Scioli & Barber’s ‘Transformers vs. G.I. Joe’ #1 Goes Higher Than The Concept You Expected – Way Higher
With the possible exception of those Sailor Moon toys that I dropped two hundred bucks on, Transforrmers vs. G.I. Joe #1 was the most exciting purchase I made last weekend at San Diego's Comic-Con International. It was pretty much guaranteed to be that way, too -- the #0 issue that came out on Free Comic Book Day and set up the ongoing story that Tom Scioli and John Barber would be telling was easily one of my favorite comics of the year so far. It was bright and engaging and weird, in exactly the way that a comic based on taking two toy properties and smashing them together to make one big story should be.
As far as weirdness goes, though, this first issue outstrips it by a long shot, and it does it by taking the high concept that I think we all expected from another Transformers vs. G.I. Joe story and turning it upside down, launching it into an entirely new echelon of strangeness. And it is great.
Before I go any further, I do want to point out that yes, I got the Rob Liefeld cover for issue #1, and yes, I asked "The Rob" to sign it while I was at Comic-Con. This is a source of completely unironic joy for me, because when you get right down to it, the Rob's kind of the perfect artist to lend his talents for a comic where a bunch of people who carry guns and swords fight giant robots that are literally made of guns. If you can think of a more appropriate marriage of creator and content, then cousin, I would like to hear it.
It's underneath that cover that things get weird, though, and it happens in the best way possible. Scioli has said in interviews before that his goal is to blow his heroes out of the water in terms of the story he's telling -- as Scioli puts it, Larry Hama didn't have a Larry Hama to inspire him -- and he hits the ground running with the clear intent to do just that. The Battle of Springfield, the massive event that built up in Hama's run for a solid fifty issues before it finally exploded, is how Scioli opens this book, after a splash page of General Flagg having a one-sided argument with Snake-Eyes to start things off. Not only that, but he and Barber deal with it in two pages, setting the rapid-fire pace for everything that's going to follow, and showing just how big they're aiming here.
Unfortunately, I dont have the same kind of familiarity with the Transformers franchise, so I'm not quite sure how this book fares in matching the scope of that bizarre mechanical mythology, but at the same time, that's something that I like about it. This is, after all, Transformers vs. G.I. Joe from the perspective of the Joes, framed as an invasion that's strange even by the standards of people who fight against psychic twins and brainwave scanners. That opening battle isn't just a big, exciting set piece, it's a way to justify the existence of the crossover by showing that shape-changing alien robots actually aren't all that far from what the Joes deal with on a regular basis.
Of course, while Destro and the Serpentress are still lingering around the periphery, that also frees up the book to live up to its title. It's not about the Joes fighting Cobra, it's Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, and it delivers on that promise to the extreme well before this first issue even ends.
That's what gets me more than anything else about this comic: the pacing. It's a rapid-fire assault on the senses, blowing through one plot point after another at a pace that makes everything seem almost overwhelming in how fast it's coming at you. The Battle of Springfield segues immediately into the revelation that Cybertron is on a collision course with Earth, which itself leads immediately into the arrival of the Decepticons at Area Zero ("52 top-secret levels above Area 51"), which naturally leads into an all-out war between Transformers and Joes, and once that happens, you're about halfway through the comic
You are halfway through the first issue at that point.
That's an amazing amount of action to cram into one comic, and it's all done with an incredible visual style. One of my favorite tricks that's pulled a few times in this one is the idea of the action in a comic obscuring the lettering, and it just reinforces how much is happening. The noise of gunfire is covering up dialogue, people are cutting each other off when they're trying to talk -- everything is happening all at once, and it's downright frantic. And even with all that, the book still manages to pull off that classic shift, that raising of the stakes that should come at the end of a first issue.
See, the whole idea of this story, at least here in the first issue and arc, is that the Joes are invading Cybertron as it approaches the Earth, and that is fantastic. It inverts the classic formula -- Transformers, at least as I understand it, has always been about the Autobots and Decepticons coming to Earth, and the Joes have always been a line of defense against Cobra. Because of that, they fall into an easy pattern, with the Transformers showing up and the Joes reacting to that in one way or another, which is how we've seen it in all the other TF/Joe crossovers over the years. Heck, that's even how we see it in the zero issue of this very comic. But here, having established the Joes as knowing about the Transformers, knowing what a threat they can be, and having a score to settle based on what happened to Snake-Eyes, Scioli and Barber uproot that formula and give us something exciting and new.
They give us the G.I. Joe Star Brigade heading to Cybertron on the Defiant as an invading army hell-bent on destruction. That's something new, and something that's incredibly exciting as a fan of at least one of these franchises, and it sets up a dynamic that I wasn't expecting. It's the high concept that i didn't know I wanted until I saw it, which is exactly what this book should be doing.