Today for AICN Toys, we're switching things up a bit. Instead looking at a bunch of new toy pics and info, we're focusing on a specific toyline. AICN’s Russ Sheath reviews Sideshow Collectibles GI Joe: Retaliation 1/6th Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes figures and talks with writer Larry Hama and movie costumer designer Louise Mingenbach about working on two of comics most iconic characters Here's Russ...
Russ Sheath here. In Marvel’s GI Joe comic, series writer Larry Hama took a straight forward effort to support a Hasbro toy release with a line of comics and created one of the biggest comic book properties of the 1980’s, a series and continuity that endures to this day at publisher IDW.
In the mind of many readers, the key to the success of GI Joe was the combination of straight forward military adventure with some more fantastical elements, especially the introduction of a ongoing storyline based around the series most popular character, Snake-Eyes and his equally mysterious opposite number amongst the ranks of Cobra Storm Shadow.
When asked about the evolution of GI Joe and the introduction of Storm Shadow to the mythos, Larry Hama told AICN;
“When I saw the first development drawings for “Cobra Ninja,” the first thing that popped into my head was “this is the first Asian GI Joe character, and he’s a (blipping) bad guy.”
“I can’t change him into a Joe on the package file card, but what if engineered a gradual change-over in the comic book continuity? That meant delving into the history of the character and it occurred to me that linking that history with the most popular Joe was integral to this. I had no idea of how to go about this, though”.
That ‘most popular Joe’ which Hama refers to was the black-clad mystery man known as Snake-Eyes who was revealed to be something more than readers first assumed, evolving from masked commando to mysterious ninja warrior as the series evolved.
“Due to scheduling mishap, it was required that I produce issue #21 of ARAH within three weeks (which was unheard of back then, and probably still is.) I figured I could get it done if I wrote and drew it at the same time, and if there was no lettering, we save a whole week in production time.
That was how “SILENT INTERLUDE” came about. I “wrote” it in my usual way: starting on page one and figuring it out page by page, not knowing what will happen until I get to the next page”.
it could be argued that GI Joe, at least in the original Marvel comics, really began with issue 21 the iconic ‘Silent Interlude’ issue as the series became more of an ongoing saga. ‘Silent Interlude’ introduced readers to the second masked warrior of the series, the ‘Asian bad guy’ Hama refers to, Storm Shadow.
A little more than half-way through, both Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow rip their sleeves, and I thought, “wouldn’t it be neat if they both had the same tattoo?” I had no idea why they had the same tattoo, nor did I know what their relationship was, nor anything about the Arashikage Ninja Clan. All that came later in ARAH #24, when I had to retcon their whole history. And that’s how ninjas got into GI Joe”.
In those two panels Hama introduced an ongoing mystery and rivalry between the characters that would evolve over the next 2 years as the relationship between Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes played out to readers each month in the GI Joe comic. From the characters first meeting amidst the paddy fields of South East Asia against the backdrop of the Vietnam war and later the Japan and the dojo / temple of the Arashikage ninja clan, all the way to vengeance fueled showdown on Cobra Island.
The tumultuous and often tragic saga of Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes became core to the ongoing series and even dominated later issues of the Marvel comics run as the comic later became GI Joe starring Snake-Eyes before coming to an end in 1994.
But, the GI Joe saga didn’t end there - with ongoing GI Joe story lines in comics, GI Joe along with Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow finally found their way to the silver screen in 2009’s GI Joe The Rise of Cobra and its sequel, GI Joe Retaliation.
Reviving their role as the emotional core of the GI Joe mythos, Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow (with some revision to background story) take centre stage on the big screen and are forever immortalized by Hot Toys by way of Sideshow Collectibles in these two action figures.
Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow in GI Joe: Retaliation
Instrumental to the look of Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow in the GI Joe: Retaliation was award winning costume designer Louise Mingenbach.
Responsible for the leather biker approach to the X-Men as established in 200’s X-Men directed by Bryan Singer Louise Mingenbach was responsible for showing comic fans that it was ok to depart from the spandex look that was popular in the comics.
Working extensively with Bryan Singer (the Usual Suspects, X-Men, Superman Returns) Louise has worked on projects as diverse as Battleship, The Hangover and Hancock.
I was fortunate enough to speak with Louise Mingenbach about her career, her work on GI Joe Retaliation and designing costumes for some of Hollywood’s leading men.
(RS): Louise, thank you so much for talking to me about your career and especially about GI JOE: Retaliation.
Louise Mingenbach (LM): My pleasure. I loved doing that movie.
RS: Lets start with what you are working on right now.
LM: I am happily unemployed at the moment, infact I’m just painting my daughters bedroom having just finished X-Men: Days of Future Past.
RS: ...A journey that started back with 2000’s X-Men.
LM: Way back when.
RS: DId you ever think that, fifteen years later, you would still be dressing Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry?
LM: No. Its so funny as we all talked about it. There was a great familiarity with everyone. You know, when I first met Hugh he hadn’t really had a job before and seeing again was Halle Berry was like seeing an old girlfriend. We were trying to hide her baby bump - it was just very sweet and comfortable.
Everyone was so kind and they remembered my daughters name and asked how she was doing at school - everyone was so nice.
RS: How was it, returning to a series of movies where you worked on the first three and then you handed over to another costume designer with X-Men First Class, only to come back to that universe in the latest film?
LM: Its kinda like a tennis rally. Its kinda like we had Wolverine’s jacket in the first movie but then in First Class, it was ok, so they moved the stripes and the zipper, so perhaps I’ll move the zipper and then keep the stripes.
RS: I won’t ask you any X-Men questions as I’m sure thats all very closely guarded and secret.
LM: Top Secret. Its so difficult with everyones phone, and everyone having a phone on set. But its so difficult when you have 500 people on set.
RS: Where does your role begin and end on a movie?
LM: I feel that my heart is in the prep of a movie. Thats what I love to do, discover the character, create the character and design the clothes, thats where all my brain power goes.
Once it gets on set, its kinda too late for me because its done.
There’s a lot of maintenance and a lot of tweaking but the big picture happens in prep. Sometimes I get to set and I’ll probably know ten people on the shooting crew.I know the production designer, the producers and the actors and the people who prepped the movie with me but I always find it interesting that I can sometimes walk on set and feel very much the stranger.
On these kind of movies you may have two and a half months prep to get ready for a movie that is huge - you are never on set. You are always working for the next week and the prep never ends for shooting a movie, so I’m not on set that much.
RS: Will you follow the production through shooting until every actors costume has ‘had its moment’?
LM: Yeah. There’s always somebody who is getting cast the day before they work and flying in from somewhere, so theres always a scramble, even when shooting.
On X-Men and GI Joe as well, we had so much prep and so much to do, we couldn’t have the costumes ready and finished for the first day of shooting. We could only ask questions like ‘When is Cobra Commander going to work’? Ok, not for five weeks, so lets put him out of the way and work on him later'.
On some movies you set up your own shop - which we did on Superman - and you hire as many people as you need to produce the costumes. Now the prep time is cut down so much on big movies, there’s no way to setup your own shop so you have to outsource and use the different vendors in town. They are incredibly skilled but they are also not working exclusively on your project so you have to get in line sometimes.
RS: Is that the way the business has gone? You see some incredibly fast turn around on some huge projects.
LM: It’s incredible. My gestation period for coming up with good ideas is sometimes longer than they give me. My brain can only come up with a couple of good ideas a day, that’s the hard part for me.
RS: Does that conflict with the designer in you that needs the time to stretch your design muscles and come up with work you are happy with?
LM: Its the way I’ve always been, I guess I’m a bit of a procrastinator. I will sit and rethink something until somebody pulls the paper from my hand (laughs), I’m just that way. Certainly there are people who are more decisive (laughs).
RS: Is there a particular project that for you which stands out for scrutiny from fans?
LM: Two come to mind, one is X-Men, because I’d never done a super hero movie before and I was terrified. I had never looked at a comic book yet here was somebody who was in something that looks like they were in a yellow and blue spandex suit. I had to think about how that would work in real life or how it would look cool.
Bryan initiated the idea of them wearing something protective. These are guys who can be killed and we ended up with what we ended up with which was a complete departure from anything they had worn in the comic book.
I know there was some discussion about some people not liking that direction and you couldn’t help but be affected, especially when you were as green as I was. I was a novice, it was hard.
Superman Returns was difficult because of what the suit was going to be and how traditional it was going to be. I felt like there were a lot of eyes watching that.
RS: I think that with the first X-Men movie especially, you told fans and film makers that you could depart from the established look of these characters, yet still retain the character. I think your work on that first X-Men film still resonates today.
LM: That’s nice, thank you. I’m glad I talked a good talk, I was terrified. The other thing is something that always served me is that I didn’t grow up reading comic books so I wasn’t beholden to the X-Men wearing the spandex, I’d never seen them before which I think gave me a freedom to change it. I didn’t have that connection to childhood memories which can be very powerful.
RS: The irony is, of course, that your work influenced the look of the X-Men in the comics as they adopted those costumes.
LM: I saw that. I guess X-Men was at the beginning of all these super hero movies they have been making and it was a rethinking of the super hero costume which up until then had been Christopher Reeve and Batman. Batman really was the guy who wore armor for the first time, after then Batman type armored uniforms started looking familiar to us all.
RS: How did GI Joe Retaliation come about for you? When I think of people in your particular field of expertise, there are maybe a handful of people who I can think of and who come to mind, and your name is certainly one of them. How do you pick and choose your projects?
LM: First of all I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to do some super hero movie and then do some silly comedy like the Hangover, which is a whole other thing. I’ve been able to rest my brain in-between those incredibly challenging projects.
Over the years I guess I feel that I’m understanding the process of these type of clothes for super hero movies. Because I’m learning that I feel its more fun for me and the more confident I feel about trying new things. Its just been super fun.
I’ve never been offered too many period films and I’ve never done anything before the 70s, although Days of Future Past has a lot of 70s.
Back in college you expect that the kind of movies you are going to get will be like Sense and Sensibility and I never get offered those kind of things.
RS: Would you like to do a period piece?
LM: I’d love to, I’d love to try it. I studied art history back in college and I’d love to have that project of having to learn about a specific period, I think it would be great.
The truth is that doing these super hero movies, there really isn’t a template and you aren’t beholden to the rules and regulations of the dress at the time. When you are doing something that can be anything....how much more fun can a costume designer have. The Skies the limit.
RS: What was the appeal of GI Joe: Retaliation?
LM: Well, I think my agent called me up and asked if I wanted to do that and I was like ‘GI Joe? I don’t know’!
So, then I got to read the script and I thought that the Jinx character could be fun and pretty cool. Then I start doing some tear sheets and pulling stuff together and the wheels start turning and I’m thinking its going to be really fun.
I then went in and met Jon Chu who I loved, he was great. I would do whatever he wanted because I wanted to work with him. I could tell it was going to be good because he made eye contact, he listened and wanted to hear my ideas, which isn’t always the case.
RS: What are the challenges or benefits of coming into the second chapter of an already established franchise like GI Joe?
LM: Well, there are only benefits. The first was whats Snake Eyes look going to be?
Is he going to have lips, is it going to be black with lips, is it going to be a visor. The stress and struggle of trying to make those decisions, we benefitted from the successes and mistakes of the first movie. There were some characters, like Storm Shadow, who was so good in the first one that I benefitted from that and everyone agreed that was one to keep.
It basically was the same costume.
RS: Did Jon Chu have a specific direction for costuming the movie overall? Was there a design ethos for the movie from the outset?
LM: He was kind enough in our first meeting to let me present what I thought it should be. I think he really liked it and maybe that’s why he hired me. From the beginning Jon was so respectful, interested and willing happy with the direction that I was thinking of taking it, he just let me go. It was wonderful. I could go to him with these little nit picky questions because I knew he was interested enough to want to hear it. I can’t tell you what a blessing that is. Somehow Jon could hear about it, listen, change and tweak and he had time for it all.
RS: We talked about Storm Shadow, and as I’m sitting here I’m looking at a 12” Sideshow Collectibles reproduction of your Storm Shadow and, in fact Snake-Eyes costumes. Where did you being the the design process for those costumes?
LM: Again, I never watched GI Joe, so for Snake Eyes I tried to bring it down to something that was SWAT and military and which had ‘real’ gear so it looks like a guy who was geared up and where could the military head in 25 years. How could we keep the need for movement yet keep him protected and keeping it real. It had to look like something he had put together rather than be magical which can look more childlike.
Obviously no lips. We worked hard on the helmet, I think we must have illustrated 80 versions of the helmet.
RS: I’m guessing that the lips on the mask in the first movie were so actor Ray Park could breathe?
LM: I think it was a stylistic decision and it was one of those bold moves that ended up not being pleasing. But, god love them for trying that, it was a bold move.
RS: I’ll confess to being a huge GI Joe fan, and I guess that if you have a ninja who doesn’t speak, maybe he doesn’t need lips.
LM: Exactly. That was basically where all the arguments came down to, which is a good point.
RS: Was there any input from Ray Park into his costume?
LM: No. All those guys showed up and put their costumes on.
RS: Is that unusual?
LM: No. Maybe I’m becoming an old lady they are all scared of, but they all come in and put their costumes straight on, its fantastic (laughs).
RS: You have the military theme and then you have ninjas - was it a particularly challenging project to work on overall?
LM: I have never worked or thought as hard. I can’t think any harder than I did on GI Joe. The helmets and Cobra Commander in general was tough as I know they were so unhappy with Cobra Commander in the first one.
Storm Shadow not so much but the ninjas and trying to make them cool and how to incorporate Jinx’s climbing gear into her costume - that kinda stuff. I will say that I have never had to concentrate and think as hard, with so many different elements and characters. The X-Men all wore a uniform and version of each other, in Superman I certainly had a template that Bryan wanted to stick to.
GI Joe had so many unique and specific characters that had no relationship to one another, part of making it good was making them not look like they had a version of the same outfit, but to make them distinct and unique.I had never, in so little time, had to come up with so many answers.
In the latest X-Men movie, it was even more so. Lots of individual characters and their costumes no longer, necessarily have a relationship to each other any more, they are more individual. Having so many X-Men it was like two separate movies in one.
I had a great time and its sort of like running a marathon in that you do it and your exhausted but then when you talk about it you feel really good about it.
RS: Do you have any favorite costume designs from GI Joe in particular?
LM: It would have to be Snake Eyes. I thought that Snake Eyes, for that character was so successful. I thought that he looked good from every angle and that when we screen tested him there were very few movements or motions that he couldn’t do.
I thought it was a good balance between the helmet and the gear, it was relatively subtile and real, I thought he looked like a real bad ass.
I was definitely not into the techno, skin tight thing so much.
The other guy who I thought was fantastic was Cobra Commander. I don’t think we saw enough of the costume in the movie. it was truly elegant and mean looking yet simple.
RS: I think that from the fan perspective, when you saw the character in the first trailer it was like ‘Yes! THAT’S Cobra Commander’. I think you really nailed that design in particular.
LM: Thank you, it was fun.
RS: Across your entire career, have you ever had a ‘how am I going to do this’ moment?
LM: I have those moments less and less. I think I probably had them on the first X-Men and when I was really thinking about re-envision those guys or how was I going to produce the costumes.
There’s a whole side of the costume world which isn’t shopping at Barny’s. On The Usual Suspects I pulled those all out of the costume houses, yet on the X-Men there was a whole other challenge of how do I source this stuff and who is going to make it.
I didn’t have any of that experience on X-Men and I thank Bryan that he never doubted me, he was so sweet. The Usual Suspect was the first movie I designed and Bryan has given me so many good experiences.
What’s interesting is that with age I realize it always gets done and it will be good and I think I’ve finally learnt to trust that.
RS: You can choose a single costume from your entire career that you would want to represent your work in a museum. I guess we are coming up to your sixteenth year in the industry, what costume that you’ve designed would you want to represent your work in a museum?
LM: I can think of one immediately. In The Usual Suspects we had very little prep, something like two weeks and there was nothing on the script about what these guys were wearing.
I remember working on Gabriel Byrne first because he was the big star. Next it was Kevin Spacey who at the time wasn’t a huge star and then we did Stephen Baldwin. When I finally got down to Benicio Del Toro I had not ideas what this cat was going to be wearing.
From somewhere I had the idea that he’d not been home the night before the line up and was in the clothes he had been wearing the night before. It was a great idea that came from the pressure of having to come up with something.
Who wears a red tuxido shirt by the way (laughs).
RS: I’m looking at the timeline on your website and I realize that you have worked with, arguably, the top ten leading men in Hollywood over the last ten years.
LM: I know. And I have been blessed with leading men.
RS: Louise, thank you ever so much for your time, I can’t thank you enough for your time and I will let you get back to painting your daughters bedroom.
Sideshow Collectibles Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow 1/6 figures.
For a toy review, I’ve certainly written a lot without actually talking about the figures, so here goes.....
Snake-Eyes was the first in the line of Sideshow Collectibles (by way of Hot Toys) figures that I said to myself ‘I must own that figure’. A stunning 1/6 scale, screen accurate recreation of the character as depicted in the movie GI Joe: Retaliation, you haven’t seen anything like this figure.
Storm Shadow followed suit, again, directly drawn from the Louise Mingenbach design as portrayed by Byung Hun Lee.
Storm Shadow. Storm Shadow, in GI Joe Retaliation, shows a subtile evolution from the costume worn in the first GI Joe movie and as with Snake Eyes, the level of detail in this 1/6 figure is nothing short of staggering.
Firstly, you only need to look at the amazing likeness of actor Byung-Hun Lee in the head sculpt to know this is something special and a ‘must have’ for your display.
Quite frankly - its a stunning piece of work to so accurately produce a figure that, from the paint work to the actual sculpt - is breathtaking in its likeness and quality. Be sure to check out the upcoming ‘Joe Colton’ figure for a likeness of Bruce Willis that has to be seen to be believed.
Again Hot Toys dedication to movie accuracy shines through on this figure as a multi-layered, multi-textured approach to the costume really makes this figure shine through. The leather-esque material used for the overcoat is or looks like genuine leather and affords a range of poses to be adopted by the figure for display.
Weapon and accessory-wise, Storm Shadow follows Snake Eyes in that he is entirely movie accurate with quality and accuracy being the hallmark. The same metallic finish that was applied to Snake Eyes katana is also applied to Storm Shadow’s twin blades, which can be combined, Darth Maul style, to make the double bladed weapon that the character wields when escaping the prison complex in the movie.
With throwing stars and sai also covered in the same metallic finish the figure comes with twin scabbards for his swords, an approach that dates back to the earliest Storm Shadow figure, as well as a pistol (again, Sig P226? Anyone?). With a pouch for the throwing stars and holster for the pistol, Storm Shadow represents what can be only described as the cutting edge of what can be done in 1/6 scale and is entirely screen accurate. With multiple hands capable of holding pistols, blades or making fists - the figure offers a multitude of display or posing options. Each of these figures are stunning on their own, particularly Storm Shadow with the amazing Byung-Hun Lee headscuplt, but together they represent something unique and special. A legacy that began with Larry Hama and which has lasted 30 years endures and whether a GI Joe fan or a collector of amazing figures, Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, I believe, are the centerpiece of any collection.
Thanks to Sideshow Collectibles, Larry Hama, Louise Mingenbach, IDW Publishing and Paramount Pictures and Justin at Generalsjoes.com for their help with this piece. Check out Sideshow Collectibles website for Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes. And pre-order the upcoming Hot Toys GI Joe: Retaliation Roadblock here. Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes can also be found in the ongoing adventures of GI Joe from IDW here. Finally you can purchase GI Joe: Retaliation the movie here.