Cobra (also called Cobra Command) is the fictional nemesis of the G.I. Joe team in the Hasbro action figure lines G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and G.I. Joe: Sigma 6, as well as their related media.
Cobra was introduced when G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero line was launched in 1982. The toy line was accompanied by a Marvel Comic series written by Larry Hama, and an animated television series by Sunbow. Each medium to feature G.I. Joe has had its own continuity and as such, the origin and portrayal of Cobra has differed in each of them. The comic series took a serious tone, and portrayed them as a fairly efficient 'real world' political and military machine. In the cartoon, Cobra is often portrayed as an ineffectual bunch of buffoons, and is later retconned with a fantasy background (see Cobra-La, below).
Though the members of the Cobra Organization are all fighting against G.I. Joe, there are many internal power struggles.
- Cobra Commander - The leader and founder of Cobra. His face is almost always obscured either by a hood with only his eyes visible or by a high tech battle helmet with various security features integrated into it. In the cartoon, this concealment was to hide inhuman disfigurement, whereas in the comic it is merely to maintain the secret of his civilian identity. He is regarded as the most dangerous man on Earth, because he can draw followers to him. He is hatred personified, a madman with the drive of a fanatic. Only Baroness and Destro have seen his face.
- Serpentor - The Cobra Emperor, created through a breakthrough in cloning research by Dr. Mindbender from the DNA extracted from the remains of the most ruthless and effective military leaders in history, including Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Genghis Khan, as well as Sgt. Slaughter. (In the comics, Storm Shadow is the 10th and only live source of DNA, instead of Sgt. Slaughter.) In addition to his genetic disposition to greatness, an early experiment also gave him access to the brain patterns of G.I. Joe HALO jumper Ripcord, allowing him to use their strategies against them. He was seemingly killed by Zartan, only to be revived later by a secret cabal of scientists known as "The Coil" then killed by Cobra Commander.
- Destro or James McCullen Destro XXIV - A Scotsman who always wears a metal mask (in the cartoon the mouth of his mask moves, explained by a form of nanotech/liquid metal in later comics). He has often tried to take over leadership of Cobra. Destro is an arms dealer and his number one client is Cobra. He is the hereditary leader of M.A.R.S. (Military Armaments Research Syndicate) and uses his personal army, the Iron Grenadiers, to start conflicts in order to sell weapons to all of the combatants' parties. Destro has a warped sense of honor and a grudging respect for his G.I. Joe foes.
- The Baroness or Baroness Anastasia DeCobray - The daughter of European aristocrats, she serves as Cobra's Director of Intelligence, and is romantically involved with Destro.
- Dr. Mindbender - A mad scientist of startling intellect. He has several mind-control devices. He is also quite accomplished with genetic manipulation. He is responsible for the creation of Serpentor, the Cobra B.A.T. as well as responsible for perfecting the Brainwave Scanner. Though he is quite muscular, Mindbender is somewhat cowardly, preferring to avoid physical confrontations.
- Tomax and Xamot - Twin brothers that lead the Crimson Guard and are the respectable corporate face of Cobra. When not engaged in dangerous field missions, Tomax and Xamot are in shirt and tie, managing Cobra's business affairs. The brothers share an empathic connection. While this is often useful, as it allows them to communicate wordlessly and finish each others sentences, it is also a liability, as they feel each other's pain during fights. Tomax and Xamot are mirror images of each other, except Xamot has a scar on the right side of his face. The twins run a corporation called Extensive Enterprises and are known more for their skills in the boardroom than on the battlefield.
- Storm Shadow or Thomas "Tommy" Arashikage - A ninja who trained in martial arts and military service alongside G.I. Joe operatives Snake-Eyes and Stalker. He brought Snake-Eyes into his clan; the two are sword brothers. He joined Cobra with the intention of finding the man who killed his uncle, the leader of his clan. It was later revealed that Zartan and Firefly were in fact responsible, but Storm Shadow was never able to avenge his master's death. He eventually was brainwashed and began working for Cobra in earnest.
- Zartan - The leader of the Dreadnoks, as well as a master spy and assassin. He is a master of disguise, able to be anyone anytime he wishes. Thanks to genetic experimentation, Zartan is also capable of changing his skin color to blend in with his background. This special ability is disrupted by sunlight.
- Major Bludd - Major Sebastian Bludd is an Australian mercenary with extensive combat experience who worked for Cobra from time to time. He is a master tactician, expert in all known weapons, and writes very bad poetry. He is usually portrayed as Cobra's infantry commander. Major Bludd is best known for the assassination of General Flagg, the original leader of the G.I. Joe team.
- Firefly - The world's greatest saboteur, Firefly's background is a mystery. A mercenary and assassin, Firefly offers no guarantees or refunds. He is an expert in all types of explosive ordnance and demolition materials. He is the Faceless Master of the Arashikage ninja clan.
- Dr. Venom - A Cobra scientist who played an important role in the first two years of the comic book. He was killed in action, and eventually replaced by Dr. Mindbender.
- Kwinn - An Inuit mercenary who only appeared in the first year of the comic book. A mercenary with a strong code of honor, he had previously worked for the CIA, Mossad, MI6, and the KGB, and worked with Cobra in Sierra Gordo. He would later renounce his life as a mercenary, only to be betrayed and killed by Dr. Venom. A hidden grenade then slays Venom.
- Fred VII - A soldier in the Crimson Guard who temporarily impersonated Cobra Commander after fatally shooting him (or so he believed). He was killed when the real Cobra Commander made his triumphant return.
- Blackout - Sniper Thomas J. Stall was rejected by G.I. Joe for failing his psychological exam and was suspected of being involved with the disappearance of his sister. After being imprisoned, Thomas broke out of a brig at Fort Huachuca during an attack by Cobra, to whom he surrendered willingly and subsequently joined.
- Dreadnoks - Led by Zartan, his siblings and daughter, the Dreadnoks are gang of bikers who pull jobs for Cobra when finesse is not required and brute force is needed. Zartan used them for backup and brought them with him when he joined Cobra.
Rank and file
The vast majority of the Cobra Organization is made up of faceless legions of soldiers, widely diversified according to specialties and functions. Some of the more prominent include:
- Cobra Soldiers/Officers - Also known as "Blueshirts" these were the original soldiers introduced in 1982, and were prominently featured on both the cartoon and comic series. They are generally portrayed as little better than common grunts.
- Crimson Guard - Led by Tomax and Xamot, these elite soldiers were introduced in 1985. Their filecard indicates that in addition to intense military training, they are required to have a degree in either accounting or law (later filecards say they are required to have a non-specific college degree), and are often used in deep cover operations, posing as civilians and politicians. Later toys expanded on the Crimson Guard concept with the release of figures such as the Crimson Guard Immortal, as well as vehicles.
- Cobra Vipers - Introduced in 1986, these infantry soldiers complemented the Blueshirts in both the cartoon and comic series, though they were depicted as benefiting from better training and more sophisticated equipment. Their filecard indicates that they are "the backbone of Cobra Legions" and "if you want to get anywhere in Cobra, you have to start out as a Viper." Viper also became the nickname for other rank-and-file Cobra divisions (including their Cobra Trooper and Officer predecessors) due to the fact that most Cobra units, regardless of skill level, wore the suffix "-Viper" as their unit name (Tele-Viper, for example).
- B.A.T.s - Cobra Battle Android Troopers were introduced in 1986 and were used extensively in the cartoon series, since they could present an army that the heroes could gun down without killing living beings. Intended as a cheap alternative to using living soldiers, they could be hazardous to both friend and foe according to their filecard.
- Night Creepers - The Night Creepers are a group of ninjas-for-hire with a particular savvy for technology and business, whose leader is named Aleph. There was also a Night Creeper Leader introduced in the DiC animated series and toyline, but whether they are one and the same is unlikely as differences in their personalities suggest otherwise.
- Iron Grenadiers - Destro's personal army.
Cobra maintains a number of bases around the world. In several media incarnations, Cobra’s primary base is Cobra Island
. In the Marvel Comics series, Cobra is said to have bases, underground cells and even whole communities scattered across the globe. Following are several specific locations with names:
- Broca Beach - After the destruction of Springfield, Cobra created another town as their secret base of operations in America. This one was transformed from an abandoned seaside town. Former residents of the destroyed Springfield town were relocated here.
- Castle Destro - Destro's fortress in Scotland. Training ground for the Iron Grenadiers.
- Cobra Citadel also known as the Silent Castle - Cobra's base of operations in Eastern Europe. It is located in Trans-Carpathia. Destro was one of its designers and for a brief period, it became the second Castle Destro.
- Cobra Consulate - A high-rise in New York City used by Cobra as an embassy and base of operations after Cobra Island was declared a sovereign nation.
- Cobra Island - The primary base of Cobra operations. It was created after a massive man-made earthquake. Cobra lawyers, well-prepared, moved in and had it declared a sovereign nation. It was the battlefield for the Cobra civil war, and the battle against The Coil. After Cobra was beaten, the island was seized by the U.N. It then came under the control of The Coil, then Cobra, and was finally destroyed by a nuclear warhead, which also killed every member of The Coil.
- Millville - A steel town fallen into economic ruin after the closing of the local plant. When Cobra descends literally en masse on them one day, the residents are swayed by Cobra Commander's promise of quick wealth and prosperity to submit to his rule. However, Cobra immediately subjugates the town via a brainwashing device, leading to the formation of a local resistance.
- Monolith Base - A massive mountain complex located in Badhikistan. It served as Cobra's main base but was taken over by an all out assault from G.I. Joe.
- Springfield - A small anonymous town in the US, which Cobra secretly operated as a base. The town was poor and desperate when the man who would become Cobra Commander arrived. He became the town's savior and it was there he started Cobra. Many covert operations were held there, including the creation of Serpentor.
The Cobra Organization had its beginnings when the man who would become Cobra Commander settled in a town called Springfield. Bringing his hate of the government which he blamed for his misfortunes. Springfield was a perfect place to start the organization as the town itself had fallen on hard times and the population was disillusioned. Soon, the organization was growing with the entry of like-minded individuals from all over the country. Much of Cobra’s early funding came from pyramid schemes
initiated by Cobra Commander. In a very short time, COBRA evolved into military organization. Motivated by greed and power, the group soon expanded all over the country, operating in secret, engaging in terrorism to achieve their objectives. By the time the US government recognized Cobra as a threat, the evil organization had already gained footholds as a powerful private army and terrorist organization around the world.
Many of its members (especially those in the elite Crimson Guard units) lead seemingly normal lives, supporting Cobra covertly. Cobra attracted members with the promise of fast financial rewards and power for those willing to be ruthless enough. It also world of order and strength, with its 'model community' of Springfield being one example of the Cobra ideal.
Cobra would eventually achieve a temporary legitimacy by the artificial creation of Cobra Island, which was recognized as an independent nation by the international community, much to the dismay of the Joe team. This allowed Cobra to have diplomatic facilities in the United States via the Cobra consulate.
During Serpentor's tenure Cobra's primary source of income came from arms sales to third world nations. This led to a clash with Destro's MARS organization, which provided Cobra with much of its arms.
For a comic series predominantly aimed at children, Cobra was a relatively realistic depiction of a highly successful terrorist organization. With its strong symbolic imagery, charismatic and ruthless leader and fanatical hierarchy, the fictional group is similar to other fictional terrorist and fascist organizations such as SPECTRE of James Bond fame and the similar Marvel Universe organization HYDRA.
Larry Hama depicted Cobra troops as being motivated by money, power and a sense of brotherhood. However, they are not fanatical to the point where they would fight to the last man and to the last breath. If all is lost, they would willingly surrender or run away had they the chance, something their leaders rarely let them do. The brutal training depicted in the file cards of the troopers are very much characteristic of ritualistic hazing.
The only instance that has shown Cobra as a suicidal fanatical organization was in issue #8 where the troopers willingly let themselves blow up on a boat after their loss.
In the United Kingdom, G.I. Joe was marketed under the name Action Force
. The original antagonists in the Action Force series were the Red Shadows
. The Red Shadows were a terrorist organization led by Baron Ironblood
and his lieutenant the Black Major
with prominent members including artillery expert Red Laser
and tank commander Red Jackal
who disguised his scarred visage with a steel mask.
The Action Force series was eventually written to more closely match the American G.I. Joe universe; the 'World Enemy No. 1' storyline in the Battle Action Force comic had Ironblood betraying the Red Shadows, abandoning them to die pointlessly, and going into hiding. When he emerged once more, he had organized a new group and renamed himself as the Cobra Commander. The Red Jackal tracked down Cobra Commander after an arduous journey with the intention of killing him to avenge the treachery Cobra Commander performed. On the brink of throttling the Commander Jackal succumbed to stun gas and passed out, not quite completing his sentence declaring his intention to destroy the former Baron Ironblood. Admiring his tenacity and resourcefulness, Cobra Commander elected not to kill the man, instead allowing him to continue to serve. To remind Jackal that, in the end, he failed to eliminate Cobra Commander, the leader renamed him 'Destro' the last word he spoke as his former self.
cartoon did not explore how Cobra began. It was only in G.I. Joe: The Movie
that it is revealed that the organization was a frontrunner for a 40,000 year-old underground civilization called Cobra-La
, whose snake-like inhabitants were driven underground by the advent of humankind. Cobra Commander was, in actuality, a member of this underground race. He was tasked with creating an organization that would overrun the world at large. This revelation, though, contradicts what was established in the first season of the series. Also revealed is that the creation of Serpentor was an initiative by Cobra-La; through the use of a biological mind controlling device, they implanted the idea into Dr. Mindbender's mind as an act of discipline against Cobra Commander.
The creation of Cobra-La was an unintentional side effect of Hasbro's demand that the heretofore unintroduced Cobra Emperor Serpentor be inserted into the series, despite the fact that Cobra Commander had long been established as the one-and-only head of Cobra. Series story editor and writer Buzz Dixon offered two possible storylines to make it work: One had the senior Cobra leadership, fed up with Cobra Commander's constant failures, deciding to literally build a better leader. The other presented Cobra as being a front for a vast, secretive, and far more sinister organization whose leadership finds Cobra Commander lacking and sends Serpentor as a replacement. Hasbro, liking both ideas, had the series writers combine both concepts. The writers despised the name "Cobra-La" and had only originally intended to use it as a working name to be replaced by a "real" name in the finished product, but were overruled by Hasbro.
Buzz Dixon originally had a much different idea for the origin of Cobra. In a story entitled "The Most Dangerous Man in the World," it was to be revealed that Cobra was originally organized around the political theories of a Karl Marx/Friedrich Nietzsche-type figure whom Cobra Commander locked away when the Commander began corrupting the Cobra philosophies away from its original principles.
Several of the prominent members stated above, such as Cobra Commander, Destro, the Baroness and Zartan are featured prominently in the series. Many of these members are given some form of cybernetic enhancements. The Sigma 6 version of Cobra maintains BATs as the primary bulk of their army with human personnel acting mostly as technicians.
References in pop culture
- An international terrorist organization called "Cobra" guest-starred in the "Island of Doom" episode of theHanna-Barbera Godzilla animated series on December 1, 1979. The Hanna-Barbera Cobras also had blue uniformed troops, tanks, artillery, and its own airforce. A few of the characters that were similar to ones in Cobra Command. This episode appeared three years prior to the 1982 launch of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.
- In season 3 of the Transformers animated series, a character known as 'Old Snake' who wears a plain brown mask with a single eyehole over his face (similar to Cobra Commander's blue mask) and sounds like Cobra Commander, appears in the episode "Only Human". At the end of the episode he says "they simply don't make terrorists like they used to" and shouts "COBRA!" in the manner of Cobra Commander. He appears to be a much older, semi-retired version of himself, as his shout of "CO-BRAAA!" is followed by harsh coughing and wheezing.
- The Cobra Organization appears in an episode of Robot Chicken ("Joint Point") where it is made into a documentary where each certain member explains their job in the Terrordrome.
- Pro Wrestler CM Punk has a tattoo of Cobra's logo on his right shoulder.
- In Hey Arnold, a bully named Wolfgang has a Cobra Organization logo in his shirt.