Welcome to the review dossier for the first volume of IDW’s G.I. Joe Special Missions. The book collects the first four issues and first story arc, titled Crush Depth, of the series, which has been a long-running one, at least in name, in the larger G.I. Joe milieu. This marks my second foray into IDW’s current Joe universe, and it is one fraught with danger, intrigue, a fair amount of humor, and loads of sex appeal, the latter mostly supplied by The Baroness. In fact, The Baroness never made pure evil look so good, though I can’t think she wears those outfits for their comfort. Another fact is that writer Chuck Dixon and artist Paul Gulacy create an exciting story that is as much about the Joes’ Special Mission team as it is about the malevolent machinations of The Baroness, here working outside of the good graces of Cobra, all of which makes for an especially engaging read.
This is tough-as-nails G.I. Joe action, with a no-nonsense Scarlett in charge, though Dixon smartly teams her up with the much more nonsense Mainframe, who’s a tech genius, but also good with jokes and has a sarcastic sense of humor. Many of his lines were my favorite in the book, because his dialogue often shook off the more consistently rigid, militaristic tone in favor of a lighter, more comedic sensibility, which Scarlett doesn’t always love, and which made me love it all the more. While on the subject of Scarlett, Dixon also makes a bold story choice by confining Scarlett to the decompression chamber of an underwater vessel (with the wise-cracking Mainframe I might add) for the action-packed climax. This gives behind-the-scenes character Dial-Tone, another female Joe, the chance to step out in to the limelight, or rather gunfire, and lead the team, making for a more unique in-the-field team dynamic.
There’s a bevy of characters, and as a classic G.I. Joe fan, I was happy to see original, yet slightly less-known, stalwarts like Wild Bill and Beachhead play minor to pivotal roles, and hearing Serpentor mention Golobulus warmed my G.I. Joe: The Movie (animated, not live-action) heart. Though on the flipside, there were scenes where names, all codenames of course, were thrown around so much that I had a hard time keeping track of who was talking to whom and other instances when codenames of incidental characters were mentioned seemingly just to populate a scene, or so we knew their names when they bit the big one. And, characters do bite the big one in Special Missions, both in real-time and in flashback. This story calls back elements from other recent IDW Joe comics as plot or motivational springboards, but the story is completely its own and it is not imperative to have read the previous comics. I enjoyed Crush Depth without being aware of what had transpired beforehand.
I have one other issue that also arises out of a feeling of excess. Earlier in the book, I felt as if the action was a bit confusing, with just too much going on at one time, and actions and movements were not as clear as I felt they could have been due to the overabundance of business on the page. Once the story heads out to sea though, the sparseness of the locations helps to clear away a majority of that excess and streamline the action, letting Gulacy focus his art into telling a strong story. And, this story is strong and wonderfully swashbuckling. Dixon unfolds events in such a way that we get to see the various threads converging before the characters do, which builds great suspense and has a solid, wait for it, type of payoff. Kudos must also be given to IDW, as they keep their various G.I. Joe titles distinct, with (as far as I can tell) none of the main Joe characters overlapping, which works to create a world in which these different teams can realistically co-exist. They even mention the main team at one time, giving us a sort of context, as I believe Cobra Files did, as well. It lets us see each series on an individual level, but also as part of a greater mythos.
The first volume of G.I. Joe Special Missions is also full of gorgeous covers and pin-ups, including some absolutely hilarious and zany ones by artist Jim Rugg. I’ve now read two of IDW’s new Joe series, and each has delivered on action and intrigue, and each brings their own special merit to the world of G.I. Joe. In Special Missions, that special merit is right there in the title, because only on a special mission will you find Joes searching for sunken Cobra treasure in an underwater sub borrowed from a Hollywood hotshot. So, suit up, come with an open mind, and be ready for anything, because once this book gets started, you’re all in, and there’s no telling where a G.I. Joe special mission might take you.