When GI Joe relaunched back in 1982, it underwent a radical shift. No longer was GI Joe a single man, it was the name of a team of elite soldiers culled from the ranks of the U.S armed forces and trained to battle the greatest threats to the security of the free world.
But every hero needs a villain, and Cobra was invented to give the Joes a threat worthy of them. Since then, Cobra has become as iconic, and central to the franchise, as the Joes themselves.
Here’s 17 Facts You Didn’t Know About Cobra
17 17. Origins: Marvel Comics
In the Marvel Comics series, Cobra began as a pyramid scheme started by the man that would become known as Cobra Commander. Little of his background has ever been revealed besides that he was financially ruined and blamed the government for his misfortune. While drifting from place to place, he happened upon the town of Springfield.
In Springfield, he found a town full of disillusioned people that had fallen on hard times. Here he began to rally the people by encouraging and coercing them into taking part in pyramid schemes and other businesses of questionable legality. Soon after that, he began to organize them into a paramilitary group focussed on acts of domestic terror and the acquisition of wealth and power. This paramilitary force became known as Cobra.
16 Origins: The Animated Series
Initially, the animated series had a similar premise for the origins of Cobra. However, in GI Joe: The Movie it is revealed that before humanity a race of snake-like beings lived on the Earth. The advent of humanity forced them underground where they lived for millennia. The man that became known as Cobra Commander was an agent of this snake race, who was sent from their hidden base - Cobra-La - onto the surface world to sow the seeds of destruction among the surface people. Eventually, humanity would be extinct, possibly including many of Cobra's own members. Once humans were destroyed, the snakes would once again walk the Earth in their place.
15 Bad Guys Don’t Sell Toys?
When Hasbro created the concept for GI JOE, they hadn't considered a villain, feeling that villains didn't sell toys. It was Marvel editor Archie Goodwin that created the idea of Cobra as terrorists for the Joes to fight.
Larry Hamma padded out the idea and created many of the iconic characters. He also created backstories for the various factions of troopers. While the original troops weren’t fanatics and were merely motivated by money, later groups, including The Crimson Guards, are shown to be much more idealistically driven and loyal to the ideals of Cobra. Some even undergo plastic surgery and act as sleeper-agents until called upon.
As the Cobra characters became more popular, the toys accounted for over 40% of all sales - proving that bad guys do, indeed, sell toys.
14 They Aren’t Just Terrorists
While most famous for acts of domestic and global terrorism, Cobra still used their legal and illegal business dealings as a source of income. When they started out in Springfield, they began by setting up various telephone scams, pyramid schemes, and other financial crimes. These activities funded their early efforts but remained in place once they had set their sights even higher.
Once Cobra became a sovereign nation, they used their diplomatic status to build a consulate building in New York. Once they had this, they were able to use diplomatic immunity to cover up a wider range of crimes free from prosecution. The Joes hid spy technology in the consulate building eventually, which allowed them to unravel some of their schemes.
13 There were two Cobra Commanders in the Marvel continuity
The original Cobra Commander faced numerous challenges to his authority from Destro, The Baroness, Major Bludd and others. During the battle of the Pit, Cobra Commander was presumed to have been buried alive, allowing Serpentor to take control of Cobra.
The Commander, however, had survived, along with Destro, but the two separated when the commander pledged to leave Cobra and be a better father to his estranged son, Billy. He sought the help of a Crimson Guardsman, a “Fred Clone” who was an expert in cybernetics. He helped Billy with a prosthetic leg, but when he learned that the Commander was leaving Cobra, an organisation he believed in, he shot the Commander and took his place.
Fred, as Cobra Commander, led several failed schemes which led to Serpentor taking the initiative and attempting to take over Cobra once more. This led to an all-out war between the two men and a fragmented Cobra.
Eventually, the true Cobra Commander would return, having survived Fred’s assassination attempt. He buried Fred alive, along with everyone else who had opposed him, and left them for dead.
12 Serpentor was a Cobra Super-Soldier
Serpentor was created by Dr Mindbender in hopes that he would be a template for a Super-Soldier and battlefield commander for Cobra. Mindbender, along with Destro, raided the tombs of great warriors such as Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and Julius Caesar, in order to use their DNA.
Serpentor was grown in a vat in the town of Springfield and was unleashed on the Joes when they attacked. His skills and tactical knowledge earned him the admiration of the troops, and allowed many key Cobra agents to escape. He would have been left behind had Destro not saved him.
His skills included incredible cunning and he lured Cobra Commander into directly confronting the Joes by attacking The Pit (The GI Joe headquarters). When Cobra Commander was presumed killed, Serpentor took over as their leader and expanded Cobra into arms sales to third-world nations, taking him into conflict with Destro.
11 Destro was their arms supplier
Destro has been an ally and an enemy of Cobra, depending on the situation. Initially seen in the Marvel continuity as an arms supplier to Cobra, he is also a member of their hierarchy.
As the head of M.A.R.S, an advanced weapons manufacturer, he supplied Cobra with many of their high tech weapons but didn’t share their ideals of global domination. To him, conflict in the world simply meant business opportunity and he’d side with the Joes on occasion. He even managed to maintain cordial relations with several members of GI Joe including Flint and Lady Jaye.
While morally ambiguous, Destro does have a code of his own and sees himself as a moral man. To him, war is simply man's expression of his most natural state and is the perfect example of where the fittest survive and where many technological advances are made.
10 The Baroness
Initially a comics-only character, the baroness made her way into the animated series as well as the toy line. She was created by writer Larry Hama as an evil counterpart to the Joes female soldiers, Scarlett and Lady Jaye.
Originally conceived as an American, later stories show that she is the daughter of wealthy European aristocrats who spoiled her at every opportunity. She travelled extensively, but became bored by her lifestyle. As a student, she joined several radical movements before eventually joining Cobra, rising through the ranks. Along with Cobra Commander and Destro, she became one of the rulers of Cobra, but maintained a loyalty to herself above all others.
When Serpentor took control of Cobra, she was demoted and replaced with Zaranna. When the imposter claiming to be Cobra Commander appeared, she vouched for his identity and became the power behind the throne. Despite many shifts in power over the years, she manages to maintain a high-ranking position and manipulates the people around her at all times.
9 Storm Shadow
Unlike most members of Cobra, who join out of greed and ambition, Storm Shadow joined in order to seek vengeance.
Prior to the outbreak of the Vietnam War, the man that would become Storm Shadow, Tommy Arashikage, was trained as a ninja by his uncle, a man known as The Hard Master. It was during the war that he became an army ranger in a long-range recon patrol, and became friends with the man that would later be known as Snake Eyes. When Snake Eyes was wounded, Tommy saved his life, the two becoming like brothers.
After the war, the two men went to Japan and Snake Eyes also trained as a ninja, surpassing Storm Shadow in skill. When The Hard Master was killed by an agent of Cobra, Tommy was assumed to be the killer. In disgrace, he joined Cobra in order to find the murderer. It was many years before he discovered the identity of the true killer: Zartan. Eventually, he would leave Cobra and join GI Joe, but would be captured and brainwashed into their service once more.
8 Tomax and Xamot
Tomax and Xamot are the identical twin brothers that command the elite Crimson Guards. While they are dangerous combatants who commanded ground forces numerous times, especially during the first battle of Cobra Island, they are at their most effective in the boardroom. They are both talented money-men who use their knowledge of corporate finance to take over legitimate companies and subvert them to the ideals of Cobra.
The two men joined the French Foreign Legion at a young age, but left to become mercenaries as the money was much better. Too smart to remain foot soldiers for long, they moved to Zurich where they learned to invest the money they had made as mercenaries. Both men enjoyed crushing companies using finance, which brought them to the attention of Cobra Commander. Under the promise of greater wealth and power, they quickly took him up on the offer of employment, rising through the ranks quickly.
7 Doctor Mindbender
Doctor Mindbender is a quintessential mad scientist. Once a mild-mannered orthodontist, he experimented with electronic brainwave manipulation to ease dental pain. When he used himself as a test subject, it altered his personality into that of a ruthless, manipulative, and cruel man.
He became a master of numerous sciences including cybernetics and genetics and was instrumental in the creation of Serpentor, the ultimate Cobra Super Soldier. While he had a keen tactical mind, he rarely fought in combat situations and was often seen to be quite cowardly and self-serving.
During the Cobra Civil War, he was on the side of Serpentor and was dispatched to the United States in order to gain their support. He came back with a full complement of GI Joes and helped to turn the tide of the battle in Serpentor’s favor. When Serpentor was killed near the end of the final battle, Mindbender quickly assumed command and surrendered.
Zartan is the leader of a criminal gang of bikers known as the Dreadnoks (we’ll get to them). He’s also a master of disguise who uses both practical effects and holograms to blend in and infiltrate anywhere he chooses. He is also skilled in several martial arts, including ninjitsu, and rivals Storm Shadow with a longbow.
He first came to the attention of Cobra when Firefly was hired to kill Snake Eyes. Firefly realized that he wasn't skilled enough for the hit, and recommended Zartan in his place. Zartan failed to kill Snake Eyes, but manages to kill the Hard Master, causing the events which would lead Storm Shadow to join Cobra years later.
Due to Cobra Commander blackmailing him, he joins Cobra and acts as their number one spy and assassin. At one point, he takes command of a band of Australian bikers known as The Dreadnoks and used them as hired muscle for jobs that required brute force over finesse.
5 The Dreadnoks
Beginning as a violent biker gang that seemed to engage in violence simply for the fun of it, the Dreadnoks fell under the influence of the man known as Zartan. Zartan used them as hired muscle and added his sister Zarana and his brother Zandar to their ranks in order to make them more effective.
When Zartan formally joined Cobra, he took the Dreadnoks with him. Zartan and the Dreadnoks spied on the Joes and surmised that they were in a hidden base beneath McGuire Air Force Base. The Dreadnoks were ordered to cut the perimeter fence and then await a Cobra strike force before entering. Bored, they charged in and began destroying the air base, alerting the GI Joe team and allowing them to launch a counter offensive before Cobra were in position.
The Dreadnoks were instrumental in numerous schemes once they were taken over by Zarana. Despite being favoured by Serpentor, they opted to join Cobra Commander during the Cobra Civil War.
4 The Rank and File
Cobra uses numerous foot soldiers in their schemes, most commonly the blue suited-troopers made famous in the Marvel comics and the original animated series. These men are seen to be greedy and motivated by money and power over any ideology or loyalty.
There are also specialist roles such as H.I.S.S Tank drivers and experts in various forms of covert combat. Beyond these infantry troopers, there are the more dangerous Vipers. These are more highly trained and often come from members of various armed-forces around the world.
Cobra uses B.A.Ts, Battle Android Troopers in heavy combat but they are less intelligent that human combatants and are often used as cannon fodder.
The elite members of the rank and file are the Crimson Guards. These are used sparingly and form the ultimate arm of Cobra’s fighting troops.
3 Cobra became a Sovereign Nation
When Cobra built an underwater base in the Gulf of Mexico, it began to unleash devastating ultrasonic waves which devastated the marine life. The GI Joe team managed to talk the government out of using a nuclear strike and devised a plan to use conventional hardware to destroy the base.
The plan was successful, but the base was unmanned. The explosion caused by the Joes caused a massive earthquake, forcing a new landmass to rise from the ocean bottom. Cobra quickly claimed it and had lawyers around the world petition for it to be given status as a country. The Joes were unsuccessful in preventing this, and Cobra Island was born.
Quickly, Cobra built consulate buildings in key capital cities and using their diplomatic immunity, began to expand their influence as a terrorist organization, and a legitimate nation with trading partners, as well forming a base for their illegal business operations. For a time, the Joes were powerless to stop them.
2 Cobra have teamed up with the Decepticons
Both being Hasbro properties, GI Joe and the Transformers have been published under various banners over the years. Initially, Marvel comics printed both series, and a crossover developed within a few years.
Their first crossover came when a massive mobile Power Station came to the eyes of both Megatron and Cobra Commander, who each saw the military applications for such a device. An alliance was formed, with both sides planning to betray the other. The Autobots and the GI Joes also teamed up, albeit after a misunderstanding that caused Bumblebee to be destroyed.
After Bumblebee was rebuilt by the Joes, along with Ratchet, they managed to fight the Decepticon plan to use Power Station Alpha to destroy Earth, and re-power Cybertron. When Cobra realized the Decepticons' plan, they reluctantly helped their enemies and several Decepticons were destroyed by Cobra pilots.
Over the years, and across several publishers, the two franchises have crossed over multiple times. Given their potential on the big screen, it’s possible a movie crossover may be in the works.
1 There was a Cobra Civil War
The Cobra Civil war, mentioned previously, began at the height of Cobra’s power and influence. Serpentor had given way to Fred VII (who was impersonating Cobra Commander) but had been plotting against him. Cobra Commander (Fred) had been initially weak in his new role, but began to show leadership skills during a mission in space.
The two men tried numerous times to outdo each other but a squabble over who rightfully should have the glory eventually became a fist fight. The fight quickly escalated and battle lines became drawn. Serpentor was a superior tactician, but had fewer loyal forces so he was quickly forced to ask the American government for their help, in return for a stolen Black Box the U.S desperately needed back.
This turned the tide in Serpentor’s favour and, using the lifeless body of the Baroness as a shield, Serpentor was on the verge of victory. Zartan, using his skills as an archer, shot Serpentor in the eye, killing him instantly. Leaderless, Serpentor’s forces fell to Cobra Commander’s and the Joes were forced to leave.