Thursday, 18 June 2015

Operation: Cold Slither - Cobra Commander's Only Good Plan

 GI Joe was always a difficult thing to love: whilst absurdly popular in America, it was aggressively marketed as American, almost telling every single other country in the world that they weren't allowed to like the "real American heroes" for the crime of not being American. You could turn up and stare in to the windows if you liked, but you weren't really invited to the party.

There was a good attempt at localisation for a while, where the franchise was rebranded as 'Action Force: International Heroes' which went a long way towards making the pro-Americana more palatable (for me at least) but at some point in the late eighties/early nineties they gave up on that and changed it to GI Joe everywhere.

There's a good argument that perhaps GI Joe wouldn't be a dead brand today if it was called 'Action Force' again, as America hasn't exactly been the most popular country in the world. That said, terrorism isn't a particularly child-friendly topic, especially in this post-9/11 age.

As the episode 'Cold Slither' shows us, they just don't make terrorists like they used to!

For someone living in Europe, the GI Joe cartoon wasn't something that really happened. There was an attempt at rebranding it 'Action Force' which required the hilarious step of having someone dub over every mention of 'GI Joe' with 'Action Force' in an unconvincing manner, and it mainly sat as a direct-to-video series. This was a shame, as it turned out the cartoon was quite brilliant at times.
Terrorism was still a real and dangerous thing in the eighties, and so rather than make something po-faced and slightly tasteless for kids TV, the writers decided to go for broke and make COBRA the most ridiculous terrorist organisation imaginable.

Speaking of going for broke, the  episode opens with Cobra Commander facing bankrupcy. GI Joe has become too good at raiding Cobra's cash reserves and he can't pay his troops any more. In a disasterous turn of events, all his men start queuing up outside the offices of social services (still in full Cobra uniform) and the bank calls in the creditors. Cobra Commander has just one day to raise $200 million, or Cobra is finished!

(At this point it is important to note that Cobra is funded by the evil Tomax and Xamot, who in between being the evil acrobatic commanders of the elite Crimson Guard, sit around in suits and run Extensive Enterprises, a big corporation. GI Joe know they're there, in fact one episode had GI Joe raid Extensive Enterprises, only to be turned away by Tomax and Xamot who informed them that it wasn't illegal to fund terrorist organisations. GI Joe left defeated.)

GI Joe take the opportunity to launch an assault on Cobra's main base, only to discover that it's already been foreclosed and is being auctioned off to various dictators in order to raise funds. Cobra Commander's skipped town and it turns out that he's been bolstering his army with cardboard cutouts.

If anything, Cobra Commander's financial woes are ahead of their time, reflecting the recent worldwide financial crisis. If only Obama had come up with a plan as clever as Cobra Commander's!
What is Cobra Commander's plan for raising $200 million in a day? As an evil terrorist mastermind who has an army with lasers, jets and tanks, one would imagine he is about to launch a daring assault on the world's banking system, or Fort Knox. But that's not how Cobra Commander rolls.

Cobra Commander puts on a clever disguise of an overcoat and shades (whilst keeping his Cobra Commander costume on) and he and Firefly beat up a midget in order to steal a million dollars. With a suitcase full of cash, Cobra Commander speeds to Zartan's house, where he uses the money to hire Zartan and his Dreadnoks for Operation: Cold Slither.

Operation: Cold Slither consists of Zartan and the Dreadnoks forming a rock'n'roll band in order to subjugate the nation's youth.

Yes. This is a thing that happened.

Zartan is a pretty loyal henchman to Cobra Commander, so it's unclear why Cobra Commander felt the need to steal a million dollars just to hire him. It's also unclear why Zartan and the Dreadnoks - feared mercenaries - are the perfect frontmen for a rock'n'roll band. Was there really no-one else who Cobra Commander could hire for less than a million dollars?

As it happens, Zartan's band is pretty amazing, and so completely justifies the million that Cobra Commander spent on them. You've got to invest to make money after all! Just like a real rock'n'roll band they perform whilst using chainsaws and flamethrowers to smash up all the equipment, and they reach the top 20 in three days. Cobra Commander's financiers cancel his debt in order to get a slice of this hot new band.

Soon the nation's youth are obsessed with Cold Slither. It's being played in all the classrooms at school, and they reach number one. Has Cobra Commander hit upon a working alternative to international terrorism?

Meanwhile, with Cobra defeated, GI Joe are pretty bored. They're stuck playing golf and having barbeques because they have no-one to fight. Soon they too will be queuing up for social services. Various GI Joe members (including Shipwreck and his parrot) become hardcore Cold Slither fans, not recognising the faces of Zartan and the Dreadnoks (Zartan is the master of disguise, but clearly Cold Slither is a project close to his heart, as he performs as himself). The hypnotic nature of rock'n'roll compels the Joes to go AWOL, breaking out of the base in a hail of laser fire, so that they can...
...Attend a concert.

This is Cobra Commander's endgame. Make a cool rock'n'roll band, and once it has dominated the music scene, use subliminal messages to force everyone to go to concerts. To be fair, this isn't especially evil as this is pretty much what every band does.

Back at GI Joe headquarters, Duke shows himself to be a giant square by not knowing what Cold Slither is, assuming it is something to do with Cobra. The other Joes tell him that he's dumb, and just because the band is snake-themed and the frontman is Zartan and he sings about how great a terrorist organisation Cobra is, doesn't mean that it's anything to do with Cobra as it's a rock band.

Duke then acts even more square by sending the military police to arrest all the AWOL Joes who have gone to the concert, as this is cutting into their important duties of playing golf and having barbeques.

The military police arrive to arrest Shipwreck and co, and they become Cold Slither fans too. The extent of the conditioning is to make them feel mellow. Everyone at the concert starts to fall to their knees and shout "all hail Cobra" but really, what rock and roll concert doesn't that happen at?

Cobra Commander's plan is going well, right? He's got a really popular band, he's got obsessive fans, and he can just sit back and rake in the cash from merchandise and ticket sales. It's going well. Too well. In order to ruin his good progress, he reveals to the world that Cold Slither is indeed a front for Cobra, and that he's holding everyone in the stadium hostage, demanding that the world pay him "one hundred billion dollars" for their release.

Oh Cobra Commander, you had it and you threw it all away.

The Dreadnoks get too rock'n'roll and wander off stage in the middle of their song. Boring killjoy GI Joe show that they are THE MAN by infiltrating as groupies and beating up Cold Slither. They wave a gun in the general direction of Cobra Commander's face. Cobra Commander reacts by jumping out of a window and running away.

GI Joe use the opportunity to play their own song on stage. It's not as good as Cobra's band.
Cold Slither is a fantastic episode, which shows that no-one has any intention of taking anything about the show seriously. GI Joe works when it recognises its inherent ridiculousness. It fails when it starts to believe that the Village People fighting snake-themed terrorists is in any way, shape or form a gritty, realistic drama.

Everything about the episode works. It’s crazy, but everyone in the show acts as if it is the most logical progression of events possible with all the conviction of the more ‘serious’ episodes. In a way it is the most logical extension of the series premise: if you can’t have gritty drama, you can go in the other direction.

Cobra Commander's insane response to his money problems are inspired, especially in the fact that it's probably the best plan he's ever had. If he'd just kept it up, he could have conquered the world via music. Sadly it was not to be.

Back home in his house where he lives with all his Dreadnoks, does Zartan sit back while sipping grape juice and listen to his Cold Slither cassettes, wistfully remembering the days when he was a rock'n'roll legend?

I like to think so.


  1. As a friend who's massively into GI Joe likes to tell me, Cobra Commando was basically an accountant, and, in the comics at least, secures loyalty to his organization by funding it well and giving good benefits.

    1. Comic Cobra Commander was a former used car salesman. Cartoon Cobra Commander was a former snake-man from Atlantis.