G.I. Joe wasn't always as simple as 'good soldiers' versus 'bad terrorists', no sir. Both teams encouraged individuality, assuming that formulaic patterned soldiers would prove too easy to defeat in battle. Just ask the Stormtroopers. To a degree, they were right. Cobra couldn't predict what kind of attack methods a basketball player, a pro-wrestling drill sergeant, and a ninja warrior would throw at 'em. Likewise, the Joes never knew who was coming out of Cobra's transport vehicles - soldiers, crocodile trainers, androids, or bald aliens with one eye and huge snakelike appendages growing off their ass.
But that was the best thing about the series! These guys paraded around as if they were trained military machines following strict codes of ethics and processes, but when you really look at 'em, they're just a bunch of nuthouse freaks who happen to carry large assault rifles. Individuality my ass. They're all lunatics. Even when you think you've found a normal character, like let's say Duke, it's only a matter of seconds before you remember that he was once put into a coma because a guy dressed as a giant yellow cobra threw venomous alien snakes at him. I wish our military forces and overseas enemies pulled shit like that. I mean, if we're gonna be sickened by having the Taliban star on our local newscasts from now till the end of time, can't they at least wear silver masks or something? Can we resurrect Chris Latta to do the voice-over translations of their state of addresses?
And while we're on the topic, would it kill President Bush to throw on a fedora and hover around town on a spacecraft, getting cats down from trees while shouting battle cries once in a while? The guy's so busy choking and mispronouncing words that he's overlooking the only shot he's got at a second term - start modeling himself after the Joes.
Anyway, today we're gonna take a look at two characters - one from the Joes, one from Cobra, who truly reflect both teams' policy on independent thought. They also happen to be two of my favorite figures from the line, which I'd promise is strictly coincidental if I thought you'd buy it. First up, from Cobra's elite - Zartan!
Zartan is one tough cookie to figure out. I know you're not supposed to judge books by their covers, but the guy makes me think Cobra used to raid 80s hairband competitions for new talent. How he ended up fighting alongside the world's leading terrorist organization is something known only to him and the officer he bribed into getting hired. Then again, compared to most of Cobra's troops, Zartan was a godsend. He could actually, you know, do stuff. Course, his talents weren't your everyday fare, and not typically the type of talents you'd go searching for if your main purpose was blowing countries up.
His power? Zartan can change his appearance into pretty much whatever he wants. Even large, talking ducks. He's like Odo from Deep Space Nine, only without the swank bodysuit. Him and his team of dirty trash biker pals handled most of Cobra's secret espionage missions - the ones where they got to trick the Joes into thinking they were someone else merely by wearing fake mustaches and novelty glasses. Those Joes really need to beef up their security measures. His file card claims he's a terrific ventriloquist, able to throw his voice. I guess that'd come in handy if he needed to make Scarlett think Beachhead called her a whore.
The action figure had an interesting feature - it came with heat-sensitive stickers that'd change color, to illustrate Zartan's masking abilities. The stickers actually worked, but were real flimsy and wouldn't stay on the figure's chest piece for more than five minutes, at which point they disintegrated completely, like magic. But for that five minutes, kids were in their glory. Fortunately, you didn't necessarily need the stickers, since his actual plastic body changed colors, too. Zartan - the walking rainbow. He was like a voodoo doll mood ring - you'd rub your fingers over his sexy body and chest piece to make it change red, blue, or aqua-blue. Then you'd explain to your friends what the colors meant: 'Oooh, he's red now. Zartan is pissed!' It was a great way to get your friends to give cupcakes to him, which as you explained, returned Zarny to his natural, contented aqua-blue. You couldn't score cupcakes with a General Hawk figure. Only the Z-Man.
That's not all - the figure also came with a removable mask. Now you could fool the Joes into thinking Zartan was just a harmless regular citizen! The scheme was almost flawless, aside from the mask looking exactly like Zartan minus the Halloween makeup. But it's not like the Joes paid attention to the little nuances, anyway. They learned to overlook them a long time ago when the admissions department allowed Shipwreck, who always carried a parrot, onto their team. From that point on, they just said 'fuck it' and played Parcheesi. If the higher-ups didn't care...why should they?
The great thing about this feature was that - with the mask on - Zartan looked exactly like Jesus Christ. It was pretty hard to label him as a 'villain' character though. All the bad shit he did could've just been explained away with the ol' wrath of God excuse.
I'm pretty sure Zartan was the only guy on Cobra's team who wandered around shirtless. For some reason, Hasbro decided he should have a big beer belly. I guess if you're a guy who wears ten pounds of makeup, carries masks, and tries to blow up America - you're probably maladjusted enough to have eating disorders, too. But they're treading into blasphemous territory when he puts the mask on - are they trying to imply that Jesus was fat? Ah, so what. Any good Catholic would rather have a Fat Jesus than an emaciated one with holes in his hands.
I always paired my Baroness figure up with Zartan. I thought they made a great couple. Maybe because they had the same haircut, I dunno. All my female action figures had to be romantically linked to someone, and I think it just made more sense to put the Baroness with Zarny rather than guys whose faces were covered in steel or hoods.
You could only get a Zartan figure with the Chameleon Swamp Skier. Probably the lamest toy vehicle ever - a tiny green sled that fell apart if the southeastern winds in your city exceeded 2 MPH. Doesn't matter though - since Zartan was only available if you bought a stupid vehicle with it, it made kids want him that much more. It made him seem elusive. I didn't get mine this way - one of my distant cousins gave him to me out of pity because his friends had tricked me into trading all my Garbage Pail Kids cards for virtually nothing. I guess giving me the Zartan was hush money. He wouldn't want his parents knowing that his friends ripped me off - this kid's father was the type who'd beat him if his socks didn't match.
Former football great William 'The Refrigerator' Perry - a G.I. Joe character? Yes indeed. Man, this line had some sorry ass celebrity crossovers. Will Perry and Sgt. Slaughter? Who's next, Pia Zadora? The Fridge's file card claimed he was part of the obstacle course aspiring Joe soldiers had to run through. Meaning? If someone wanted to become a full-fledged G.I. Joe trooper, they first had to get past the Fridge without losing any of their limbs. I suggest baiting him off to the side by putting codfish covered in whale oil on a radio-controlled cart. Fridge can't resist the stuff.
Obviously, I don't watch football. The only time I've ever seen the Fridge in action was as part of the WWF's Wrestlemania II, where he participated in a battle royal for reasons never fully disclosed. He didn't win it or anything, but I think he ate three or four of the participants. I guess he must've been pretty popular if Hasbro thought he was worth paying off for this crap.
The figure was simple enough - just a big dark sloth in sportswear, wielding a football attached to a chain. Okay, so that's not exactly 'simple.' It's a shame they kept this guy just for training purposes; he probably would've been a killer in battle. All you'd have to do is tell him all of Cobra's troops kept Twix bars in their pants pockets, and viola, seventeen of 'em are beheaded within forty seconds.
If you're wondering why you don't remember seeing the Fridge in stores, here's your reason:
Originally, you could only get this figure by sending in 645 proofs-of-purchase. Hasbro really put a lot into their mail-order department with the G.I. Joe line - there were several figures who were only available this way, not to mention a few vehicles, accessory packs, and so on. They also used to make the older figures not sold in stores anymore available using this method, which was an awesome move financially, since they didn't have to go through the added expense of repacking them on updated cards. (the mail-order figures were usually shipped in bags, not in packages)
Above all else, it quenched every little kid's desire to get stuff in the mail. Hell, I used to send catalog requests into Spiegel when I was like seven-years-old just so I'd have something with my name on it in the mailbox. But getting toys would be a lot cooler. Unless Spiegel was having a sale on eggshell white tablecloths. Then it'd be a tie.
They even got him to appear in the commercial, right in the middle of the same fake forest they used in all the other advertisements. The Fridge didn't have much to say, just your basic 'Get my figure!' and 'I've got game!' stuff. But because of this, it was one of the only characters in G.I. Joe lore who kids had a real-life visualization of. Sad that they wasted it on the football player, but whaddya gonna do?
Zartan and the Fridge are just a sampling of the weirdos in the G.I. Joe universe. Who's more powerful? That's not an easy question. If we're talking sheer strength, then the Fridge would win hands down. But I shudder to think how he'd fare against Zartan in a competition to see who can spell the word 'desk.' If I had to choose a teammate, I think I'd go with Zartan. If only because he wouldn't crush my lungs should he accidentally sit on me.
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