Book of the Month
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In many ways, without G.I. Joe there is no iFanboy.
As a kid, growing up and reading comics in the early 1980s G.I. Joe was ubiquitous. Everyone I was friends with both read the comics and ran home every day to watch the cartoon, and there were some epic battles set up with those toys in my apartment (that’s marketing and synergy at work, kids!). G.I. Joe was one of the few comics that I collected on a regular basis before I was ever a regular weekly comic store customer. I hit that newsstand on 79th and Broadway every month to grab the newest issue so that my friend and I could excitedly recount the latest adventures of the Joes and their arch rivals — the ruthless terrorist organization called Cobra.
Even as kids we knew that the G.I. Joe comic was far superior to the G.I. Joe cartoon. While the cartoon offered the thrill of seeing out favorite characters come to life (even if they gave our favorite character Snake-Eyes the royal screwjob in terms of screentime and also pairing off his girlfriend Scarlett with Duke) and offered those awesome voice characterizations, the comic book offered something that the cartoon never could — serious long form storytelling that somehow, miraculously, walked the fine-line between toy promotion and serious war comics. G.I. Joe lasted well over 100 issues until, inevitably, the title devolved into over-the-top silliness and one can look back and plainly see the heavy hand of Hasbro near the end. I still think back with sadness on the day I finally decided to drop G.I. Joe.
I always thought that G.I. Joe was a property that would be fertile ground for a serious and more realistic treatment. I figured that with a company like Hasbro at the wheel that that was probably unlikely, although much to my surprise a darker and more hard-edged G.I. Joe has begun to emerge lately. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra — which no one would mistake for dark and realistic — was much more violent and bloody than I expected, and the Warren Ellis-penned cartoon G.I. Joe: Resolute was as close to a realistic and badass G.I. Joe as we’ll probably ever get on any kind of a screen.
But that’s all kids stuff compared to G.I. Joe: Cobra.
When IDW announced that they had obtained the rights to G.I. Joe comics, and that they would be launching a whole line of books, I greeted the news with the sense of weary excitement that comes when you’ve had one of your favorite properties rebooted multiple times by many different companies, none of which ever really came close to capturing the magic of the original books by Marvel Comics. G.I. Joe did a really good job of capturing the feel of the G.I. Joe world updated for modern times and modern sensibilities. G.I. Joe: Origins the world of the first book and looked at its beginnings with more realistic edge courtesy of G.I. Joe’s original architect Larry Hama. Both of those books were child’s play next to G.I. Joe: Cobra.
I don’t think that anyone was prepared for G.I. Joe: Cobra. I certainly wasn’t. The first issue was a surprise Pick of the Week, and it was one of those grab you by the throat choices that makes our job easier. And the series never let up — between the four main issues and the special extra issue, G.I. Joe: Cobra earned three Pick of the Week honors and now here it is, the absolute clear choice for November’s Book of the Month.
The story of G.I. Joe: Cobra is, on its surface, a simple one. Early on in the life of G.I. Joe, a wise-cracking, rule-breaking Joe code-named Chuckles is washed out of the unit for… well, being a wise-cracking rule breaker. At least that’s what everyone in G.I. Joe is lead to believe. In actuality, the Joe’s leader General Hawk has tapped Chuckles for an extremely important and extremely dangerous mission. Chuckles is to enter the world of ex-military mercenaries in hopes of garnering enough of a reputation to catch the eye of a shadowy and dangerous new terrorist organization that G.I. Joe knows nothing about, but we know to be Cobra. Chuckles has entered into a long undercover operation that only General Hawk and a Joe code-named Jinx (who will serve as Chuckles’ handler) knows about.
This is a G.I. Joe book with real genuine darkness. It’s disturbing in parts. As Chuckles rises through the ranks of international guns for hire in some of the most bleak and war torn parts of the globe, he has to do some pretty evil things in order to maintain his cover and complete his mission. How far into the darkness will a good person go when their own survival and the survival of the mission is at stake? I can tell you that Chuckles is willing to go pretty far, and his actions are not without psychological consequence. And that’s really what this book is all about. While on the surface we watch as Chuckles does what he has to do (including getting in shootouts with his old buddies in G.I. Joe) in order to keep his reputation as a mercenary, the real story of G.I. Joe: Cobra is: what does all of this violence, deceit and betrayal to do someone? When do you actually become the evil person you were once only pretending to be? I give all the credit in the world to writers Christos Gage and Mike Costa for presenting themes that I never thought that I would see explored so realistically in a G.I. Joe book. Frankly, I’m still shocked that this book exists.
One of the big reasons why G.I. Joe: Cobra is such a success is because of the art by Antonio Fuso. This is a comic that looks like no other G.I. Joe book that you’ve ever seen before. When I first opened G.I. Joe: Cobra #1 I was taken aback by the art in the best possible way. The art is gritty and stark and is perfectly suited to the tale being told here. There is nothing overly flashy going on here. Even the gunshots are portrayed in a subdued way — you can practically hear the popping sound that real guns make as opposed to the Hollywood sound effects we are all used to. The visual look that Fuso creates here really adds to the sense of danger and despair that saturates Chuckles’ very existence.
And speaking of art, this collected edition includes the standard cover galleries and character designs, but it also features one really great extra. The G.I. Joe Cobra Special that wrapped the mini-series up featured the story of the series’ main villains and it was told in a very subtle symmetrical style that was one of the most impressive things that I have seen in comics this year. In the back of this collection the entire issue is laid out with the mirror image pages shown side-to-side so you can get a better sense of just how ingeniously that issue was constructed. If you read that special and were impressed by its symmetry it’s worth checking out this collection just to get a better look at those pages.
G.I. Joe: Cobra was absolutely and without a doubt one of the best books of the year and to me it was the biggest surprise of the year. If you didn’t read it the first time now’s your chance to rectify that. And you don’t need to be well-versed in G.I. Joe lore to enjoy this book. You don’t need to know anything about G.I. Joe. Everything you need is on the page, sometimes horrifyingly so.