G.I. Joe: Retaliation - Zartan
When it rains it pours.
Zartan was infamous throughout the vintage years for having an incredibly cool and unique original version released in 1984, but then never having a suitable replacement throughout the following ten years of figure releases.
The wild 90's part of me loves the Ninja Force version as much as anyone else, but the articulation restrictions and neon green color pallet seemed hardly befitting the master of disguise.
Throughout the early part of the 2000's, things didn't look much better with his cobbled together SAW Viper version from 2001 and his strange techno-wizard in the Joe vs. Cobra era. Heck, even when the G.I. Joe Collectors Club tried to get in on the act, he ended up a bright orange Tiger Force General Hawk hybrid weirdo. Zartan seemed doomed. It was quite telling when Joe fans seemed to agree that the Sigma 6 version released in 2006 was the best suitable replacement, and at that time 99.8% of G.I. Joe fans hated Sigma 6.
However, in 2007 the tide started turning. We got introduced to Zartan in Wave 3 of the 25th Anniversary line, and I would argue it was quite possibly the best figure released in that first batch of multi and single pack figures. Sure, it was based on the Devil's Due version, but I had no issues with that whatsoever. Since then, we have gotten update after update for the Cobra master of disguise, and nearly all of them have been home runs. G.I. Joe: Resolute gave us a great one, though I have trouble identifying the few Rise of Cobra releases as true Zartan updates. We also got a great one with the Pursuit of Cobra, and now in G.I. Joe: Retaliation we have this one, which quite frankly, is a stellar update to this timeless, important character in the G.I. Joe mythology.
Are there articulation issues? Yeah, there are. Are there weird looking light pipe things on his head (s)? Yeah, that too. But in all honesty, even with those restrictions, this is one hell of a nice update to Zartan, taking some of the creepier elements and really building on them nicely. For the first time, I think, G.I. Joe: Resolute showed Zartan has a pretty weird, creepy, and almost supernatural creature, and I think the head sculpt and face for this figure matches that feel well.
The body itself is sleek and smooth, and I think would make for an awesome, nearly perfect Zartan update if not for the restricted articulation. He only has single joint knees and no ankles, both of which are downers and detract from what otherwise may have been a flawless upgrade.
The figure was clearly inspired by the G.I. Joe: Renegades version of the character with the removable cowl/armor almost an exact replica of what the character ended up wearing in the animated series with his "chameleon armor". Anyone who reads my site knows I've got a deep love for that series, any inspiration a toy wants to take from that is more than welcome in my eyes.
Also adding to this creepy factor are Zartan's hands...I'm not entirely sure what they did differently here, but his hands feel thin and spindly, yet still manage to be able to hold his weapons fine. The sculpting of the figure throughout is a very slender, and I love the intricate stitching detail of the bodysuit and the way it plays off of the thickly armored boots. Even with the reduced articulation this is a very cool, very menacing looking figure.
Like the G.I. Joe Trooper, Zartan seems to take the opposite approach when it comes to accessories, forgoing the spring-loaded or zipline stuff for the light piping and swappable heads. He comes with replacement heads for Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, and what looks like an original G.I. Joe, with the light piping intact on both Storm Shadow and Joe (but not on Snake Eyes for obvious reasons). The light piping itself doesn't work to perfection, but in the right light and the right circumstance it's a neat little twist to the figure.
Zartan also comes with a crossbow that he can hold on his back, a quiver of arrows (non-removable), a neat sword, and a pretty cool, if somewhat unrealistic, pistol. His armor has a little sleeve on the back to hold some of these accessories, though it's not totally clear exactly how that functions.
This is a fantastic update for Zartan, even with some articulation reductions. Very sleek, very menacing, very creepy, this figure as a unique personality, some great accessories, and has some roots in the G.I. Joe: Renegades universe. I'm finding it very hard to not give this figure five stars, but with the articulation troubles, I feel like it's not quite there. Could have been perfect, but it's still very good.
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