|Publisher||IDW Publishing, Ted Adams|
|Published in||M.A.S.K.: Mobile Armored Strike Kommand Annual 2017|
|First published||March 15, 2017|
|Cover date||February 2017|
|Written by||David A. Rodriguez|
|Art by||Andrew Griffith|
|Colors by||John-Paul Bove|
|Letters by||Gilberto Lazcano|
|Editorial assistant||David Mariotte|
M.A.S.K. and G.I. Joe join forces to stop a dangerous alien organism from falling into the hands of V.E.N.O.M.
When the head of the Decepticon Astrotrain crashes back to Earth, G.I. Joe officers Scarlett, Stalker, and Lifeline are sent to recover it. Studying the head to ensure it isn't dangerous, Lifeline notes that Astrotrain's brain module has stopped functioning, but some kind of energy is keeping him alive, as well as causing the plants around him to grow exponentially. Before they can extract the head, they are ambushed by V.E.N.O.M. agents Cliff Dagger and Vanessa Warfield. Dagger repels down from Warfield's Manta and begins knocking down the Joes. Lifeline manages to slip away in a V.A.M.P. with the samples he collected, but he is soon ambushed by Sly Rax on his Piranha, who shoots one of the V.A.M.P.'s tires and sends Lifeline over a cliff.
Lifeline wakes up in the headquarters of M.A.S.K., being tended to by Stalker and M.A.S.K.'s medic Julio Lopez, much to his chagrin. M.A.S.K. leader Matt Trakker welcomes him to the base and leads him into the main room, where Scarlett is already discussing the data the Joes collected with Gloria Baker. Lifeline and Gloria realize that energy comes from a techno-organism that infects its host at a cellular level, then replicates and mutates its DNA. They theorize that it could then be used to "re-program" any organism it comes in contact with, allowing for medical miracles... or disastrous terror. With V.E.N.O.M. having taken off with Astrotrain's head , Matt worries about the danger such a weapon could pose in the hands of V.E.N.O.M.'s leader, Miles Mayhem. However, Lifeline then discovers that the techno-organism will eventually break down, destroying whatever is infected. Scanning the planet for the same energy signature reveals the locations of the rest of Astrotrain's body: Africa, the Arctic Ocean, and Australia. The two groups agree to team-up and hunt down the rest of the Decepticon before V.E.N.O.M. does.
M.A.S.K. and the Joes decide to split into three teams to pursue the three pieces. Stalker, Tunnel Rat and Brad Turner travel to the Congo Basin, sending the latter two on Brad's Condor to retrieve the Cybertronian fragment while the former remains as air support. Brad detects Astrotrain's remains inside a cave, but the pair are soon ambushed by Vanessa Warfield. Brad uses his Eclipse Mask to create a parade of holographic elephants to distract Warfield as they slip into the cave... only to be met by Bruno Sheppard. Bruno attacks Brad and proceeds to beat him, allowing Tunnel Rat to sneak around and shoot him from behind. Tunnel Rat radios Stalker that they have recovered their piece of Astrotrain.
Meanwhile, Gloria and Julio take the Shark to the Arctic Ocean alongside Deep Six, but they are beaten to the punch by Sly Rax and the Iron Grenadiers, indicating that former Cobra member Destro has allied with Mayhem. The two groups engage in battle, with Deep Six's S.H.A.R.C. being destroyed and he is forced to eject. As Deep Six distracts Rax, Julio retrieves the piece of Astrotrain. Rax fires at an old naval mine near Julio, severely injuring him and allowing Rax to take Astrotrain for himself. Gloria and Deep Six retrieve Julio and evac him to M.A.S.K. HQ.
In Alice Springs, Australia, Joe sniper Sci-Fi has tracked down Miles Mayhem, who is meeting to exchange Astrotrain's head with a most displeased Destro. As Matt and Scarlett fly to his location in the Thunderhawk, they receives a call from Lifeline, who tells him that the only way to save Julio will be to retrieve the head and use the techno-organism to heal him. Matt and the Joes quickly interrupt the meeting; Scarlett engages Cliff Dagger, Sci-Fi takes out Destro's Annihilator bodyguards, and Matt battles Mayhem's Switchblade in the air. In the chaos, Destro decides to cut his losses and slips away, leaving Astrotrain behind. Scarlett uses Dagger's Torch Mask against his boss, maneuvering him so that he engulfs the Switchblade in flames and forcing it down. While Matt wants to go after Mayhem, Scarlett reminds him of the urgency of getting the head to save Julio.
Back at M.A.S.K. HQ, Lifeline implements his procedure on Julio. Matt tells Scarlett he's not sure he made the right call, but she reassures him that doubt is a key part of leadership. Julio makes a full recovery, and Scarlett tells Matt that if M.A.S.K. ever needs G.I. Joe's help, she'd be happy to fly with him again.
(Numbers indicate order of appearance.)
"We don't need guarantees, Lifeline. We're M.A.S.K. All we need is a shot."
- —Matt Trakker to Lifeline
- This story's place in continuity is currently unclear. It can't take place during or, with V.E.N.O.M. out and about, immediately after the first arc of the main M.A.S.K. series, which was in progress at the time of this story's release; M.A.S.K. #9 further complicated matters by showing V.E.N.O.M. breaking out of prison and leading directly into M.A.S.K. #10, the final issue of the series. With the collected volumes of M.A.S.K. placing it before issue 6, we have to assume that V.E.N.O.M. escaped off-panel before this story and got locked up again after it, which would make the "Brad Turner" appearing here actually the shapeshifting Zartan.
- Astrotrain was trisected by Arcee back in issue #55 of The Transformers. He was in Jupiter's atmosphere at the time, so we're left to assume the alien organism of this story transported his remains to Earth somehow.
- Hey, it's Destro! The metal-masked mogul was last seen at the end of Snake Eyes, Agent of Cobra, back in 2015; it looks like he hasn't been doing too badly for himself since Cobra collapsed.
- The techno-virus found on Astrotrain's body is brought up again in First Strike #2.
- This story is a retelling of the pilot episode of the M.A.S.K. animated series. Of course, G.I. Joe and Astrotrain didn't figure into the original version of the story; here, Astrotrain's head takes the role of the titular "Deathstone". Several scenes and lines of dialogue are lifted directly from the episode.
G.I. Joe references
- Several vehicles from across the G.I. Joe franchise appear, including the V.A.M.P., Eaglehawk, S.H.A.R.C., and Sting Raider.
- During the Chicago basketball game Tunnel Rat watches, one of the players is Big Lob, aka Bradley J. Sanders, a G.I. Joe member created for the 1987 animated film G.I. Joe: The Movie, the same movie that Tunnel Rat debuted in.
- Iron Grenadiers are said to be piloting the Sting Raiders, making their first appearance since G.I. Joe vol. 3. A few months later, Revolutionaries #4 would see them appear on-panel as robotic soldiers, under the command of Baron Ironblood.
- While not referred to by name in the issue, Destro's troops at Alice Springs are recognizable as Annihilators, fulfilling their traditional role as his personal bodyguards.
- Sly Rax says "Mischief has been managed", referring to the Marauder's Map from Harry Potter.
- Julio references the USS Enterprise from Star Trek.
- Scarlett refers to orders from General Hawk, but Hawk hasn't been part of the Joes in IDW continuity since the end of the "Cobra Command" storyline in 2012.
- Brad says that Julio is the "futuristic armor shield or something guy," when Julio's actual Gulliver Mask power is the ability to make objects grow or shrink.
- Deep Six wears his rather doofy-looking classic diving suit, rather than the more high-tech and less adorable-looking one that he sported back in his Hearts & Minds spotlight story.