Desert Battle Zartan (Pursuit of Cobra)
Sometimes, a Joe figure really catches fire in the collecting community. I got to witness this first hand at Joe Con in 2009 with Pursuit of Cobra Zartan. Everyone (myself included) was very interested in this new direction for the brand, building off the good parts of the movie, but leaving the bad parts behind. However, the figure that really caught everyone’s attention was Zartan. It was a totally new take on him and while I disagree with some out there who saw the falcon and immediately thought “updated Raptor”, I still like the homage made to Zartan skulking around outside the PIT dressed as a Middle Eastern nomad in Rise of Cobra. Desert Battle Zartan was a completely different take on this character and, unlike the neon Mohawked Ninja Force Zartan, this was a great direction to take the character. While I do miss the Arnold Vosloo head that he was originally supposed to have (seriously, Vosloo was so sinisterlooking as Zartan, it made me think of him as a real threat), I’m glad they were able to release him with a standard Zartan head. This figure was way too cool to get left on the cutting room floor like Jungle Assault Heavy Duty and Arctic Threat Duke were.
Zartan was another Pursuit of Cobra figure to benefit from the post-movie budget bump the Joe line received. His head is shared with the second 25th Anniversary Zartan and his chest comes from 25th Anniversary Quick Kick, but everything else is new. He does share his arms with Pursuit of Cobra Spirit, but he used them first and really, I see those arms working more for a desert-based character than I do a jungle-based character. His legs are also new, but they did see a lot of use later in the line. It’s a testament to how nicely designed his legs are. They work well for a desert character, but they’ve also shown up outside that climate and still look perfectly natural. Being totally shirtless is a new look for Zartan, but I really don’t mind it. It also helps facilitate his master of disguise abilities. For Rise of Cobra, Zartan’s disguise was a simple headswap that turned him into a generic PIT Soldier. For the Pursuit of Cobra, Zartan got a different vest and new head to turn himself into an ill-fated Joe recruit named Sandstorm. Poor old Sandstorm was ill-fated in a couple ways, one in-universe and one in reality. In the Joe universe, if Zartan’s stealing your identity, you’re probably not going to be around to reclaim it later. Blind Master kind of showed us that in the comics. In the real world, Sandstorm was supposed to be released as a figure in the transition wave of Target exclusive mini-vehicles that would bridge the gap between Rise of Cobra and Pursuit of Cobra. Unfortunately, these guys never really materialized en masse at retail, so Sandstorm is kind of lost to the ages. While the Sandstorm figure wasn’t great, I would have loved to have made a quick and dirty Sandstorm custom just by swapping out the heads and giving the actual Sandstorm this vest as well. I love that Hasbro took Zartan’s master of disguise ability so much further than before. We started with color-changing skin and simple masks back in the day. Then in the modern line, we got interchangeable heads and now we’ve got an interchangeable head paired with a completely different set of accessories to make him look like someone totally different. Sandstorm’s head is well-sculpted and looks young. I’m glad they went the extra mile to make the recruit actually look like a young newbie.
The Zartan look is created with the addition of a hood and shoulder bag. The hood is very Zartan, but at the same time, it fits with his nomadic style. I don’t know why, but I almost see this version of Zartan as similar to the way the Desert Battle Storm Shadow was portrayed in the filecard…having gone native and working on his own. I don’t see this version of Zartan as a Cobra per se, but rather that he’s in hiding after a job gone bad and figures the easiest place to disappear is in the desert. Zartan’s shoulder bag is designed to carry the alternate Sandstorm head and it fits quite snugly in there. I’ll admit, I have a mildly morbid fascination with the concept of Zartan just carrying around a full human head in his bag. I realize that in reality it would be a mask, but there’s just something kind of sinister about Zartan’s satchel having a head in it. As befitting someone who’s just trying to stay below the radar, the hood looks like something a nomad would wear to keep the heat of the day off his head. For weapons, this version of Zartan is pretty low key. His primary firearm is a small pistol and I think that’s a great choice. It looks easily concealable and still intimidating enough to drive off the casual person who may be trying to pry into Zartan’s life but also is clearly a perfect weapon to use to quietly kill someone. For an even quieter option, Zartan also has a pair of machetes that can be carried on his belt. I really like these weapons. It’s another one of those accessories that makes my mind race with ideas. I can just see Zartan sneaking up on Sandstorm and taking him out silently, in the middle of the night with one of these blades, assuming his identity and leaving no one the wiser. The final “Zartan” accessories are the ones that draw all the Raptor comparisons. After all, no other Cobra ever had a falcon. It’s been a while since I’ve watched Rise of Cobra, but I distinctly remember a scene with nomad Zartan in the desert using a falcon to do some recon in the area where the PIT was. For the life of me, I’m not sure if this was before or after the Cobra attack on the PIT, but still, it made enough of an impression that I’m pretty sure I’m not just making stuff up. The falcon looks very realistic and, while little accessories still make me twitchy, I love the hood. It’s how a trained falcon would be kept calm when not in use and fits on the falcon’s head very well. The falcon perches well on the top of Zartan’s staff, but at times, he can be a little fiddly. A fiddly falcon wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that the hood tends to come flying off if he falls off the perch. I remember a few times in my old apartment having to scour the apartment floor looking for a hood after a random fall (once, I know it was caused by the artillery tests just down the road at Fort Riley because they were enough to rattle my plates in my kitchen). I’m glad they went with an at-rest pose for the falcon as opposed the more dynamic, in-flight look that Freedom and the second Polly had.
For the Sandstorm look, the head is swapped out and you give him a more military looking vest. Both designs are so great, I really have a hard time deciding which way to leave Zartan. It’s still clear that Sandstorm is shirtless underneath his vest, but let’s be fair, the Joe team has never really had much of a dress code, so I can roll with it. The vest has some of the reactive armor plates on it much like the first version of Desert Battle Snake Eyes had on his coat. There’s a headwrap molded into the design and it extends down through the vest that looks like a kerchief. I can see Sandstorm pulling his goggles down and then wrapping his head up in the event of a bad sandstorm. The actual Sandstorm was going to be released with a desert repaint of the RAM and the vest and goggles also really fit with a motorcycle courier. The pouches would be necessary to carry any supplies he’d need between battlefield positions and the large, molded backpack looks like it could hold quite a bit of extra equipment or sensitive material. As a newer member of the Joe team, Sandstorm hasn’t specialized his weapons yet so he’s carrying the same assault rifle that the PIT Commando had in the Rise of Cobra line. That’s a great gun for him to have and I like the idea of Joes having a bit more standardized field
equipment than in the past.
Zartan’s colors work very well for a desert figure while at the same time avoiding the pitfall of being too bland. As Zartan, the hood is a dark brown with a weathered wash. The light tan strap of his satchel helps break up the brown. His arm wraps are a brownish gray color while the legs are tan with a slightly different shade brownish gray for his kneepads and boots. The upper legs also have a brownish gray color to them that I think is supposed to be desert wear and tear on the pants. I’m not sure, and honestly, they look so much like actual shadows that I’ve never really picked up on the fact that his upper legs aren’t just tan like the rest of the figure until now. That’s a testament to how well his color scheme really comes together. I do kind of miss the maroon hood the prototype had, but this still works well. In terms of color choices, though, my only real issues is that I’m not sure a desert soldier like Sandstorm would really want to wear a black vest. Snake Eyes operates at night, so a long-sleeved, black uniform works okay, but Sandstorm’s outfit makes it pretty clear he’s not doing much out in the field at night so I question the utility of that much black. Where Hasbro really knocked my socks off is Zartan’s skintone. The shoulders and head have a slightly sunburned tone to them. I like that added realism. From what I understand, regardless of how you’re dressed in the desert, avoiding sunburn on exposed skin, however limited, is very difficult to do. Zartan and Sandstorm both have a bit of a sunburned look to them. It adds a great level of realism and I like it a lot. Finally, Zartan’s face tattoos are gray but he picks up some new detailing on his torso. I see them as a bit of a tie back to the Rise of Cobra Zartan. I don’t recall how many places Zartan got nanomites injected into his skin, but again, I remember that his shirt was open since it was a far higher dose of nanomites than the Neo-Vipers receive. It’s pretty clear that the process wasn’t comfortable, so I can see those injectors leaving some pretty impressive scars behind on Zartan’s chest. However, if you don’t like that callback, either vest keeps them pretty well hidden and the paint color used for them is relatively light so they’re not that noticeable.
Zartan was probably the most anticipated named character from the first year of Pursuit of Cobra. While the Jungle-Viper was a great troop builder, I found the re-imagining of Zartan to be far more interesting. The look was very different but it still retained the classic elements of Zartan. That’s what any good update should go for. It took the basic look of a hooded, shirtless mystery man and repurposed it for a different environment and gave it some additional flair. Add in the great new way for Zartan to disguise himself that takes advantage of the more modular construction the modern figures have and you have the Zartan I would have always wanted as a kid. The one thing that bugged me about some of the SpyTroops figures I collected when I was in high school is that so much of the original uniform was visible underneath all the add-ons. Tunnel Rat and Grunt looked pretty ridiculous, even with all the added on pieces. Had the bodies been designed to be a little more generic, it would have worked more for me. Zartan’s base is generic enough to work for both Zartan and Sandstorm. The interchangeable pieces do all the heavy lifting for each identity and they accomplish their tasks quite well. I do wish Sandstorm had been more accessible or that there had been a way to make a fast and dirty custom of him using other Pursuit of Cobra characters, but Dusty’s dirty skin didn’t mesh with Sandstorm’s and a second Zartan wearing the Sandstorm disguise still looked too much like Zartan for me to be willing to consider that look Sandstorm. Overall, though, Zartan clearly lived up to the expectations I had for him. What I loved about really just about every Pursuit of Cobra figure is that just by looking at them, I could play out a story in my head. I can see this Zartan sneaking through the desert, being all nefarious. While the 25th Anniversary line was based on nostalgia and the Rise of Cobra line was based around a movie that didn’t really catch my imagination as much as it could have, the Pursuit of Cobra really brought back the fun into the Joe brand. The figures looked great as display pieces, but they also brought back the element of playability that was missing from the 25th Anniversary line. Zartan and his compatriots typified this because they were excellent action figures and they weren’t so hard to get track down that my adult brain saw them less as “collectables” and more as toys. Pursuit of Cobra was a lot of fun since there were so many great Joe figures on the pegs and Zartan was one of the best.