Comics: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Annual 2012
When a forgotten and disgruntled Crimson Guard goes rogue, both Cobra and the Joes race against the clock (and each other) to find out what he is up to and how to stop him. Larry Hama is rejoined by Joe classic (and fan favorites) pencilers Ron Wagner and Herb Trimpe as well as veteran artist Ron Frenz in this first G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Annual.
In essence, this is a "chase" storyline: Cobra (mostly Zartan) hunts down "Ted," a Crimson Guard who has fallen off Cobra's radar until he had recently made suspicious purchases. The Joes, during a routine surveillance of Zartan and his Dreaknoks, catch wind of the plot, and follow Zartan, who gives them the slip. The Joes pick up Ted's trail, and it is Zartan's turn to follow the Joes, until they all meet up for the final confrontation.
Hama doesn't often write self-contained stories, and for that reason, this was refreshing. There a couple points in the plot that don't hold up to much scrutiny. (Would Cobra Commander really call in Zartan to investigate Ted? Wouldn't another CG, or the Twins, be a better choice? And after the amount of times the Joes have visited the Dreaknoks' base in New Jersey, doesn't Zartan realize it's not secure?) There's a lot of luck and coincidences here as well, which takes away from the strength of the plot.
Overall, though, the story is entertaining, especially as it progresses. Intentionally or not, Hama seemed to have revved up the tension and seriousness of the chase as the book progresses. The beginning has an almost light-hearted feel, but that disappears as bodies start falling and we realize the scope of Ted's plans. At the end, as much as Hama loves to play the Dreaknoks as fools and comedic fodder, they were the true heroes of this book.
Oddly, the focus of this book was not any particular Joe or (active) Cobra, but rather the rogue Ted Bergendorf. Rather than making him a stereotypical, villain-of-the-week troublemaker, Hama forces us to watch as the world begins to collapse around Ted. We feel a little (but only a little) sorry for Ted as he sees America turning its back on the working class.
I would have loved for Hama to use this opportunity to explore a little more of the background and the mythos of the CGs. From the Marvel days, we only got a small taste of the CGs as underground sleeper agents. Beside a couple from the Fred series and Dr. Appel, we never really see the potential of what this underground army could do. I consider that a missed opportunity here, and hope that it's something Hama would explore in the future.
I will state for the public record that I am a huge fan of all three of these pencilers. It would be tough to find anyone who has read the Marvel run of G.I. Joe and Special Missions not to list Ron Wagner and Herb Trimpe as among their favorite artists. I really enjoy SL Gallant's work on the A Real American Hero continuation, but there seems to be something so right about seeing Wagner's and Trimpe's rendition of these classic characters. Perhaps it may be due to improvements in the quality of printing over the past few decades, but it seems their styles have only gotten better.
Ron Frenz has a very long and impressive history in comics, and his own unique and distinctive style. I, for one, love his work past and present, although I'm wondering at his inclusion for this annual. The different styles were noticeable in reading the book, with Frenz's coming off somewhat cartoony and exaggerated compared to Wagner's and Trimpe. IDW has been combining artists within single issue often lately. When each artist is in charge of a particular section (a flashback, or a unique location), it can work, but otherwise it's disjointed. In this case, each artists work is individually beautiful, although together it doesn't flow very well.
Panel of the week: Zartan (in a cop's uniform) standing over a freshly concreted grave in Ted's basement. "Hmmmmmm. That's certainly ominous."
The storytelling wasn't as strong as what Hama is doing for the ARAH ongoing series, and as this is a standalone issue, this can be passed. However, it's entertaining on its own, and if you are a fan of Wagner and Trimpe, the art makes it worth the purchase. Recommended.