The Best Laid Plans of Ninjas and Scrubs…
I never intended for this to be the first post of Plastic Dreams 2020. I had a whole thing planned to highlight something a little more obscure, and a lot less on the nose. But I mean, no matter where you look for GI Joe, Snake Eyes is there. Even when he’s dead, he’s coming back. His shadow has been burned into the collective consciousness of GI Joe fans old and new like the shapes of the residents of Pompeii after Vesuvius erupted with vast earthly power. (Too soon? Sorry – kinda gross, but my kid is fascinated with Pompeii this year. Also trash trucks. Seriously.)
I’m writing an earnest “Return to Joe” piece, partially about how the fiction of Snake Eyes was instrumental in bringing me back after years of absence – wordy, and sincere, and true. This is not that piece, but of course it’s related. Because just like everything involving GI Joe, it all connects back to Snake Eyes somehow. Larry Hama may have had Tunnel Rat designed after him in tribute, but SE is clearly Hama’s Larry Sue; The silent, masculine, faceless protagonist who gets the girl, never wavers, and even after his death, is such a powerful force nothing can keep him away, even if not in the same form. Sorry, should I put in a spoiler tag? I mean, I haven’t even read the latest issues of Joe, but I’m pretty sure that’s what is happening…
So, 1989 Snake Eyes. I like him, but he wasn’t my go-to SE. That would be V2, which is arguably a better figure, despite the awful mouth-mask he dons, which makes it too obvious that he does, in fact, HAVE a face, despite that helicopter engine basically pulling a Karnov on his melon. (Karnov – Fire breathing Russian circus adventurer from the game of the same name, sometimes fighting game boss. LETMEGOOGLETHATFORYOU.)
Also, 1989 was the year I started High School, which brought it’s own fair share of distractions. I still liked GI Joe. I never didn’t like GI Joe. But Bat-fever gripped me that year. I was all onboard for the Tim Burton movie, and it got me into the back issues and mythology like I’d never been before. That was the year of Batman, Def Leppard and Heather Hotchkiss, who hinted at hanky-panky with head-games in history class. Man. It was all childish, but somehow, I justified it as more grown-up than my toys. We do that, don’t we? Make excuses for our passions?
NEVERMIND. Snake Eyes! This tough guy came loaded for bear, if it’s a small bear that is particularly susceptible to poison. He looks great in all black, with some tasteful silver highlights, not only on his much more mysterious (and lipless!) mask, but in particular the massive butterfly knives across his chest. These behemoth blades help to move him even further from the Commando moniker and closer to the Techno-Ninja characterization Hama wrote into the comics. And ‘89 SE is all about stealth and semi-useless weaponry. Uzi? Check! Whiffle-Sword? Word! Three-section staff? Uh, cool, if a bit unweildy. Blowgun? Wha…?
Yes, SE ditched the wolf and traded for an oversized blowgun. Now, I once saw a documentary focussing on a tribe of jungle-dwelling peoples who hunted tree-bound monkeys with massive blowguns. They were very accurate, and very innovative, but it took hours to kill one, and often, the monkey would get stuck in a tree, so the tribesman would have to climb it to yank it down for dinner. My point – lots of energy, little payoff. I mean, monkey casserole? Not worth it.
Also, and it must be said – lipless mask. Can he even use this thing without exposing his incinerated incisors, and if he does, won’t the scars make it hard to form a solid seal? Or is this outfit after the magic surgery? Whatevs.
So, why am I focussing on this SE? He was never my favorite, and it should be said – I was always more a Storm Shadow fan than Snake Eyes, at least in toy form until more recently. No, the reason is timeliness.
I was 8 when GI Joe debuted in 3 and ¾ form. So I’m old. Yet, I spend a lot of time reading on and goofing with GI Joe toys these days. It’s like play-therapy, I guess, which really kinda concerns me writing it down, as I’m not a fan of adult coloring books or safe-spaces. But I sure do like my pseudo-military-like plastic objects! And lately, I’ve enjoyed blogs like The Dragon Fortress and Forgotten Figures. Recently, both of those blogs have done features on a couple Cobra ninjas called Slice and Dice, and I commented on one that my own Dice is pristine, having recently found him (and Slice!) in Mom’s basement, preserved in the cool-dry space for years. Also in the same box? ‘89 Snake Eyes. BUT! His weapons were lost, which was unusual. I was an anal keeper of that crypt – I kept everything close and in its right place. So, I chalked up Snake’s missing means of melee and mayhem to either neighborhood villager-pilferage or brotherly burglary. And I was OK with it, for the most part.
Then, last week, after returning from a two week tour of the land of the rising sun and Arashikage origins, my brother presented me with a tiny box that he found in an old drawer, and contained within was… Snake’s Stuff! I was pretty stoked. And putting it together with him, and finding Slice and Dice in close proximity? Well, it felt like Kismet! Fate! An easy Win in uninvited cross promotion!
So, welcome to Plastic Dreams 2020! Looking back on my old toys in perfectish hindsight, but also looking forward to the glorious future! (I’ll ditch that part in a couple years, probably.) Leave a comment below and tell your friends – The ones who still play with toys and sing the theme to GI Joe the Movie when they feel down, or who think knowing really is half the battle. It won’t be all GI Joe here, but let’s be honest – sometimes you gotta play the hits.
Short Fiction – The Tomb
The old place in the mountains was maintained by the Arashikage initiates. They polished the wood panels, cleaned the tori gates, and kept the komainu dust free before returning to the main fortress to receive training in martial skill and ninjutsu tactics. Standing near the ceremonial entrance, Snake Eyes remembered his own time of service in the shrine, and wondered what the next initiates would have to replace after he was done with his business, which had just arrived.
“The indomitable Snake Eyes,” said the warrior clad in purple through the dragon mask he wore. “I wasn’t sure you’d get the hint to meet us here, to tell you the truth. How about you, Slice?”
“It was his lady friend,” said the vermillion warrior called Slice. “She be the brains, Dice.”
“Oh, truly?” said Dice. “I love a smart woman. Perhaps afterwards we pay her a visit?”
“Indubitably,” said Slice. “Though I think she’ll come to us once we present her silent lover’s head…”
Snake Eyes moved with a speed that seemed supernatural, drawing his silenced automatic weapon up, and unleashing a steady stream of fire at the spot where the two brazen assassins stood. But they moved as well, splitting up like bolts of lightning drawn to opposite strike points from the same origin. The weapon was out of ammunition in moments, and Snake Eyes dropped it as Slice and Dice rounded the gates’ pillars and initiated their own attack. Slice advanced, thrusting his hook sword at Snake Eyes in an attempt to distract him with a head-on fencing attack, while his partner, Dice, brought his naginata down at Snake Eyes’ exposed back.
However, Snake Eyes was not exposed for long. He drew his sword from its sheath. The blade howled in the wind as he swung it across his body with his left hand, parrying Slice’s attack. Snake Eyes’ body twisted with the swing, and the sword fell into place behind his head, intercepting Dice’s naginata as it bore down. At the same time, Snake’s right hand lashed like a whip, pulling the heavy three section staff it held up and over. Slice barely had a chance to react, and while he brought his weapon up in front of his face, the staff bent over his guard and struck the masked attacker’s neck and shoulder, sending pain shooting through his head and body. He grunted as his breath seemed unable to catch, and his vision became even more blurred than the fencing mask he wore already made it.
Snake Eyes pressed his advantage. He shuffled forward towards the stunned Slice, and brought his powerful left leg up in an ark, driving his heel into Slice’s ribs. The impact lifted the red swordsman up, and drove all his weight into one of the ancient pillars of the ceremonial gate. There was an audible crack and crunch, and one would be hard pressed to know if it was bone or wood making the noise. The gate collapsed upon Slice, trapping him beneath the weight of ancient beams marked with the symbols of the Arashikage clan.
Dice had not hesitated after his first thwarted blow, however. As Snake Eyes had moved away from him to attack Slice, the dragon-masked killer regained his feet and lept into the air to close the distance between himself and his prey. He’d watched his cohort take one of the hardest hits he’d ever seen, but was unfazed by the sight. Dice adjusted his grip in mid-leap and brought the naginata down with the force of an avalanche. “You’re dead, Snake Eyes!” he thought to himself, feeling as if flames were rolling in his nostrils, waiting to be breathed out like the dragon he was.
The Silent Master was aware of the would-be dragon. He knew that a single handed sword parry would fold under the weight of the descending attack. So Snake Eyes dropped his sword as he spun out of the kick he’d delivered to Slice’s guts, and engaged a two handed grip on his three-sectioned steel staff, bringing the middle section up into a block, like a bridge that might protect one beneath it from a torrential downpour.
The naginata struck the staff, and was repelled. Dice had overcommitted. The force of his landing brought him low upon landing. Snake Eyes twisted his hips, and like an axe, arced his right leg up and over the center of his mass, hooking his foot into the place where Dice’s lower neck met his upper back. The “dragon” was momentarily paralyzed, but he was strong, and it would take more than that to lay him low…
Snake Eyes twisted again in the opposite direction, swinging the staff like the tail of a true dragon, up and across the pretender’s chest, catching him under the chin. Dice was lifted off the ground. He flew backwards and splashed against the guardian komainu, crumpling next to his colleague in criminality.
Snake Eyes stood over them, looking down at the pathetic pair. His silence was a roar, and their silence was submission. Dice was able to move, but barely. He stood on wobbly legs and pulled Slice out from under the rubble. When he tried to reach for his fallen naginata, Snake Eyes shook his head slowly. Dice did not question the Silent Master, and he limped off the mountain with Slice, the fire in both of them quenched.
When they were gone, Snake Eyes looked over the shrine. He sheathed his sword and stowed the staff, then collected the weapons that had just been used against him. He entered into the secret door of the temple, and placed the implements of destruction next to several others that had been collected by the Arashikage, taken from their enemies. Beneath the mask, his scarred face formed the semblance of a smile.