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There was a decent amount of fanfare when IDW Publishing decided to re-launch the flagship title G.I. Joe in early 2013. Although G. I. Joe, A Real American Hero is still being published by the company and written by Larry Hama, who has shaped a good portion of the mythology of the "Real American Hero" era, a new voice was sought for the G.I. Joe title. So IDW chose Fred Van Lente, a versatile comics writer who has written both witty comics (Action Philosophers) and exciting adventures (Alpha Flight). The Homefront trade paperback compiles the first story arc, which covers G.I. Joe #1-5. Overall, it's a suspenseful and rewarding story that should appeal to new fans as well as those who grew up with G.I. Joe but have been away from the franchise for a while.
The basic premise of Homefront is that G.I. Joe has now become a publicly-known operation. Consequently, the U.S. government is making a big public relations spectacle of the Joes' announcement and (supposedly) innocuous first mission in Warrenton, Ohio. However, things go very badly as the Joes are sabotaged and face a town that has been swayed to the side of Cobra. The crew included – Duke, Roadblock, Quick Kick, Cover Girl, Tunnel Rat, Doc (the daughter of the original Doc), Shipwreck and new character Hashtag (the group's embedded blogger) – includes an interesting mix of popular and lesser known characters, seeming to mimic the Joe team's desire to put forth a public face of gender and racial diversity.
Van Lente keeps the pace going on this story in a number of set pieces while also showcasing moments for each character. The dialog here is quite good. There are many exchanges between characters that are smart and funny without sounding forced. The mechanics of the plot work quite well, too. The Joe team have been divided, injured and outnumbered in a town that's against them. Duke has even been captured by The Baroness. Van Lente has stacked the deck against the Joe team so much that's enjoyable to watch them fight their way out.
A particular highlight of this story arc is the third issue, which focuses mainly on the efforts of Baroness and Dr. Mindbender to get the "all-clear" codes from Duke by extracting them from his brain, Inception-style. So we get various journeys into Duke's mind. We see him as a boy, young soldier and with an early love. Every story eventually turns into a ploy by Cobra to get the codes. Duke, as the macho leader, is a hard character to write well. By letting readers delve into his mind and relive moments when he wasn't quite the alpha male, Van Lente humanizes him in an effective way.
It's not surprising that fan favorites like Roadblock, Quick Kick and Shipwreck all get great moments, though Van Lente does make a bold choice that basically takes Shipwreck out of most of the first half of the story. The supporting villains here are also well done. An unhinged Croc Master shows up, like he just strolled out of Arkham Asylum. Scrap Iron's brief appearances paint him as a compelling psychopath. Dr. Mindbender seems more concerned with studying Duke than beating him. My biggest problem is with the Baroness, who doesn't stand out as the main antagonist. She says some witty things and acts evil, but I don't feel like we really get what makes her tick.
The art by Steve Kurth (Ultimate Iron Man) works well for a project like this. His pencils are slick and sharp, giving action sequences clarity and the dialog sequences proper emotion. For the most part, things are high volume the whole way through Homefront, but Kurth keeps up the brisk pace without making the action feel monotonous.
In G.I. Joe – Homefront, Van Lente weaves in enough threads and themes to give the story weight. This clearly feels more than a version of the simplistic G.I. Joe action movies. Sure, action and battles still form a big chunk of the story, but the suspense and team interaction blend together into a quite satisfying story.