G.I. Joe #1 provides the long-running franchise with both a new starting point and a new premise. The team has represented an elite fighting force within the existing global dominance of the United States armed forces since Larry Hama provided the action figures with their first comic book narrative in 1982. Now a variety of familiar Joes, including Duke, Scarlett, and Roadblock, are all fighting as insurgents in a United States conquered by Cobra. It’s an unfamiliar position and one that steers away from almost decades of stories in which Cobra has provided a cartoonish analog for the everyday horrors of an ill-defined war on terror. However, the concept is never explained any better than it has already been stated in this introduction. Across 20 pages of story, G.I. Joe #1 never expands upon what it means for Cobra to have “won” or what the stakes of this fight are, and so an intriguing premise fails to deliver a story that cannot be understood well enough to every hook readers.
The concept of a conquered United States is not easy to imagine, especially given the near-century of imperial hegemony that comes with possession of the Earth’s largest standing military. When Marvel Comics tried to offer a similar twist in Secret Empire, they managed to make a mess of it even when spread across more series, crossovers, and tie-ins than one would care to count. Rather than attempt to simplify the concept, Allor opts to never even address it in G.I. Joe #1. The questions of what it means for Cobra to rule—How did they do it? What was the fallout? How does this affect citizens?—loom large over a collection of scenes that all feel as though they’re from a different story. An opening chase featuring Duke catches the tone of a French resistance film, one where heroes have few resources in occupied territory. Later it’s shown that the Joes possess tremendous resources and do not even know that Cobra has won the war (whatever the war was). The issue regularly contradicts itself in this fashion and makes it impossible to enjoy well-conceived action sequences as they are structured on a very shaky foundation.
There are smaller contradictions as well. Despite allusions to a drawn out war and many battles, when one Joe killsa Cobra soldier in combat, he reacts like a superhero horrified at the possibility of ever killing. When Major Bludd references past battles, he refers to Duke as a liberator and hero as if he understands that the reader may prefer flavor text to consistent characterization of an opposing military leader. The vagueness of the entire conflict and lack of clear stakes for each mission and fight makes it impossible to invest in any outcome. It is taken for granted that Cobra is bad, even as it appears everyday life in the United States is largely unchanged. While the elevator pitch for what is happening might hint at some political analogies, it seems the conflict has been steered so far from anything analyzable to prevent readers from actually reading what this story could be about on any possible level.
Chris Evenhuis makes for a fine fit to the franchise writ large. His figures and landscapes read like a blend between representations of 3¾ inch action figures and the real concepts which inspired them. The linework is crisp and orderly with pristine, plastic-like surfaces enhanced in that quality by Brittany Peer’s colors. Neatly organized panels guide readers through subtle action cues, like a dead drop or hidden pistol. For a more typical G.I. Joe story, it’s easy to see Evenhuis being a perfect fit.
Set in a war torn America conquered by force, however, generic backgrounds and absurdly clean secret military bases prevent any suspension of disbelief. The toy-like quality of characters and setting makes one think this might be an imagined story in which only the hands of a young boy imagining a “What if…” story for G.I. have been erased. Generically-named storefronts and unwrinkled uniforms make it impossible to accept this story on its own terms. That would be true with or without the mismatched art though, as the violence and reality of G.I. Joe #1 never read honestly. Unwilling to commit to its own premise, this relaunch fails to succeed as an update on an icon or a bold new direction; it’s something muddled in between the two.
Published by IDW Publishing
On September 18, 2019
Written by Paul Allor
Art by Chris Evenhuis
Colors by Brittany Peer0comments
Letters by Neil Uyetake
Cover by Chris Evenhuis