Review: Action Man #1

Let's play a game. Let's see how long our American readers can keep their interest in the premise of IDW's latest nostalgic comic property. Based on the British licensed copy of the GI Joe dolls-- Well, that was fast. Yeah, British nostalgia is to blame for this newest addition to the 'it existed, let's do a comic about it' pile that IDW has decided to hang their whole publishing house on, this one feeling especially thin conceptually. I barely understand the lasting appeal of 'G.I. Joe' much less its British translation, a multi-talented spy guy who couldn't keep a cartoon series afloat for more than two seasons. This means to many American readers 'Action Man' has to prove himself as a character on the strength of this series alone, a primer in childhood fantasy from across the pond. Who knows? People still unironically debate the merits of stories told about characters named Major Bludd and Snow Job, maybe there is something in here that could appeal to the vinyl-loving doll collectors of America.

The comic begins with Action Man dying. Good start. Flawless square-jawed, ultra-human Action Man sacrifices himself to save the world, his final words being...a reference to the Action Man line from Bowie's 'Ashes to Ashes.' Jesus Christ. Not only is the line distractingly hilarious in this serious context, I couldn't help but think back to the same gag being used on the 'Venture Brothers'.

Despite being the Perfect Man, apparently the Action Man mantle can be passed down to the next guy in line, in this case Action Man's Action Buddy Ian, now the younger, less experienced, less perfect Action Man. Think Dick Grayson taking over the Batman mantle after 'Batman R.I.P.' only without the gravitas, character history, and competence. When he isn't taking shit from all sides from his team and superiors for not being the Real Action Man, he's secretly obsessively hunting for Doctor X, the original Action Man's arch nemesis who seemingly perished in the same event that killed said Action Man. No one but Ian and the readers thinks Doctor X is alive, forcing Ian to pursue leads while handling his daily diet of bomb disarmament, hostage rescue, and generic heroing.

ActionMan01-coverIDW's 'Action Man' is your standard issue soft reboot, passing the torch to a new generation while retaining the formula of the original, and formula it is. It's corny, it's supposed to be, but it doesn't really have the charisma, humor, or imagination to really make anything out of it. It feels as if there is an awareness that 'Action Man' is inherently ridiculous but is never pushed far enough to benefit from this insight. For the most part it's played straight when something more akin to 'Danger Girl's' campy exaggeration would be more appropriate. Nothing here is terrible, but nothing here is fun either.

The art isn't awful. Glossy smooth linework, at best recalling a very, very faint resemblance to Immonen/Grawbadger, occasionally feeling intentionally so. The facial expressions are stiff, and the inks look blandly digital at times, but some of the compositions are nice and the action is at least easy to understand. The real issue seems to be more the coloring. When not set in dark locals that can take advantage of the heavy black fills, the colors have a very basic primary colors feel, where the choices seem derived from what crayons tell you the color should be. This is what skin tone looks like. Use it everywhere. With a stronger color job the book could have looked more overall professional, but the end result is squarely mediocre.

Will this convert Joe fans? I couldn't tell you. I understand persistent adult love for G.I. Joe about as much as I understand adults who want R-rated Power Rangers movies; I can't entirely judge but I can't relate. If you are already a fan of the character this will probably be basically serviceable to your needs. As an American, I feel like you'd really need a British person's childhood to squeeze enthusiasm for the pages of people arguing about who deserves to carry on the legacy of this toy. Love it. Hate it. Feel indifferent about it. It's all nostalgically relative. All that is certain is it isn't as lazy as it could be, and for IDW, that's unfortunately saying something.

Cover Gallery!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Action Man #1
Writer: John Barber
Artist: Paolo Villanelli
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $3.99
Release date: 6/22/16
Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital