This is a crazy comic book.
Artist-writer-colorist-letter Tom Scioli channels Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko, embarking as a nearly one-man band to drum up a radically different take on the Robots in Disguise meeting the Real American Heroes. Co-writer John Barber tags along to pepper in dialogue, captions, and plot points.
What does the duo accomplish in Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #1? Well, it’s tough to nail down. The pages of the first issue fall somewhere between DIY concert poster and fanfic hallucination feverishly sketched on the back of some kid’s homework in 1985. If you stayed up all night smoking weed and watching episodes of G.I. Joe and Transformers on Netflix, your dreams would look like this comic.
Scioli spins the current long form, cinematic comic writing trend completely on its head with his work here. If anything justifies the book’s price, it’s undoubtedly Scioli’s artwork. Scioli’s eyeball-searing art hits enough new territory to make the issue’s heavy-handed character approach somewhat excusable, or at the very least forgettable. Readers will remember the pictures more than the words.
The characterization of Larry Hama’s Joes or Simon Furman’s weighty Transformers are miles across the spectrum from this kaleidoscopic take, and that’s fine. There are volumes of serious stories featuring these cartoon properties already on the shelf, available to enjoy at any time. Here, Scioli and Barber go for something different. Way different. The question is whether different translates to good. In the case of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, the answer is a resounding “kinda.”
The art is fantastic in the truest sense of the word. What readers see is pure fantasy. There’s nothing real about this world and no attempt to ground anything. The creators are going past the stratosphere of high-concept and jumping into a wacky cosmic adventure with full force. Some of the pages are bold and breathtaking, some too confused and muddled, but mostly these are really dynamic layouts unlike anything else currently on the stands.
Like Kirby and Steranko, Scioli doesn’t seem too preoccupied with setting up smooth transitions for the reader. The art is big and bold and you’re either caught up in it or left behind on the curb. While it’s interesting to see a modern comic produced in the old school Marvel style (loose plot, art-centric) the end result feels somewhat vapid and disconnected. There’s no emotional bottom to these pages, and little attempt to add any.
Again, that’s mostly fine. These are, after all, characters based on mass-marketed toys. We’ve been treated to a rich and nuanced comic universe with both sets of characters, first at Marvel in the ‘80s and now in recent years at IDW. Those serious comics have done their job so well in defining their respective worlds that it’s easy to forget we’re talking about stories that were generated as a secondary effort to sell molded plastic toys.
That’s the best way to sum up this Scioli-verse. It’s a guy playing with a bunch of G.I. Joe and Transformers toys, using pages and the panels to do so. The battles are as freewheeling as their were when played out on childhood bedroom floors, and the plot about as complex as a 25-minute toy commercial can muster.
In fact, this comic may appeal most to people who grew up with the Hasbro toys but haven’t read the comics. Reagan youth will see shots of nostalgia on each page, from Laser Soldier to cassette tape robots Rumble and Ravage. There’s a lot of eye candy bound to bring back memories for the 30-something set.
There’s also a bizarre, almost Adult Swim quality to the book that may appeal to that demographic as well. It’s tongue in check to the max, and clearly ridiculous on purpose. The Latin roots of the word ridiculous roughly translate to “worthy of being laughed at” and that’s what Scioli and Barber deliver. Some will get the joke, others will be left saying “huh?” Many readers might be left feeling both simultaneously. That’s where this reviewer landed.
Fans of IDW’s previous G.I. Joe and Transformers offerings won’t find much of anything familiar here. This version of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe takes place firmly in the Scioli-verse, free of any continuity or ties to established precedents. It’s a straight-up strange trip, fun in parts but rather hollow as well. The bombastic comic art is a without question special draw in this case and garners bonus points for the book. Transformers vs. G.I. Joe is a nutty ride that viewers of the old cartoons and previous toy owners will get a kick out of, but fans of the characters themselves may feel is lacking. It’s a crazy comic book, and one that strays far from providing definitive takes on the characters it plays with, but freewheeling craziness is kind of what comics are all about.