It must be tough being a G.I. Joe fan these days. The live-action films didn’t exactly capture a new generation, the toy line dried up with them, and the Renegades cartoon was canceled after one season. IDW Publishing haven’t had much luck with their rebooted G.I. Joe comics after the end of Chuck Dixon and Mike Costa’s runs, between Karen Traviss and now Aubrey Sitterson’s aborted series, even with the strength of the integrated Transformers line of books backing the latter. In any case, let’s take a look at the three surviving issues of Sitterson’s second G.I. Joe book, “Scarlett’s Strike Force.”
Written by Aubrey Sitterson
Art by Nelson Daniel
Colors by Ryan Hill
Letters by Taylor Esposito
It’s Scarlett’s G.I. JOE team, the Strike Force, against a brand-new Cobra Commander, a revitalized Cobra, and everyone else trying to conquer Earth… or destroy it! Featuring all-stars of the Hasbro line as M.A.S.K.: Mobile Armored Strike Kommand and the Transformers join G.I. Joe in the fight against Cobra!
Sitterson’s first “G.I. Joe” series was a really enjoyable affair. It followed on from “Revolution” and proudly displayed its ties to the rest of the Hasbro Universe by continuing the storyline of the Dire Wraith infiltration, and by having the Decepticon Skywarp join the team. It may sound like faint praise given how much of a non-entity of a character Skywarp tends to be, but his characterization was the best he was ever given, with his refusal to give Rock ‘n Roll a lift back to base always providing a reliable laugh.
The book absolutely embraced the campy spirit of the ’80s cartoon and gave some prominence to less popular characters like the martial artist Quick Kick, weapons engineer Grand Slam, and Salvo (now a Samoan woman). Sitterson deftly wove strong moments of characterization and conflict — consider Rock ‘n Roll’s guilt for wounding Grand Slam in a previous battle, or the jokes about Shipwreck’s cooking — with Giannis Milonogiannis’s kinetic Mad Max-style action sequences. However, in these three action-packed issues, there isn’t enough time to balance those elements.
The comic trumpets itself as “The Best Action Comic Ever” (whereas the previous volume called itself “The Crown Jewel Of The Hasbro Universe”), and there seems an overwhelming emphasis on action. “Scarlett’s Strike Force” follows on from the initial nine-issue series and the ‘First Strike’ crossover, but Scarlett herself barely feels present in these issues. In the crossover, she learned her mentor Joe Colton, the man who G.I. Joe is named for, wasn’t dead but instead became the head of a villainous plot to commit genocide against the Transformers. She has realized she is well and truly now on her own as the leader of his taskforce, and yet barely any time is given to the pressure she must feel (compounded by Snake Eye, Helix, and Duke’s screw-ups in the previous volume).
Similarly, the series was promised as a fusion of “G.I. Joe” and “M.A.S.K.,” but Matt Trakker is barely used in the book, stuck on the Nemesis with Scarlett while the rest of the team fights Army Ants, dinosaurs and snake-headed Vipers. (Surprisingly, the M.A.S.K. vehicles aren’t used either.) Perhaps this is being too critical of a series cut short before it genuinely began, but most of the dialogue scenes are spent on plotting and reveals that will never truly pay off. In fact, the character who probably has the most development is Destro, whose concern over Cobra Commander’s increasing ruthlessness is the only memorable piece of characterization in these issues.
Still, just because there’s an emphasis of action over strong character moments, doesn’t mean that the action is bad. Nelson Daniel’s art is a lot more cartoonish than the manga-esque look Milonogiannis provided in the previous series, but it’s just as dynamic. His inking is a lot heavier, resembling black marker pens. Daniel Hill’s coloring is a lot more vibrant than Lovern Kindzierski’s work on the last volume, which was as diverse in its variety of colors, but still felt somewhat muted. His shading tends to look uneven, but it fits with the Sharpie aesthetic of Daniel’s art.
That said, Daniel’s artwork shows its limitations in certain character-based moments, such as when the third issue sees the return of a character’s who’s been dead since 2015. This moment, instead of being awe-inspiring, gets lost amidst the mayhem and just became head-scratching. Daniel also struggles with depicting characters out-of-costume, particularly in the first issue where a scene of Quick Kick doing handstand push-ups is rendered ugly and distracting by the character’s bizarre neck anatomy. The standout scene in all three issues, namely the moment the Cobra goons Raptor and Croc Master argue over whether dinosaurs are birds, probably benefited from Daniel not having to draw their facial expressions.Continued below
The third issue ends with one hell of a cliffhanger. It’s hard to see how John Barber could pick up on this in “Optimus Prime” (which features all the G.I. Joe characters Sitterson didn’t want) without serious timeline adjustments, though the Transformers title could easily pick up on Skywarp’s subplot. It’s also probable we’ll get some insight into what Sitterson planned during this summer’s “Unicron” crossover. Between the cancelation of this book – already a merger with the canned “M.A.S.K.” comic and the limited “Rom & The Micronauts” series, it may be easy to already declare IDW’s attempt to expand its Transformers line a failure. However, as IDW continue to have these character rights, they’ll certainly continue to feature the Joes somewhere, and that is an encouraging thought. At the very least, if Transformers comics have to have human characters in them, then the Joes are the exciting and interesting human characters we deserve.
Final verdict: 6.0 – It’s been a fun but woefully incomplete ride.