REVIEW: G.I. JOE "DOLLAR GENERAL" COBRA COMMANDER
The sequel movie, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation", was bumped from its originally intended summer 2012 slot to the spring of 2013. The initial shipments of Retaliation-based figures, which were already well on the way when that particular announcement was made, were nevertheless released, but have since come and gone. They'll be back, certainly, with more additions, but there isn't really a lot out there.
But, that doesn't mean that the toy world is completely devoid of G.I. Joes. They can be found, if you know where to look, and manage to get lucky enough doing so.
Case in point, a retail chain called "Dollar General". Now, it's not one of those "Everything for a dollar" stores. But it is a deep-discount store where name brand products, for one reason or another, can generally be had for somewhat less than a person might be used to paying.
Probably not the first place that one would think of to look to find a whole new assortment of G.I. Joe figures, but – surprise! – that's exactly where an assortment of new G.I. Joe figures has turned up. Unfortunately, they've been highly sporadic in their shipping and availability, and have obviously proven to be highly popular. So, they're not at all easy to find. Neither are they impossible if you network with friends in other areas and one of them gets lucky.
So far, I've managed to round up half of the series at this time – the Cobra Officer, Storm Shadow, and the focal point of this review – COBRA COMMANDER. The figures of Duke, Snake-Eyes, and Shipwreck remain elusive.
Now, you might well ask, after hearing those names, "What's the big deal? Even in the modern line, there's been multiple versions of all of those characters!" True enough. All of these characters were among the first ones to be introduced into the modern format when it was first introduced in 2007. However, even by that time, these characters had all had multiple figure versions in the original style and the so-called "newsculpts" which ran from 2002-2006.
Now, the initial modern-style figures were essentially modern incarnations of the original versions of these characters. And some of the other original versions did work their way into the line. But not all of them. And this explains a significant portion of the Dollar General figures.
Most of these figures are modern incarnations on later original-style versions. The 1991 version of Snake Eyes. The Ninja Force version of Storm Shadow. The 2002-era version of Shipwreck. And so forth.
Which brings us to Cobra Commander. The Dollar General version of Cobra Commander is based on the 1993 incarnation of the character.
Let's consider some of the history of Cobra Commander, and then have a look at the figure.
Cobra Commander is portrayed as a fanatical leader, 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 a North American citizen sometime in the mid-twentieth century, his only known relative an older brother named Dan to which 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 (federal policy being that only one sibling per family could serve in combat). 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 using the code name: 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 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 came out.
The first Cobra Commander figure, arguably the most iconic of the lot, was first offered as a mail-order figure in 1982. This was in part a way for Hasbro to test the popularity of their then-brand-new G.I. Joe action figure line. They were subsequently inundated with massive mail sacks loaded with requests for Cobra Commander. Need it be said, there was little question about the popularity of the concept after that.
This Cobra Commander, dressed in his traditional blue uniform with the silver faceplate helmet, joined the regular retail line-up the following year, while a second Cobra Commander figure, a "Hooded" Cobra Commander in a darker blue uniform, became the new mail-order offering.
These would remain the only Cobra Commander figures until 1987, when Cobra Commander received a "Battle Armor" edition. This Cobra Commander, outfitted in blue and silver, was wearing a high-tech suit of armor. The stated reason why this armor was not being supplied to the general troops was that the suit was so sophisticated in its capabilities that it cost about as much as an entire jet fighter.
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.
It is this Cobra Commander that has been remade in the modern format as part of the Dollar General collection. Setting aside all-new characters, and things like movie and newer TV series tie-ins, the modern-style G.I. Joe figures that have been specifically based on original-style figures haven't tended to get much past 1985 or 1986. I was both surprised and pleased when an assortment of G.I. Joe figures brought in modern renditions of several popular characters from the original line that hadn't yet been made in the modern format, such as Sci-Fi, Lifeline, Airtight, and the Cobra Techno-Viper.
But, there are plenty of interesting versions of established characters from the later years that can readily be brought into the modern line with minimal modification of existing parts, and this Cobra Commander is definitely one of them.
What surprised me when I got the 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 has done is to find parts amidst their modern figure inventory that are 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!
Does this work? As far as getting "close enough" to the original versions, I'd have to say that it does. 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. However, it's probably just as well for the sake of CC here, that we haven't yet had a modern version of the Crimson Shadow Guards.
There are a few discrepancies that are a little glaring. The uniform 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, connected to a silver belt with a red buckle – again very much like the 1993 Cobra Commander. 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. 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 silver 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 very 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 silver trim near the wrists, and I think the boots have been given a glossy black finish to set them apart a bit from the rest of the uniform. The gloves might have received this treatment, as well.
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. Nice thing about the black color is that that often not-so-great-looking mid-torso joint is better concealed.
So, what's my final word? These figures have been frustratingly difficult to find, 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. The specific origins of this particular set of G.I. Joes is a little vague, but I think that it's fair to say that it consists of a group of G.I. Joe figures that otherwise would not likely have been made.
I have always been impressed with the original 1993 version of Cobra Commander, and this modern-style version of him is just as impressive an addition to his part of the G.I. Joe universe. If you can find him, you'll definitely be pleased with him.
The "DOLLAR GENERAL" G.I. JOE figure of COBRA COMMANDER definitely has my highest recommendation!