Ask Chris #86: How The Cobra Commander Stole Christmas!
Here at ComicsAlliance, we value our readership and are always open to what the masses of Internet readers have to say. That's why every week, Senior Writer Chris Sims puts his comics culture knowledge to the test as he responds to your reader questions!
Q: What '80s or '90s cartoon do you think has the single best Christmas episode? -- @UncannyJay
A: Given the things I tend to write about in this column, it pretty much goes without saying that I absolutely love cartoon Christmas specials. I even wrote about a few of my favorites last year for ComicsAlliance, including the truly bizarre Christmas Comes to Pac-Land, in which a visit from Santa Claus makes it abundantly clear that Pac-Man's living nightmare of eating dots and being menaced by the vengeful spirits of the damned occurs on some kind of demi-plane that exists outside of the sight of God. That one has to be in my top three.
But beyond those three, there's definitely one Christmas episode in particular that I absolutely love: G.I. Joe's "Cobra Claws Are Coming To Town!"
And let's be honest with each other: Half of you just lost your bet that I was going to talk about "Christmas with the Joker."
To be honest, "Christmas With the Joker" was always a little disappointing for me. I mean, it's okay, but for Batman: The Animated Series, "okay" just doesn't match up to the high standard set by the rest of the series. There's a lot to like about it, including the Joker escaping from Arkham on a rocket-powered Christmas tree during a full-blown musical number of "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells," and then going on to put on a truly fantastic Christmas Sweater.
At the same time, it's really uneven. It definitely feels like the series hadn't quite hit its stride yet, and it was also one of those episodes -- like "Batman In My Basement" -- that was shown all the time when I was a kid. I watched it so much that it go to the point where I could only see the flaws. Mostly because the alternative was not watching Batman, and c'mon, we all know I'm not going to take that route.
Which isn't to say that "Cobra Claws" is flawless. I'll tell you right off the bat that it is nowhere even close to being the G.I. Joe Christmas episode that we all want to see. There's no Cobra Commander hijacking a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer in a plot to use Christmas magic for world domination, no Cold Slither reforming to sing "Do They Know It's Christmas (In Cobra-La)." You don't even get to see Destro dressed up like Santa Claus, and that's an oversight bordering on being an absolute crime.
What you do get, however, is a pretty sterling example of Cobra's commitment to conquering the world through the most convoluted terror plots of all time, brought to you by what pretty much amounts to an all-star roster of comic book writers. The story was written by legendary writer and former Marvel Editor-In-Chief Roy Thomas and Dann Thomas, with whom he cowrote dozens of comics over the years, and the script was from the equally legendary Spider-Man writer and Punisher co-creator Gerry Conway and Carla Conway.
And just like the best episodes of G.I. Joe, it doesn't even get through the first minute before it has completely abandoned any pretense of making sense. For one thing, it starts with a talking bird singing Christmas carols -- remember how G.I. Joe has a talking bird? -- and three Joes driving down a snowy road in a heavily armed dune buggy, collecting toys for underprivileged kids.
Here's the thing: You'd never know this from watching the show, but in the comics at least, G.I. Joe is supposed to be a secret organization. I mean, that's kind of the whole rationale behind everyone having a codename. The general public is not supposed to be aware that there's a branch of the military where dudes can just wear football jerseys, hang out with talking birds and try to kill circus twins with laser rifles, and yet they apparently have collection bins just sitting around with their official team logo on them.
Then again, maybe that's not as unrealistic as it seems. I've always suspected that Toys For Tots was actually a daring, highly trained special missions force that just did the whole charity thing on the side.
Oh well. It's not like there could be any sort of negative consequences of rolling around in your officially licensed combat go-kart, right? I mean, it's not like anyone could show up in a fighter jet and try to laser you to death.
Wait, did I say it wasn't like that? Because it's exactly like that. No sooner has the mention of doing something nice for a children's hospital passed through Dusty's lips than they are set upon by a Rattler fighter jet piloted by Wild Weasel -- which, incidentally, would be a weird name even if it wasn't for a pilot.
Of course, Wild Weasel's attack is just a distraction meant to lure the Joes to a specific spot so that Firefly can plant additional presents on the Joe's car. That done, Wild Weasel flies away, despite having the Joes dead to rights.
Now, I want to stop right here for a second so that we can think about how ridiculously complex this plan already is. The goal here is to plant some presents in the Joes' haul for charity. The way I see this, there are two ways to do this:
Option 1: Stage an attack on a heavily armed vehicle by a fighter jet on American soil, in hopes that the Joes will take the left fork in the road and not the right and take cover at a very specific spot, so that Firefly can emerge from a secret passage and plant toys on the car.
Option 2: Put the toys in the box before they pick it up.
Option 1 hinges on a lot of variables, most notably the hope that nobody in the A.W.E. Striker will bother to turn their head 45 degrees to see Firefly dumping toys into the box.
I realize that Firefly's wearing head-to-toe camouflage here, but unless he got that sh*t from Professor Dumbledore, I'm pretty sure there's a good chance they might spot him.
Option 2 hinges on anyone who works for Cobra being able to find a giant white box labeled "G.I. JOE."
Honestly, that's a bit of a wash.
The purpose of Cobra's latest byzantine plan becomes apparent once the Joes get back to Headquarters with the toys: Most of the team is away on Holiday Leave, which means that the Joes are currently short-handed and vulnerable to an assault, if the bad guys could somehow get past their HQ's automated defense system. Which is, of course, why they shrunk themselves down to action figure size and infiltrating the base in a Trojan Rocking Horse.
Because of course Cobra has a shrink ray.
And that's what's so great about Cobra: For most evil organizations, developing a damn shrink ray would be the goal. Just think of everything you could do with that thing! Undetectable bombs! Microssassins! You could strike fear into the heart of an entire world just by letting them know you had this thing. But for Cobra, "build a shrink ray" is step one in a plan to kill ten people.
I should probably note that they also have indestructable killer robots, but I think that's implied in the fact that they have a shrink ray. One just sort of goes along with the other.
What makes this plan even better is that it works. Once they're past the grid, the Cobras all unshrink and just run roughshod all over the good guys, before moving on to the next phase in their plan: Releasing a video where Zartan impersonates Duke and declares the Joes to be an enemy of the United States.
One more time: This is a plan that started with a shrink ray.
Fortunately, the Joes are able to concoct a plan of their own. Unfortunately for viewers, it involves Shipwreck having adult hugs with a side of beef.
He's able to free himself from being handcuffed on a meat hook (not a metaphor), and since Cobra Commander was dumb enough to taunt them by leaving the key in the same room with a red ribbon around it, the good guys are once again free to stop Cobra from destroying their good name.
And since Cobra's plan is to use GI Joe's equipment and vehicles to attack the nearby Keystone City (no relation), the solution is to take Cobra's equipment and vehicles and fight them off. Because apparently making it look like GI Joe went crazy and attacked civillians and was fought off by Cobra isn't exactly what the bad guys wanted to happen.
And yet, they pull it off, thanks largely to the fact that when they get in trouble, they're rescued by Polly, who has been zapped with the enlarging ray and thus has become a gigantic talking bird.
And, this makes Mutt, who felt left out because he didn't like Christmas as a child, feel better about everything. Because really, isn't the idea that we can only be saved from the forces of evil by a giant, terrifying monstrosity of science gone mad the true meaning of Christmas?
Well, no. That stuff ain't even close. Hell, I don't even know if those kids at the children's hospital ever even got the toys they were collecting, or if they had to be tossed in an incinerator in case a tiny Dr. Mindbender was hiding in it. In fact, I'd wager that this is the Christmas cartoon that actually lands even further away from any sort of Christmastime message than even Christmas Comes to Pac-Land.
On the other hand, it has Destro. And that's close enough for me.
That's all we have for this week, but if you've got a question you'd like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with [Ask Chris] in the subject line!