The G.I. Joe franchise had humble beginnings as a line of 12-inch action figures in the 1960s, but didn’t gain multimedia success until the 1980s. Hasbro released the now-iconic 7.25-inch figures in 1982 as part of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toyline. At the same time, the team’s arch-villains, the terrorist organization known as Cobra, was first introduced. Though it was initially believed the bad guys wouldn’t sell well as action figures, Cobra proved to be an important part of the franchise’s revival.
Founded by the enigmatic Cobra Commander, Cobra is depicted in toy form, comics, television animation, and live-action film as the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world. Cobra’s motivations have varied over the years, depending on the medium they are portrayed in, but it is usually seen as a secretive group of well-funded bad guys obsessed with establishing a new world order. It is a well-organized machine that function much like an official military would with infantrymen, an airforce, and a navy. The group has seemingly managed to collect some of the most evil and cruel people in the world, from master assassins and super ninjas, to criminal scientists and even evil bikers. Here are 20 of the most sadistic Cobra agents in G.I. Joe.
20 STORM SHADOW
Known for his deep bond with G.I. Joe counterpart Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow is a skilled ninja assassin who has served as the personal bodyguard to Cobra Commander. The thing about Storm Shadow is that as ruthless as he can be, he isn’t a member of Cobra by choice. The organization framed him for murder, and he was forced to join in order to find out who was really to blame.
After spending some time with Cobra, he eventually defected and joined the G.I. Joes. Storm Shadow would later become a member of the terrorist organization again when he is captured and brainwashed. Storm Shadow has proven to be a real threat to both sides of the fight, but he’s managed to make things right by joining the side of good.
Though it was never presented as such, Copperhead’s story is actually kind of tragic. He was a speedboat racer who manages to rack up an enormous gambling debt to the point that he actually joined Cobra so the organization could pay off the money he owed. Sure, Copperhead really went on to embrace his new life as a terrorist, but it was clear he needed help, not a new employer.
Copperhead is a high-ranking officer within Cobra’s Navy and has shown an expertise in the operation of the organization’s air-driver swamp vehicles, the Water Moccasins. He has helped to equip Cobra with the vehicles they need to rule the swamp and the jungle. That means the G.I. Joes are no match for Copperhead or Cobra if they ever decide to take a trip to the Florida Everglades.
Buzzer has to be one of the most bizarre characters within the G.I. Joe universe. Starting off as a left-wing sociologist named Dick Blinken, Buzzer went off to Australia to research biker gangs, and then ended up joining one himself. Unhappy with the two-faced morality of society, Blinken decides to cut society apart using his diamond-tooth chainsaw.
As a founding member of the Dreadnoks, Buzzer isn’t truly a member of Cobra proper, but he does work for them as a mercenary under the leadership of Zartan. His status among the group means that he is the de facto leader when neither Zartan nor any of his family members are around. He may sound kind of ridiculous, but this guy is still dangerous. Also, the dude owns a chainsaw decked out with diamonds. Come on.
17 BLACK OUT
G.I. Joe introduced a little family drama into the conflict with Cobra in the 2000s when they introduced Black Out, Barrel Roll and Bombstrike. First introduced in 2003 as action figures, Black Out and Barrel Roll were brothers looking to join the G.I. Joe program. Unfortunately, Black Out was rejected after he failed his psychological exam while his brother passed.
Unhappy that his brother went on to become a high-altitude sniper with the G.I. Joes, Black Out decided he was going to join Cobra. Their sister also went on to join the Joes as the heroic Bombstrike, and at one point Black Out actually kidnapped his own sister. Things got really ugly and very personal. When he’s not fighting his family, Black Out is a member of Cobra’s special infiltration unit.
Two different versions of this character have existed since the character was first introduced in 1991. Overkill was originally an experimental prototype of Cobra’s Battle Android Troopers that gave him an advanced computer system and tactical program in order to create a better robotic soldier on the battlefield.
Alternatively, Overkill was introduced in the G.I. Joe vs. Cobra series as a cyborg who underwent body modifications to become a more dangerous soldier. In the DiC animated series, he was was given an upgrade that equipped him with a laser cannon in his chest. Like many of his human comrades before him, he too has tried to usurp control of Cobra away from the Cobra Commander. It would seem that good help is hard to find — and hard to create.
15 BIG BOA
In order to ensure that Cobra is strong enough to take on the elite fighting force of the G.I. Joe, the terrorist organization needed someone to train its soldiers to be tough enough. That’s where Big Boa came in as the taskmaster of Cobra to whip Cobra Troopers into fighting shape. His training methods are sadistic and torturous, giving him quite the infamous reputation.
Originally conceived as an action figure in 1987, he was supposed to be the enemy of Rocky Balboa, the titular boxer from the Rocky films. However, the Rocky figure was never released, but Big Boa was, which is why his toy wore boxing gloves. In the G.I. Joe novel Fool’s Gold, he attempts to take over Cobra with a disintegration ray gun. He’s essentially Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.
The villain Cesspool has something of a supervillain origin story to him, having only taken up evil following a tragic accident. Vincent D'Alleva was the CEO of a company with holdings in oil refineries and chemical plants. Pressured by environmentalists to clean up the company’s act, he took them on a tour of the facilities and ended up falling into a vat of chemical sludge. The experience left him with a large scar and a new hatred for the environment.
Debuting in 1991 as an action figure, Cesspool was initially conceived to fight against the G.I. Joe’s Eco-Warriors. D'Alleva joined Cobra in order to help run the organization’s legitimate business enterprises. Cesspool fit in well with other villains of the era who brought attention to conservation, recycling, and protecting the environment.
In order to effectively rise to power, Cobra needed to be able to fully equip their soldiers with the weapons that could help them topple nations. You accomplish this by bringing a weapons dealer into the inner circle of Cobra. That’s where James McCullen, Destro XXIV comes into play. A wealthy industrialist and weapons manufacturer, Destro uses his great resources to keep Cobra well supplied.
The problem with Destro’s involvement with Cobra, though, is the fact that he doesn’t necessary believe in the organization’s cause. He maintains an alliance with Cobra because it suits his needs, and on many occasions he has fought against them. Furthermore, his deep sense of honor and respect for the G.I. Joe prevent him from truly being as ruthless as the villains around him.
12 TOMAX AND XAMOT
The evil twins Tomax and Xamot are two of the highest ranking officials within the Cobra organization, and they very rarely have to get their hands dirty. After serving as mercenaries all around the world, the brothers decided to become business bankers. They eventually joined Cobra to lead the legal face of the organization that helps finance the terrorist group.
Collectively known as the Crimson Twins, they head up Cora’s most elite unit of soldiers known as the Crimson Guard. Tomax and Xamot are incredibly capable soldiers and spies, but it is their acumen as businessmen that Cobra values the most. Whether it's on the battlefield or in the boardroom, these two are always making life difficult for the men and women of G.I. Joe.
11 MAJOR BLUDD
In a franchise filled with evil supersoldier terrorists, Major Bludd may be one of the worst of all. A seasoned military advisor and tactical genius for the highest bidder, Bludd has accumulated a laundry list of war crimes and charges of crimes against humanity. He is one of Cobra’s most effective assassins, having killed the original founder of G.I. Joe, General Lawrence Flagg, in the Marvel Comics continuity.
Major Bludd clearly has an important role within the Cobra organization, though what that job is has changed over the years. While technically a mercenary for hire, he has acted as Cobra’s primary field commander in many different adaptations and has also been referred to as the group’s chief recruiter. Though he hasn’t been seen in many of the franchise’s adaptations, he remains one of the most dangerous members of Cobra.
10 CRYSTAL BALL
What would an evil terrorist organization from the 1980s be without the ability to read and control people's’ minds? The man known as Crystal Ball was first released as an action figure in 1987 and is positioned as one of Cobra’s main interrogators. He is incredibly skilled in the art of hypnosis, which can sometimes manifest itself as actual telepathy.
In comics he has used his abilities in Cobra’s attempt to kidnap the President of the United States. In Devil’s Due comic book continuity, Crystal Ball is part of an operation to insert a mole within the G.I. Joe organization. He uses his skills in hypnosis to plant subliminal messages within the mind of his target in order to turn him into a secret Cobra agent.
9 DOCTOR VENOM
Doctor Venom was established in Marvel Comics continuity to be Cobra’s first scientist before Dr. Mindbender came into the picture and took over things. Venom proved himself to be a very capable scientific mind within several different fields of study. He was able to assist Cobra in weaponizing biological toxins and managed to invent the Brainwave Scanner, his greatest achievement.
The Brainwave Scanner unlocked the secrets of the mind to the Cobra terrorist organization, allowing them to read and control minds. During his time as a terrorist, he also managed to get his hands dirty in battle. He fought against Snake Eyes several times and was very nearly able to kill him at one point. Venom may have eventually been killed but his inventions — and in IDW continuity, his mind — live on.
Not much is known about Firefly’s true identity, but by his actions we can certainly determine what kind of person he is. As a ninja, like Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, Firefly is an incredibly gifted fighter. However, he concentrates his efforts on being a saboteur and demolitions expert. His gift seems to be the ability to always cause as much destruction as possible against all of his targets.
He, Black Out, and Munitia make up Cobra’s H.I.S.S. group, which deals with infiltration, stealth, and sabotage missions. Firefly has been an effective agent of Cobra for years, but it is more about the money for him than any kind of belief system. He also has shown himself to have his own motives and agendas behind the scenes, having worked out side deals with the likes of Destro and Dr. Mindbender.
Traditionally, Cobra Commander is depicted as a single anonymous figure who controls the Cobra organization. Sometimes he answers to the Cobra Council but is usually seen as the preeminent power in the terrorist group. Everything is different in IDW’s G.I. Joe continuity, though, with the revelation that Cobra Commander is simply a title that anyone can fill once elected by the council.
Following the death of the previous leader, a man named Krake manipulates his way to being named the new Cobra Commander. Following his ascension to the top of the organization, he kills the entire Cobra Council and takes full control of the group. Given his incredible strategic mind and skill in combat, the G.I. Joes have never seen a threat quite like Krake.
Imagine how bad a dude you have to before for both G.I. Joe and Cobra to team up and want you dead. Headman debuted in 1992 as a drug kingpin and the leader of the Head Hunters to fight against the Drug Enforcement Force. He was essentially envisioned to be a mobster with ties to Cobra, who likely benefited from the money he made selling drugs.
The DiC cartoon had a two-part episode called “The Greatest Evil” where the two sides actually come together to stop the Headman. They invade his headquarters, but Headman escapes with hostages. The two groups finally hunt him down before the villain attempts to expose them to his drugs. In the end, he’s the one who succumbs to drug poisoning and then gets blown up. It was certainly the most extreme way to tell kids that drugs are bad.
Anastasia Cisarovna is proof of the corruptive power that money can have over people, especially in the face of tragedy. Raised as a spoiled aristocrat in Europe, Anastasia and her family grow to hate the United States following the death of her brother. She became involved with extremist revolutionary groups before joining Cobra and becoming second-in-command to Cobra Commander himself.
As the head of Cobra’s intelligence operations, the Baroness has also proven to be a gifted spy and saboteur. She also has shown to have a gift for psychological warfare and bio-chemical attacks. The Baroness often shows that she has a personal vendetta against G.I. Joe, the American government, and anyone who may have been involved in the death of her brother, making her a truly dangerous threat.
Serpentor’s role in the ongoing hostilities between Cobra and G.I. Joe is different depending on the continuity. Typically he is a being created from the genetic material of famous historical leaders throughout the world. Sometimes he is depicted as a figurehead of the organization, while other times he is meant to be the ultimate leader. Either way, he has wrestled with Cobra Commander for control of Cobra.
Due to the cloning process that created him, Serpentor is often depicted as being a little insane, having so many different forebears vying for control within him. In the Sunbow animated continuity, it is revealed that he wishes to destroy the entire human race. In IDW continuity, he is a member of the Cobra Council and proves to be a very influential power within the organization.
The mercenary Zartan is one of the most infamous members of the Cobra terrorist organization. He is the leader of the Dreadnoks motorcycle gang and noted for his status as a master of disguise. Zartan is able to disguise himself as any target and even change his skin color to make himself indistinguishable from the real deal. As you might expect, he’s a difficult enemy to capture.
In the Marvel Comics continuity, he was the Cobra member who managed to discover the location of the G.I. Joe secret base. Cobra then launched an attack, forcing The Pit to be abandoned. During the Cobra Civil War, he was the one who revealed that the Cobra Commander was a fraud and who finally killed Serpentor to bring it all to an end.
2 DR. MINDBENDER
Dr. Mindbender may actually be the most messed up member of the Cobra terrorist organization. After his invention left him with brain damage and a hateful disposition, he joined Cobra as the group’s primary scientific mind. He played a key part in the improvement of the Brainwave Scanner that has allowed Cobra to read minds during interrogations and warp the minds of their prisoners.
Over the years, Dr. Mindbender has developed many new ways to make Cobra even more dangerous than ever before. He created the Battle Android Troopers, which proved to be a massive improvement over their infantrymen made of flesh and blood. He was also responsible for the cloning process that created Serpentor. In his career as a villain, Dr. Mindbender has done some pretty heinous things.
1 COBRA COMMANDER
The supreme leader of the terrorist organization known as Cobra, the Cobra Commander is the most dangerous and ruthless villain of the series. Frequently seen to have an unstable personality, even many of his own soldiers are afraid of what he is capable of doing. Little is known about his life before founding Cobra, but he continues to exist as a living embodiment of the organization he created to control the world.
Defined by his serpentlike voice from the G.I. Joe animated series, Cobra Commander has ascended beyond the constraints of the franchise to stand as one of the most iconic fictional villains of all time. How a used car salesman managed to rise to world dominator is anyone’s guess, but it’s as impressive as it is terrifying.