REVIEW: Cobra Annual 2012 – The Origin of Cobra Commander

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Or – “Sssstilllll Oncccce Wasssss A Maaan…”

Even thirty years down the line, I still hold a fondness in my heart for G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.  The action figures are one of the first toys that I remember actively wanting (they’re in storage in my garage right now, actually), I can still quote chapter and verse from the comics, and I have always loved the voicework of the late Chris Latta as Cobra Commander.  When IDW announced that they were going to be anointing a new Commander in their ongoing Cobra series, I have to admit that I was intrigued.  Would this FNG be able to the thrive in the shadow of the old Commander?  Or will he forever be enshrined with Mike Nelson, The Sixth Doctor and Shemp Howard in the “I Want To Dig You But Hold Too Much Affection For Your Predecessor” file?

COBRA ANNUAL 2012: THE ORIGIN OF
COBRA COMMANDER
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: S.L. Gallant
Inker: Gary Erskine
Colorist: J. Brown
Letterer: Neil Uyetake
Editor: Carlos Guzman
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Cover Price: $7.99

Previously, in Cobra:  Marion Cobretti, codenamed “Cobra”, is a police officer from a division of the Los Angeles Police Department known as the “Zombie Squad”. He is called into–  Wait.  That’s the Stallone movie from 1986. This Cobra is a ruthless terrorist organization out to rule the world, or at least bleed it dry.  In IDW’s continuity, the post of Commander has been held by multiple men rather than one ponytailed used car salesman or Joseph Gordon Levitt, and the loss of the last Commander led to a power struggle within the organization.  The inner circle of Cobra decided to award the helm to the man who killed the most members of G.I. Joe, leading a minor character called Krake to not only kill a bunch of folks himself, but to kill and replace one of his rivals within Cobra, and then sending one of his agents out AS the rival to kill even more Joes.  It’s that kind of dedication that makes a really good armored madman in charge, and thus Krake has ascended to the silver face mask of Cobra Commander.  But, everyone wants to know, what is Krake’s deal?

BORN ON A BATTLEFIELD…

I have to say that I’m glad that this book is written by Chuck Dixon, a writer whom I trust with paramilitary adventurey stories, and an old-school type who doesn’t fall into the pitfalls of “awesome tough guy” cliche with the same frequency as many who have tried to knock off the tried-and-true G.I. Joe formula.  The issue starts in the poppy fields of an unknown country, as we witness Krake’s birth, and the first revelation that he has the eyes of the tiger.  (“Risin’ up!  Back on his feet!”)  Krake’s story is a horrible one, with his father dying in an explosion seconds after he is born, and his mother only raising him to the age of eight or ten.  The day his mother dies, Krake kills his first human being (although, given that the man just assaulted and murdered his mother, there’s some wiggle room in terms of justification) and sets off on the life wherein he simply takes what he needs regardless of the consequences.  He slowly builds an empire and gains a reputation as a ruthless killer throughout southeast Asia.  The art is excellent throughout the issue, as S.L. Gallant gives “Tiger Eyes” a completely blank (but believably human) expression regardless of what he’s doing, delivering top-notch equipment, weapons and backgrounds on every page.

“WELCOME TO COBRA!”

Krake’s high-profile brings him to the attention of first Major Bludd and then the Baroness, who offers him a place in Cobra Command…

…which he then rejects, attacking her royal person.  Baroness doesn’t soil her hands with small potatoes, letting her shock troops beat the snot out of him and drop him in the midst of his greatest enemies on the streets of Kowloon.  Tiger Eyes makes a good showing of himself, though, as he escapes Hong Kong alive, gets his stuff together and then approaches Cobra with his own offer.  The dispassionate nature of the character makes him fascinating to read about, and his tactics actually seem smart and thought-out.  The issue ends with Krake TAKING his spot in Cobra rather than accepting what is offered to him, and sets us up for the Cobra Civil War, the outcome of which we already know.  Dixon creates a character who is appropriately cold-blooded enough to be a new Commander, while setting up another arc of the mainstream Cobra title, and creating the traditional mistrust within the organization, as Baroness has no use for the usurper who once dared to raise his hand to her.

THE VERDICT:  VINTAGE DIXON.

It’s always difficult to work with a property like G.I. Joe, where the basic subject matter (War and what all it’s absolutely good for) clashes a bit with the tone of what has gone before (rhymin’ Roadblock and parachutes blooming after every blue laser hits).  The new conceptualization of Cobra as a nest of vipers vying for control and power is pretty ingenious, and Krake’s characterization in this issue overcomes any accusations of Mary Sue on the writer’s part.  The whole issue is lovely to look at, going from battlefield to rice paddy to the crowded streets of Hong Kong, and if the regular book looks like this, I think I’m going to have an addition to my pull list.  There are really only two things that keep this book from being the total package for me:  The hefty price-tag and the less-than-stellar design of the characters’ helmet on the cover.  At $7.99, this issue costs roughly the same per page as a standard IDW issue of G.I. Joe, but I still had a moment of AIIIEEE when I realized I was about to pay 8 bucks for a comic book, no matter how good a comic book it is.  As for the helmet issue, the original Cobra Commander helm was an iconic 80’s image, and the updated mirror-face-with-fangs mask plays with that image well.  The helmet seen on the cover doesn’t do anything for me, and feels very plain and motorcycle helmety to me.  Still, even with those issues, Cobra Annual 2012: The Origin of Cobra Commander is a game-changer, earning a mightily awesome 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★½

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  When the revive a property from your youth, do you prefer the take “New And Different” or “Tribute To The Old”?