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What is GI Joe: Classified?

Deadly technology, missing students, and a secret organization of ninjas come together in this propulsive story set in the world of G.I. Joe.

When Stan’s mom gets the job offer of a lifetime at a cutting-edge tech company, Stan packs his bags and exchanges Chicago for Springfield, home to DeCobray Industries.

Saying goodbye to big-city life is only the first challenge Stan faces in moving to Springfield, a town that’s eerily under the thumb of his mother’s powerful employer. DeCobray has its hand in everything, including the Lyre XR augmented reality headsets that Stan and his fellow students at Springfield Academy are asked to beta test.

At first Stan loves his headset—data on his classmates is at his fingertips, and the Lyre’s custom filters make school sort of fun—but then he meets Scarlett, Ichi no Zoro-me, and Julien, and his new friends show him there’s a lot more going on behind DeCobray’s flashy tech. When several kids go missing at school, Stan and his friends set out to uncover the truth behind the devices. But the further they dig, the more sinister the conspiracy at the heart of their town appears …

This propulsive series starter is a heart-pounding thrill ride from start to finish, perfect for fans of G.I. Joe and action-adventure stories alike.

Review

I wouldn’t normally think of GI Joe as science fiction even if I would normally be quite happy to put it under Young Adult. It is, now that I think about it, a children’s series. I know, right? Crazy. I mean, I’m forty-three years old and I watched it as a child. How strange it hasn’t been consistently updated to keep up with my changing tastes and maturity level like all other media has been.

Well, unless you count SPHINX from Venture Brothers. Still, I stumbled upon this book quite by accident and wondered what a Young Adult GI Joe book released in 2020 would be about. The very short version would be that it’s basically GI Joe’s version of X-men: Evolution. X-men: Evolution is also 23 years old itself. Wow, I need to get to work on stopping this aging thing. Maybe if I got myself some mutagen. Ninja Turtles are still new, right?

The premise is original character, Stanislaw (AKA Stan) Migda, moves with his mother into the town of Springfield for her to get a job with DeCobray Industries. Even cursory fans of GI Joe can likely guess who is secretly in charge of this town. Surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be any GI Joe to actually face Cobra this time despite the fact the terrorist organization is real and conducting EVIL EXPERIMENTS (da dummm) on the local students.

Instead, the protagonists are Scarlet and Zoro-me (Snake Eyes) who, teamed up with a teenage hacker named Julien, aid Stanley in trying to keep Cobra from their dastardly deeds. The Baroness is a 10th grade student, Zartan is the principle, and Cobra Commander is, well, Cobra Commander. Other characters include the Hard Master and Soft Master running a local martial arts dojo, school guidance counselor Conrad Hauser, and Tommy Arashikage (AKA Storm Shadow) as another teenager.

You could make a comparison between this book and fanfic school AUs but I hesitate to do that because that might imply I dislike this oddball re-imagining or think its amateur. I use X-men: Evolution as my standard because I think it’s actually quite good. It’s not what you would typically think of with GI Joe or I would have written but the uniqueness is hardly a strike against it. Indeed, I kind of wish they’d added more characters from the cartoon and toy line as students or staff. Is Firefly the science teacher? How about Lady Jaye and Flint as the prom queen and king? There’s a sequel to this novel and I picked it up as soon as I finished this one.

There’s a fun Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (or Alex Rider now that I think about it) energy to the piece as they increasingly come face to face with the fact their school is a bunch of guinea pigs for Cobra’s equivalent to AR glasses. There’s some genuinely spooky moments in the book with them, like the fact that Cobra uses them to manipulate people’s perception in real time. I shouldn’t be thinking of They Live during a Young Adult novel about GI Joe but the fact I am reminds me of some of the crazier Sunbow cartoons like when Shipwreck is subjected to mental torture in, yes, Springfield.

This is definitely one of those novels that I would recommend a reader purchase the audiobook version of versus the ebook or paperback version. Shawn Compton manages to instill a kind of awkward young man’s energy into his narration and it works well for Stan (who I presume is named for OG GI Joe creator, Stan Weston). At just under five hours, it may be less of a book than you’d normally get for an audiobook credit but I really enjoyed it as an afternoon’s adventure.

Are there some issues? Well, yes. Cobra getting bamboozled by a bunch of teenagers is going to rub some people the wrong way. Even the fact the novel is upfront that Cobra Commander could kill them at any time but doesn’t (seemingly more amused by their antics than threatened) doesn’t really do much to mitigate this fact. I also feel GI Joe: Classified is a poor title for the series and something like GI Joe: Academy or GI Joe: Teen Heroes would have been better. Still, I would recommend this for Real American (or International) Hero readers of eleven to, well, my age.

Available here

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