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I’ve been shamelessly behind on my IDW G.I. Joe comic reviews, but with the release of Snake Eyes #21 next week, the current generation of G.I. Joe comics ends this chapter and sort of rebrands itself going forward.  With the main title written by Fred Van Lente, Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow being replaced by Special Missions (written by Chuck Dixon) and a shift from Cobra to “The Cobra Files” (still written by Mike Costa) G.I. Joe will be moving in a slightly different direction.

Which, of course, brings up the question… how did the current generation end up?

G.I. Joe and Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow both worked together on the Target: Snake Eyes mini-series while Cobra brought the Russian “Oktober Guard” to the IDW universe.  Click the read the rest of the story link below to review how these ended and how the transition evolves to the “new G.I. Joe” coming soon!

IDW’s G.I. Joe; Target: Snake Eyes, the Oktober Guard, and the evolution to the new “Joe”

Target: Snake Eyes

Target: Snake Eyes seemed like a bit of a stretch in my mind, but I was admittedly stuck in the past a little bit.  Throughout the entirety of the Marvel run, Snake Eyes was one of the most reliable and faithful G.I. Joe operatives.  One who was never questioned.  He faked his death, he went off-mission, and he was always welcomed back with open arms.  This is obviously not the case in the IDW Universe as Snake Eyes apparently joined the Arashikage Clan, and was immediately placed at the head of the “Ten Most Wanted” list, sending G.I. Joe on a worldwide hunt for the ninja commando… dead or alive.

It seemed a bit odd to me to finish this “season” of G.I. Joe with such a focus on a singular character, but considering the focal point Snake Eyes is for the G.I. Joe mythology, it does make a certain amount of sense, especially because this next event in G.I. Joe timestream leaves Snake Eyes behind.  IDW skirts the whole Snake Eyes being evil thing by having the Arashikage course of action involve infiltrating and bringing down other evil organizations.  A deep war begins to brew between the Arashikage and Cobra, spreading out to their fringes with the likes of Serpentor, the Soft Master, and G.I. Joe trying to pick up the pieces.

The adventure spans the globe all the way to a hidden Arashikage lair in Cambodia with a healthy combination of ninja fury and more standard military operations.  There is a fair share of blood-letting, though most of the blood escapes from greenshirts who barely have a name and have no real identity.

We get introduced to some new faces in this 6-issue arc that spanned the main G.I. Joe title as well as the Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow title, but they’re not really around long enough to make a big impact.  Mixed up along the action is a nefarious Cobra plot to buy up an actual country using 40 Billion Euro’s, which ends up falling to the bottom of the sea.  The Baroness pays for this transgression with her life (supposedly)…

As the lair in Cambodia falls thanks to a combined attack of Snake Eyes and the Coil (G.I. Joe is around, too, but mostly comes in to clean up), and Snake Eyes is rescued and brought back to G.I. Joe HQ.  Scarlett believes he was simply working deep undercover and he is exonerated…just in time for Storm Shadow to infiltrate the Flagg, kill several Joes, and detonate some ordnance, blowing chunks out of the G.I. Joe ship and supposedly killing Snake Eyes.  I say supposedly, of course, because this would mark the third or fourth time that Snake Eyes was apparently dead in the IDW Universe and we all know just how tough he is to kill.  Other Joes aren’t so lucky, and some familiar faces end up in the morgue throughout this series, or at least missing a significant part of their anatomy.

Target: Snake Eyes was a little bit predictable throughout, as we all pretty much guessed that he was simply playing  a bad guy, but the execution was pretty fun to read, month to month.  Storm Shadow seemed to have legitimate motivation to kill his sword brother, even though they hadn’t really met throughout the bulk of the IDW universe.  Having Dixon write each part, even though it spanned multiple titles gave the series a distinct consistency in theme and tone.  Alex Cal put out some stunning artwork as usual, and I am growing fonder and fonder of his unique artistic talents.  The way he captures complex action in mid air, and is able to execute the feeling of movement without movement lines is just amazing.  There were some series of events that were tough to follow, but overall the art worked.

I had a hard time justifying it as a planned “exit” of this era of G.I. Joe, as the whole “things are changing” speech from Duke seemed just a bit tacked on at the end.  Still, the destruction of the Flagg, the evisceration of the G.I. Joe team as we know it, as well as the apparent death of the Baroness and the chaos within the Coil does seem like a great transitioning point to the next stage.

COBRA: Oktober Guard

Really what can I say here?  Costa brings these classic villains into this new universe with grace and grit, and makes them feel like they belong, even though they originated in a very dated cold war environment between the two reigning super powers.  The Oktober Guard as a mercenary force works incredibly well, and G.I. Joe’s black ops branch led by Flint and Lady Jaye seems the perfect way to combat these soviet warhorses on the sly.

I know many folks complain about Fuso’s art, but I just think it fits this title well.  There are moments of uneveness that make some of the action hard to follow, but it’s like any crime noir drama.  You watch/read it for the story, not because the action choreography is perfect.  You can either watch LA Confidential or a John Woo film…they cover two distinct genre’s and each have their own specialties.  The moment I flip open the first page of any Cobra story I am immediately enveloped in that universe.  Unlike the other two G.I. Joe titles, Costa has the unique ability to create new characters and actually make me emotionally attached to them.  Not to knock Dixon, but he would throw so many green shirt names at us, and they would all look so similar that it was impossible to tell who we should or shouldn’t get used to seeing.  It became somewhat meaningless.

In this Oktober Guard series, when Ronin got stabbed, it was impactful.  Far more impactful than Ninja Force in the Cobra Civil War or Barbecue, because those seemed like cast off events.  Granted, Ronin survives, but there was that initial fear, and that’s all credit to how well Costa builds the events and these characters.  Bringing the Oktober Guard into it and bridging them into Major Bludd’s little team is a great step.  Then we get Tomax involved on the G.I. Joe side and things get even muddier, but muddy in only the best possible way.  The lines of black and white are getting further obscured and nobody does that better than Mike Costa.  From the looks of things, this title will catapult right into The Cobra Files in 2013 without really missing a beat.

The Evolution

Granted there were two tail end issues that came out in the form of G.I. Joe #21 and Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow #21, but they are mostly epilogues featuring an assault on a retired General Hawk and a pretty cool silent issue featuring Storm Shadow and Hard Master.

So how does the G.I. Joe world build towards 2013 with the new G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe: Special Missions, and The Cobra Files?  For the Cobra side of things, it seems to be status quo.  This last series of issues tied things up in a bow relatively successfully.  That’s not to say things have been perfect.   I think there is a lot of great chance for improvements here.  As I mentioned, character building is something that is critical to the G.I. Joe universe and is something that Larry Hama took exceptionally seriously, and is part of why that series was so successful for 12 years.

I’m hopeful that Fred Van Lente has that same opinion, and from talking with him, I get the impression that he does.  I will say that nostalgia can only take things so far.  There has to be more than familiar names, there is a certain spirit that should remain at the essence of G.I. Joe, and the IDW titles have been a little hit or miss in capturing that.  I’m looking forward to this next jump to see how things go from here.