Thee Comic Column #108: Karen Traviss’ G.I.Joe

FallofGIJOEIf you read this column at all regularly you’ve probably heard me talk about Larry Hama’s seminal run on the original GIJOE for Marvel Comics during the 1980’s. You’ll also know that I LOVED Mike Costa’s Cobra/Cobra Files series in all its iterations since IDW picked up the license to coincide with the first Joe movie in 2009. However, with the IDW books, COBRA was where I stopped. There was a regular monthly Joe book as well, one that followed the actual GIJOE team, and there was a Snake Eyes book – love the character but this seemed a bit excessive and in danger of watering down ol’ Snakes – and maybe another book or two at different times. IDW has launched and re-launched a lot of Joe books since 2009 and through it all I breathed deeply and repeated my mantra, “Follow the writer. Follow the writer.” That, along with the fact that they were smart enough to never jettison the carefully plotted continuity they had established over the course of five years, kept me interested.

It worked. Costa’s run stands as a finite piece of epic, espionage fiction in my collection, worthy of comparisons to books such as Brubaker and Epting’s Velvet. I was sad when Costa’s run ended, but better to leave ‘em wanting more than to give ‘em too much, right?

After the decks were cleared of Costa’s book along with the other Joe books concurrently published with it there was a lull with the franchise and now we have prose fiction author Karen Traviss helming a single new entry into the IDW Joe world. Comic Shop News ran an article on this a couple months ago and I was intrigued. It seemed Traviss – maybe best known for her entries into the Star Wars and Halo prose world – published a techo-thriller earlier this year that looks fantastic and I’d imagine this is what drew IDW’s attention.

I’ll admit, I’ve never read any of Ms. Traviss prose – no offense meant at all with that. There’s only so much time to read and my pile of books and comics is endlessly added to; my prose-love could generally be defined as a lot of “Fiction/Lit” with swathes of Weird thrown in for good measure. However, after reading the first two issues of her take on GIJOE and researching her a bit I have to admit I’m curious about Going Grey. Her take on GIJoe seems the perfect place for the story IDW’s continuity has been building to, and what’s more, Ms. Traviss was the first writer to come aboard the franchise to talk about choosing which characters she would use in terms of looking at the robust GIJOE cast in the same way writers approach choosing characters for a run on an X-book. It’s an obvious philosophy really, but I’d always kind of thought of the whole cast as part of the package of the title. Even master Joe-scribe Larry Hama had his trouble with this – back in those days the comic might have been a work of passion for him as a writer but to Hasbro and thus Hama’s editorial handlers it was essentially a monthly commercial for the toy property. Mr. Hama has discussed in interviews before the baggage that came with this ever-widening cast of characters, many increasingly bordering on the absurd or just straight-up stupid. It’s my opinion that he did a downright AMAZING job bringing in the likes of Raptor, Serpentor, and even Sergeant Slaughter. Costa took his cue from Hama and started his Cobra book with some of the most ridiculous, quickly making them amazing (still reeling over how well Crystal-f&*king-ball was utilized in that run. Awesome!)

For Travis’ run thus far she has structured the story in a way that will naturally use less cast than perhaps any iteration previously written. The Joe team, now under Scarlett’s command, is on the cusp of governmental inquiries that seek to shut it down. Cobra has become a world wide peace-keeping agency, and thus, the question in the capitol is why are we paying for a covert team of specialists whose previous directive was the infiltration and combat with said former terrorist organization? Why indeed…

cobra wants youAs the issues progress one of the most interesting characters Ms. Traviss focuses on to advance the story is not one of the regular cannon at all, but a young man who is Tomax Paoli’s secretary’s sixteen year-old son, a militaristic hothead named Isaac who considers the change in Cobra’s directives a betrayal. He’s the kind of teenager that has a massive poster of Cobra Commander on his bedroom wall where most kids his age would have one for their favorite band or movie. And despite his age, he appears to be fairly dangerous, if not directly than in creating a lot of little fires members of the rest of the cast are going to have to put out.

Traviss really sets a great stage here expertly and quickly, while pulling through the necessary threads of set-up for the scope of what she has planned. A large part of this is the art too. Steve Kurth and Kito Young help render a realistically cold feel to this book – a book that is international, dirty tricks black ops driven, where the world environment feels like the primary character – the characters we know and love are at its mercy. Tomax is still prominent and his twin brother is still dead (one of the most daring and genius moves by Mike Costa in the previous Cobra Files books). The Joes are on shaky ground and forced to perform missions they don’t agree with under the burden of a hefty disability in manpower and morale. And again, just as in Costa’s take on Cobra, there’s that thrilling feeling that for such a massive and powerful organization we’re really only ever seeing a small facet of it – this keeps their threat from feeling cartoony and over-embellished, which subsequently makes Cobra feel even bigger and more deadly, while completely intriguing at the same time.

Good show Karen Traviss – I am 100% in and would recommend this new iteration of IDW’s GIJOE to all Joe fans I know, as well as lovers of good graphic storytelling!

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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