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Now we’re getting somewhere.  As the G.I. Joe titles have somewhat plodded along over the past 18 months, fans were wondering just where we were headed.  Chuck Dixon seemed to be having a tough time getting his feet under him and figuring out a concrete direction or what the end goal of this whole adventure is.
But over the past few months, things have kind of started falling into place.  Over in the main book things really picked up steam as Cobra became a more focal part of the G.I. Joe universe.  The whole conspiracy theory concept with Dataframe and Snake Eyes got the ball rolling, and now G.I. Joe is making an active push towards uncovering the Cobra mystery.  Characters are starting to come into focus and the layers are at least starting to be pulled back somewhat.
Meanwhile, in the G.I. Joe: Origins book, we’re getting some neat looks into the past of various members of G.I. Joe and Cobra…and with Issues #16 – 18 I think IDW had their work cut out for them.  Zartan is both an icon and a mystery when it comes to his backstory.  Is he superhuman?  Is it all technology?  A genetic disorder, or a mixture of all of the above?  Which angle would IDW take and how would they explore his abilities and talents?
The answer?  They’ve woven an interesting, captivating, and awesome backstory for the Cobra Master of Disguise that I have already fallen in love with.  In Issue #16, they gave us Zartan’s background as an emotionless mercenary who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.  They tied Zartan into Cobra, and then, right as things were getting going, he was disintegrated.  Or was he?
Issue #17 picks up right where last issue left off…and to avoid any spoilers, I’ll continue the review after the jump.

While Cobra Commander stayed in the shadows for the majority of the first 18 months of the IDW universe, he shows his “face” quite a bit in this issue, which is a welcome change.  His direct interaction with Dr. Mindbender is right along the lines of Cobra’s history, and I find myself enjoying his new look more and more.
We quickly find out that yes, Zartan was disintegrated in the MASS Device mishap…but since when has disintegration meant the end of a Cobra faithful?  Apparently not here.  We learn in this issue that one of Cobra’s chief advantages in this IDW universe is their mastery of genetic engineering, and using science not only as a weapon, but also as a blackmailing tool.  Cobra operatives harvest a “blank” (one of many human samples from what we see) and implant Zartan’s genetic “code” into it, effectively “rebuilding” the mercenary, per Cobra Commander’s instructions.  But things don’t go exactly according to plan.  Somehow the code is corrupt, and Zartan gains some mysterious abilities because of this.  He has enhanced strength, and of course his familiar talent for mimicking the appearance of other people.  His chief scientist, for whatever reason, seems intent on hiding this ability, even from Cobra.
For a long while, Zartan is kept in captivity, buried within a Cobra compound as they test him, train him, and educate him in the ways of the world…but as everyone probably expected, he grows weary of being held, and makes his escape into the wild world.
So how does this new origin work for Zartan?
I love it.  I absolutely love it.  In my own universe I saw Zartan as somewhat of a genetic anamoly.  I know Larry Hama tried to explain a lot of his talents away with technology like holograms in his uniform, etc…  but to me I much prefered a more superhuman Zartan.  This isn’t comic book land, and super heroes don’t run around the streets every day, so someone like Zartan in the world of G.I. Joe was truly unique and truly dangerous.  And he worked for Cobra, which gave them a huge advantage.
In IDW, it’s treated much the same way.  In essence, this isn’t the traditional Zartan we met in Issue #16.  But he’s heading down that path.
The writing in this issue is exceptionally well done, flowing smoothly from event to event, and I didn’t find the dialog forced or hokey as Dixon’s dialog does occasionally  come off.  Alex Cal’s art is absolutely spectacular throughout, with a very clear understanding of how realism and fantasy mesh in the G.I. Joe universe.  His realistic style and the flow of his action are equally effective, and I simply love his artwork.
Issue #17 picked up right where #16 left off, and moved the story forward in many great ways.  I am very much looking forward to the conclusion to this fantastic story arc with Issue #18.  Great job in this one…Zartan is a tough nut to crack, but it feels like Dixon and IDW know exactly where they’re going with him, and it’s a direction I like.

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