After a fairly chaotic but successful rescue mission in Benzheen, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #188 sweeps us right into yet another action-heavy issue. This time we see a more recognizable cast of characters take on a hijacked freighter filled to the brim with pirates and Red Shadows, a smaller yet still formidable force compared to COBRA. Larry Hama follows up the sloppy Benzheen action with a stronger, more focused mission that is wisely limited to the constraints of being set at sea. There's no confusing cross-cutting between action scenes and it's clear at all times exactly what is happening, at least in the short term, from points A to B. While #188 is certainly a step up from its predecessor, the lack of story context and character development still hobbles an otherwise exciting naval mission.
The plot of the issue is clearly culled from the surprising burst in real-life coastal pirate activity over the past few years. The situation is more relatable and interesting with real world context, especially since there isn't much to go off of in terms of setup - just something about a Joe acquaintance and the brother of the pirate leader trying to talk him down. The power struggle between the pirate leader and the Red Shadow leader, Black Major, is far more compelling showing two uncompromising, confident men who have their own goals in addition to being threatened by the Joes. It's too bad that the good guys aren't given the same kind of attention, most are still defined by how many dudes they shot and bullets they fire instead of meaningful character moments.
Having a different squad of Joes, slightly more familiar to audiences, certainly makes up for the fact that aside from clearer, more unique designs Hama literally gives them nothing to do but jump, dodge and fire their way out of sticky situations. The issue is jam-packed with wall to wall action sequences featuring Scarlett, Gung-ho, Torpedo and Beach Head “infiltrating” the freighter under the cover of darkness. Naturally it doesn't take long for the team to make its presence known through a flurry of gunfire, ninja stars and explosives. The heavy battle excursions keep the pace brisk, never straying too far from the mayhem. If anything, issue 188 is certainly not boring.
S.L. Gallant's artwork is noticeably better this time around making the battles easy to follow while still adding a slight cinematic feel. In particular there is a sequence involving a tougher, robotic enemy whose size and durability make for an interesting showdown enhanced by Gallant's choice of framing both individually and on the whole. I think G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #188 shows definite improvement and with a little patience could become a solid, old school cheese-fest for longtime fans. At the same time, Hama really needs to find a way to effectively communicate the stakes of the situation at hand through emotionally based character development rather than rely on increasing the spent bullet casings with each new issue. Pretty soon, I need to be reminded why all of this is happening in the first place and why the Joes do what they do, not just as an organization but as individuals as well.