Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Elsewhere in the world of G.I. Joe

Leading up to the release of the movie, enthusiasm for the G.I. Joe franchise was the highest it had been in years. Now that the movie is out, I'm anticipating a sharp decline in public interest, at least until the sequel is officially detailed. In the meantime, I thought, while they're still relevant, I'd go over some of the other recent and ongoing G.I. Joe projects I've been following (with spoilers when discussing the topic of who Scarlett's guy is).

G.I. Joe

IDW's comic book relaunch of the franchise centers around this flagship series by Chuck Dixon. Now eight issues in, it's been pretty mediocre so far. The Joes actually spend the first five plodding issues fighting remote-controlled robots sent by Destro, who has only just become Destro. Meanwhile, Cobra is believed to be no more than a myth
. In fact, Hawk himself seems to regard speculation on its existence as near heretical. With no concrete enemy for the clueless Joes to directly confront, it's been just a lot of thus far ineffectual tension-building.

There are also way too many normal-looking male characters dressed in the same clothes. Yes, uniforms are appropriate for the military, but G.I. Joe was always the fantasy that made the military look good. If I can't immediately tell who a character is by looking at him, then that character shouldn't even have a name or dialogue.

The Scarlett Angle: The love triangle has become a real part of the fiction, as both Duke and Snake Eyes seem to have feelings for Scarlett. Her feelings remain ambiguous, but she trusts Snake Eyes enough that she secretly exchanges intel with the ninja, who is here a former Joe gone rogue. In this world, a Joe is supposed to be a Joe for life, so Snake Eyes is regarded as a traitor, and Scarlett's communications with him are grounds for a court martial. In fact, in the one development that has suddenly made this title interesting, that's exactly what happens, forcing her to weigh her loyalty to Snake Eyes against her loyalty to the team.

G.I. Joe: Origins

Far more exciting than the flagship series was the brand new origin story by Larry Hama, the same man who originally defined most of the classic characters the first time around. It's been great having Hama back on the property that he wrote continuously for over a decade. Exactly the opposite of Dixon's book, this is a tightly paced action-thriller that perfectly recaptures the spirit of G.I. Joe. So spot-on are all the characters that this new origin could just as easily have been the origin story for the Marvel era team.

It's a bit odd that this is running concurrently with the main comic, which is itself a new beginning, in which Cobra has yet to make its appearance as G.I. Joe's nemesis. It's an opportunity, however, to show how the core members came together to form G.I. Joe in the first place, and since it's ambiguous how much time passes between the two series, there could potentially be years worth of adventures here before Origins ever runs up against the dreary Dixon stuff.

Indeed, as a reboot of the comics, Origins has been so much better than the flagship series that it didn't make any sense for it to be only a five-issue series. IDW must have realized this as well, because with issue #6, Origins is now officially an ongoing title. Unfortunately, Hama will not be the regular writer, nor will it continue on as the serial that it had been for his five issues. Instead, it will shift around to focus on the backgrounds of specific members of the team. That leaves me worried and disappointed, but at least Hama will be back for another round of issues later.

The Scarlett Angle: Scarlett and Duke are introduced together as partners in the professional sense. They have an easy, joking rapport, but there's been no suggestion of anything deeper.

When the team meets Snake Eyes for the first time, Hawk is not interested in recruiting his already twice-destroyed body. Scarlett is compassionate, however, while Snake Eyes is indomitable. The two don't have a lot of interaction, but some fateful timing at the climax of the five-issue arc manages to link them in one horrific accident.

G.I. Joe: Cobra

This four-issue mini-series was the most surprising entry among the new comics. Focused on the unflappable Chuckles as he goes deep undercover to infiltrate a terrorist organization, it's an intimate and heavy story narrated by Chuckles himself.

It's unclear how it fits together with the flagship series, where Hawk won't even recognize the existence of Cobra, and, despite the title, Cobra remains very much in the shadows. But although Cobra may be the draw, it is the personal narrative within that becomes the hook.

It's very easy to sympathize with Chuckles as he endures extended periods without any communication from his G.I. Joe superiors. He gets the lonely, suicidal assignment because some already regard him as a lost cause, and his only "friends" seem to be his scumbag terrorist associates, whom he despises only slightly more than he does himself. His clearance is not high enough on either side for him to have any idea what's going on, and all he can do is maintain his cover by unflinchingly accepting all the dirty jobs that his Cobra bosses assign him. As one atrocity follows another, one wonders how he'll manage to hang on to himself, or, if he does break, when and how it will happen.

The only weakness of G.I. Joe: Cobra is the awful cover art, which has unfortunately begun to spread to the flagship series. The constipated figures on the front covers are an unflattering misrepresentation of the understated, noirish art inside.

The Scarlett Angle: Scarlett and Duke make only brief appearances, while Snake Eyes does not appear at all.

G.I. Joe: Resolute

G.I. Joe: Resolute was a new animated production that debuted as a series of eleven shorts on the Adult Swim website. Perhaps that was how it was meant to be consumed, but I saw it later as a single feature and came away less than impressed.

It was notably written by Warren Ellis, an award-winning English comics author. I'm not familiar with any of Ellis's other work, but, based on this, I can't help picturing him as one of those "mature" Alan Moore types. I've seen a lot of praise for how this is a more serious take on the franchise, but Resolute's idea of maturity resembles nothing so much as a sleazy caricature of the adult world as seen through the lens of an adolescent. So graphic yet so juvenile, this can only really appeal to teenage boys caught between childhood and adulthood.

Two name characters are already dead as the story begins, and Cobra Commander quickly shows he means business by blowing up Moscow, killing millions. Every single character is wound tight and pissed off at everybody else. There is no real depth there, no layering to the relationships. Despite how "serious business" the violence is, there's no feeling of tension, because none of these characters are convincingly human. Nor, for that matter, is there even any complexity to the predictable action sequences, which all are of the ticking clock variety and mostly get resolved by exploding things.

The Scarlett Angle: Like Chuck Dixon's comic, this is a work conscious of the Duke-Scarlett-Snake Eyes love triangle. It's suggested that Resolute Scarlett has history with both men, and now she's incredibly pissed off at both of them (and everything else). When Duke, quite the bitch himself, tells her to choose, she angrily but immediately chooses Duke.

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