Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Let's start this off with a confession: though I was a child during its heyday, I never really got into the G.I. Joe phenomenon. If you can believe it, it was once considered controversially intense, violent programming, and at only two years old, I was more interested in shows like Reading Rainbow and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood either way. By the time I developed hardier tastes, I was already a hardcore sci-fi fantasy enthusiast, and just wasn't reeled in by the military theme. It wasn't until I must have been ten or eleven years old when a friend brought over a VHS of the 1987 movie, and in stark contrast to many of the series fans - and even some of its own writers - I was only delighted by its plethora of bizarre, inhuman mutants.
The film, you see, reveals clear out of left field that good old Cobra Commander was secretly an agent of Cobra-La, a ridiculously named civilization of apparently reptile-descended humans who built an empire on living, organic technology before they were driven into hiding by the Ice Age and us filthy, mammalian savages conquered the globe with our disgusting steel and concrete creations. That's kind of what you get when your cars and houses need to eat food, honestly. It's left up to G.I. Joe, a conglomerate of laughable cultural stereotypes in flamboyant, thematic costumes who never have any idea what they're doing, to save the world from this ancient menace, and they're damn lucky that all parties involved are almost equally incompetent.
You all know who wins in the end, and that's too bad, because I'd have wholeheartedly supported the beautiful, ecologically friendly culture of Cobra-La taking back what was rightfully theirs. Seriously, look at that gorgeous architecture. I could be happy forever living in this thing, and their weapons, tools and vehicles are no less charming. Despite the fandom this franchise has had for over thirty years, there don't seem to be any extensive reviews of Cobra-La technology floating about the web, and Bogleech is clearly the site destined to step up to the plate. We're going to look at every single gooey doo-dad wielded by these under-appreciated villains, roughly in order of appearance, with lots of my own stupid, made-up names!
Our first glimpse of Cobra-La technology is this cute little periscope eyeball, which is soon revealed to be part of a much larger organism:
What we see of the organic submarine bears a pleasing resemblance to a gnarled, purple heap of intestines, with a gelatinous orange "cockpit." The whole thing just sort of cracks open and melts away to release its occupants, so it's hard to say whether this is even a reusable organism or not. We see it again later, but that could have just been a new one. I totally wouldn't put it past Cobra-La to make a living submarine that has to die after one trip. As you're about to see, they're exactly that crazy.
Haha, get it, like "moray" only...fourer. I'm getting bad at this already. Shit. The sexy mutant assassin Pythona uses these things to disable and chew through an electric fence, which is weird, because she's also shown to be capable of leaping unnaturally high and clawing through solid, steel walls with her corrosive fingernails. I guess she's just trying to show off; I'd use any excuse I could to feed a fence to a four-headed eel, too. That kind of opportunity only comes along so many times.
Pythona uses this little cutie to knock out some security guards with its toxic breath, then we just never see it again. Of all her little buddies, this is probably the one I'd choose to own; not just because it looks like a cross between a toad, a tick and a sea anemone, but knockout gas is one of those cartoon weapons that would have a million and one uses if it worked that easily and safely in the real world, especially for keeping a reliable sleeping schedule when you really need it. I can't imagine any significant, long term dangers of relying on an artificial mollusk to get a good night's rest.
I know, they're more like ribbons of sticky tape than tentacles, but it's all I got. Be glad I didn't try to force geoduck and duct tape together, or something. This neat little bivalve spews adhesive tendrils when squeezed, wrapping victims up in a kinky mummy cocoon. Whether it's derived from a mollusk, a plant seed or even a brachiopod would be hard to say.
This things almost look like fat, Cambrian-era crinoids, with an uncomfortably sphincter-like pink sucker between their four stumpy tentacles. Pythona just throws these things at faces, where they stick fast and seem to render victims unconscious or dead by unknown means. I like how she uses all these different creatures to do basically the exact same thing - disable people attacking her at close range - when really, the sleep-gas bug could have done the trick every time.
For that matter, Pythona's cloak is just a cloak we can plainly see is not lined with pockets or anything, and all she has underneath that is a thin, body-hugging layer of purple slime. Where exactly is she carrying all these worms and fish and mussels? Would we even like the answer? And for another matter, should I have given her fleshy bodysuit its own entry? Is that a living thing? Do the people of Cobrala just have big flatworms and slime molds for underwear???
Getting back on track, Pythona eventually makes it to the stronghold of Serpentor, a genetically engineered weirdo in a snake costume who, at some point in the series, took control of Cobra away from Cobra Commander. Pythona has infiltrated his base and killed a bunch of his guys, you see, to tell him all about his true heritage and their mission to steal an energy source from the Joes, which she displays in a clam that projects holograms, so there's literally only one name that ever could or ever should have and you're crazy if you disagree. I bet Holoclam occurred to every single person who wrote and drew it into the movie.
Seen for just a split second, these adorable little prickly trilobites are later tossed out of Pythona's cloak or mysterious crevices as she makes a getaway from G.I. Joe, and they proceed to blow up an entire truck when it drives over them. It's a little heartbreaking that these little guys are only bred to blow up, but maybe they're too dumb to care. Or they're actually really, really intelligent but they're also masochistic pyromaniacs with a contempt for humanity that far surpasses their enjoyment of living.
During a flashback to Cobra-La's thriving past, we see at least one monster vehicle we never see elsewhere; a "boat" of seemingly Arachnid leanings, with eight paddle-like legs and huge chelicerae! It has an interestingly artificial, angular look to it, but we know it's just a big, funny-looking bug like everything else. As the narrator describes how the ice age ruined their empire, we're shown a massive ice burg erupting out of nowhere to topple the poor bugboat. Hate those unexpected instantaneous ice ages.
We're soon introduced to Cobra-La's absurdly named leader, Golobulus, who seems to be just a bald guy with a giant flying ass until much later in the film, when he actually exits that giant, flying ass and reveals a snake-like lower body. This would more or less make the big blob some sort of living hover-chair, and not actually a permanent part of his body, which explains why it has its own cute insect eyes and what seems to be a dopey catfish-mouth. As far as fantastical mechanisms of flight are concerned, this is easily in my top three or four, up there with "turning into a whole swarm of flies" and "living inside a giant air-jellyfish." Speaking of which....
One of my favorites, this gigantic aerial drifter somewhat resembles a plump insect grub crossed with a Portuguese Man O' War, with the absolute cutest round eyeballs all the way at the end of its pudgy, maggoty body!
It's unlikely this creature can actually see, however, since those cute bubble eyes serve as twin cockpits for its Croba-lalian (I don't know what the hell we're supposed to call these people) crew, their fingers tugging at pink sinews to control the beast's movement. It even has a gaping, fish-like maw, from which it can emit an eerie bellow.
It's even cuter on the ground! Look how it sits on its silly tentacles!
Okay, it's just a hole lined with spines and might only barely qualify as a specific creature, but it's cool looking and I want to call it a Doornemone. You can't stop me. You already failed. Derigibloat's howling is seemingly the only thing that will signal this orifice to open.
When Serpentor arrives at last in his homeland, something called the "path of esteem" is deployed to greet him. It's literally a Hollywood-style red carpet made of darling little mites, an entire species presumably engineered for important people to walk on. We're in no place to judge, of course; if we could do the same exact thing, you know we would. Maybe someday, we will. I think I was born in the wrong millenium.
The Psychic Motivator
They name this in the movie, so it's out of my hands, or I'd have called it a psyder. What the hell kind of a name is "psychic motivator?" Are we really just naming things after what they literally are or literally do? Where's the love? Previously in Joe continuity, Serpentor was supposedly created by Cobra's token German mad scientist, Doctor Mindbender, but we learn in Cobra-La that this idea and the necessary bio-technical knowledge was really imparted to him by a psyd... I mean, "psychic motivator," right, whatever. You may as well call the thing that toasts bread something stupid like a "toaster" instead of what we all call it, a Breadator.
The Penal Clam
On the other hand, I really couldn't think of a portmanteau for this thing that I liked better than just "Penal Clam," which is also just exactly what it is. Having screwed up one too many times, Cobra Commander is put on trial and imprisoned the entire time in a giant, sticky scallop on a really phallic neck, complete with veiny testicle-like sacs. That's weird, Cobra-La. You're weird!
We get a lot of nice shots of Cobra Commander stuck in the clam's gooey interior that I'm sure woke up a lot of young viewers to some interesting new obsessions, which makes the dearth of penal clam fetish fan art both surprising and disappointing. Shouldn't someone out there have a whole creepy Deviantart gallery of characters from like 300 different series photoshopped into the same bad screenshot of the Penal Clam? I just like saying that. Penal Clam.
Tragically, Penal Clam gets scratched accidentally by Pythona's claws during a climactic final battle, and succumbs quickly to her acidic venom.
...to be........a jail.....
Wait, where were we? Oh yeah, there's actually even more stuff in this movie that isn't hentai bondage scallops, if you can believe they even bothered after that high point. "Fungazoid" is another of their own names, but this one is quite acceptable. These pretty green stalks form a dense forest outside Cobra-La's central fortress, and are in fact their ultimate weapon against the outside world!
Each Fungazoid houses a small, flower-like spore sac, to be propelled into orbit by an elaborate, rocket-like pod.
When "ripened" by an outside energy source - the stupid thing G.I. Joe built - the spores will, hypothetically, spread across the globe and "degenerate" all humans into "mindless beasts," which honestly seems like a really stupid plan. Wouldn't it be just as easy for the spores to simply kill people? And then you wouldn't have to struggle for survival on an entire planet of mindless beasts?
Cobra-La uses rhinoceros beetles as keys. Why wouldn't they? That's not stupid. That's precious. You're stupid.
Mutant Cobra Commander
As his ultimate punishment, Cobra Commander is used to demonstrate the effects of the mutagenic spores, rapidly transforming into an adorable, hissing and increasingly delirious man-cobra. He even has to team up with one of the Joes, the black guy who always talks in rhyme for some reason. Rhyming black guy gets blinded, and man-cobra can't walk on his sad malformed mutant legs, so they form a lovably unlikely duo with an even more surprising lack of dirty fan-art. You people don't ship it? You ship EVERYTHING. Come on.
A sort of "moat" surrounding Cobra-La's prisons is filled with neither boring, inanimate liquid nor boring, inanimate deadly spikes, but short, chitinous, waving growths with scissor-like pincers, exactly what I wish I could have instead of some stupid ugly lawn that dumb jerks can step on without dying.
These are either more mature crabgrass or just a larger variant species, which I'd call Lobstrees, but Golobulus calls Carno-trees. Meh. They use their tentacular vines to cocoon people trying to escape - or infiltrate - and bind victims tightly against their own trunks. The fetish fuel just keeps coming!
Cobra-La's aerial weapons of choice are vaguely bird-like, vaguely crustaceoid, probably piloted by their "humans" but also probably animals in their own right. They fire sticky, white globs with an unexpectedly comical, cartoon "spitting" sound effect. You know the kind, like little, high-pitched farts?
As soon as they hit, those white globs explode into giant, gooey spooge-tendrils, which would, in theory, gum up and ruin enemy vehicles, but we see this having an effect solely on helicopters. These tanks and trucks and crap just keep barreling right through it. Did we forget about things like the Trilobombs already? Cobra-La knows how to make explosives, corrosives and poisonous gases. Hell, they could have used some of those mutagenic spores as ammunition. The silly string monsters are neat and all, but it's increasingly understandable how this ancient empire failed to withstand even our spear-hurling ancestors.
The TIME WORM
Another name of theirs that I see no need to change, "TIME WORM" is such a cutely melodramatic name for what's essentially a really stupid clock. It looks like a weapon, but nope, it's a segmented stick that exists for a tiny, grumpy cartoon snake to climb up really slowly, measuring the amount of time left before the launch of the Fungazoids. Are all clocks in Cobra-La just time worms? Maybe they don't even have any other clocks. Maybe there's just that one time worm, the only thing in their entire empire designed for chronological measurement. What even happens when it gets to the end of the stick? Does somebody have to put it back at the bottom, or does it just turn back around and go the other way, back and forth? Back and forth, forever?!
THE TIME IS NOW QUARTER TO WORM. LUNCH WILL BE AT WORM O'WORM.
Also their name, but I can easily pretend they said Maw-rauders, 'cause like, they've got big giant mouths and stuff. These burrowing, spiny snake-worms are pretty huge, like Blue Whale Huge, with the prettiest glossy eyes! They make a really interesting, artificial sounding moan and help break in to Joe headquarters.
You know there's nothing else to call this. Once the Maw-rauders have torn open the G.I. Joe base, Crabat is deployed to carry away their dumb magic energy car. Crabat is such a pretty shade of pink, isn't it? That kind of pink that looks really tacky for living room drapes but nearly always tasteful on an aerborne decapod. You need the darker cephalothorax and yellow eyes to bring that out.
When the shit really starts to go down, Golobulus decrees "Organisms of Cobra-La, detach and defend to the death!" All around the city, pieces of architecture begin stirring to life, including some sort of big sphere with arm rests, or something, which splits into multiple creatures! The sphere lifts up on eight arachnoid limbs, revealing a set of eyes and jaws slung under the bottom, similar to a giant mite in their physiology. The "arm rests" then turn out to be a pair of truly unique, taxonomically ambigious monsters I'll do my best to try and describe for those who need text-based detail:
So these things have kind of fish-like rounded faces, with large, circular glassy eyes, and their mouths are at least two or three sets of long tusks overlapping like insect jaws. The little fish-bodies have four limbs each, resembling clawed humanoid arms with birdlike feet. These things have to drag themselves around, because behind the four-limbed body is a conical, segmented tail that may also be a sort of "shell" they can pull into, since the tail flares open much higher than the entire fishy body. It's kind of like a little reptile dragging a cornucopia behind it? Do people these days know what a cornucopia is anymore???
It doesn't sound fun to spend most of your life with your face pressed into a rocky wall, but this giant mantis-like arthropod doesn't seem to care all that much. Having little people walk on your back all day probably feels pretty nice, really.
Despite having a gun, Seargant Slaughter opts to just beat this poor thing in the face. Asshole.
That's right - the same film has not one, but two completely different giant insects as bridges! That's two more than the entire Harry Potter, Star Wars and Tolkien sagas offer combined. I think we know which cinematic work is the winner. This much larger looking bridge is really something more akin to a huge click beetle, and lies on its back until it flips around and clambers off, presumably into the fray of battle.
We only see these for a split second, getting kicked in the face by Slaughter. This guy really doesn't get the whole "bullet" concept, does he? These creatures appear to be more annelid than arthropod, almost like large polychaetes, considering their many feelers.
These huge, six-eyed spiders bear scorpion-like claws, and what appear to be blunt stingers on the end of their abdomens. They seem to serve as an elite force of guard beasts just inside Golobulus' lair.
I love these! They're just big, warty, mottled worms with blind, angry faces kind of like a whale and maybe kind of like a bulldog, slinking around with the aid of their sweet little wormy foot-tendrils. This guy, "Tunnel Rat," gets swallowed whole by one only to blast his way out and run off, laughing one of the most disturbing laughs I've ever heard. Who was supposed to be the "evil" side again?
We never see these neat, swarming grubs actually do anything, but when one of the big mouth-slug-worms crashes into them, there's an awful lot of fiery exploding involved. I can only surmise that, like the trilobombs, these little creatures contain something highly volatile.
Are you ready for the last one? We've come a long way, and there's still just a single creature left...
The Throwing Starfish
This is it. This is the last new biological weapon introduced before the film comes to a close. It's a starfish, thrown like a shuriken, which we've all seen before if you've watched half as many cartoons as I have.
So, what does this marvelous invention do once thrown?
We don't know.
The sea star is hurled with purpose and malice at Seargant Slaughter, sticks fast to the side of his gun, and that's basically it. It doesn't explode. It doesn't secrete any deadly, toxic vapor. It doesn't even block any of the gun's important parts, but Slaughter takes one look at it and just hurls the whole gun to the side.
I guess he didn't understand what his gun was really for anyway, and now, he doesn't even want it. Not with a damn, dirty starfish on it. No. Not after the last time.
G.I. Joe was a silly, silly cartoon, full of heroes, villains and situations so absurd that it's hard to believe even children ever accepted them with a completely straight face, but when it comes to character design and world building, the aesthetics and mythos of Cobra-La feel almost more suited to a Miyazaki film than an elaborate advertisement for toys and playsets. This corny nugget of 80's cartoon nostalgia leaves me wanting to see so much more of a fictional civilization that more dedicated fans apparently view as an over-the-top, shark-jumping foray into absurdity.
Cobra-La just speaks to me, in a way that the rest of this series never could. Cobra-La doesn't exist, but it still feels like a place where I belong, surrounded by people as incompetent and antisocial as I am who nonetheless appreciate a good bridge or two that's also a big bug for no practical reason.
As a spiritual citizen of the fictional Cobra-La, I can only appropriately end this with my made-up people's most hallowed of traditions.