Writer: Tom Scioli
Artist: John Barber
Nostalgia can be a dangerous creative tool. Despite the popularity, a Buzzfeed listicle titled “19 reasons the ’90s were Radical!” is nothing more than the Chris Farley “remember” sketch brought to its unfortunate actualization. It’s increasingly easy to tap into the public consciousness by simply referencing items from the past that the hivemind now deems retroactively canonical. Don’t believe me? Walk into any bar in the hipper parts of Chicago and make a Space Jam or Nickelodean joke. You’ll be welcomed with open arms.
Nostalgia is at the heart of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, but there’s an earnest love to it that sets it apart. There’s nostalgia at the reference level, and then there’s nostalgia that carries the past straight over its head into the future, screaming “I grew up with this old bastard and I STILL freaking love him!” Fortunately, Tom Scioli and John Barber’s new IDW comic draws most heavily on the latter. Transformers vs. G.I. Joe is a love letter bursting at the seems with genuine passion. This is a book that thanks Ed Piskor (creator of the excellent Hip Hop Family Tree) and others “for the loan of their collections of Transformers and G.I. Joe memorabilia for art reference.” Transformers vs. G.I. Joe is by the fans, for the fans forever. Amen.
Don’t think that means you had to grow up with Transformers and G.I. Joe to get it though. That will certainly help, as there are more Joes to keep track of in issue #1 than the entire population of Wyoming, but as far as I can tell this is not a comic weighed down with continuity and existing history. Yes, there’s a legacy to these characters that Scioli and Barber are curating and building, but as a comic book fan who’s never invested heavily in either Transformers or G.I. Joe, I was still able to highly enjoy what is likely one of the best comics of 2014. The largest bit of confusion stemmed from references to “Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #0,” which I wasn’t aware existed.
Again, “Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #1” is one of the most purely entertaining and enjoyable comics this year and against all logic or odds. The energy and creativity crackles off the page like volts of childhood imagination made real. Much of this is Scioli’s unbridled, unfettered eagerness to keep the plot zipping from Snake Eyes hang-gliding sniper shots to alien invasions from the Transformers, but John Barber is the one who carries this comic into the stratosphere (in this case, literally). Barber’s art is part throwback to the style of comic’s heyday, but it’s also painstakingly detailed, brimming with life and movement. Whether it’s General Hawk risking life and limb to confront the Transformers or a full-on Joe vs. Transformers battle involving dozens of characters, Barber’s art is glorious. I mean you could posterize almost any page here, and I’d feel great about it. There’s a tendency for the digital enhancements of the modern era to wash out what makes comic book art unique, and Barber makes it abundantly clear what you’re missing.
There is a lot to be said for how much comic book fans are going to eat up Transformer vs. G.I. Joe, largely revolving around the idea that the “olden days” were the pinnacle of comics. We tend to romanticize the past and eagerly criticize the present. If you’re feeling sinister, you could write that reading this comic feels like you picked it up out of an ironic ’80s one-shot bin at your local comic shop. The reality, though, is that there’s a joy and wonder to Silver Age comics that is too often missing from today’s output. There’s a reason Mark Waid’s Daredevil is so uniformly beloved, and it’s that it takes the old joy of the character and restores it to now darkened, corrupted pages. Transformers vs. G.I. Joe doesn’t necessarily have the same baggage to overcome, and if we’re being honest, it’s an inherently ridiculous book title, but sometimes shining a light on the past is the best way to remember what’s great about today.
This is just pure comic book fun, even if the energy is so kinetic the story takes a fierce backseat to action. The art is hands down some of the most enjoyable I’ve seen in 2014, and the cover features a G.I. Joe in a number 14 football jersey shooting a bazooka at Optimus Prime. Come on. A child could pick up this issue today and be immersed in comics forever, and any adult could find him or herself remembering why they fell in love in the first place.
“Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #1” earns 9.4 / 10