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Review of Interview: Comic Book Legend Larry Hama Talks Snake Eyes & Asian Representation

After releasing in theaters earlier this year, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is now available digitally and will be available on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD on October 19. ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with comic book legend Larry Hama, who is best known for his work on G.I. Joe, Wolverine, Batman, Venom, and Iron Fist, about the film that stars one of his most famous characters.

Tyler Treese: I know Snake Eyes is such an important character for you. In the first two G.I. Joe films, you got to see Snake Eyes brought to life on screen. I’m sure that was an emotional moment for you, but what did it mean for you to see him get the spotlight here and get his own film?

Larry Hama: It just seemed logical. I’ve actually gone through this before, in other ways. Snake Eyes had always been the most popular character in the G.I. Joe universe, so it’s sort of akin to what happened with the X-Men. They made like five X-Men movies before it finally dawned on them that maybe Wolverine was the guy to concentrate on [laughs]. So, there is that. The IP owners and movie companies, they’re enamored of these groups because it’s a great setup to create a franchise and funky characters out there where, you know, they love the Avengers and the Defenders and the Justice League and so on and so forth. It’s no secret that out in the industry now, everybody is trying to develop some sort of universe to take advantage of.

I thought Henry Golding was so great as Snake Eyes. I wanted to hear your thoughts on his performance and what he added to the character.

He’s a really terrific actor, a great actor. At times, he’s so naturalistic, you forget that. But he’s also a really nice and sincere guy that, that sort of comes through. He brings a real sort of likability to the character that I like, and he can convey that Snake Eye has confidence and a very clear moral and ethical center.

I saw that you had this amazing response to people that were upset about the casting that Snake Eyes wasn’t white in this film and about how they never understood the character and G.I. Joe is very much about inclusion and comics are always retcon and that’s just how it is. Now that it’s out there, how has the response been that you’ve seen from the Asian community?

Well, sometimes the reaction of the Asian communities is overshadowed by the malcontents, the people who are upset. There is this weird phenomenon, that people believe because they love something, they own it, you know? No, that’s not how it works.

I know that you served in the Army, so thank you for your service first off, but I did want to ask how that experience has helped color your own portrayal of these battles in your fictional work?

Well, first of all, it’s a lot of help in coming up with action sequences or choreography. If you’d been a soldier, you know how soldiers think and feel and then act. There are stories that soldiers only tell other soldiers that they would never tell a civilian. [laughs] I remember, at the end of the basic training, the first sergeant announced to everybody that he was reading a letter from the President of United States, who is asking as we go home on our first leave, to watch your language in front of your mother. I think the phrase that was used was, “Please refrain from saying, ‘Hey, mom. Pass the effing potatoes.’ So, there’s that.

We’ve seen so much progress here with just Asian representation in films that before, the past couple of decades, it was much more typecasted. I know you did some acting briefly in your own career. So seeing these big tentpole films, Snake Eyes, Shang-Chi, what does it mean to you to just see these Asian heroes so proudly on screen and being these huge movie-going events?

I find it pretty unbelievable. I’m old enough to remember when I was a little kid, I remember like my grandmother flooding out of the living room and was saying, “There’s an Asian person on TV!” It was so unprecedented, the whole family was running to the living room and see what was going on. There used to be no representation. And if there was, the Asian characters were waiters or houseboys, or not main characters and certainly not romantic leads.

You had a fantastic cameo in Robot Chicken several years ago. I was really curious how that appearance came to be. Did Seth Green just approached you, or how did that happen?

He called me up and said do I want to be on Robot Chicken. I said, sure. He came over to my house and one other guy, no equipment. They shot that whole little cameo on an iPhone. That’s how it was done.

In Snake Eyes, were there any scenes or small interactions that really stood out and that you were just really proud to see on screen?

I thought the fight in Tokyo alley, is pretty spectacular. Choreography in tight spaces I always find fascinating. They brought in pretty much the best swordfight choreographer in Japan. A guy named Kenji Tanigaki, who did the sword fight choreography for the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, an extremely popular samurai film series. It’s really a credibly choreographed stunt.

You mentioned Rurouni Kenshin there and that’s based on a very popular manga. As a comic creator, did you ever pay much attention to what was happening in Japan and overseas to compare the styles? Because we see such creativity both on Western and Eastern sides.

I first became aware of Kozure Ōkami, Lone Wolf and Cub, I ran across a copy of the manga in the Zen bookstore on 5th Avenue in New York in the seventies. I was just amazed. I could read through the entire thing and tell exactly what was going on just by looking at the pictures, not being able to read Japanese. So I bought every copy they had. Two shopping bags or something. I brought them back to the studio, Neal Adams’ Continuity and I sold them at cover price, what I paid for them, to anybody who wanted them, and those shopping bags were gone. Like the studio was sort of a meeting place for all the comic artists. They all stocked up copies because in those days we all used to go watch movies. We’d go in a group of say, 10 to 20 people, go to the theaters, and we’d fill up two or three rows. It was a very sort of like a small-town family in the comic book business at the time.

You did so much great work on Wolverine over the years. Obviously, him being this cool dude with claws is what gets people in there, but there has to have more to the character to keep them. What do you think really has made him connect over the years with generations at this point?

Well, you know, he’s this underdog, he’s this gruff little guy. People underestimated all the time and he has that sort of Colombo aspect. The other is that he has a definite moral and ethical center that he won’t violate. I think that was really important in an era when antiheroes were very prevalent all over the place that you had this one obstinate guy who wouldn’t back down no matter what. It’s a pretty strong fantasy.

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