Marvel’s GI Joe Retrospective, Issue #1b: “Hot Potato”

“Hot Potato” is a short story appended to issue #1, “Operation: Lady Doomsday.” It’s fairly slight, but sufficiently interesting and different that I decided to talk about it separately.

“Hot Potato” opens in media res with a fantastic full-page scene that pulls you right into the action:

What’s the story?

A team of Joes has infiltrated a nameless “emirate” in the Middle East and gotten their hands on a tape of information that will defuse a tense political situation. When they’re attacked and outnumbered by emirate soldiers, a succession of Joes must relay the tape—the “hot potato”—across the desert to the border. Each Joe in the relay chain hands off the tape to the next, then races back to help defend (and ultimately rescue) the wounded and encircled original team.

What’s noteworthy about this issue?

Duty and sacrifice. The running gag here is that none of the Joes wants to abandon the encircled team, although their orders require them to prioritize the safe delivery of the tape over the lives of their fellow Joes. So each Joe in turn (grudgingly) obeys orders but then doubles back—because they haven’t been ordered not to—to help the friends they left behind. Scarlett in particular aggressively reminds the Joes of their duty, even though those orders mean leaving her behind to die. Nobly following orders like this is a standard action-hero trope, but we also learn from this (and from similar grousing about orders in issue #1) that the Joes are first and foremost a military unit that is beholden above all else to the chain of command; they’re not just a roving band of do-gooders.

No sign of Cobra. Except for one throwaway sentence mentioning that Cobra is bankrolling the corrupt emirate, there’s no sign of the Joes’ traditional enemy. This suggests that the Joes won’t always be fighting costumed supervillains—sometimes they’ll be dealing with more “real life” enemies and hotspots. I’m curious to see if this is a rare occurence or a running theme.

The enemy here appears to be the regular army of this fictional Middle Eastern nation—not the Taliban-style guerillas and terrorists that would likely be the villains were this issue written today. The appearance of Gaddafi-like uniformed colonel and a few references to the harshness of the emirate’s “justice” suggests a represssive but legitimate state like Iran or Saudi Arabia led by a Saddam Hussein-style dictator. To a 1982 reader, this would have evoked the Arab factions of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which had flared into shooting wars several times in the decades before this issue’s publication. Little details like the Soviet-style MiG flown by the emirate’s army reinforce this.

Deeply nuanced enemies, these are not. And the trope of nameless, fanatical non-white enemies—not much different in 1982 than it is in 2022—feels icky. But I’m intrigued that already in issue #1, we’re dealing with non-Cobra enemies that clearly reference real-world places and situations.

Scarlett’s just part of the team. Scarlett is the only female Joe we’ve met so far, and refreshingly, she is portrayed as… well, just a regular Joe. Her character design isn’t particularly sexualized, she’s not there as a love interest (although Rock-n-Roll mentions that Snake-Eyes might be interested, we don’t hear that it’s reciprocated), and if anything, she’s shown as a particularly committed and serious team member. It’s not weird yet! Let’s hope this continues.

It’s a little grim. Despite the overall lightheartedness of the “hot potato” theme, the story takes at least one dramatic swerve into grim territory, as Scarlett (wounded and unable to retreat) prepares to kill herself rather than be captured:

That escalated quickly!

That’s a bit grim for a kid’s comic! But it reminds us, here at the outset of the series, that the Joes are mortal and that death is (at least in theory) a possibility in these stories.

Favorite panel: I love the facial expressions and details in this sequence of panels showing Rock-n-Roll getting angrier and angrier at his orders to abandon Scarlett:

That’s about all there is to say about this short (just 10 pages) story. Next time, we’ll tackle issue #2, “Panic at the South Pole.”

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3 thoughts on “Marvel’s GI Joe Retrospective, Issue #1b: “Hot Potato”

  1. Pingback: Marvel’s GI Joe Retrospective: Issue #1, “Operation: Lady Doomsday” | The Staging Point

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