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Devil's Due

Written by Larry Hama and Drawn by Pat Quinn and Valentine De Landro

The conclusion to JOE DECLASSIFIED offers up a bit of everything, from moments that stir warm memories for longtime fans of the series to solidly dramatic moments about the solemn cost of the struggle for freedom and safety. But what it offers most is a quick look into the pre-team backgrounds for most of the series’ original players, and while many of the scenarios play as a bit corny, Larry Hama knows just how to write them with the right amount of gravity, giving each character heft and weight, even in their lighter moments.

Both issues play out over various time periods, which is one place where the book falls down, as confusion sets in more than once about what is happening when. But those problems are balanced out by one of the quiet subplots when it pays off late in issue three; at the heart of the book is the tale of a Joe whom most of the rest of the team never met, and it is her story that makes this book rise above its genre trappings into something affecting and lasting. You can’t just put down issue three and not think about it the way you can with most action-oriented comics, G.I.JOE included.

The one other place where the book struggles is in the art, as the pages and characters get a little too stiff when fluidity and grace are called for. There’s a car chase in issue two that reads very flat, taking away some of the zest that one of the characters involved is describing the moment with, and it’s very bothersome. But I can forgive these things on the strength of the writing. Larry Hama has done amazing work throughout his lengthy career in comics, and certainly books like NTH MAN or his run on WOLVERINE are legitimate high points. But when it boils down to it, he knows and writes the JOES better than anyone else ever have and probably ever will, and this miniseries has shown precisely why.

Marc Mason

Written by Mike O’Sullivan and Drawn by Phil Noto

Before Scarlett was… well, Scarlett… she was Shana O’Hara, champion martial artist, practicing attorney, and decorated Army soldier. Eventually, the G.I. Joe team would come calling, but first she had to learn to accept that not everything in life was controllable and gain a little humility to boot.

SCARLETT DECLASSIFIED tells the classic character’s origin as a series of flashbacks, as she relates her life story to an unseen listener (though it isn’t hard to figure out who it is, the revelation still makes for a satisfying reveal). O’Sullivan’s story takes her from young girl trying to avoid life as a southern belle to driven woman demonstrating her greatness on fields from Fort Huachuca to Quantico. What surprises is just how organic it all feels; a first-person narrated story of this nature can easily get bogged down in the exposition, but O’Sullivan uses it only to enhance the art on the page.

And what art it is! Noto has made a reputation for himself over the years as an amazing painter with a gift for depicting beautiful women, but SCARLETT shows a different side of him. Here he takes his soft-edges and uses his colors to put darkness into the character’s world. There’s a sequence that takes place in a desert-like environment, and Noto washes out the backgrounds just enough to suggest the milieu, but not so much that the panels lose clarity or the flow of action. It wouldn’t be stretching things to say that this is quite possibly the best-looking G.I. JOE book to ever hit the market.

Scarlett has generally been the second most popular of the Joes themselves, lagging only behind Snake Eyes, and this, her first solo book, was long overdue. Fortunately, the creative team put forth their best effort, and it is a terrific one. If you like the Joes, or just great female characters, this book is worth your time.

Marc Mason

Written by Rob Rodi and Mike O’Sullivan and Drawn by Tim Seeley and Mike Bear

The SPECIAL MISSIONS one-shots are generally a fun way to take some of the lesser-used characters in the JOE universe and give them a little screen time. The stories don’t affect the general uber-plot of the regular JOE series, so the key for the writers is to make a “mini-movie” that gives the readers bang for their buck. Throw in a few DVD-style extras like character profiles, and you hope for the best when you lay out your cash.

TOKYO focuses on the Japanese Joe, Jinx, and her ill-fated romance with the American samurai Joe named Budo. She’s been on assignment for a year when she comes home to a message from him asking for help and back-up from the Joe team. There’s a large conspiracy, lives are at stake, yadda yadda yadda… it’s G.I. JOE, so you know what to expect. But the fun comes with the bonus cast for this one.

Jinx’ back-ups turn out to be some truly classic Joes. Clutch, Rock ‘N Roll, Gung Ho, and Wild Bill are already in the area on other business, and suddenly, if you were a Joe fan as a kid… you’re 12 all over again. These were some of the original Joe team from when the Marvel series started, and it warmed my heart to see them again.

The story itself puts the Joes into the middle of an attempted coup on the streets of Japan, but there isn’t much there you aren’t expecting. The fun is in relaxing and enjoying the return of the classic characters, and that more than makes it worth the cover price. As a bonus, beyond the character profiles, there’s also a back-up story that actually does play into the current plot in the main series, so fans enjoying the goings on in the main book get additional fun.

Marc Mason

Written by Matt Fleckenstein and Drawn by Ben Phillips and Rick Koslowski

I hate the show.

I mean, I really really really really fucking hate the show.

So, yeah, the comic immediately starts out in the hole. I’m predisposed to hate it, too. And I as I read through it, and didn’t even remotely crack a smile, let alone laugh, I found myself feeling pretty validated. Your mileage may vary.

The plot covers two tracks: in one, Peter “adopts” a vagrant and winds up losing the house to the man and forcing the family to live in the yard. In the other, Baby Stewie presents his list of ways in which he has plotted to kill his mother.

Now, you may think I’m being grossly unfair, and that’s fine. Because I am. I suspect that any fan of the show that picked this book up would be very, very pleased with it, and would laugh a lot. I don’t deny that. So I offer that as the most unqualified (and clichéd) recommendation possible- if you like the show, you’ll like this book. Period. But I cannot see that a non-fan of the show would find this to their liking at all.

Lest I sound like a total dick, I can back that up with one factual statement: outside of Stewie and Lois, the characters are not introduced or defined for the new reader, which will definitely cause a struggle for a newbie, because they won’t be able to really follow some of the more “in” jokes.

Good on Devil’s Due for procuring a license that should be a huge sales hit, both in the direct market and on the newsstand. God bless ‘em- I hope they’re raking in the cheddar. But this just isn’t one for me.

Marc Mason

Written by Larry Hama and Drawn by Pat Quinn and Valentine de Landro

This latest effort in the DECLASSIFIED series broadens the perspective to the team itself, offering up not only a “current” mission, but exploring how many of the characters came together and were chosen to be Joes in the first place. And wisely, Devil’s Due has turned to Joe guru Larry Hama to tell the tale. That alone makes this a must read for JOE fans old and new.

We jump into the story in a scene reminiscent of some of Hama’s classic material. Four Joes are on a stakeout in the middle of some godforsaken jungle, and doing their best not to blow their cover. Of course, they face extra dangers, too: Stalker has a tarantula wandering across his face and helmet, and Rock ‘N Roll has a boa constrictor cozying up to his leg. Those sorts of issues would be certain death for civilians or inexperienced soldiers, but for Joes, it’s all in a day’s work. Those are the kinds of moments that give you a giddy thrill and remind you why G.I. JOE can be so much fun.

Of course, there’s plenty more to the story, including the introduction of a new Joe. But the heart of the book is Hama’s familiar voice bringing these characters to life on the page. The art is serviceable and gets the scenes across, but nothing special, so there’s really no other option. If Hama phones it in, the book tanks. But there’s never a worry in that direction, and I smiled my way through it. Next part, please.

Marc Mason

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