"Does a sane person who wants to write for adults, choose comics as his or her medium? Give me a break!"
-Larry Hama, "Pro File", printed in various Marvel titles.
Larry Hama is a comic book writer, best known for his work for Marvel Comics on the G.I. Joe series. In a time when comic books based on action figures were commonplace and rarely ran for over a year, Larry Hama made a name for himself with the G.I. Joe comic by writing intelligent and realistic stories that often dealt with more mature themes than more popular superhero books. He kept a central cast of characters that were always well-developed despite having to contend with constant additions from Hasbro's toyline, and he let military realism supercede toyish gimmickry wherever he could.
Because of the comic's popularity, which was mainly because of Hama's excellent writing, G.I. Joe ran for 155 issues, almost all penned by Hama. His continuing storylines turned off a few fans, who preferred the more action-packed one-shot issues from the comic's early years, so he got to write a second G.I. Joe book - "Special Missions" - which ran for a few years alongside the main G.I. Joe comic. Hama also wrote almost all the file cards for the G.I. Joe action figures (Stephen King's son wrote Crystal Ball's filecard, an arrangement that Hama declines to explain), and contributed greatly to the G.I. Joe cast of characters, rather than let the toy line dictate his cast. Among other things, he created the Baroness, later made into a toy, to offset Cobra's many masked, male villains, his Soviet Russian "Oktober Guard" special operations team was the basis for a few figures, and Hama himself was the basis for Tunnel Rat's appearance.
One of Hama's greatest creations in G.I. Joe was Snake-Eyes - the mute, faceless ninja who nonetheless was an extremely emotional and expressive character. Forever sad and solitary despite his and Scarlett's mutual affection, Snake-Eyes' past and present were often the center of G.I. Joe's plot. As the facts unfolded concerning his brotherly relationship with Storm Shadow and his family, their enemies, and the intertwined pasts of so many of G.I. Joe's and Cobra's martial artists and soldiers, it feels as if Hama had planned it as a grand saga from the beginning, the story of a few people looking for justice and redemption amidst a life of violence.
Unfortunately, the comic later became laden with the toyish aspects Hama had tried so hard to avoid, with his overuse of ninja-themed plotlines and Hasbro's introduction of strange subteams, such as ones with ecological and anti-drug themes. However, Hama's engaging writing and Ludlum-like ability to pile plot twist atop plot twist kept the comic reasonably fresh and entertaining to the end. All throughout G.I. Joe's run, despite its often gritty tone, Hama knew he was writing for children as much as for himself, and he kept it enjoyable on multiple levels. Today, he laments the adult shift in comics readership for the fact that the comics industry caters to adults, not bringing in new, younger readers.
Before, during and after G.I. Joe, Hama worked on many other comics, mainly writing for Marvel. He had trouble getting work from Marvel editors, as they didn't think highly of him and would only put him on obscure or unprofitable titles. He got permission from Marvel to write for other companies at a time when no Marvel editor could find any work for him. His most prolific work outside of G.I. Joe was on Wolverine - a title that he was assigned to because it was failing in sales at the time. He turned Wolverine around, and made it a success comparable to G.I. Joe, but like G.I. Joe, this earned him little favor at Marvel, and after several years of Wolverine, he eventually went back to occasional work on miscellaneous series.
In 2001, a comics studio called Devil's Due gained the G.I. Joe license, and that fall they started publishing a new G.I. Joe series that directly followed from the end of Hama's series for Marvel. The new series, along with one or two ancillary series it has spawned (much like Hama's old "Special Missions"), have an almost worshipful fidelity to the original characterizations and dialogue style of Hama's series, even while they introduce all sorts of contemporary references and themes into the plot.
Although he hasn't done any other regular comic work in a few years, Hama sometimes steps in and writes occasional issues for Devil's Due, and he still writes all kinds of background information for Hasbro's G.I. Joe toys.
One of my personal favorites of Hama's works is a comic called The Nth Man, which any fan of the G.I. Joe comic will probably enjoy until about ten issues in, at which point it becomes surrealistic and often outright wacky, though still very interesting. Laden with religious symbolism and mysticism, and featuring Communists, flashbacks, a nearly omnipotent man with the mind of a child and one badass ninja, it's an entertaining read. (Along with Bucky O'Hare, for which he did not only the comic series but the character designs for the toys, The Nth Man is one of Hama's favorites among his own work.) Another work of his I'd recommend is 2010, a comics adaptation of the film based on the Clarke novel. The film loses little in the translation back to print, and Hama's work is bolstered by solid art.
As one might assume, Larry Hama is rather anti-authoritarian. He fought back constantly when Marvel or Hasbro people tried to force him to alter his work, to make it better match the toys or the cartoon or their personal tastes. In his own words, "(he doesn't) get along much with the suits and haircuts." This is part of what made his comics so great - he never bended with trends or tried to fit a particular formula. He wrote his comics the way he wanted to, and his success was rarely sought; success came with quality of work.
Hama had a small role in an episode of M*A*S*H; he played one of a pair of deceitful Korean soldiers in "The Korean Surgeon".
He's played guitar in a band called the K-Otics since 1981.
A complete list of his comic works can be found here:
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