Friday, August 12, 2016


Writer: John Ney Rieber | Art by: Jae Lee | Colors: June Chung
Letters: Benjamin Lee | VP/Editor-in-Chief: Roger Lee | Publisher: Pat Lee

TRANSFORMERS/G.I. JOE was easily the most experimental Transformers comic Dreamwave published in their brief time with the property's license. Illustrated by Jae Lee in something as far from the Dreamwave house style as possible and written as an alternate history "What If" by John Ney Rieber, the story is set in the era of World War II but features Europe trembling under the reign of the Cobra Empire, assisted by a group of Decepticons found in the story's opening pages by the sinister Major Bludd.

To combat Cobra, the United States government forms a special unit called G.I. Joe, consisting of the best the armed forces have to offer, and sends them in as an advance commando force to prepare the Cobra Terrordrome for invasion by a U.S. fleet. While battling their enemies in and around the Terrordrome, the Joes inadvertently activate the slumbering Autobots, who eventually join forces with our heroes and defeat Cobra.

But when Destro releases his own Transformer, Bruticus, to destroy everyone on the battlefield, Optimus Prime orders the Joes' Snake-Eyes to destroy the Autobot Matrix, which immediately deactivates every Transformer in the area. The story ends with the Joes mourning their new friends as they mop up the remaining Cobra forces.

I've never been a big fan of alternate history stories, whether set in real life or fictional universes. As an example of the former, I point to INGLORIOUS BASTERDS -- I really enjoyed that movie up to the point where (SPOILER) the title characters murdered Hitler. Not that I didn't enjoy seeing Hitler get what was coming to him; it was pretty fun to see -- but at that point I realized the movie was set in some fantasy world and I lost all interest.

And yes, that statement is a little hard to reconcile with the fact that I spend all my time writing about fantasy worlds right here, but I think it's mainly just that alternate history angle that fails to draw me in. In the world of comics, I'm not a huge fan of the X-Men's "Age of Apocalypse" event, either. It's fine and entertaining, but it's not the "real" X-Men's universe so it's ultimately meaningless. I feel the same way about the bleak future of "Days of Future Past". I like the present-day parts of that story, but the future scenes leave me pretty cold, and all the revisits of that world over the ensuing years have bored me to tears.

So... while I think Rieber has an interesting kernel of an idea here and I won't begrudge anyone who likes it, this story just isn't for me. World War II epics can be pretty cool, but G.I. Joe is such an eighties thing that the characters don't really fit there. They work best in the time of Rambo, Reagan, and the Soviet Union. In fact, I tend to believe in general that any JOE reboot or continuation should be set in the eighties and the property in general should exist in some time-frozen realm where we never moved past that decade.

The scripting is mostly fine, though Rieber does a terrible job of letting us know which Joes are which. A few are instantly recognizable, such as Duke, Scarlett, Flint, Lady Jaye, Snake-Eyes, Roadblock, and Stalker. But the rest are all drawn by Lee as nondescript WWII era grunts -- and while the art is no fault of Rieber's, he really should have done a better job in the dialogue of letting readers know which Joe is which.

My other major issue with the scripting is that Rieber gives Snake-Eyes an internal monologue. Snake-Eyes. The mute Joe. The Joe for whom a huge part of his mystique is that he cannot speak and has no thought balloons, so we never -- except on very rare occasions such as Marvel's G.I. JOE #155 -- know what's on his mind. But here, the character has a verbose internal monologue throughout the entire story. I cannot overstate what an awful, dumb idea this is.

But, like I said, for the most part the scripting works. It's really the artwork where I have my major problems with this story -- but I should preface the following by noting that I have never been a fan of Jae Lee's art. I think I first encountered him on Marvel's X-FACTOR during the "X-Cutioner's Song" crossover and his dark, silhouette-laden style just didn't appeal to me. I've subsequently avoided him over the years unless I "had" to read something he was on, and this mini-series was such an occasion twelve years ago -- and I found then that I liked his work as little as I had a decade or so earlier at Marvel.

Well, it turns out that today I'm still not a fan. I understand the strength of pure black on the printed page, and Lee certainly knows how to use shadows well in his work, but so much of his work is just so dark that the blackness overwhelms everything else and -- though I hate to accuse any artist of this -- I sometimes wonder if he uses so many silhouettes and shadows simply out of laziness rather than as a stylistic choice.

Hence the reason I covered this mini-series in one single post rather than issue-by-issue as I'll be doing with the rest of my TRANSFORMERS reviews this year. This is probably good for those who like alternate histories and those who appreciate Jae Lee's artwork, but for me the combination of the two sinks the whole thing. TRANSFORMERS/G.I. JOE is too far outside of the mainstream for my tastes. In short, my decade-plus-old memories of the thing were confirmed upon this re-reading: it's just a big clunker and I really don't like it much at all.

1 comment:

  1. For me, alternate timeline stories are fun for two reasons: to show us something we'd never see in the "main" timeline (like all the future X-Men getting killed off in DoFP), or comparing/contrasting what's the same or different in characters given different circumstances (the AoA model - Cyclops inherent goodness still comes out, but Havok, raised by Sinister, remains a fascist dick throughout; stuff like that). So even though it's technically detached from the main narrative, it still has an impact on it for the way it highlights and/or changes our understanding of the characters (and of course, both DoFP and AoA have a more direct impact on the narrative since characters in the "main" narrative hang onto memories of both realities).

    But I also really enjoy alternative history as genre, stuff like "what if the South won the Civil War" or "Hitler launched WWII early".

    This story I remember liking simply for being a different take on the usual Joe/Transformer team-up, but I agree that a lot of the Joes were indistinguishable, the Snake-Eyes monologue was unnecessary and terrible, and Jae Lee's art, which in general I like, didn't do the story many favors.

    I really love the cover to #3, though.