When longtime G.I. Joe writer and esteemed industry veteran Chuck Dixon dropped the reins of the IDW series’ third volume, now penning its sister series G.I. Joe: Special Missions, it was difficult not to feel a sense of fan anxiety over who would pick up the torch of his five-year legacy. In some respects this trepidation was natural when considering—in addition to Dixon’s tenure alone—the accomplishments he made over the span of G.I. Joe’s 48 issues: ushering an iconic ‘80s intellectual property into the 21st century and building a multifaceted mythos. Would another writer very shortly be taking a proverbial wrecking ball to the grandiose structure Dixon had built?
Current writer—and certainly no stranger to comicbook enthusiasts everywhere—Fred Van Lente had his work cut out for him when tasked with defining G.I. Joe’s new role, especially in a world where their existence is now general public knowledge. Now, here we are on the third issue of Van Lente’s grand plan for Duke and his handpicked assemblage of Joes; the distinct voice he has given the comic franchise’s flagship title has come into its own. Van Lente further integrates the classic G.I. Joe Adventure Team property of the 1970s into the modern canon as a crucial element to the story.
I’ll be honest, having General Colton—the original G.I. Joe—take Hawk’s place as the unit’s new commanding officer in the first issue definitely carried that nostalgia factor, no doubt eliciting a grin on the faces of toy history buffs and those who grew up in the ‘70s. Regardless, it was hard to tell early on whether or not his appearance would be integral to the changing face of the series or become a popculture reference overstaying its welcome. Fortunately, G.I. Joe #3 puts those uncertainties to rest showing how much of an impact—whether overtly or subtly—Colton had on Duke’s life during his formative years all the way to his special forces commencement ceremony. This also ties in seamlessly to Cobra agents Baroness and Dr. Mindbender probing a semi-conscious Duke’s mind for the counter-sign to lure the Joe team into a trap. When reading through the story at first, there was no indication of these aspects coalescing together, as they all seemed so disparate from one another. And it wasn’t until the very last page that Van Lente was able to tie these threads into a greater, relevant whole.
For a seasoned writer such as Van Lente—though calling him “seasoned” may be an understatement since this is the same man who skillfully redefined obscure Marvel characters like Hercules, Taskmaster and Alpha Flight—this merging of separate elements may not be the daunting challenge some would make it out to be. But juggling that alongside a sequence of key moments in Duke’s life is worthy of merit and a credit to his writing talents. Van Lente had stated in numerous interviews, most notably with series publisher IDW, that he would be using the third volume of G.I. Joe as a vehicle to shed a spotlight on the individual members that comprise the anti-terrorist unit; a close description of the canceled G.I. Joe: Origins series that served the same storytelling function. I can say after reading the third issue that in light of some similarities, what Van Lente has planned is in part removed from Origins since Duke’s past was pertinent to the situation at hand and didn’t come off as a story that can be read as a standalone.
Origin stories can be unwieldy in the hands of neophyte writers. At times unseasoned writers can mistakenly work origin stories into an arc that detracts from the rising action and inadvertently acts as a roadblock toward the climax. Those of a more pragmatic mindset tend to err on the side of saving such revelations for issues taking place in between major stories. But unseasoned is something Van Lente is not. It was a risky move taking the opportunity to answer the questions surrounding Duke’s methods and personal convictions—in the middle of a dire turn of events no less—and yet these reveals served to add more to the present story and provide an idea of how he will likely interact with the close friends he has under his command as things develop. We’re seeing a softer side to a character that, for as long as we knew, was a hardened, no-nonsense soldier, daring to never take his obligations lightly. With a distrustful public breathing down his neck and bearing a greater burden of responsibility proving G.I. Joe’s value in the face of Cobra’s global ascendancy, it’s exciting to find out if he’ll be able to maintain the integrity of his beliefs.
The only complaint I have about this month’s installment of G.I. Joe was perhaps Van Lente’s tendency to be a tad verbose in his dialogue, noticed during the exchange between the Baroness and Dr. Mindbender. This does nothing to dampen his turn of phrase and grasp of military expressions rivaling that of Dixon, yet it was still tedious having to read through it all. To be fair, however, there were plenty of constraints in this issue, chiefly space limitations, that necessitated the need to place so much dialogue on one page. This, at least, makes the wordiness understandable.
Comicbook store shelves are rife with fierce competition, each individual book vying for the attention of a prospective reader. IDW, in my experience, delivers some of the greatest titles while standing in the shadows of industry titans Marvel and DC, meaning that some actually overlook quality works like G.I. Joe for the sake of turning to something more familiar. The series has consistently demonstrated its ability to stand among some of the best IDW’s rivals have to offer, and I hope that an open-minded few will be willing to shed a scant $3.99 for a comic featuring characters as memorable and Americana as G.I. Joe.