Its the year 1938, and the Decepticons are awakened by Cobra, and these two evil factions join forces, descending the planet into a World War. Gi-Joe are formed to combat this threat, but suffer heavy losses. However, then they discover the 'sleeping' Autobots...
Vol 1 001
John Ney Rieber
Megatron, Starscream, Laserbeak, Soundwave
Major Bludd, Flint, Stalker, Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Lady Jaye, Roadblock, Hawk, Cobra Commander, Baroness, Destro, Duke, Storm Shadow, Leatherneck
Arlington County – Virginia, The Fera Islands, The Shetland Islands, the English Channel
The Fera Islands, Winter 1938, and Major Bludd leads a Cobra invasion force through the ruins. They storm a temple and roughly beat the monks to the ground. Bludd looks upon a statue, the Matrix encased within, but before he can take it, the ground trembles, and rubble comes crashing down. He looks up to see Megatron’s evil red eyes bearing down on him. Bludd screams to his troops to fire, but Megatron’s fist comes crashing down, leaving Bludd to cower undercover.
Megatron demands to know Bludd’s motives, and the human blurts out that he serves Cobra. Realising that Cobra consists of ruthless destroyers seeking power, Megatron informs him that they have found the ultimate power. Suddenly Megatron and Starscream smash their way out of the temple walls… the Decepticons have awakened!
The following Summer in Virginia, USA, Flint greets the new Gi-Joe recruits one by one. There follows a briefing, as the increasingly worrying developments overseas are spelled out. Nearly all of Europe has fallen to Cobra, and the US have formed Gi-Joe to defeat them, rather than partake in a Second World War.
The meeting is interrupted when Snake Eyes spots something spying on them. Suddenly Laserbeak takes off, and the startled Joes try shooting at him. Before flying away, Laserbeak shoots one of the Joes through the palm. Once he’s gone, they’re left wondering what the hell the creature was that they just saw…
At the Terrordome, Cobra’s base at the Fera Islands, Laserbeak reports back to Soundwave. Soon Cobra Commander, in a foul mood, demands to know what is going on. Destro informs him of the planned American assault, and suggests they increase their defences. But Cobra Commander silences him, unworried by the threat. Neither is Starscream, who is looking on with interest.
At the RAF base at the Shetland Islands, Gi-Joe prepare for the coming assault with mixed feelings. They saddle up and move out. Megatron spies the planes as they fly over the English Channel. While he mutters something about Cobra Commander being a fool, and that somehow he will get the Matrix from him, he then orders Starscream to provide a distraction for the oncoming fliers. Then Megatron personally starts ripping the planes to shreds in mid-air with his bare hands!
Soon, squads of surviving Joe members are parachuting down to the Fera Islands. But the soldiers are quick to walk into an ambush, as sniper fire starts taking them down. Snake Eyes comes to a wounded Stalker’s aid, but then suddenly Storm Shadow puts in an entrance. The ninja swears he will kill Snake Eyes in revenge for the humiliation he suffered at his hands years ago. Snake Eyes moves to stab Storm Shadow with a knife, but Storm Shadow blows powder into Snake Eyes’ face, which sends him stumbling backwards. Storm Shadow raises his sword, saying he will take Snake Eyes’ face away from him forever…
The Cobra weapons’ fire continues, and the Joes retreat into the ruins. There they come face to face with the remains of an Autobot…
This issue (and series) is a surprise in every sense of the word. Dreamwave bringing in two top-flight creators to their cause is the first shock. John Ney Rieber and Jae Lee, having done sterling work on Captain America (as well as a myriad of other high profile titles), certainly have many fresh things to bring to the franchise. The setting – World War II – is inspired, giving the makers the chance to create a truly unique Transformer title in a perfect ‘What If?’ type setting (and a good counterpoint to Devil’s Due’s more mainstream crossover, running at the same time).
In effect, Cobra displace the Nazis in this alternate telling of the war, and there is a smattering of real locations and events referred to that heightens authenticity. Another advantage is having the likes of Figueroa helping to design these Second World War alt. modes (just like he worked so feverishly on retro-fitting the Transformers for War Within), the result being a lovingly put together comic. Lee then douses all this with the requisite amount of realism – his Transformers look dirty, rusty, metallic in a 30s kind of way, covered in dangling cables and looking like they’ve been through the wars. They look real. And they look like they could work.
Hiring two such prodigious talents is encouraging, and raises the possibility of other established writers and artists to come to the Transformers fold (hint - it would be nice if Bryan Hitch came back). Okay, so it’s a risky manoeuvre as well, and they don’t get everything right. For instance, the bias towards the Joes is very heavy, and while the tone of the piece is pitched right, its fair to say neither creator knows much about Transformers and can’t quite place their viability. They shouldn’t worry too much about making this an adult tale – for many Transformers fans the franchise has had a serious tone in comic form for nearly 20 years, and it doesn’t need the Joes to emphasise that. But it’s an obvious factor that newcomers will underestimate.
We’re left with only a handful of lines for the Decepticons (admittedly, all memorable) and no dialogue for the Autobots at all. It means the only characters to really shine are all human. Cobra Commander is rotten to the core, and effectively (bearing in mind this series’ setting) is the Adolf Hitler of the piece. He has no redeeming features, treating everyone around him like dirt and wanting only conquest. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow also lift the story – with the former, his silence always speak volumes, and its always easy to follow what he is thinking. As for the Cobra ninja, he makes an entertaining fleshed out baddie. Their duel will dominate the next 5 issues, reaching levels of both excitement and absurdity.
There are a couple of question marks over some of the plot points even at this early stage of the series. Firstly, why has someone gouged a map of the Fera Islands (Cobra’s HQ) in the side of a warship? Is this Decepticon treachery, or just a limp plot device? More glaringly, why does Megatron join forces with Cobra? The issue starts with him saying he will share the ultimate power with them, as if he is pleased to come across fellow ruthless conquerors. So is this out of the kindness of his own heart? Or out of respect? For it’s very hard to believe that the Decepticons actually need Cobra to conquer the world.
Even worse, why let Cobra Commander take the Matrix? Personally, I would’ve preferred it if Megatron wiped the smile off Bludd’s face at the beginning of the comic by squashing him in cold blood. If anything, Cobra Commander is more evil, though there’s a slim possibility that that is the writer’s point, and that humankind is capable of far greater evil than cold-hearted robots. Also, why leave the Autobots’ bodies amongst the ruins? Surely destroying them would be a sensible option. The fact that Lady Jaye and Scarlett occupy high positions in the US army in the late 30s is questionable, though possibly no more so than alien robots coming to Earth, so we can let that one slide. Finally, the point that the issue ends at is a bit weak, but no doubt the makers have their eyes on a trade paperback, and aren’t worried about such ‘trivialities.’
Lee’s gothic look is not going to be to everyone’s taste, but it resonates with authenticity. Some fans won’t like the dark tone, and that not everything is visible in the panels. However, Lee’s obviously a big fan of using lighting to create an atmosphere, and the result is a cinematic experience, albeit one shrouded in hinted menace. For instance, look at Snake Eyes as he faces Flint in his office, a dark intimidating presence, his only facial features distinguishable being the pin point glow of his eyes. Laserbeak is beautifully sinister, and Destro is so ghostly he looks like one of the walking undead. Storm Shadow gets a good entrance, complete with billowing cloak. Every shot of Snake Eyes tells a story, even when not a word is spoken – his love for Scarlett during brief looks is tangible. It helps that Lee has drawn Scarlett looking exceptionally radiant. The rest of his human characters have a look about them almost as if they were taken from real period photographs of the time. Seeing Starscream transform into a World War II plane looks believable, and is something new and effective. This art is a breath of fresh air, and while the designs are typically Dreamwave-esque, the execution is a complete departure.
Bearing everything in mind, this is an intriguing and promising start to one of Dreamwave’s more daring and imaginative Transformers ventures.
Megatron seems strangely happy to share his power with Cobra from the start. He obviously senses they have a common ground with the organisation: “You and your followers are ruthless? Destroyers? …and you seek power? Then come – you have found power, ultimate power.” Later he seems to be planning to betray Cobra Commander, saying that he, “is a fool… and we can steal the Matrix from a dead Cobra Commander more easily than we can steal it from a live one.” However, for the moment he plays along, and gets ripping into enemy aircraft, though he has his eyes on looting energy at the same time. Of course, all this raises the question of why did he get involved with Cobra in the first place?
Starscream thoughts on heroism: “Heroes are born to die… heroes are fools.”
Soundwave does what he’s told. If you’re hoping for a more developed personality than the one that he had in the cartoon, sadly you’ve come to the wrong place.
Cobra Commander’s treatment of Soundwave and Laserbeak is devoid of any respect, despite his obvious difference in weight class: “I'm going to send you and that mechanical vulture back to that scrapheap you call an Ark.” He treats Destro like crap as well, telling him to shut up and calling his defence plans pathetic. Cobra Commander’s appearance and actions, suggest a man that is evil to his core. If there is a trace of humanity in this man it is not apparent, and he seems only to have a desire to commit atrocities, conquer, and use the Decepticons as tools to further achieve it.
Major Bludd goes about his work at the beginning with plenty of evil gusto. Leading the invasion on the Fera Islands, he takes charge: “Let’s rip her open and see what she’s good for, eh? Fire! Move! Move! Move! If it’s in your way, smash it down. And if it’s human, I don’t want to see it get up again!” At first sight of the Matrix, he’s less than impressed: “So this is Cobra Commander’s ultimate weapon? This chunk of junk?” But he soon gets more than he bargains for when Megatron appears. His impulse is to order his troops to fire, but he soon cowers at Megatron’s might.
Stalker’s not in the best of moods, and unafraid to take a stern note with Flint, his superior: “You pull me off base in the middle of the night, throw me on a plane, drag me through this swamp… and you don’t know my name..?” Carrying on this tough image, later when he is shot, he makes no fuss about it at all: “S’okay… I’ve been shot… before.”
Flint is tough on his troops. And he’s not intimidated at all by Snake Eyes’ dramatic appearance or methods. He reprimands him when he’s chucked a pair of device that are supposed to tell him the ninja’s name: “Next pair of dice you throw at me soldier, you be prepared to eat them.” He also has an interesting saying: “I don’t care if he’s human if he’s on our side.”
Lady Jaye isn’t afraid to use a harsh tone when addressing a big assembly of male soldiers: “That’s classified information. If any of you so much as breathe that word outside this room, you will be court-marshalled… after I personally break your jaw.” She clearly is just one of the boys, and is respected as such. She takes the meeting along with Scarlett. Girl power! Later in the series Lady Jaye will show her action credentials both in hand to hand and air combat.
Scarlett, like Lady Jaye, is a powerful woman. She briefs the Joes about the fall of Europe and the discovery of the jet, whilst assuring them that she has absolute trust in the troops. Later at the Shetland Islands she gives another talk, before saying: “Saddle up, boys.”
Storm Shadow is described as a “devil with a sword.” He shows up, claiming that he will get revenge on Snake Eyes for the loss of face he suffered at his hands (and he sets about doing this quite literally). He promises that Snake Eyes will die this night, and refers to the, “honour of the Arishikage clan.” Honour and revenge in his case seem to be inextricably linked.
Roadblock says, “I signed on to serve my country. If you need me, you’ve got me.”
Snake Eyes is simply a silent ninja. He’s the first to spot the spying Laserbeak, and has the audacity to throw a pair of dice at Flint (though in the mute Joe’s defence he did do it to illustrate his name). Its clear from the way Snake Eyes looks at the beautiful Scarlett, that there may be a longing or love for the female Joe. Snake Eyes also has a rivalry with Storm Shadow which stretches back a long time to when they were in the Arishikage clan. Their previous meeting apparently ended with victory for Snake Eyes, and humiliation for Storm Shadow. Snake Eyes is quick to come to Stalker’s aid when a sniper shoots the Joe.
Destro is apologetic to Cobra Commander, but he’s no mere yes-man, and advises on strengthening their fortifications. However, his controversial advice, to withdraw a third of Cobra forces to the Terrodrome (as a strike force could inflict damage) is rubbished by the commander.
Beach Head has a philosophy of sorts: “Eaten alive is fine by me… it’s dying I object to.”
Duke prefers to be told things straight: “They don’t pound that kind of optimism into you at officer’s school.” In a monologue he calls his soldiers good men: “Strong. Fearless. Disciplined,” but he has concerns: “They’ve all proven they can fight as individuals. But when it’s blooding time will they fight as one?”
Leatherneck is a bit of an optimist, refusing to believe that losing contact with the rest of the squad automatically means that they’re dead.
Gi-Joe were formed specifically to defeat Cobra, rather than the US having to resort to a Second World War. They cram two years worth of training into a week’s jump school.
The Matrix seems to have been discovered before either the Autobots or Decepticons. It forms part of a statue shrine in a temple on the Fera Islands.
Stalker’s real name is Lorenzo R Wilkinson, a “Sergeant First Class in the US Army Corps. Explosive Ordnance Disposal Expert.”
Duke’s real name is Conrad S. Hauser.
Storm Shadow does not wear a mask in this series, like he normally does in his other comic/cartoon appearances.
The Ark is mentioned, though its whereabouts in this reality are not specified.
Gi-Joe have discovered that Cobra have a jet. This ties in more or less with our reality’s co-inventor of the jet, Hans Von Ohain, whose invention was the first to fly in 1939. However, Britain’s Frank Whittle actually patented the jet earlier in 1930.
Paris, Rome and Berlin are in ruins. There’s also fighting in the Pacific Rim. The Maginot line (“the most formidable border fortification in the world… an invincible line of defense”) is destroyed. In our reality the Maginot line, the supposed “Great Wall of France” did little to save the country from a humiliating defeat by Germany in 1940.
The Terrordrome is allegedly invulnerable.
Laserbeak seems to be the first Transformer that Gi-Joe have ever set their eyes on. Their briefing beforehand had no mention of them, suggesting they didn’t realise quite what they were up against.
Gi-Joe have teamed up with the Royal Air Force, launching their assault from their Shetland Islands base. British Union Jacks are also visible on the aircraft during the aerial dogfight. Shetland’s RAF base played a pivotal role in World War II, and this story also has the British fit and fighting, as they were in 1939 during real events. But it does differ in having the US intervention much earlier.
There is a reference to a ship called the USS Hama. This is most likely a reference to reliable Gi-Joe scribe Larry Hama, who worked on the Marvel comic for many years.
“Heroes are born to die.” Starscream.
“Eaten alive is fine by me… it’s dying I object to.” Beach Head.
“I am Storm Shadow, now – and a storm casts no shadow.” Storm Shadow.
“We’ll leave our bones here. And the future of our world will be broken and scattered with us – if we don’t stand together as one.” Duke.
“Yo, Joes… anybody see this giant metal monster head besides me?” Leatherneck.