Best Shots Reviews: STAR WARS ANNUAL #3, FIRST STRIKE - G.I. JOE #1

IDW Publishing October 2017 cover
Credit: IDW Publishing
Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars Annual #3
Written by Jason Latour
Art by Michael Walsh
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Jason Aaron’s Southern Bastards co-conspirator Jason Latour steps into the universe of Star Wars with a standalone annual starring Han and Leia that illustrates he has as strong a handle on their dynamic as Aaron. The issue has a familiar feel as a result of that, in part because it adheres to a familiar structure for a story about these characters. Between these two icons, there’s banter, arguments, a layer of flirtation and a long-standing grudge.

Much like the main series, Star Wars Annual #3 comes in between Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Due to that, this annual has to find a sweet spot between seeming like purely inconsequential material and making enough of a development to move closer to the movies without passing their stories by. From a narrative perspective, Latour achieves this as Han and Leia scope out a prospective place for a new rebel base, which has led them to the bitterly cold planet of Odona — the home of a creature that Han describes as a “rolling ball of angry teeth.” But wait, there’s more — no sooner have Han and Leia escaped this gruesome creature only to find themselves in the sights of some equally-unfriendly characters from Han’s past. Oh, and did I mention there’s an impending ice storm on the horizon?

Latour’s script rarely gives the pair a chance for a breather, from the opening escape to how quickly the main antagonists of the issue make their move following that, but he also includes a flashback explaining exactly what led to their grudge towards Han and how they’re now on Odona. It’s not lengthy within the confines of an oversized issue, but it serves as over-explanation all the same, as Han’s knack for making enemies is widely known and their motivations for revenge usually run along the same lines. From a Han and Leia perspective, Latour’s scripting of their conversations has the required screwball, back and forth repartee, and it’s evident they’re on course for their dynamic in Episode V – at one point Leia questions whether he has romantic motivations for opting to let Chewbacca sit this mission out. Latour mines as much as he can out of this situation, but due to the limitations of coming in between two films and the dictated moves they’ve already made, there’s a cap to how deep he can dig.

Where the issue differs from the ongoing series is in the art. Michael Walsh’s cartooning is a pleasant change from the photorealistic fare of other artists. Walsh uses deliberately delicate linework, the kind that offers enough detail so the characters’ identities are clear –– Han looks like Harrison Ford and Leia like Carrie Fisher –– the expression is emotional and the blocking demonstrates a consideration as to how the characters are posed but also allows the audience to fill the details in further in their mind should they desire. It is an approach that works better when it comes to characters more than it does locations though, as Odona looks like the base outline for a snow planet, regardless of whether an ice storm is hindering long-range vision. The interconnected maze of tunnels beneath the surface are well-lit by a scarce selection of lanterns which blend with the blue hue of the issue, but the fleshing out of these locations doesn’t go a lot further. An issue with a great deal of blaster fire, Clayton Cowles’s use of sound effects is malleable, as if the “pew” sounds are reverberating from the blast themselves.

This is ostensibly a variation on the tale that’s always being told about Han and Leia during this time period and because the confines of said period are starting to show themselves, it can’t help but feel more like a bug than it is a feature. Still is isn’t forgettable because of the visual approach that comes from Walsh’s art which at least has the benefit of granting it distance from Aaron’s run. It’s just that it’s an expected story, and it’s hard to blame someone for expecting one that’s a little different.

Credit: IDW Publishing

First Strike: G.I. Joe #1
Written by Aubrey Sitterson
Art by Ilias Kryiazis and Mark Roberts
Lettering by Tom B. Long
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Shipwreck is doing the best he can in First Strike: G.I. Joe #1. With Scarlett and Roadblock caught in the melee spreading across Cybertron in the main First Strike story, Aubrey Sitterson takes the opportunity to showcase more of the deep bench of Joes at his disposal while also highlighting the ongoing title’s scene stealers like Quick-Kick and Salvo. But beyond the great use of established characters, this tie-in also doubles down on characters by getting the main heavies of Venom in the employ of the new Cobra Commander, armed with brand new vehicles, and carrying out some sort of outlandish scheme involving robbing museums. Along with snappy, quick cutting artwork from Ilias Kryiazis and Mark Roberts First Strike: G.I. Joe #1 is exactly the kind of big, splashy, and accessible fun you want from an event tie-in.

Even with several main players out of commission, Aubrey Sitterson still has plenty of toys to play with going into this opener of a two-part crossover of sorts with the M.A.S.K. title. And play with him he does with a fast paced, but focused tale of the current iteration of G.I. Joe attempting to keep the peace while battle rages on Cybertron. Though Sitterson’s real strengths lie in serialized storytelling, he makes this issue as accessible and as fun as possible and largely succeeds with both. By placing Shipwreck as the “commanding” officer, Sitterson plays into the more exaggerated aspects of the Joes, amping up the comic book action and banter for the new comers but also satisfying ongoing readers with featured scenes of fan-favorites shining as the go-to field team.

But this issue isn’t just about fan-favorites as the new Cobra Commander and her new Venomized minions also share the stage with the Joes this month. Though this kind of “action figure” like storytelling is often looked down upon in regards to crossovers, the Venom squads inclusion makes this tie-in issue for two reasons. One, they serve a pretty vital story function both as the new Cobra’s enforcers and as a legit threat for the “B-Team” Joes. Secondly, it shows that Sitterson and company are committed to making these Hasbro Universe books feel like an actual universe and get their casts mixing it up under the umbrella of its latest “Big Event." Think of it this way, now you don’t have to go over to one friend’s house to play with M.A.S.K. figures and a whole other friend’s house to play with Joes. Now all that Saturday morning craziness comes to you in one snappily written, slickly drawn, and richly colored package.

Ilias Kyriazis and Mark Roberts aren’t the regular artists for the G.I. Joe ongoing, but prove themselves more than up for the task in First Strike: G.I. Joe. Neatly dividing certain scenes, Kryiazis displays a keen eye for interesting scene compositions, like the moody opening scene of the new Cobra Commander gifting Venom with new cars which is inlaid into half of Cobra symbol or the intro of Shipwreck’s rapid response team that could easily be a striking single splash page if it weren’t for the thin panel bars separating the team into their designating pairings. But it isn’t just neat dividers with these guys — they can also thrown down with some bombastic action as well as demonstrated by the issue’s finale shootout between the Joes and Venom which Kryiazis and Roberts draw and color like a sparking arcade game, all lasers and giant vehicles as good and evil once again clash in less than subtle ways.

But subtlety ain’t for G.I. Joe, nor is it for First Strike: G.I. Joe #1. Armed with a fun script, a trunk full of crazy characters to play with, and dynamic artwork, this tie-in issue hits the sweet spot between breezy side story and capable stand alone story that one always hopes for once event season rolls around. Ilias Kryiazis, Aubrey Sitterson, and Mark Roberts may not be working the main stage of this event as it were, but they are going to play the hell out of their side stage featuring act.

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