REVIEW: G.I. JOE "DOLLAR GENERAL" COBRA COMMANDER VERSION 2
Late in 2012, a very unusual set of G.I. Joe figures turned up at the most unexpected of places -- a "discount" chain of stores known as Dollar General. Predictably, these became known as the "Dollar General Joes". Unlike some items that turn up at similar stores, which are largely previously released merchandise placed on clearance, these figures were new! They were all familiar faces -- Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Duke, Shipwreck, Cobra Commander, and a Cobra Trooper, and for the most part they all used previously existing parts, but it was their designs and color schemes that were entirely new to the modern line.
Mostly, they were based on previous incarnations from the original G.I. Joe line -- just versions that had yet to be brought into the modern line, and ones which didn't likely stand much chance otherwise. Much as the 25th Anniversary line sought to replicate the basic looks of the original characters in the new figure format, so these figures sought to do the same. Snake Eyes was based on his unusual 1991 incarnation. Storm Shadow looked like his initial Ninja Force version. Shipwreck, amazingly, was based on his dramatically different "newsculpt" version from the 2002-2006 era. And so forth.
The timing of the figures' arrival, more or less, couldn't have been better. They pretty much came between the initial release of the "Retaliation" figures at the more usual retail outlets, which as it turned out was before the last-minute delay of the release of the movie itself, and the return of the Retaliation figures more in time with the actual release of the movie. But far more than a convenient fill-in, these were extremely capable figures in their own right.
And now, they've returned -- in all-new color schemes! These figures are massively popular and not easily acquired, but with the help of a friend of mine who has so many Dollar Generals in his area that they literally overlap each other on the average online map, I am now in possession of a set of these figures, and this review will take a look at the top bad guy himself -- COBRA COMMANDER!
Cobra Commander has always portrayed as a fanatical leader, a bit crazier in some incarnations than others, who rules with an iron fist, and demands total loyalty and allegiance. His objective is total control of the world's people, wealth and resources, brought about by revolution and chaos. He is suspected of having led uprisings in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and for kidnapping scientists, businessmen and military leaders, forcing them to reveal their top level secrets. Cobra Commander is considered to be a man without scruples, and given his level of evil and corruption, is probably the most dangerous man alive.
Cobra Commander first appeared in the Marvel Comics series G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1 (June 1982).
Much of Cobra Commander's early origins, such as his birth name and childhood, are unrevealed. By all appearances he was born an American citizen, his only known relative an older brother named Dan to whom he had a strong attachment. Dan enlisted in the military during the Vietnam War and volunteered for repeated tours in order to spare his younger sibling from being drafted. During this time, the man who would become Cobra Commander worked as a used car salesman struggling to keep his business afloat.
When Dan returned from Vietnam, he displayed deep psychological trauma caused by his war experiences, and took to drinking heavily and engaging in self-destructive behavior, especially reckless driving. This ended tragically when Dan crashed head-on into another car, killing himself and a family of three. Devastated by the loss of his brother, the future Cobra Commander refused to see any responsibility on the part of Dan for the accident (and by extension, any guilt for himself for being the ultimate cause of Dan's condition). He perversely blamed the family in the other car and their only survivor, another war veteran who the family had been traveling to the airport to pick-up when they were killed by Dan. Becoming obsessed with this soldier, the young Cobra Commander formed elaborate revenge schemes against him.
Cobra Commander managed to track the former soldier to Japan, where he was training to become a member of the Arashikage ninja clan. The Commander approached the mercenary Firefly for the job, but Firefly realized he was no match for the target and instead referenced Cobra Commander to another assassin, Zartan, who took the job and infiltrated the clan. Zartan retrieved a personal arrow shot by Storm Shadow to serve as the murder weapon and conceal his involvement. Forced to shoot blind, Zartan used a sound amplification scope to target his victim's distinctive heartbeat. However, at that moment the soldier was meeting with Storm Shadow's uncle, the Hard Master, who was demonstrating a secret technique to mimic the soldier's distinctive heartbeat. As both the true target and the Hard Master were obscured from Zartan's vision, the Hard Master was mistakenly stricken and killed by the arrow. Though Storm Shadow saw Zartan fleeing the scene, no one else did. Storm Shadow was blamed for the murder and fled in search of the killer. The soldier eventually left the ninja clan to live in seclusion in the Sierra Nevada mountains, until enticed to return to service on the G.I. Joe team as Snake Eyes.
Cobra Commander attempted to resume his domestic life, returning to his wife and newborn son Billy. However, when his wife found out what had happened in Japan, she threatened to go to the authorities. Denouncing her perceived betrayal, Cobra Commander abandoned his wife and took Billy with him. Living on the road and earning a living by increasingly illicit scams and con jobs, the soon-to-be Commander became egotistical yet paranoid, blaming all his problems on what he perceived as the corrupt American system that always crushed the little guy, and began to harbor great ambitions of wreaking vengeance upon it. He traveled across America with Billy, seeking out people who shared his desire to topple big business and the government, using money earned from pyramid schemes to attract followers. It was during these early meetings that he first began wearing a blue hood to mask his civilian identity.
He then moved his nascent organization to the town of Springfield, where the economy had failed and the population had become disillusioned. Using his criminal skills and charisma to create immediate prosperity he soon had the population's gratitude and loyalty and took absolute control of the town. Building his base of followers into a disciplined organization he established the paramilitary group Cobra, a cartel that promised personal wealth and power to its members in exchange for unquestioning loyalty to its goals and using terrorist tactics to achieve them. For reasons and in ways unknown, Billy left his father about this time and joined the anti-Cobra resistance in Springfield. Storm Shadow's search for his uncle's killer eventually led him to Cobra, which Storm Shadow joined, pledging loyalty to Cobra Commander as his personal bodyguard in order to get close to him and find the real assassin of the Hard Master.
Cobra's agents spread throughout the world, overturning or subverting unstable third-world governments in order to establish criminal networks and a profitable arms trade. The organization also explored dangerous and experimental technology, including such wonder weapons as mind-scanners and battle robots; not coincidentally, this was also the time when Cobra Commander began wearing his distinctive featureless silver hi-tech battle mask (elaborately booby-trapped to prevent unmaskings). Cobra became a significant international threat, prompting the United States to form the elite G.I. Joe team in order to combat it. Recruiting new members from many nations and controlling assets across the world, Cobra became so large that Cobra Commander could no longer control it on his own and created a "High Command" of his most skilled (if not trusted) lieutenants, which included Zartan, Baroness Anastasia DeCobray, the Scottish arms dealer James McCullen Destro, and Australian mercenary Major Sebastian Bludd. This led to frequent power-struggles within the organization, and ultimately the Baroness and Major Bludd enacted a plot to assassinate the Commander, and seize control of Cobra.
Years later, among the few revisions Devil's Due instituted in their comics title was the expansion of Cobra Commander's origin. After his brother's death, the future Commander sought out the surviving son of the family killed by Dan. He found the soldier, Snake Eyes, at a bar, where the Commander saved him from an oncoming truck and the two became friends. They traveled from state to state, acting as vigilantes. One night, Cobra Commander took Snake Eyes to the house of a corrupt Judge who he blamed for the hardships they had both experienced: years before, the judge had presided over a case involving Cobra Commander's brother Dan, who ran a veteran's hospital. The hospital had been burned down by a patient, but the judge ruled that it was insurance fraud; Dan lost everything and turned to drinking, which led to the crash that took his life and the lives of Snake Eyes' family. Realizing where his anger had taken him, Snake Eyes refused to kill the man and walked away. Cobra Commander killed the judge himself and vowed revenge against Snake Eyes for having turned on him.
In the first season of the original 1980s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero animated series, Cobra Commander is the leader of Cobra, described in the show's opening theme as "A ruthless, terrorist organization determined to rule the world". His face is always covered, either by a featureless chrome mask concealing his entire face or by a hood with eyehole cutouts. He wears a blue military uniform, occasionally sporting a cape and carrying a scepter, depending on the occasion. His distinctively shrill, raspy voice was provided by Chris Latta, who continued to voice the character into the second DiC produced series – the only voice actor to carry over other than Sgt. Slaughter – although Latta was billed as Christopher Collins. But no alias could mask that iconic voice.
Cobra Commander even appeared in the third season of the Transformers, in the episode "Only Human". Set in the then-future year 2006, a trenchcoated underground weapons dealer going by the name "Old Snake" is approached by crime lord Victor Drath, who wishes to purchase synthoid technology (as seen in a few episodes of the G.I. Joe cartoon series). Old Snake transfers the minds of Rodimus Prime, Ultra Magnus, Arcee and Springer into synthoid bodies, leaving their robotic shells for Drath's use in criminal activities.
Although it is never explicitly stated that "Old Snake" is actually an aged Cobra Commander, his raspy voice is again provided by Chris Latta, he wears the character's distinctive silver mask, and has visible traces of his blue uniform underneath his trench coat. He is identified in dialogue as the former leader of a terrorist organization that used synthoid technology. At the end of the episode, Drath and his men are arrested, and Old Snake laments about terrorists not being what they once were. He raises his fist skyward and starts to give the rally cry of Cobra, but breaks prematurely into a hacking cough.
So, how's the figure? Very nicely done. As one can imagine, Cobra Commander had already had a number of figure versions over the years when his original 1993 incarnation, upon which the first version of this Dollar General figure, came out.
In 1991, there were two Cobra Commander figures. The first was sold on a standard card, with a little glider launcher. This was a fairly ornate, but not armored, Cobra Commander, whose helmet had a semi-translucent red faceplate that almost let you get a look at Cobra Commander's face for the first time.
The second Cobra Commander in 1991 was part of the "Talking Battle Commanders" series. These were a group of four figures, also featuring General Hawk, Stalker, and Overkill, with huge backpacks actually attached to their bodies (although they could be removed with a screwdriver) that sounded off with vocal orders. The backpacks were preposterously large, but such was the sound-chip technology of the time.
This Cobra Commander was a slight reimagining of the "Hooded" Cobra Commander, although it was an entirely new figure. He was dressed in the lighter blue, with a slightly more ornate uniform than the original Cobra Commander figure had been.
It was this Cobra Commander figure, more or less, that was released in 1993 on a single card, and not as part of some special team. The back was remade, so as to not have to present the flattened back and screw-holes necessitated by the sound-making backpack, which was no longer present. Otherwise, the figure used the same parts as the 1991 version, but this time around, Cobra Commander was given an entirely black uniform, with a certain amount of silver trim and a bit of red. While perhaps not adhering to traditional Cobra colors, it certainly made for one of the more sinister versions of the character at the time, and holds up well today.
This was the Cobra Commander that was brought into modern figure format in the first assortment of Dollar General figures.
But what about the recolored Version 2 edition? For that, we need to look into the early days of the comic book.
Cobra personnel, as presented in the first year of the toy line, wore dark blue uniforms with black trim. Giving the printing practices, and for that matter limitations, of the time period on comic books, someone along the way made a few editorial decisions to liven up the color palette. For example, most of the members of the Joe Team tended to wear turtleneck shirts. This was present in the toy line, as well. However, in the comic book, those turtlenecks were colored red, something that the toy line definitely did not do, and which wasn't exactly standard military practice, either.
On the Cobra side of things, the black face masks that covered the lower portions of the faces of Cobra Troopers and Officers were colored red, and the various straps and belts that comprised the trim on their uniforms was changed from black to a fairly bright yellow orange.
Although Cobra Commander didn't traditionally wear a face mask like his troops, he did have some of his trim color altered to gold. The funny thing is, it actually worked better on Cobra Commander than it did on the rank-and-file, since it made him look a bit more regal and leader-ish in a way. It is this version of Cobra Commander, as much as any, that is represented by this recolored version of the Dollar General Cobra Commander figure.
What surprised me when I got the first version of this figure was that he didn't use the same body parts – except for the head – as the previous standard, modern-style Cobra Commander figures. And in retrospect, I should not have been surprised at this.
I suppose I expected a black recoloration of the modern-style blue Cobra Commander figure, which had also been made in red for a special set at one point. But I should not have expected this, since the original 1993 version of Cobra Commander, although his design was reminiscent in some respects of the original versions, was not exact by any means, and some of the prominent uniform details were different.
What Hasbro had done is to find parts amidst their modern figure inventory that were acceptably close to the 1993 black-uniformed Cobra Commander. As one would expect, the headsculpt is that of the "Hooded" Cobra Commander, which has already seen a couple of uses in the line. However, the body is that of the modern-style Crimson Guard figure!
This has obviously been carried over to the recolored version of this Cobra Commander. A bit ironic in some respects since he uses an earlier color scheme while trying to mimic a later version of Cobra Commander. For that matter, the Talking Battle Commanders Cobra Commander had a blue uniform with yellow trim, but those colors were far brighter than this, and given the presence of a Cobra Trooper in this particular assortment that also uses the early comic book colors, I'm saying that it is that, rather than the Talking Battle Commanders version, that Hasbro sought to replicate here.
On the whole, the choice of body parts works quite well. One of the most prominent features of the 1993 Cobra Commander figure was a coat that buttoned across one side of the front, with some sort of ornate border or fringe. Comparatively, the Crimson Guards have always been rather "dressy" figures within the ranks of Cobra, and their uniforms have a front panel on them that looks as though it has been specially buttoned to the uniform.
Using these body molds, and attaching some extra uniform accouterments, as well as Cobra Commander's hooded head, definitely gets the overall design far enough away from that of the Crimson Guards, and as such allows it to work well for Cobra Commander.
There are a few discrepancies that are a little glaring. The uniform itself is completely lacking a Cobra emblem, which appears on the hood instead. Now, granted, the 1993 Cobra Commander did have a smaller Cobra emblem on the upper left of the chest, since it needed to be worked around a diagonal strap that appeared on the uniform. It would not have been practical to attempt that on this Cobra Commander figure, since that area of the uniform has the cluster of sculpted medals traditionally worn by Crimson Guards. As for Cobra Commander wearing them – well, why not? He's the type who'd likely give himself awards… And at least the Cobra emblem is on the hood.
The silver strap that appears on the original 1993 version of Cobra Commander is a separate piece this time around, and is now yellow-gold for the recoloration, connected to a yellow-gold belt with a red buckle. The belt comes complete with a holster and a sword sheath. The sheath is a new bit of business, and I'll admit that it makes Cobra Commander look a little awkward. While I can see him carrying a ceremonial sword, wearing it behind his back at waist level just seems a little odd. I think this particular piece comes from the Iron Grenadiers figure, but I'm not 100% certain. There is a sword with a distinctly Cobra-shaped hilt that fits into the sheath, and there's also a pistol for the holster.
Other pieces molded separately include yellow-gold shoulder boards, and a decorative "rope" wrapped around the left arm at the shoulder that's part of that shoulder board.
Need it be said the figure doesn't have a lot of paint applications. You've got the Cobra emblem on the hood, as well as neatly painted eyes with a little bit of flesh tone around them. Beyond that, you've got the red belt buckle, a little bit of gold trim near the wrists, and I think the boots and gloves have been painted black. The boots have a nice glossy finish.
That's pretty much it, but that's okay. A lot of paint does not always a great figure make. This Cobra Commander has what he needs to look impressive, as well as sinister and dangerous, and he certainly does.
The relatively small packages that these Dollar General figures come on do not allow for individual file cards, but that's no big deal. Anybody who's interested in G.I. Joe is bound to know who these major players are, and certainly will know Cobra Commander. The only other additional accessory in the package is a display stand with a sculpted Cobra logo on it.
Of course, the figure is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles.
So, what's my final word? These figures have been difficult to find, although reportedly the second series is supposed to be more readily available than the first, but for any G.I. Joe fan that remembers their original incarnations, and is interesting in owning their modern versions, they're certainly worth tracking down.
I have always been impressed with the original 1993 version of Cobra Commander, I rather liked the original early color scheme in the comic book, and this modern-style version of him that combines these elements to a very agreeable degree is just as impressive an addition to the G.I. Joe universe. If you can find him, you'll definitely be pleased with him.
The "DOLLAR GENERAL" Version 2 G.I. JOE figure of COBRA COMMANDER definitely has my highest recommendation!