“Welcome To Cobra Island…”

I'm thinking that Cobra Commander gets sent to Guantanamo Bay.  Or Crime Jail, which is under the ocean.

I’m thinking that Cobra Commander gets sent to Guantanamo Bay. Or Crime Jail, which is under the ocean.

Being at home during the summer has me reading a whole lot of news, and watching a whole lot of news coverage. It is an uninterrupted brick of Current Events, and that increased awareness of world happenings has led me to a startling conclusion. That is this: Marvel Comics (with their GI Joe comic), and the Sunbow Animated “GI Joe” cartoon, have permanently crippled an entire generation of Americans in their understanding of basic foreign policy.

Wait, what?

Yes, that’s exactly what I said. Heck, I think it has also done a real number on people’s ability to grasp domestic policy as well. The important thing to understand is that the introduction to the show presents the Cobra group as a “ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world!” It works just fine for the intro, and for the bad guys of an animated show designed to sell toy soldiers and fictitious bad guys for them to fight.

The thing is…it also creates a set of expectations that actually carry over into real people’s thoughts about the real world. Cobra is easy enough to find…they make their own proprietary stuff, have huge @#$%ing headquarters with cobras carved in stone all over them, they own at least one town and one island, and they wear bright blue uniforms. In many ways, they resemble 1940’s fascism more than modern terrorism, and are just as easy to pick out of a crowd.

So…how has that damaged people’s ability to understand real events? Because there is an expectation that you can just FIND the “bad guys,” and then send in some Good Guy Rambos to just Handle It. When people ask President Obama questions about this kind of thing, they really just think that he knows where to find “the bad guys” and for some reason is just not picking up the phone and Green Lighting the GI Joe team. The very notion is absurd…and it’s even more absurd that you can “just find bad guys and terrorists” without violating everyone’s civil rights.

Of course, it’s much much easier in cartoons. The bad guys show up every episode, and are in convenient brightly colored uniforms that identify them as the Bad Guys. That’s because of two things: one…its a cartoon, for children, so it need to be easy to understand. Two…it’s fictional, and a half hour long.

Researching Cobra Command for this was VERY interesting, though. Marvel Comics invented Cobra with the concept and name coming from Archie Goodwin. When Marvel was brought in, Hasbro had not considered producing a villain for the toyline and were reluctant to make villain toys because they believed villains did not sell. According to Jim Shooter, “later…villains became 40% of their volume.”

However…there’s not that much continuity between versions of Cobra. Each medium featuring G.I. Joe has its own continuity and the origin and portrayal of Cobra has differed in each of them. That gives us very, very different ideas.

The Marvel Comics print version of Cobra is very much a child of the 80’s, and furthermore, a bit disturbing when you think of problems in the United States today. Cobra had its beginnings when the financially ruined man who would become “Cobra Commander” settled in an American town called Springfield. Blaming the federal government and big business for his misfortunes, he conceived a plan of forming a secret organization to acquire wealth and power and thereby take his revenge on the world.

Um…that has a disturbing amount in common with something I read regularly called “The Newspaper.”

Anyway…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 and other semi-legitimate business plans, and that financial success allowed a gradual and intense takeover.

In a very short time, Cobra evolved from a business into a paramilitary movement. 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 U.S. government recognized Cobra as a threat, the 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 offered a world of order and strength, with its “model community” of Springfield being one example of the “Cobra ideal.”

If I have to draw you a picture (although I already ACTUALLY DID) illustrating that a thirty year old comic book franchise designed to sell toy soldiers to kids has a vast amount in common with Right Wing politics today…well, I don’t know what to say to that. It seems like Larry Hama (GI Joe’s writer) was some kind of Dark Prophet.

In fact…for a comic series predominantly aimed at children, Cobra was a relatively mature 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, or fraternity induction, if you did that sort of thing in college.

The animated series didn’t really care too much about how Cobra started, or what it was all about. It was far more “hands off” on those subjects, just kind of taking for granted that there would be a “ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world” because of Reasons.

In fact…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. A first-season two-part episode, “Worlds Without End,” portrays an alternate reality in which Cobra has established control over the United States (and apparently all of the world). Although Cobra’s reign is totalitarian, it does not use its power to promote any ideology beyond glorifying itself, for is own sake. So, if your home has a snake themed decor, and you do the appropriate “Hail Cobras”, you were kind of okay.

Again…probably part of the reason that no one understands politics now…since this was the basic primer for a huge number of people that currently vote.

I was originally going to have the protagonist putting the hurt of a mess of generic Cobra Troopers, but they are just too generic. With Kryptonian-like powers, she should just be able to waltz in, and haul off the Commander, you know? Plus…it is inherently more fun to draw Cobra Commander than the generic guys.

It wasn’t that easy to imitate the Sunbow Animation style, which is very distinctive. A lot has to do with line weights, which isn’t something that I concentrate on often.

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