Wednesday, April 18, 2018

GI Joe X Street Fighter #1


Strange Team-Ups
GI Joe X Street Fighter #1



A book that requires a joystick

Writer – Aubrey Sitterson
Art – Emilio Laiso
Letterer – Robbie Robbins
Colorist – David Garcia Cruz
Editor – Carlos Guzman
February 2016

I was wrong to say that DC Versus Marvel had the barest plot possible. It’s clear from this first issue of GI Joe X Street Fighter that we could have gotten something far, far more gossamer in plots had Ron Marz not been behind the wheel.

Because this book has the singular misfortune of having one of the flimsiest plots I’ve ever encountered. One of the properties is based off the GI Joe action figures, and we’ve talked a bunch about how those little bits of plastic have gotten some pretty sophisticated stories written about them.



Street Fighter, on the other hand, is new to the Crapbox.




Street Fighter started out as Capcom video game series from 1987 that has spawned a franchise empire. A two person fighting game that featured one-on-one brawls between avatars representing different countries and fighting styles, there have been six different “official” game sequels to the original arcade game. The second itineration featured an upgraded system of special attacks and an “End Boss” villain, that was named M. Bison in the United States. M. Bison has since been a staple and the universe of Capcom characters have crossed over to fight other franchises in single combat fighting games like Marvel, SNK (King of Fighters), Tatsunoko and Tekken.

And since we are traveling back in time, I picked some great retro podcasts from The Retroist website to set the tone for this little foray, both of which I highly recommend you check out: Street Fighter II review and the Original Street Fighter for theAmstrad CPC. Also all the games are reviewed by the UK site RetroGamesMaster.co.ukso if you want to read detailed reviews, check them out at this link.

Around the time of the third video game, animated series of the Street Fighter universe and characters started popping up in other countries. In 1994, the property came stateside in an ill-fated live action movie that pitted rising star Jean-Claude Van Damme (the “muscles” from Brussels) as Colonel Guile against an ailing Raul Julia (in his last role) as M. Bison. The movie was a critical and box office flop or as one reviewer called it “a dreary, overstuffed hodgepodge of poorly edited martial arts sequences and often unintelligible dialogue.” I watched it when it came out. That reviewers words are accurate.




The movie was the first starring role of singer Kylie Minogue as Cammy. I’ll give it a few points for that, because Kylie Minogue



However bad the live-action fiasco was, it couldn’t kill the franchise. The game spawned mangas, comics, card games, board games, slot machines and even a YouTube TV series.

Myself, I’ve never seen the appeal of the actual game. I mean I get the concept of having strategy elements combined with a two-person fighting game and I understand the coolness of using unique combos against different opponents. I’ve just never been very good at button mashers in the 2-D fighting genre. I tend to end up jumping a bunch and somehow getting behind the guy I’m trying to attack. After that, I can’t figure out how to orient myself to hit or kick and I’m pummeled to pieces. I’m sure these weaknesses are mine and mine alone.




The inside cover to this slim book features a half page of extremely brief character intros to familiarize audiences with who is in the book. For most of them, I’m sure this is unnecessary but for me – the guy that always chose Ryu – this proves a godsend. At the back were character cards, a brief summary of matches in a “qualifying round” we didn’t see, and a World Warrior Tournament Bracket showing the other matches to come.




All of this points to the book being more like the Street Fighter video game than anything in the GI Joe universe of animated or comic book tales and that’s exactly right. You can lay the blame for that on Aubrey Sitterson, writer of this piece of pound cake. Sitterson’s claims to fame by his own admissions are writer at WWE.com, working on the WWE video games, host of the wrestling talk show Straight Shoot, and podcaster on the combat-heavy Skald podcast. His logic?

What Street Fighter and GI Joe have in common, the thing that both of their fanbases want more that anything else is exactly that which I have always loved about these franchises: Struggle, combat, Fighting.

Well, there you have it folks. Turn off the lights here, we are done.

Whatever the path, the popularity of the game has brought us to this point, where these characters get to mix it up with GI Joe. And mix it up is the right term, as the book begins with NO preamble and easing the two universes together. Just BAM! here we go!

So, in the spirit of that same hubris, I’ll jump right into the book review…

We start with our fighters arrayed around a “D” shaped combat arena. The Joes are there, as are the Street Fighters, and weirdly enough several of the Joes mortal enemies from Cobra. Why the two forces haven’t opened fire on each other or attempted to massacre each other is a mystery we won’t see solved here, just accept that Joes would attend some kind of physical MMA style event presided over in part by one of their most hated enemies, Destro.




While M. Bison calls for this round of finals to begin, we spend the next few panels listening in on Crimson Viper and Baroness who appear to have formed a team. Baroness fronted Viper money to win this competition (for reasons not explained) and she feels the need to tell the red haired combatant to watch out for Snake Eyes.



And then we are watching a video game. No more explanations. No more plot setups. Page two of the comic. Just two characters trying to beat the crap out of each other EXACTLY in the same manner as the video game. 



You can look at this one of two ways: Either this minimalist, stripped to the bones approach where the book transforms into an arcade cabinet with pages is the best interpretation of the Street Fighter experience OR by not adding layers and plotting and depth to the very flat source material, the writer has missed out on the opportunity to use the medium of comic books to create a realistic, engaging universe that the reader can invest in.

Or you could end up where I am, which is undecided in a way these fights can’t be. I’m a tie match. The fight scenes are well presented and fun, but yes, SOME story context as to how and why these matches are happening would be greatly, greatly appreciated.

It’s a book you have to check most of your brain at the door to enjoy. If you can do that, you should be fine. If you can’t, you should probably move on.

And speaking of moving on, our first match moves on to the point that Crimson Viper starts getting really miffed that Snake Eyes is defeating her, and suddenly she is all glowy-hands…



…and flamey feet. This somehow adds an advantage to her attacks and she starts to connect with power enough to make Snake Eyes look to be in trouble. 



Whatever else she might have up her sleeves we don’t find out, as Snake Eyes pulls out a pair of knives (which do nothing but force her to block, apparently) and then kicks her in the head. 



The big flashy words jumping up at you really add to the video game feel of this and add that dash of flavor needed to sell this improbable meet up.

Anyway, Crimson Viper’s defeat brings up the Baroness herself to fight next against the blubbery Street Fighter known as Rufus (no relation to the funk group that spun out Chaka Kahn). She seems a bit…cocky.



But maybe that’s warranted when your opponent appears overly smug himself. And he also appears to walk right into your first punch.



But Rufus is more resilient than he appears. As Baroness complains to Bison and Destro that she expected more from a finalist, Rufus gets back to his feet, no worse for wear.




He then proceeds to kick and chop the suffing out of Baroness…



…ending with some kind of signature move that literally knocks her the heck out. 




At least with this ignoble defeat she gets to take her place on the dais by her lover Destro’s side. Also we get hints that the contest is somehow, through means unknown, powering a super-weapon. Powering it by one-on-one combat matches. Yeah,…no! THAT’S the real Plot of this book. 




Next up is the Joe’s heavy machine gunner and cook Roadblock. He goes up against this weirdo:



Yeah, these Street Fighter characters get stranger and stranger, because in the middle of his fight, Hakan falls on his oil barrel, busting it…
 


…and then rolls all over it, coating his entire body, which allows him to do this to Roadblock, who someone allowed to carry a giant machine gun out with him…



Not that it matters, as the weird oily red dude shupts our Joe right into a wall-busting K.O. Aren’t any of these matched won by determination of the judges?



Following this Ryu gets knocked out by Snake Eyes’ apprentice after two pages of smack’n each other around. I do like the way they end the match.



But Ryu recovers very quickly and it is almost as if the pair agreed upon the winner before they entered the ring.



All of this leading Destro to ask Bison if the plan is working, to which Bison answers that all is going as plan and the final charging of the weapon will occur when he steps into the ring for the final round.

And aside from three pages of written blurbs about who won the qualifying rounds, that’s the book. It is oddly on point of the Street Fighter video game, having no setup for the story that eases you into these two universes. Opening that first page is like plunking a quarter into the coin slot and grabbing a joystick. It’s rare that I find something that adheres so closely to the soul of its source material and I don’t know if that shouldn’t be commended.

And while it completely disregards the tone of the GI Joe storytelling formula in favor of this “video game” in paper format, at least it is fun to read. Just don’t go in expecting the story to be more realistic than the cut scenes from a fighting arcade game and you should come away satisfied. If you look for anything deeper, you’re going to be disappointed.

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