I felt a little bit guilty upon finishing this latest issue of G.I. Joe A Real American Hero, IDW's continuation of the original Marvel comic from the 80s and 90s. You see, there were certain characters the much younger version of myself became attached to, who I'd look forward to seeing time and again in the backup strip of Transformers. Characters such as Snake Eyes, Baroness, Scarlett, Stalker and Destro for example, who all stood out to me at the time and, because I latched on to them when reading their tales between the ages of 10 and 15, they've remained forged in my rose-tinted memory banks ever since.
It's always nice to rediscover something as an adult and love it just as much after taking the aforementioned glasses off and, so far from #250 of this comic (and from reading volume one of the classic strips), I've loved getting reacquainted with those characters, especially last month! But Duke isn't one I'm overly familiar with. The Joe's first sergeant was a leadership character in the classic strips I read decades ago but the UK comics put Flint to the centre of the action more and so Duke has remained a bit two-dimensional in my head. As such, I wasn't overly excited for this issue in the way I was for The Baroness. I knew it'd still be a great read judging by what had gone before, but I wasn't hyped in the same way as I was for the characters I'd grown up with.
I was very wrong, I should've been hyped and just because I personally only had vague memories of the character (I knew more about Channing Tatum's version!) that shouldn't have clouded my judgement. This is an excellent issue! So apologies Duke for doubting you'd be up to the task of following what had gone before.
(In case you're wondering by the way, no I'm not late with this post. IDW aren't the best at getting their comics out monthly it would seem, as yet again we've an issue which was delayed like some of their Ghostbusters: Answer the Call issues, but it was well worth the wait.)
What we have here is more of an ensemble piece with Duke taking the lead over a group of his soldiers some time before the formation of the famous fighting force. Unlike the previous two chapters there's no flashbacks here, it all takes place in the one time and covers a day in the life of Duke and his team on the Emirate of Trucial Abysmia. Last month we saw Cobra helping a ruling dictator who was battling rebels, this time the US forces are supporting a different country in a civil war, from the opposite end of things, so it makes a nice juxtaposition having these two stories back-to-back.
The team, comprising of crews for five or six vehicles including a couple of tanks, Humvees and a petrol tanker, also features future G.I. Joe member Roadblock, but all the other characters are original, non-toy creations for this specific issue. It's telling of the talent Larry Hama has that he's able to introduce us to all these people for one issue only, for a story which takes place over the course of maybe an hour maximum and yet by the end you're rooting for them and wishing they'd come back. More than that, the pages are filled with truly surprising, shocking moments and a downbeat, even heartbreaking ending which is not what I expected to be writing for an issue of this comic! But I'm so glad I am.
As they make their way back to base we get a nice few introductory pages filled with plenty of characterful dialogue and camaraderie between the crew of the Humvee where Duke, Roadblock and Mo are discussing their future plans. It's all light-hearted stuff and really entertaining in its own right, but the set up so far had me on edge. I just knew all of this jovial chatter was setting me up for something devastating. It certainly does a great job.
Specialist Maureen Hennesey is my particular favourite here and feels like a fully-rounded character who feels like she could've been in the comic for a long time already, so it's a real shame we most likely won't see her again. The characters chosen here to accompany Duke all bring out more of his humanity and he easily transcends the two-dimensional leader I incorrectly assumed he was back in the original comic. He comes across as very laid back, but as soon as danger rears its head and places them all into an impossible situation he takes command in no uncertain terms.
Seeing the local traffic suddenly disappear from the road as they round a bend flanked by a high embankment, the team are on edge and it's not long before the action begins and it's second-to-none. Maybe the story being set in an all-too-familiar setting for our modern world helps raise this above typical action comic fare, but I think it's all down to Larry's pacing and the superb, real-world artwork of Brian Shearer and the palette chosen by colourist James Brown. All desert browns and greys, the explosions and gunfire light up the pages in dramatic fashion and the pages come alive with fast-moving action.
Over the course of what turns into one long battle scene things keep going from bad to worse for the troops, but every time they find themselves up against it they're somehow able to come up with an even more outlandish solution, before they're plunged into the next dilemma. It makes for a rather intense read, especially when you actually care about the main characters involved. I've read plenty of great action strips in the past and this is right up there with the best of them and while I never rush my comics reading, instead enjoying every detail in every panel, it felt like I was reading this one particularly fast (even though I wasn't) because of the unrelenting pace. You know the cliché "a real page turner"? It's one I try to avoid, but it's perfect here.
I'd go so far as to say this would make for an excellent jumping on point for new or lapsed readers, though that would never occur to anyone looking in from the outside with it being part three of the Special Missions. But it really does have everything. It's a high octane action story full of all the components that made G.I. Joe a superior toy licence comic back in the original run, and everything that makes this continuation a superior comic full stop. If this is the kind of storytelling I'm getting exposed to with a character I had no real previous memory of, I can't wait to see how it all develops for the rest of the Special Missions and then beyond! Is there a reason these specific characters have been chosen for these profiling stories? Is there a reason these periods of their history are being chosen, or certain aspects of their personalities? Or is Larry just having some full developing them a little bit further before the next multi-part epic? I'm excited to find out.
I'm particularly excited about the possibilities next month's issue could bring. As always the 'Next Issue' page is simply a picture of the front cover and when I saw this, straight after finishing this breathtaking episode, I came over all giddy with excitement:
Oh my word.
Since then it appears IDW are now listing this as one of the alternative covers instead of the main one, which would be a real shame but we'll see what we get next month when it eventually arrives. In the meantime get yourselves to your local comics store (mine is Coffee & Heroes in Belfast) or go online and buy yourselves a copy of the latest issue of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. You owe it to yourselves. That's an order, private!
For more information on #253 you can check out its page on IDW's website, where you can also purchase a digital edition if that's how you read your comics. Either way, it's unmissable.