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Snake Eyes can talk? The Real American Hero ‘Origin’ of G.I. Joe's greatest ninja
Perhaps more than any other individual, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic book writer/artist Larry Hama is the reason fans are still clamoring to hear even more tales about that most daring of highly trained special mission forces. So it's especially exciting to see that Hama (who's also responsible for many of those informative file cards from the Hasbro toy line) is helping to promote Paramount's upcoming Henry Golding-starring Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins movie. He literally wrote the book on the character's ninja business background — which we expect to see some form of in the film — particularly in G.I. Joe #26 and #27, "Snake-Eyes: The Origin, Part I" and "Part II."
Before that though, Hama had established the coolest character in the franchise as the Uzi-carrying ninja, who silently did cool ninja things. And he has remained pretty much silent ever since. Indeed, in the featurette below, Golding remembers the character as always having been the "silent ninja," while noting that Hama helped fully establish that feature of the fan-favorite character in 1984's G.I. Joe #21, "Silent Interlude," in which no one speaks. (It's also the comic that inspired the best part of both previous Joe movies — that insanely cool nine-minute, Himalayan ninja fight in G.I. Joe: Retaliation — while also introducing the second coolest character in the franchise, Storm Shadow, portrayed by Warrior's Andrew Koji in the upcoming film). But as we can see in the film's first trailer, Golding's Snake Eyes will finally get a chance to speak his own truth, audibly.
Hama says in the featurette that he made Snake Eyes' silence "character-centric." So it's a bit discomfiting to hear Golding's character speak (presumably he's not taken up the Snake Eyes mantle just yet), but you don't just have a star like Golding hide silently behind a mask, even if it is a darn cool mask. And Snake Eyes stopped speaking for a reason, which is alluded to in the comics, though not fully fleshed out, certainly not on screen. So it sounds like that's going to be somewhat of a storyline going forward, which is intriguing as well.
However, perhaps the real nugget of new intel has more to do with what Hama says next: "I came up with the backstory of Storm Shadow: take Snake Eyes into the clan." That "clan" is the Arashikage clan, aka Storm Shadow's family's ninja business, as first shown in Hama and Steve Leialoha's G.I. Joe #26, and Hama, Frank Springer, Andy Mushynsky, and George Roussos' G.I. Joe #27.
The two-part story of Snake Eyes' background is basically told through a couple of exposition dumps from characters in the present, starting with OG Joes Stalker, Hawk, and Scarlett back at The Pit (HQ). Stalker recalls his time in Vietnam with Snake and Tommy Arashikage, aka Storm Shadow, who were friends from way back. Tommy was always telling Snake about the family business in Japan, and implying there was room for him too. Alas, while trying to board a helicopter, they came under heavy fire, and Snake Eyes got shot up good, to the point where Stalker left him for dead. Tommy didn't, however. Heroically, he went back and grabbed his buddy, then ninja danced his way through a sea of bullets to get back to the chopper.
Later, Hawk recalls Snake Eyes coming home from 'Nam, only to have to relay the news that his entire family, including his beloved twin sister, had been killed in an auto accident that day. With nothing keeping him in the States, he heads to Japan to seek out Tommy.
The other part of Snake Eyes' origin is recalled by a shopkeeper in present-day Spanish Harlem, who we find out went by the title "Soft Master." He recalls being part of the family ninja business run by the Hard Master (The Raid's Iko Uwais in the film), who trained Snake in the cool-ass ways of the ninja. (Currently, Snake Eyes' credits don't mention a Soft Master, but they do list a Blind Master, played by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Peter Mensah. The Blind Master has also appeared in some of the comics alongside Storm Shadow's Young Master, Snake Eyes' Silent Master, and Firefly's Faceless Master, among others.)
Because of Snake Eyes' hard work and talent, the Hard Master takes a liking to him and suggests making Snake the heir to the family business, instead of Tommy, aka Storm Shadow, aka Young Master, aka the Ear That Sees. Alas, the Hard Master is killed while trying to impart upon Snake the lesson of the "Mantle of the Chameleon." The arrow appeared to have come from Storm Shadow's quiver, as the Soft Master saw him running away from the crime scene.
Cutting back to Hawk's memory of when he and Stalker were putting together the Joe team and wanted to include Snake Eyes, they eventually tracked him down to the High Sierras, where the locals have taken to believing he's a werewolf. Turns out he's just living up there with an actual wolf, and is ready to come join the team. Then Scarlett recalls her early time with Snake, including when he saved her from a helicopter crash, but burned up his face and seemingly lost his ability to speak in the process.
Back in Spanish Harlem, Storm Shadow shows up, and he and Snake basically fight all over New York City, eventually ending up atop a moving train. It's as cool as it sounds — and would make a heckuva a set piece to any G.I. Joe film. The fight signifies something more than your basic brawl; at the end, Snake ends up saving Storm Shadow, and the two stop fighting long enough for Storm to imply he isn't guilty of killing the Hard Master, and the eventual crumbling of the family business. In fact, he has joined Cobra to find the true killer.
Rereading the two comics all these years later, it's easy to see why Hama's stories remain so intriguing, and why his affiliation with this upcoming film is a good thing. Unlike the animated series, for the most part, the comics deal with some heavy stuff, including war and murder. Granted, it's mixed in with lighter fare such as a G.I. Joe dog leading Cobra's leadership elite into a sea of quicksand. So, it'll be interesting to see which Arashikage clan tales the film plucks from Hama and other comic storytellers, which include links to even more cool ninja characters, such as Firefly and Jinx.
Granted, there's no mention of either of those characters yet. Perhaps they'll show up when Snake Eyes talks his way into theaters on July 23? Or perhaps they won't. Either way, such room to grow can only portend a good direction for our dear franchise. And it's definitely a good sign that one character who is listed is named "Hama."