"Conrad, it's been ages." The bespectacled, scholarly man in the grey pinstriped suit rose to meet Duke eagerly, an honest smile on his face and earnest good will draped about his shoulders.
"Bill, how long has it been…three years?" Duke asked, taking a seat on the small sidewalk café. He and Bill had been friends since high school, and met up in this exact storefront about three times a decade. This time they had arranged their meeting for the spring, and the weak sun fell gently on the companions.
"It seems like more," Bill said, settling in at the wrought iron table. He began to peruse the menu.
"Well, it's good to see you again no matter how long it's been. What have you been up to?"'
"Just the usual…reading, mostly. I published my first book last year." Bill was an English professor, and neither the reading nor the publishing of books was very surprising.
"So, what's the latest you've read?" Duke asked. Bill had a knack for finding those weird, interesting books that fall between the cracks in the best-sellers list.
"I have it with me, actually…here it is." Bill took out a large book, printed on newsprint and bound in thin cardboard.
"The first volume of the G.I. Joe comics? Bill, I thought such shallow literary works were beneath you."
"I started it over a long weekend at my sister's house…I think this copy was originally my nephew's. Anyway, as I read it, it was shocking how many literary techniques the writer uses. Allusions to other literary works, Christ figures, biblical parallels, alliteration, classic themes…really, I'm inspired. Actually, reading this comic has decided the topic of my next book."
"So, what are your ideas?" Duke asked.
"Well, there's Scarlett…that's an obvious allusion to Gone with the Wind."
"I've never read that book, Bill."
"Pity. It's a wonderful story. Anyway, it centers around a woman by the name of Scarlett O'Hara who, through her tenacious grip on life and cool cunning, manages to survive the Civil War and thrive during the Reconstruction despite the destruction of the Southern gentry to which she belonged. She's known for her powers of seduction and business sense," Bill said.
"Very interesting. And this translates to…"
"Well, basically, Scarlett of the Joes is a parody of Scarlett of Gone with the Wind because she is far less abusive. However, she also demonstrates some of her progenitor's attributes: she's fearless, strong, able to stand on her own and very intelligent," Bill said.
"Anyone else?" Duke asked.
"Let's see…well, some of the characters exhibit value systems. For instance, Heavy Duty abandoned a career in the arts for a career in the Army. This indicates a certain disdain for the arts in American culture, and I think it's probably an accurate assessment. It's probably why baseball players are paid more than writers," Bill said. "And G.I. Joe certainly isn't without its share of super athletes."
"Well, that would bring Snake Eyes into the mix, wouldn't it?" Duke asked. "I mean, with his face and all…"
"Snake Eyes is a whole different can of worms," Bill said. "First of all, he's a Christ figure – the death of his family at a young age leaves him rootless. I'm guessing his age to be about 30 in the comics. He doesn't really fit in with the status quo of the Army – you never really know his rank. He even has a Judas, Tommy Arashikage."
"He's also a direct allusion to an Alan Parsons Project song, but somehow I think that's of less literary value," Bill said. "But going back to the Bible, he's also somewhat Job-like. You know, his entire family dies in one catastrophic event, he gets all those scars, stuff like that. He even has the whole false friend thing going on…really, it's pretty perfect."
"Wow, I never really thought of it that way…"
"But there's more."
"What more could there possibly be?"
"Well, his black clothing serves a variety of functions. Firstly, it's somewhat akin to widow's weeds because he's in constant mourning for something. However beyond that it doesn't make much sense, considering black is usually the color reserved for villains…until you look at Eastern color symbolism. In the East, white is the color of mourning, not black," Bill said.
"So Storm Shadow is the one in mourning?" Duke asked.
"Sort of…as you can tell, it's kind of confusing. Anyway, from what I can figure out, Tommy's white outfit has threefold meaning. First, red and white are the colors of the Japanese flag. Second, the white underscores the idea that he really does have pure intentions, white being a color of purity. Finally, there's the connotation of mourning which the white brings about," Bill said.
Duke could feel a tension headache coming on. It was then that he remembered why he only met with Bill once every three years…it took him that long to understand what Bill was saying.
But before he changed the subject, he had to ask Bill one more question.
"What about Duke?" Duke asked.
"Oh, him? There's nothing much special about him…I guess his blonde hair connotes virility and brings to mind Greek gods, but that's really not all that interesting," Bill said. "He's sort of a stock character – a very dashing stock character, but a stock character nonetheless."
Duke said nothing.
"So, how about those Rams?" Bill asked.
"They suck. What else is new?"