Striking Back At Cobra With G.I. Joe #1

G.I. Joe #1

Paul Allor (writer), Chris Evenhuis (pencils), Brittany Peer (colors), Neil Uyetake (letters)
IDW Comics
September 18, 2019

This new iteration of G.I. Joe #1 has me thinking about symbols, and what they mean. Not just the obvious iconography here, your Joe and Cobra branding, but symbols as a means to motivate.

We haven’t seen a modern take on G.I. Joe continuity for a few years; despite the previous ongoing carrying the tagline of “the crown jewel of the Hasbro Universe,” its sales didn’t match that of other IDW properties such as Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye. That, plus Sitterson’s public spats and the weird decision to do the series as rebranded short arcs despite actually being a consistent ongoing, worked against the series, I think, which was meant to run parallel to other Hasbro Universe ongoings. Additionally, given that the Hasbro Universe didn’t really… work, it makes sense that Hasbro and IDW might have wanted to give things a little breathing room before trying again.

Cover for G.I. Joe #1 - Paul Allor (writer), Chris Evenhuis (pencils), Brittany Peer (colors), Neil Uyetake (letters) IDW Comics September 18, 2019 - A figure in a red jacket stands on the street next to a parked red scooter, looking at a Wanted poster
That brings us to 2019, where America has been overtaken by a fascistic, corrupt organization swiftly cracking down on human rights and freedoms, painting those who resist it as criminals or otherwise undesirable. Paul Allor, a writer who’s worked on the property before, now takes the reins in G.I. Joe #1, with art by Chris Evenhuis, to tell the story of… an America that has been overtaken by a fascistic, corrupt organization swiftly cracking down on human rights and freedoms, painting those who resist it as criminals or otherwise undesirable. It’s very subtle.

Where was I? Right—symbols. Allor introduces us to his viewpoint character right off the bat: a man who will come to be known as Tiger (no real names, no ties to old lives) over the course of the issue. Tiger is a young man, a gay man, and a man of color, born in Philadelphia and making a living as a courier in a regime where Cobra has ascended to power within the United States. He witnesses a Cobra pursuit and is embroiled from there, drawn in by his need to help, to avenge those he’s lost, and by his belief that “None of us do enough.”

This is of course what I mean by symbols: Tiger is a direct conduit to our feelings of helplessness as we go about our daily lives. We protest when we can, we resist where we can, but we have to balance that with our families, our daily lives, even our own mental health. No one can be only a soldier, especially those of us with no actual training or discipline, and yet despite that fact, feelings of guilt that we can’t do more are commonplace. Tiger says “us” because he is part of that. As much as he has run contraband in the past, he’s still possessed by guilt, wondering what else he could do—and who amongst us has not felt that? Felt powerless in the face of corruption and malice?

Comparison of the cover for G.I. Joe #1 and Tetsuo from AKIRA, showing the similarities between two figures both wearing red jackets with matching red bikes or helmets
They even have matching red motor bikes!

This symbolic work continues visually: Tiger is so (code)named because he wears a jacket featuring a large tiger on the back. That jacket is red, and the first introduction to it as a reader is on the cover, where it’s seen from the back as Tiger faces a large wanted poster featuring G.I. Joe classics Scarlett and Duke, with an ominous Cobra-branded tower in the background. The image is done in darker blues, with that red jacket being the standout; it sits somewhere between a propaganda poster and an Akira homage.

For Tiger, that jacket is a trademark, and I suspect it’s something we’ll continue to see highlighted as the run progresses. It’s clever work by Evenhuis and colorist Brittany Peer. Evenhuis’ linework already favors strong heavy lines, and paired with Peer here that factor is enhanced, with the edges of shapes rendered in thick borders, while interior linework is light, letting color blocking do a lot of the shading work itself. It results in a style that feels clear and readable; there’s no murkiness as to what’s going on in a panel, nor confusion in panel-to-panel transitions.

Letterer Neil Uyetake similarly aids the art. His font choice for dialogue is a wider one than the general comics standard, with more pronounced italics, and that really assists in terms of picking up the mood and tone of speech as it happens. Additionally, he’s very sparse with actual sound effects in this issue—there are several panels where guns fire, and rather than overlay an abundance of effects for each instance, he’s opted to pair only one with an actual on-panel shot. The only other sound effect in the entire issue references an off-panel shot meant to draw Tiger’s attention. The economical use of those effects here heightens the storytelling contribution when they’re used; as a reader the sound of each shot (save the off-panel ones) can be inferred, and only the final shot of the issue has an accompanying effect, which lends it a needed air of finality.

Panel from G.I. Joe #1: Tiger reacting to the sound of gunfire, which is illustrated with a yellow BANG BANG sound effect
My baby shot me down…

As I mentioned in my interview with Allor, I come to G.I. Joe from the outside. I don’t have the nostalgia-driven attachment that others have with the property, so to be drawn in I require an actual new hook. G.I. Joe #1 provides that, giving the kind of symbol I want to follow in this new face of these fictional heroes. The team behind this book is telling the kind of thematic, relevant story that I’m looking for, with stakes that make me actually care about the characters involved.

Nola Pfau

Nola Pfau

Nola is a bad influence. She can be found on twitter at @nolapfau, where she's usually making bad (really, absolutely terrible) jokes and occasionally sharing adorable pictures of her dog.