I was first introduced to Zartan one fine day after school when the second GI JOE miniseries “Revenge of Cobra” premiered on a local network and I thought he was the coolest thing ever. He led a motorcycle gang, he lived in the swamp, and when he got mad his armor lit up and made lightsaber noises. He was also too badass to be an official part of Cobra. No, Zartan knew where it was at. He remained an independent contractor and got paid for jobs with little sacks of gold so that he could keep his Dreadnoks supplied with chocolate donuts and grape soda. Naturally when I got hooked on Sideshow’s Sixth-Scale Cobra figures, I had to circle back and pick up Zartan. He’s an older release, but as we’ll soon see he is still an absolutely amazing figure and possibly the best release so far. You know the deal by now. I’m going to look at the packaging, the figure, and the outfit today and tomorrow we’ll check out the copious amount of gear included with this figure.
As an older figure, Zartan’s box is different in some ways from Sideshow’s last three GI JOE releases. I’ll get to those differences in a moment, but the important thing to note is that the deco hasn’t changed and this box looks right at home lined up on a bookshelf with all the other boxes. I’ve praised the art design on these packages a lot in the past and I’ll continue to do so here… it’s perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing. The photos of the figure give you a good idea of what you’re getting and I love the shot on the front that has Zartan hiding behind a tree, no doubt stalking a Joe who bailed out of his downed Skyhawk. Of course, the style mimics the old Real American Hero cardbacks right down to the animated explosions behind the character, the “Cobra Enemy” stamp and the file card on the back of the box. No doubt, Sideshow knows how to tug on my nostalgia strings.
So what’s different? Zartan’s box is laid out just like the one used for the Crimson Guard. It has a magnetic flap and opens to reveal two windows, one with the gear laid out and one with the figure itself. The inside of the front flap has some specs on the included weapons and the connecting flap has information on Cobra and Zartan. This layout is absolutely glorious. When I open it up, lay it out and see all the cool shit inside, it’s just so easy to see where the money went. I really wish Sideshow had kept it for the newer releases. They may look the same closed and on the shelf, but opened up, it’s a far more impressive presentation than getting the trays stacked together like they are doing now.
And there he is, out of the box and looking damn incredible. The first thing that needs to be said is that this is certainly not Sunbow Zartan. Throughout this line, Sideshow has borrowed design elements here and there, but in the case of Zartan, they definitely went for realism over animated and I think it works beautifully for a figure in this scale and complexity. This is a Zartan that could have been adapted directly for a live action Joe movie and worked brilliantly. But let’s not get me started on that, eh? Like so many of these figures, Sideshow manages to capture the essence of the character while still bringing a lot of original ideas to the table. Let’s start with the portrait…
The portrait here is nothing short of fantastic, and that’s saying a lot. As a cartoon character and an action figure, I was always unsure what was going on with Zartan’s head. Was that hair or a hood? Later figures from Hasbro would reveal Zartan as a bald dude wearing a hood and I think the shaved head fits his thuggish nature. The softgoods hood falls about the head quite well and frames it to complete the likeness perfectly. The sculpt is perhaps a little softer than what we’ve seen with Major Bludd, but it’s still quite good and the smarmy smirk really gives him a lot of character. The paintwork includes the iconic tattoo mask around his eyes, which by the way are without pupils and appropriately creepy. Take off the hood and you can see the painted stubble from where he shaved. Sideshow did a great job here.
Sunbow purists may have hoped for the more high tech armor that Zartan wore in the cartoon, but I really like what Sideshow did with this figure’s costume. The chest armor, shoulders and thigh plates are certainly inspired by the original figure, but it’s been updated for more realism. The ramshackle nature of the new armor looks as if it’s been salvaged and pieced together from vanquished foes. The chest and back plate, for example, are held on by two different types of shoulder straps and crudely laced up one side with some rope. Similarly, the shin plates look like they were added to his regular boots. And the boots! The detail in the boots is just amazing. The armor plates feature tons of sculpted scrapes and dings, proving that Zartan has been around the block a couple of times and seen plenty of action. This figure really looks like a mercenary who’s been hiding out in the swamps and updating his armor with whatever he could find. I love it! The belt features a working holster for Zartan’s pistol as well as four ammo pouches. The pouches are also functional and can hold the extra magazines for his rifle. One beautiful thing here is the use of magnetic snaps for the ammo pouches rather than having to fuss with those tiny snaps. Brilliant!
Naturally, Zartan comes with his backpack to hold his disguises. The backpack is a hardshell type that hangs on two hooks that are part of his back plate. An extra magnet like they used for Major Bludd’s backpack would have helped here because it’s not uncommon for the hooks to slip off while posing the figure, but I still like this better than the rather fragile glued straps used for the Crimson Guard’s backpack.
Just like the original Hasbro figure, Zartan’s backpack opens to reveal a mask, which fits pretty securely over Zartan’s face. I’ve always found this gimmick to be both cool and pretty silly at the same time. What’s really likely to happen here is that Zartan is going to put on the mask, some Cobra trooper is going to see him and say, “Oh my god, somebody killed Zartan and took his armor!” And then shoot him dead.
The last part of Zartan’s outfit consists of this messenger bag. It’s totally unnecessary and I doubt I’ll ever display the figure with it, but I’ll never scoff at extra accessories. It’s a nicely tailored piece with functional straps and I reckon he could use it to stow the maps and files that he steals from GI JOE headquarters.
Alrighty, I’m going to break there for today. Tomorrow, we’ll check out his gear. And he has a lot of gear.