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Snake-Eyes and Stalker catch up with a comrade from Vietnam while the Soft Master learns some hard facts.
At the Arlington National Cemetery Stalker and Snake-Eyes are confronted by Fred II who tells them he is Wade Collins, their fellow Long Range Recon Patrol comrade whom they left for dead in Vietnam but survived and since had plastic surgery that has made him into a Fred clone. He takes at gun point to his car and makes Snake-Eyes drive. As they head for New York he explains that they left him, Dickie Saperstein and Ramon Escobedo for dead. Dickie and Ramon were and Stalker thought Wade was as well. Wade explains:
- The six man patrol were creeping through a valley in the jungle when someone stepped on a twig. Wade was walking point so angry as he was most likely to get shot at first. He was distracted by this and wandered into a Vietcong ambush. The patrol returned fire but Ramon and Wade were both hit and Dickie trod on a landmine. The others escaped but didn't take Wade with them. The Vietcong did and took him to a tunnel under a village where a surgeon dug the bullets out of him. He then spent two years in a prison camp.
He curses the others for not finishing him off.
Outside Springfield Candy's car has broken down. She hails a lift from another car that passes, driven by Curt who drinks a "special" coffee. Inside Springfield Buzzer leaps off a train and walks into town to find it deserted. Suddenly Firefly appears on a Ferret, together with a new Cobra operative called Scrap-Iron, and tells him to keep quiet. Inside the town police station the Soft Master has knocked out all but one of the police officers and makes the only one conscious access the computer to retrieve information on the Hard Master's murder. He also advises against reaching for the pistol at his ankle. Outside the town Candy discovers the Soft Master's suitcase is still in the care. Chuck suddenly remembers it was left by his previous passenger and Candy suggests he goes back to return it. She also pours herself a cup of coffee.
On the road to New York Wade tells how he came home when the war ended and immediately on arrival in New York a female hippy spat in his face and called him a baby killer. Then his wife's lawyer arrived with divorce papers. He also found it hard to get a job with many employers refusing to take vets on. He took to wandering the United States and came to a small town where he saw a poster for Cobra. They took him in and gave him rank, influence, respect and power so he felt he belonged. When the Crimson Guard unit was formed he had plastic surgery and became a "Fred" like others. He was then sent to replace Fred Broca and took over his family. Stalker argues that Cobra are just using him and there are other options open to him.
At the Springfield police station the Soft Master has found the information he sought. Suddenly more police officers burst in. The Soft Master charges through them and makes it outside, seen by Firefly, Scrap-Iron and Buzzer, and steals a police car. Outside Springfield Billy is hitch-hiking with two nuns who note he is a boy at peace with himself. They drop him by the road and he hails Chuck's approaching car. Meanwhile the Soft Master takes off with the Ferret in pursuit. Firefly launches a missile but the Soft Master speeds the police car under a chicken lorry, knocking off the car's hood, with the missile destroying the lorry. Meanwhile Candy has discovered that Chuck's coffee is almost entirely brandy. She suggests she take over the wheel but Chuck argues he's sober enough to drive. Meanwhile Billy sees a vision of the Grim Reaper striking the car.
The Soft Master sees a level crossing with a freight training heading along the tracks. He speeds past the train just before it blocks the road, and passes Chuck's car where Candy is trying to correct the steering. Suddenly the car crashes into the train and catches fire. The train keeps the pursuing Cobra agents on the other side of the tracks but Scrap-Iron climbs a telegraph pole. The Soft Master looks back and sees Chuck's car on fire with three people trapped inside and turns back to save them. Scrap-Iron sees the Soft Master trying to open the car door and fires a missile. The Soft Master sees it and leaps in the way to save the others. Scrap-Iron asks Firefly what to do about the others. Firefly gives a thumbs down and Scrap-Iron fires another missile, destroying the car.
On Staten Island Wade calls the Broca family into the room and tells them that Stalker and Snake-Eyes are his friends - real friends. "A real friend will tell you when you're being stupid and that's what I've been. A fool who was used by Cobra and was too dense to now a good thing when he had it..." He reminds them that he isn't Fred Broca but burnt out Wade Collins. Stalker and Snake-Eyes had almost convinced him to ask the family to come away with him to somewhere that Cobra couldn't find them, but even though he'd be the happiest man of Earth he can't ask them as they deserve something better than a substitute they never asked for and didn't want He says goodbye and heads out the door. But then Sean calls "Dad!" Crying Wade turns as the family tells him they will come with him. They board the car and drive off. Stalker tells Snake-Eyes that they could have taken Wade in for debriefing and discovered many Cobra secrets, but equally they could have brought him out of the valley and he wouldn't have had so many wasted years, and they owed him that much. Snake-Eyes concurs.
(Numbers indicate order of appearance.)
Featured Vehicles & Equipment
- --You said a mouthful, Snake-Eyes
- No errors known.
Items of note
- First Appearances: Scrap-Iron
- Soft Master learns the true identity of the Hard Master's killer.
- And promptly dies, but not before getting a message away. We'll learn the recipients and contents of that message in issue 45.
- Death of Candy, and apparent death of Billy. Along with the Soft Master's death, this the biggest "housecleaning" of characters that didn't have action figures at the time since issue 19.
- One of the letter writers on the "Postbox: The Pit!" page expresses his thanks that the ideas "aren't too corny, like making Cobra Commander turn into a snake." You have to wonder what Joncarlo Volpe of Tacoma, WA, thought of G.I. Joe: The Movie.
- The letters page also confirms that Larry Hama appeared on an episode of M*A*S*H and the Martin Sheen episode of Saturday Night Live.
- This issue was reprinted in the G.I. Joe vol. 5 and G.I. Joe: The Best of Storm Shadow trade paperbacks.
- In the United Kingdom the bulk of the story was reprinted in Action Force #42 & #43. The page featuring Billy and the nuns was excised, and a caption added to state that Chuck's car had picked him up.
- A Springfield "police officer" compares the Soft Master to Chuck Norris, a pop-culture reference that has aged remarkably well; probably more people have heard of Chuck Norris today than in 1985.
Footnotes and References