Yo Jerwa!

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After taking command of Devil’s Due Publishing’s G.I. Joe, writer Brandon Jerwa has led “The Real American Heroes” through 18 months of adventures. Now that Jerwa has laid down his pen in favor of incoming scribe, Joe Casey, it seems a fitting tribute to look back at Jerwa’s brief but eventful time on G.I. Joe.

Please be warned, there are SPOILERS ahead…

G.I. Joe #26-27

Following a very enjoyable arc on the now defunct G.I. Joe: Frontline (issues #11-14), Jerwa took on the core title with a pair of stand-alone issues. His first tale, “Scott Sturgis is a Reasonable Man…” focused on a conspiracy theorist determined to discover the whole story behind G.I. Joe and Cobra. While the introduction of this “everyman” character provided a good opportunity to re-introduce the core characters and history at the heart of the Joe saga, Sturgis’ motivations and the story resolution seemed to lack in substance.

The second issue, “Paradigm Shift”, put into motion several new plots that showed a great deal of promise for Jerwa’s run. The main tale set a small team of Joes against a deposed Cobra Commander, in an effort to prevent him from establishing an alliance with the mysterious “Red Ninja Clan” (yes, the same ones that were always running around back in the Marvel Comics series). This issue showed the first hints at Cobra Commander becoming a much more cunning and malevolent threat. At the same time, Snake-Eyes’ actions served as the catalyst for the upcoming fractures in the unity of the Joe squad, setting the tone for Jerwa’s run.

“Players and Pawns” – G.I. Joe #28-32, “The Road Less Traveled” – G.I. Joe #33

Easily my favorite arc of Jerwa’s run, this story brought the Joe team back to the poor, besieged South American nation of Sierra Gordo. Trapping the team in the middle of a three-way war between the forces of Sierra Gordo, neighboring Sierra Muerte and Destro’s Iron Grenadiers, Jerwa showed his ability to craft complex and entertaining plots.

As the war unfolded, one double-cross after another unveiled until a stunning climax that actually lived up to the hype and emphatically changed the status quo for G.I. Joe (it left Hawk with a bullet in his spine, the Joe’s faith in Duke shattered and Destro and the Baroness firmly in control of Cobra). Running with Duke’s history in Black-Ops, Jerwa succeeded in portraying the team’s first shirt in disturbing light, creating a compelling conflict within the ranks of the G.I. Joe team. Even in “defeat,” Jerwa’s newly motivated Cobra Commander became a true threat in this arc, with a devastating terror attack on New York City that created a chilling moment, tapping into lingering post-9/11 fears.

Another aspect of the arc that was unexpectedly enjoyable was the introduction of Barrel Roll, a new member of the Joe team who would play a pivotal roll as the series progressed. If there was a flaw in this arc, it was that sheer number of double-crosses that, at times, made the story confusing. I found the arc flowed much better when read in one sitting, rather than spread over the course of 5 months.

“The Road Less Traveled” served as the epilogue to this arc, and was easily the strongest stand-alone issue of Jerwa’s time on the title. Set during the 60 seconds following Hawk’s shooting, Jerwa led readers through an emotional tour of Hawk’s past and future before completely redefining the character’s present. Issues #31 through 33 also featured a back-up story that introduced the new villain, Wraith, into G.I. Joe lore. Compared with the compelling emotional drama Jerwa was developing in the lead story, the Wraith tale seemed light on substance, but hinted at the villain’s potential to achieve lasting spot in the pantheon of beloved G.I. Joe characters.

“Bad Moon Rising” – G.I. Joe #34-35

Ominous and foreboding, “Bad Moon Rising” was prophetic on many levels. The core story revolved around a squad of Joes deployed to New Moon, Colorado; a small town known to be a front for Cobra operations. Starting the tale, with the botched mission already well in progress, established this darker tone.

As the story progressed, Jerwa steadily piled one bad omen after another on the team, climaxing with the realization that the heroes had played right into Cobra’s hands. Against the backdrop of this larger story, Jerwa introduced Thomas Stall, the brother of Barrel Roll. This is another subplot that I never felt truly came to a satisfying conclusion, but watching Stall’s fall from grace provided some very enjoyable moments along the way. I was impressed that Jerwa was able to get me to connect with these characters who do not have the same wealth of history that the original characters do.

Finally, Jerwa also provided an intriguing twist in the Destro/Baroness relationship; nicely contrasting what should have been a happy event with the otherwise dark tone of the arc. For mood alone, “Bad Moon Rising” can be held up as a good example of Jerwa’s work on G.I. Joe.

“Union of the Snake” – G.I. Joe #36-41

Union of the Snake could have easily been my favorite G.I. Joe story of all time. If heroes are truly defined by their enemies, Jerwa made a great effort to raise the bar for both the Joes and Cobra. This arc showed Cobra not as a super villain team, but a group of revolutionary radicals, using propaganda as often as they did terrorism to achieve their goals. Jerwa’s more deadly Cobra Commander also stepped into the spotlight, regaining control of Cobra in a stunning coup, revealed one last double-cross from “Player and Pawns”, exploited his enemy’s psychological weaknesses and showed a terrifyingly vicious streak with his final punishment of the traitorous Coil agents.

On the other side of the conflict, Jerwa continued to develop new cast members, as the Barrel Roll/Thomas Stall sibling rivalry intensified and General Philip Rey proved to be an interesting enigma. Unfortunately, as the story developed, many of Jerwa’s excellent plots failed to come to a satisfying resolution (perhaps due to the pressure to wrap up the series, in order to clear the table for the Joe Casey relaunch). The destruction of “The Pit” was a scene I knew was supposed to be dramatic, but it lacked the sense of importance the assault in Marvel’s G.I. Joe #53 had. Conversely, the Joe team’s assault on Cobra Island was shocking and powerful, but with the benefit of hindsight, seemed shockingly cavalier (would the U.S. government really authorize the irradiation of the Gulf of Mexico?).

Issue #41 was the most disappointing issue of Jerwa’s run, as it relied heavily on the importance of the fantastical super weapon, the Tempest, and provided answers and resolutions that were entirely too easy and without much consequence. That single issue diminished all the good Jerwa created in the rest of the arc.

“Dawn of the Red Shadows” – G.I. Joe #42-43

As has been pointed out by many people (including Jerwa himself), this arc was rushed. The emergence of the Red Shadows was only teased at during “Union of the Snake” before dropping on readers like a ton of bricks in this arc.

Along the way, many revelations and resolutions were quickly shoehorned into the story, including the curt endings of the Juggler, Serpentor and Hawk subplots. Jerwa’s dialogue also met with mixed results – the meeting between the Joe commanding officers (Hawk, Duke, Flint and Rey) came across as forced and overly sentimental. By contrast, the handling of the Lady Jaye/Flint story was touching and ended the series on a strong emotional note.

Considering the complexity of many of Jerwa’s stories, the end of this series left me wondering exactly what the writer could have accomplished had he the opportunity to close out the series in a less urgent manner. 

- Fletch Adams

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