Zartan has always intrigued me, both in his design and as a character. First showing up in 1984, the master of disguise was a mystery from the beginning. I remember seeing his picture on the back of another figure’s card, yet not seeing him hanging on a shelf peg. My 11 year old self was surprised to find him on a shelf one day, packaged not on a card but in a box along with a vehicle. As a character, he’s also a mystery. He seems to be working for the highest bidder, yet maintains a strong sense of honor.
Twenty years later, Zartan appeared in the Joe line again, this time redesigned. His trademark hood was gone, replaced by a black skullcap. The original chestplate was somewhat emulated in the stylized design on the front of his shirt. Another new element was the Dreadnoks symbol first seen in the Devil’s Due GI Joe comic of the early 2000’s. On a side note, the same comic series featured an updated look for Zartan, although not a complete departure from his original look. This figure however does not reflect that comic version at all.
My opinion of this strange new look is equal parts modern biker and superhero. In the 80’s comics, Zartan and his Dreadnoks were originally portrayed as an outlaw biker gang, with a little Mad Max thrown in for good measure. The arm bracers, gloves and padding on the knees here look like biker gear and the bright colors and tight shirt with symbol emblazoned on the chest totally say superhero. And what about the huge white belt? Well, the file card mentions Zartan’s use of holographic technology to disguise himself, so it’s either that it houses a hologram projector, or he just likes to accessorize in a big way.
The sculpt has some of the common issues of the 2000’s new sculpt style. The proportions are off, mostly due to the short torso and wide shoulders. Zartan also has a bit of a pinhead. While it would be nice if the figure looked more realistic, I don’t mind too much. After all, the new sculpt line was aimed first and foremost at kids, not collectors. It’s supposed to be a toy for kids, not a realistic statue that grown men put on a shelf. It’s meant to be fun, and that it is. I find that re-imaginings of characters’ looks keep things interesting. Who wants to see the same old stuff constantly re-hashed in each line? I appreciate the ambition of taking such a well known look and rethinking it.