Wednesday, 23 May 2018

G.I. JOE #251: THAT'S WHAT I'M STALKING ABOUT



After the excitement of the previous story's concluding chapter, which was my first issue, how could the comic possibly follow that first impression?  With the perfect series of stories for a new reader like me, that's how.  Special Missions was also the name of a spin-off comicbook series by Marvel back when the original run was at its height.  Lasting 28 issues it highlighted the Joes' fight against more conventional terrorists (as well as Cobra) while featuring more intense violence and, according to Wiki "more ambiguous morality than the main title".  Is this going to be IDW's take on that comic, only this time as part of the main run?  Let's see.

I've only got one previous issue so far so I can't really make any comparison on some of those points, but I can say this time Cobra takes a back seat.  G.I. Joe has been called in by the US government to enter Sierra Gordo on a stealth mission to oversee a hostage situation involving American medical students held by the Neo-Trotskyite Terrorists.  I've no idea if these are recurring villains or just a one-off for this story, but either way it works perfectly as a nice character study for Stalker, who has appeared in the G.I. Joe comic since #1 in 1982.


A US Army Ranger and member of a Long Range Recon Patrol, Major R. Wilkinson is a sniper and part of a three-man team sent in to observe the hostage situation from afar.  He, Shipwreck and Zap aren't to intervene unless the lives of the Americans are taken.  The local government wants to negotiate with the terrorists and their special ops teams are on standby, ready to storm the building.  The Joes are across the street watching it all through their scopes, ready to take down the enemy as a last resort, without Sierra Gordo's knowledge of their presence.

Unhappy they've been ordered to only retaliate if a fatal shooting occurs, while wanting to take action before that happens, it all makes for a tense situation as it is.  But then we add on top of that some interference!  This rears its ugly head when terrorists come a-calling and while the others continue to observe it's up to Stalker to cover their backs, making for some great action scenes like the one above, which even include some nice little touches of camaraderie and humour like below.


But this is a character piece and the story actually begins with Stalker's nightmares of losing G.I. Joe teammates on previous missions and of the racial bullying he faced as a kid, all mixed up in his head as one prolonged, horrid vision.  While I've seen these kinds of nightmares on television before it's not something I've read in a comic and while it may include the skeletons of those friends he lost, it still portrays a very real battlefield with a very intense feel to it.  This is only heightened with the visions of the fallen soldiers and Alex Sanchez does a superb job of invoking the terror inside Stalker's psyche, Ronda Pattison's dark purple hues giving both a war zone and horror film vibe all rolled up in one.  Truly breathtaking stuff to start the issue off with.


Normally an action comic may then take us straight into the Sierra Gordo scenes with the hero still battling with his nightmares, but instead here we get a lovely few pages of him talking to a close friend in The Pit (still their headquarters).  It's a quiet moment which allows the reader to process what came before in the opening attack on our senses, while reintroducing another fondly remembered character, Spirit.  In fact, add in Rock'n'Roll and all of the individuals in this issue are ones I distinctly remember from decades ago, so it felt like getting reacquainted with some old friends.  That feeling of nostalgia mixed with the modern day story and art style is something very unique and IDW have nailed it.


If the remainder of the Special Missions issues are as good as this one then I really couldn't have picked a better time to jump on board.  Last issue was the action-packed climax to an epic tale but still Larry Hama's excellent writing put three-dimensional characterisation front and centre.  Now, in an issue designed as an actual character study we've also got plenty of action, some laughs and even a touch of horror.  Again, it's incredible to think this is a toy licence comic.  Larry has said previously he bases each character on people he actually knows or has met in real life and the importance of character shows on every page.

The fact the quieter moments, what some people might call the "talky pages", are just as compelling as the action ones is testament to Larry's grip on the people he's writing and the handle he has on the franchise.  But then again, he's been writing them long enough now so maybe it shouldn't be surprising.  Let's just hope he's not planning on moving on anytime soon.  Or at all actually!

G.I. GO BUY JOE!

It's a stellar issue that really sums up what I loved about the classic Action Force/G.I. Joe strips in Marvel's Transformers so much as a teen, then again about a decade ago when I reread those very comics.  Heck, it even has a wraparound cover like the 80s comics of old!  The next issue focusses on Baroness, my favourite Cobra character so I'm really looking forward to seeing her own story next week (finally that's me caught up) and after that IDW's website indicates it'll be the turn of Duke, so a nice varied selection to come.

If you'd rather jump into a comic when a new story starts then you really can't miss out on this issue, although the following ones could all make excellent jumping on points too.  I bought mine from Coffee & Heroes (for £3.70) in Belfast (find them here) and you can also check out IDW's official page for this issue too.

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