Today, I’m going to talk about the new GI Joe comic series by Paul Allor and Chris Evenhuis.
This is my second time writing this article, but my first one got so sidetracked by my love of GI Joe and the toys and cartoons and the lore and what happens to it, I decided to start over. Here’s what you missed from round 1 in a nutshell:
- GI Joe the cartoon—great…until it wasn’t. Even then, I still love it. The diverse character roster, the over the top zaniness, the PSAs at the end—all wonderful.
- GI Joe the toys—some of the best! Starting with the classic 3 ¾ inch toys to Sigma 6 to Modern Era to the movie figures—consistently some of the best toys out there. The toys are what keep me coming back to Joes time and time again. I’m trying real hard to not talk about little screwdrivers and customizing figures and making up my own stories cause that makes Joe great, too.
- GI Joe the comic—The Marvel series from Larry Hama is awesome. I recommend the first sixty or so issues for sure. After that, it gets a bit pedestrian but still cool if that’s your thing. Hama would continually mix in new characters and toy designs, but keep things flowing in his grand, overarching story. For all of its fantastical nature and unlike its cartoon, it was still fairly grounded to real-world military procedures and consequences. Well, as grounded as it could be. The cartoon was one thing; the comic something totally different. Personalities were totally different, and it’s the first case of simultaneously different continuities. Both awesome. It ended in the early 90’s with issue 155. Then Image/Devil’s Due, starting around 2001, picked up a few years later continuity-wise from the Marvel series and made some ok to decent comics. They had at least two realities going for a bit there, too. It was a bit muddled, but not too bad. By the time they got good, IDW snatched up the license and rebooted the whole thing. IDW had some really good highs, (the first two Cobra mini-series), some meh (the main universe around the time of the movies), and lots and lots of restarts. GI Joe/Transformers by Tom Scioli was batshirt crazy fun. Larry Hama re-started his Marvel continuity from where he left off, separate from the IDWverse and ignoring the Devil’s Due line. Then there was the Hasbroverse that mixed in parts from Mask, Rom, Action Man and all that stuff. It was interesting but all over the place. At a certain point after a few years early on, I cut bait because there wasn’t a clear plan and I would get tired of the sub par movie tie-ins and crossovers and gobbledygook. I would dip back in every now and again, but everything except the Hama stuff was so hurky jerky in terms of starts and stops, even if I did start to get into something (I’m looking at you, the Sitterson run), it would end after a handful of issues. And the absolute worst part—the toys rarely bothered to reflect what was going on in the comics. Ok, once, when they made that convention set that had Rom and Action Man and Retaliation Roadblock—but that was it. And that set was awesome btw! But you would get all these redesigns and nada! No toys to reflect it!
- Dammit, these Joe books need toys! Really, I just need new affordable Joe toys to keep me busy. All of this buying specialty $25 action figures is killing my budget. I need some reasonably priced, 3 ¾ to 4 inch scale Joes! And I’m not buying 6 inch scale, no matter how cool it looks! The toys and comics need a closer relationship if the brand is ever going to be a big thing again.
Back to comics: when I heard that they were rebooting Joe again, I thought I’d wait for the first trade to see how it’s going before diving in. You never know with Joe.
The art looked interesting and the premise unique. Then, the pandemic hit and I needed stuff to order to help keep some local shops chugging along, so Joe got the call up in issues!
Warning: slight spoilers ahead. If you want to go in totally blind, just go pick up the issues. They might be sitting on the shelves at your lcs right now!
The story starts in the middle with a crazy status quo: Cobra has won! Duke is part of the resistance, though, and he’s running through the streets, escaping faceless Cobra Viper goons. Until Major Bludd catches him and shoots him in the head!
Sidebar: People loooove hating Duke. Everybody got p.o.’d that he got to smooch Scarlett on the cartoon instead of Snake Eyes, and ever since they’ve been taking him out to prove a point. They tried killing him in the animated movie; they turned him traitor in one comic series; they wiped out Channing Tatum in the live-action movie sequel, and now here he gets his brains splattered on page 6 of issue 1. Everybody unloads their dookie on ole’ Dukie. Now that I read it aloud, it makes sense.
But don’t worry, as a new character that’s a Moped messenger/delivery boy finds the information Duke was stashing at the drop spot! He’s Tiger, btw, and he’s going to be the new Joe recruit to introduce us to this new normal. And what a new normal it is. For one, characters have been re-designed yet again. Some, like Frontier, a Pakistani substitute teacher turned Joe, are also new.
Others, like Roadblock, Stalker, Jinx, and General Hawk all received slight tweaks to their characters, too. Not so much that you can’t tell who they are, but enough to make them different from former iterations. For example, Roadblock suffers a moment of panic when he shoots an attacking Viper. He’s apparently a civilian chef who has been drafted into the Joe mission, so the process of being a soldier is relatively new and challenging for him. Really, most characters have some sort of design update—it makes group scenes fun to try and figure out who is whom. Allor does a solid job juggling the characterizations of the main players to the point that even though they are different, they’re still fully formed characters.
Curmudgeonly fans might ponder if there’s a need for new Joes or big redesigns to old characters when there is literally an army of Joes to choose from. I say, why not? Making up new characters has always been part of the fun, and GI Joe has always been known for its diverse cast. Let Allor and company steer the ship however they need in order to tell compelling stories. You can always go back to the old stuff if you’re not going to like anything new.
So what’s the need to know info for the book so far? Well, we’re six issues in, and here’s how I see it:
The U.S. has surrendered to Cobra. Cobra has set up Indianapolis as their North American capital city. The Joe team is still operational because even though General Hawk surrendered, he never put the stop order on the Joes. Scarlett is leading the whole shebang, and is in charge of training new recruits and dispersing teams onto missions. The main team we follow includes new characters like Frontier, Tiger, and Fadeaway (an ex Cobra employee from when they were just a tech company). Roadblock and Jinx round out the field team.
They train together, they eat lunch together, and they succeed or fail together. They even punch their bosses together sometimes. Other Joe squads weave their way in and out of the book as needed.
The first issue sets up the status quo, wipes out Duke, and gives us an idea of why Joe recruits become Joes.
Allor does commendable work early getting you sucked into the idea of this world while making everything accessible. There’s enough action that things don’t feel wordy or too preachy, but you get into the emotional impact on the characters right away.
Chris Evenhuis has a unique art style that knows when to allow the colorist Brittany Peer do the heavy lifting. Evenhuis has a style that’s realistic enough that the character models definitely reflect some photo-tracing. There’s still an element of cartooning present, too. Everyone looks just different enough to be clear, but they also reflect how real people would look. Evenhuis then cleans things up so they’re not too realistic as to take you out of the story.
If I were to offer one critique of his characters, it’s that he struggles slightly to show the intricacies of age—it’s hard to tell how old everyone is supposed to be.
His background work does just enough that you get a sense of the world they’re living in, but it peels back enough that the world is still unmuddled in terms of story clarity. The action scenes are realistic, too, but still full of energy. It really is a delicate balance, a fine line that he does a great job walking in this book. Peer’s colors go a long way to emphasize what’s important without getting in the way with unnecessary nuance. The color palette fits perfectly. It’s colorful but never so bright as to be garish. It’s a really solid creative team all around.
Issue two is a lot about the pain of loss and the bonding that brings the team together.
Scarlett is reacting to the loss of Duke, Tiger is dealing with feeling like he doesn’t belong, and did I mention Dr. Mindbender has Duke’s body in his lab? I feel like that’ll come back later. There’s also a fun twist at the end of the issue that re-emphasizes how different this continuity actually is. It’s not something that’s unheard of in the history of Joe, but still shocking any time it happens.
Issue three focuses on how the Cobra ascension has affected the regular folks. Roadblock is working as a line cook at the Viper Diner, sitting back as customers parrot things like, “Cobra provides” and “What is it about good jobs and safe streets that [people against Cobra] hate so much?”
We get to see Lightfoot (whose design keeps juuuust enough of his old action figure look to bring back memories) as a member of another Joe squad helping out.
Issue four is a Cobra-focused issue, specifically surrounding Major Bludd and Cobra Commander. Niko Walter is the fill-in artist here. It’s a slight drop off art-wise, if only in terms of consistency, but I don’t have any serious complaints. Walter handles the Cobra beaurocracy well. Eagle-eyed fans will note the mention of a certain Mr. Broca—one of the original Crimson Guardsmen (and the biological father of Kamukura) who then became the oft-cloned template of the ideal soldier. Bludd eliminated him, apparently.
The classic seeds of mistrust are planted between Bludd, the mercenary; Cobra high command like Baroness and Daemon, a pencil pusher; Dr. Mindbender, the mad scientist; and Destro, who still has his awesome metal mask—as is tradition in a Joe book. It’s fun to watch Bludd’s internal conflict—a despotic desire for power he understands and can work with, but idealism is dangerous—and how his thinking relates to what’s going on in Cobra. Allor does a great job letting you into his head and sewing those seeds of doubt and mistrust.
Issue five is a tough one as we are dropped into Dreadnokistan—the stronghold in Indianapolis that the ‘Noks have carved out away from Cobra. At the start of the issue, there are 60-some Dreadnoks, including old favorites like Buzzer, Zartan, and Ripper, basically running their own town their own way. The Joes show up to try to evacuate them to safety—but not soon enough.
Stalker gets to work this mission along with Joes like Jinx, Rock and Roll, and Airborne for those working in their action figure collections.
The re-designed Patrol B.A.T. that makes an appearance relies more on the Sigma 6 designs than the classic B.A.T., but I’m ok with it. The Dreadnok losses, maybe notsomuch. I did have a good chuckle at the idea of Nurse Road Pig, though. This issue goes a long way to emphasize what happens in these war zones—to good people, to bad people, and to people like the Dreadnoks.
Issue six just hit the stands this week; it describes a Joe mission gone wrong that has significant repercussions for characters like Fadeaway and Jinx and possibly Scarlett, too.
Once again, Allor takes the essence of the characters, in this case, a former Cobra employee-turned Joe, and walks you through their mental motivations with all the challenges and repercussions of their actions in play. It’s complex, nuanced characterization, that honestly, when it’s done well, reflects the best of the Joe comic books.
Whether the books are walking through military structures, Cobra beaurocracy, or various sects of society at large, Allor, Evenhuis, and company are deftly portraying realistic explorations of what would happen in a situation like this. You know, one where the bad guys have won, the regular people are simultaneously oppressed and occasionally thankful for it, and those who can are standing up to fight however they can.
Not like any of those situations explicitly relate to our current climate or anything.
It’s the emphasis on people, on characters, and heart in this book that makes it a must-add if you’re into Joe. The victories are uplifting, the losses disheartening, and the missteps full of consequence and meaning. The story is compelling, and the characters are familiar enough, but not so familiar that it feels like everything is as it always was. Allor and company have something new to offer the Joe mythos. They are respectful enough of the Hama versions of the characters and share a similarity where there’s just enough reality injected into the storylines to keep things believable while still telling entertaining and action-packed stories. But this is the vision of Allor, Evenhuis, and Peer (and occasionally Walter). Just like a fine squad of Joes, they’ve managed to each pull their own weight in order to offer the greater good a chance at just that—greatness.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each issue. I’m a little sad when they end, too, especially because Allor does a bang up job on his cliffhangers. It’s definitely one I’ve added to the pull pile. Final Grade: A. Now, can we get some action figures outta this thing or what?!?
Until next time, I’ll be hiding out in the basement, trying to figure out how to kitbash some new Joe figures!