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Zartan

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
by yo go re

Knowing that GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra was going for a (slightly) more realistic take on the Joe vs. Cobra mythos, so it was rather surprising when Zartan was announced for the cast. The human chameleon with the color-changing skin? How was that going to work?

Zartan, who has been injected with nanomites, is a master of disguise and expert mimic who can impersonate anyone; he's also a Cobra mercenary and covert agent. He impersonates a GI Joe agent to infiltrate the Pit and retrieve the nanomite weapon prototypes, but it's his next impersonation that will be the culmination of his devious career.

The popular assumption before the movie came out was that live-action Zartan would be all about Mission Impossible-style masks and disguises - turns out that nope, he didn't even go to that much trouble. This "master" of disguise got around just by killing random people and stealing their clothes. And then whistling distinctively so we could all tell who he was. It doesn't sound like much, but it works in practice. Works so well, in fact, that I had to get the figure after seeing him in action.

This Zartan isn't from his time lounging about on James McCullen's private sub, it's him seen during the infiltration of the Pit. Storm Shadow slashes a Pit guard who's concelaed and waiting to attack, then "Mr. Zartan" starts casually stripping the body. Thus, this figure is wearing one of the blue camo uniforms of the GI Joe support staff - specifically an MP, as evidenced by the large black armband. It's a plain uniform, with the lower edge of the jacket hanging below the belt. I still don't know how blue camouflage is supposed to work - where's he meant to be hiding, the sky?

Hasbro has long proven they can manage good actor likenesses at the small scale (Indiana Jones notwithstanding), and the Rise of Cobra toys do not buck that trend. Zartan stands a scant 4⅛" tall, but the face is unmistakably that of Arnold Vosloo. In the film he had dark hair, but on the toy it's a sandy blonde - that could either be a simple mistake, a change made between the final approval of the toy and the shooting of Zartan's scenes, or perhaps a nod to what was happening to him after his nanomite injection. There's an odd bit of silver paint on Zartan's cheeks - it doesn't correspond to anything in the movie, but it does take the same shape as the black marks around Zartan's eyes in G1.

Since movie Zartan doesn't use masks, the figure doesn't include one. However, you can still change his appearance thanks to the inclusion of a complete second head. The alternate head is blonde, like Zartan, but has a distinctly different face: different nose, different jawline... basically, this is the guy Storm Shadow cut down. He's wearing a cap, which is glued on, so with Head #2 in place, this is pretty much serviceable as a generic cannon fodder MP for your displays.

The head isn't Zartan's only accessory. Like many Zartans before him, he has an angular black backpack in which to store his disguises, but this one is a ton better than the previous G3 versions. It's larger and bulkier, sure, but with that comes a clear benefit: instead of a fold that will either fail to close properly or will one day snap, this case is made from two separate pieces with a real functioning hinge. Beauty! Give it to one of your previous Zartans to make him happy.

Beyond that, the figure includes his large sword, two smaller knives, and one of those futuristic MARS Industries guns with a bayonet on the end. The small blades can fit in his backpack, of course, even when the extra head is in there. Like most of the Rise of Cobra toys, he has a Stupid Giant Gun, which in this case is stupid and giant. It fires a blue missile. Still useless.

This is easily the most unique version of Zartan ever released - and yes, that's counting the orange mohawk period. All the others have been one kind of biker or another, but this one is positively dapper. Amusing, then, that this is also the one which best fulfills the "master of disguise" title. Sure, you could always just use another figure and pretend it was Zartan in disguise, but this is the first time it's been real. I really dig Zartan, but I was planning to pass on this figure. After seeing the movie, though, I knew I had to get him, and I'm really glad I did. This is another winner.

-- 10/16/09


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