Alasdair Stuart writes for Bleeding Cool.
With the sudden, frankly baffling announcement of a 9 month hiatus before GI Joe: Retaliation is released, the only fix fans have available between there and here are the comics. Thankfully, Cobra, Mike Costa's series, is 13 issues in and has just started a new story arc and a very new direction.
Costa manages to walk a couple of very fine lines here, continuing plots from the first year but at the same time setting up the status quo for the second. The Joes, much like NCIS, work well as perpetual underdogs, their best of the best status neatly balanced by their maverick, underdog natures and some in-story budget cuts. That's something Costa picks up and runs with here, showing us three different relationships between officers, some Cobra, some Joes, and the different perspectives they have on the war.
Ronin, the first, is also the least interesting. I've never been particularly interested in the'I'm an effortless death machine but all I want to do is be at peace' ninja trope that every iteration of the series features and Ronin's no exception. Her fight with a group of Vipers is nicely paced and choreographed but the character is the most skilled, and least interesting, person we meet in the issue. It's only in her sparky interactions with Duke, and the emotional sucker punch he hits her with, that she comes to life and I'm looking forward to seeing Costa continue to play with that relationship. His take on Duke is particularly great, playing the new unit CO as a man who is one part George Smiley, one part George Patton. He's a man who seems very comfortable in command and it'll be interesting to see how Costa explores him settling into the role.
The second person in the spotlight this issue, Chameleon, is a lot more fun. Costa takes a relatively minor character with a one note gimmick and expands her into a spiky, furious, survivor. In many ways she's the mirror image of Ronin, a woman who has run from one side of the war to the other, only to find that the people she ran from may have followed her. There's a nicely handled action beat with her and the Joe's new 'backer' and her antagonistic relationship with Flint , her nominal CO, is another nice reflection of the Ronin/Duke partnership set up at the start of the issue.
Finally, the issue focusses on Flint and Tomax. These two men are the most diametrically opposed of the three partnerships, a dogged, precise infantryman and a sociopathic billionaire, but the narrative weight of the issue lies on them. Tomax has had no choice but to come in from the cold and finds himself at the center of an unusually gilded web, not entirely of his own design. He's clearly running a game here, but it's unclear what as yet. Flint, by contrast, is openly manipulative, his calm, stolid exterior belying a man who has planned for everything, down to unexpected attempts on Tomax's life by his own officers. He's still precise, still stolid, but there's a looseness to him, a willingness to bend the rules that neatly mirrors that of Duke, his new commanding officer. Both Flint and Tomax need one another, neither like or trust the other and their moves around the chessboard look set to power much of this storyline.
Costa's script is tight, character driven and clever and it's backed up by some excellent, Sean Phillips-esque art from Antonio Fuso and precise, effective inking from Arianna Florean. GI Joe: Cobra Issue 13 is out now from IDW, priced $3.99. It may not feature The Rock or Bruce Willis, but it'll keep you going until the movie comes out.