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By Thomas Wheeler

Zartan is certainly one of the best-known characters in the world of G.I. Joe. A "Master of Disguise", he first appeared in 1984 as a mercenary generally employed by Cobra, but with no real loyalty to them, only the money they paid him. He led the Dreadnoks, a vicious gang of brainless bikers, and managed to stir up a fair amount of trouble for the G.I. Joe team along the way -- and occasionally for Cobra as well.

It's certainly no great surprise that he made the jump over to Sigma Six, and recently, the figure for him emerged on the scene, as well.

Interestingly, he's not designated as a Master of Disguise. That distinction actually went to Joe Team member Lt. Stone (see separate review). That had to tick off Zartan, who is listed on the package as simply "Mercenary". Well, he certainly is that.

Getting Zartan out of his package is not a thing easily accomplished. Although most of the annoying plastic-coated wire twist-ties and transparent rubber bands are fairly easily removed, there is one twist tie right behind his head that isn't connected to the back of the cardboard. It's connected to the plastic framework into which Zartan is inserted, and it's darn near impossible to get at and cut loose without running the risk of snipping the figure's hood. Good luck with this one.

One of the first things one notices about Zartan is how similar the figure is to his 3-3/4" counterpart. Some characters have made the transition from 3-3/4" to Sigma Six relatively seamlessly -- Storm Shadow, Snake-Eyes... Others have seen greater alteration -- Duke, Destro, Tunnel Rat... But for some reason, Zartan really seems to have made the transition very effectively. I held my original Zartan next to the Sigma Six one, and they matched the burgundy color of his trousers and hood PRECISELY.

There are some differences, of course. The Sigma Six Zartan does not have a color-change feature. His shoulder pads are wider, and he doesn't have the ridges sleeves of his smaller ancestor. He has these huge wrist bands that his predecessor lacks, and while he does have chest armor, his midriff is not exposed the way the original Zartan's is, although it looks like it could've been molded that way if they'd wanted to.

In the animated Sigma Six series, Zartan is not terribly different than his original counterpart. He seems a little more closely connected to Cobra, as one might expect, but he still commands the Dreadnoks (no figures of them -- yet), and he's still pretty much a thug without the intellectual capabilities of either Cobra Commander or the Baroness. He has a more pronounced accent than the original Zartan, but it's not so severe as to be overly distracting.

Returning to the figure, one distinct improvement over the original, in my opinion, is the way the hood is situated on the head. It's done in such a way that there's a sort of "forward slope" to it. It conceals more of Zartan's face and looks that much more menacing. There's also a nice fabric pattern to it. I have no problems with the original Zartan from the 3-3/4" line, of course, but the more "open face" look of the hood doesn't look quite as impressive, and in the animated series (no fault to the figure here), they sometimes mistook his hood for long hair!

Zartan has the black area around his eyes, although one sort of gets the impression with the Sigma Six figure that it's meant to be a mask, not facepaint, as could be implied on the 3-3/4" figure. There's sculpted lines around the edge of the black area. So, take your pick.

Zartan's shoulder pads are actually articulated. They can raise or lower. Raised looks a little more menacing, but lowered looks a little more plausible. His chest armor is nicely detailed and looks like it would provide ample protection against -- well, quite a few things, really.

The wristbands are a large feature on this figure, and they act as mounts for his assorted weaponry. There are peg holes in each one for his various accessories. But they're also bulky enough so that I think if Zartan backhanded someone with his lower arm, they wouldn't get up too quickly.

The paintwork on Zartan is extremely neat. I see no real evidence of any sloppiness here, and in fact I was surprised to figure out that the upper part of the lower legs are painted -- not the boots. They matched the burgundy color so closely I couldn't tell. Usually I can. Nice job in this department on this figure!

Zartan's always been a sort of bizarre character, and if that's proven out anywhere in his Sigma Six incarnation, it's with the figure's weaponry. This is really a pretty strange assortment of stuff. Interestingly, a fair portion of it is archery equipment of a sort. Intentional or otherwise on Hasbro's part, this ties in rather well with the original Zartan's history of ninja training and mastery of advanced archery equipment, which he used on more than a few occasions, to assassinate both the Hard Master of the Arashikage Ninja Clan, and years later, Serpentor himself.

One of Zartan's weapons is called the "Bushranger". This oddball thing is a narrow, double-barreled machine gun that has two detachable ammo clips, and the flip side of the device consists of two sharp curved claws. As expected, this is intended to be clipped to his wrist bands, and would be a dangerous weapon regardless of which way it faced.

Next there's the "Hideburner", which looks like a small shield with arrow points in it. But one of those points extends and has a rope and some moveable "beads" attached to it. There's a winding mechanism on the device to retract the rope.

Zartan also comes with a dangerous and very strange-looking crossbow, which is a spring-loaded weapon that comes with a quiver and two arrows. Pressing an arrow into the crossbow causes the crossbow's "arms" to extend. Firing the weapon launches the arrow, and the arms snap back. Amusingly, this weapon is referred to as the "Dreadnocker" on the weapons listing on the character's file card.

I've never been much of an accessory nut. I collect action figures, not tiny guns, knives, helmets, shields, whatever. But I will say this -- Sigma Six has created, along with some cool figures, some of the most impressive (and in a few cases strange) weapons and accessories that I think any action figure line has ever seen, and the stuff that Zartan comes with is certainly up in the ranks with it all.

Zartan's file card reads as follows:


Code Name: ZARTAN

Specialty: Disguise

Personal History: Zartan is a master of disguise who can impersonate almost anyone by changing his appearance, voice, and clothing. He can enter and escape places that were thought to be highly secure, fueling his ghostly legend, although sources indicate that he uses an optomagnetic device that bends light and makes him seem invisible. He is fascinated by weaponry of the past and present, and has created customized weapon systems. He shows little mercy toward anyone whom he and his Dreadnok gang of mercenaries have captured. He will do anything to get the information he wants, and enjoys leaving captives in the dank cages in the bayous until the are willing to talk. Despite his cruel streak, he releases captives wounded but alive, so that stories of his unique talents will spread far and wide.

Well, at least we got the "master of disguise" reference on his file card, and that "optomagnetic device that bends light" is probably one of the more plausible explanations I've ever heard for how Zartan does what he does (the debate has raged for years -- is it holograms or a genetic mutation?).

There's a new feature on the character file cards, a little area to the left of the character picture, that appears to be a pink bar code. A close look reveals there's light blue lettering under it. A red lens would expose the lettering, but there is no such item included with the figure. One DOES come with Lt. Stone, as part of his weaponry, so you'll have to buy him, I suppose. Anyway, it can still be read with minimal eyestrain, and in Zartan's case, it reads, "Zartan can be made visible with the Sigma 6 goggles". And indeed, most of the Sigma 6 figures do come with green-lensed goggles they can wear.

On the whole, this is a very impressive Zartan figure, with a distinctive resemblance to his original version that could almost be called a tribute. I'm very pleased with the Sigma Six ZARTAN, and he definitely has my highest recommendation!