January 8, 2015

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More than Meets the Eye-- Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe V 1

 Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe Volume 1
Written by Tom Scioli and John Barber
Drawn and Colored by Tom Scioli
Published by IDW


Reading Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe Volume 1 is like being a little kid with a lot of toys and an endless afternoon.  Remember those days?  You could have a pile of different toys-- Star Wars, Micronauts, even Gobots or He Man-- and there was no such things as rules or continuity.  There was no one to tell you that Skeletor, Baron Karza and Darth Vader couldn’t team up and take over your bedroom and the universe.  Those were days of pure imagination, with stories unfolding in your mind that could go in wildly adventurous directions.  That’s what it’s got to be like for Tom Scioli and John Barber working on Transformers Vs. GI. Joe. They’ve got these two legendary toy lines (who both have spawned comics, cartoons and movies) and a virtually unending afternoon to come up with stories of what happens when Autobots meet Joes.


Scioli and Barber have a blank, endless canvas before them to tell this story.  Sure, there are callbacks to previous stories but there’s nothing more that you need to know about any of these characters than you would to sit down and start playing with them.  All of the characters from both lines have a template imprinted on them.  Snake Eyes is the mute heroic ninja and Starscream is the conniving evil robot.  These things are just the givens about any of these characters.  If these are the rules about either of these toy lines, Scioli and Barber play within those rules.  But from there, the possibilities are endless as they do the ultimate mashup, having the Joes go on a mission to Cybertron to fight Decepticons.  


While it’s still present, Scioli has shrugged off a lot of his overt Kirbyisms in his artwork.  In his Satan’s Soldier minicomics, you could start to see some Silver Age Mort Weisinger seeping into his art.  There’s even some Mike Vosburg and Herb Trimpe showing up here.  This looks a lot like the comics your 13 year old friends who could really draw well would draw.  There’s that exuberance over every character and every detail of the drawing.  Scioli isn’t trying to make these military vehicles or evil robots look real.  Everything looks and feels like the toy it is, down to the G.I. Joe space shuttle.  Strangely, everything feels more solid that way. These characters move and emote like toys.  The vehicles and robots fill up the space like molded plastic.  


Yet there’s something more to the toyetics of Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe.  Scioli and Barber are digging into something here as they basically have the G.I. Joes, the stand-in for the American military machine, invade a hostile world.  As much as this is good guys vs. bad guys, there are some simplistic but real-world parallels in their storytelling.   Reading this comic is like stepping into some slightly out-of-synch alternate reality where G.I. Joe/Cobra equals America and Autobots/Decepticons equals the Middle East.  As this story focuses on the Joes and the Decepticons, it’s easy to see an us-versus-them vibe being developed but Scioli and Barber hold back on the flipside of it ideological wars, Cobra and Autobots.  The flipside to the spotlighted major forces suggest that like all wars, it’s easy to get so caught up in the good and evil that we don’t see the shades of gray or the unclear lines of demarcation. While a lot of this is only suggested in this book, Scioli and Barber’s story can go a lot deeper than toy soldiers versus toy robots.


Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe Volume 1 is a silly book with a serious core.  While it doesn’t try to operate in any kind of real space, Scioli and Barber are working within many recognizable frameworks-- toys, comics and even the real world.  The fun of the book is that you can read it within any of those frameworks or within combinations of them.  It can be a straight up story of soldiers fighting robots or it can be a metaphor for U.S. military operations around the world.  It all works.  At its best, Scioli and Barber are playing with toys and using those to create a story.  This book is like the world’s best toy box, filled with all of the toys.  They have all of the good guys and all of the bad guys from both toy lines and they’re having the best afternoon just playing with them.

A Real American Hero