G.I. Joe #2
I was left wondering if the newly relaunched G.I. Joe series from writer Fred Van Lente could deliver the goods after a surprisingly solid first issue that hinted at more sociopolitical and satirical undertones than the more light hearted identity overhaul seemed to initially suggest. The Joes are in dire straits with Cobra not just invading the United States but spreading chaos and influence by turning entire cities against the government. Even though G.I. Joe #2 does little to move the plot along, a chilling opening and some good character development make for an interesting continuation of a story with great potential.
Duke is still being interrogated by the Baroness, whose intentions become a little more clear with gruesome guest appearances from fellow Cobra staples such as Firefly and Croc Master. Meanwhile, Cover Girl, Doc, and the embedded journalist - unfortunately code named Hashtag - are trapped in a building while Roadblock and his unit are still trying to save the “girls” and the recently wounded Shipwreck. Although there are a few key character moments, Van Lente does very little to actually move the story forward in a meaningful way. What works is very promising but what doesn't, fails pretty hard.
Looks like the out of place pop culture references are here to stay as we see the ruthless Baroness tell a “Gangnam Style” joke while rookie member Hashtag gives away the Joes location via checking in on Facebook. It's possible that these references are supposed to be ridiculous but they mostly just come across as lazy, practically yelling at the reader, “We need to rope in the younger crowd!” and “See! We're hip!” It's unfortunate too, since many of these moments undermine otherwise interesting scenes, particularly with Hashtag. She's a terrible character, a representation of nearly everything wrong with the current generation. She blows their cover, complains, and continuously proves to be worthless in the field. That is, until Van Lente pulls a fast one and forces Hashtag to face the harsh, violent reality she's stuck in. The situation feels forced and rushed but I have to admire the willingness to go there.
Cover Girl gets some time to shine by kicking some butt throughout an escape attempt, but I'm worried about Roadblock's constant degradation of the all female group by exclusively referring to them as “the girls." Because the intention and tone of the title is so unclear, it's hard to take what is happening seriously unless it's supposed to be some sort of subversive satire. It's a tough call when COBRA is cleverly turning the country against itself while making tired pop culture jokes at the same time. I love that there's a chance that this era of Joe might deal with more sociopolitical issues while still being entertaining but the tone needs to be nailed down before I'm completely sold. Despite my grievances and a lack of narrative momentum, G.I. Joe still has just enough going on to keep me interested.
G.I. Joe: Special Missions #1
After an excellent run focused on Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, longtime Joe writer Chuck Dixon is back with a sister title to Fred Ven Lente's main series. The idea is that after being publicly outed in G.I. Joe, there still needs to be a team that does the dirty covert missions that no one else wants to do. G.I. Joe: Special Missions follows Scarlett and a team of Joes trying to prevent former COBRA operative Baroness from retrieving a large cache of sunken COBRA valuables. In addition to highlighting these covert missions, we're likely going to see how Baroness gets back into COBRA's good graces, eventually leading into Van Lente's main series.
The first issue wastes no time getting right into setting up a huge showdown between Baroness's mercenaries and Scarlett's team. Dixon wisely keeps a majority of the focus on the plot, with most of the action taking place in an unconnected Libya mission that, while exciting, feels tacked on simply to accommodate fans of this Joe team. Although the two stories might fit together through various plot threads, Dixon clearly has a better handle on the more militaristic sensibilities of the title with banter better suited to the situation and style of the franchise, whereas Van Lente is actively trying to force the series toward a more super-heroic route. That's not to say one way is better than the other but instead it spotlights the major differences between the two titles. I won't be surprised if fans end up declaring their allegiances between the two books simply because they both feel so different.
The art from Paul Gulacy is serviceable but feels rushed with faces that end up looking like disjointed robots at times. He's at his best with action sequences set at a wider angle when more focus can be placed on the environment. It's absolutely gorgeous while still being easy to follow from moment to moment. Special Missions is a fairly decent companion piece to the main series with plenty of espionage and action to satisfy old school fans but new readers might find themselves a little lost by being thrown into ongoing plot threads with no real context to go off of. I'd prefer a bit more time devoted to more consistent art but Dixon's plot has me intrigued enough to see how everything comes together.