REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS LORD NAGA (KOBRA)
The nineteenth wave of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures has a decided emphasis on Golden Age heroes, featuring the likes of the Golden Age versions of Atom and Hawkman, as well as Sandman, and arguably Golden Age inheritors Stargirl and the Collect-and-Connect figure of S.T.R.I.P.E.
So I was rather surprised by the inclusion of a more modern character, officially designated "Lord Naga" on his package, but better known within the DC Universe by the name of KOBRA, which is also the name of the terrorist cult of which he is the leader.
For that matter, I was a little surprised by the inclusion of the character at all. I didn't know that much about him. I'd heard the name from time to time, but he didn't strike me as an especially major player in the DC Universe, nor did his organization.
Terrorist groups within the DC Universe don't seem to be especially prominent. Arguably, Kobra is the most prominent of them, and that's really not saying all that much. Contrast that with the Marvel Universe, where even before the recent Captain America movie, the terrorist organization known as Hydra was causing frequent problems, not only for Captain America, but other heroes as well, and their one-time spin-off and now frequent competition A.I.M. was also known as a periodic troublemaker.
The epic crossover mini-series JLA/AVENGERS raised the point that the two Earths occupied by the DC and Marvel heroes have certain fundamental differences. The DC Earth is slightly larger, and its heroes seem to be inherently more powerful. In essence, it's a little easier for them to do their jobs as heroes, while the Marvel heroes are less powerful, and have to struggle more for everything from success against their enemies to garnering a decent amount of public acceptance.
Ironically enough, Kobra followers were among the troops pulled in by Krona to combat the combined forces of the heroes in that mini-series, alongside Hydra, AIM, parademons and several other bad-guy army types.
But it could probably be argued that no terrorist organization is going to succeed for any length of time in the DC Universe, and they are almost inevitably less prominent, simply because the heroes of the DC Earth manage to mop them up before they become as major a threat as the terrorist organizations of Marvel might become.
Which doesn't necessarily stop them from trying. And as far as that goes, Kobra was first introduced in his own comic book, one of the very few times, especially in the 1970's, that a villain was given a title of his own. Let's consider the history of Kobra:
Kobra is the name used by two fictional supervillains published by DC Comics. The Jeffrey Burr Kobra first appeared in Kobra #1 (February 1976), and was created by Martin Pasko, Steve Sherman, Jack Kirby, and Pablo Marcos. The Jason Burr Kobra debuted in Faces of Evil: Kobra #1 (March 2009), and was created by Ivan Brandon and Julian Lopez. Both Jeffrey and Jason Burr were originally created by Martin Pasko, Steve Sherman, Jack Kirby, and Pablo Marcos.
Kobra is an international terrorist and scientist who has crossed paths with the majority of Earth's costumed heroes during his attempts to usher in the Kali Yuga (an age of chaos). His real name is Jeffrey Franklin Burr, and he was born part of a set of siamese twins, but was stolen at birth by the Cult of the Kobra, since a prophecy claimed he would lead them to rule the world.
Under their teaching, he became a dangerous warrior and a sadistic criminal mastermind. He led the cult into using advanced technology to menace the world. Followers of Kobra would frequently address their master as "Naja-Naja", "naja naja" being the binomial name for the Indian Cobra. This later became "Naga-Naga", a title which translates from the Sanskrit as "snake-snake". Whether this change was intentional or an error is not known.
However, unknown to the cult, Kobra had a psychic link to his twin brother, Jason, who knew nothing of Kobra. As a result, one felt what the other felt, including pain. Because of this, his brother was recruited by an international agency to help them combat Kobra. At first, Kobra was unable to even hurt or kill his brother; eventually, however, he used a device that "shut off" the psychic link, and gave him the chance to kill Jason. However, Kobra was subsequently haunted by visions of his brother.
In subsequent years, Kobra would clash with assorted superheroes, including Batman, whom he first met over a Lazarus Pit of his own creation. Kobra had learned to build modified Lazarus Pits, usually the purview of Ra's al Ghul, which allowed him to control the minds of those he killed and resurrected. Kobra is the only person in the DC universe ever to decipher the formula for the Lazarus Pits.
Kobra had special concerns about Wonder Woman and sought to ensure her death, first by hiring a cartel of international assassins led secretly by corrupted UN Crisis Bureau chief Morgan Tracy, then by kidnapping and irretrievably damaging environmental activist Deborah Domaine, forcibly transforming her into a new Cheetah, and ultimately, facing her in combat in Egypt, faking his own demise after being defeated by the Amazon Princess.
A short while later his various Strike Force Kobra teams would fight two different incarnations of Batman's Outsiders. Kobra also fought the third Flash, the Suicide Squad led by Amanda Waller, the original incarnation of Checkmate, Captain Atom, a Superman whose personality had been swapped with Ambush Bug's by exposure to red kryptonite, and others. (Okay, I don't even want to think about Superman and Ambush Bug's personalities being swapped -- yeesh!)
Kobra is one of a very small number of individuals that has the capability of defeating Batman in hand-to-hand combat, and actually did so on one occasion.
After the betrayal of his lover Eve during the Strike Force Kobra fiasco, she split Kobra in two and established her own splinter group. In one instance, the Justice League rushed to San Diego to prevent disaster as two rival factions of the Kobra Cult prepared to go to war. One faction was led by Eve; the other was led by Kobra himself.
Kobra later kidnapped the former hero Air Wave and used him to seize control of the world's media and satellite resources, intending to destroy a number of major world cities. However, in a demonstration of his power, he incidentally kills Terri Rothstein, Atom Smasher's mother, ensuring the Justice Society of America's involvement.
He appeared again in JSA #45, which featured his trial. He shrugs off claims of terrorism, claiming to be an "enlightened soul" trying to free souls from their karmic debt by random acts of violence.
Following this, his followers threatened to kill the media outside the courthouse with bio-engineered suicide bomb implants. Holding everyone hostage with this tactic, he was allowed by the JSA to escape, leading to an outraged Black Adam and Atom Smasher, who both subsequently choose to leave the team.
In JSA #51, Atom Smasher, Black Adam, Northwind, and Brainwave track Kobra down to his headquarters in the Himalayan Mountains. After killing his guards, Black Adam rips his heart out and he is dead instantly.
Later, Jeffrey's twin brother Jason is re-animated by the Kobra Cult in Faces of Evil: Kobra #1 (March 2009), possibly through the use of Kobra's Lazarus Pits. This involves the death of an entire facility of Checkmate agents, including several of Burr's old friends. Within the one-shot Jason reveals that he is re-structuring the organization and killing off all the old members. Before revealing himself as the new Kobra, Jason spent some time undercover as a Checkmate agent learning their secrets.
Kobra apparently entertains many specialized sub-sections. One such section was the Blackadders, a group of ninja-like fanatics. In the past, Kobra operated an aggressive metahuman research and recruitment program. Kobra is currently active in the DCU -- at least pre-Flashpoint -- as a terrorist organization with a religious bent.
As to the character's powers and abilities, along with the one-time psychic link to his brother -- which was probably a nuisance more than a super-power -- as well as considerable combat skills, Kobra is described as having an extremely persuasive voice and personality, able to persuade people of just about anything if given the opportunity.
So, how's the figure? Really outstanding. While I haven't encountered the character all that often within the comics, I certainly know an impressive action figure when I see one, and the figure of Lord Naga certainly qualifies.
At the same time -- okay -- hmm. There is a comparison that unquestionably needs to be made here, because for someone that has involved himself with more than a few pop culture concepts over the years, that have had action figures either as their basis or as a significant part of their overall presentation, there's a comparison here that's blindingly obvious.
Let me put it this way -- if Lord Naga here were to ever find himself somehow transported to the G.I. Joe Universe -- I think he and Serpentor would beat the daylights out of each other over wardrobe infringement alone. Not to mention gimmick infringement.
The odd thing here is -- technically speaking, DC's Kobra came first, having been imagined in 1976. However, G.I. Joe's Cobra is almost certainly better known, although it first came on the scene in 1982. Although the name is reported to have come from a well-known comics professional, Archie Goodwin, neither Goodwin nor G.I. Joe's best known comics writer, Larry Hama, have ever had anything to do with DC's Kobra as far as I know. And for that matter, the character of Serpentor didn't come along until 1986, ten years after Kobra.
But, you want to talk similarities? Let's see -- leader of a snake-like terrorist organization? Check. Predominantly green and gold reptilian-style costume? Check -- although it should be noted that Kobra's is more green than gold, while Serpentor's is more gold than green. Green cape? Check. Persuasive demeanor concealing a seriously nasty attitude? Check.
Throw in the fact that Kobra had a twin brother and the two could feel each other's pain, and I think Tomax and Xamot would want a piece of the guy, as well -- although in fairness that particular concept pre-dates all of them.
I'm not saying that G.I. Joe copied Kobra to get Serpentor. Their origins are entirely different. Serpentor is a genetic clone of recombinant DNA culled from history's greatest leaders. Kobra is most definitely not. Additionally, the Kobra organization is not just a terrorist organization, it is a cult, with certain pseudo-religious overtones. That's not something that's ever been associated with Serpentor or any other aspect of the Cobra organization within G.I. Joe -- and that's just as well. An evil organization determined to rule the world turning up in an action figure line is one thing. A cult, even a fictional one, is another matter.
I'd have to say that of the two, Serpentor and the Cobra organization are the better known, if only because of the massive popularity of the action figure line in the 1980's, and the prevalence of the character in the second season of the original animated series. Heck, the first five-parter was specifically devoted to Serpentor's origin. I honestly don't know how long the Kobra comic ran, but I think it's fair to say that the character and his organization are not as well recalled, nor are they anywhere near as prominent in their universe, and this is the first time that I know of that there's been an action figure of the guy.
Now, I'm not trying to put one over the other. I've been a fan of DC Comics since I was a little kid, even if I never had any great contact with this Kobra character. I've been a fan of G.I. Joe since the Real American Hero came on the scene in 1982, and I still consider it the primary aspect of my action figure collection to this day, a diverse collection which includes representatives from a great many different and varied lines. This is not a question of, "Who's cooler, Serpentor or Kobra?"
But really, you can't look at this character, or this action figure, be aware of both characters, and not see the similarities. It's just impossible.
The one thing Kobra does not have that Serpentor does is a snake-like headpiece. That's okay, another DC super-villain named Copperhead has that. Rather, Kobra is wearing a fairly basic, gold colored hood (more than a little reminiscent of Zartan, if I want to keep drawing G.I. Joe-based comparisons). It leaves his face exposed, but he is wearing a mask across his eyes underneath it, which also gives him that blank-eyed look that any number of super-type characters have. There is the emblem of the Kobra organization on the front of the hood, which as much as anything looks like an inverted sergeant's rank emblem, in gold with a black outline.
There's one thing most definitely in the G.I. Joe Cobra's favor -- they have a much cooler logo.
The face has been sculpted with a slight smile on its face. It's an extremely effective sculpt. The smile is almost friendly, almost congenial, but there's a certain sinister element to it as well. It's the type of smile you'd expect to see from a used car salesman right after he says, "I want to help you get this car..." It has all the sincerity and warmth of the average politician.
Lord Naga's uniform is predominantly a metallic green, and very scaly. Clearly the figure uses some of the same body molds as were used on both Aquaman and -- yes, I'm aware of the irony -- Copperhead. The design certainly showcases the abundant and highly detailed sculpting skills of the Four Horsemen. The intricacy of the scales, and how completely they encompass the musculature without costing the musculature any of its own detail, is absolutely amazing. Looks good in green, too, after seeing it in Aquaman orange and Copperhead gold-tan.
Lord Naga doesn't lack for distinctive parts, though. The torso is entirely new, as are the gloves and boots, as they are unique to the figure. The upper legs are also distinctive, given the presence of gold bands around his upper legs.
The torso features a non-metallic gold-colored ridged section down the center, bordered in black, and encompassing both the upper and mid-torso. The gloves and boots have a metallic golf finish. The gloves have thick bands across their tops and at the wrists, and the boots have thick bands across their tops, and ridges down the front. The remainder of the boots are non-metallic.
Lord Naga has a unique belt, with the Kobra emblem as its buckle, and the ridged section from the torso now becomes a sort of "apron" that hangs down in front to knee level. It's molded from a very flexible plastic and doesn't impede articulation whatsoever.
The figure is wearing a cape, dark green in color, and this wraps around his neck and also includes two metallic gold shoulder pieces that extend outwards. Rather clever way of getting these costume details in place. The cape, like all capes in the DCUC line, is secured on a peg in the back of the figure.
As far as accessories go, Lord Naga comes with a narrow staff with a cobra-like snake-head at the top. It's probably mostly ceremonial, but if he's got combat skills enough to beat Batman, he can probably use it rather effectively as a weapon if he wants to.
The paintwork on the figure is superb, and of course the figure is just as superbly articulated, fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.
So, what's my final word here? I'm extremely impressed -- far moreso than I expected to be. When I first heard of this character being added to the line-up, I thought -- Why? He's not a Golden Age character. He's not all that prominent a character. Well, no. He's not. But he does make for one extremely cool action figure, and there have certainly been other obscure characters in the DC Universe that have made it as action figures. There was really no reason NOT to do him, and clearly, a lot of work was put into this figure, just based on the distinctive parts, and Mattel and the Four Horsemen should be commended for such an excellent job.
I'm glad to have him, and I believe that any established fan of the DC Universe will be pleased with this figure.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of LORD NAGA, better known as KOBRA, definitely has my highest recommendation!