13 Days of Halloween: Serpentor (1986)
Serpentor is one of the few GI Joe characters whose origin to me recalls horror elements. He’s certainly of the Frankenstein monster’s ilk, albeit created from a soup of DNA and synthetic flesh rather than reclaimed corpses. His origin story, at least in the trappings of its imagery and some locations, recalled classic horror elements.
When I first spotted the toy on shelves back in 1986, I had to have it. I had not seen the cartoon episodes that introduced him, nor read his origin in the Marvel comic. Serpentor’s look and his description alone on the packaging sold me. I was all-in on the Cobra Empreror concept, and the spliced DNA of famous leaders made it even cooler.
The figure did not disappoint. He was one of the most detailed sculpts and unique color schemes in the line to that point. He also came packed with a personalised one-man vehicle. By the way, did anyone else forbid the air chariot’s use by any other figures? Mine was always reserved for Serpy.
Thankfully, Serpentor doesn’t appear to be subject to Gold Plastic Syndrome, at least none of the examples I have exhibit it. That’s a good thing, because where would Cobra be without its emperor? Wait, don’t answer that.
The toy appeared well before the comic or cartoon origins. The wait between the toy release and the comic and toon (fall 1986) was like forever in “kid time”. But it give us Roadblock saying “Things won’t be fine when Cobra joins with Frankenstein!”
I found him a hard character to use. To regal looking to be out in combat, but his personality is more aggressive than Cobra Commander’s. His Air Chariot was hovering target for GI JOE.
Buzz Dixon had planned an episode called ‘The most dangerous man in the world’ which was about Cobra Commanders predecessor. The episode was slated for season 2 but Hasbro rejected it as it didn’t mesh with the toys planned for that year. The episode was put aside and ‘Arise Serpentor, Arise’ was made instead.
When G.I. Joe #49 came out, most kids in my class were done with toys. But, I left my copy in the car for a soccer carpool and everyone in the car read it on the way to the field. It was then passed around our class. The story was so well done that even those “too cool” for toys thought it was awesome.
Serpentor had a good run in my collection for about a year. But, then the character played himself out and there was no were to really go with him.
Glad your gold plastic hasn’t had issues. I snapped a crotch of a newly purchased figure trying to change his o ring just a couple of years ago.
Serpentor would remind anyone of the playground bully,who always is picking on other school kids, demanding ”This I Command” phrase all the time. Just a muscle-bound bully version of Cobra Commander. Serpentor got his just reward, in the G.I.Joe movie ”Operation Dragon Fire”,put out by D.I. C. (DO It Cheap),from Japan. Being molded to an Iguana.
Definitely a good pick for today, considering that among the DNA used in Serpentor’s creation is none other than Vlad Tepes, Dracula himself!
Isn’t Serpentor actually yellow underneath the gold paint? From what I recall, the figure isn’t made from gold plastic. Gold plastic, never gold paint, was the problem.
He was an eyecatching, excellent figure on the shelves immediately. The rank and appearance sold him (If I remember reading correctly elsewhere, he came out around Spring 1986, when all cardbacks and small boxed vehicles/figures came out). Of course, there’s some hypocrisy in praise for Serpentor by his look, yet scorn for his other animal costume brethern, Raptor & Croc Master, as too far afield. His background brought some positives and negatives to GI Joe, though it’s understandable he all but disappeared save for mail-order catalogs after 1987.
Never had a Cobra Commander up to the point that Serpentor was given to me as a gift.
Back in the day,
No gun was an issue, had to borrow from another figure or an accessory pack. Serpentor led an Cobra army comprised of Motor Viper, Strato Viper, Sea Slug, Zandar, Zarana, a B.A.T., and Thrasher.
Serpentor was the toughest, Sea Slug and Thrasher were pretty tough, too.
As G.I.Joe things evolved, Talking Battle Cobra Commander (and soon after, 1991 (battle helmet?) Cobra Commander) entered my collection as a Christmas gift and Serpentor became a lot less used.
For about the next 10-15 years, Serpentor was stored by 1984 Deep Six. Rarely pulled out for any reason that I can remember.
Until around 2005/2006, when my collection had grown with figures and more sub-teams and other factions were possible and my imagination was influenced by the internet, as well as the Coil from the Club.
Then there was a brief Serpentor-led army with the 2002 Serpentor or 2005 (?) Comic Pack Serpentor in the lead of whatever figures didn’t fit in my main line Cobra army.
I like people’s stories about their limited kid armies. Before 1985, it was a joke, mail-in 1982 CC, a 1982 officer, a 1983 trooper, Maj. Bludd and Zartan, plus the SNAKE. But I was a fickle kid into other stuff, and my brother was the real Joe fan then.
By mid-1985, my Cobra was straight arm Cobra Commander, Destro, Major Bludd, the Crimson Twins, a broken thumb straight arm Cobra Officer, Lamprey, an Eel, a Crimson Guard, a 1983 Cobra Trooper and Zartan and his Dreadnoks. Not much in the vehicle department, the Moray, Ferret, SNAKE, Chameleon swamp ski and a Cobra Bunker. They could win at sea, because my only Joe sea item, aside from the APC, was the MANTA! I had no aircraft for either side, so that was a non-issue.
At the end of 1989, my Cobra team was very small: The Baroness, Crystal Ball, Star Viper, and Iron Grenadier. For vehicles, they had the Stellar Stiletto and the Hydro Sled. My small collection of Joes easily outnumbered them and outpowered them when it came to vehicles. I still had a lot of fun, though. Thank God I started really building up my collection on both sides in 1990.
I never had Serpentor as a kid, but it’s definitely a classic. I can’t count all the times I almost ordered him with the Air Chariot from Hasbro Direct only to decide I just couldn’t wait the nearly two months it would take to get it in the mail.
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