When it comes to G.I. Joe, the elite military organization has many enemies, including the master of disguise Zartan, the amoral weapons master Destro and the crazed genetically-engineered Serpentor. Yet there's one villain who stands over them all, and that's Cobra Commander. Cobra Commander is the leader of the Cobra organization, a group dedicated to ruling the world through terror. Cobra Commander has fought the Joes for decades since his introduction in 1982 as a mail-in figure. Since then, he's become a symbol of evil and ruthlessness.
If you've only seen the 1980s TV show and the movies, you might not know much about Cobra Commander except that he screams a lot, never shows his face and isn't very good at his job. In fact, the comics and TV series to follow the 1980s version have expanded on the character and told us more of his secrets. We've learned more about his past, seen his face many times and have even seen him get replaced. With G.I. Joe getting a big role in the planned Hasbro Cinematic Universe, let's find out more about the Cobra Commander with 15 facts you might not know about the faceless maniac.
15 THERE'S MORE THAN ONE
When we talk about Cobra Commander, we need to clarify who that is. The character started out in the cartoon and comics as one guy, but there have been more than one. For instance, in the UK, a military series called Battle Action Force featured a terrorist organization called the Red Shadows, led by Baron Ironblood. In 1985, the decision was made to turn Action Force into G.I. Joe so Baron Ironblood formed a new organization known as Cobra and changed his name to Cobra Commander.
In the continuity set up by IDW, Cobra Commander was a title and elected position in the Cobra organization. The first Cobra Commander introduced in G.I. Joe: Cobra #1 was a successful businessman whose existence was a closely guarded secret, even to most of Cobra. When he was assassinated, a new and more ruthless Cobra Commander named Krake was elected who reigned supreme.
14 HE WAS BASED ON WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY
Cobra Commander isn't the strongest, smartest or most skilled member of Cobra, so that's not how he ended up leading the organization. No, Cobra Commander is a leader of men. If there's one thing Cobra Commander loves, it's giving big speeches and threats, and that's what he spends most of his time doing. With his voice alone, Cobra Commander can send thousands of men charging into battle with his crazy schemes.
Like most of what we now know of G.I. Joe, Cobra Commander was created by Larry Hama in developing the Marvel comic. Hama described Cobra Commander as someone who's in love with the sound of his own voice, specifically William F. Buckley Jr. Buckley was an influential conservative author who started the National Review magazine in 1955 and hosted the debate show Firing Line.
13 HE WAS A USED CAR SALESMAN
Most people think Cobra Commander's past is a mystery but some facts have been revealed. A few of the stories contradict each other, but one appeared in the comics shortly after Cobra Commander was created. In 1984's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #26 (Larry Hama, Steve Leialoha), we found out the origin of Snake-Eyes and the young man who became Cobra's leader started out as that evilest of men: a used car salesman.
Seriously. The future Cobra Commander was an ordinary man until he suffered a family death. The death caused him to use his skills of persuasion and manipulation to get revenge and organize an army. That began his journey to evil, eventually forming the Cobra organization. As a used car salesman, it wasn't much of a stretch.
12 HE'S BEEN UNMASKED
One of Cobra Commander's signatures is his face... or lack of it. Throughout most of his appearances in the comics, movies and TV show, he's worn a helmet or hood to hide his face. The mystery of the Commander's face is part of what makes him scary and cool, but the mystique has been broken a few times.
In 1987's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #55 (Larry Hama, Rod Whigham), Cobra Commander had to go on the run and took off his mask to disguise himself. He had a ponytail, sunglasses, and a mustache that was obviously fake, but it counts. In G.I. Joe: The Movie, all previous history of the Commander was rewritten as it explained he was from a hidden society called Cobra-La where an accident left him with eight eyes, causing him to don the mask.
11 COBRA COMMANDER'S BROTHER
Much of Cobra Commander's past is shrouded in mystery, but in the original Marvel comics, he was given a vague background. In the comics, Cobra Commander is American with one family member revealed: an older brother. The man who would be the Commander had a brother, Dan, who volunteered to fight in the military during the Vietnam War to keep his younger brother from being drafted.
When Dan returned, he suffered from severe emotional problems due to what he had seen. Dan turned to alcohol and was drunk driving when he died in a car crash. Dan's accident killed most of the family in the car he hit, but his younger brother turned to revenge against the only survivor of the car crash. That began Cobra Commander's journey to the dark side.
10 COBRA COMMANDER AND SNAKE EYES WERE FRIENDS
In the original animated series and the movies, both Cobra Commander and Snake-Eyes were mysteries who kept their faces covered and didn't talk about their past. That's probably why, in the comics, the two have a complex history, where they are linked!
Snake-Eyes lost his family in a car crash caused by a drunken driver. The driver was the brother of the man who would become Cobra Commander. In his grief, Cobra Commander blamed Snake-Eyes for his brother's death. In 2005's Snake Eyes Declassified #2 (Brandon Jerwa, Robert Atkins), a version of the story had Cobra Commander saving Snake Eyes from an oncoming truck and they became vigilantes and friends together. Their friendship ended when Cobra Commander tried to get Snake Eyes to kill a corrupt Judge who had caused problems for them both. When Snake Eyes refused to kill the judge. Cobra Commander vowed revenge.
9 COBRA COMMANDER HAS A SON
When you think of Cobra Commander, you usually don't think "family man," but he's actually had a family for a long time in the comics. Billy Kessler first appeared in 1983's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #10 by Larry Hama and Mike Vosburg as a young man being held prisoner in a Cobra stronghold. Later issues revealed he was actually trained by Major Bludd and the Baroness to assassinate Cobra Commander.
The Commander wanted to kill the boy, but Destro forced him to accept Billy as his son. Despite his family ties, Cobra Commander still ordered Billy to be tortured with Dr. Mindbender's Brainwave Scanner to find out who helped him plan the murder but Billy resisted. Over the years in the comic continuity, Billy has returned to fight against his father who ultimately killed him.
8 COBRA COMMANDER LEFT COBRA
Cobra Commander is pretty much identified with Cobra. He even has Cobra in his name. Yet the relationship between the Commander and Cobra has always been unsteady because he's a cowardly and psychopathic maniac. He's actually left or been forced out of Cobra a few times, but always came back.
One of the first times was in the comics with 1987's G.I. Joe #58 (Larry Hama, Rod Whigham). In that issue, Cobra Commander decided to leave the organization to be a father to his son, Billy. Cobra Commander was thought dead but returned. Then there's the time in G.I. Joe: The Movie when Cobra Commander was punished for his failure by being turned into a literal snake. Baroness brought him to back to power and semi-human form.
7 COBRA COMMANDER DIED
Cobra Commander has been mocked, shunned and even replaced but always comes back. He's even been killed and returned. One of the first times was in Marvel continuity where Cobra Commander's son Billy was injured and put in a coma. In 1987, G.I. Joe #58 (Larry Hama, Rod Whigham) showed Cobra Commander turning to a clone known as Fred VII who repaired Billy but also shot the Cobra Commander and left him for dead. He took on the role of Cobra Commander until the real Commander returned.
In G.I. Joe: Cobra #12 (Mike Costa, Christos N. Gage, Antonio Fuso), there was a more permanent event when a deep cover G.I. Joe operative killed Cobra Commander. In the IDW continuity, Cobra Commander was just a title, so to find a replacement, Cobra held a competition to kill the most Joes.
6 HE WAS IN THE WHITE HOUSE
One of Cobra Commander's most bold and evil plots involved his move into the White House. In the new continuity of Devil's Due, 2005's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #43 ended with the breakup and collapse of the Cobra organization, the disbanding of G.I. Joe, and the escape of Cobra Commander.
In G.I. Joe: America's Elite #13, it was revealed that Cobra Commander had disguised himself as White House Chief of Staff Garrett Freelowe. He tried to convince the president to shut down the reactivated G.I. Joe team and replace them with a new team called Phoenix Guard. The Phoenix Guard is secretly made up of Cobra forces who capture the Joes, but the plot was failed and Cobra returned to fight again.
5 COBRA COMMANDER IS YOSEMITE SAM
When you think of Cobra Commander on the 1980s animated series, you probably think of a psychotic madman given to commanding large forces and screaming speeches to his minions. That probably reminds you of Adolf Hitler. In fact, the show's writers revealed recently that they thought of him more as Yosemite Sam.
It makes sense if you think about it. Like Yosemite Sam, Cobra Commander talked tough and had a lot of dangerous weapons, but always lost badly. The Commander also would have a lot of crazy schemes like trying to hide shrunken Cobra troopers in Christmas presents and carving his face in the Moon with a laser. Most importantly, like Yosemite Sam who was always trying to kill Bugs Bunny, Cobra Commander was dedicated to killing the Joe but failed every time.
4 COBRA COMMANDER WAS IN THE FUTURE
Since G.I. Joe and Transformers are both owned by Hasbro, the two worlds have always been connected. Yet in 1986, the original Transformers series had an episode with a not-so-hidden G.I. Joe connection that involved Cobra Commander.
In 1986's Season 3 episode "Only Human," a crime lord Victor Drath decided to get rid of the Autobots and turned to a mysterious man named Old Snake. Old Snake's technology transferred the minds of the Autobots into human bodies. What's important is that Old Snake was clearly the Cobra Commander. He wore the same mask, had the same voice and we could see his scaly fingers through holes in his gloves, fitting with his transformation in G.I. Joe: The Movie. He's also described as having led a terrorist organization and at one point tried to yell "COBRA" before a coughing fit.
3 HE ONLY PRETENDED TO BE A COWARD
"Cobra, retreat!" Those were the two words the Cobra Commander of the original TV series seemed to love the most. But what if it was all just an elaborate act? What if he just pretended to be a cowardly idiot? That's the idea behind G.I. Joe: Resolute, a web series turned into a 60-minute movie that was a much darker version of the franchise.
In Resolute's continuity, Cobra Commander revealed that his cowardice and hysterics were all just a trick to weed out traitors and move Cobra to think for itself. Cobra Commander became way more ruthless, killing Major Bludd to show how he handled disloyalty and destroying Moscow to demonstrate his particle beam weapon and hold the world hostage. Fortunately, he was defeated, but he was a major rethinking of the villain.
2 HE LOOKS LIKE A KKK LEADER
In 2009, the first live-action G.I. Joe movie was released, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The movie showed how Cobra began as Destro and a mysterious scientist named the Doctor created a weapon of nanotechnology to consume cities of the world. Joseph Gordon-Levitt played Dr. Rexford "Rex" Lewis who would eventually become Cobra Commander at the end of the film.
The Doctor was a reinvention of everything about the Commander, starting with the fact that he wasn't even called Cobra Commander for most of the movie. Cobra Commander also didn't wear a hood. Instead, he wore a breathing mask until the final scene when he put on a mask that still looked nothing like the originals. It turns out the crew thought Cobra Commander's traditional hood and mask looked too much like the Ku Klux Klan.
1 COBRA CONQUERED A CITY IN REAL-LIFE
In the comics, the town of Springfield has always been identified with Cobra. In 1983, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #10 (Larry Hama, Mike Vosburg) revealed Cobra's origins in the small town where a pyramid scheme trapped the townspeople into the terrorist organization, turning it into a major base of operations. The comics never identified what state Springfield was in, and with so many Springfields around the country, it was a nice generic name.
That changed in 2015 when the town of Springfield, IL hosted the official G.I. Joe Collectors’ Convention. In an awesome and sinister publicity stunt, a Cobra Commander cosplayer met with Mayor J. Michael Houston who presented him with the key to the city and pledged Springfield, IL to Cobra. That's the first victory Cobra has made in our world, at least as far as we know.