I wrote a G.I. Joe Starting Nine column this past summer, and I’ve been planning a companion piece for the Joes’ evil Cobra counterparts ever since. Bad guys are always more fun and interesting than heroes, so cutting down my favorite Cobra heels into a lineup of my nine favorites was decidedly harder than creating my Starting Nine of Joes.
Looking back on G.I. Joe today, it’s pretty crazy to think that there actually used to be a weekday afternoon kid’s cartoon about soldiers exchanging gunfire with terrorists. Sure, nobody was ever actually shot. But countless bodies were propelled from exploding tanks, jets, and other vehicles of modern warfare as bullets (actually lasers) flew across the screen during the battles that were waged every episode. Millions of children watched a hooded maniac shriek about a new world order built on fear and destruction as appointment television viewing while their mothers folded laundry ten feet away.
And that’s before we even consider the epic midpoint scene of G.I. Joe: The Movie, a PG-rated family-friendly romp where a villain impales our hero through the heart with a frickin’ snake.
If the old G.I. Joe cartoon was rebooted today with the same characters and presentation as the original series, every boy and 95% of dads in America would be instantly hooked. I like Bluey as much as any parent does, but I’d kick those blue heeler mutts to the curb in a hot second in favor of beholding Cobra Commander’s next harebrained scheme — the sillier, the better.
Drain the world’s oceans? Steal the rings of Saturn? Remove one lane from every highway on the planet? I’m here for it all.
The villains of Cobra did a great job of towing the line between scary and silly, largely because they always lost in the end. As evil as their plans may have gotten, you could always rest assured that these dopes would fall flat on their faces in the end. That’s why our parents let us watch it back in the old days. Good always prevailed in the end because evil is dumb. If only real life were that simple.
Here is my Starting Nine of Cobra operatives from the original G.I. Joe cartoon.
1. The Baroness
The animated embodiment of a classic Bond villain, Cobra’s espionage expert has the looks of Pussy Galore blended with the ferocity of May Day. The Baroness could coax nuclear launch codes from any man with security clearance simply by donning a mask, styling her hair, and batting her eyes. But she’s much more than your typical honey trap. She can crack any safe, fire any weapon, and operate any vehicle in Cobra’s arsenal. Destro may be the only man on the planet who can actually breach her defenses. But then again, he may just be the mark of her greatest con yet.
2. Storm Shadow
He’s a feared ninja, a 25th degree black belt in 86 different martial arts, and Cobra’s greatest warrior. He’s also the eternal frenemy of Snake Eyes, the one Joe team member that can stand toe-to-toe with Storm Shadow in single combat. The complex history between Snake and Storm is mostly explored in the G.I. Joe comics, but the hostility and begrudging respect between the two is still palpable whenever they are onscreen together in the cartoon. The characters go hand-in-hand with one another, but Storm Shadow’s flawless fighting technique and quiet ruthlessness make him a superior character even in the absence of his old rival.
The firepower and true brains of Cobra’s high command, Destro is smart enough to know the value of lurking in the background while the front man takes the publicity … along with the heat that comes with it. He comes from a wealthy family of arms dealers that has gotten rich off of international conflicts for generations. He fully understands the vanity and foolishness behind most of Cobra Commander’s tactics, yet he’s cunning enough to continue supplying the leader with state-of-the-art weaponry and strategic support in order to be on the ground floor if the Commander happens to succeed in his quest for world domination. Destro also has some serious game, sneaking secret gropes and lip locks with The Baroness whenever the foot soldiers aren’t looking.
Garden variety ballers sport gold chains and diamond grills. Only Destro is badass enough to rep a silver-plated dome over his face and head.
4. Cobra Commander
You really have to respect the unapologetic narcissism, duplicity, lust for power, and outright temerity of Cobra’s despotic leader. This megalomaniac will allocate an absurd amount of resources to carve his face into the damn moon, pompously overlook the threat of G.I. Joe derailing his plot, order a full-scale retreat when the sh!t hits the fan, and still have the nerve to rail at his troops afterward for being dull-witted cowards. He’s everything you want in an antagonist: dumb, egotistical, spineless, hilariously evil … not a single redeeming cell in his entire body. You’d wonder how such an ill-equipped leader could ever manage to amass an army of followers to do his bidding … if only we hadn’t seen so many real life examples of this in our actual history. We all love to hate Cobra Commander.
A master of disguise who could give a buck about Cobra Commander’s long-term aspirations, Zartan is a sociopathic mercenary who will steal, maim, kill, or sabotage on demand for the right price. If Storm Shadow is the Michelangelo of combat, Zartan is the Rembrandt of deception. He has more masks than Ethan Hunt, can alter and throw his voice at will, knows like 50 languages, and — if that’s not enough — he can make his damn skin change colors like a chameleon. That’s right … dude knows magic. He leads the Dreadnoks, a merciless gang of swamp-dwelling thugs who could decimate the entire cast of The Warriors in the time it takes you to read this column. Zartan is arguably the most useful operative on Cobra’s roster, and he’s undoubtedly the most dangerous.
6. The Crimson Twins
Xamot and Tomax are actually two different people. However, they were born from the same embryo, are literal mirror images of each other, and I can’t tell them apart. Thus, I’m keeping them both in the six-hole together. You’d often see these two dressed in suits managing Cobra’s business fronts, financing their evil deeds, and handling their legal affairs. They’d also throw hands when needed, but fighting was a giant obstacle for them due to their telepathic link. If you hit one brother, the other one felt it too. Despite this disadvantage, I just can’t relegate them to the bottom of the lineup simply because I got such a kick out of their speech patterns. These two made me wish I was born an identical twin.
7. Dr. Mindbender
You can’t have an evil cartoon army without a mad scientist.
Dr. Mindbender served as Cobra’s resident inventor, interrogator, and every other role where scientific knowledge was needed for some nefarious purpose. He created the battle android troopers (BATs), Cora’s robot soldiers that served as cannon fodder to show that the Joes could actually hit the bad guys they shot at on occasion. You can’t shoot a person in a cartoon (not even a bad guy), but you can massacre entire platoons full of androids. Mindbender also spearheaded the plot to create Serpentor; the effectual, yet boring leader who eventually usurped Cobra Commander. Despite these impressive achievements, Dr. Mindbender’s greatest feat was probably staying absolutely ripped despite spending so much time in the lab.
When some members of Cobra’s high command got tired of Cobra Commander’s lackluster attempts to take over the world, they decided to make a new leader. Like seriously, they built a new leader by splicing the DNA of deceased military giants like Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, and Atilla the Hun. Replacing the slimy, underhanded Cobra Commander with an angry, screaming brute like Serpentor may make Cobra appear more formidable, but it also makes them a lot less entertaining. You can only listen to the bad guy yell for so long until you just get bored with it, ya know? Cobra Commander is like Ric Flair, the devious chickensh!t heel whom you yearn to see Duke throttle with his bare hands. Serpentor, on the other hand, is like some juiced-up lunkhead who can’t draw a dime. He even has his own hacky catchphrase: This, I command!
“Flint! When we square off at the Louisville Gardens Wednesday night, I’m going to body slam you! Then I’m going to stomp your head! And then I’m going to pin you for the Hasbro Southern Heavyweight Championship! This, I command!!!
9. Major Bludd
Let’s be honest here. Bludd is probably the worst field commander in military history. He can only gain an advantage over the Joes using the element of surprise. Anytime Cobra’s forces don’t significantly outnumber the Joes, Bludd is eventually outmaneuvered and forced to retreat. He cracks the starting lineup not because of his talent, but because of his unwavering loyalty to the cause. Major Bludd probably buys into Cobra Commander’s ethos more than any other Cobra operative. He’s always on the frontline when a plot unfolds, getting downright giddy once the plan starts to come together. His sinister giggle is almost as shrill as Cobra Commander’s, a telltale measuring stick of the evil that lurks in a cartoon villain’s heart.
He has a cool eyepatch too.