Back when Christmas was really about the amount and quality of loot a child managed to receive through a combination of good works, begging, and the occasional confidence job, there was one lost toy that never floats far from my mind: Cobra Commander.
But before we get there, I want to mention how the holiday season has changed. At some point, the quantity of the loot becomes meaningless. A truly thoughtful gift takes precedence and the ability to share food or a warm fire sate the soul a helluva lot better than a pile of plastic doodads.
No, really, I’m being 100% on the level here.
At some point, there came that Christmas when it stopped being about the take. Not being able to appreciate other qualities yet, the season became sort of hollow. Particularly Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Something had changed and I could not yet perceive what it was. I still entertained the relatives with whatever movie related jokes they could understand or talking Star Wars with some of the cousins, but I certainly felt an absence and it certainly wasn’t “brothership” (Which, later on, I will thoroughly define at long last).
But let’s the turn clock further to that year when the most important toys in the loot concerned America’s highly trained special mission force and Cobra, the ruthless terrorist organization bent on ruling the world. I am a child of the 80s. You best believe I was in the grip of the successful market ploy known as “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero”. It was a bold rethink of the 3 1/4″ action figure. There were more poseable than the Star Wars toys, their world was also more colorful. The vehicles, while fanciful, neighbored plausible war equipment. Also, their enemy matched their designs beat for beat and had an easily digestible form of evil as their backstory. It was all the perfect material for a kid to put on his Christmas wishlist. This particular year, no item rated more highly on a particular boy’s list than the master of evil himself, Cobra Commander.
Like Skeletor, Cobra Commander represented oppression in a way that could be packaged and sold to kids. On the cartoons, both characters wore blue, spoke with high-pitched voices, and bumbled so the heroes could show them what for. Despite being defanged, we all understood what would happen if either one could only get their act together. Unlike Skeletor, Cobra Commander had fashion sense.
So having Duke, Scarlet, Stalker, Gung Ho, Breaker, Snakes Eyes and assorted Cobra troopers in my Vans shoebox of action figures, it only seemed fitting that Cobra Commander, Major Blud, Destro, Zartan and a few others should join the party. While the other characters would be nice to have, the importance of Cobra Commander could not be discounted. He had the top spot on my list and I braved the mall Santa at Eagle Rock Plaza to make sure the bearded powers of Christmas understood that this was important.
Meanwhile, in a collector’s paradise not yet known to us kids, the dear Cobra Commander was a mail-away item, not yet available in stores for mothers to purchase for their precocious sons.
You may have guessed where this story goes. The other marquee Cobra agents appeared under the tree Christmas Day. I was even deemed worthy of the bitchin’ G.I. Joe base … but alas, my Cobra squad was leaderless. Orders would be relayed by Destro from an unseen Cobra Commander. To make maters worse, Zartan did not survive Christmas Day. In a child’s version of Rendition, he was made to suffer the sunlight a 100 Watt bulb could deliver directly to his skin. The results were not good intel on Cobra operations. Instead, I learned that plastic melts and toys can die in really horrifying ways.
Seriously, I reduced him to goo that pulled away in stringy belts as his carcass was carefully pulled from the lamp by my mother.
But on the plus side, I had the frickin’ G.I. Joe base. The Cobra agents I did have could try to seize control of it any old time. They might actually succeed with Cobra Commander missing. If fact, they may have done just that on several occasions. I had many years worth of fun and adventure with these and other toys that joined the never-ending battle. I think Zartan’s untimely demise taught me to respect my loot and love anything that survived the multiverse of conflicts that played out between Joes, Stormtroopers, and even Cylons.
Now, while I prattle on about the missing Cobra Commander, it should be noted that I never picked up the figure at all. He never became part of my assortment despite noting that he was the missing item from that Christmas list.
I guess, by the time I could get him with my own cash, he ceased to mean anything to me but a lingering absence associated with Christmas. Which brings us to Brothership.
That term began as a joke. It’s the end of any of the “Christmas Blows” movies. The two main characters, having been locked in a struggle to have the biggest christmas party/display/gift/luau learn that Christmas is really about the spirit of friendship and brotherhood.” Not unlike the artificiality of a sex predator on “Diff’rent Strokes”, the twin notions of “friendship and brotherhood” in these films ring false. Hence, “brothership”: the microwaved sentimentality of shows and films that tell you Christmas is not about the loot.
Let’s face it, for film and television, Christmas is absolutely about the size of the loot. They shouldn’t even try to make social redeeming statements in this regard because Christmas keeps everybody employed. It’s not their job to remind you about good food and a warm fire (actual or metaphorical). Their job is to tell us we need Cobra Commander to be complete.
And our job is to learn that it’s okay if we never, ever get the damned toy.