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Clearly, I have not been paying enough attention to IDW Publishing, because this latest relaunch of its G.I. Joe franchise has taken me by surprise. I was a reader of the three titles in its continuity, and all of a sudden last month, I found myself reading the final issues of each. The stories weren’t really including. Plots were just being quickly tidied up, and that was the end of the series.
And now, here is a new first issue for G.I. Joe with a new writer, Fred Van Lente.
Even before this, I had the impression that IDW wasn’t particularly happy with how its G.I. Joe franchise was performing sales-wise. The run -- or “season” -- we just closed out was full of crossovers connecting all three books in various mini-events, which came off as a kind of desperate grab for attention. And now, we are seeing another relaunch less than two years after the last one. Is it uncalled for? Well, the G.I. Joe franchise hasn’t done as well as the Transformers one for IDW. Sales of the previous G.I. Joe series and its associate books had also fallen to around half the number they sold in the beginning. So I can’t really say this move by IDW is unjustified.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that Van Lente’s objective is to take G.I. Joe in a different direction than what IDW has been doing with the franchise thus far. This is a more self-aware, tongue in cheek take on G.I. Joe. It’s the introduction of them as celebrity soldiers. It forgoes the more grounded military elements that used to define IDW’s take on the franchise for more flashy elements akin to superhero comics. Characters are wearing more distinctive uniforms to reflect their personalities and codenames, essentially wearing costumes now. What was once a large military unit has been condensed into a nine person team with an eye toward racial and gender diversity, very similar to the creation of a superhero team. This is G.I. Joe as a superhero book.
But the premise Van Lente uses here is very aware that it’s trying to be a superhero book. General Colton, the G.I. Joe’s new commanding officer, all but explicitly states he’s trying to turn G.I. Joe into the military’s own superhero team for public relations purposes. Everything I just mentioned is directly explained in this issue. The uniforms, the codenames, the diverse cast. General Colton is creating the new G.I. Joe superhero team exactly as Van Lente is creating a G.I. Joe superhero book.
But as someone who has already been a reader of this franchise, the shift is seriously jarring. This just doesn’t gel with the G.I. Joe universe that IDW has developed. If it wasn’t for a few references to past events, I would think this is a total restart of the continuity. And honestly? It would probably work better if that’s what this was. The attempt to make this new approach seem like the natural progression of the overall story comes off as very forced and artificial. It’s just not believable that the government’s reaction to the horrible and effective acts Cobra has committed is to create a celebrity military unit. The logic doesn’t track. It feels detached from everything that has come before. IDW’s G.I. Joe franchise has actually been surprisingly cohesive in how it has developed and branched out into multiple titles and relaunches. That is, until now. Here, it’s hard to ignore that the writer and editors are forcing the book in a new direction.
However, brand new readers wouldn’t have this problem and be more likely to enjoy this. Despite it being a forced new direction, it isn’t done poorly. This is actually a pretty effective first issue. Van Lente successfully establishes the series’ new premise, the new team, the identities and personalities of most of said team and the first crisis for them to face. Seriously, that’s damn good for a first issue these days. Most of them time, it seems like we’re left waiting for most of that until the third or fourth issue of an opening six-issue arc. Or when it is done, it’s done poorly in a convoluted and shallow fashion. Van Lente hits all of the right beats, though.
Fun fact. Steve Kurth got his start as a comic book artist with a previous G.I. Joe series back in 2001. He does a good job here. It’s not the style of art I would have enjoyed for the previous, more grounded G.I. Joe series, but as I’ve said, this is not trying to be that book. This is a flashier, more superhero-styled book that Kurth’s art matches well.
For what it’s trying to be, the new G.I. Joe is a good self-aware take on property stemming back to its cartoon days. It’s a group of real soldiers being pushed into the roles of superhero-style celebrities while they are trying to fight a terrorist organization. This makes for an interesting new take on the G.I. Joe concept. That said, it differs significantly with the take that IDW has established thus far. It’s not a natural or satisfying development of what has been done so far, and as someone who was drawn into reading these G.I. Joe comics because of the grounded realism, I’m left uninterested by IDW’s new G.I. Joe.