After the shocking end of the last issue, “Transformers Vs. G.I. JOE” #7 takes a turn for the dramatic. It narrows its focus on Scarlett and her feeling that — although everyone around her tells her the previous six chapters have merely been her own delusions while she recovered from an undisclosed brain injury — there was more than meets the eye. The story is dark and somber, slowly edging back towards the madness readers have come to expect from the comic book. Everything about the book is stylized towards engaging a reader’s sense of nostalgia for a bygone era, from weathered texture overlays on each page to the cramped page layouts and self-lettering. Everything is considered and makes for a highly entertaining and cohesive whole.
Part of the charm of this series has been watching John Barber and Tom Scioli smash these properties together with the abandon and glee of kids playing with toys. Anything that could happen did, emphasized by character designs based on the action figures rather than animated or previous print versions. Scarlett’s dark journey through the suburbia in which she finds herself directly addresses the comments the creative team has received, particularly that this book would end as the panel pulls out to reveal someone merely playing with toys, a St. Elseformers selling out of the concept.
As Scarlett realizes what’s going on, she takes a more central role in the book and the motivations of characters like Dr. Mindbender become more complicated and nuanced. His admittance of independent contractor status with Cobra and his desire to still uphold the Hippocratic oath come across as sincere no matter how twisted his methods. The tragic scene as Scarlett slices her fake husband’s throat, then tells her fake children that she wishes someday her real children were as good as them before leaving them to burn to death in their home, is a pitch black moment but also true to the nature of the “if/then” mentality of this series. Barber and Scioli aren’t just considering these ’80s properties herein; they’re considering all of ’80s media. Moves like this were commonplace for action heroes of that era so it’s fitting it happens here as well. By honing in on one humanistic portion of the story, they are able to expand their storytelling language to new places. For a story that’s been an Id-driven smash-up to this point, this is a jarring — but earned — shift and emphasizes the “anything can happen” nature of the tale.
Scioli’s visual style remains a true joy. He almost seems hampered by the physical limits of the page, as if his imagination bursts with so many ideas that he must shrink the scale to accommodate. As the Joes and circuit board-washed Autobots burst from the tail of Scorponok, the artist delivers another knockout double page spread that could easily be an 8-page spread. Similar to a Grant Morrison storytelling style, he picks the height of a moment and uses a single frame to convey an entire scene worth of action. In the showdown at the climax of the issue, a mirrored page that channels the energy of Frank Miller, Scioli gives readers a bloody fight between Scarlett and a duplicate that is efficient and curt but delivers so much information that it’s easy to understand what went down. It lends itself to reread after headshaking, giggling reread.
There is a saying in improv that, if one is going to play a foolish or odd character, he or she must do so at the top of their integrity. It makes sense, as even the most odd of people behave the way they do because they believe in every decision they make. That is a great way to describe this issue and the series as a whole; it’s a base concept played to the top of its integrity. Truly unlike anything else on stands right now, Barber and Scioli have made “Transformers Vs. G.I. JOE” one of the most fascinating books on shelves today and issue 7 may be the best, most nuanced issue yet.