Saturday, September 22, 2012

G.I. Joe - Cobra v1 #1-4

As a part of the 2008 IDW "GI Joe" relaunch, the company published a mini-series focusing on the updated take on the terrorist Cobra organization. The series follows the undercover mission of Chuckles, an existing character whose mission is depicted in a manner similar to Wildstorm's "Sleeper". Thus, writers Gage and Costa underplay the more outrageous elements of the property, settling for a take that is much closer to modern spy fiction.

Antonio Fuso's depiction of the protagonist likewise dispenses with the bulkier physique and keeps only the blonde hair and the occasional Hawaiian shirt of the original. Fuso's Chuckles is slim and tense, in keeping with the gravity of his mission. He is also a very smart character, aware of the risks that accompany his status as a double agent.

IDW does not shy away from depicting his assignments as the dirtiest black ops missions, but most of the gory details are hidden from the reader. These original four issues cover a lot of ground, from his initiation to an unknown terrorist organization, to his advancement in the Cobra hierarchy, to the eventual final confrontation with his leaders, but the pacing is intentionally detached and murky. Gage and Costa use the captions to provide a closer look into the psyche of a man enduring such a soul shredding assignment, which is why the book works as well as it does.

If not for a sympathetic main character, that is equal parts manipulating and self-destructive, these four issues could easily have become an exercise in a drab and pointless misreading of the material. Updating a franchise that is so over the top as G.I. Joe is an undertaking that is best taken with a somewhat lighter focus, but the creators manage to achieve a significant degree of nuance.

"G.I. Joe - Cobra" is still by and large an action spectacle, but there is a feeling that the creators are pushing the envelope. Chuckles' relationship with women from both sides of the divide likewise refuses to comply with the familiar genre cliches. The deep cover agent's feelings for Jinx are more or less the compass that he holds on to when faced with repeated requests that challenge his humanity, but the affair he strikes with a woman in the Cobra organization feels more than a simple manipulation on his part.

There is a real feeling that the physicality of it is helping him deal with the day to day stress, instead of a chance to spice up the story with hints of erotica. Fuso is certainly not the artist to objectify the female form, as his artwork aims for a much seedier, detached effect. The artist is trying for a modern, more sedate style of artists such as Michael ("Alias") Gaydos and even Andrea ("I, Vampire") Sorrentino, but his style is clearly still developing. The paired down pages offer a nice grasp on layouts and pacing, but there is a definite lack of definition throughout.

The colorist is thus employed to provide more than the atmosphere with his work. Despite the shortcomings, Fuso exhibits an affinity for the material, that succeeds in so small part thanks to his strengths as a storyteller. The chapters provided glimpses into crucial events in Chuckles' mission, but are otherwise separated by a few months, enabling the writers to cover a lot of ground in only four installments.

Thus, the reader is left to sympathize with the protagonist and his plight, without losing focus on unrelated missions and the divergent plots needed to maintain the formula indefinitely. The final chapter has Chuckles bringing his mission to an end, only to come into a specific set of storytelling limitations. It's telling that only the last chapter prominently names Cobra as the threat, and identifies several of his bosses by name. The protagonist may have been running away from the franchise that he was created for, but in the end the wider concerns of line-wide continuity, and ironically, the success of the three issues preceding it, paint a very inconclusive end.

Having spent three and a half issues setting up the terrorist organization with an agenda that has some real world relevance, Chuckles' plan to sabotage the operation includes intelligent robots and is ultimately threatened by twin masterminds and comic book villain logic. In reasserting the dominance of the recurring Cobra characters, Gage and Costa simply go too far, weakening the conclusion. As the closing editorial suggests, the company was already making plans for the series' continuation, and further integration into the "G. I. Joe" line.

"Sleeper", the series' obvious inspiration, was thankfully allowed a greater degree of independence from the Wildstorm continuity, but it also had to fight an uphill battle to avoid cancellation. It certainly speaks to IDW's ingenuity that the company has found a way to keep the "G. I. Joe - Cobra" book alive in a market that is nothing if not hostile to tertiary licensed titles.

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