Today, IDW begins its Hasbro line-wide crossover event First Strike, a spiritual sequel to last year’s Revolution series that brought each of the toy company’s intellectual properties into planetary alignment. It’s the second stage of the publisher’s trilogy of experimental blockbuster comics designed to appeal to the center of a very complex Venn diagram between each of their disparate franchises. Given how much fun the first event was, there should, statistically, be more hype surrounding its successor’s launch. But in the past week, IDW’s Hasbro line has been synonymous with controversy, specifically surrounding G.I. Joe writer Aubrey Sitterson and the war over a tweet.
Other sites have reported on the story at length, but the general gist is that Sitterson expressed a contentious personal opinion regarding 9/11 mourners in a Tweet (as humans with smartphones, a data plan and the Twitter app are wont to do) that many of his right-wing detractors used as an opportunity to call for his firing. Basically, 140 characters penned by a guy who writes a comic book based on action figures transformed into the latest battle in the ongoing conflict between progressives in the industry and the faceless egg accounts who get aroused at calling them cucks. Ever since Sitterson debuted as the new Joe scribe during the Revolution event, his left-leaning politics have marked him as an enemy to a certain segment of legacy fans, but their vitriol would lead you to believe his tenure on the book has been populated with heavy handed lessons in social justice and quotes from Chapo Trap House. But this isn’t exactly true.
Sitterson may be a self-professed Jacobin subscriber, but G.I. Joe, with kinetic artist Giannis Milonogiannis, is no hand wringing polemic. It’s a straightforward sci-fi action comic featuring modern interpretations of classic Joe characters thrust into new and entertaining situations. Despite Sitterson’s Paul Heyman-esque flair for carnival barking huckster hustling, calling the book “The Crown Jewel of The Hasbro Universe” isn’t just hyperbolic marketing speak. It’s a balls to the wall attempt to make one of the most beloved properties of the 1980s as fun as we all remember without having to rely on empty nostalgia. This is a G.I. Joe book where Skywarp from Transformers joins the team, two characters turn out to be Dire Wraiths and an entire half issue is dedicated to a fight between Quick Kick and Snake Eyes, for little reason other than half an issue dedicated to a fight between Quick Kick and Snake Eyes is fucking tight.
Long story short, it doesn’t look like Sitterson is getting canned. G.I. Joe has one issue left, and will then be relaunched after First Strike as Scarlett’s Strike Force, a new volume with artists Nelson Daniel & Ilias Kyriazis that will weave in characters from Micronauts and Action Man while staying true to the tone of the previous series. Today, in the interim, we get G.I. Joe: First Strike #1, written by Sitterson with art from Kyriazis, the first Joe book to hit the stands since all the social media brouhaha and a perfect opportunity to see a state of the union on this iteration of the franchise.
Now, as a jumping-on point for readers solely interested in G.I. Joe, this First Strike tie-in may be not be the “new #1” scenario that Scarlett’s Strike Force will provide. It features narrative elements that will be more clear when G.I. Joe #9 is released and that first volume comes to its conclusion. But for early adopters who want a taste of what the book has been like up to now before it undergoes drastic new changes, this is a fun distillation of what Sitterson and the team have been up to for the last year. Dating back before Revolution with Street Fighter x G.I. Joe, IDW’s had a Joe take on their hands that blends a near tongue-in-cheek approach to the action genre with a pro wrestling fan’s fight clarity and a comic lover’s appreciation for the sharp subversion of expected mythology. With a lesser creative team, a G.I. Joe comic where a fucking Decepticon joins the crew could be a little too hat on hat, but Sitterson & Milonogiannis have cultivated one of the breeziest, most efficiently plotted team books in recent memory.
This First Strike tie-in begins with that status quo a little shaken, with team leader Scarlett off world and Shipwreck thrust into command. Cobra Commander has taken over M.A.S.K. villains V.E.N.O.M., so Shipwreck isn’t given much time to get used to his temporary role before having to mobilize the troops. This issue wrings some humor from Shipwreck’s clumsiness as a superior officer, but the team building work done throughout the main title proves useful as the Joes work together brilliantly, highlighting brief little vignettes of the relationships the book has made so central. Rock ‘N Roll’s curious bromance with Skywarp is on display, as are Grand Slam’s frustrations with being marginalized as the team’s personal Q and Quick Kick’s ongoing love affair with himself and his undeniable combat prowess. Sitterson continues to make sure every teammate has something meaningful and on brand to do throughout the book’s action set pieces, but the real star here is Kyriazis’ art.
Regular readers may be more used to Milonogiannis’ singularly dynamic layouts and the manic energy he brings to his figure drawings and fight choreography, but Kyriazis avails himself quite well in this tie-in. His lines call to mind the work Stuart Immonen did on NEXTWAVE, a middle point between cartoonish excess and a grounded simplicity, creating vibrancy with Mark Roberts’ colors. However, it’s his character acting that brings it all together. The bigger set pieces work so well because of the smaller moments with each individual. The team gaining the upper hand doesn’t feel as impressive without the early consternation on Shipwreck’s face and a big shot setting up Quick Kick’s impending battle with an army of ninjas doesn’t mean shit without the sly, gleeful grin on his face as he relishes the challenge. That push and pull between big moments of spectacle and tight reaction shots is even more apparent in this issue’s cliffhanger, which sets up for even more craziness and carnage.
Your mileage may vary with how deeply into the First Strike event you’ll want to wade, depending largely on which corners of the Hasbro universe tickle your fancy the most. But it’s thrilling to see a crossover tie-in so adept at being fulfilling as its own adventure without detracting from the bigger picture. Even if you have some trouble seeing the edges where each of these properties has been stitched together into one makeshift universe, G.I. Joe itself remains a self contained breath of fresh air that’s equally enjoyable regardless of how encyclopedic your knowledge of its sister franchises happens to be.
If your timeline this week has been clogged with #discourse over The Sitterson Conundrum and whether he should stay or go, this little salvo should give a clearer idea on why people wanted him to stick around in the first place.
G.I. Joe: First Strike #1 is on sale now.