When discussing the nerdier elements of popular culture, there’s one specific kind of debate that makes me want to claw my fucking face off. If you’ve ever subscribed to any geek-based Facebook groups or lingered a moment or two too long in your local comic shop, you’ve undoubtedly been trapped in one of these tête-à-têtes. Somebody wants to know who would win in a fight, The Hulk or Superman. Or Venom and Bane. Or who the fuck ever. It’s always irked me that the first thought anyone has when breaking down the trademark barriers and blending two fictional universes together is a pissing contest between two characters, rather than an interesting story. Who would win in a fight between The Hulk and Superman? Whose book is it in? Who cares?
The only time I’ve ever been able to really care about the outcome of a battle between two fictional characters is in kung-fu films and professional wrestling, where the fights are the story, and character progression can be made through action, rather than using the battles as pornographic interludes removed from context and logic. It’s a method of storytelling that’s become increasingly rare in today’s climate, largely because it’s very difficult to do well. We were lucky enough to get an advanced copy of the first issue of IDW’s Street Fighter X G.I. Joe here at the Deadshirt offices, and I’m very pleased to report a change has finally come.
Penned by (friend of Deadshirt) Aubrey Sitterson and brought to life by the kinetic art of Emilio Laiso, Street Fighter X G.I. Joe is something of an anomaly in the licensed property cash-in game. A lot of similar titles craft some super weird workarounds for how the denizens of each disparate universe come to meet, or why they fight, or how they’re going to interact. Sitterson realizes that if you’re going to do a book like this, people really just want to see the fighting. As such, the first issue opens up delightfully in media res, with no overlong set up. From the issue’s first panel, it’s as if someone left a fistful of action figures laying around one of those old school play sets and, like Toy Story, they’ve come to life in a ridiculous yet satisfying narrative of their own.
The conceit for why exactly a tournament is being held between popular (and obscure) characters from the Street Fighter and Joe universes is too delicious and cheeky to spoil here, but it’s explained so simply, so matter of factly, that you’re immediately hooked. The book doesn’t give you a moment to question things like realism before hopping directly into the first tournament match. The how and the why are then artfully disseminated in bite size expository bits throughout the actual fighting. Who the characters are, what they want, and why they’re here all get explored, but that exploration takes place within the framework of combat. It’s strange that this particular narrative style is so rare in comics, given how many funnybooks are overtly action oriented, but it’s employed here to dazzling effect.
Sitterson’s current main gig is hosting and producing the YouTube show STRAIGHT SHOOT, a weekly look at the wonderful world of professional wrestling. It’s clear from this first issue that his lifelong love of the fictional sport has informed much of his approach to this book. In wrestling, much of the actual storytelling in an arc happens bell to bell, between the ring ropes, in a silent movie style visual method that doesn’t overly rely on dialogue or narration. Likewise, the fights in Street Fighter X G.I. Joe are all expertly choreographed and blocked out in a dramatic way, letting each punch, each kick, each dodge, tell a beat in the plot. In the downtime between bouts, Laiso’s “camera” hovers in on conspiratorial banter amongst the competitors and their handlers, not unlike the backstage promos so prevalent on episodes of Monday Night Raw.
The characterization of all these recognizable figures, from M. Bison to Destro and beyond, are all handled efficiently, but no less effectively. At times you really do feel like you’ve flipped to WWE programming in the middle of a long form storyline, but you’re caught up so quickly that it doesn’t feel like a handicap. I’m personally a pretty big fan of both franchises, but there are characters used here that I’m not familiar with from the Fighter or Joe worlds. With very little screen time and a minimal amount of actual dialogue, I was able to pretty immediately get who they were and what they were about, even if they were being used a little like jobbers to move to the next round of the tournament.
The World Warrior tournament here is structured just like WWE’s King of The Ring or PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles, so this being the first issue, we only see some of the first round. Sitterson chose his combatants well, so you’re not spammed with dream match-ups right out of the gate, but if this opening salvo is any indication, future issues have some real slobber knockers in store.
Street Fighter X G.I. Joe #1 is in stores on February 24th from IDW.