Cobra Commander (Code Name: Enemy Leader)
Cobra Commander. Is there a more iconic 80s bad guy? Okay, Skeletor and Megatron are without a doubt equals in the pantheon of action figure villains. Those two guys however can’t hold a candle to the Commander’s sense of style. After all, could Skelly or Megs have rocked two different styles of headgear equally well, or dared to wear two belts at least once? I think not. And let’s not forget how well he’s outfitted his personal army and their vehicles.
Cobra Commander was the figure that started me on the road to GI Joe. In 1983, I was a die-hard Star Wars kid. Since 1978, I had been amassing a collection of figures and vehicles based on the films. In those days, unless a toy originated from a galaxy far, far away it generally didn’t hold my interest for long. In fact, my family knew that if they needed to get a gift for me, Star Wars was the way to go.The years between films were filled by my own adventures of Luke and company in the backyard or in the living room. However, that was about to change. One day, during my before-school ritual of a bowl of cereal and an episode of The Great Space Coaster, I first saw a commercial for the new GI Joes, the first such ad, to be exact. You remember the one; with future Sunbow cartoon narrator Jackson Beck intoning the code names of the original team over stark shots of the individual figures. The TV spot made an impression on me.
It wasn’t until the next school year, and an activity called Barter Day, that a small-scale GI Joe figure got into my hands. One of my classmates had brought Cobra Commander and Gung Ho to trade. I didn’t want to part with any of my more prized Star Wars figures, so I took Weequay, one of Jabba’s henchmen, a fairly disposable character in my eyes. Fortune smiled on me that day, and I was able to convince my classmate to trade the Cobra Commander to me, and he also let me play with his other figures during class. The rest of the day, I was ecstatic, even though I only had one lonely figure to take home. Having held the GI Joes in my hands and played with them for just a few minutes, I was impressed. These toys were amazing, especially when compared to my Star Wars figures. I remember being struck not only by the poseability, but also the accessories, and most importantly in my ten-year-old mind, the imaginative designs. Just being exposed to the toys for a short time piqued my curiosity. Who were these guys, and what other characters were available? I didn’t have any idea since I had acquired a single GI Joe figure without the benefit of its brilliantly produced cross-sell cardback. Now I had a mission: get more GI Joe figures!
Cobra Commander embodies the excitement of the relaunched GI Joe line. He’s the bad guy the brand needed for a new decade. He’s faceless and nameless, yet his file card and media interpretations make him a character you love to hate. My favorite element, other than the battle helmet and double-breasted suit, is the hair-dryer laser gun and the plug-in backpack. I had so much fun with this little bit of detail. In my universe, his weapon was super powerful, and the Joes were often after it. Unfortunately for them, the only way to charge the gun was via the Commander’s backpack.
Such a sinister and amazing figure, and he remains one of my all time favorites of any toy line. Despite being an early figure, he has aged amazingly well.