Comic book review: “G.I. Joe: Future Noir” #1

Another comic book review I wrote for The Terrordrome; you can see the post on that site here.

G.I. Joe: Future Noir #1
Writer: Andy Schmidt
Artist: Giacomo Bevilacqua
Letters: Robbie Robbins
Editor: Carlos Guzman

Street Date: November 17, 2010; cover price: $7.99

Briefly: Scarlett, Duke, Sci-Fi, Roadblock and Helix travel to Tokyo to uncover more details about a “secret” revealed by a package the team retrieved in cartoon superhero fashion, retold as a flashback in the book’s opening scene. There, they meet Snake Eyes and are introduced to Cobra, the Baroness and a whole lot of b-grade monster-movie silliness.

There are parallels here to what is happening in the “G.I. Joe: Cobra” storylines in what is arguably IDW’s finest G.I. Joe title in terms of Cobra’s reliance on religious fanaticism, and also to what we’re starting to see in the new animated series “G.I. Joe: Renegades” with regard to biological experimentation.

However, “Noir” feels like a mish-mash of ideas pulled from other sources that fail to come together into any sort of coherent story. It almost feels like bad fanfic being given the guise of a legitimate story — the characterizations aren’t familiar (Helix, in particular, has been displayed as a supersolider in IDW’s other G.I. Joe works, but is relegated to useless sidebar “you’re too young to sit at the big kids table” status here — you could completely eliminate the Helix character from this story and nothing changes); the art emphasises T&A at every possible opportunity; the fight scenes feel like they’re filled with magic bullets that fell opponents in every direction when a hero simply steps into the room; there’s a Starship Troopers-esque moment when a Joe is impaled by a spike through the chest, although there’s no apparent consequence to that injury at any point in the story after it occurs.

All of these things may relate well to the manga look and feel that IDW is trying with this title, but at the end of the day it just doesn’t feel like “G.I. Joe.” It’s only recognizable as such because the characters have names we’ve heard before.These nagging things add up; on their own, none of them is enough to bring a book down. But in concert, they quickly bring “Noir” to its knees.

It’s good to see that IDW willing to take some risks with the G.I. Joe universe, and “G.I. Joe: Noir” is definitely a risk. There are plenty of opportunities for unique and interesting stories when writers are allowed to stretch beyond the confines of a comfortable and known universe. Though the media are different, the first two episodes of “Renegades” are a good example of what can go right; through the first issue, it’s difficult to see “Noir” having similar success.

The art (more on that later) is going to have a hard time pulling in impulse purchasers, and IDW’s asking a lot of the readers who would be willing to give the company some leeway to pursue this story with a $7.99 entry point — honestly, that’s a tough sell. At the end of the day a reader would drop the same $16 on the planned two issues of “Noir” that he or she would on a four-issue miniseries at $3.99 an issue, but that mental hurdle of dropping eight bucks on a single issue may be difficult to overcome — particularly when there just isn’t much payoff with this particular title. Considering your eight dollars could buy two significantly better issues of IDW’s other G.I. Joe series, it’s difficult to recommend “Noir.”

ART
You’re either going to be OK with the art in “Noir” or you’re going to absolutely hate it. Bevilacqua presents very basic grayscale panels that aren’t very deep; most of them have around three tones of grey for foreground-midrange-background, and that’s about it. He has some fun with the character poses; the movement and action in the book are very dynamic, and that helped add a lot to the storytelling (a punch on Page 39/Panel 2 is a good example). There’s not much in the way of varied facial expressions either; most are selected from a limited pallette of stoic/stern/surprised.

The sound effects are hand-drawn, which you don’t see much of any more. There doesn’t seem to be much, if anything, done in the way of touchup work done in Photoshop either; movement is shown with traditional motion lines without some of the blurring you commonly see in other books. Other than the lettering, it has a very hand-crafted feel; sometimes it works very well (the full-page splashes on 18 and 28 are very nice), and sometimes it just doesn’t (Scarlett, pretty much everywhere — her boobs are out of control — or the “hairy arm” effect when motion lines are drastically overapplied).

The art reflects “Noir’s” status as an experiment for IDW. The black-and-white art makes it difficult to get a feel for the redesigned characters; in an alternate-universe book like this you can help sell character redesigns and let the reader know who’s who through a familiar color palette, which isn’t possible here. It makes things a little challenging at times – you’re basically going by hair, especially with the female characters.

Just briefly on the character designs: Dr. Mindbender is great; Snake Eyes is simple and reminiscent of the “Rise of Cobra” design; overall he looks great; Baroness is… interesting; Sci-Fi looks like a reject from a ’90s “X-Men” book.

COVERS
IDW put all of its eggs in one basket with “Noir” — both the regular and retail-incentive covers were done by Bevilacqua. The retailer incentive cover with the Cobra sigil is the better of the two, in spite of Scarlett being posed as she is solely for the purposes of showing off her ass.

PREVIEW
You can view a five-page preview of Noir at IDW’s repository at issuu.com, here.

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