Comic book review: Snake Eyes #11 (IDW)

Cobra Civil War: Snake Eyes #11
IDW Publishing
Street Date: Wednesday, March 22, 2012
Cover price: $3.99

Cover A: David Wilkins
Cover B: Robert Atkins, with colors by Simon Gough
Cover RI: David Williams, with colors by Kelsey Shannon

Written by: Chuck Dixon
Artists: Alex Cal and Beni Lobel
Colors: J. Brown
Letters: Robbie Robbins

Cobra Command, Part 8
The Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow confrontation comes to a head in the most unexpected way possible (unless you’ve been reading the solicits), while elsewhere in Nanzhao the Joes in Flint’s Team Alpha manage to successfully deal with their BAT issue.

Storm Shadow gets what amounts to a four-page monologue as his Red Ninja forces engage Snake Eyes in the Nanzhao jungle temple. It’s actually a functionally similar monologue to the one Khallikahn delivered earlier in this series while Snake Eyes was infiltrating his mountain fortress — how great it is to see Snake Eyes in action, how useless normal soldiers are against him, etc. The temple culminates in a completely unexpected fashion – without giving it away, Storm Shadow offers Snake Eyes a deal, which Snake Eyes accepts, and the two of them never lay a finger on each other. Given the effort Storm Shadow has taken to lure Snake Eyes to him and ambush him with the Red Ninjas, the deal seems strange as you realize Storm Shadow was completely serious when he told Snake Eyes that the ninjas were basically sacrificed to him in an effort by Storm Shadow to make sure they were even on some scoreboard.

Helix, of course, shows up but not in position to do anything to assist. Her use in this sequence has been interesting; Snake Eyes has tried at every opportunity to ditch her and leave her out of the fight, but she keeps finding ways to get back into the fight. But, she never gets into the fight. Even here, with Snake Eyes squaring off directly against the Red Ninjas, she arrives only in time to witness the deal Storm Shadow offers to Snake Eyes. This seems to be the entire purpose for having her in position to witness the deal, which could have been accomplished with her as a combatant.

Nine pages from this issue are dedicated to the Joes’ efforts to eliminate the final few BATs that showed up in GI Joe #11, which seemed like a lot of attention to pay to a sidebar plot. It made the exchange between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow feel rushed, as it really only got 12 pages once you account for the page 22 cliffhanger, and drug out blowing up three BATs longer than seemed necessary. But, a longer scene would likely have meant more monologuing by Storm Shadow, and that certainly wouldn’t have made the issue better.

Still, the evolution of the relationship between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow shown here should serve to make this a really entertaining series moving forward, particularly once the Cobra Command storyline wraps up. Now that the two of them are no longer stalking each other, the series can focus on good old fashioned ninja fights — which, really, is what everyone is paying their four bucks to see.

One of the more enjoyable things about the Cobra Command storyline and the way IDW has handled the creative team has been to watch the evolution of Alex Cal’s art. Compare what is on display in this issue with G.I. Joe #9, the first chapter of Cobra Civil War. What he and Beni Lobel have put on display this time out is really, really fun to look at. He even drew a kid picking his nose on the last page. For some reason, that makes me laugh every time I look at that page.

As he has been doing, Cal posted some finished uncolored inks from this issue on his blog. You can check them out here.

The more I see of what Cal posts at his blog, the more I am convinced I would read this series in black-and-white and enjoy it just as much.

Following the lead of G.I. Joe #11 a couple of weeks back, this book gets a really strong three-pack of covers. David Wilkins’ Cover A, featuring a dueling Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, is very strong, and Robert Atkins and Simon Gough turn in another fantastic effort with Cover B — an alternate view of Storm Shadow and his Red Ninjas springing their ambush on Snake Eyes in the temple.

The retailer incentive by David Williams is the center panel in this tryptich that will span over the retailer incentives for all three of this months’ issues. Such a great idea by IDW, providing a real incentive for collectors to pursue all three covers and complete the image.

The Terrordrome has a preview of Snake Eyes #11 here.

Well, back at it

The Big News
The big news of the last week is that I was not selected for the position of Director of Communications and Marketing at work. I was one of four finalists to interview; I had the coveted fourth-to-interview position among the finalists; and I spent my interview day on Feb. 29 thinking I rocked it. I had one of those days where I just felt like everything was clicking. I closed the day with an open-forum presentation to a group of a little over 30 people from around campus — most of them people I knew and had worked with — and I performed about as well as I could have hoped there. But, for whatever reason, I wasn’t selected. I can’t go back to my interview in my head and find anything that I wish I could’ve done differently. So I move on knowing I did the best I could do, and see what happens next with the office’s new director.

What I’m Watching
I made a point to watch the season finale of The Walking Dead last night, rather than waiting a few days for a decent time to catch it off the DVR like I typically have to do. The group’s escape from the zombie herd that descended on Herschel’s farm was about as good an action sequence as the show has had so far, and the fact that it took up nearly the entire first half of the episode was pretty spectacular. Then, the episode ended with what could be a character shift for Rick, who isn’t dealing well with Shane’s death, and not one, but two really interesting cliffhangers that are going to make the wait for Season Three to begin this fall very difficult to bear. It’s to the point that I think I want to just break down and start getting the comics.

Over the weekend, I watched Battle Beyond the Stars on Netflix. I remember my parents taking us to the theaters to see this when I was a kid; eight years old or so maybe. I hadn’t seen it in forever – 20 years or so, at least, and probably closer to 25. Even considering its age it isn’t very good; but it’s pure low-budget Roger Corman craziness. I had completely forgotten that the dude who played Johnboy Walton was this movie’s Luke Skywalker; the cast is actually packed full of recognizable actors. Robert Vaughn; George Peppard; John Saxon; lots of familiar faces. I enjoyed the opportunity to watch it again, but now that it’s done I don’t need to repeat the experience for another few decades.

And as a factor of my steadily-advancing age, I’m quite curious to know what movies my kids are watching now will eventually become their Battle Beyond the Stars, a terrible movie they have fond memories of because they watched it with their dad.

What I’m Playing
I spent some time over the weekend dinking around a bit with Boxer, a really cool DOS emulator that runs like a charm on OS X. I’ve been playing Origin’s classic industrial shooter Crusader: No Remorse for the last couple of days. This is one of those times where my pack-rat nature, and lack of desire to dump the old DOS games I bought for my 486 in the mid-1990s, has come in very handy. Crusader was a spectacular game in its day, and despite a rather challenging control scheme it holds up amazingly well nearly two decades later. I’m having a blast playing it. This is the kind of game that would absolutely sing on a modern console in the hands of the right development team.

I’ve also installed the game’s direct sequel, Crusader: No Regret and will play through that once I beat No Remorse (which I am almost positive I did not accomplish back when the game originally came out. I was never a game finisher – I started them, played the hell out of them for awhile, then moved on to whatever was next whether I finished it or not — usually not). I also have installed each of the first six games in Origin’s seminal Ultima series, but they’re not playable; the emulator isn’t allowing me to save characters to the virtual hard disk, so I’ll have to mess around and see if I can resolve that. I also cannot play System Shock, which is one of my favorite games of all time, as my MacBook Pro cannot read the CD. I’ll have to find another computer that will read it and create a disk image, and then install the game from the image. I should also try to install the Wing Commander games, and it would be a blast to try and play X-Wing or TIE Fighter or Dark Forces again as well.

What I’m Listening To
Nothing at the moment, but my entire day at work was spent with In Flames’ “Sound of a Playground Fading.” It was a Scandanavian death metal type of Monday, and In Flames always helps. Such a good album…

Haha, I won!

The “Geek to Me” blog at Redeye held a giveaway for season one of a British zombie apocalypse television show called “The Fades” on DVD.

Well, I won! Check out the giveaway for proof. Zombies, incoming! The season is only six episodes; I’ll review it once I get it and get a chance to watch it.

Super fun!

So, I got this yesterday

So, this made its way into my work email yesterday…

Sounds like an awesome thing, right? Recognizing the power of the individual to make a difference in government? That’s fantastic.

Among this event’s several sponsors – three defense contractors: Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman. Those three companies combined to take in something in the neighborhood of $60 billion in government contract work in 2010, with Lockheed leading the way at just under $36 billion on its own.

“The power of the individual,” indeed.

Comic review: G.I. Joe, volume 2 #11 (Cobra Command Part 7)

G.I. Joe #11 (Cobra Command, Part 7)
IDW Publishing
Street Date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Cover price: $3.99

Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art: Alex Cal
Colors: J. Brown
Letters: Robbie Robbins

Cover A: Dave Wilkins
Cover B: Wil Rosado, with colors by Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Cover RI: David Williams, with colors by Kelsey Shannon

As Cobra’s Nanzhao campaign begins moving toward its conclusion, G.I. Joe #11 features a healthy dose of Joes vs BATs — Cobra deploys Battle Android Troopers en masse, and with the Joes’ difficulty in dealing with only one BAT back in G.I. Joe #7, their chances against multiple copies are less than good.

The majority of this issue deals with Flint’s Team Alpha attempting to fend off nearly a half-dozen of Cobra’s android troopers. Recalling that it required an air strike to defeat even one of them, the Joes have to get creative and use everything at their disposal to stop them — heavy weapons, the terrain around them, anything.

We are also shown how Cobra is using UAV drones as part of the final step of its Nanzhao campaign, which seems fitting; we’ve seen the Joes use UAVs in IDW’s universe, but typically in surveillance roles. Here, Cobra is using them to deploy the nuclear weapons we’ve seen Destro preparing in previous issues of Cobra Command. Use of UAVs for offensive purposes just feels like more appropriate to Cobra for some reason than to the Joes.

The issue also closes with a teaser as to what Cobra’s ultimate goal in Nanzhao has been all along. Their use of nuclear weapons seems to be part of what the Joes have already surmised is a mission to completely obliterate the country. Cobra Commander seems to indicate that the goal in destroying the entire country is nothing more than a way for Cobra to flex its military muscle in the most overt way possible and deliver a clear message that it is not to be bothered with.

Writer Chuck Dixon delivers a three-page interlude featuring Snake Eyes and Helix as Snake Eyes continues his hunt for Storm Shadow that has been unfolding in excruciatingly slow fashion over the last two months’ worth of books in this series. Dixon started us on the path to this faceoff on the final page of G.I. Joe #9 back in early January, and while we’re still not quite there yet the events in this issue don’t really leave much opportunity for further delay. Expect this conflict to finally take center stage in Snake Eyes #11.

Again, though, we’re treated to a scenario in which we’re left to question what’s going on in Snake Eyes’ head. Helix has taken great effort to join Snake Eyes in his incursion into the Nanzhao jungle in pursuit of Storm Shadow, and here, Snake Eyes takes equally great effort to remove her from action. Helix has clearly proven her worth in combat many, many times over, dating back to their mission together that saw them essentially end Cobra’s MASS Device program on their own. But here, he’s back to the Snake Eyes we saw during the infiltration of Khallikhan’s mountain base during the first story arc of this series; there, he used a teammate as bait to draw fire away from himself. Previously in this jungle mission, he did the same to Helix. Here, he knocks her out and abandons her in the jungle to prevent her from proceeding further with him. It’s curious to know what his motivations are — does he fear Storm Shadow that much, knowing that regardless of the abilities Helix has shown in combat she’d be no match for what was to come? Or is he simply so desperate to face Storm Shadow on his own that he’s willing to continually put his teammates in harms’ way in order to guarantee that solo confrontation? At this point it honestly could go either way, but “desperate for a solo confrontation” almost seems like the more likely choice at this point.

As much as we are being teased with epic battle to come between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, we’re equally awaiting some explanations for Snake Eyes’ behavior during the buildup.

There’s not much to say about Alex Cal’s work in G.I. Joe #11 that hasn’t been said over the previous six issues of his work on Cobra Command. He’s shown steady, consistent improvement, even issue-over-issue.

The group of Storm Shadow’s Red Ninjas with bows drawn on page 9 may be his best single page so far; it’s just gorgeous. The inset panel of Storm Shadow giving the order to fire could have been eliminated, making this a full-page splash. J. Brown’s colors really help this page; his variations in the red tones of the Red Ninjas creates a great deal of depth in the image, when it would have been easy to have the reds blend together into one mass. Everything about this page just flat-out works.

It’s too bad, though, that Cal’s designs for the nuclear weapon-deploying Cobra UAV drone doesn’t match the one on Wil Rosado’s cover; the cover drone is much cooler and more “Cobra.”

This issue gets a pair of solid, if not spectacular, covers for its A and B versions. Dave Wilkins’ Cover A shows General Hawk overlooking Flint and Roadblock battling BATs, and Wil Rosado’s Cover B is a simple depiction of a Joe jet chasing down the Cobra UAV as seen in this month’s story. Both are solid but neither really has a wow factor.

The retailer incentive by David Williams is the far right panel in this tryptich that will span over the retailer incentives for all three of this months’ issues. Such a great idea by IDW, providing a real incentive for collectors to pursue all three covers and complete the image.

The Terrordrome has a preview of G.I. Joe #11 here.

Comic book review: IDW’s “Cobra” #10

Cobra Civil War: Cobra #10 (Cobra Command, Part 6)
IDW Publishing
Street Date: Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012
Cover price: $3.99

Cover A: Dave Wilkins
Cover B: Antonio Fuso, with colors by Arianna Florian
Cover RI: Tom Whalen

Written by: Mike Costa
Breakdowns: Alex Cal
Finishes: Beni Lobel
Colors: J. Brown
Letters: Neil Uyetake

Fueled by some new, as-yet-unrevealed-to-the-reader information, Major Bludd begins lining up a group of like-minded allies to stage a coup against Cobra’s new commander. Meanwhile, that same Commander puts a new piece of his master plan into motion, consolidating his power with the aid of the Baroness. Meanwhile, the Joes continue their work to decipher what Cobra’s ultimate goal might be in Nanzhao, and in a stunning revelation call on an ally whose fate we thought was sealed years ago.

As has typically been the case, this issue of Cobra shows some of the sidebar stories that are taking place in parallel with Cobra’s invasion of Nanzhao. Here, we see Major Bludd’s displeasure with how Cobra Commander has handled the Nanzhao operation from a business standpoint boil over into a full-blown insurrection. Serpentor plays the opportunist and seems to be backing Bludd, although it’s difficult to tell if he honestly has the major’s back or if he’s just pretending to side with him for his own personal amusement while he’s scouring Nanzhao’s ravaged countryside rounding up new followers for The Coil. He voluntarily supplies Bludd with whatever piece of intelligence it is that pushes Bludd from disgruntled employee to leader of a mutiny, but it’s not really clear what his motivation is for giving him that information.

Mike Costa gives us another good look at Tomax, who continues to be the best character in this series. Of course he’s down with joining Bludd’s coup, because he seems to generally enjoy mayhem; and, it will give him a front-row seat for what he assumes will be Bludd’s ultimate failure. He doesn’t seem at all concerned with the thought of what even appearing to participate in this might mean for his future safety; mostly because as quickly as he seems to join Bludd’s cause, he appears to sell him out to the Cobra Council just as fast.

This leads us to the Baroness, who’s doing some very, very dirty work for the new Commander. Costa has written the Baroness brilliantly as a bad-ass hit woman, and she fills this role quite well here. It’s a complete 180 from the well-intentioned screwup the Baroness was throughout most of IDW’s season one. What happens here is basically the prototypical Baroness op – she uses sex to get in the door, then massacres everyone and blows up the building on her way home. She’s fabulous.

Unfortunately, though, the timing of this operation might have cost the Commander an opportunity to find out what Bludd is up to — it will be fun to watch that situation play itself out.

Meanwhile, the Joes are left scrambling on the sidelines to try and assemble all the clues and make sense of what Cobra’s ultimate goal is. As more data comes in, Mainframe decides they need some eyes in the field to help them solve Cobra’s puzzle. That leads to one hell of a cliffhanger as we find out who Mainframe’s agent of choice for this mission is; we close with a well-drawn full-page panel featuring a character who was thought to be long retired from IDW’s G.I. Joe universe. This character’s appearance throws into question one of the pivotal events in the entirety of the Cobra series so far, and how Mike Costa explains what’s going on here could turn this series right on its head. Depending on how this character’s appearance is handled, it could also serve to throw into question many other things we think we know about G.I. Joe’s status quo.

Alex Cal’s work with the figures in his images continues to improve through his run on Cobra Command, but his use of photo backgrounds continues to be troublesome. In most instances, the characters are not anchored to the ground; Serpentor and Major Bludd are just floating over an obvious background layer on pages three and four, for instance. But, when he frees himself from those backgrounds, his work is starting to shine; he’s probably drawing the definitive Tomax in IDW’s universe so far, and despite her being wrapped in a towel that impossibly stays in place during a brief fight scene, he does a pretty good job on the Baroness in this issue as well.

Having Beni Lobel on finishes for the last issue or two has lightened up Cal’s work, also; he was going with some very heavy shadows on faces for a bit there, and he’s pulled back on that. It’s probably gone a bit too far in that direction, as the extremely dark characters were working for the tone of this storyline so far.

Finally, seeing Serpentor’s costume in this issue makes me want to go back and look at how he’s been presented in previous appearances; Cal has him wearing the most ridiculous boots that would be basically impossible to walk in under normal circumstances, let alone when meandering through the jungle.

Cobra #10 is blessed with a fabulous trio of covers, probably as strong a group across all three variants as any single issue has had in the Cobra Civil War or Cobra Command storylines so far. A huge part of the reason this group of covers works so well this month is that in a rare moment of synergy, all three covers actually have some sort of relationship to what happens inside the actual comic. Far too often, IDW’s covers have had absolutely nothing to do with the content, and in some cases featuring events or situations that just flat-out do not occur in the book, or feature characters who aren’t in the book at all. Here, all three of these covers work as a lead-in to the actual story inside.

Dave Wilkins’ Cover A is just a solidly-illustrated piece featuring Mainframe and Scarlett in action above a very cool rendition of Serpentor, surrounded by flames.

Antonio Fuso’s Cover B succeeds because of his use of white space; it provides balance, but also puts a direct focus on Cobra Commander as he’s being attack in first-person shooter fashion by a foe at the reader’s point of view. The attacker’s dagger creates a powerful diagonal design element, and it helps draw the viewer’s eye directly to Cobra Commander’s head. This is simply a well-designed, well-executed illustration.

Finally, Tom Whalen’s illustration of the Baroness caps out the three and ends his run of retailer incentive covers for the number 10 issues of all three G.I. Joe series this month.

The Terrordrome has a preview of Cobra #10 here.

Back to normal (I think)

I’m still in recovery mode a bit from my interview on Wednesday. Even now, four days later, thinking back on it there isn’t anything I wish I could go back and do differently. My day started out with the screening committee; that took about an hour. As per usual practice at BSU, there  were 10 pre-structured questions, and the committee went around the table and took turns asking them of me. Having been through that process on two previous occasions – once for my sports information director job in 2001 and once to remove an interim tag from my associate director of communications and marketing gig in 2008 – I was well-prepared for this, and left this meeting thinking I had done very well. From there, I had a 45-minute meeting with the other members of the staff in my office; they actually had some very good questions about the direction I hoped to take the office if I ended up getting hired, which was a lot of fun for me. I was proud of them for making it a legitimate part of my interview, and it helped keep me in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day.

After that I had a brief meeting with the president and lunch with my friend Lynn. I had a campus tour with a student from admissions; having been around campus for a long time I really didn’t need it, so I just asked her to take me to her favorite buildings on campus and talk to me about why she liked them. That was really fun. After that, I had meetings with the university’s Integrated Marketing Team (which under normal circumstances I am the chair of, so that was weird) and with the university’s leadership council. Only three people were there for that, but the dean of arts and sciences gave me hell — she definitely kept me on my toes and there were a few times where I really had to work to produce good answers to her questions. I enjoyed my exchange with her.

From there, I gave my presentation to the open forum in the union, and that was tough — I did well enough in the performance, but by that point in the day I was tired and I really should’ve had some water with me to help get me through it. My mouth was dry and basically glued shut the entire time, and I worked hard enough to get past that that I actually hurt my throat. 🙂 But the group of 30 or so people who showed up was engaged, they enjoyed the presentation and they had about 15 minutes of questions for me afterward. It was really fun. Over the next two days, I even heard from people who weren’t even at the presentation that they had heard I had done a great job, so that’s pretty awesome.

Now I just get to wait. I don’t have any official information, but understood that the screening committee was meeting Wednesday at 4 p.m. and found out on Thursday that after the committee met Wednesday they forwarded a recommendation to the president. Human resources was supposedly doing reference checks on that person over the next couple of days, so I’m hopeful that I’ll hear something very early this coming week.

I’m honestly not nervous either way; I really want the job, obviously, but I ended Wednesday thinking I had done about as well as I could possibly do, and didn’t feel like I would change anything if I were to have a chance to do it over again. I showed up and competed all day Wednesday, so if I somehow end up not getting the job it’ll be because one of the other three candidates just flat-out beat me.

Things I’m Behind On
Comic book reviews, mostly. For the last couple of weeks my evening time was dedicated to getting homework finished up or doing work on my presentation for my interview, so I didn’t take the time to do any “fun” writing. I have reviews to write for “Cobra #10” from the week before last and for the second issue of the G.I. Joe Retaliation prequel from this past Wednesday. I plan to get to those tonight; I’ll probably do the second issue of the Retaliation prequel first, just because that’ll probably be the easiest one to do. “Cobra” ends with quite a cliffhanger, and I need to make sure I’ve got the circumstances surrounding that down pat before I start writing the review for that issue.

Things I’m Studying
Nothing. Two assignments for one of my grad school classes are due at the end of this week, so in true student fashion I haven’t even started them yet. I’m not terribly concerned. I had an assignment due this past Friday, and I got that taken care of; it was a case brief of the appeal from Vanderbilt’s lawsuit against Gerry DiNardo when he left them to take the head coaching gig at LSU in 1994. Interesting case; Vanderbilt sued him for breech of contract for leaving the school before his contract ended and won at the district court level; the appellate court mostly sided with Vanderbilt but sent the case back to district court for further ruling because it wasn’t clear whether DiNardo’s representation had appropriately agreed to a contract extension before it took effect.

Things I’m Drawing
Again, nothing. 🙂 I started working on a pencil-on-paper copy of a digital painting Stanley “Artgerm” Lau did of Jean Grey, but I took a break after just a half hour or so. I did OK sketching out the upper torso and her arms, but the legs were a disaster and my efforts to fix them weren’t going well — so I just walked away for awhile. I shouldn’t have been surprised; this happens to me all the time, and is part of the reason I’m not improving to the point that I can avoid these kind of roadblocks. I need to start doing more of the work to learn how all the parts fit together, not just try to draw the finished product of arms and legs flying all over the place. I can see what’s happening, but not knowing enough about what’s going on under the surface makes it really difficult for me to assemble the pieces so it looks coherent. So, for later tonight, I grabbed a sketchbook and a pair of primers – Andrew Loomis’ “Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth” and a “How To Draw and Paint Anatomy” special from ImagineFX magazine. Instead of trying to draw “something” after the kids are in bed tonight, I’m instead going to do some foundational work on the basics and see if that helps me. It’ll be fun regardless, so I’m looking forward to it.

Things I’m Watching
I finally had some time to watch last week’s episode of “The Walking Dead” last night, and now that they’ve finally put the conflict between Rick and Shane front-and-center, this show is really, really good again. The season two premier was not good at all, and most of the storyline while Rick’s group has been holed up at Herschel’s farm has been pretty average compared to the first six episodes, but the last three weeks this show has been great again.

Similar rebound for “Archer” this week after a pretty disappointing episode last week. Sterling hooking up with Pam is just pure comedy gold, and their unholy coupling gave birth to one of the funniest episodes of this show yet.

Something goofy happened on ABC this week, and everything started late – so I missed “Revenge” and something else. I’ll have to catch Revenge from online at some point, or from OnDemand.

All for now. 🙂