Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Learning to Fly a Lancaster

G.I. Joe #15 (September 1983) was right smack in the middle of one of the complex story lines that writer Larry Hama excelled at creating. But it also works as a one-shot, because it features the sort of unique action set pieces that Hama and the various artists he worked with (in this case Mike Vosburg) also excelled in creating.

The issue begins with everyone's favorite Joe Snake Eyes trapped in the chaotic Central American country of Sierra Gordo, forced into a reluctant team-up with Cobra mad scientist Dr. Venom and an Eskimo mercentary named Kwinn.

For some people, this might be considered unusual. For Snake Eyes, it was Tuesday.

Though the story breaks away from this trio a few times to keep the main story arc rolling, most of this issue follows their attempt to escape from the country. Dr. Venom is able to fly multi-engine aircraft, so the World War II-era surplus Lancaster bomber at a nearby air base is a possibility. But not only do they need to get to the plane, they need to take off without being riddled by machine gun fire, then do something about the several Spitfire fighter planes also located at the base.

The combination battle/chase sequence that follows is superbly choreographed, with the artist making good use of unusual panel designs to emphasis the danger and allow us to follow the action.

The trio get on the plane, but Venom has trouble getting one of the engines started. Snake Eyes takes a position in the plane's top turret, giving cover fire, taking out several of the Spitfires and blowing up a truck or two that tries to pursue them down the runway. The wayward engine finally starts and they get airborne in the nick of time.

I'm going to pause here to note something that can be considered a minor criticism of the story. Much of the action is explained to us through character dialogue. This is fine by itself, because it's skillfully done and doesn't come across as contrived. But Larry Hama obviously did his research into how to fly a Lancaster story. He's also obviously proud of the research he did.

This is also fine, because I'm sure that research helped him to write a fun story. But he wanted us to know he'd did the research, by golly. So, for instance, when Venom asks Kwinn what the flight manual says about taking off on just three engines, Kwinn doesn't just say "No, we need all four!" He says "We need all four Rolls-Royce Merlins revving up to 2500 RPMs before we can clear an inch over the tarmac!" Because that's how people talk in real life.

Oh, well. After reading this story, all that detail makes me feel as if I could fly a Lancaster. You never know when that will come in handy.

Once in the air, they are attacked by a Spitfire they missed on the ground. With most of their gun positions unmanned, Venom has to use a fancy trick to take down the enemy plane.

Then its off to Florida, though not without some more trouble. Venom predictably tries to double-cross the other two and drop them out the bomb bay doors. Also, the plane runs low on fuel before getting back to land, forcing them to drop as much weight as possible

They finally make it to Florida, where Snake Eyes and Kwinn are tossed in the slammer, but Dr. Venom is bailed out by Cobra lawyers.

Well, the not-so-good Doctor will get what's coming to him within a few issues. But perhaps we shouldn't judge him too harshly. After all, if you're stuck with the name "Dr. Venom," you are pretty much obligated to become a mad scientist.

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