G.I. Joe returns to the big screen next year, yet it's only on the comic-book page where you'll see the special missions.
Written by current G.I. Joe scribe Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Paul Gulacy (Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu), G.I. Joe: Special Missions debuts March 20 as part of IDW's relaunch of the franchise.
The book also has roots in the original comic, as it's inspired by the original model of Larry Hama's Marvel Comics spinoff of the same name back in the 1980s: a revolving team of specialists comprising only those who could get a particular job done.
The new Special Missions also acts as a sister book to Fred Van Lente's retooled G.I. Joe flagship series that begins in February. While the Joe team goes very public in that, Dixon takes his squad, led by intelligence experts Scarlett and Mainframe, underground and off the grid.
"It's going to be as close to reality as we like to get with the G.I. Joes," says Dixon, who also writes the Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow comic. "This is your straight-up, espionage, military-adventure, hunter/killer-team kind of book.
"Although the Dreadnoks do show up in the second arc, so I can't say we're not going to deal with some of the screwier elements of G.I. Joe."
Gulacy admits that he actually was "all geeked up" to do Special Missions like the movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, "which always reminded me to some degree of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on the big screen. I'm thinking jet packs, crazy guns and aircraft, and all that."
However, Dixon spoke with Gulacy over the phone about the new realistic approach when developing the series. He was fine with that, too, the artist says. "The grittier, the better."
Dixon and Gulacy's first mission spins out of the current story line, where leather-clad femme fatale The Baroness is on the outs with Cobra after losing $40 billion of the evil organization's funds thanks to a sunken ship.
She figures the best way to make amends is to go get the money on the floor of the Atlantic, but the Joe team is on its way to find it before she does. Add in horrible weather and Cobra Commander sending his own squad into the fray to get his cash back, and "it's a perfect storm of violence, basically," Dixon says.
Because he was working with Gulacy again, "I went right for the Thunderball," says Dixon, who promises lots of undersea action with divers by the artist. (They had previously teamed on the 1987 Eclipse miniseries Valkyrie.) "There's a visceral feel to his work, just a coolness factor."
Scarlett heads up the first mission, which includes a Joe roster of Army Ranger Beach Head, demolitions guy Tripwire, computer specialist Hard Drive, Navy SEAL Torpedo and Coast Guard captain Cutter. Mainframe takes charge in the second arc, which will feature machine gunner Roadblock (who is being played by Dwayne Johnson in the upcoming G.I. Joe: Retaliation movie in March) and Native American tracker Spirit.
So far, Gulacy likes them all. "The trouble is learning who's who," says the artist, who has a shoe box full of G.I. Joe action figures he picked up more than 15 years ago.
"Chuck keeps them all distinguishable. It's pretty complicated. It reminds me of working on Star Wars, which is quite the challenge knowing the characters, the gear, the hardware and the personalities."
There are a lot of Joes, but don't expect scads of character development — although the series starts with a romance between Scarlett and Mainframe that will probably get rocky sharing command of an elite unit within an elite unit.
Dixon's Special Mission is "all plot," he says. "It's their mission — do they succeed or fail? And anybody who's been reading the Joe that I've been writing knows they fail probably more times than they succeed.
"The arcs are meant to be read as standalone thrillers as opposed to the more ongoing, serial stories the other books have."
While fans won't see large-scale military operations like in recent story line, they are getting the Dreadnoks in the second arc, according to Dixon.
The Cobra-affiliated outcast biker gang led by villainous master of disguise Zartan will be a slightly updated version of Hama's from his original G.I. Joe series, which introduced Buzzer, Ripper, Torch and others prior to their debuts as action figures on toy shelves.
"They're closer to the Doomsday Preppers zanies on TV. They're out there in their own little community in the middle of the Australian outback," says Dixon, who's mixing in a little Sons of Anarchy and Mad Max, too. "They take themselves way too seriously."
One character who is staying off the table is Snake Eyes, the silent ninja warrior who's been an iconic part of the Joe roster since Hama began his original run in 1982.
In fact, there's a Snake Eyes moratorium in not only Special Missions but also Van Lente's G.I. Joe series and Mike Costa's G.I. Joe: Cobra Files, launching in April.
"The thing with Snake Eyes and with ninjas overall is less is more," Dixon explains. "It's always cool to have Snake Eyes out of the picture for a while, and then his return is always huge and dramatic. And not in a contrived way.
"Him coming back is always a moment, like in Fantastic Four when Doctor Doom shows up. It's like, OK, now it's a party."
The Baroness GIJOE Special Missions #1
Dixon, Gulacy enlist for 'G.I. Joe: Special Missions'