Listen, there was no way that Snake Eyes: Agent of Cobra wasn't going to be my favorite comic of the week. I mean, my love of G.I. Joe has been chronicled pretty extensively here at ComicsAlliance, and the two parts of that franchise that I love with an almost overwhelming fervor are Destro and Snake Eyes, the two characters who take the spotlight in this issue. The only way it could be closer to what I wanted out of a comic would be that if it involved Batman and pro wrestling, and since DC already put one of those out last month, it's as close as we're going to get.

But while I've been in the tank for this series since it came out, I can tell you that it's great for reasons that go beyond the starring characters. It's the continuation of a smart, slick take on the G.I. Joe franchise that kicks off with a premise that's inherently exciting. It just happens to also involve two of the best characters ever.

 

 

It's worth noting that Mike Costa has been the writer for some of the best G.I. Joe comics in the 30-year history of the franchise. His work on Cobra and Cobra Files has approached the series with an eye for espionage and subtlety, something that doesn't always go hand-in-hand with a series known for jetpacks, snake-themed tanks and dudes named "Crocmaster" who have telepathic control over crocodiles. The thing is, it all works. It never feels like he's hammering G.I. Joe into a spy story, it feels like the stuff that was always going on behind the scenes.

It'd be easy to characterize what he's done as the "darker, grittier" verison of G.I. Joe, and while that's certainly accurate, what matters more is that it's smart. Larry Hama's legendary run -- one that's still going, even if it's been a while since the last issue -- was always marked by an underlying level of smart and even cynical satire that was a lot more clever than it ever got credit for, but Costa's take has been a whole different animal. It's razor sharp and frequently very, very funny, focused on intrigue and manipulation and the mental toll of fighting a war against the world's most ludicrous terrorists, and it's managed to be that dark, gritty take without ever detracting from the weirdness that I've loved about G.I. Joe for most of my life.

In other words, it still has the guy who can control crocodiles with his mind. Or in this case, a Scottish arms dealer who has accidentally turned himself to metal.

 

 

See, while Snake Eyes is nominally the star of the show, focusing an entire series on a character who legendarily doesn't speak presents a lot of problems in terms of getting across your story. Snake Eyes can certainly carry an issue by himself -- Hama and Steve Leialoha proved that in the classic "Silent Interlude" -- but for establishing plot and character, it helps to have someone who can talk, if only to keep things moving.

So Costa and artist Paolo Villanelli have done to solve that problem is to make it a book that's about Snake Eyes, from the perspective of another character, and Destro makes perfect sense. A character who's been betrayed by Cobra working with a character who appears to have betrayed G.I. Joe, both of whom have their own unique perspectives on the nature of war and what it means to fight in this unending conflict between these two bizarre extremes.

 

 

There's a good thing and a great thing about this. The good thing is that it's a perspective on Snake Eyes that we don't really see that often. He's always shown as the brutally effective, unstoppable mystery man of G.I. Joe, the commando who will bust into Cobra Commander's castle and set him on fire before kicking him in the face, or from Cobra's perspective as a terrifying enemy that there's really no point in fighting. Destro, on the other hand, is neither an ally nor particularly afraid of Snake-Eyes. There's a respect there, but it's the respect of an arms dealer who sees everything as a weapon. Snake Eyes is, at least in this issue, a means to an end, but one that certainly requires caution.

The great thing about this is that despite the fact that Destro isn't afraid, the way he describes Snake Eyes pulls off the nigh-impossible feat of making him genuinely scary again.

Much like Batman (or John Cena, for that matter), we've got a long history of seeing Snake Eyes do the impossible and triumphing over incredible odds that even the other cartoonishly exaggerated Joes. There's a story in Fred Van Lente's run that's all about how Duke is literally, medically incapable of breaking under torture, and in terms of being a badass, he's still a distant second to Snake Eyes. The flipside to that, though, is that if you're used to seeing something incredible, it's not really all that incredible anymore, and Snake Eyes certainly qualifies. I feel like that's probably the reason that the IDW continuity has done so much to take him off the board, if only to create the absence that's going to make his return seem even better.

Costa and Villanelli manage to pull off that feeling in a single issue, just by shifting perspective.

 

 

The cold evaluation of Snake Eyes as having nothing behind the mask is both chilling and, in terms of how his character functions, completely accurate. There isn't anything there, because there never needs to be. The mask, the persona, the list of badass feats that match his intimidating look, is all that he's ever needed. But to have another character state that so bluntly within the universe changes things -- it makes him enigmatic and mysterious in a way that's almost impossible to pull off for a character who's been working that "enigmatic and mysterious" gimmick for three decades.

At this point, it's not a surprise that Costa is responsible for another clever twist on how to present these familiar characters, but that this book can be so instantly compelling just on a character standpoint,even before the actual plot is introduced, makes it a pretty exciting read.