Shadowhawk reviews his first G.I.Joe comics title, written by Chuck Dixon and published by IDW Publishing. This is a trade paperback issue which includes issues #9 of all three ongoing series of G.I. JOE, Cobra, and Snake Eyes, as well as G.I. JOE #10..
“Intriguing redesign that stays faithful to the old Larry Hama-era version at times, Cobra Command is a must read for any fan of the setting and the characters. This is G.I.Joe for the modern age.” ~The Founding Fields
I’ve been into G.I.Joe ever since as a kid. My earliest memory is of one of my birthdays when my parents got me a 4-box set of the Cobra Night Landing Speedboat, the Joe Weapon Transport rig, the Joe Bomb Disposal unit and a Joe Devilfish. In those days, everything G.I.Joe was sold by Funskool in India, be it the action figures themselves or the various tanks and aircraft. Those were good days. I remember that keeping all the weapons and gear was one of my biggest issues because I’d kept losing them. Even at college, I took a few with me for nostalgia’s sake. They happened to be Flint, Lady Jaye, Storm Shadow and Freefall (I think it is Freefall, not sure). College was also when I really dived into the old Marvel comics, written by Larry Hama, and some of the other spinoff/sequel comics to that 155-issue run. As I’d seen the animated series before reading the comics, the latter made that whole experience complete for me.
Reacquainting with the G.I.Joe franchise with G.I.Joe The Movie was a rude experience because the Hama-purist in me found everything to be wrong with it. Everything was like some kind of perversion of my most fun memories of the franchise. The most significant of these issues were that changes made to the relationship between Scarlett/Snake Eyes, with Flint and the Baroness being an item.
Coming back to these characters last month with IDW’s Cobra Command Volume 1, written by Chuck Dixon, was a pure treat in comparison. While the world has significantly moved on since the Larry Hama days, or the various canonical/non-canonical versions that have followed, these guys are still all part of the team. They still navigate the convoluted politics being played by the Washington top brass while Cobra does what it does best: terror and mayhem in countries that lack allies in the wider world.
I haven’t read any of the other IDW reboots as yet, but I have to say that I’m really impressed with Dixon’s work with Cobra Command. This series is a sequel to the Cobra Civil War arc, one which I’m rather keen on reading as soon as I can. While it has been several years since I’ve read the original Marvel run or the Devil’s Due sequels (the latter of which I’m rather fond of as well), Dixon’s script, Alex Cal’s art, J. Brown’s colours and Dave Wilkins’ cover really take me back to those days. Cobra Command is just as exciting as any of those oldies and I think it really brings that modern-day feel to the franchise, albeit without the ridiculousness of the movie.
The story of Cobra Command follows on from the Civil War arc as I mentioned, and now the Cobra Commander has begun to make his presence felt while the Joes are still recovering from their recent losses and having to make do with a reduced asset profile. That leads to a lot of tension between the team members, as well as no small amount of frustration as they aren’t able to counter the Cobra threat effectively.
Yet, they do what they have always done best. The Joes deploy in small four-man infiltration teams within enemy territory, wreaking havoc wherever and whenever in order to give the international community the time to respond. And while they are walking around the jungles and the plains, the new Cobra Commander continues to roll out one surprise or another.
Plot-wise, this is a really interesting arc. It is slightly similar to some of the older story arcs but it is scripted nicely. We get some interesting looks into the psyches of a few of the characters, be it Snake Eyes, or Scarlett or Storm Shadow or even the Cobra Commander himself. With the latter, I’m really intrigued to know who he is and what his plans are. Everything he does in this arc is done under the pretence of having a larger, more layered plan at work and I can’t wait to see how things play out. Whatever happens, things definitely do not look good for the country of Nanzhao, not conducive to its health by any stretch of the imagination. There is also a sense of urgency to the whole script, one with a promise of a big showdown being imminent. What add to that tension are the frustrations of the Joes, whether against the government for limiting their resources or the flux of their interpersonal relationships.
In many ways, that really is a fairly classic G.I.Joe story, but given the new environment in-universe, it holds together rather well. Chuck Dixon hasn’t reinvented the wheel, but he’s made it sleeker and shinier than it was before.
Character-wise, the new Cobra Commander is a mystery to me. He appears to be as brutal as the old Cobra Commander but without the comic relief that he sometimes provided. His character design also appears to be more militant, given the ribbed armour, the holstered gun, the red cloak and the new helmet design. He gives off the creeps in waves. His is I think the best illustrated character in the entire collection.
Which brings me to Snake Eyes, an old favourite of mine. There’s not a lot that can be done with his character design, unless the art team is of a mind to totally change his look, and that frankly is rather unappealing. So its nice to see that they have stuck with the “old” look, except making him more muscular, a nice concession between classic Snake Eyes and the movie version. Incidentally, the movie version is played by Ray Park, the man who played Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Also nice to see that Chuck Dixon has stayed with the “man of few words and even fewer exceptions” version of Snake Eyes. I’ve read a few comics where he is shown to be quite talkative and that just doesn’t work for me. Snake Eyes’ silence is the biggest draw of the character for me.
Scarlett has a big role in this arc as well, as she has taken on a more high-level role than before as a sort of missions coordinator in addition to her counterintelligence duties. What I didn’t like however was her character design. She has lost the pony-tail hair-do and the distinctive light orange/grey uniform for dull-blue military fatigues. Didn’t really like that as it makes it tough to distinguish her at a glance from other characters in the same panel. The Hama-era purist in me speaking again I suppose.
This extends to more of the classic characters, such as Storm Shadow, Duke and General Hawk; even Flint to a degree is unrecognisable as there is a darker palette used for his colours and he doesn’t have his distinctive facial look as well. It was somewhat alienating for me, although the script stays true to these characters all the way. Flint is still a starch-arse for example, nothing has changed that, and it is just the way I like him too.
Other than those few niggling issues, the artwork is solid. The main cover art by Dave Wilkins is top-notch, as are all the internal (cover) illustrations by other artists. Like I’ve said before, it all brings the Joes full circle back to the modern world for a brand-new audience while still mostly keeping in touch with long-time fans.
Of course, this also wouldn’t be a proper G.I.Joe comic if it didn’t have some new mech-type COBRA-tech or the sheer resilience and stubbornness of the Joes in the face of adversity. Or the boom-boom-explosions as the Joes outwit the COBRA frontline soldiers, or the intrigues of Cobra Commander behind the scenes while his henchmen all watch from a distance.
This collection really has almost everything that a veteran reader like me would want out of it and it still manages to surprise me at every turn in a welcome way. Chuck Dixon and team have done a great job with this collection.
Overall, Cobra Command #1 is a solid offering by the folks at IDW and I’d like to see them continue things with the same passion, dedication and effort that’s been shown here. And wherever they can improve, including hopefully those art issues as I mentioned, all the better. If anything, this collection has achieved one item on its missions list, and that is to get me excited again about the G.I.Joe franchise. My interest in the setting and the characters has been rekindled and now I’m definitely going to go on a G.I.Joe-kick for a good, long while.