It’s been nearly a year since I reviewed G.I. Joe #1; we should be right on the cusp of issue #12, where writer Paul Allor said he had the series mapped to in our interview. Instead, a pandemic hit on top of all the fascism, and we’re only halfway there.
G.I. Joe #7
Paul Allor (writer), Chris Evenhuis (pencils), Brittany Peer (colors), Neil Uyetake (letters)
August 12, 2020
During that interview, Allor mentioned that this was his first ongoing series, a fact that I find shocking; he writes with skill, heart, and a true understanding of pacing. With six issues down and coming into the seventh, we have only just met series-favorite Snake Eyes, and that only a final page surprise after six issues devoted to the interpersonal dramas of the rest of this small, harried team. It was an expertly crafted payoff, and Allor once again demonstrates that he knows what he’s doing, by swerving away from it entirely to spend an entire issue on a flashback to before Cobra’s takeover.
G.I. Joe #7 starts off five years prior to the events of the series so far; Shana O’Hara, former soldier, is trudging her way through a difficult, solitary life, waiting for a bomb in her dumpster, or a sudden attack by a man wielding a shopping cart in the grocery store. Neither of these things happen; nor does a missile strike occur while she’s sleeping, nor does she have to pull a gun on a car approaching her in an alley. As you might surmise, O’Hara has post-traumatic stress disorder, and she’s…not coping well. When one of her former squad members, Conrad Hauser, pays a visit, she’s drinking her nights away, jumping at shadows.
Artist Chris Evenhuis—and colorist Brittany Peer—portrays the sudden flashes of PTSD in gorgeous fashion; when films cover this subject they love to go lavish, making a sufferer seem as though they’ve been transported to an actual warzone. The work here is more about the feeling than the memory, though; each flash is a single panel stitched into the composition, a single-frame what-if rendered in sketchy lines and uneven panel borders. The colors are off; garish and overwhelming shades of pink and green. It’s fantastic work! The first time my eyes encountered one of these panels I was caught off guard, by the second I understood the mechanism. Colored in more traditional tones, these panels would’ve been enough to truly confuse the reader, especially given the traditional hijinks of comics narratives, but the color usage here immediately conveys ‘this is not a real thing, this is not happening’.
Of course, at the same time, it is happening, as it is always happening for survivors of trauma, and that’s the point. What could’ve been a few pages of prior flashback to start the issue are instead indulged in, and they make the issue; we’re shown O’Hara’s struggle, her dismissiveness of therapy, her backslides and losses. We’re treated to further visits by Conrad Hauser, and those conversations are where Evenhuis’ skill as a storyteller really shines; some creators (and readers) dread “talky” issues, but here it’s all hunched shoulders and expressive, frustrated hand movements as O’Hara talks her way through things, while Hauser remains poised and attentive. He’s not just talking to her, he’s being the friend she needs, folding his arms and closing off when she steps into self-pity, leaning forward and engaging when the conversation is more productive. He’s focused on her improvement and health, and that’s something precisely and carefully depicted in the linework.
This is echoed in the dialogue too; the story-behind-the-story is the slow rise of Cobra to world superpower in the background. We see it on diner televisions where O’Hara is too focused on her own problems to pay attention, in Times Square video casts of their victory (on July 4, no less). But whenever the subject comes up in conversation, it’s brushed aside. This is deliberate, you see; O’Hara is not ready for the fight. She thinks that she is but Hauser knows that she’s not, and so whenever she pushes, he changes the subject, at one point directly saying “But more importantly, how’s therapy?” when she brings Cobra up. He knows that there’s nothing he can do to keep her from fixating on it when he’s not around, but when he is around, he’s sending a very pointed message that he’s there for her, not fighting snake-themed despots. There’s…a lot to love in watching the way Allor constructs this relationship.
There’s a lot to love in the entire issue, in fact. Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye was a critically lauded high-water mark for IDW’s handling of a property license, and I dare say, seven issues in, that this iteration of G.I. Joe should be considered the same.