GeneralsJoes reviews G.I. Joe: Cobra #13

From the first minute I laid eyes on the original G.I. Joe: Cobra title way back I knew we were on to something good.  Over the years, G.I. Joe has been many things…in the cartoon, it was campy satire.  In the comic, it was a hybrid military realism with supernatural science fiction.

But never has it really been gritty film noir.  I mean, how could it be?  We’re talking about a property with genetic engineering, technologically impossible weapons and vehicles, and no laws of physics or scientific sense.  How can someone possible build a gritty, dark, and “real world” universe out of that?

Well, somebody could, and somebody did.  A couple of somebodies named Mike Costa and Christos Gage.  They showed the world that the bright, super-powered, laser firing world of G.I. Joe could hide a dark underbelly.  Initially written as a short four-issue limited series, G.I. Joe: Cobra redefined Cobra’s image in the IDW world and introduced many readers to the property to rave reviews.

As I think everyone expected, after the first series ended, a second series was sure to come, which was then extended to a continuing series, and it has continued until now.  Thirteen issues later we’ve seen backwoods Crocodile experts, a secret cult worshipping snake gods, and a mysterious gypsy who can read minds.  But through it all, that dark and dreary noir style brought a sense of realism and despair to the universe (but only in the best way possible, of course).

So now, as we stand on the precipice of another “re-invention” (so to speak) of the IDW universe, we can reflect back on G.I. Joe: Cobra and see how well it did what it did, and finally, how it ended.  Which of course, begs the question, where do we go from here?

To avoid spoilers, click the “Read the Rest of this Story” link below for the full review.

G.I. Joe: Cobra #13
Writers: Mike Costa & Christos Gage
Artists: Chee & Antonio Fuso

As I finish reading this story, I have to ask… “could it have ended any other way?”  I really don’t think so.  This is pretty much how it had to be, and I still marvel at just how great it was getting to this point.

By now, we know what happened in issue #12.  Cobra Commander is dead by Chuckles’ hand, with Xamot on the run and Chuckles himself now deeply entrenched in the Cobra citadel.  Turning to the first person he can think of, Tomax, Chuckles tries to weave his way through the complex and escape, but they run into Big Boa, and things immediately go south.

What happens from then on is a series of events that you see coming, but are helpless to stop, as you know there is only one possible way the story can end.  In the interest of spoilers, I won’t tell you how that happens.

I can tell you how well the issue gets to that point…and the answer is pretty well.  Yes, just pretty well.  From a story perspective, G.I. Joe: Cobra #13 is as expertly crafted as the issues that came before it, relentlessly shoving our hero through the maze of passages in the Cobra headquarters towards his escape.  Just when you think Chuckles might be able to pull this off, we find out that Costa and Gage aren’t like previous G.I. Joe scribes.  The Cobra within these pages is not an incompetent, bumbling organization with unlimited resources.  They are filled with smart, capable, and well trained operatives, and even a somewhat minor character like Big Boa can turn the entire tide.

Much of the issue is taken up by the hand-to-hand combat between Chuckles and Big Boa, and it’s a great back and forth.  The dialog between Tomax and Chuckles as they proceed through the base is great.  Cobra’s handling of their deceased Commander seems appropriate to the story, and Chuckles final confrontation with Xamot is as you would expect.

So where does the issue go wrong?

Unfortunately, it’s the art.

Ever since the beginning, I’ve been defending the art in the G.I. Joe: Cobra series as a gritty film noir “style”, and I absolutely stand by that.  It is.  And it works.  For the most part.  When characters are skulking around, planning, and even in small refined action sequences, the artwork is great.  It is, of course, an acquired taste that some folks have not yet acquired, but in my mind it’s always fit the book exceptionally well.

In this issue, not so much.

In this issue, where we see a lot of action, Fuso and Chee’s understated style perhaps isn’t the best suited.  There is a certain lack of impact or gravitas in the various action scenes, where punches just seem to stop in mid air, and where elbows are striking something off panel, and it just isn’t the way that these two artists work.  When it comes to gun play, they can do pretty well, but in hand-to-hand combat sequences, you have to really be able to follow the flow of action, and they seem to have trouble with it.  A potentially very dramatic scene at the end is pretty much white washed and a circle is required and actually drawn on the page to show a wound that could have been far more dramatically portrayed.

I enjoy these artists considerably, and by and large, their work on this book as been good.  That makes it all the more unfortunate that this final issue (at least for the next 2 months) didn’t really hit home in some places, at least from an art perspective.

But in its own way, G.I. Joe: Cobra is far more about the story than the art, and as usual Costa and Gage excel.  This issue has put the last two years in firm perspective, and it’s truly fantastic to see such a clear beginning, progression, and end, and have it all make sense.

I know this book isn’t going away…and I truly hope that even as Christos Gage moves to Marvel (those lucky bastards) Mike Costa will keep up the great work and continue weaving the stories we’ve come to expect.  Editor Andy Schmidt seems confident in that, and I share that confidence.  But regardless of the book continuing on in May, this was still the “end of an era” so to speak, and a fitting one at that.

Fantastic work to all involved, it’s been a great and emotional ride.  I look forward to getting back in the roller coaster in May.  Hopefully they haven’t removed any of the corkscrews.

  • dantedmc37

    Wow! Great build up in the review,can’t wait to read it!

  • Hawkwinter

    Fully agreed…again.

    Great issue.

    It’s interesting that it took till the last issue for you to see what my main gripe is about the art. It’s kind of the John Wayne dilemma. He could do one type of movie and that was it. So to fans of that, he was an actor, to most he wasn’t. I see artists like this the same way. If you can only do your thing and that’s it, you’re not in the same league as those who can.

    The style isn’t really the issue. If you have ever seen the first 10 issues or so of Deathblow where Jim Lee did his tribute to Sin City, you can see how a great artist can do anything if he so wants to. The basic problem is that MANY of IDWs artists are not all that familiar with anatomy, so when they can’t hide that with mood and/or styled art, they look weak, which is exactly what happens in this issue. Jim Lee would never have this problem. Of course, comparing these artists to arguably the greatest comicbook artist ever is unfair but I’m just trying to get a point across and picking someone most people are familiar with helps with that.

    And no, I do not expect GIJoe to get an artist of that magnitude, but I could see a skilled artist and inker be able to turn their regular super hero style art into a more noir look and feel.

    Regardless of all that, and despite me still cringing looking at the covers and the art in general, the story is so good I look forward to this title more than any other. Just wish Costas and Gage would be writting all three titles and that Dixon bum would be out of a job*

    *disclaimer : please read what I said “just wish”. That’s my opinion and that’s all. I realize others feel differently. Power to you. You got him writing two books now.

  • I agree with all of your points, except on the art. I find tons of joy in the way Fuso renders everything. His Baroness is almost as good as Ben Templesmith’s in my eyes, which is saying a lot. The coloring in the issue was amazing as well, especially on page 21.