COUNTDOWN: 10 things to know about Skybound’s Duke and Cobra Commander #1

As Skybound continue to expand their new Energon Universe, several new titles have recently been added to your required reading roster, and that inevitably means one thing: G.I. Joe!

Well, kind of. With debut issues of both Duke and Cobra Commander now on release, fans may already be aware that neither the covert special ops team nor its classic rival outfit, Cobra, is quite a thing in-universe just yet. Instead, these series have already begun to plant the seeds for how both organisations will come into being and how it all ties in with the robots in disguise who also inhabit this shared universe.

So, with that in mind, here are 10 things to know about the new titles!

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for Duke & Cobra Commander #1, as well as Transformers #1-4!


#10: Both series serve as origin stories

Duke #1, art credit: Reilly / Bellaire

As indicated above, both series deliver origins for their titular characters as much as for G.I. Joe and Cobra into the bargain. When we first meet Duke, he is a decorated soldier in the United States army, who has passed up many promotion opportunities to remain in the field and help the people who need it most. So much about him is initially presented as your typical clear-cut short-back-and-sides good guy, but the story takes a quick and sharp turn in a different direction as it spins off from his encounter with Starscream during the events of Transformers #2. We learn he has become a shadow of his former self as he struggles to process just what he saw, quite evidently suffering from some major PTSD. His problems are compounded by his superior officers refusing to acknowledge what took place, resulting in his trauma manifesting in unruly, insubordinate behaviour. All of this leads a dishevelled Duke down a dark, conspiratorial path, which currently feels a world away from what we typically think of as typical territory for the character and promises to evolve in new and interesting ways as the wider story takes shape!

#9: We get to explore Cobra-La

Cobra Commander #1, art credit: Milana / Leoni

Likewise, in Cobra Commander, we’re taken right back to the beginning of the despot’s story, way before he is the leader of the terrorist organisation so typically depicted at the height of its power. Crucially, we get a sizeable flashback to Cobra-La, the ancient civilisation of snake-like beings the character hails from in various forms of G.I. Joe continuity. This sometimes-controversial element of Joe lore was first showcased in the 1987 animated movie, which established that Cobra Commander had been sent from their secret Himalayan base by Cobra-La’s leader, Golobulus, to undermine human society by founding Cobra. It has become the generally accepted origin for the character in the years since, despite many fans still being heavily divided on its rather bizarre nature in what some would prefer to be a more ‘grounded’ storyline. In any case, Cobra-La has popped up in previous Transformers crossovers, too, most notably in G.I. Joe vs. the Transformers, which established that Cobra-La had made an agreement with Unicron not to devour Earth for a further thousand years, after which they would inherit the planet following the Chaos Bringer’s destruction of humanity.

The new comic thrusts us right into Cobra-La society alongside little explanation or exposition for new readers who may be largely unfamiliar with this secret serpent society but still provides plenty of intrigue. Hopefully, we will revisit the setting as the series progresses!

#8: We see Cobra Commander’s injuries

Cobra Commander #1, art credit: Milana / Leoni

As part of his origins, we also see how Cobra Commander came to be hideously scarred in this universe, leading to him adopting the classic masked appearance so synonymous with the character throughout his many depictions over the years. In this continuity, he leads a team of scientists who are conducting research on secretive technology from the outside world (more on that in a moment) before a mob of Cobra-La traditionalists lead a riot in protest of the work being sacrilegious to their worship of the organic. Cobra Commander is gravely injured in the scuffle after one of his own team fails to properly detonate a grenade, and whilst he is subsequently healed using Cobra-La’s secretive snake-infused practices, his outward appearance is forever changed due to the injuries sustained. Now adopting his iconic silver helmet and speaking with his trademark lisp, he is sentenced to death by Golobulus after the leader reveals he knows Cobra Commander instigated the riots himself. However, he manages to talk his way out of the situation and is ultimately sent out to lead a special mission in the outside world in support of Cobra-La’s continued domination.

#7: These are very different takes on old characters

Duke #1, art credit: Reilly / Bellaire

Perhaps by the nature of these being origin stories for both characters, we see them in very different places to how they’re usually portrayed in G.I. Joe fiction. Where Duke is typically a rugged, reliable, level-headed commander in the Joe organisation (often shown as second-in-command), here he is in a much darker place, struggling with anger and paranoia following the events surrounding his introduction in this universe. That’s reflected not just in his demeanour but also in his appearance, as he’s sporting long hair and an unkempt beard, quite a world away from his classic guise. Similarly, Cobra Commander is introduced without the might and resources typically at his disposal, as he is forced to get his hands dirty in ways we don’t often see (by his own admission!). Still, he remains ruthless, cunning and conniving in unparalleled measure, demonstrating an inherent confidence and gift of the gab, which surely bodes well for him in setting up the heinous organisation we already know he will one day command. For readers unfamiliar with these characters, it’s a great way to have them introduced to this new continuity, bringing them in at the very beginning of their stories before they’re well established in the way we so commonly see them portrayed.

#6: Both stories directly tie in with Transformers

Duke #1, art credit: Reilly / Bellaire

It’s perhaps obvious to say at this point, but yes, both Duke and Cobra Commander have major tie-ins with Skybound’s Transformers series (arguably even more so than Void Rivals, so far!). The former depicts the future Joe’s sky-bound (eh? EH?) encounter with Starscream, during which his comrade is quite literally squished to death, portraying the unfortunate events from a very different perspective than the robots in disguise title. Here, we get to see just how imposing and harrowing the sight of a giant alien robot would be for Duke, and why it’s left such a horrific impression. It all leads Duke to a gathering of conspiracy theorists, where he meets Adele Burkhardt, who then informs him that various powers are seemingly using Energon to create deadly weapons of war. We even see a small photograph of what appears to be the Ark on her noticeboard as it becomes apparent that this world will cross over with the Autobots and Decepticons further as events unfold. Of course, that’s exemplified in Cobra Commander, but more on that in a moment…

#5: There are some notable time jumps

Duke #1, art credit: Reilly / Bellaire

It’s surprising that both series also feature major time jumps, making the exact span of continuity and how they slot in with titles like Transformers and Void Rivals a little murky. The most intriguing of these is a six-month leap during Duke following the battle with Starscream, putting the series well ahead of where the robots-in-disguise saga currently sits and giving us a glimpse into the status quo further down the road. It’s clear the Autobots and Decepticons have made their presence known to some by this point but remain largely under wraps despite appearing out in the open during their own adventure. However, it also appears the US government is officially insisting such alien beings don’t actually exist, which explains the conspiracy theorists Duke later encounters. Equally, Cobra Commander flashes back to the character’s time in Cobra-La, although it’s simply identified as ‘before’, giving us no real current indication of when either time period is taking place relative to other titles. One assumes the ‘present’ timeline somehow syncs up with the events of Transformers and Duke (despite the aforementioned six-month gap), but at this point, it’s anyone’s guess.

#4: Destro looks set to be a key player

Duke #1, art credit: Reilly / Bellaire

It’s little surprise to see various classic G.I. Joe names beyond the two title characters begin to make their introductions in both series, and it’s already clear that several of them will be major players before too long. Duke’s adventures in discovering the truth about Transformers lead him to investigate M.A.R.S. Industries, which established fans will already know as the underhanded weapons-manufacturing outfit led by the villainous Destro! Sure enough, the classic antagonist soon makes his debut in this universe, sitting in the shadows in a wonderfully stereotypical bad-guy lair complete with flames, a throne and torture weapons proudly displayed as wall hangings (as you do). In contrast to both Duke and Cobra Commander, Destro is already well-established within this universe, having used Energon deposits to build and enhance his empire. He’s also quite clearly a step or two ahead, as he eschews killing Duke directly for fear of drawing unwanted attention, instead arranging for a massacre of his conspiracy theorist associates and setting up our hero in the process. We’re clearly building towards Destro becoming a significant presence moving forward, but it will be intriguing to see how (and if) he eventually enters into a frosty alliance with Cobra Commander further down the road.

#3: We will be meeting more classic Joes very soon

Duke #1, art credit: Reilly / Bellaire

It clearly won’t be long before we see more members of the future Joe team being introduced in this universe, with several names already present or confirmed to be on the horizon. Most obvious amongst these is Hawk, the classic leader of the Joes, although here presented as a colonel in the US army and Duke’s frustrated commanding officer. Not even he believes our hero’s story about giant alien robots at this point, and Destro’s plot later leads him to take on bringing in the now fugitive Duke once he goes on the run come the first issue’s end. The final page confirms he plans to use classic characters Stalker and Rock ‘n’ Roll to hunt Duke down, which promises to be an intriguing set-up and a very different introduction for these names than we’re used to. Likewise, Mercer debuts here as an employee and henchman of Destro’s M.A.R.S. Industries, and whilst he’s not yet shown to have much in the way of good about him, even offering to kill Duke for what he’s seen of the shadowy organisation, longtime fans may likely be aware that he may yet end up switching sides at some point down the line. Time will tell how this all plays out on the way to G.I. Joe being properly established!

#2: The Dreadnoks are also soon to feature

Cobra Commander #1, art credit: Milana / Leoni

Just as Duke ends with the teased introduction of several classic Joe characters, Cobra Commander finishes on a nod towards the Dreadnoks. This rowdy group of mercenaries is a common foe of G.I. Joe. It is commonly affiliated with Cobra, which explains why Cobra Commander is seemingly looking for them at this point in the story. They’re led by Zartan, a master of disguise, and his family, including the thematically-named Zarana, Zandar and Zanya, along with many other colourful characters besides. This ruthless biker gang is likely bring some intrigue to the Energon Universe following their introduction, so it will be intriguing to see how the various storylines overlap.

#1: Megatron!

Cobra Commander #1, art credit: Milana / Leoni

OK, I kept you waiting, but yes, the big news here is that Megatron is properly introduced to the Energon Universe during the pages of Cobra Commander! This is a major reveal considering what a tease has been made of the Decepticon leader’s whereabouts, even after having sighted him stranded in ice at the end of Transformers #4. Here it is revealed that he is the secret technology Cobra Commander’s team of scientists have been working on in Cobra-La and that hacking into Megatron’s mind has revealed details of the Transformers’ homeworld and more besides, fueling the snake-inspired villain to use such technology and power to his own ends. It’s an incredible reveal that remains a big surprise in the story, even if the idea has roots in previous fiction of various kinds. Megatron has been affiliated with Cobra before (albeit in a more mutual fashion), most notably in the original Marvel comics, and the concept of his damaged body being used to retro-engineer human technology was previously seen in Transformers: Animated. As mentioned above, it’s not entirely clear in this case what the timeline of events is and how it ties into his presence in the main Transformers book. However, seeing as how that reveal had him seemingly offline but with one arm still present where here both limbs are missing, the best guess is the end of Transformers #4 is a flashback which takes place a good while before this, Cobra-La having since retrieved his downed form from the Himalayan wilderness. With him awakening during this story, we surely won’t have to wait long to see him properly emerge!

So that’s our list! Did you enjoy Duke and Cobra Commander?

TTFN

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About Sixo

Transformers collector from the UK, collecting vintage G1/G2, CR/RID, UT & Masterpiece/3P. Find me at twitter.com/SixoTF or on YouTube at youtube.com/SixoTF

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