Comics: G.I. Joe: Infestation 2 #1
Mike Raicht once again brings Cobra into the realm of the bizarre in this mini-series companion of IDW's Infestation 2 event. Powerful demonic forces have taken over a Cobra base, and it is up to Crystal Ball, Storm Shadow, Interrogator, and a handful of insane Cobra D-listers to stop them.
Mike Raicht is co-creator of Stuff of Legend, and I've been keeping a close eye on that entire creative team since I first started reading that incredible series. Raicht also wrote the G.I. Joe series from the first Infestation event in which zombie (or in the Joe's case, zombie robots) invade the IDW multiverse. Raicht did a strong job with that first series, providing a solid, if somewhat inconsequential, story.
In many ways, G.I. Joe: Infestation 2 seems to more of the same. In fact, the main points of the plot seem directly lifted from his previous book: a woman scientist comes in contact with an unusual artifact, the scientist activates said artifact in an isolated Cobra base, artifact takes over Cobra forces on the base and attempts to break out into the wider world, while poor Interrogator gets trapped in the middle.
While the plot may be (self-)derivative, the characterizations make you enjoy the ride. Interrogator makes a great point-of-view character, which is critical in grounding these trips to the bizarre. Raicht also heavily references events in the first Infestation series, providing a direct and strong continuity between the two stories (This issue can certainly be enjoyed without having read the first Infestation series, although some references, especially pertaining to Raptor, may be lost otherwise). And while Raicht spends a fair amount of time building the background and framework for this story, he gets to the crux of the tension fairly quick. The story becomes surprisingly intense and, perhaps more surprisingly, enjoyable.
While Raicht's plotting is good, it is his characterizations that really strengthen this book. He takes a page out of Costa and Gage's playbook by mining deep within Cobra's rosters for characters. Gristle, Cesspool, and Razerclaw get very brief cameos, while Raicht's own version of Raptor (developed in the first Infestation series) seems to have made his full transformation into crazy bird-man. While superficially, the cliffhanger of this issue lies in how the few remaining Cobra forces are going to stop the Elder demons from invading Earth, the real reason I'm anxious to pick up the second issue is to watch these forgotten, crazy, and underappreciated characters let loose on the unholy masses.
Raicht is unusual in spending extra effort to personalize faceless Vipers. It was noticeable in the first Infestation series, and I'm happy to see him carry on that tradition. Whether it's one Viper calling out another's first name during a firefight, or a Snow Serpent muttering "Crud" when called into a mysterious passageway, they are subtle reminders that there are people behind those masks. Few Joe writers do that.
IDW tends to staff their Joe titles with artists whose work range from "pretty good" to "absolutely amazing." Unfortunately, this is one of the few exceptions. Valentine De Landro is capable of great work (I've enjoyed his run as penciler in X-Factor), so it pains me to see subpar work in a Joe title. It might have related to time-constraints, as the quality of the art waxes and wanes throughout the issue, but seems to be at its worst near the end. The scenes in which Interrogator, Crystal Ball, and Storm Shadow are escaping from the demons are particularly bad. Perspectives are lost, movements and poses seem unnatural, and details are missing. I've seen De Landro do much better (heck, his cover for this issue is absolutely beautiful), but the art in this issue is pretty terrible.
Having a Stephen King-inspired character as Crystal Ball provide exposition on the attacking Lovecraftian hordes adds a metafictional twist to this already surreal story. Well played, Mr. Raicht!
I like my Joes grounded firmly in reality, and I don't have a lot of patience for some more fanciful sci-fi or mystical elements of Joe lore. I approached this Infestation 2 story with low expectations, but I was pleasantly shocked how much I really enjoyed this story so far. I'm eagerly looking forward to the next chapter. Highly Recommended.