS: In April, we kick of the G.I. JOE: COBRA CIVIL WAR with a #0 issue and then that event--the fight to determine the next Cobra Commander--will play out in all three ongoing series--G.I. JOE #1, SNAKE EYES #1 and COBRA #1 respectively.

MC: It is the major catalyst that sets off our next year of stories. The Cobra Civil War - different Cobra candidates vying for the Commander title - will run through all the Joe books for the next few months, and its resolution will set off an even bigger story.

BUG: What can readers expect to see as the snakes fight for the crown of COBRA?

AS: A whole lot of back stabbing! And a lot of explosions!

MC: A lot of people getting killed. A lot of treachery. And, in my book, a lot of insight into the Cobra characters that you might not have seen before. I've written the Baroness, but I've never written what's going on inside her head. Same with Serpentor, and several other characters like that. That's what I'm going to be doing in COBRA.

BUG: How does fan favorite GI JOE cast member Chuckles fit into all of this?

AS: He's obviously very much at the center of things right now. He's an important figure for sure.

MC: Well, he's the man that started this whole thing off. He achieved maybe the most significant "victory" that Joe has had. Whether anyone on the Joes’ side even knows he did it remains to be seen...

BUG: I love it that some of the spotlight has been shifted from usual Joe staples like Snake Eyes, Hawk, Duke, and Scarlett to a lesser character like Chuckles. Are there any plans to give this type of attention to any of the other Joes?

AS: I'd like to, but that's always tough on the business side. I find these side characters a little more interesting sometimes. And I know Mike really likes digging up the obscure guys, so you can certainly expect to see more of them in Mike's work.

BUG: GI JOE: COBRA shines in my eyes because it takes out-there concepts like Serpentor, Tomax and Xamot, and Croc Master and makes them somewhat more believable; sort of what Chris Nolan did with the Batman movies. Do you think this is an accurate comparison?

AS: I think it's a huge complement to the work that Mike, Chris, and Antonio have done. They've worked very hard to take the ridiculousness of G.I. JOE and play it up differently while still staying true to who these characters are. It's much more difficult to do than it might seem.

MC: Well, it's certainly a flattering comparison. One of the things Chris and I were in agreement on from the beginning was that we knew what an important task it was to write a book about the bad guys. Heroes are only as good as their villains, and in order to be a viable threat, Cobra had to be scary and plausible. That meant we had to strip away some of the silliness from the original toys and the cartoon. At the same time, we loved so many of those original characters (witness Chris's borderline-alarming enthusiasm for the Croc Master), and we wanted to remain as true as possible to who they were. So that required some creative re-imagining at times. I assume this is probably a similar process to what Chris Nolan goes through on the Bat films, but he won't return my calls so I can't say for sure.

BUG: So it looks like SNAKE-EYES is going to be getting his own series. How will this solo book tie into this event?

MC: Andy will have to take this. I don't do ninja.

AS: There are a number of Cobra candidates. And Snake Eyes is going to go head-to-head with at least one of them in his solo book. And maybe even some ninjas and soldiers... Snake Eyes is a lot of fun to play with. And his book is going to really surprise people, I think.

BUG: Some of my favorite characters from the original GI JOE series was Quinn the Eskimo, the Oktober Guard, and the Dreadnoks. Will any of these characters be showing up in any of the upcoming GI JOE series?

AS: I love the October Guard as a concept. I honestly do. And I have a story to tell with them when the time is right, but you won't see any of them right away. And Ben Templesmith has been telling me for years he wants to tackle the Dreadnoks. I'd like to see that happen, too.

MC: Interesting you should mention the Dreadnoks. I absolutely love those characters, because they make no sense. They're a group of Australian punks who live in the Everglades and are also an American motorcycle club and are ruled by a shape-changer. That, even more than Cobra La, is the weirdest concept GI Joe ever had. I want to get my hands on them so badly. They actually were part of my original plan for this final Chuckles arc, when I wrote it up almost two years ago - in fact, if you look, there's a subtle reference to them in the first Cobra Special, where I was planting the seeds. I think at the time Andy told me that Chuck had plans for them, so I had to use someone else (though I could be remembering that wrong) but, regardless, the story evolved down a different road and they wouldn't have fit in anyway.

Since then, whether Chuck had plans for them at one point or not, they haven't showed up. So if Andy is still open to it, I know how I'd introduce them...

BUG: Are you afraid of diluting what is making this rendition of GI JOE at IDW work so well by adding on too many specials and spinoffs?

AS: Honestly, yes. We've got three books. That's plenty hard enough to keep track of. But as long as they all work on their own and they work together and have a place, I think we'll keep with them. But I have to say, as an editor, I'm pretty protective of this G.I. JOE universe.

MC: That's just what editors say to keep their writers poor and under their thrall.

BUG: How do you think IDW's version of GI JOE differ from previous takes on the franchise?

AS: I'd like to think we're pushing some boundaries a bit. And I think we're deepening some of the characters. At least, I hope we are.

MC: I think IDW has something for everyone. IDW is the first company in a decade to re-start Larry's Real American Hero book, which is what a lot of fans have craved for a long time. And within our own continuity, we've got Chuck writing the best modern Joe book in... well, probably since Larry's Marvel book. And we've got COBRA, which feels like something new, yet familiar in the franchise. I think it's a testament to Andy and Chris Ryall how well all of these elements work together, and how they can service so many fans with a single franchise.

BUG: So why should folks who haven't checked out IDW's GI JOE books check out this big crossover event?

AS: I think it's just that. It's an easy buy in from a concept stand point. Your favorite villains are competing for the Cobra Commander helmet! And they're going to kill as many Joes as possible to prove their worth. Pick up the #0 issue or COBRA #12 that came out today and join us. This is where the ride gets wild!

MC: Well, the cover-art is pretty wicked.

Also, it's the biggest and best GI Joe story that's ever been told. So there's that too.

AICN: Thanks for your time.

MC: Thank you! On a personal note, I've been reading AICN almost since it first started up, back when I was just starting high school.

BUG: Now, I feel old.

MC: I would actually stay after school in the library or computer lab to read it, because we had a really crappy computer at home. It is such an awesome honor for me to now be interviewed by this site, the once and future king of internet geekdom. Thank you guys so much for your support. It means so much to me.

BUG: Very cool. I can’t wait to see the scales fly in the Cobra Civil War! Look for GI JOE: COBRA #12 which hit the stands last week for the kickoff to the COBRA CIVIL WAR storyline which starts in April from IDW Publishing. Thanks Mike and Andy!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the names to buy)!
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