GI JOE: Zartan (Master of Disguise) Sixth-Scale Figure by Sideshow Toys, Part 2

And I’m back with the second half of my look at Sideshow’s spectacular Zartan figure. Yesterday I covered the figure and costume, today we’ll look at all the goodies that comes with him. Before getting into the exciting stuff, it’s worth mentioning that Zartan comes with no less than six pairs of hands. Holy shit! I’m not going to run down them all, because I think it’s boring. Suffice it to say, in addition to the accessory specific hands you get a thumbs up right hand, a pointing right hand, and a pair of fists. You also get a pair of action feet, which come in handy with dynamic poses in the absence of mid foot articulation. The hands and feet are very easy to swap out and stay in tight. You also get the standard Cobra style stand that have been included with all these figures. Ok, with that behind us… let’s go right for the jugular and check out the showpiece of Zartan’s ensemble… the ridiculously gorgeous compound bow.

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I’m not sure exactly when Zartan began using a bow. The first Zartan figure that I remember getting with a bow was sometime in the late 90’s and that bow was neon orange. Either way, the weapon has gradually become associated with the character and I think it’s a great fit. The folks at Sideshow went crazy with this accessory. It’s a very complex sculpt, from the cams and cables to the site, stabilizer, and mounted quiver. You get five arrows, four of which can clip into the quiver and you get a hand designed so that you can pose the figure knocking the extra arrow on the bow. This is an insanely great looking accessory and it is certainly the showpiece of his arsenal. It’s just amazing.

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Next up, you get the VSS Sniper Rifle and this is also a very impressive piece of sixth-scale hardware. It’s every bit the great sculpt that I’ve come to expect from Sideshow’s firearms. The magazine is, of course, removable and the tiny cartridge in the chamber is painted. Oh yeah, you also get an additional four magazines to stow in the ammo pouches on his belt. The rifle comes with a long range scope on it and there’s even a removable lens cap on the scope. God, I love that attention to detail! Also included is a laser site assembly to swap out with the scope if you want to go a little more high-tech. There’s also a flip up site on the rifle itself just in case Zartan wants to give his quarry a bit more of a sporting chance. I’m reminded of a line from Romero’s classic film, Dawn of the Dead, “The only person who could miss with this gun is the sucker with the bread to buy it!”

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Moving on to what is easily the most iconic weapon in this set, we have Zartan’s laser pistol. This piece is easily the simplest of all three of his firearms, but that doesn’t make it any less welcome. If you read my feature on Sideshow’s Cobra Commander then you may remember my lamenting the fact that his iconic hair-dryer pistol wasn’t included. I would have been just as unhappy if Zartan didn’t get his laser pistol. Despite being a sci-fi weapon, and a completely static piece, this little gun still looks realistic and is packed with detail. It also fits comfortably into the belt holster making it a nice hold out weapon for when Zartan is all out of bullets and arrows.

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Ah, but we’re still not done yet. Zartan also comes with a pair of mines very similar to the ones included with the Crimson Guard figure. These are green and can easily be stowed into the satchel included with the figure. Lastly, you get a skinning knife and sheath. I was little baffled as to where to stow this on the figure, but I found that it clips nicely onto the back of his belt. The blade looks like it’s intended to be one of those ceramic bladed knives. This piece reminds me of Major Bludd’s boot knife in that it’s an amazing little accessory and totally unnecessary. It was just thrown in there because Sideshow loves you.

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Zartan lasted quite a while at most retailers, but availability is really starting to thin out, and when Sideshow sold out, that’s what finally motivated me to get mine. With a $159 MSRP, this guy feels like an absolute steal next to the hundred and eighty dollar price points of Cobra Commander and Baroness. The complexity of Zartan’s outfit alone makes him feel like a higher valued figure, but when you start throwing in all those amazing accessories, he really feels like a great value. While all of these Sideshow Cobra figures have been excellent, right now Zartan is the favorite on my shelf.

GI JOE: Zartan (Master of Disguise) Sixth-Scale Figure by Sideshow Toys, Part 1

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

GI JOE: Cobra Commander (The Dictator) by Sideshow Toys, Part 2

As promised I’m back to wrap up my look at Sideshow’s Sixth-Scale Cobra Commander figure. Before moving on to his accessories, let’s go ahead and check out his alternate noggin.

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Naturally, the extra head is the hooded look, which the Sunbow cartoon debuted in the second mini-series, “The Revenge of Cobra.” There’s a lot to like about this design, as I do think it looks a lot more sinister. I was concerned that the hooded head on the figure would have a large disconnect between the real fabric clothing and the use of plastic for the hood. I was partially right, as that disconnect is definitely there, but I genuinely believe that there’s just no way that Sideshow could have gotten the hood to look right using softgoods and this plastic head still looks perfectly fine. It’s beautifully sculpted and is actually a soft rubber hood permanently attached to a partially sculpted head underneath. This adds a lot of convincing depth to the eyes, which look especially creepy and deranged. Still, as pleased as I am with this sculpt, the helmeted head has always been my favorite, and so I’m going to resort to using it for the bulk of the remaining photos.

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The other additional aspect of the costume is Cobra Commander’s cape and it is a beautifully done. The garment is black with a stitched crimson liner and it is a satisfyingly heavy cape that hangs wonderfully on the figure. How does it attach? Magnets! There are two plastic clasps sculpted and painted to look like bronze medallions. Each one has a magnet inside and these attract quite securely to magnets hidden in his shoulders, just under his lapels. The cape attaches effortlessly, holds on without fail, and can be removed just as easily. I hadn’t initially planned on displaying the figure with the cape, but in the end I think it’s won me over.  It just looks smashing!

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Before getting into the rest of the accessories, I did neglect to mention one of the included hands yesterday, but it’s more of an accessory so I’m including it here. This clutching hand comes with a tiny Earth permanently attached to it so Cobra Commander can symbolically hold the entire planet in the palm of his hand. Mwahahahahaha!

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Next up, we’ve got the serpent scepter and I like this piece a lot. It has a cobra head at the top made to look like chiseled bronze or brass. It even has a faux patina of tarnish on it. That combined with the wood finish on the shaft makes it a very welcome accessory for me. I usually prefer action-y Cobra Commander over the regal one, but the cape and scepter look so good, I’ll likely be displaying him with both. Damn, I really wish I had picked up the throne from a while back. Hey, third-party companies… I need one of y’all to do a big serpent throne for me. M’kay? Thanks!

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And that brings us to the weapons. Cobra Commander’s standard sidearm is a broom handled Mauser. It’s a good choice, albeit some may believe it to be rather antiquated for a modern terrorist leader. I guess it could just be this version of Cobra Commander’s thing. Maybe he carries it around as his trademark. Since the Mauser loads with a charger, there’s really no moving action or clip to remove, making this weapon a simple static piece. That having been said, Sideshow’s weapons have always been amazing, and this Mauser is no different. It’s a wonderful sculpt and it has a very convincing finish. It also fits quite well in the holster.

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If you’re getting The Commander from any old distributor, that’s where your accessories end. If, however, you choose to go through Sideshow, you get the exclusive laser pistol. It’s a sizeable weapon for a pistol and it has a nice design that looks rather futuristic, but like something that could still exist in the “real” GI JOE world. As far as exclusive pieces go, it definitely makes ordering from Sideshow worthwhile and it will likely be the weapon of choice that I display him with. Which leads me to the only real gripe I have with this figure, and it isn’t with anything that’s here, but what was omitted. Cobra Commander’s hair-dryer style pistol has always been his one iconic accessory to me and I was a little bummed out that it wasn’t included. The pistols he has are certainly nice, but I do miss his trademark sidearm. Once again, third-party companies, you need to get on this!

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And so my third figure in Sideshow’s Sixth-Scale GI JOE line turned out to be another winner. I had my doubts about this guy when he was first revealed, but I think Sideshow really delivered in the end. Is he the most impressive figure this line has offered? Nope. The Commander doesn’t have the wow factor of Major Bludd’s accessories or even the beautiful detailing of that figure’s head sculpt, but that’s largely because this character doesn’t offer the same opportunities for such complexities. The Commander does, however, pay some wonderful respects to the iconic character that he represents and in the end that’s what counts and makes me very happy to continue to collect this line. Now as far as price goes, he is pretty steep. At just under $200 shipped he is most definitely approaching Hot Toys pricing and while Major Bludd seemed like a solid value, Cobra Commander does feel like I’m paying more of a premium for what I’m getting. At $159 I would have been more content. But hey, as far as I’m concerned, old Bumper Face is worth the extra scratch. Next up in this line is The Baroness, and I’m going to try to squeeze her in sometime in the next couple of weeks.

GI JOE: Major Bludd (Mercenary) by Sideshow Toys, Part 2

And I’m back to wrap up my look at Sideshow Toy’s amazing Major Bludd one-sixth scale figure. Yesterday we checked out the figure itself and today we’re going to take a look at some of his wonderful accessories. This guy comes with a lot of really cool stuff! To kick things off, you get a standard figure stand with a round disc base and the Cobra emblem.

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This is the exact same stand that came with the Crimson Guard and I really dig it. It looks nice and doesn’t take up a lot of space. A name plate would have been cool, but then again, I know who this guy is so it’s not really necessary. Sideshow is now selling new Cobra stands with a larger raised base that allows you to store accessories, which is a neat idea, but I prefer to stick with these.

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The backpack is a wonderfully detailed piece and as soon as I got it out of the tray I started trying to figure out how it attached. Was I missing straps? Did I have to take the armor off? What the hell, Sideshow? I tried to size it up next to the figure’s back when invisible forces suddenly grabbed it and the backpack attached itself. Magnets! Cool! It’s guided into place by four pegs and holds on securely. It has a realistic weathered finish and there are four clips on it to hold the extra rockets for his launcher.

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You get seven rockets in total and each one is a little celebration of destructive hardware. They are fully painted and the tiny fins are each hinged so that they can deploy. They are all interchangeable between the backpack slots and the launcher itself.

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The launcher is a two-handed dealer of death. There isn’t a lot of heft to it, but it looks great and you can load the remaining three rockets into the front slots. Bludd comes with a special hand for holding the primary grip with a finger that extends over the trigger and his artificial hand works well with the secondary grip. You can also switch it around if you want.

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Next up is the sub-machine gun. This beauty has a weathered green finish, a removable magazine, a secondary grip and a folding stock! The sculpted detail makes it a very convincing piece, even though I don’t recognize the design. You also get three additional magazines that fit into the pouches on Bludd’s left hip. Naturally, the exposed bullet in each magazine is painted. While Bludd can easily wield the sub-machine gun in his artificial hand, he also comes with a special left hand for gripping this weapon as well as his pistol.

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Yup, you get pistol too! When Bludd runs out of rockets and magazines, he ain’t done murdering you yet. Nope, he still has his trusty revolver at his right hip. This is a huge pistol with a silver finish. Yes, the cylinder can actually be flipped out, but it’s a really delicate action and the pin that secures it is prone to falling out. It can easily be put back together, so long as you don’t lose the pin. I’ll likely be keeping mine closed. The holster for the pistol actually comes separate in the tray and fits into the straps on his hip. I’m not sure why they didn’t just sew the holster right to the belt rig, as I think that would have looked a little better. Nonetheless, it works well enough and doesn’t come loose when you draw the pistol.

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What’s that? Bludd has used up all his rockets and bullets and he’s even thrown all his guns at you? Well, he still has his trusty boot knife to fall back on. This little hooked knife fits snugly into a little sheath sculpted into the side of his left boot. It’s amazing that Sideshow included this. It’s not a trademark item for Bludd and nobody would have missed it if it wasn’t in there. And yet, here it is.

Is there nothing I can say bad about this figure? Ok, one thing. There’s no real homage to the gun that came with the original vintage action figure. Major Bludd had a pretty distinctive weapon and I would have liked to see it in this package. Having it absent is like getting Cobra Commander without his familiar hair-dryer pistol or the Crimson Guard without his bayonetted assault rifle. It just seems like a curious omission and as such it is indeed the one gripe I can level against this release.

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With three of Sideshow’s Cobra figures on pre-order and only one in my collection prior to Bludd, I was still a little skittish about whether or not I wanted to dive into this pool. I’m already collecting enough so adding a new line always gives me pause. Major Bludd, however, certainly justifies the journey I’ve embarked on with these figures. He’s a fantastic effort on Sideshow’s part and clearly shows that they are continuing to push the envelope, improve, and at least try to approach Hot Toys in terms of quality and craftsmanship. On that point, it’s worth noting that the prices on these figures have shot up quite a bit. Crimson Guard was $140, Zartan was $160, and the new crop of figures are pushing $180. That’s only $10 less than my Hot Toys Thor or Black Widow at the time of release. It’s also worth noting that Sideshow has the limitation on this guy set to 1,000, which seems ridiculously low to me when Zartan was at 6,000. I’m still not sure if that’s the total number of figures produced or the limitation on the Exclusive. Nonetheless, if Baroness, Destro, and Cobra Commander turn out as good as this guy, I’m perfectly fine paying the price of admission.