One of the primary villains in the Hasbro G.I. Joe line of action figures, introduced in 1982. Also featured in the G.I. Joe Animated series which ran from 1985 to 1987 and the G.I. Joe comic book series, published by Marvel Comics from June of 1982 until December 1994. Cobra Commander was the leader of the insidious COBRA, bent on world domination and the total destruction of G.I. Joe; a well-defined mission statement for an evil organization. Millions of kids scooped up the toys in the 1980s to play out their own dreams of conquering the planet, and the Hasbro toy company made millions.
Your own personal despot, $1.99
When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, Hasbro hit the jackpot. The Reagan Whitehouse quickly let the reigns go on the FCC by vetoing the Children's Television Act, a comprehensive set of rules for regulating the advertising content of children's television. Toy manufacturers where given carte blanche, the only restrictions being on excessive violence, sexuality or foul language. Want to make a half hour weekly commercial for your toys? No problem!
Hasbro took the 1964 classic brand G.I. Joe, a series of 12-inch military themed dolls, and revamped them for the mass consumption of 1980s children. The previous success of Kenner's Star Wars line of smaller, cheaper 3¾ inch action figures was repeated, and over the top caricatures of military stereotypes, complete with code names were scripted, falling nicely in line with the hawkish patriotism of the Reagan era. The new line was christened "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" and released in 1982 to blockbuster success. The line of toys ran until 1994 when it was canceled due to Hasbro merging with Kenner.
Relaxed FCC regulations also saw Hasbro team with Marvel Productions Ltd., Sunbow Productions, and DiC Entertainment to produce a weekly Saturday morning cartoon, marketing the line directly to children. Low cost figures, well within the range of allowances, and a clever collect-them-all filecard marketing saw the child consumer market explode. The G.I. Joe cartoon featured all new characters, vehicles and accessories at the time of their release, when they could be bought for afternoons of saving the world. Marvel also marketed a G.I. Joe comic book that ran similar marketing-based stories, closely in line with the television show.
So, in order to drive a story, you need conflict. If you have flag-waving patriotic heroes, you need an insidious, subversive, dastardly villain. Enter COBRA, a terrorist organization that spreads discord and mayhem worldwide. Heavy fascist styling, a faceless myriad of troops and a venomous cobra symbol heavy-handedly painted COBRA as evil, the perfect foil for the Joes. Kids loved it. And every worldwide terrorist organization needs a secretive, evil mastermind leader. Enter the Cobra Commander!
Voiced by Christopher Latta in the G.I. Joe cartoon, Cobra Commander was a mysterious maniac, always crafting insane plans while religiously hiding his face. Never appearing out of his mask, kids wondered what hideous features remained hidden beneath. The Commander actually had two separate outfits, each translated into toy form. When not rushing out to face the Joes in battle, he wore a loose hood mask of blue fabric, covering all his features except his eyes, which peered menacingly. When charging out to fight or riding atop a HISS Tank, he wore a blue helmet with an opaque silver face plate. In both incarnations, Cobra Commander favored blue clothes, bedecked with garish red cobra emblems. Versions of both models were available from the start of toy line, with the hooded version originally only offered via mail-order. Specialized versions and remodels for special sub-toy lines (Battle Commanders, Star Brigade) were also produced.
As a character, Cobra Commander was a control freak. Like most megalomaniacs, he demanded complete obedience from his cult-like followers, and was routinely vicious and cruel. Greeted with fascist shouts of "COBRA!", he devised insidious plan after insidious plan in his quest to take over the world, only to be foiled by Duke and the G.I. Joe team. Callous and cold, he thought nothing of sending waves of minions on hopeless missions, usually into battle with the Joes. Paranoid and insane, he sought out criminals and villains from around the world to join COBRA, either willingly or by force. This practice of surrounding himself with competitors lead to power struggles that fueled his paranoia. Cobra Commander was also a big fan of secret weapons, which he usually unveiled close to the new fall line of toys, just in time for Christmas...
One of the more interesting aspects of Cobra Commander's struggles for control were his conflicts, which were never echoed in the tightly regimented G.I. Joe camp. The good guys never fought over who was in charge. No honor among thieves, kids. Cobra Commander was constantly fighting with Destro, the Baroness, Zartan, and anyone else who happened along. Even Serpentor, a super-clone created by Dr. Mindbender, sought to dethrone him. Some succeeded for a time but Cobra Commander always slithered back to the top.
Text from the Hasbro G.I. Joe Filecard, as printed on the 1983 release of Cobra Commander.
Code Name: Enemy Leader
File Name (Classified)
Primary Military Specialty: Intelligence
Secondary Military Specialty: Ordnance (experimental weaponry)
Grade: Commander in chief
Absolute power! Total control of the world... its people, wealth and resources - that's the objective of Cobra Commander. This fanatical leader rules with an iron fist. He demands total loyalty and allegiance. His main battle plan for world control relies on revolution and chaos. He personally lead uprisings in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and other trouble spots. Responsible for kidnapping scientists, businessmen and military leaders then forcing them to reveal their top level secrets.
Cobra Commander is hatred and evil personified. Corrupt. A man without scruples. Probably the most dangerous man alive!