1984 is just a huge year in Joe history. While '83 had given us the first different characters, it was 1984 that showed what the line was capable of doing. Every kid in America had to have a Storm Shadow figure. While a couple of other figures were near that level of popularity, only one really rivaled the white ninja for line supremacy: Zartan. No one knew what to make of this guy who could change color and kept a spare face in his backpack. One thing everyone I knew was sure of, though, was that Zartan was cool and everyone had to have one!
Recently, a popular toy magazine named Zartan as one of the greatest action figures of all time. With exposure like that, he hardly fits the normal criteria for a Forgotten Figure. However, the moniker of coolest Joe could easily apply to Zartan and, as such, he is worthy of any and all praise he can get. The figure itself is still very aesthetically pleasing. The hooded head with the black eye makeup and sunken, yellow eyes is still the stuff of which classic villains are made. I think it is the mysterious head that has enabled this figure to capture the imaginations of so many Joe, and just toy in general, fans. You know there is something very deep, dark, sinister, and maybe even disturbing about this guy. What sort of modern day wizard hangs around with outcast Aussie bikers?
Part of Zartan's mystique is that he was a major player in both the comic and the cartoon. He is one of the few characters in Joedom who really crosses the boundaries between 'toon and comic fans. Of course, that makes his popularity double that of the run of the mill characters who only flourished in one medium and not the other. I think, though, that the character differences between the 'toon and comic Zartans keep this guy from being overly exposed. Comic fans don't tend to like the fact that everyone was connected to the Ninja clan. Since Zartan was, some people don't hold him in very high regard. They feel that the character was ruined by tying him to the ninjas. However, the comic's portrayal of Zartan's background was, in my opinion, very well done. I think the Zartan origin issues are compelling reading and among the best story lines the comic ever took on.
Personally, I had forgotten about Zartan. When I was younger, he was a staple in my Cobra collection. He was one of the few big time Cobras who always allied himself with the Commander. For this reason, Zartan got big time use. In the past few years, though, I had just let Zartan go. I had moved on to younger, more dynamic Cobras and Zartan didn't really fit that bill. Now, though, I have recently rediscovered him. He know stands proud among my Cobra hierarchy. He is a figure that I lament not using more, but I plan on him getting much more use as time progresses. He is one of those figures that is so cool, he transcends a time period and is one of the best figures that was ever released in the line. Most collectors know this. Now, I hope to not forget it.
One of the Holy Grails most Joe collectors have on their pie in the sky list is a carded Zartan. In most of the world, Zartan was only available in the boxed set with the Chameleon. However, he was available in Japan on a regular card that showcased his spectacular card art that was only available in the U.S. on 1984 cardbacks and the 1984 toy catalog. This figure rarely appears for sale and the price generally climbs over $100 whenever one does come up. It's one of those pieces that, were I a millionaire with an unlimited toy budget, I would easily buy. Until that day comes, it is a very interesting piece that I watch, but never buy. In late 2001, Zartan also became available on a single card in India. While that card art is very similar to the original, it is actually exclusive to India. The Zartan mold, though, is now safely back in the hands of Hasbro where it has been used twice since 2004.
Zartan is the center of some controversy. Like Buzzer, Zartan's filecard was altered. Originally, the filecard had a line about Zartan being an "extreme paranoid schizophrenic". Apparently, some mental health groups took exception to this line. Zartan's filecard was then edited so the entire bottom paragraph with the offending remarks was removed. Unlike Buzzer, though, it is this corrected filecard that is the much more difficult to find version. In fact, I didn't believe it existed until about a year ago. While it is about as mundane a variation as you can get, I have a scan of the corrected card here.
Zartan is one of the most popular Joe figures ever released. He also comes with an easily lost pistol, chest and leg pads that can fall off and disappear, and a false face. Finding one mint and complete will cost you some bucks. The other problem is, what constitutes a complete Zartan? Need he have all his pads, gun, pack, face, swamp skier, cart, and tow hook, or is just any combination of the sum total acceptable? Personally, I think the Swamp skier overrated and just look to the gun, pads, pack, and face to make a complete figure. Still, though, those aren't cheap. This is a figure, though, whose worth is easily measured once he is in your collection. I've found Zartan to be a vital part of any Cobra army. He also blends perfectly with both old and new figures. Personally, I'd let Zartan fall by the wayside. Now, though, he is back in a place of prominence among my Cobras. If you've forgotten about this guy, I highly suggest dusting him off and reuniting him with his Cobra counterparts. He is just a figure that really must be used in any collection.
I don't need any Zartans, but could use some advice as to how to repair a couple that I do have. Any suggestions may be posted as an addendum to this profile (with full credit to the suggester, of course).