Due to my back being out of whack, I didn’t pick up this week’s comics, so no review. In it’s place I present the first of hopefully a new series of articles. “This Week’s Reviews” hopefully returns next week, and I’ll try to keep the two weeks separate.
Welcome to the first installment of “Scanning My Collection”, a series of articles as I look back into all the comics, videos, novels, and even video games in my personal libraries. This may tell you more than you want to know about me. 🙂 Now I may not necessarily review everything I own until I start running out of collection to scan, so this won’t be a full view of everything, just the stuff that most interests me to review. For example, some of my comics may not be anything special that particular issue, or video games may not have a story to it. I’ll probably go through my entire home video and novel libraries before too long, although the novels (taking the longest to read through) will be rare. Also, since most of what I’m reviewing in this section came out a long time ago, I really won’t block any potential spoilers, although I will try to keep something out for your reading/viewing pleasure. These will be a lot more detailed than my usual reviews.
For my inaugural edition, I’m taking a look at one of many crossovers between two of Hasbro’s biggest properties. Transformers and G.I. Joe (the version referred to a “A Real American Hero” or ARAH, due to the tagline) have crossed over before. The G.I. Joe line originally came out in 1964, but the smaller figures of ARAH and their battle with Cobra began in the 1980’s. Around that time, Hasbro obtained a number of Japanese transforming robots, changed them from little companions and giant, human-piloted mecha into sentient mechanoids engaged in an intergalactic civil war. Marvel had the rights to both, and when I start getting into the Marvel Transformers comics I’ll review that crossover, as it was canon to both series (although not referenced again until the days of Transformers: Generation 2).
Years later, the properties resurfaced under the wings of different companies. Devil’s Due had the license to G.I. Joe, while fledgling company Dreamwave took on the “robots in disguise”. Both companies agreed to do a sort of out of continuity team-up of the franchises, each going in their own direction. I’ll get into Devil’s Due’s version at a later date. For this edition, however, we’ll be getting into Dreamwave’s take, a story set in an alternate World War 2, where the Nazis are replaced by Cobra, and the Transformers’ war was about to collide with ours.
FORMAT: comic book (six issue mini-series)
RELEASE DATE: August -December 2003 (based on cover dates–some comic companies date their comics a few months ahead–I never really understood why) with the final issue cover dated as March 2004
The Creative Team
WRITER: John Ney Rieber
ARTIST: Jae Lee
COLORIST: June Chung
LETTERER: Benjamin Lee
Also, various cover artists, mostly due to that annoying old concept that variant covers will bring more money. I hate variant covers.
The Bottom Line
Take two of Hasbro’s franchises, team them up (again), and set them just before World War 2. Great concept, but the subplots and art detract from the overall story. Understandably dark, but all it does is make the bad guys creepy, gives us a moment out of “Sam’s Happy Time” (see the Bay TF movie), and under-uses the property Dreamwave has the license of in favor of Devil’s Due’s comics.
Winter: 1938. In a ruined temple, Major Sebastian Bludd, soldier of the group known as Cobra, finds the Decepticons, and accidentally activates them.
Summer: 1939. In order to put down the Cobra forces, the US military puts together an elite force hoping to bypass a second World War, under the codename G.I. Joe. However, their first meeting is observed by a strange, metal bird. Laserbeak reports back to the Cobra/Decepticon forces, but Cobra Commander is convince that the American forces have no clue where their “Terrordrome” is located.
He’s wrong. The Joes do have a map pointing out their base in the Fera Islands, carved into the wreckage of one of their downed fighters. A strike team head out there, where they come across a second group of Transformers, the Autobots. Despite mistrust on both sides, they have a common foe in the Cobra/Decepticon alliance, and join forces. However, both sides are betrayed by Destro and Starscream, who are themselves betrayed by the Baroness…yeah, things start getting muddied at this point. The good guys win when Cobra Commander is killed by the Baroness, and the Matrix, which is responsible for the Transformers’ reawakening, is destroyed, shutting down all the Transformers, leaving only the Joes the last faction standing.
On concept, I love the idea. I do enjoy these kind of “what if” stories. Here we have two for the price of one. What if G.I. Joe and Cobra started just before the World War 2 that we all know. What if the Transformers awoke around that time period? Now put them together, and it should make for a great story. And more or less, that’s what we get. However, certain details downgrade it from “great” to “good”.
The bright spots come from the characterization, but so do the downsides. With so many characters over four factions there aren’t a lot of breakouts. Zartan is brought in just to be there, to kill Breaker and try to infiltrate the Joes, but he fails to learn any plans and just ends up being there to get a hold of Flint. And like a lot of characters (such as Rumble, who keeps calling the humans “meat” rather than the usual “fleshlings” that started in the Marvel comics and is usually accepted by other writers), Zartan is extra creepy. “Who are you? You are no one. And now I am you.” Then there’s the scene with Scarlett riding Bumblebee (who has a motorcycle form in this series), as she treats the whole thing like it’s a different kind of “riding” she helping him experience for the first time. It just weirds me out. And let’s not forget Baroness betraying everyone at the drop of a helmet. Both Cobra Commander and Destro seem to be her lovers in this story and she’s ready to betray them just to betray them, like a “Black Widow”. It just feels so overdone.
At the same time, while the obligatory Snake Eyes versus Storm Shadow subplot is there, and done well, unless your already a fan the fight means nothing to the reader. It distracts from more interesting plots, like Optimus Prime trying to decide if the Autobots really should get involved in the Joe/Cobra conflict, until he learns just how evil Cobra actually is (using slaves as human shields), not to mention the Decepticon alliance with the organization. There’s also the attraction between Snake Eyes and Scarlett, a hold over from the comics (although in the original cartoon Scarlett seemed to be pared with Duke–having not read the comic outside of the Transformers crossover stories, it’s still a conflict in my head), that just gets dropped out of nowhere in issue 4, unless your savvy enough to pick up on Scarlett’s concern in issue 3. (As I still think Duke/Scarlett, even on this re-read I didn’t pick up on it.) Both subplots feel like they’re there just to be there, as if to please the Snake Eyes fan base.
The most disappointing part, however, is how little the Transformers seem to be a part of this story. Devil’s Due was already doing their own crossover at the same time, and being the G.I. Joe people focused on the Joes, and even they had more characterization for the Transformers than the people who were more or less in charge of the Transformers franchise! Outside of Grimlock’s friendship with Roadblock, the aforementioned Scarlett/Bumblebee makes-me-want-to-take-a-shower scene, and Prime’s momentary vow to keep out of the humans’ war to focus on the Decepticons, they do nothing but be there. One Aerialbot has a line, and darned if I can tell which one (more on that momentarily), there’s some back and forth between Destro and Starscream and Megatron and Cobra Commander, but for the most part nothing. Superion gets taken out in mere moments, and then they break out Bruticus, now a creation of Destro and Starscream. You don’t even need them in this story. Heck, you really don’t need the Transformers at all in this story, since Rumble and Frenzy’s parts could have easily been handled by a “steampunk” version of one of the old Cobra battle suits or even the Battle Android Troopers without a blink.
Then there’s the art. Jae Lee is going for a certain style here, and the artwork is admittedly beautiful, especially his Scarlett. (I’m a sucker for a hot redhead, what can I say?) However, while it works great for a painting, mural, or even a comic cover, it’s just awful for a comic book. It makes the Zartan/Breaker stuff even creepier, and the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow battle not as easy to follow. The worst victims are the Autobots, which is a double strike. First of all you can’t get a good look at them and (like the Aerialbot) you can’t tell who they’re supposed to be without the occasional dialog hint. This also keeps you from seeing what should be fascinating character designs for the Transformers (again, from the company who make the series) in this time period. It just takes you too much out of the story, much like the fanboy-pleasing subplots and new, darker, creepier characters.
I don’t have a problem with the darker take on the series, and in fact it seems appropriate for the era. Unfortunately, there are just a lot of other flaws marring a great concept. Unless you have to have every story Transformers-centered (like me) or G.I. Joe-centered, your actually not missing anything if you don’t have this series. With a concept like this, that might be the biggest shame of all!
A sequel was started called “Divided Front“, but Dreamwave folded after the first issue. Set in modern times, the decedent of Flint takes his father’s name as is about to have his own run-in with the Transformers. I’ve not heard anything more about the story, but the art is a lot easier to view.
Best Scene of the Story
In a future edition, I’ll cover the other version, as Devil’s Due has their own alternate universe to team these teams up. And if you ask me, the more rewarding.