‘Transformers vs. G.I. Joe Volume 1:’ TPB Review

Outrageous and incredible are just two excitable adjectives out of the vast armament of exclamatory words I could use to describe Tom Scioli and John Barber’s new Transformers vs. G.I. Joe series from IDW. Mind blowing is another adjective that bears mentioning, as no fan of Transformers or G.I. Joe has seen anything like this series before, even though the Joes and Bots have had numerous interactions over the years in the comics, largely due to the fact that both are owned by toy company Hasbro. But, this is new territory, a brave, new, idiosyncratic world run amok with a plethora of characters culled from eighties nostalgia and intricate research and full of unpredictable action that is, at times, as loose, over-the-top, and bizarre as both the cartoons based on these properties actually were, especially looking back on them as an adult. 

Scioli, whose art carries a very distinct style reminiscent of comics legend Jack Kirby, is a force to be reckoned with, both in terms of art and storytelling. His sixties-styled work, with its popping colors and bombastic characters, can be found in the Image series, Godland, created with writer Joe Casey, but I know him from his own insanely original work, American Barbarian. While that book baffled my senses, it also intrigued me to no end, thanks to Scioli’s incessant output of ideas, from unique layouts to unconventional storytelling to crazy characters and designs. So, when I discovered that Scioli had teamed up with John Barber, a highly regarded IDW Transformers editor and writer, I just knew I had to read Transformers vs. G.I. Joe. And, I was not disappointed.

Scioli handles all of the art, colors, and lettering, and the result is bright, bold, stupendous, hilarious, and dramatic, sometimes all at once, and sometimes switching from laughter to drama moment to moment, or even panel to panel. This first volume collects issues zero through four; the zero issue was a prequel offered as part of Free Comic Book Day last May, and from the first page of that zero issue, Scioli and Barber put the pedal to the floor, and then through it, and keep it there until the last page of issue four. Transformers vs. G.I. Joe is so jaw-droppingly creative, outlandish, and detailed it almost defies a lucid description, an incredible feat since the book deals with two of the most well-known and enduring pop-culture properties to come out of the eighties. The book is proliferated with amazing splash pages and double-page spreads that convey so much story and contain so many characters that you can get lost in them, but in the best of ways. Often, these pages capture a scene or moment so fully that they tell their own complete story within a story.  You can easily lose yourself in this entire book, which sees the Joes travel to Cybertron to tangle with an alien race they don’t understand, while the Autobots and Decepticons deal with their own eternal struggle. And, let’s not forget Cobra; they’re definitely in the mix, too. This is a most-simplified version of a remarkably elaborate and twisting story, filled to the gills with Joes and Bots straight out of your childhood, especially from the cartoons and toys.

One of the most rewarding elements of the book for me is the inclusion of the file cards that came with the G.I. Joe action figures, detailing the particular characters' allegiances and specialties. These are sprinkled throughout the action, and putting a name to the face of a Joe or Cobra operative, or an Autobot or Decepticon, immediately provides a shorthand introduction to nearly every character in the book, and many of the names rekindle a memory or character history for those of us already familiar with the character. It is a playful and pertinent way for Scioli and Barber to constantly introduce new characters without needing to slow or stop the action.  Being a G.I. Joe fan since the days of the cartoon, I was ecstatic to see all manner of Joe and Cobra vehicles, as well as a veritable rogue’s gallery of characters, some only making quick cameos or being unceremoniously eliminated, but Scioli and Barber brought them in nonetheless, and all of the epic battles my brother and I used to stage with our G.I. Joe action figures felt justified. These are those battles, on the same ludicrous scale, brought to life, and you can tell that Scioli and Barber are having the time of their lives creating and dismantling the worlds of these characters.

I showed Transformers vs. G.I. Joe to my brother, and it was so unlike anything he had seen, he remarked that it was cool, and also that this must be a title these properties didn’t care much about, as the creators were allowed to do whatever they wanted with it, especially when it came to the art style. The fact that Transformers vs. G.I. Joe is such a big hit and amazing revelation is because while Scioli and Barber do push the envelope, they also stay true to these characters’ roots and origins, and there is never the feeling of a corporation looking over their shoulder, scrutinizing and strong-arming their every creative decision, and that seems like something of a glorious miracle. My brother immediately latched onto the sensational style of Scioli’s artwork and the unique nature of this book, and that feeling of absolute creative freedom runs throughout the entire book, but it is done with such love and admiration, and just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humor and gonzo set pieces, that you can’t help but be transported back to those younger days when you had to wake up early to catch these cartoons before you went to school, to see what crazy scheme Cobra or the Decepticons had cooked up, and how your favorite heroes were going to foil their nefarious plans.

As a boon for the reader, there is a detailed commentary by Scioli and Barber on the entire book, detailing their thought processes, ideas, and inspirations, and it provides wonderful, behind-the-scenes insight into how such a defiantly different book came into existence. Also worth noting are the variety of pin-ups from artists that run the comics gamut, as well as numerous pieces from Scioli himself, and some original layouts from Scioli that hold glimmers of what the series eventually became. There truly is too much to try and talk about in this review, so jam-packed is this first volume, but I know I cannot wait to see where things go from here, to see how much larger and incredible Scioli and Barber can get, to see how their characters develop and change and, at times, are obliterated. Transformers vs. G.I. Joe is a blast of nostalgic joy, yet it never, ever, feels old or rehashed. In fact, it is probably the newest, most unbelievable comic you have never read. So, go and remedy that and just prepare to have your socks knocked off. And, don’t bother putting them back on, because it’s going to happen over and over again.             

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