Volume 1 of GI Joe: Special Missions collects issues 1-4 from IDW’s most recent Joe relaunch. I’ve followed the IDW Joe books sporadically over the years. When they initially acquired the license, I tried all three of their launch books; GI Joe, Origins and Cobra. I ended up sticking with Cobra the longest but bailed right before the Cobra Civil War storyline. I decided to give Special Missions a try because I’ve been reading and enjoying some of Chuck Dixon’s prose work recently.
I’m glad I did.
This first Special Missions volume deals with Scarlett’s team finding out about and then attempting to intercept a salvage mission the Baroness is running on a sunken Cobra ship. The Baroness is on the outs with Cobra Command (for unspecified reasons that aren’t essential) and is trying to get back in their good graces. Simultaneously with the Joes, Serpentor is tracking the Baroness and her plan in an effort to eliminate her, claim the salvage and curry favor within Cobra.
Dixon’s Joe work has always struck me as good, not amazing-yell-it-to-the-rooftops-good, but a kind of solid, non-flashy storytelling that I can best appreciate when read in complete story chunks. That is true again here. Dixon drops you into the story as it develops; the Joes barely escape an unrelated firefight and then roll into the salvage mission quickly. There’s no “team origin” bullshit, no exposition about their mission and respective specialties, no “new team member” who asks leading questions and spouts paragraphs to get you up to speed. Mainframe has a new mission, Tripwire and Scarlett call a guy to help them get equipped and we’re off to the races.
I want to talk about this for a minute because it’s a storytelling choice that I really appreciate. I’m tired of “origin stories”, I’m tired of the assumption that I can’t just pick stuff up as the story goes; I’m tired of those floating little boxes with character names/powers/affiliations/specialties/whatever every time somebody new shows up. This opening reminded me of one of my favorite movie openings, Michael Mann’s Miami Vice. That film opened with Corckett and Tubbs in the middle of a prostitution ring bust that they abandon and never again refer to after they receive a phone call that kicks off the main story. You’re just with these guys and now they’re doing a thing. They have a language and a speech pattern all their own and it’s not really explained, some of it you have to deduce from context and some of it you only understand after seeing something else. And that’s how Special Missions works too. The dialogue feels authentic (though what do I know, really) but not in a hack-y “lets cram as many cool acronyms or gun slang in here as we can” way. This isn’t a situation where the Joes have to save the world, it’s a mission that changes objectives a couple of times and goes to shit pretty quickly and the Joes have to scramble to achieve anything while trying to get out alive. Somebody yells “Yo Joe!” and Scarlett punches a shark, what else do you want?
You want solid art and storytelling? Well Paul Gulacy (Master of Kung Fu, Batman) is your man. I’m familiar with his work from a Palmiotti/Gray 2011 mini, Timebomb and a Warren Ellis mini from the early 2000’s (Reload). Gulacy is one of those rare artists who can make a bunch of white people in similar looking camo distinctive enough that you’re not lost. His action is clear and kinetic, not just people in cool battle poses but characters moving in a way that appears to have weight and momentum. Sure you also get Baroness diving through a window while shooting two guns dressed in skintight leather but c’mon, this isn’t a procedural, it’s a GI Joe book. Gulacy also gets to design a new character Dixon created, Bildocker, a Sgt. Bilko (look it up) type guy who can get anything anybody needs. Dixon’s intro to Bildocker is nicely exposition free also, there’s no bit about how the Army killed his dog so now he acquires illegal submarines, he’s just a fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt that can get you a submarine.
That type of stuff is at the heart of my recommendation that you read Special Missions. It’s refreshing in its streamlined approach to storytelling, and while it may seem uncomplicated it requires an active reader to be able to follow its many characters and their changing fortunes. As long as Gulacy and Dixon are on this book I’ll be reading.