Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Conning the Bad Guys

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed a Superman story in which the Man of Steel ran a complex con on Lex Luthor. It reminded me of the TV show Mission: Impossible, a series created by Bruce Geller specifically because he enjoyed complex bank heist movies and wanted a format in which the good guys could justifiably be doing the same sort of thing.

It's a great conceit and, like many other tropes of fiction, it's something that can be done over and over again in an infinite number of variations.

It's an idea that writer Larry Hama ran with during the 1980s in Marvel's G.I. Joe Special Missions. This was a spin-off of the main G.I. Joe title, showcasing side missions that the Joe Team might be running at any one time. Often, the villains were still the international terrorist group known as Cobra (their main enemies in the regular Joe book). But Special Missions gave Hama an opportunity to pit the Joes against other bad guys as well. And he often used the "running a con" plot to great effect.

The very first issue (October 1986), in fact, had the Joes running a con right out the gate.

A supposedly Swedish trawler is sailing in the Baltic Sea. Except it's not really Swedish--it's packed full of Joes. Their mission? Well, both the elite Russian commando team known as the Oktober Guard and Cobra think they are trying to recover classified equipment from a sunken American sub.

Both the Russians and Cobra are determined to get to the sub first. This leads to a helicopter dogfight, then expands into the Baroness (Cobra's beautiful but ruthless assassin) leading a boarding party aboard the Russian ship. But while Cobra and the Oktober Guard are trying to kill each other, two Joe frogmen also sneak aboard the Russian vessel. Because the sunken sub doesn't really exist and all this is really part of a plan to carry out another mission entirely...

It's a fun story. Herb Trimpe, the usual G.I. Joe artist from that era, does his typically strong job of presenting the action. And I've always enjoyed Hama's ability to merge complex plot twists together with cool battle scenes.

And it's always fun watching the bad guys get fooled. When that sort of plot is done well and shows real cleverness and imagination... well, as I said--it's a trope that simply doesn't get old.

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