This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 1, 2016.
Normally comics criticism focuses on entire series, issues, or (at the very least) pages. However, sometimes you need to devote some space to one very special moment. Whether it’s a single panel or a brief sequence, there are brief snippets of comics that deserve to be examined for their own properties. That’s why each week in SNAPSHOT a Comics Bulletin writer will discuss one of their favorite comics panels, giving these excellent panels their due.
This week’s snapshot comes from:
Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #13 – page 33, panel 6
Written and Drawn by Tom Scioli
This one panel from the finale of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe beautifully summarizes so much of why this series was a special unicorn in the modern world of comics. It has a knowing retro style, an irreverent sense of humor, and clear grasp of what makes pop culture icons work. You can break down each of these things to understand why Tom Scioli is a great cartoonist and this is his best work to date.
The style of the panel utilizes color, form, and text to create the look and feel of a comic printed in the late 1970s, when both Transformers and G.I. Joe were breaking new ground at Marvel Comics. Beyond the yellowed pages, Scioli also utilizes flat colors that present forms plainly and clearly. The bright hues utilized here aren’t common for the series, but help the panel jump out as truly being apart from the rest of the action in surrounding sequences. It also emphasizes the dull, burnt grey of Megatron as a focal point. The forms of the unicorns are reduced to essential factors and can be easily recognized as a spoof of the My Little Pony franchise thanks to their shortened bodies, odd legs, and accentuated manes. Finally, the caption itself is written in purple prose transforming absolute inanity into the most self-serious of proclamations.
If this panel were dialed back, it would be easy to believe that it had really been printed 30 years ago. However, Scioli understands how to strike the parodic tone he aims for. The prose is just obtuse enough and the colors spiral into being just absurdly bright enough to make it clear this is a joke, as if the ponies and burnt corpse of Megatron weren’t enough. Scioli doesn’t laugh at his own joke though. He sells the possibility of another mega-IP crossover with discussion of “magic”, “science”, and “friendship”. The entire panel is manufacture on a single pun – the alteration of Transformer Unicron into the word unicorn. That’s the sort of “cleverness” that Scioli treats as a real twist without giving away his laughter. It’s his consistency of tone that allows this truly ludicrous concept to be as funny as it is.
Scioli’s tone is the same as it always has been throughout Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, a simultaneously loving and chiding examination of what makes these toy-based properties great. It’s the endless possibilities and combinations, infinite imaginative potential, that has defined the series. Once again he breaks another new idea in a single panel taking one of his favorite characters and throwing it into his little sister’s toy chest. Both the ponies and Transformers feel like they should, which is what makes their co-existence both shocking and delightful.
While this panel may seem like a throwaway gag, it really embodies the essence of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe. There’s a higher-than-normal level of silliness to it, but that comes from an embrace of endless possibilities. In this manner, Scioli both delivers laughs and an appropriately hellish punishment to Megatron for all of his intergalactic crimes.