Someone over on our forum was upset that we haven't shown enough love for Serpentor, so I'm here to oblige. Since Cobra Commander was such a camera hog, Serp never really got the attention someone wearing that outfit so richly deserves. So today we take a little look back at one of the few people to ever call the Cobra organization their 'bitch.'
As fate would have it, I actually wrote this article last night, before the animation gods frowned upon me for making fun of Serpentor so much, blew a fuse, and shut my computer down before I had a chance to finish or save the article. So now, with a heavy heart, I'll try writing it again with less insults directed towards Cobra's grand emperor.
For all intents, Serpentor was created because some of Cobra's top troops were sick of the Commander's constant foul-ups and overall unpleasant manner of speaking. An interesting combination made from the DNA of fallen war heroes and villains mixed with an outfit better suited for the bus boys at the Trump Taj Mahal brought us Serpentor, Cobra's ultimate solution in the ongoing war with GI Joe. I'm still not sure what grand plans Cobra had for itself, since their plots had about as much to do with global domination as my method in cooking the perfect French toast, but that's another story entirely. Point is, they made him, they made him gold and green, and they made him good. Let's find out what the guy was all about.
Personally, now that I watch GI Joe from the mind of a pseudo-adult who just shouldn't be watching GI Joe, I find it a little difficult to get into Serpentor. The great thing about GI Joe was that it was, more or less, based in reality. Very few of the players had any sort of superpowers or alien attributes...they were just regular guys who either:
A) Went into the GI Joe army because the regular army had too strict of a dress code for their tastes, or...
B) Went into the Cobra terrorist organization because their indistinguishable foreign accents kept them from getting work anywhere that had even remotely righteous virtues.
But Serpentor changed all that, because he certainly wasn't a normal guy. I blame Hasbro for being so drunk during marketing meetings that somehow they were convinced GI Joe needed an evil emperor with a suit that transvestite comedians in Miami swingers clubs wear to produce more interest in the line. Truly, in Joe's later years, it became way more science fiction. For those old enough to remember the Joe line from the 60s (not me, but I've heard!) ....back then, it was a very simple patriotic toyline with standard army men. Times change, tastes differ, and by the time the late 90s rolled around, there were Cobra soldiers whose best traits included being able to live in toxic waste. Serpentor spearheaded that movement.
Aside from his appearance, Serpentor was also pretty commanding with his personality. While Cobra Commander usually whined his way into getting the troops to do his bidding, Serpentor merely spout out incomprehensible catch phrases with such authority that no one dared challenge him. His main quotes: 'This I command,' 'Beware my deadly poison snakes of terror,' and 'I thought Putty was really undervalued on Seinfeld.' Like I said, the guy's made up from the DNA of at least 5 different guys...you shouldn't expect his train of thought to be a complete straight line.
My main complaint with Serpentor was the type of equipment he used, and the way he looked. First, take a look at that outfit. You know why the guy led Cobra? It had nothing to do with his power or war expertise, it was merely because it was impossible for enemies and the world at large not to devote their full attention to the guy dressed in the gold bodysuit. Its impossible. Serpentor gained leadership because no one could stop staring at him -- if anyone else tried to take charge of Cobra, they'd seem like a paper champion. I'm telling you, even if the shittiest baseball player went out on the field wearing a clown wig and a Jesus t-shirt, his autograph charges would go way up. We're a sick society, and Serpentor knew how to play on that by wearing the most absurd outfit possible.
Moving on, check out his weapons. Most guys in GI Joe and Cobra had guns. Granted, they all had the worst combined aim in the history of media, but that's besides the point. Guns are, at their core base, effective weapons. Say you have a mace, and a legless retard has a gun. You might be the most brilliant, physically fit person on the planet, but the retard's always gonna win, because he has the gun. Sadly, Serpentor doesn't have a gun or a mace...instead, he has snakes.
Yes, snakes. Here's what I'm thinking. Destro and Dr. Mindbender are credited with creating Serpentor, but those in the know realize that Mindbender was the brains behind the operation. Destro was really there for moral support, and to aid Mindbender in the ridiculous task of stealing corpses from graveyards. Obviously, Destro wanted to get involved a little more, so his pretty metal head cooked up the ultimate symbolism: Serpentor's part of Cobra, so his weapons should be cobras! Oh the intense irony and correlation, its like a classic Greek tragedy, only not! Viva la snakes!
Here's how it worked: when Serpentor wasn't flying around on an air chariot yelling at Joes, the snakes were dead, and served as nothing more than a great conversational necklace for Serpentor's nighttime convos with the Baroness. But when Serpentor laid his magic rub down on 'em, they came alive, and could bite the Joes! Yes, Serpentor literally threw snakes at the good guys as his surrogate form of offense. The guy just broke all the rules, what can I say?
Cobra Commander: I'm going to rename Cobra the 'Terrible Terrorist Klub 1987,' and change our soldiers uniforms to exactly match the outfit of Thor, the God of Thunder!!
Destro: I'll deal with you yet, Cobra Commander.
With that, the birth of Serpentor. As for his origins, the lines are a little blurred. I'm hesitant to name any of this as fact, for a few reasons. Number one, there were so many genres of Joe with toons, comics, the movie, file cards and whatnot, I'm sure his creation differed a bit between them. Number two, on a scale from 1-10, I'd say my Joe expertise is around 6. And number three -- its freakin Serpentor, and the last thing I want are e-mails correcting me about anything having to do with him. The way I see it, I'm devoting around 90 minutes total to Serpentor for the next few years with this article. If I get anything wrong, someone will call me on it and force me to go over my designated Serpentor-limits, thus crushing any semblance of sanity left after trying to make enough sense of him in words to fill out an article. So please, for my sake, don't nitpick. Just not enough people really care.
With that, here's the basic idea: Destro and Dr. Mindbender get so unbelievably fed up with Cobra Commander's voice and constant foul-ups, that they go off the deep end, start digging up graves, and create a super-clone from the greatest warriors in our planet's history. Jeez, can you imagine how awful of a leader Cobra Commander must've been for these guys to go through that? This wasn't your everyday assassination plot or ploy to make the Commander look ineffective -- no, Cobra Commander's leadership was so bad and inane that his best troops literally dug up corpses to replace him. Then again, consider what kind of people Mindbender and Destro were to begin with...
Destro and Dr. Mindbender actually seemed somewhat alike, save for the fact that Mindbender wore a monacle and Destro wore a silver head. Cosmetic differences aside, they both wore similar outfits, they both had oftentimes indistinguishable foreign accents, and they both had really struck gold in the gene pool by getting builds like these. Both used 50-cent words that'd make college philosophy teachers blush in fear, and they both weren't too fond of Cobra Commander.
Luckily enough for us, Serpentor's toy commercial not only gives us a look at his coolest representations, it also sums up the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of Destro and Mindbender's wacky plot to be terrorist undertakers. Pay close attention, or it'll go right over your head.
I definitely wouldn't call Joe's toy commercials the encyclopedia of their lore, since this one here appears to suggest that Mindbender and Destro's idea to create Serpentor stemmed from frustration over Cobra Commander's constant throwing of giant globes. Maybe that's a good way to sum up 15 years of disdain into a three-second spot, but its still hilarious. Cobra's hierarchy must've been pretty shaky if one globe-toss too many causes an uproar like this.
See? Mindbender and Destro...digging up graves! These terrorists really know how to operate a covert mission if they're able to dig up some of the world's most storied corpses totally unnoticed. I don't think I could dig up my old hamster in the backyard with such a small fuss. Destro is a true master of his craft.
I can't believe I didn't think more of this as a kid. I'd say what these guys are doing here would have to rank pretty high up on Cobra's dastardly deeds scale. I mean, sure, they've tried to blow up the Earth and they've kidnapped every one of the 65,000 white labcoat American scientists at least twice, but no one thought they'd get to the point where dead bodies were dug up. But you know, desperate times call for desperate measures, and a ruthless terrorist organization just can't be run by a guy who's throwing models of the Earth around.
And Serpentor is born! Don't mind the grainy coloring on the pics - Joe's toy commercials definitely weren't too astute in keeping with the correct color schemes, or altogether making much sense. Remember, they're here to sell action figures, not tell a story.
Last night I was talking with someone about the sheer stupidity of Serpentor's live-snake weaponry...but now that I think about it, its the only weapon in Joe lore to ever hit its intended target. Guns were completely ineffective in the battlefield...everyone had at least one, but nobody ever got shot. As a general rule of thumb, the only people ever really destroyed in cartoons were robots or non-sentinent monsters. Though that rule gets a little crazy when every vehicle in the Joe universe was equipped with 6-8 seven-foot missiles. Even the most mundane Joe/Cobra battle contained enough firepower to blow up Mars, yet no one ever got hurt. In that respect, at least Serpentor's snakes hit someone, even if they made the entire series look downright silly in the process.
Now, the toy. Most who remember Serpentor in a positive light do so because he had one of the best GI Joe action figures ever made. I'm with that, it was a great little toy who looked way too regal not to be immediately thrust into the emperor role over all my other figures. He had all the necessary tools...air chariot, glittery cape, and rubber snakes.
Commercial Boy does his best to make Serpentor seem evil and foreboding, but the spot really doesn't do him justice. This figure was high up there on the kiddie want lists way back when, achieving that legendary status that few toys achieve where you actually called your friends to brag about getting it after persuading Mom to buy it for you. For small children too young to consummate their love affairs, having a Serpentor was about as close as we'd get to having a newborn child for the next few decades. We'd care for it, breastfeed it, make all our friends come over to oogle over it, the whole nine yards.
If memory serves, and remember, its been shot to shit in the past year with all these bad movies we've reviewed, I got my Serp the same Christmas I got The Legend of Zelda for Nintendo. Obviously, this was a banner year. Getting Serpentor and Zelda cornered every possible market kids would care about, and I was certain that in the post-Christmas gift comparisons with friends, I'd come out on top. Jesus, we were all demented. Let's take a closer look at the figure...
I didn't know much about Serpentor's character when I went on my crusade to get the toy, all I really knew was that here we had a guy in a gold snake outfit who rode around in an air chariot with a plastic helmet on. This is the textbook definition of the 'covering all bases' term. Resistance was futile. GI Joe was sort of my backup toyline, as it was for many. Star Wars, Transformers, and He-Man all battled for the top spot, with the Joes a distant second. That's partly because I loved the previous three so much, but mostly because I had managed to break every single GI Joe figure I've ever owned without fail. Once in a while though, they landed a molded dynasty, and Serpentor was one of those exceptions.
Accessories: Most Joe figures came with a few guns, maybe a sword, and at odd times, a plastic alligator. Serpentor upped the ante in a big way -- first and foremost, he's one of the few Joe figures distinguished enough to come with his own vehicle. By memory, I think Sgt. Slaughter, Destro, and the Cobra Twins were some of the only ones to hold that honor. Ha, toy honor. Aside from this, Serp comes with one of those damned neck snakes, with which I delved deep into my child psyche to give animism to, and carried around like a real snake pet for months. Ultimately, I got more value on that stupid snake than the rest of the toy. He also came with a knife, for no real reason other than the fact that he had a free hand to hold something.
The figure itself was a classic -- gaudy as hell with a glitter-trim cape, green/gold outfit, plastic snake helmet, and oversized oven mitts. I'm telling you again, the only reason Serpentor led Cobra was because there was no way people would accept someone wearing something this asinine as a second-string competitor. He had to be in charge.
In today's infamously overpriced collector's market, a complete Serpentor set will pack a punch on your wallet, costing as much as 50-60 bucks for one in mint shape. For the three of you who intend to buy the figure after reading this in a wave of Joe nostalgia, your best bet is to skip the chariot and just grab the figure -- it'll cost much less and the chariot was pretty lame anyway. Although, now that I've watched the flux of the collectors market for the past few years as rabidly as people with money watch their stocks, I can tell that its currently on a downward swing -- in a few months, prices will be less.
But wait, there's more! If you'll recall from an older X-E post, all the Joe figures came with ID file cards, which told about their strengths, weaknesses, and background in the most esoteric and ridiculous wording possibly conceived. Luckily, Serp's card isn't too evil and voodoo-like, let's see if we can make some sense of it.
So, not only does Serpentor look like a freak, he actually is a freak. A strange composite of Hannibal, Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and Wendy the Snapple Lady brings us the ultimate Cobra soldier, who apparently was conceived not to become Cobra's 'official' leader, just Destro and Mindbender's puppet to get rid of the Commander. Unfortunately, the joke's on the gravediggers, since this guy has six times too much personality to be anyone's puppet. Much to our chagrin, no mention is made of who fashioned his outfit. That one definitely wasn't collecting dust in Cobra's storage units.
So is that really how Serpentor came to be? Shame on you if you thought it'd be that easy. Nothing in GI Joe is that easy. To get the full scoop, we'll need to go back to the ill-fated GI Joe movie. As it turned out, Serpentor wasn't a braintrust of Dr. Mindbender. The truth was far more strange and annoying than anyone could've imagined...
Up above you'll see Golobulous, bald half-snake cyborg ruler of the kingdom of Cobra-La. Please, don't ask. Scattered across this site is enough info about the Joe movie to last us the next few months, I'm just going to give you the basics. Golobulous explains that he stuck some sort of psychic motivator in Dr. Mindbender's head that gave him the knowledge to create Serpentor for his own evil needs. In effect, not only is Serpentor some weird DNA-clone in a snakesuit....he's a weird DNA-clone in a snakesuit created by a 11' tall alien who wants to destroy the citizens of Earth using mutant spores launched into outer space.
If Serpentor ever decided to go straight, he'd have some serious therapy sessions on his hands. Its not like he could go get a job and start a family in this state. I mean, it'd be hard enough to explain his resume to his employers...former lead-terrorist, created from Caesar's DNA. But when you start thinking of the psychological damage the poor schmo went through once he heard Golobulous and a guy with giant grey wings were his true parents, then this is definitely one guy who provides a clear reason as to why we need those 24/7 suicide hotlines.
But you know what? For all his follies, Serpentor looked cool, talked big, and was adored by the Baroness. Pay your respects, that's something to be proud of. Beware though, Serpentor...there's another Cobra baddie waiting to usurp your position. The Overlord! But we'll save him for another day...another...really long day.
PS - thanks for the positive e-mail about the X-E radio station. For the few of you who asked, the 'I Want It All' song is by eve's plum, a now-defunct east coast band whose lead singer, ironically enough, now fronts Vitamin C and does tracks for Pokemon movie soundtracks. Small world. Anyway, a friend of mine created his own station, that's also linked on the main page if you're not up for my usual choices of DM, NO, and Garbage remixes. They'll be more stations added soon done by some of the fine folks over in our forum. Again, if you're on at least a DSL connection, its definitely worth checking out.
More Joe Madness: Top 10 Joe Figures - Sgt. Slaughter Contest - File Cards - Dead Cobra Commander