Sunday, March 20, 2016

Catching up on comics with CGraig: Transformers Versus G.I. Joe #9-11

(IDW, 2015-2016)

More licensed comic book goodness to dive into.  Since I mentioned it in the Samurai Jack post, I thought I should catch up on it.

I've been wondering how long this series would (or could) last from day one.  I had suspected that with last year's full-length Free Comic Book Day zero-issue this would be a brief mini-series, of your typical four-issue variety.  Yet, issue four came and yet the story continued rolling on, each issue progressively tearing down sacred cows and pushing the story beyond safety and conventions.  With each issue writer/illustrator Tom Scioli and co-writer John Barber put together one of the wildest rides on the comic book stands, delivering a title that bathes in nostalgia but refuses to live there.  I mean, the depths of the history of these two toyline-derived universes that Scioli and Barber plumb is astounding, not just looking at toy shelves, but taking in decades of comic book and animation history to reference and coming out the other end with something that feels completely different, and yet true to what's come before... it's a remarkable feat.

Scioli channels the masters of the 60's - Kirby, Steranko, Ditko, Kane and more - though doesn't rest there.  He frequently pulls from cinema but even more relies upon his imagination to construct just epic pages and panels.  All the while the storytelling is the most eclectically paced I've seen.  It's rather staccato in nature, little snippets of scenes, characters flow in and out, sometimes disappearing for multiple issues before returning, plus Scioli and Barber are not afraid to kill anyone off...anyone at all.  When the first batch of Joes are gunned down early on, one wasn't quite ready for had to be a dream, just as the Autobots, the good guys of the Transformers world, were still the bad guys to the Joes for quite some time.  It all felt wrong, and yet Barber and Scioli persisted.  Eventually the Autobots and Joes had their unifying moment, but not in time to stop the nefarious Cobra/Decepticon plan which resulted in the annihilation of Earth! (No shit!)  It's not played for a dream or anything other than the final fate of mankind, and it'd be deliciously bleak if it weren't so excessively over-the-top.

Issue #9 is the best issue of the series, if only because it's the most cohesive and coherent.  It takes place in humanity's deep past where the Gaels were at odds with the Vikings, looking for any edge.  A Transformers ship had crash landed on Earth centuries prior, and in this historic land, their remains are worshipped as gods by a snake clan.  The Gaels steal from these gods to help them in their war against the Vikings, their anachronistic technology giving them and edge up on their enemies, but also cursing them.  This story is largely that of Destro's ancestry but touches upon many things Joe, Cobra, and Transformer in brilliant ways.  It's also a solo effort from Scioli, though Barber still joins him for the post-issue commentary.  It's a side-step from the regular story, adding little to the actual onging story, but it pads out Joe history with epic storytelling in such a manner it never actually gets.

Issues 10 and 11 return to the ongoing form, but as it gets deeper into the series, Scioli seems to be more focused on pushing his limits, creating some utterly daft sequences that just look remarkable, and sometimes utterly ridiculous, though never anything less than entertaining.

There's only two issues left in run it's been announced this week, just as I was beginning to think this could go on without any apparent end.  As Scioli and Barber thin out the herd of characters on all sides, they delve deeper into character-focused storytelling (like issue 11's focus on Falcon), and there's still so much more to tell.  I'm curious as to how all this will pan out...annihilation I imagine, but I guess we'll see.

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