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GI Joe Classified Series
by yo go re

It's been six months since we reviewed any actual GI Joes, but that's not by choice: Hasbro keeps releasing things only as Target exclusives, and then Target sells them out online in seconds and never stocks any in stores. It's bad. But at least a few characters are available through regular channels.

Zartan is a true chameleon, whose natural abilities in mimicry, acting, prosthetic effects, and disguise have been enhanced by significant genetic modification. He can assume any identity at any time with absolute precision. The true identity of Zartan is hidden behind dozens of aliases, making it nearly impossible to piece together his history and causing his sense of self to break down and destabilize his already chaotic mind. Zartan is also the head of an anarchist group called the Deadnoks.

Yes he is, and fun fact: instead of the Joe- and Cobra-themed boxes of the other figures, Zartan's packaging immediately separates him out as a Dreadnok. The accent color is a brownish maroon, with a lime green Dreadnok logo instead of Cobra's stylized snake. This is actually the third Dreadnok logo there's been, though it does take some elements from the "flame" logo: it still has the horned skull, though there are now two knives through it instead of one, and is marked with patches around the eyes; a snake writhes its way to the top of the skull, and there's a shape behind the whole thing that suggests the hood from Cobra's logo, making the gang's ultimate allegiance clear. Did we need a new logo? No. Did we need Dreadnok-themed packaging? No. Is it cool we got both of those? Yes!

Other than that time he had an orange mohawk, Zartan has always worn a hood. And other than that time he had an orange mohawk, I've never really thought about what Zartan's hair would be like. But it still feels odd that this figure is bald. Maybe it helps him with his disguises - easier to switch wigs and such. He still has the big black patches over his eyes, with the spikes on the upper part reaching all the way to the front of his scalp. His eyes have a blue glow to them, and he appears to be smirking confidently.

The original solicitations for this figure suggested the plastic would change color in the sun, just like the vintage Generation 1 Zartan did; Hasbro eventually said that feature had been dropped, but a lot of online sources didn't update their pages. So if you find a listing saying you're getting color-changing skin, don't think you're getting some rare variant or something, it's just outdated info. The rumor is Hasbro doesn't remember what formula was used for the original plastic, which is why we don't get it any more, but other companies have done similar things since, so it has to be available somehow.

And Zartan has plenty of skin to show, because his costume is definitely an update of the old one: black boots; brown pants; and, in lieu of a shirt, a breastplate that leaves his arms and abs bare. If I were a living chameleon who was allergic to sunlight, I would simply buy myself some sleeves. Like Sigma 6 Zartan, this one trades the layered pauldrons for simpler shoulder pads, though they do have a series of rounded ribs to suggest the old feeling. His hood is textured partially like cloth, and partially like snakeskin. He wears a maroon neckerchief, bringing in a little of his classic signature color (the hood and pants being a flatter brown on this release). The pants have a highly detailed sculpt, even behind the armor plates on his thighs and shins. A scary skull adorns his belt buckle, and he wears a second belt to help hold some accessories.

According to the official site, Zartan is 6'2", but this figure is nearly 6½" tall. Maybe he's just acting tall? He has a balljointead head, hinged and balljointed neck, swivel/hinge shoulders on pectoral hinges, swivel biceps, double-hinged elbows, swivel/hinge wrists, hinged chest, balljointed waist, hips that are a balljoint mounted on a hinge, swivel thighs, double-hinged knees, swivel shins, and swivel/hinge ankles. The shoulder armor is attached to the breastplate, so it doesn't really move "with" the arms so much as it moves "away from" the arms. Still, he's got enough movement that he could ride his Swamp Skier if they'd made it. Of course, if they had, it probably would have been Zartan who was an impossible-to-get exclusive, rather than Baroness.

Zartan's hood and scarf are separate pieces you can remove, so technically they'd count as accessories, but only a mad person would do so. His actual extras include a large knife that can sheathe on the back of his belt, a simple black tech pistol reminiscent of the 1984 weapon, and a tapered hexagonal backpack. Weirdly, the figure also includes a preserved snake head and a monkey's paw: what the what?! What do those have to do with anything? Are they just to make him look weird and "swamp"-y? Both those pieces can either plug into Zartan's belt or dangle from his backpack, whatever you prefer. There are also tabs on both sides of the backpack that will allow you to hang his gun there, meaning Zartan can hold all his accessories at once, even while leaving his hands empty.

There's one more bit that he almost needs to have: a mask. The backpack's lid can be removed, revealing a wearable mask inside! Both sides of the pack are molded with mechanical details, suggesting the pack is somehow making these masks on the fly, like that scene in Mission: Impossible III. It's the classic "beard guy" mask, but he keeps getting less beard in every subsequent outing: first a full beard, then a goatee, and now a soul patch. The mask fits inside the backpack perfectly, and can also hug Zartan's head even without the hood on (though the size will be a giveaway that something's not right - that and the solid white eyes).

Zartan's stats say his Role is Marcenary 4, his Gear is Classified 3, and his Skill and Mastery are Infiltration 3 and Disguise 4 - all perfectly in line with the character we've known for decades. This is a superb update of Zartan, with the only flaw being that he can't change color. Make Zartan change color in the sun, Hasbro! It's what the Zartan do!

-- 04/16/21

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