G.I.Joe Future Noir is one of those obscure alternate takes that almost every property has, that many wouldn’t even know existed. Idw published the small manga sized black and white trade paper back in 2011.
it featured a young team of Joes who are sent on a mission by General Hawk. Duke commands a squad consisting of of Scarlet, Roadblock, Sci-fi (with an interesting twist) and a rookie by the name of Helix. Don’t worry, they met Snake-Eyes along the way.
The first thing you may notice is some of the unusual members on the roster. Sci-fi is no longer the laser trooper from the ARAH days, but instead is a cyborg who serves as pilot, and general computer/support for the team. His face bears a resemblance to Gambit, and his later body part switcheroo reminds me of 90’s era bad comic cyborgs. UPDATE: I initially didn’t see any ties to the classic Sci-Fi here, but Joe Nation’s Casey pointed out that Star Brigade Sci-Fi (v4) had bat like hand attachments and had been re-assigned to be a pilot.
Helix was created for the Joe video game and quickly spring up in both IDW continuity, and a tie in game comic. Her inclusion here is a pleasant surprise. She fits the role of rookie well, because she was new to Joe fans and doesn’t come with a lot of preconceived notions. IDW has often created new characters to populate their original Joe world, but i much prefer this decision, to use a minor character as a window into something new. she isn’t the star, but her arc is helpful and being the newbie, she fills that “eye of the reader” view.
While these two unusual choices stand out and and help the story feel unique, the more essential Joes are a mixed bag. Duke is tragically juvenile. He fits the classic immature leader who must mature to face a stronger foe cliche that is so popular these days (Renegades, new Thundercats etc.) But here is taken to an annoying extreme, and it isn’t helped by Scarlet confusingly being a love interest and mother figure to him. The intent here was likely to have her be a bit nagging, as in a wife, but it really feels motherly to me. Roadblock rhymes again, which is okay in this context, with the young leader and the new setting, it feels like it’s aimed at pre-teens and it’s not a bad thing that he lightens up a somewhat dark plot. It also gives classic Sunbow toons a sense of nostalgia.
The Joe team head to japan, aboard the argonaut, head to Tokyo and are at awe to see a crescent shaped ridge behind the city called “The Serpent’s coil.” Duke explains it’s creation letting the reader now about the alternate history of this Joe world. The setting is neat, but the “Coil” is a bit confusing, given that the Cobra they soon encounted is very unique, and it feels slightly odd to use the name of a cobra sub unit/off shoot as a location where this new odd Cobra, lives. I actually think it would have more sense to call them the Coil.
As we see the Joes uncover a standard Mcguffin, we also get a bit too brief glance at Cobra, her lead by King Cobra (at least initially) which is a nice nod to one of the suggested names for Serpentor’s original toy. king Cobra feels like an amalagam of Destro and Cobra Commander and orders Mindbender around, as well as some Vipers who do no actual fighting in the manga.
The enemy the Joes end up facing, are genetically altered human monsters, and some monsters that may have been animals or lab created. This monster brawl show cases some internal conflict with Sci-Fi which adds depth both to the character and their adversaries. It also sees the Joes finding an ally in the Arashakage clan including it’s star ninja: Snake Eyes.
I won’t spoil to much, but Baroness, as well as some surprise (but appropriate for the story) Cobra’s show up along the way. The Joes of course save the day, but in the end Mindbender does a double cross that didn’t seem to make sense. Your distracted by Snake-Eyes taking out a giant monster around the same time as that reveal but the more I thought about it the more it bugged me. It seemed a last minute way to end the story, otherwise the author, Schmidt, was on the ball. The ending gave us room for more, although one named Character is clearly dead.
While rushed towards the end, I think the story is the strong point here. While many Joe fans want to see realistic American soldiers fighting human terrorists it’s not going to happen that way in any cartoon. These monsters provided a nice alternative to Bats that would lead Joes get away with killing on a Saturday morning toon. This did have that feel, capturing more of the mature and positive elements of manga and anime as opposed to Sigma Six which gravitated more towards the exaggerated humor and facial expressions also found in Anima/manga.
I may be biased because as a kid my Joes probably fought Kenner Aliens and other such monsters more so than actual Cobra soldiers, but this feels like something that could be an interest new cartoon take. I’d of course prefer it a little more grounded than this, and Duke needs some work but I can really see it being more kid safe, and kid friendly in concept. The story also had some weight to it that would make readers fondly remember Aliens, or Starship troopers or it’s Roughnecks cartoon. If your not willing to mix your Joe with a bit more sci-fi than is already pleasant, you likely won’t be happy.
The art by Giacomo Bevilacova is nice, clearly Manga inspired but with an overall style that is familiar enough to the west that it works for Joe. The designs range from bland to unique, with helix reminding more of VVV Zarana, or a Catwoman like baroness, to a Scarlet I’d love to see an action figure of. While you only get color on the cover, there is additional art in the back which is worth a look. Come to think of it, does one of the surprise Cobras remind anyone else of Khefa from FF 6 (or III here in the U.S.? )
I must caution those interested that the binding is cheap and as I read it pages crumbled out. I bought a used copy, but I have heard this isn’t a unique occurrence. With no pages this could head to bad territory quickly.
It’s different, it’s unique, and it feels imaginative and reminds me of a child taking their toys to a new setting. It’s fairly cheap and worth a grab.
7/10 (would have been 8 if the pages hadn’t fallen out !)