When it comes to Hasbro, I was always more of a Transformers fan growing up, from collecting the toys and watching the Generation 1 cartoon, though the Michael Bay-directed films left a poor taste for my fandom. Arguably the second most popular franchise under the Hasbro umbrella is G.I. Joe, which I may not be as well-versed in, but enough of its lore has always piqued my interest. Larry Hama, who reinvented the franchise in 1982 back at Marvel, continues to write the comic book for IDW. Here, IDW presents an alternate version of the mythos in which the world is on fire.
The United States is at war with COBRA, a terrorist organization that launched a coup d’état against the country. Meanwhile, Rithy Khay is a contraband smuggler who tries to support his legitimate delivery business, until he stumbles onto a mission from G.I. Joe, a clandestine group who fights back against the evil organization by recruiting citizens, but the propaganda created by COBRA makes the Joes look like public criminals. Recruited into G.I. Joe, under the codename “Tiger”, Rithy joins the fight, but is that enough to win a war that seems very one-sided?
Writer Paul Allor uses the franchise’s simple good-versus-evil premise to tell a dystopian story where COBRA rules America with an iron fist as many of its citizens are in full support of their actions, whilst G.I. Joe functions as a resistance group that fights for people that may not embrace a change for good.
This is certainly a darker story than perhaps what we’re used to seeing in this franchise, which can be fantastical and revels in sci-fi action. Combining well-established characters and new recruits, most of the issues may showcase the cast in their skills during the various missions. Allor’s true strength is exploring how humanly flawed the characters are, even some of the villains. No doubt that diehard fans will feel differently towards these reinventions, and certainly will feel some frustration — because Allor juggles too many characters, not all of them get the treatment they deserve. In case you’re wondering where Snake Eyes is, he’s in one panel and that’s it.
Although there are some issues that somewhat depart from the main narrative, two of them really stand out as the best of the run. Issue #4 (drawn by Nico Walker) focuses on Major Bludd, who questions his own allegiance to COBRA and how he sees the Commander, an idealist who just wants to destroy everything. It’s also a great way of showing the other superiors within COBRA, who are at odds with one another.
Scarlett is pretty much the most compelling character in the whole comic, which we learn more about in issue #7, showing the origins of the two organizations. But it’s really about her dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a great character piece about suffering and climbing out of the pain — the issue was released free online during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
As the primary artist of World on Fire, Chris Evenhuis sets a visual template that feels unique. Although there isn’t much detail towards its characters and environments, Evenhuis’ strength is towards expression and movement that complements the action highly, including a recurring training sequence where Tiger tries to throw a punch at Scarlett, which is done in pages that only uses six panels. Evenhuis embraces some of the classic iconography of the franchise, from the cool design of Cobra Commander to Roadblock firing a massive machine gun. Thanks to Evenhuis, along with the three other artists and colorist Brittany Peer, the overall art is European-inspired despite the American setting.
A radical reinvention of the G.I. Joe mythos, World on Fire is an incredible, dark story with relevant themes of war and PTSD.
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