Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chronic Review: GI Joe # 156!

GI Joe # 156
IDW Comics

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Agustin Padilla
22 pages for $3.99

Look, I don't know the guy, but Larry Hama seems like an interesting cat. I read as many interviews as I can about the Marvel bullpen in the 1980s, and it really seems like the place to be in those days was in Hama's bunker of an office hanging out with Christopher Priest. They were crazy, edgy, and very probably awesome.

Larry Hama knows about samurai swords and archery. He served in the Army from 1969-1971, and he learned a lot about guns and blowing shit up. This is not a guy who grew up a damn nerd wishing he could be Matter Eater Lad and hooked into comics as the next best thing. This is a guy who has probably booby-trapped his home and has a rocket launcher resting in his trunk. You know, just in case.

All of that cool shit is coming to bear in this IDW incarnation of GI Joe. I'm not suggesting that there was no military jargon or tactics in the old Marvel stuff Hama was producing. There was some of that, but let's face it - the Marvel run was campy, and by design. Those were children's toys at the time, and the property was aimed at 12 year old boys. Probably with good cause.

And to be fair, camp-infused as the Marvel GI Joe was, it still represented a monumental leap in sophistication compared to that insipid cartoon. You can still sit down with an old issue of Marvel GI Joe and enjoy it. I bust out my Classic GI Joe trades and do it all the time. But just try and watch that animated series...I dare you.

The point (finally!) is that now it's 2010, this comic knows very well that its audience is in its thirties, and there's more room for Mr. Hama to instill more technical military stuff into the book. He does it with obvious joy, as well.

So you get scenes where Hawk shoots a Cobra operative in the face, and nothing really happens outside of some bruising as the shell slaps into his mouth. All part of the plan, my friend. He's using M406 high explosive grenades, of course. They don't arm unless the round travels 30 meters. Duh! He did it to slow the driver down so that he could create the space necessary to fire a grenade that will arm before impact. BOOOOM! Down goes Cobra! And you just learned a little something about M406 high explosive grenades, didn't you? Double score!

Now, is that cool? Well, yeah, it kinda is. This comic is loaded with little nuggets of military minutia that Hama has rattling around in his brain, just waiting for an excuse to manifest in a scene of testicular prowess. Mainframe maneuvers a guy into a microwave beam to cook his ammo into exploding. Stalker exploits the reflective optics of an opponent to put a round through his eyeball. Snake Eyes sets his own goddamn house on fire to neutralize the infra red tech of his assailants. And then he does a bunch of awesome ninja shit after that.

If you like Tom Clancy books, (does anybody read those any more?) military tech/strategy, or spy stuff like Burn Notice, you're going to have a party with this new version of GI Joe. It's just a collection of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things with extraordinary equipment in extraordinary situations. Isn't that what a GI Joe book should be about?

Nothing much happens here in the way of advancing a plot, and I'm actually OK with that. The hook here is very simple and pure. Cobra has basically taken over America from the inside, almost like an expanded version of Blackwater. They've put out a secret contract on all members of the Joe team, and now the action centers on getting word out for a rendezvous and a counterstrike. Simple. Pure. Fun!

The craft on the narrative is not on the level of say...Neil Gaiman. Fine. What is? The dialogue is all fairly well-travelled tough guy territory. But it isn't horrible, either. Hama has demonstrated the ability to create juicy little character bits in the past, as well. (remember all the Snake Eyes mythos with the hard/soft master, and all the drama with Stormshadow and Billy?) There really isn't time for that sort of thing in # 156. But I'd wager it's coming.

What I enjoyed so much was the fact that this is a comic book that knows what it is and sticks to the plan. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to read something so clear in its purpose and so joyfully executed. Larry Hama has a gajillion little pieces of military "trivia" rattling around in his brain, and every last one of them is going to transmute into a scene where a Joe shows what a badass he or she is.

To be honest, the book isn't for me. I enjoyed reading it, but the whole military testosterone thing is just not in my wheelhouse. I just don't respond well to posturing jarheads yelling "take them down!", no matter how cool some dude's laser scope is. A lot of the juice is lost on me, and I can't justify dropping $3.99 a month on something like that.

But there's a lot of people out there that do like that kind of thing, and I'm here to tell ya - GI Joe is going to be Christmas every month for you!

- Ryan

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