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"First Impact"

Final Faction
by yo go re

What was it that made GI Joe: A Real American Hero a smash hit? Having a comicbook. The characters had personalities, thanks to Larry Hama's idea to give them all biographical filecards, but the comic fleshed them out. (And then Hasbro was allowed to run animated advertisements for "the comics," which they weren't allowed to do for toys, but that's a different story.) Anyway, Dollar Tree is really behind Final Faction's future, because it already has a cartoon, and now it has a comic of its own.

Yes, the comic is sold at Dollar Tree. Which means it only costs $1.25. I remember buying Archie TMNT comicbooks at KB Toys (which is a very old-fashioned sentence) and being shocked when the price of those went up from $1 to $1.25, so being able to buy a 2022 comicbook for what must be '90s prices is kind of a trip!

The story, title "First Impact," shows the origin of the Alpha Team... team. You already know the basic set-up of the line from it being printed on the back of every toy's card - asteroid collides with the moon, we realize evil aliens have been hibernating inside, and now we have to fight them off - but this comic shows us how that went. The story opens on MSgt. John Steadfast (Retired) grilling in his backyard, and we can clearly see the lunar impact - that asteroid must have been humongous! From there the Kharn launch their first attack on Earth, and we see all the future members of the team separately defending their homes. In Steadfast's case, defending it with nothing more than a grilling fork and an angry chihuahua. You know, in case you were wondering why he's half cyborg now.

The story is written by Tony Osborne, who's also responsible for the cartoon episodes. While those have been doing a good job showcasing the toy characters, this comic gets to delve into the history of the world a little bit, and introduces some background people we haven't seen or heard of before. There are a couple things that don't line up perfectly between the continuities (how old is Riptide? Was Amari a new recruit or there from the beginning?) but nothing major, and there's enough wiggle room that you could handwave any discrepencies.

Chris Marrinan handles the art, and while you may not recognize the name, he's done work for both DC (drawing, at different times, their Big Three: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) and Marvel (Captain America, the New Warriors, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, etc.). He has good, clean layouts and the action scenes are clear, and a few panels have a bit of a Jack Kirby vibe.

Coloring in a comic is like editing in a movie: if you notice it, something's gone wrong; but there's one particular bit we want to call out for praise. Like we said, the story opens with Steadfast grilling by moonlight. Weird choice on his part, but who are we to judge? Anyway, at that same moment, Shift is meditating in her East Asian home, and colorist Mimi Simon has put her under a bright blue sunshiny sky. It would have been easy to work on autopilot and forget that these two scenes take place on opposite sides of the globe, necessitating different times of day, but no, they did it right! And then when we see the African plains, it's sunset. Perfect! It's good work throughout, that's just something that stood out as particularly nice.

One thing that does feel weird, though? The panel sizes. The 20-page story has 93 panels, for an average of 4.65 panels per page, which feels low: we're not expecting a Watchmen-style perfect nine-panel grid or anything, but these large panels make this feel different than a normal comic. You know what it's really reminiscent of? The kind of mini-comics that came with Masters of the Universe. Like, was Dollar Tree originally planning to release this in mini-size, then later decided to blow it up to full? With denser pages, the story wouldn't need to feel so rushed. Of course, it's possible it was crafted this way with full intention - the comic, like the toys, is meant to appeal to youngsters who otherwise might not get anything this good at all, so expecting it to meet our incredibly high standards is missing the point. It's like asking why Miraculous Ladybug refuses to offer an opinion on the Armenian genocide.

The book has no ads, meaning the entire cost of producing it is being footed by Dollar Tree - and it's still only $1.25?! Good lord! There's a page of fake ads on the inside of the back cover, the kind of retro collage of scam products you used to see in Gold- and Silver Age comics. Each of them relate to a different Final Faction character, and the entire thing carries Churro's seal of approval. Cute! And then the back cover promises a second issue coming sometime in the future.

Final Faction was 2021's Line of the Year, based on the low price and wide availability. Apparently Dollar Tree wasn't content to rest on that, though, because they've continued to produce episodes of the cartoon, and now a comicbook, too. What's left for them to conquer, videogames? Feature-length animation? Live action? At this point, we wouldn't put any of it past them. If you don't mind some well-intentioned goofiness in your comics, Final Faction #1 is a great value for the price, and we're looking forward to more.

-- 12/09/22

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