Everything You Need to Know About G.I. Joe Enemy- The Headman.

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool, karl@whenitwascool.com)

In someways you can't blame Hasbro and the G.I. Joe franchise too much for trying to regain some degree of relevancy in 1992.  The heyday of G.I. Joe was over by this point and the franchise had begun to depend heavily on neon colors and ninja's.  This was the era of "Just Say No To Drugs" and everybody hates a drug dealer right?  

So, introduced into the G.I. Joe mythos was The Headman, a heavy handed, over the top, mega-stereotypical drug dealer.  G.I. Joe would spin off a sub-team that would fight drugs (D.E.F.- Drug Elemination Force) and their arch-rival would be the drug dealing kingpin The Headman.  It never worked.

The original headman from 1992 (left) and later (2002) yellow suit version (right).

The original headman from 1992 (left) and later (2002) yellow suit version (right).

The Headman was introduced in 1992 in the Marvel Comics G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic book issue #123.  From the start the drug dealing Headman was portrayed as so heinous that neither G.I. Joe nor Cobra liked him and his introduction actually involved him getting one of the Fred series Crimson Guardsman's son hooked on drugs.

Broca Beach was a cover town for Cobra (the bad guys).  Even they couldn't tolerate a drug dealer setting up shop in their midst- WHA--?!

Broca Beach was a cover town for Cobra (the bad guys).  Even they couldn't tolerate a drug dealer setting up shop in their midst- WHA--?!

One of the problems with The Headman character was that it was so heavy handed.  The United States, during the Ronald Reagan years and into the George Bush Presidency, was full throttle into the war on drugs campaign.  In pro wrestling terminology, introducing a drug dealer character into a waning franchise reeked of "cheap heat" (a short cut to making a character hated without real legitimate character work such as dispariging a local sports team.)

The first time we see the headman, he and his head hunter BODYGUARDS gun down a crimson GUARDSMAN seeking revenge for getting his son hooked on drugs.  The design of the headman is completely cheesy with a striped suit, bandit mask, hat, and terrible facial hair.

The first time we see the headman, he and his head hunter BODYGUARDS gun down a crimson GUARDSMAN seeking revenge for getting his son hooked on drugs.  The design of the headman is completely cheesy with a striped suit, bandit mask, hat, and terrible facial hair.

After being introduced in a single panel in issue 123 of Marvel Comics G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, The Headman shares the cover of issue 124 with Cesspool and Cobra Ninja Slice, a triple threat of unpopular G.I. Joe ideas.

The next glimpse of The Headman we get is that of a G.I. Joe D.E.F. team kicking in his door.  The Headman looks like a cheesy cartoon villain on this page, reminiscent of Snidely Whiplash

The Headman espoused cliched drug dealer jargon as well.  He is drawn slightly more menacing in this panel as he wounds a G.I. Joe team member.

The Headman's Headhunters had a really cool design and their action figures are very popular on the secondary market.

The widow of the fred series crimson guardsman was the next to try and kill The Headman.

The widow of the fred series crimson guardsman was the next to try and kill The Headman.

The headman guns down the Crimson GUARDSMAN'S widow.  again, every trick in the book was used to make the Headman hateable.  He was often depicted shooting women or people in the back and using callous language.  Creators went to no short lengths to ensure the Headman had no redeeming qualities. 

The headman guns down the Crimson GUARDSMAN'S widow.  again, every trick in the book was used to make the Headman hateable.  He was often depicted shooting women or people in the back and using callous language.  Creators went to no short lengths to ensure the Headman had no redeeming qualities. 

The headman and his headhunters lure the G.I. Joe Drug Enforcement Force into a trap.

The headman and his headhunters lure the G.I. Joe Drug Enforcement Force into a trap.

While the headman was not featured on the cover of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero issue 125, he was featured in the opening splash page with the trapped G.I. Joe D.E.F. team in a firefight with the HeadHunters.

While the headman was not featured on the cover of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero issue 125, he was featured in the opening splash page with the trapped G.I. Joe D.E.F. team in a firefight with the HeadHunters.

In issue 125 of Marvel's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, the Headman is again depicted in a somewhat slapstick nature.

In issue 125 of Marvel's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, the Headman is again depicted in a somewhat slapstick nature.

The point was repeatedly made that neither G.I. Joe nor Cobra wanted anything to do with drug dealers casting them in even worse light than an international terrorist organization.

The point was repeatedly made that neither G.I. Joe nor Cobra wanted anything to do with drug dealers casting them in even worse light than an international terrorist organization.

Again, it's too bad the excellent design of the Headhunters was wasted on a cartoonish character like The headman.

Again, it's too bad the excellent design of the Headhunters was wasted on a cartoonish character like The headman.

again, seldom is an opportunity lost to make the headman cartoonish in appearance.

again, seldom is an opportunity lost to make the headman cartoonish in appearance.

The Headman has lured the G.I. Joe team into another trap as issue 125 ends.  However, the Headman would not appear in issue 126 as the story focused on the return of Firefly.  The Headman would be back in issue 127 to wrap up his only story arch.

The Headman has lured the G.I. Joe team into another trap as issue 125 ends.  However, the Headman would not appear in issue 126 as the story focused on the return of Firefly.  The Headman would be back in issue 127 to wrap up his only story arch.

It seems the G.I. Joe writing team had done all with The Headman they intended to do with issue 127, as he only appears on three pages to wrap up his storyline, never to be seen again in the Marvel G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero run.  I don't know if The Headman was ever intended to be a long term character and failed miserably or if he was simply mandated by Hasbro and Larry Hama did all he could with him before ditching the character and moving on.  Whatever the cast, it's hard to characterize him as anything other than a failure.

The last time we see The Headman in the Marvel comics series he is comedically getting pulled out of the ocean after his ship was sank.

The last time we see The Headman in the Marvel comics series he is comedically getting pulled out of the ocean after his ship was sank.

After the end of the Marvel Comics run of G.I. Joe the Devil's Due Publishing (DDP) company got the G.I. Joe comic book license for a few years.  They brought back The Headman character for a one-shot called G.I. Joe: Special Missions: Brazil.  The art and characterization treated The Headman a little more seriously this time.

The bandit mask and pinstriped suit is still laughable and The HeadHunters are still great.

The bandit mask and pinstriped suit is still laughable and The HeadHunters are still great.

ThE art for The Headman was treated more seriously in the devil's due story.

ThE art for The Headman was treated more seriously in the devil's due story.

During the devil's Due G.I. Joe Special Missions: Brazil issue, the Headman gets a new suit and loses the hat and mask.  The Headhunters get an unneeded and regretable update.

During the devil's Due G.I. Joe Special Missions: Brazil issue, the Headman gets a new suit and loses the hat and mask.  The Headhunters get an unneeded and regretable update.

The final in-story appearance by The Headman in G.I. Joe comics saw him carted away into custody.  A biography data desk file appeared for him at the end of the issue.  The Headman was seen once more in the final days of G.I. Joe: America's Elite when wrapping up the status of various Cobra and independent operatives with the designation that he was "in custody".  To date, the character has not appeared in the IDW comic book era of G.I. Joe.

The G.I. Joe data-file goes to great lengths to remind you that nobody likes The Headman.

The Headman appeared in his modern era yellow suit in the G.I. Joe Battleground card game and was designated as a member of cobra, which was never the case.

The Headman appeared in his modern era yellow suit in the G.I. Joe Battleground card game and was designated as a member of cobra, which was never the case.

Outside of the comic book continuities, The Headman appeared in the DIC cartoon series in a few episodes.  His outfit was slightly changed but generally appeared the same.

 

At least they scrapped the bandit mask in favor of sunglasses.

At least they scrapped the bandit mask in favor of sunglasses.

The Headman entry from the G.I. Joe Wiki.

The Headman entry from the G.I. Joe Wiki.

The Headman mint on card from 1992 with card art shows a salivating, vicious Headman.

The early 2000's Headman action figure differed in several ways from the 1992 version. Besides the obvious change of the suit colors, The Headman also had a change of hair color from blonde to black.  Also, he got a serious upgrade in a weapon.

There is something about the action figure which just did not translate to either comic book or cartoon.  The figure likely would have been exceptionally cooler had they not painted on the bandit style mask.  The suited bodies make great custom fodder and were even used at one point in the early 1990's for updates to Tomax and Xamot.

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