25 September 2012

on the end of classic g.i. joe

Everything ends badly - otherwise nothing would ever end.

That's not entirely true.  Some things do end well.  But serialized comics that aren't really part of a story with a pre-set beginning, middle and end usually don't end well.

Witness Classic G.I. Joe Vol. 15 (Larry Hama/ Phil Gosier et al), which finally wraps up the revered Marvel run, collecting the final ten issues (#146-155) of that series.  I've written at length about these lovely old G.I. Joe stories.  The early issues of this series were childhood favorites.  Truthfully, the "classic" moniker stopped being applicable around the Cobra Civil War in Vol. 7, or at the latest after Snake-Eyes Stars in Die-Hard in Vol. 10.  It was at least possible to suspend disbelief and enjoy the series in an ironic way thereafter, though.

Not so much with this last volume, which is frankly pretty terrible.  The art looks... well... like you'd expect a mid-list mid-90's Marvel book to look.  This is not a compliment.  There are a few issues where Gosier only did "breakdowns" and there are multiple finishers, and those are pretty close to not meeting minimum standards for publication.  Any attempt at characterization of the Joes goes completely out the window, and most of the Cobra stuff is focused on Cobra Commander using his brain-wave scanner to turn all the Cobras who defected over the course of the series back to his side.  It's as if Hama looked around and realized that the intra-Cobra drama was always the coolest part of the book and tried to restore it by hitting a big reset button.  Only it doesn't work - it just kind of highlights the fact that the book was spinning in circles.  Hama becomes Destro sitting in his castle that keeps changing back and forth from a Scottish castle to a Cobra castle, playing an imaginary game of chess with his action figures custom chess pieces.

The final issue, slotted right after two issues that were fairly obviously inventory stories that Marvel wanted to toss in before losing the license, is one of the series' better ones, though it's completely divorced from anything that precedes it.  Through a series of letters, one of which is written by Snake-Eyes, Hama delivers his final statement on the value or plight of the Soldier.  It's less about G.I. Joe than the concept of soldiering in general, and while it's really quite touching, it feels like a eulogy of the series.  Which is kind of cool in a way, but kind of a strange way to end a 150+ issue series that relied heavily on soap opera.  For all the military setpieces and terminology, Hama's G.I. Joe was rarely an actual war comic.  It was basically a superhero comic where few of the protagonists had super powers.  So while Hama's thoughts on soldiering are poignant, the reader is almost left to stop and ask "Well yes, but what is this doing in a comic about G.I. Joe?"

So it doesn't end well.  It ends awkwardly and a little abruptly, without anything that really resembles a conclusion.  Hama made this series a lot better than it had any right to be for quite a long time, but eventually it passed its sell-by date.  Unfortunate but probably inevitable.  I've still enjoyed revisiting this title through the IDW reprints, and reading the issues I hadn't before.


- Dustin Nguyen's artwork on American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares is pretty amazing.  I loved Nguyen's work on Wildcats 3.0 way back when, but I'll confess I found some of his Batman work a bit underwhelming.  Scott Snyder's scripts on Lord of Nightmares, though, play right into Nguyen's strengths.  His shots of the snow-covered Soviet landscape are just tremendous.  Nguyen seems to benefit from big panels with lots of open space, and this story gives him the chance to do a lot of that.

Hawkeye #2 (Matt Fraction/ David Aja) was just as good as #1.  Which is to say, really really really good.

- I think I hate all the Horizon Labs characters in Amazing Spider-Man.  I've got a longer post in mind down the road about Slott's Spidey, but my hate of the Horizon folks can't be confined to a single post.  It's almost approaching Pym levels.

- I liked the first arc of Fatale (Ed Brubaker/ Sean Phillips) but the second arc (starting with #6) is way better.  I think in part it's that Jo's character seems more fleshed out now that she has decades of experience with her "powers", but there's more.  This arc just clicks in a way the first danced around, but never quite nailed.  The meta-story seems to me to be falling into place really nicely, and I think this is going to be really impressive by the time it's done.


dl316bh said...

You planning on reading the revival by Hama? I've heard it's pretty good.

matches said...

I tried the FCBD issue they did awhile back - issue 155 1/2 - and did not care for it. May give it another look sometime but it's way down my list.

superfriend said...

always appreciate the commentary on GIJoe. i'm slowly working my way thru Vol. 13. finished "Last Stand" (GIJoe Vol. 1 #131) last night or the night before. Andrew Wildman is growing on me as an artist but i'd use his coming onto the book as the demarcation of GIJoe + 90s. (and i've read you talk about this) but Firefly, in fact, does come out of nowhere as some kind of ninja expert. the Firefly arc seems virtually over and i still struggle to acknowledge Firefly as anything other than a ninja expert, as opposed to a genuine ninja. and for as much juice one might have thought Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes working in harmony would have; the squeeze is a great deal more work in that it lacks a satisfying "moment". still, the expectation for those "moments" may be a recent development personally, i suspect. and the expectations doesn't really lend itself well to Hama's strengths.

and tho i have nothing to back this up, the move to sub Firefly the ninja expert for the original Firefly: saboteur seems like a visual conceit. i mean, we were all thinking it. Firefly had a ninja mask for crying out loud!

still tho, it's being propped up by Hama's ideosyncratic style and the ironic, sometimes absurdist, tendency to try and play the soap opera of the lives of the GIJoe pantheon in a pretty straight-faced manner.

this is the first time i'm reading this material so my impressions are not crystallized just yet. don't know if i'm making sense.

either way, this post and Wait, What's 100th coverage of 70s/90s Marvel Starlin have really hit the spot for me today.


matches said...

I could never quite tell how far in advance Hama was thinking. On the one hand he'd seed plots that took years and years to pay off (Fred as Cobra Commander), but there were other times where the character development was so bizarre that it clearly couldn't have been planned.

Firefly as ninja was one of those times IMO. I *hated* Firefly being a ninja. Loved him as a saboteur, but tying him to Snake-Eyes and the others was a patch too far. Maybe you're right and it was Hama reacting to the visuals.

Dan Coyle said...

Hama has said, for the most part, he was flying by the seat of his pants and making it up as he went along, but I recall at the time of the Firefly/Arashikage reveal he claimed he had planned that from nearly the beginning and that there were clues to that effect. Interestingly, in the revival Firefly's been in one arc (where he and Crystal Ball try to break into Joe Colton's compound) and it wasn't mentioned at all.

When Brandon Jerwa wrote the Snake Eyes: Declassified miniseries in 2003, he did all of the pre-comic Snake Eyes history Hama established in chronological order and... yeah. It looked pretty ridiculous in retrospect. Especially Firefly chickening out on killing the Hard Master.

I've heard that Hama had quit the series around #151 and #155 is actually another inventory issue, just rejiggered by editorial to look like the Pit is closing down.

I think G.I. Joe peaked creatively around the Cobra Civil War (ended with issue #78) and was still consistently good until #100, then the decline began.

Having said that, I love the revival. For my $3.99 every month I get a complete story with at least one goofy ass action sequence.

It's frontloaded with some ridiculous fan service- Dr. Venom, Kwinn, the SAW Viper massacre arc, and Oktober Guard have all gotten namechecks, and CC has moved back to Broca Beach. I actually got the chance to meet Hama at the recent Baltimore comic con and he said of stuff like this, "Hey, I like to reward people for reading."

it's a darn good series. The art by S.L. Gllant isn't quite spectacular, though it gets the job done (Frenz/Buscema do the occasional fill-in, and they're fantastic). In fact, the upcoming Retaliation movie (with Bruce Willis as Colton) pretty much lifts its premise from the opening arc.

matches said...

You may be right about that last issue. The TPB has a new intro written by Hama where he says he was only told at the last minute that the series was ending. That's kind of strange given the inventory issues - you'd think he would've had three months to write the finale unless he was WAY behind (which was pretty much never the case).

I actually liked that Snake-Eyes Declassified series. It was indeed convoluted as all hell but I thought Brandon Jerwa did a nice job with it.

You people have all but convinced me to go give ARAH another look. Damn you people for piquing my interest while I'm trying to trim my pull list!

Dan Coyle said...

Augustin Padilla did the first arc, and that FBCD issue is silly but once you get past that issue it gets really good, he dispenses with the brainwave scanner stuff early on.

With the next trade S.L. Gallant takes over full time and he's a dependable journeyman artist, if not particularly remarkable.

The latest issue is in the middle of a storyline but has a self-contained story in it.

superfriend said...

thank you for the interesting anecdotes, Dan Coyle!

let me chime in and say that on the strength of the first TPB of the IDW series, i've ventured into GIJoe past and revisited the Classic GIJoe that i never wound up reading.

Hama's GIJoe was the gateway drug into the medium for me. it's satisfying on some level that i can still get a Larry Hama-penned GIJoe experience (and with the old Marvel continuity -- the only GIJoe i've ever read and am interested in).

you've gotta try it matches!