If you were just going by what was on the covers when you grabbed your Free Comic Book Day titles on Saturday, you might have missed one of the best comics on the stands. I almost did --- as much as I've been enjoying IDW's Transformers comics now that I'm finally reading them, I haven't had much of a chance to watch the new cartoon, and as a result, I skipped over the FCBD tie-in comic when I picked mine up.

It wasn't until I flipped through it later that I realized there was a short story from Tom Scioli and John Barber in there, tying into their GI Joe vs. Transformers ongoing series. And it's amazing.

In two pages, Scioli and Barber tell the origin of Cobra Commander's son, Billy, through a series of strips structured like a newspaper comics page, parodying comics like Dick Tracy and Family Circus to tell the story of revenge, violence, and cybernetic rebirth, and like the rest of GI Joe vs. Transformers, it's one of those comics that's so amazing and bizarre that you can hardly believe it exists --- especially slipped in after a cartoon tie-in. The thing is, it's also one of the best comics in FCBD's fourteen year history.

In case you missed it --- or if you just want to read it a second, third or fifteenth time --- here's the strip in its entirety, courtesy of IDW:


Click for full size


For those of you who might not be up on the extended families of your favorite Joes and Cobras, Billy was first introduced by Larry Hama and Mike Vosburg all the way back in 1983's G.I. Joe #10. At first he was just a nameless teenage member of the Anti-Cobra Underground in Springfield, but over the course of the next thirty years (and two hundred issues), he'd grow into one of the book's most prominent characters. He was brainwashed, trained as a ninja, lost his arm, leg and eye in a fiery explosion, and, just recently, he died at the hands of a gang of cybernetic ninjas, because that's how Hama's GI Joe comics roll.

In the somehow even more strange continuity of Transformers vs. GI Joe, however, it seems that things are playing out a little differently. It makes sense that they would, too. I mean, if nothing else, most other versions of GI Joe do not open with Cobra Commander getting stabbed through the heart while simultaneously blowing off Snake Eyes' face, something that happened in the comic they put out on last year's Free Comic Book Day:



Between that and the time jump that separates Transformers vs. GI Joe #0 from #1, it seems that Scioli and Barber's take on Billy is a kid who grew up resenting his father's death, and decided that a good way to deal with this would be to have a swordfight with Snake Eyes. On a motorcycle. In space.

It's pretty amazing just based on the premise alone, but the way it's presented is downright astonishing. It's a high-density info dump that crams so much in there that the first time I read it, I didn't even realize that it was based on a newspaper page until I was halfway through and hit the Dick Tracy-esque "Rogues Gallery" panel, and then I was impressed all over again. (On a sidenote, how bad does this make you want to see an entire page of newspaper strips by Tom Scioli? Imagine what that guy could do with Garfield.)

Admittedly, I think you get the most out of this strip if you already know the basics of Billy and Cobra Commander's story, much in the same way that Transformers vs. GI Joe is probably a little more rewarding if you're already familiar with the franchises involved. At the same time, it's got that same kind of wild, unrestrained energy that the main series does --- all the pieces are there on the page, you just have to piece them together through this lens of a book that's going all in at every single point. Either way, it's not just that it's built in an interesting way that makes it worth noting, it's that there are major plot points being slipped in. Like, you know, the fact that Cobra Commander is actually still alive. That seems like it's going to be a pretty big deal.

What's really amazing, though, is that this was in an FCBD tie-in to a brand-new animated series, which means that not only is it likely the piece of Transformers vs. GI Joe that's reaching the widest audience, but that it's the first piece of the story that's going to be seen by a bunch of kids who picked it up because they're interested in the cartoon, and it's going to blow their minds.

I'm actually a little jealous of that experience, to be honest. I've written before about how I had one issue of Jack Kirby's Captain America when I was a kid and it was so different from other comics that it scared me, and I have to imagine that this book is going to have a similar effect. Ten, fifteen years from now, there are going to be kids trying to remember what that one weird comic was that had that ninja kid who got his arm and leg chopped off and then there was a connect-the-dots puzzle showing how he was rebuilt by robots. And when they find it, it's going to be every bit as awesome as they remember.