Comics & Graphic Novels Movies

An Asian ‘Snake Eyes’ is All I’ve Ever Wanted

I’m actually on vacation right now, but the moment news broke that Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding was in talks to play the lead in Paramount’s G.I. Joe solo Snake Eyes movie, I couldn’t not write about it!

See, the G.I. Joe comics and action figures were seminal to my being a nerd of color. As a child, I was fully enraptured by the world created by Larry Hama in the pages of the Marvel comic and on the card backs of the Hasbro toys.

I won’t go into it again, my NOC origin story covered this already, but I was particularly obsessed with the storyline involving ninja blood brothers Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Like most Joe fans, I thought they were the coolest of all the colorful characters, but to me, they represented something more.

Despite what many fans assume, Storm Shadow was an Asian American comic book character. If your only interaction with G.I. Joe was the Saturday morning cartoon, you might remember Storm Shadow as the unscrupulously evil Cobra assassin who spoke with a preposterously “Asian” accent. In the comics, though, he was a Japanese American kid named Tommy Arashikage who enlisted in the Army and fought in Vietnam alongside Stalker and Snake Eyes. Speaking of which, since Snake Eyes is presumably an origin story, they have to explore his time in the army alongside Tommy and Stalker. Here’s hoping they cast Michael B. Jordan and Warrior star Andrew Koji, respectively.

Michael B. Jordan for Stalker. Andrew Koji For Storm Shadow. Henry Golding is already Snake Eyes.

Tommy’s reasons for joining Cobra were more complicated than the cartoon ever got in to, but through it all, he was one of the rare, multidimensional Asian American characters in all of comics.

Snake Eyes, of course, is everyone’s favorite G.I. Joe character. He’s got the best costume and his file card made it so that any kid could imagine themselves behind the mask. And for this Asian American kid, that was a big deal. It also helped that everything about his backstory was a mystery. He could literally be anyone to anybody. Which is why it was ultimately disappointing to learn Snake Eyes was a white guy. That realization is probably one of the fundamental reasons for launching the Asian American Iron Fist movement if I’m being honest. There’s no reason Snake Eyes has to be white.

Which leads me back to the news of Henry Golding taking on the iconic visor of Snake Eyes. Somehow I feel like I have Jon M. Chu to thank for this.

This isn’t a case of racebending an iconic character. Instead, it’s correcting a three-decade old wrong. Snake Eyes is just like he was when I played with the figures as a kid in the ’80s. Snake Eyes is Asian again — as he should have always been.

8 comments

  1. Snake Eyes turned out to be white? Jeepers.
    I didn’t follow the comic book (casual viewer of the cartoon) but I’m not surprised Hama put some thought into an Asian American character.

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  2. Stormshadow was my favorite character from the comic. His relationship with Snake Eyes made it the only comic I ever collected. This article reminds me that I am still missing one of the comics from the Snake Eyes Trilogy, and I now have the internet to find it and disposable income to buy it.

    As for making Snake Eyes Asian… I guess it could be done, without changing the story line much.

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  3. As much as I would love an Asian Snake Eyes, he was always intended to be a white guy. Blonde and blue eyes. They revealed that in the comics long time ago. Stormshadow was always Japanese though.

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  4. It might be interesting for you to speak with Larry Hama on the subject. He’s usually pretty open to chatting about it. Larry tends to base characters on people he knows, and he has stated that holds true for Snake Eyes. Perchance, I would be interested in reading an article where you get Larry’s take on the casting. So far as I know, he’s not officially said anything about it. One wonders if anyone bothered asking him.

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  5. Good news, I’d say. The pillars of Snake’s origin are that 1) he’s an outsider to Arashikage (which could be covered by his being American, British, or whathaveyou), and 2) that he has a rivalry with Storm Shadow. (Ideally the latter would be grounded the friendship/brotherly love they forged in battle per Hama and the betrayal and rebuilding of said bond, but between RoC and what I’ve heard of this script, that’s going to be too much to ever ask of Hollywood. Yes, I am holding a grudge against Sommers, why do you ask?) So no, there’s no good reason why Snake Eyes couldn’t be Asian. Bonus points: It also gets rid of the Mighty Whitey aspect of the comics origin.

    My only regret is that this is pretty definitive proof that the movie franchise is getting a reboot/recasting once Snake’s origin story is out of the way, and, dammit, I *liked* Lee Byung-Hun as Storm Shadow once Chu came along gave him some actual character moments to work with. But that’s nothing to do with Golding.

    “[Storm Shadow] was one of the rare, multidimensional Asian American characters in all of comics.”

    Agreed. I just started reading the Hama comics this year (largely due to Lee’s portrayal of Storm Shadow in “Retaliation”) and I’ve was really impressed by the first fifty issues or so. I’m an 80’s kid, though maybe a little young for the comics when they were coming out, and a big part of why Hama’s subversions with Storm Shadow stood out was just because ninjas were up there with Russians as the disposable foreign enemy of my generation. And Hama pulled the rug out from under reader expectation by making Storm Shadow the kind of guy who’d literally dive through enemy fire to save a friend, revealing him to be the one who’d been wronged and betrayed by said friend, and then concluding Storm’s first big arc with a tragic tale about the futility of living for revenge. Really smart, engaging writing.

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  6. How is casting an Asian as Snake Eyes “correcting a three-decade old wrong” when Larry Hama wrote the stories that are about as close to “canon” as G.I. Joe has? You’re right to say his popularity was based on the fact that “his file card made it so that any kid could imagine themselves behind the mask.” The early versions didn’t have any connection to ninja at all, but said he was a proficient infantryman and hand-to-hand combat instructor, as http://toys.hisstank.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2012/04/013Snake-Eyes-Commando-HOH-25th-Anniversary_1334182377.jpg shows. So there’s no real connection to anything Asian except for the choices of Eastern martial arts. But think carefully, would the card have made the point about Snake Eyes’ skills if it listed Krav Maga (Israeli), capoeira (Brazil), and Kalaripayattu (Indian)? Sorry, but I think you’re reaching with this.

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