Comic Book 3-Pack Issue #74

Zartan, COBRA Commander, and Zarana

Toy name: Zartan, COBRA Commander, and Zarana w/ Comic Book
Assortment: Comic Book 3-Pack Asst. 4
Price: MSRP $9.99
Availability: July, 2005; Hasbro Direct to Consumer

So, at the beginning, the purpose of the comic packs seemed pretty clear cut and effective. Hasbro was striving to produce toys that appealed to collectors by making some of the normal characters look more like their comic appearences, or by making comic exclusive characters that might not normally appear in the regular toyline. This was a purely genious idea and was exceptionally well received...heck, it still is being exceptionally well-received. As time has passed, though, it appears as though perhaps a little focus may be lost. We're starting to see a lot of the same characters and seeing them with superficial changes that might not be necessary. It would appear Hasbro is kind of starting to get a little limited by the molds that they have, so instead of some potential greats like the Hard and Soft Masters. Billy, Dr. Venom, and other members of the Oktober Guard, we're getting more Dukes, Roadblocks, Tunnel Rats, and Fireflies. This would annoy me to some extent, but it's tough to get mad when the figures Hasbro remakes are by and large such potential improvements over the originals. Take Firefly as a perfect example...we've gotten nearly a dozen versions of this figure in the past few years...why the heck do we need another one?!? But one look at his updated paint scheme and awesome new sculpt head, and I instantly new that he could be my new default Firefly. The Dreadnoks are more examples...if anyone had asked me if I was interested in a new comic pack Buzzer or Ripper, my answer would have been a resounding "hell no!". But with the new heads and updated paint apps that we've seen in pictures, man...they practically made me Dreadnok fans right then and there.

So now, with this comic pack we have a character I couldn't care less about (Zarana), a character version I can't stand (Battle Armor COBRA Commander) and a dated figure for an awesome character that never did the character any justice at all. This has gotta be a loser, right? Not in the least, folks...not in the least.

Zartan is the perfect example of a character completely transcending their figure status...sure for its time the original Zartan was an absolutely awesome figure. The elaborate chest pads, color changing skin, and nasty looking face paint. It all looked cool back in 1984. The character debuted with the same basic look as the toy, but in every appearence of the comic and cartoon, it was obvious the toy had limitations with how Zartan could be depicted, and these limitations didn't apply to the animated or drawn medium. Zartan's popularity exploded (deservedly so) but his original action figure version just didn't really have the magic to keep up.

Sure, Hasbro has tried to make valid updates over the years, but honestly, they've been laughable. I personally kind of dig the Ninja Force version for some reason...but the 2000 SAW Viper abomination and the new sculpt stuff just didn't have the magic. I love the Valor Vs. Venom Zartan, actually...but it's just not THE Zartan. There's something missing that, like Flint, Hasbro just cannot seem to recapture. So they're limited to comic pack renditions using the classic bodies with new head and seeing if that reinvigerates the character. Hasbro was relatively successful with Flint...they're insanely successful with Zartan.

I don't even know why the mold here looks so much more timeless compared to recent years when it always seemed so dated. Was it really the lackluster head sculpt bringing down the entire figure? That pathetic little draped kitchen towl headdress? The almost sad painted eyes? Did that really bring down the overall look of the figure to make him irrelevant in this day and age? I think it kind of did, because with merely a new paint scheme and a resculpted head, this figure has a whole new life. A GREAT new life.

The figure is mostly the same figure it has been since '84. Somewhat scrawny mold without much power, but here we at least have some nice updated paint apps which, surprisingly enough, bring a ton of life into this version of Zartan. Instead of the dark, dull brown and black, we now have a nice, crisp, lighter brown pants color and silver pads! These silver pads match the comic book look, which I imagine went with the lighter colors simply because black doesn't translate real well in the four color world. Whatever the case, the silver chestplate, thigh pads and shoulder pads all look terrific, and retain the classic detail from the older figure. The mold overall is somewhat dated, as I've said, but for some reason these little changes have sparked it and made it relevant again.

The biggest positive change? Without a doubt, it's the head sculpt. Instead of that frumpy almost sad looking Zartan with the pitiful little washcloth, we now have a sleek, determined looking Master of Disguise with a dramatically sculpted, flaired cowl that immediately brings you into the comic book and into the character. This new head sculpt really performs a miracle...up to this point I just haven't been happy with any version of Zartan there is...that's a major reason why he doesn't make many appearences in my dio-stories. But now that we've got this version, I'm quite happy, and prepared to give him some screen time again.

Of course it also helps that he comes with some incredibly cool new accessories, too! The quiver and arrows and new sculpt compound bow are completely unexpected, but quite welcome. They do a great job drawing you into the comic where Zartan uses them and are perfect compliments to pretty much the best Zartan representation to date.

Now, see? I really never ever EVER cared to see another Battle Armor COBRA Commander again. The overall design of the figure and implementation made me quite uncaring as to the future or location of this mold. It had always did. But not as COBRA Commander...even in the comics, CC in this suit just did not fit. And of course in the comics, CC wasn't IN this suit. That's the beauty of this figure and how Hasbro can make a simple change and really make a figure appealing again. Rather than just another rehashed COBRA Commander, we now have our first official "Fred VII" figure, which is awesome considering what an impact he had in the comic world at that time. Of course since a lot of the Fred series Crimson Guards were all surgically altered to look the same, his head can also potentially serve as a Crimson Guard unmasked head to be even more comic accurate. Thinking back, it's a pretty simple and quick change, but it ends up being very effective.

The mold itself for the Battle Armor COBRA Commander isn't that bad, quite honestly. The layered metal plate armor has some wicked angular design schemes throughout the torso and the metallic gauntlets and boots. These thick metal armored pieces blend nicely with the cloth uniform underneath and work together to at least look neat, although it really does not suit COBRA Commander. I've never thought the mold suited the COBRA leader well at all, but in this format it's pretty cool, especially with the new head sculpt and removable helmet.

His head sculpt isn't anything amazing, but it's a basic comic-accurate Fred facial sculpt with reddish hair that looks just as he should from the comic pages. I mean it's a normal face...nothing special or overly interesting, but it makes the difference here and gives us a comic only character who has never appeared before. And all it needed was a new head. Not only that, but it was a figure that no one had even thought of or considered, and yet it works so well.

The colors are also nice as borrows heavily from the original figure, but the colors are brightened and more "cartoony" making the figure look a lot more comic book accurate. The combination of blue, silver, and black all form together nicely and mix perfectly with the leather brown strap and holster on the left leg. Not a ton of colors, but the few used are used right and give us a great looking pseudo COBRA Commander.

Accessories are right on the money, too...he comes with the automatic machine gun that the Spy Troops COBRA Commander came with, so it matches the character and it's a great gun to boot. His removable helmet and airpiece don't look quite as streamlined as the regular helmet did back in the day, but it looks pretty darn good considering it's removable...I'm still more than pleased with the overall result.

So why the heck would I ever want another Battle Armor COBRA Commander? I wouldn't. But a Fred VII figure? Sign me right up! It's the stuff like this that Hasbro really has a good handle on where the comic packs are concerned. Taking established molds, adding a little new sculpt flair, and the result is even greater than the sum of the individual parts. Great job on this figure, Hasbro...turned what could have been a boring, blah update that I'd never use to a figure I really like and would love to display. The potential is even there for army building just to create some CG "clones".

There are really very few characters or figures in the entire Joe line that I just completely and totally hate. Very few figures that I don't like and characters that I never really had a use for. Zarana is, unfortunately, one of those characters and figures for me. First of all, I'm not a big Dreadnok fan at all...they seemed consistently used for comic relief and were never really taken seriously, so I just didn't see them as being a serious threat. Then when the comics seemed to be using Zarana as a member of the COBRA hierarchy later on in the run that continued to tick me off, and then in the cartoons when DIC took over, she again took a leading role. It just started driving me crazy...I honestly can't see a use for her. Her figure was pretty crappy, and I really could not stand the character either.

You know what? This figure doesn't really change that at all.

This pack was almost a huge hit...Zartan was terrific...the Fred based COBRA Commander was an excellent idea...but Zarana's update is superficial and unneeded, even with the new head sculpt. Of course this head sculpt is worlds better than either of the previous ones, but still, that doesn't help the lackluster action figure.

Hor body mold has always been saturated with the 80's punk style...almost way too saturated. The ripped shirt and elbow length gloves do not stand the test of time, and frankly looked pretty silly even back in the day. The ripped pants and tall boots also didn't do much, and back in the day the inclusion of Zartan's shoulder pads looked pretty silly, even if they did tie this figure in with that family a little bit better. This figure loses those shoulder pads, which is cool with me, as she now has bare arms which suit the overall figure a lot better than before. I'm still not quite sure what to make of those kneepads, and really, the figure is just not that solid over all, at least not in my opinion.

Don't get me wrong, it is an improvement over the original, that's for sure. Better, more detailed head sculpt...better arms, and the colors are an improvement as well. Like every other comic pack figure the colors are brighter, more primary color based, attempting to blend in with the comic pages and looking more animated. Her pink shirt is a lighter, softer pink, and it works...believe me, I also like the blue/purple shade of her pants and boots, too. Everything on this figure is much better than it was originally...but it's still Zarana and still a figure and character I couldn't really care less about.

I really enjoy her Spy Troops new sculpt version...the old version is pretty sad compared to it, and even with this great new head sculpt and vibrant new color scheme, it just doesn't really compare. The colors are cool, and her accessories are fine, I suppose. They're the same as they were back in the day, meaning a strange backpack and the sawblade-gun that make little sense to me, but I guess they are consistent at least.

So, is the Zarana figure better than any other classic sculpt Zarana? Oh yeah, absolutely. Does that mean that this is a decent, worthy figure to own? Nah, not really there either. For my default Zarana I still prefer the new sculpt version from Spy Troops Wave 8, and really don't have much to say about this version. It could be a lot worse, but there are about three dozen figures I can think of that I'd rather see more. Luckily, this pack thrives on the other two figures that are in the pack...Zartan and COBRA Commander are extremely cool renditions of those two characters, and primarilly as those two characters appeared in the comics. Because these two figures are so great, I can whole heartedly recommend this pack. Zarana isn't my thing...but if you like Zarana anyway, you'll probably like this version of her, too. I'm just not fond of it.

At least with this pack and the upcoming Dreadnok pack, you should be able to get a pretty decent collection of British-based punk destruction specialists...and most of the Dreadnoks look great. Zarana might be if you're a fan...I'm just not. Thankfully, though, the other two figures in this set definitely make up for it!

The comic packs continue to be terrifically executed, quite honestly. Even though I have minor gripes about a few of the characters it's tough to berate Hasbro for what continues to be a terrific outlet for classic sculpt figures. I definitely hope to see some more comic exclusive stuff or more obscure things coming in the future, but even when Hasbro does stuff that we've seen before, the comic packs always provide a fresh look, and almost always improve on an already good figure.

Ratings (out of 10)

Characters: 8.5
Molds: 6.5
Paint Apps: 8
Value: 8.5
Overall score (not an average): 7.5

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