I grew out of comics in the 90s; or at least, superhero comics for the most part. It was a bit of a weird time for mainstream comics, with the EXTREME 90s makeovers, prompted mostly by the Image guys before and after their departure from Marvel, which led to serious style-over-substance problems and endless variant covers, not to mention ridiculous cover gimmicks. It became exhausting to just enjoy comics – and I walked away.

I was lured back by thoughtful, nostalgic looks at superheroes such as Marvels – which was also elevated thanks to its painted Alex Ross artwork. The thing I discovered once I came back in the early 2000s was that plenty of comics still had the capacity to be thoughtful and entertain all along – I’d just been looking in the wrong places. That said, there were also awkward attempts to make ‘serious’ comics that fell short in many ways, though they were admirable attempts to move away from the excesses and painfully immature mainstream stuff that was the norm in the 90s.

GI Joe: Hearts and Minds, written by World War Z author Max Brooks, feels like a comic out of time. It’s an attempt to look at the real personalities and motivations behind the often ludicrous, over the top characterisations that we’re used to seeing in GI Joe.

The problem is that it takes itself way too seriously. It’s a comic that I might have picked up in my early 20s and which might have made me excited about the possibilities of the medium all over again, but the problem is that this type of self reflection has been done to death, years if not decades beforehand – and also done an awful lot better than this.

Each issue focuses on two characters; one Joe, one Cobra. Each gives us a tale focusing on their area of expertise and who they really are; what makes them tick or what drives them. It’s just so dull and the writing so on the nose; though it’s an admirable attempt to make a mature comic based on the toy line/cartoons/borderline superhero comics, these characters just struggle to fit into more serious clothes. It’s not like they can’t – Brooks does well to make the tone serious and worthy – it’s just that it ceases to feel much like GI Joe at all, which begs the question: why bother? Why not just make an original comic based on the same premise of spotlighting characters on opposite sides of a decades-long military struggle?

IDW have produced more mature GI Joe stories without losing the essence of the characters or premise; this just feels like self-indulgent crap to me, with Brooks seemingly unaware of ways to treat comics seriously without being so crushingly dull.

Howard Chaykin’s often ugly art (sorry, I know he’s a legend but his work here is terrible) really doesn’t help. I know this comic got a lot of acclaim when it came out, but it really doesn’t work for me at all. Give me the classic Marvel comics or – even better at this stage – the hilariously self-aware fun of GI Joe: A Real American Hero – Saturday Morning Adventures.

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