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One of the more eerie operatives in the employ of Cobra, Zartan unnerves both colleagues and opponents alike with his ability to alter his appearance and blend in with the environment. As a master of disguise, he has employed both practical and technological means of deceit, utilizing makeup and holographics. In addition to disguise, he is an expert in ventriloquism, a versatile linguist and escape artist. Zartan is a difficult man to capture and hold as he has shown to be proficient in several martial arts, some of which are believed to be derived from ninja. Cunning and intelligent, Zartan is the complete opposite of the band of biker miscreants he leads, the Dreadnoks who tend to rely on brute force.
A Real American Hero comics continuity
Marvel Comics continuity
Zartan was first introduced in issue #25 and was created by Larry Hama. Zartan can imitate anyone he wishes to an exact physical and vocal likeness. This is done through a mix of holograms, illusions and hypnosis. Zartan is also fluent in twenty languages and dialects, a ventriloquist, an expert martial artist, master archer and the leader of the biker gang known as the Dreadnoks.
His first encounter with Cobra was when the man who would become Cobra Commander hired him to kill Snake-Eyes on Firefly's recommendation. Zartan entered the Arashikage dojo as the student of the clan's swordsmith Onihashi. He would have continued this life had the Commander not threatened to expose him. Using one of Storm Shadow's arrows, Zartan accidentally killed Storm Shadow's uncle, who was impersonating Snake-Eyes at the time. This event destroyed the clan, and caused Storm Shadow to join Cobra in an attempt to find the real killer.
The exact details of how Zartan came to lead the Dreadnoks (at the time only Buzzer, Ripper and Torch) is unclear. Somewhere along the way, he became their leader and moved them from Australia to the Florida Everglades. Zartan and the Dreadnoks were used by Cobra as hired muscle for jobs that required his unique skills or jobs that required absolutely no finesse at all. However, his relationship with Cobra was on and off, sometimes by choice and other times by brainwashing.
He began to expand the Dreadnoks, first adding his sister Zarana (who served as his second-in-command), brother Zandar, and the Thunder Machine driver Thrasher. Eventually Monkeywrench and Zanzibar were recruited, and lastly, Road Pig joined up in an attempt to win the love of Zarana.
Zartan was featured in issue #48, where he had been brought into the Pit, the Joe's Headquarters, disguised as an injured Joe, Ripcord. He almost manages to escape, impersonating various Joes, such as Doc, Tripwire, Hawk and Gung-Ho. Zartan is confronted by Sgt. Slaughter while impersonating Gung-Ho, as the real Gung-Ho is standing next to him. Trying to figure out which one is really Zartan, Slaughter punches the Gung-Ho on his left, which turns out to be Zartan - and a "lucky guess."
Zartan is famous for delivering the killing blow to Serpentor during the Cobra Civil War by shooting the Cobra emperor with his longbow. After the war, Zartan eventually deserted Cobra and the Dreadnoks while his sister continued to work with Cobra Commander. He briefly aided the Joes and suggested to them that Dr. Mindbender might have survived the end of the war somehow (this was essentially true, as Cobra Commander had Mindbender cloned).
He went on to work with Destro and retook the Silent Castle. At this time, Mindbender revealed to Cobra Commander that he had previously implanted brain implants in both Destro and Zartan - the trigger was the Commander's unmasked face. Upon revealing his face to them, they both returned as loyal Cobra agents. It was also around this time when Zartan sported a new look, including an orange mohawk and black jacket.
Devil's Due Comics continuation
Zartan is one of the many characters whose origins have been expanded in recent years. Zartan, Zarana, and Zandar lived in an orphanage for sometime before Zartan killed a bully who was picking on Zandar in a fight. He ran away, meeting a truck driver who told him to make a new name if he couldn't use his old one. Sometime after he began working as an assassin and mercenary, using his disguise abilities. Zartan also worked for a government agency under the name Sanderson. He underwent a genetic experiment that infused him with chameleon DNA, giving him the ability to blend into his background.
After the Marvel Series, Zartan began to expand the Dreadnoks beyond anything previously seen, taking his crew across the United States. He started learning many fighting forms, such as Northern Praying Mantis, and close combat. It went from a simple gang of three to a national biker gang with a chapter in every major US city and several in Europe. It was also around this time his daughter Zanya found him. Zartan took her in. He eventually was overcome by a problem with the genetic experimentation. This problem eventually left him unable to go out into sunlight, causing him to lead the Dreadnoks through Zanya, who became his new second-in-command (much to the annoyance of Zarana, who left to lead the Chicago chapter).
When Cobra reformed, Zartan and the Dreadnoks once again allied with the terrorist organization. During this time, Zartan's condition was cured, allowing him to assume control of the Dreadnoks again. This alliance lasted until Cobra's defeat at the Monolith Base. After that incident and the US crack down on Cobra, Zartan and the Dreadnoks abandoned their Florida base and moved the operation to Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Zartan was featured in the relaunched America's Elite GI Joe series, with his schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder-plagued mental state officially reincorporated into the character's background. Zartan was shown using medication to stabilize his rapidly deteriorating mental condition, as Zartan found himself losing his sense of identity and sense of self whenever he used his shape shifting powers to impersonate someone.
Towards the end of the G.I. Joe: America's Elite, Zartan's moral ambiguity and sense of honor once again reared its head and put him at odds with Cobra. Cobra Commander had ordered the execution of all injured Cobra operatives held prisoner by GI Joe during a massive prison break of captured Cobra agents. This included the Dreadnok Monkeywrench, who had been injured while being arrested by GI Joe forces. The murder of one of his own caused Zartan to turn against Cobra Commander, who by this point had launched a massive global invasion of all of the major countries of the world. Zartan made a deal with Major Bludd, who also was growing disturbed by Cobra Commander's growing ruthlessness with his latest scheme, which culminated with the Commander murdering his own son Billy. In the end, Zartan helped MIA G.I. Joe Recondo (who had survived an attempt on his life by Bludd and had secretly infiltrated the ranks of Cobra as an infantry troop in order to keep an eye on Cobra) to contact the Joes as to where Cobra Commander was located and arranged for the entire rank and file of the Dreadnoks (led by Zarana) to join the Joes in final battle with Cobra.
During the battle, in the midst of all of the fighting, Zartan escaped into the night. However, before he left, he confronted Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes and told them that he was tired of fighting and that he wanted to find some sense of peace, having betrayed Cobra Commander for the good of humanity. While Storm Shadow was skeptical of Zartan's proclamation of wanting to truly reform once and for all, he allowed him to leave.
G.I. Joe vs. Transformers
Action Force (British) Comics continuity
Battle Action Force
Zartan first appears in Battle Action Force as a Cobra agent who spies Action Force's swamp camp. His chameleon powers allow him to be undetected in the swamps. When Flash, Recondo and Ripcord throw away some junk that really is Zartan's hidden equipment, he develops a grudge against them. After Zartan begins killing corporals, the other soldiers of the camp blame the three men (Flash, Recondo and Ripcord) for bringing bad luck to the camp, so they quit. Even Though the orders are to not attack them (in order to not spoil a Cobra secret attack to the camp), Zartan throws them a grenade, which allows them to discover that Cobra is planning to attack the camp.
Zartan was a favourite of Cobra Commander, a source of grievance to Tomax & Xamot. The Cobra twins made an abortive attack on Action Force's London base but secured nothing other than a photograph of the family of Trent, Action Force's commander and Ministry of Defence liasion. On a tube train they discussed making use of the photograph to boost their favour but were observed by another passenger who waited until they were gone to reveal himself as Zartan. However before Zartan could initiate his plans the Dreadnoks Buzzer, Ripper and Monkeywrench kidnapped Trent's daughter and blackmailed Trent into sending Action Force abroad then supplying them with secret documents. But Trent attacked them and was killed by Monekywrench, to Zartan's fury.
Blackthorne Comics continuity
Voice Actor: Zack Hoffman
Sunbow animated series
When Cobra Commander became a prisoner of the Joes, Zartan was quickly contracted to spring him out of prison. Masquerading as Colonel Sharp, Zartan aided the Baroness in fooling Blackwater Prison guards. As soon as he received his bounty, Destro made no attempt to conceal his contempt of mercenaries. Zartan does not mind and enjoys annoying Destro. Destro's arrogance and know-it-all attitude is something Zartan does not cherish either and sides with Cobra Commander in any decision to be made.
Zartan is given a valuable gem by Pythona of Cobra-La so that he and his Dreadnoks will aid them in freeing Serpentor. They accomplish their task, but Zartan himself is curiously absent from then on, and is not seen during the final battle at the film's climax.
|A Real American Hero (1984)
Zartan was released in the 1984 series of A Real American Hero toys. He was packaged with the Chameleon swamp skier toy. Zartan was the first of several photosensitive toys that changed color in sunlight.
Appearance: red-brown cowl; black face paint around eyes; bare torso; black shoulder armor, gloves, belt, and boots; red-brown pants
Accessories: black hinged backpack for mask; bearded mask disguise; black pistol with trigger guard and angled handle; clear chest panel and thigh pads with black frames.
|Ninja Force (1993)
Appearance: Orange mohawk; orange face paint around eyes; black closed sleeveless biker jacket and right glove; gloveless left hand; dark purple belt and boots; green pants
Accessories: Orange plastic tree with bow, long and short swords, sickle, pair of knives and stand.
|The Real American Hero Collection (2001)
Due to the original mold being lost, this version of Zartan features a body and accessories from S.A.W. Viper.
|G.I. Joe vs. Cobra (2002)
Like many of the G.I. Joe vs. Cobra action figures, Zartan is carded in a two-pack with his G.I. Joe rival, Agent Scarlett. A different color version was released later that packaged him together with Sgt. Stalker.
|Valor vs. Venom (2004)|
|A Real American Hero 25th Anniversary (2007)
The original Zartan action figure is revisited with a new technological twist not available during its original conception. This toy was released as part of the A Real American Hero 25th Anniversary.
- There are two versions of Zartan's 1984 filecard, which was modified when it was considered misleading due to the popular confusion between schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder.
- Some fans are confused by Zartan's hood, and think it's his hair.
- The "poisoned skin" of the toy and cartoon never featured in the comic.
- Zartan's name was created as an anagram of "Tarzan" - the name was given to Larry Hama, he did not create it himself.
- Hama has said about Zartan's supernatural disguise abilities:
|“||I always thought Zartan was a mutant but that he had a somewhat limited morphing ability that was enhanced mechanically and psychologically. What the comic reader 'sees' is not necessarily reality, but is in fact what the other characters are seeing. Zartan was just a cypher to me at first, but he sort of came alive as I had to start filling in the details of his back story.||”|
—The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe, page 118.