A few years ago, when it was announced that the "Real American Hero" line of 3¾" GI Joe figures would be replaced with the 8" Sigma 6 line, a lot of fans were upset. It seemed that Hasbro was betraying the dedication of the fans who had been with the line for two decades. Of course, Sigma 6 turned out to be really good, and Hasbro continued selling new versions of the old characters through their DTC - Direct To Consumer - program. There were individually carded figures, as well as comic-based three-packs, such as this one, based on issue #75 of Marvel's comic and featuring Zartan, Zarana and... "Cobra Commander."
Zartan is a master of disguise, the leader of the Dreadnoks, and a master of several martial arts. He is a gifted ventriloquist, linguist (over twenty languages) and acrobatic contortionist, and a highly skilled archer. Tight-lipped and evasive, Zartan has always maintained that the secret of his amazing chameleon-like powers lies in his manipulation of advanced holographic technology. Some have suspected that his ability to change his skin color to blend in with his environment is due to an actual genetic mutation. Either way, Cobra Commander keeps him on the payroll with a standing order to remove anyone, "friend or foe," who may threaten his supreme leadership.
This Zartan figure is based on the original 1984 figure - in fact,
only his head is new. Sadly, they yet again failed to include his color-changing feature. Honestly, the new head isn't much of an improvement over the original - you get the feeling it was changed for the sake of making a change, and that's never good. For some reason, Hasbro now seems to think that the black around Zartan's eyes is supposed to be a shadow cast by his hood. That means what should be two separate patches of dark pigment are connected. Blehg.
The figure's colors are lighter than the original. What was once dark brown is now tan, and what was once black is silver. The removable chestplate and thigh pads were originally clear, with color-changing stickers on the back.
Now? Solid. Zartan does get some nice accessories, though; a quiver, two arrows and a compound bow. Considering how often stories revolved around him shooting arrows at people, this was a really good choice. It can even make up for the lack of a mask. On the down side, the arrows are comically oversized and the strap on the quiver snapped easily - an old-fashioned backpack peg would have been preferable.
The sinister sister of the sardonic shape-shifter is a disguise
artist in her own right. An astounding mimic and quick study, she needs only moments of observation before she can assume a subject's body language and voice characteristics down to the smallest detail. Zartan makes his impersonations work with exact physical resemblance. His sister's approach is more from the method actor's point of view; she tries to become her subject, going as far as trying to think like he or she would. Zarana would be much more successful at her craft if she wasn't so rude, tight-fisted, and generally mean. As convincing as her impersonations can be, she can't sustain them for very long without revealing the unbridled nastiness that is at the core of her real self. Getting discovered is a relief for her in a way, since she can then demonstrate her prowess with knives, small-bore pistols, and spiked brass knuckles.
Zarana is back to her original "punk slut" look for this figure, since that's how she looked in the included comic. Like her older brother, she has a new head, but in her case that's welcome. The original figure had that ridiculous faux-hawk thing going on, but she wasn't drawn like that in the comics: there, she had an unruly mop, which is what this figure delivers.
Since her coloring is based on the comicbooks,
everything that used to be black on Zarana - her gloves and boots, mostly - are now the same blue as her pants. The original figure had an inexplicable pink patch on her jeans, but thanks to this repaint, it finally makes sense: it's supposed to be a big rip, exposing her thigh. This time they painted it skin pink instead of pink pink. She comes with the same backpack and "razor honed spur cutting weapon" as the original, both in solid black.
Cobra Commander likes to be up front in the thick of the action when his troops confront the GI Joe Team. To protect their leader in the heat of battle, the best techincal minds at the armament factory run by Destro and a "Siegie" known as Fred VII have created a special suit of body armor. This self-contained masterpiece combines flexible bulletproof polymer fabrics with beryllium steel plate components. The entire suit is air-conditioned, solvent-resistant, and ray-shielded. The helmet is fitted with an integral communications system, internal read-outs for environmental quality, and a miniaturized computer display. The plate parts can withstand a direct hit from a heavy machine-gun, and the flexible parts will stop anything up to a .357 magnum.
First of all, what's that stuff about Destro's armorers? Fred VII built this suit by himself in the back of his autobody shop in Denver. He built this and the Pogo Pod in his spare time of his own volition. It was merely happenstance that brought Cobra Commander to Fred's Garage that day.
The armored look for Cobra Commander never really showed up in the cartoons, but he wore it for years in the comics, and a lot of kids couldn't get their hands on any other version. It's not the best design ever, but it's not the worst he ever wore. It would probably look really good in the Sigma 6 style. The suit covers the wearer from head to toe - the only thing visible are the eyes. Or, as Fred mused to himself, after shooting the departing Cobra Commander in the back: "Funny thing about this helmet...Could be anybody inside..."
So Fred donned the suit he'd made and headed to Cobra Island,
where he convinced (almost) everyone he really was Cobra Commander. Serpentor and Zartan had their doubts, but the Baroness was the only one who knew the truth. In keeping with the story, "Cobra Commander" has a removable helmet, revealing the face of Fred VII beneath. Yay! The figure also has two black guns, but the helmet is what's really cool.
So, why is he called "Fred VII?" Was everyone up through his great great great great grandfather also named Fred? No. In fact, odds are that he probably wasn't even named Fred. The Crimson Guards, Cobra's elite security troops, undergo plastic surgery so that they all look alike. The Siegies ("CG's," "Siegies"; get it?) are stationed all over the country, serving Cobra through civil infiltration instead of just as cannon fodder. They enter politics, serve as heads of local business, whatever it takes to firmly establish the grassroots of Cobra. However, they're still called upon to fight for Cobra at times, so if one of the Guards is killed, a lookalike can take his place in the community. Handy!
This set includes a reprint of GI Joe #74, which is right in the middle of the Cobra Civil War, a big storyline from the old comics. It's definitely a good read, but it makes the character choice seem a little odd. Yes, Cobra Commander is all over the place, and he's being guarded by the Dreadnoks, but Zartan and Zarana have almost no role - in fact, they appear in all of one panel. If you want to do Zartan and his bow, why not give us #76, which sees the end of the conflict? (Spoiler warning: Cobra wins.)
The comic packs are a good idea, and the execution is better than the similar Star Wars ones Hasbro is doing now. This particular set is worth getting just for Fred VII alone, but Zartan and Zarana are very cool, as well. Just watch out for Zartan's quiver, and you should be fine.