I joked, in the wake of the news last week that Paramount is prepping a stand-alone Snake Eyes movie, that if it’s not an adaptation of G.I. Joe #21 I’m going to react poorly. That issue, if you don’t already know, contains no dialogue as it’s a solo story featuring Snake Eyes infiltrating a Cobra stronghold and doing armed battle against his rival Storm Shadow and a bunch of other ninjas to rescue Scarlett.
So…not a chatty bunch there.
Whether or not that happens, I’m surely not the only one who hopes the studio embraces a bit more of what made Snake Eyes one of the first and biggest “cool” characters in the pop culture pantheon of Gen Xers like myself.
It’s true. This is even before (or around the same time) Wolverine became the poster child for gritty, cool comic book characters. Batman was just about to be reinvented by Frank Miller into The Dark Knight that would dominate that character for the next 30 years and Alan Moore was busy deconstructing the whole super hero idea in Watchmen.
Meanwhile, Larry Hama was telling a ridiculously complex and intriguing story about Snake Eyes in the G.I. Joe books. The backstory as to why he didn’t – couldn’t – speak, where that tattoo on his forearm came from and what it signified, what the grudge Storm Shadow held against him…all of that played out over the course of years. A few dedicated arcs of a couple issues each popped up here and there, but it all trickled out slowly via flashbacks to Vietnam, Japan and other locations.
For someone like myself who was relatively new to serialized storytelling like this, it was ridiculously addictive, especially since it was pre-internet and the only other person to talk to about it was that one other friend who also collected the Joe books.
While I try not to get too hung up on my own definition of the “real” version of a character that has had countless people telling different stories, each effective and substantial in their own way, I do feel like there’s something about that 80s comic book Snake Eyes that is much more interesting and provocative than what was seen in the live-action movies to date. Ray Park did a great job conveying Snake’s physical abilities, but even with some flashbacks filling in parts of his backstory it just wasn’t the same.
There was nothing that captured that lethal effectiveness of that landmark issue. More than that, there was nothing that conveyed the same sense of mystery about the character as a whole as what was shared in the Hama-penned comics. Even in the flashbacks, we never saw Snake Eyes’ face, which was always obscured in some way, though we saw the moment where he received the injuries that lead him to wear a mask at all times. There were only a few times where, in the present, he removed that mask for some reason, with the camera always behind him so the audience saw nothing revealed.
It’s that character I most want to see, the tragic warrior doomed to live a solitary existence, haunted by what he sees as a failure to protect the teacher who took him in and raised him as his own.
The movie version hinted at that, but it didn’t capture it in a meaningful way. Here’s hoping Paramount takes a page from the success of something like Logan and goes all-in on a lonely, conflicted character who wants to stop fighting but knows it’s not the time for that just yet.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.