Sunday, September 15, 2013

Let Me Make You Kwinn-To

In 1982, Marvel started publishing the comic “G.I.Joe – A Real American Hero”. This together with the cartoon series that started a year later was part of Hasbro’s master plan of using different media to help promote their product. So really as far as Hasbro was concerned, the comic really had one main purpose, to be a glorified catalogue to feature and help sell more of their toys.

Fortunately for us, the writer of the comic was none other than Larry Hama, who today is considered to be the “godfather” of all things G.I.Joe (well…at least the Real American Hero line). Anyway, Mr. Hama wasn’t interested in writing just glorified toy catalogue. He wanted to write a real series, featuring characters with real relatable personalities that he himself fleshed out in the filecards that he wrote as well for each action figure.

Anyway, one of the major obstacles he faced was that he really couldn’t kill off any of the main characters for the sake of the story or realism. So to work around this, he introduced other characters who were more than just background characters but were featured heavily as well. One of the more memorable ones was introduced very early on in the series. This was the mysterious eskimo mercenary Kwinn. Since he was a mercernary, he had no real allegiance to Joe or Cobra, just to anyone who would pay his price. In fact when he makes his debut, he is actually working for the Russians. Anyway early on it was established that Kwinn, although a mercenary was a very honourable man, who would fulfil all debts and promises and more importantly jobs, regardless of how he personally felt about them.

On his first assignment, he managed to outsmart the Joes and accomplish his mission, but in the process came to respect the Joes. In succeeding issues, he ended up working for Cobra but is ultimately betrayed by them and left for dead. He manages to survive alongside G.I.Joe Snake Eyes, who he builds an even stronger respect for, as well as another character, resident Cobra scientist Dr. Venom.

Now everybody knows Snake Eyes. But Dr. Venom, maybe not as much, since he was another original character created by Larry Hama. And his story is so intertwined with Kwinn that it is really impossible to mention one without the other. Through circumstances beyond their control, these three guys are forced to work together in order to survive, through their ordeals, Dr. Venom takes every single opportunity he gets to try and kill Kwinn (and Snake Eyes). Luckily, he is unsuccessful in every turn and only manages to anger Kwinn even more. When Dr. Venom eventually makes it back to Cobra, Kwinn makes it his personal mission to track down Venom and kill him.

Eventually, Kwinn finally gets his chance to kill Venom but in the end realizes that in his thirst for vengeance, he has become no better than the man he has sworn to kill. So he lets Venom live, makes peace with himself and walks away. Ever the opportunist, Venom pulls out a gun and shoots him repeatedly at his back, killing him. But as his dead body falls at a gloating Dr. Venom’s feet, his hand opens revealing a live grenade, which then explodes killing Venom as well. And so ends the story of Kwinn & Dr. Venom.

As a kid reading the Joe comics, I really didn’t like Kwinn. And as shallow as this may sound, I didn’t like him cuz well…he was ugly. Here was this big hulking guy who kept outsmarting the Joes, that the comics seem to constantly focus on. He also spoke funny calling Snake Eyes “Shadow Man” and speaking about vengeance and “weasel spirits” which for a little boy was a bit too much to take in. It was only when I was much older that I came to really appreciate Kwinn as a character.

I don’t know if this was Mr. Hama’s intention but Kwinn was the first real complex character introduced to the Real American Hero universe. Here was this guy you really couldn’t quite peg. Because of his mercenary nature, he wasn’t quite good or bad. He was the first gray area in G.I.Joe, proof that Mr. Hama was serious in writing a realistic title despite limitations handed down to him by the powers that be. And that is something one can really come to appreciate when you’re older. He was introduced in issue # 2 and died in issue #18. That really isn’t much of a comic life span considering the actual title lasted 12 years and over 100 issues.

That is a testament to how well his character was written and portrayed. Although his time was brief, he managed to be memorable enough to so many readers that when a proper modern action figure was released almost 30 years later, Joe fans were ecstatic! And looking at his figure, you can tell that Hasbro really pulled out all the stops in making him. It’s like a love letter in plastic to Larry Hama and all the fans of the fantastic comic that he wrote. So somewhere out there in the comic book afterlife, the weasel spirit is smiling down on all of us.