Saturday, January 22, 2011

An Annoying Current Trend, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra Movie Prequel Is A Substandard Anthology.

The Good: Decent art
The Bad: Blase storyline, No real character development, Expensive for what it is.
The Basics: Despite having a generally high quality of artwork, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra Movie Prequel fails because the stories are fractured and the characters to not truly develop.

In the summer of 2009, with the advent of Summer Blockbuster Season came the rise of "graphic novels" for movie tie-ins. In fact, the prequel anthology Star Trek: Countdown (reviewed here!) for that year's film Star Trek (reviewed here!) even made it to a respectable position on the Bestseller's list! Since then, other franchises have been attempting the movie tie-in graphic novel - more accurately trade paperback anthology as the books collect issues of previously-published comic books for their material. One of the offerings in that trend was released in anticipation G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra film (reviewed here!). It is, imaginatively enough, called G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra Movie Prequel.

As the title suggests, the only real purpose of the G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra Movie Prequel is to prepare readers for the film. Like Star Trek: Countdown, this graphic novel seems to be establishing the fundamental backstory of four of the key characters in G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra. As such, the final pages of the trade paperback anthology lead into what most assume will be the opening of the film. However, as far as that goes, this is a pretty weak collection of comics and the overall feel of them is that they are simplified stories for those who share traditional military values and look at the world in very black and white terms. As such, the stories establish core characters - two heroes, two villains - but the four stories do not directly relate to one another. As a result, this anthology reads like exactly what it is: a collection of four comic books.

Because the book, written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by SL Gallant, is more a collection of comic books, it makes sense to look at the chapters, as opposed to the overall book. The only thing the various chapters have in common is the artwork and Gallant does an excellent job with that. The characters look good and the coloring actually has some decent shading . . . for the most part. In the third chapter, there are some moments with a great sense of movement even, but that is not as consistent as I would usually like. That said, the writing and the level of character and storytelling is variable from chapter to chapter.

In the first chapter, a United States military operation being led by Wallace Weems parachutes into the jungle on an off-the-books op. The covert Army Rangers disappear into the jungle to find guerrilla forces and their arsenal of weapons. Weems leads his team into the heart of the enemy's camp where they steal technical information and lay waste to the arsenal, ostensibly to protect innocent lives elsewhere in the jungle and crush the movement's ability to harm others. In the process, Weems' team takes fire and Sgt. Hansen has to rescue his comrades and complete the op.

At its resolution, Weems is met by a mysterious military official who offers him a position in a secret organization within the military. Because I've seen the previews for G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, I know that character is Hawk because the artwork by Gallant looks like Dennis Quaid. This first chapter is a real tough sell for me; military stories are not my bailiwick and the jargon is very heavy in this vignette. I understand by context what phrases like "We bush hog from here" (7?, there are no page numbers in the anthology) but having to decipher lines like that almost every line makes for slow reading. In true form, though, the story quickly degenerates into a shootout and the dialogue stops.

A far less dialogue-driven (or hampered) story comes in Chapter 2 where the origins of Destro are explored. Destro, a weapon's manufacturer and dealer comes from a long line of arms merchants and he has taken up the cause. As a deal in France goes badly and Destro looks to be compromised, he recalls advice from his father (another arms merchant) about the principles of the business. While Dixon is creative with the narrative technique here - the flashbacks to kid Destro getting advice from Papa are more imaginative than most comic books - the net result is still the same. This is a very straightforward and surprisingly bland comic book type story.

Similarly, the third chapter, which focuses on the Baroness, is a very simple story. The Baroness Anastasia DeCobray flirts with and then incapacitates Sheik Mommar al Rhazidh. Loose in his house, she finds herself trapped in confrontation with a live tiger. As the sheik's personal security forces close in on her, she uses her wits to survive and she obtains information embedded in a mural that she sends to Mars Industries to help fund their deeds.

The Baroness chapter seems to most directly link to the forthcoming film. Knowing only that the new movie will have evil forces, linked to Mars Industries, the obtaining of capital to fund their dark deeds is necessary. Whether or not the movie will actually begin or include the stealing of the gold reserves based on the Baronness's information becomes inconsequential to those who read this anthology. For us, the suspension of disbelief over how an organization like Mars Industries (or COBRA, if it is directly related) is unnecessary; we've seen the lengths the operatives go to to get the billions needed to become international criminals.

The final chapter seems to set up a subplot (at the very least) for the new movie, when an environmental terrorist from Russia, the Skorpion, takes hostages at an environmentally unfriendly dam erected by the United States. One of the hostages is the Vice President and to get him back safely a single special operative is sent in. That operative is Snake Eyes and he takes out Skorpion's support and helps to rescue the Vice President. This story sets up a rift between the president and vice president in the G.I. Joe America. There is little dialogue in this chapter as well, as Snake Eyes works alone and he clunks heads and slithers through the background of frames unseen by his enemies.

The fundamental problems with G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra Movie Prequel are that the stories are obvious and there is no real character development. The villains are monolithically evil either from heritage (Destro) or affiliation (the Baroness is in league with the sinister Mars Industries) or their over-the-top actions (Skorpion). The heroes are just that. The first chapter is full of butch American soldiers who leave no man behind and are ready to sacrifice themselves for the op. The thing is, even those who do not follow this genre know that coming in. We get it; the U.S. Military has those values, so to see them simply executed without commentary or individualization. In other words, Weems, Hansen and their team are types more than characters, at least in this comic book. Even the resolution between Hansen and Duke is part of that sense of values; "I don't leave my team." The only special skill here is from Snake Eyes who is a master of martial arts and is clearly a more special op part of the military.

But none of the characters develop, grow or change, they simply are established and unfortunately what they are established as is primarily "types" as opposed to viable, interesting characters. The result is that this trade paperback anthology does little but generate enthusiasm among those who were already psyched about the forthcoming film. For those who were not, well, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra Movie Prequel does not sway us to be first in line by any means.

For other anthologies with movie tie-ins, please check out my reviews of:
The A-Team: War Stories
Legion: Prophets
Heroes - Volume 2


For other graphic novel and book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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