G.I. Joe Yearbook 2019: A valuable year in review


Recapping the explosive year that was, with the oversized G.I Joe Yearbook 2019.

GI Joe ARAH Yearbook 2019 cover art by Tommy Lee Edwards (Courtesy of Hasbro, published by IDW)

Growing up, one of the Summer traditions that I loved was Marvel comics annuals. Big fat comic books that featured the conclusion to a major ongoing story, plus a backup tale or two, pinups, features on important locations or buildings in the comic’s universe. All great stuff. G.I. Joe took things a little bit differently though. Because the series would veer from one plot to another, and sometimes those plots stretched back over years and dozens of issues, the G.I. Joe Yearbooks featured a detailed recap of the year’s events and notes about how the current plots tied back into older stories.

This was in addition to reports about the new cartoon series, dossiers of popular and new characters, and even a couple of new stories. Some of it was filler, cover galleries or glorified ads for new toys. That recap section was something to take in though: stitched together with a few sentences and repurposing key panels from the years’ worth of comics really drove home how epic and interweaved Larry Hama’s storytelling was. It also seemed to give Hama a chance to sit down and figure out what he’d done, setting the table for where he might come next.

2019 isn’t 1988 but I’m happy to say, even though Summer is still a couple of months off, IDW is continuing the Yearbook tradition. This year’s model still has two stories, plus a recap of considerable value to me.

The main story is by writer Larry Hama, and artist Kei Zama, who has been working on IDW’s Transformer’s properties for the past four years. She’s a good fit for this chapter, which features the cybernetic weapons makers Revanche, and gets readers caught up with the new Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Jinx and the rest of the ninja family. The bad guys (bad bots?) send drones after them, only to have each successively more expensive spy-bug destroyed. Hama uses the story to develop the inhuman aspects of the Revanche creatures, who measure value in quality of upgrades and cost to produce. Their snooping mission fails when one unit turns traitor due to an effective “empathy” chip, saving the Joes.

GI Joe ARAH Yearbook 2019 art by Kei Zama (Courtesy of Hasbro, published by IDW)

There are a few characters in this story I haven’t encountered before, but with the context provided, I was able to coast along and figure out the broad strokes of their interpersonal relationships. One thing I can’t figure out is when this story takes place in the current G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero timeline. When I last saw Storm Shadow in issue 257 his memories had been downloaded into a robotic body. This Yearbook tale takes place in the past, but I can’t tell when. It could mean there are two Storm Shadows running around now—the original blood and brains edition, and a synthetic copy—which is a crazy plot I can absolutely believe Larry Hama would enjoy playing with.

The backup story, “Infinite Cobra” is by Tommy Lee Edwards, an artist and writer who has worked on such diverse books as The Question, Robotech, and Judge Dredd. Here Edwards writes while Davide Gianfelice illustrates a story about Duke’s recovery after the events of 1987’s G.I Joe the Movie. It’s little more than a vignette. Duke is having nightmares about Cobra-La, while Scarlet pleads with his brother Falcon to come home to visit. Most of the dialogue in this story is constrained to a single page. Gianfelice carries the storytelling load with his illustrations.

GI Joe ARAH Yearbook 2019 art by Davide Gianfelice (Courtesy of Hasbro, published by IDW)

I recognize his version of Duke and the mental stress he’s under, haunted by the nightmares and poisons of Cobra-La. On the last page, as a survivor of the ancient civilization picks through the remains of their destroyed Himalayan kingdom, it’s easy to figure out that they’ve discovered a portentous relic thanks to Gianfelice’s clear page design and acting. This prologue looks like it is setting up an as-yet-to-be-announced miniseries that’ll fill in gaps between the end of the movie and the 1989 relaunched cartoon.

The final section of the 2019 GI Joe Yearbook is Assistant Editor Megan Brown’s, “The Dawn of Snake Eyes,” an essay detailing how G.I. Joe’s breakout character, Snake Eyes, went from being a mute Vietnam veteran, to a badass self-assured lady warrior. It’s a brisk two-page spread that covers 33 comics from the current series: Dawn’s introduction in issue 226 as a Cobra loyalist, the imprinting of Snake Eyes memories into her mind, how she copes with the trauma of having a “ghost” in her head, and once again becomes her own person.

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Annuals tend to be fairly disposable in 2019. However, Larry Hama has a long history of sprinkling seemingly insignificant characters and moments throughout his stories. Months or even years later he’ll return to them, making them key pieces of the ongoing G.I. Joe tapestry. The Revanche seem destined to play a big role this year, and the peek at Infinite Cobra has me interested in checking out this spin-off book when it arrives.