|This article is about the shapeshifting clone. For the assassin that he was cloned from, see Emil Zartan. For a list of other meanings, see Zartan (disambiguation).|
When Emil Zartan, Cobra's living weapon, was killed by a teleporter accident, his story did not end. On the orders of Cobra Commander, the organization's scientists were able to create a clone of the assassin: a new Zartan, capable of changing his face and skin-tone to match any man on the planet.
Able to infiltrate any facility with ease and steal or kill completely undetected, Zartan — who sees himself as his predecessor, reborn and perfected — is one of Cobra's greatest assets. His unique abilities and belief in his own perfection, however, have given him an egotistical streak and a petulant, narcissistic sense of entitlement. Because of this, his behavior tries his commanders' patience to the point that he may have outlived his usefulness...
Rebirth of an assassin
When Cobra assassin Emil Zartan was killed by the faulty M.A.S.S. device teleporter, Cobra Commander was left angered at the loss of a useful asset, and made plans to salvage something from the situation; using genetic data retrieved from the M.A.S.S. Relay Star satellite by Dr. Mindbender, the Commander had Cobra geneticist Dr. Taggac create a clone of the assassin by copying the genome into a plasmid serum and injecting it to a genetic blank body. The sequence, however, was corrupted; though the clone took on the appearance of Zartan, its skin was unstable and it suffered from cancers, kidney failure and endocrine malfunctions. The clone immediately began lashing out at the Cobra scientists until it was tazed and sedated, but though most of the scientists had no faith in the clone's viability, Taggac saw it as something with great potential.
Over the following months, Taggac taught "Zartan" mathematics, English, and general knowledge about the world within a Cobra laboratory, as well as how to use his unique abilities: changing his facial features and skintone to match others. With Zartan's incredible IQ and physical capabilities, Taggac suggested to the Commander that he could be an emotionless assassin for Cobra, and that the process of his creation was potentially replicable.
Zartan soon asked to be allowed to leave the laboratory, seeing himself as in no danger from a human populace that media had taught him consisted of selfish, cowardly sheep. Taggac refused to allow him to do so as he had no practical experience with society, but when he was next brought a meal in his cell, Zartan disguised himself as his server and escaped to the city above. Though Cobra forces were able to track Zartan via his subcutaneous transponder implant, he was able to reach the city's subway by disguising himself as a celebrity from the cover of a magazine before fighting off the Cobra troops to escape. In the station, Zartan was attacked by Cobra technician Bryson, but Zartan was able to throw the other man in front of an express train before tearing out the transponder with his teeth and dropping it into Bryson's remains, making the Cobra soldiers think that it was Zartan that had died.
Disguised as Bryson, Zartan returned to the laboratory, where he confronted Dr. Taggac. Explaining that he wanted to know the original Emil Zartan — whom he believed himself to be an improved version of — better, Zartan had Taggac put him through to Cobra Commander. Arguing that he was now indispensable as an asset thanks to his talents in assassination and shapeshifting abilities, Zartan laid out three conditions for his serving Cobra to the Commander: his freedom, his own unit within Cobra... and being allowed to keep his secret solely between himself and the Commander. Cobra Commander found the terms acceptable, and allowed Zartan to kill Taggac, noting that he alone had nothing to fear from Zartan, as the assassin did not know his face.
His freedom secured, Zartan returned to his predecessor's hometown and the "Zartan" film poster that he had taken his name from, where he was recognised by one of the police officers that had confronted Emil Zartan over his thieving as a child. Zartan struck his fingers into the officer's throat before tearing the poster from the wall and leaving the officer to choke on his own blood.
Krake's secret weapon
After killing Oda Satori on the orders of Krake, Zartan began impersonating him as the head of the Satori Yakuza clan. In order to persuade American soldier Thomas Stall, Zartan impersonated him to filming footage of "Stall" dropping his weapon and fleeing from his wounded allies, which Cobra's Interrogator used to blackmail the soldier.
Following the death of Cobra Commander, "Satori" and Krake were both candidates selected by the Cobra Council to become Cobra's new leader. On Krake's orders, Zartan had himself and Storm Shadow infiltrate G.I. Joe's headquarters, the Pit, to progress "Satori" in the contest. To do so, Zartan impersonated the Joes' commanding officer, General Hawk, to gain access to the Pit and deactivate the facility's perimeter security, letting Storm Shadow in. In succession, Zartan disguised himself as Joes Shareware, Spuds and Dusty, making his way to the Pit's motor pool, where he stole a suit of military powered armor, and used it to break into the cell of a captive Viper, who Zartan killed to prevent him from giving up additional intelligence to the Joes. Though the Joes were able to take down the armor, Zartan was blasé about being captured, as Storm Shadow had already entered the base.
When the Joes were alerted to the sabotage of the Pit's nuclear reactor, Zartan was escorted to the surface by Lawhound and Screw while the rest of the team escaped, but was soon rescued by Storm Shadow, who killed the shapeshifter's escorts. Disguising himself as Lawhound and Storm Shadow as Screw's body, Zartan fooled Flint's G.I. Joe team into thinking that the Cobra agents were heading up the Pit's vent shaft; once they left, Zartan and Storm Shadow hijacked the Pit's Jumpshot evacuation rocket to escape.
Following the Jumpshot's landing, Zartan and Storm Shadow were extracted in a Mamba helicopter, but their transport was targeted by missiles from an Air Force jet; though the helicopter was destroyed, Zartan and Storm Shadow were ejected in their pods at the last moment, causing G.I. Joe to believe them dead. Afterwards, Zartan impersonated Satori once more to convince Storm Shadow not to resent Zartan's position within his organisation.
Hedging his bets, Zartan met with the Baroness in Paris, whom his "previous self" had had a working relationship with. Though the Baroness had no time for his antics, he provided her with information on a G.I. Joe facility in exchange for a preferential place within Cobra if she becomes its commander.
Of the candidates to become the new Cobra Commander, the three who reached the Council's final consideration were Krake, Major Bludd, and "Oda Satori". In the end, the Council selected Bludd, who immediately launched into a grandiose speech — until Satori laughed in his face, revealing his true identity as Zartan. Though the offended and enraged Bludd began to choke Zartan with his bare hands, Krake intervened, revealing himself to have been behind the replacement of Satori and responsible for the destruction of the Pit. In recognition of these facts, the Council changed their decision and appointed Krake as the new Cobra Commander instead.
The face of Cobra
During Cobra's invasion of the country of Nanzhao, Storm Shadow met with the new Cobra Commander to request permission to kill Zartan in revenge for the death of Oda Satori, but the Cobra leader denied him, still having use for the assassin.
In the aftermath of the invasion, Zartan trained in boxing in Khamiristan, taking sadistic pleasure in beating his sparring partner to death. There, he was met by the new Cobra Commander, who instructed him to be the new face of Cobra in their diplomatic negotiations now that they had come into the public eye. His first act in this role was to give a press release detailing Cobra's "philanthropic" actions, as well as revealing the existence of the black ops unit G.I. Joe, which Cobra branded illegal and dangerous.
Working with Cobra hacker Error 404, Zartan continued to wage a propaganda war against the Joes. Travelling to Shanghai, Zartan met with representatives of the People's Republic of China to reassure them that Cobra would leave China's connections with Rangoon untouched, before boarding a luxury train to Beijing. On the train, Zartan came under attack from G.I. Joe ninja Snake Eyes, who, unbeknownst to Zartan, was now acting on the orders of Storm Shadow and the Arashikage. Zartan's shapeshifting allowed him to fool the ninja long enough to detach the rear carriages of the train that held Snake Eyes, letting him escape to Beijing.
An angry Zartan called Cobra Commander from his Beijing penthouse to demand additional protection, noting that he was responsible for placing the Commander in his position of power as a veiled threat. Cobra Commander promised the assassin more guards, but after hanging up, he griped to his aide Savane that he was sick of Zartan's entitlement and threats, indicating that he would prefer that the shapeshifter be eliminated. Zartan traveled with his new guards to Tokyo, but was met at the Tokyo Imperial Hotel by Savane, who shot him before leaving... but the man she shot was not Zartan, but another man wearing a mask in his likeness.
The real Zartan, acting as one of his guards, took the face of Cobra employee Kenji before ordering a Cobra chauffeur to take him to Haneda Airport, just as Snake Eyes arrived to attempt to assassinate him again. Zartan was pursued by the ninja to the airport, where he was able to reach his private jet and get it in the air moments before Snake Eyes arrived; the ninja, however, was able to climb onto the plane through its undercarriage. Under fire from Zartan's guards, he was forced to bail out into the Tokyo bay below, but not without leaving a time bomb behind.
Convinced that he was safe, Zartan began plotting to take revenge on Cobra Commander for Savane's attempted assassination and take command of Cobra for himself; but the bomb detonated while his plane was over Queensland, Australia, sending it crashing down in the Outback. Despite the crash, Zartan survived, though he collapsed from his injuries and the heat after staggering out of the wreckage.
Gang down under
Zartan was soon found by a trio of outlaw bikers: Buzzer, Ripper and Torch, who decided that it could be profitable to take him with them. Zartan, however, came to appoint himself as the leader of the bikers' gang of "Dreadnoks"; by the time that G.I. Joe encountered them, the Dreadnoks included members such as the London-born twins Zandar and Zarana, the teenage mechanic Thrasher, and a woman named Heartwrencher who Zartan took as a lover.
After the Relay Star satellite that held Emil Zartan's biological data was knocked out of orbit by the People's Liberation Army, it came down in the Tanami Desert, where it was found by a scavenger named Digger. Before he could do anything with it, Digger and the satellite were found by a group of Dreadnoks including Thrasher, who alerted Zartan thanks to his interest in M.A.R.S. industries technology; the Dreadnok leader ordered it be brought back to their camp. After throwing Digger to his death at the jaws of the camp's crocodile Salty in lieu of paying him for his prize, Zartan had Thrasher disassemble the satellite and retrieve the core containing the data. Moments later, they were alerted by the other Dreadnoks, who had a new prize: the G.I. Joe members Beachhead, Hard Drive and Tripwire. The next morning, during Zartan's monologue to Thrasher and Heartwrencher about his origins, he was interrupted by the Dreadnoks, who wanted to know what to do with the Joes; Zartan, however, had no interest in the soldiers, and allowed the Dreadnoks to try and feed them to Salty.
Later, Zartan mused on the "endless possibilities" of the core for creating more of himself, but was frustrated by Heartwrencher's short-sighted flippancy over it, striking her across the face and knocking her down. Tired of the desert and the Dreadnoks, Zartan recruited Thrasher to go with him to the Cobra laboratory in Europe, where he was born; on their way to retrive a vehicle to leave on, both spotted another Joe watching from above, but Zartan believed that additional American soldiers would provide appropriate cover for the Dreadnoks' departure. While Zartan and Thrasher refueled Ripper's motorcycle, intending to escape on it, Heartwrencher came searching for Zartan, attacking him with a knife in retribution for hitting her; however, Zartan shifted his face into a monstrous, corpse-like visage, causing Heartwrencher to scream in terror and alert the other Dreadnoks to the infiltrating Roadblock and Spirit.
Zartan and Thrasher escaped on the stolen motorcycle, but were swiftly thrown off by a precision shot from Roadblock. Though Zartan re-mounted the bike, and Thrasher pushed it out of the mud that it got stuck in, Zartan abandoned the boy and escaped on his own. When the G.I. Joe team pursued Zartan in stolen vehicles to try and retrieve the satellite core, he held them off with a shotgun, blowing the front tire of Beachhead and Hard Drive's motorcycle; with the Joes busy fending off the majority of the Dreadnoks, Ripper and Torch caught up with their treacherous leader; after knocking Ripper off his bike with a grenade, Zartan went over a ledge and into a ditch, where Torch seemingly burned him to death. Zartan, however, was still alive, having shapeshifted to appear badly burned, and left once the Dreadnoks returned to the fight between the Joes and their allies.
Making his way to Brussels alone, Zartan kidnapped Belgium's best geneticist to help him create his "Nation of Zartan". However, when he broke into the Cobra laboratories, he found them empty, the blank clones he wished to use to create his army all missing.
Years after his leaving the Dreadnoks and the collapse of Cobra, Mobile Armored Strike Kommand. Posing as an old friend of M.A.S.K. agent Brad Turner, Zartan lured Brad into a loading zone opposite a Miami nightclub where the team was relaxing. Knocking the former DEA agent out and having his henchmen lock him up, Zartan took on Brad's appearance and took his place within the M.A.S.K. team.Zartan took an interest in the newly-established
Posing as Brad, Zartan was deployed alongside G.I. Joe members Tunnel Rat and Stalker to retrieve a portion of the remains of the Decepticon Astrotrain from the Congo Basin, and carried Tunnel Rat down to the surface from the Joes' Tomahawk aboard the flying Condor motorcycle. Though he detected the Cybertronian's remains in a cave below the ground, the two were pursued by Vanessa Warfield in the Manta; Zartan, however, managed to make her crash by projecting holograms of elephants with Turner's "Eclipse" Mask. When "Brad" reached the target — Astrotrain's arm — he was attacked by Bruno Sheppard; Tunnel Rat, however, shot the V.E.N.O.M. agent and allowed the two to retrieve their target.
After being informed by one of Brad's connections, Rodrigo Gutierrez, that a stash of Ore-13 was being sold in Ferren Woods, Kentucky, Zartan and the other M.A.S.K. members visited the town to investigate. Though it turned out to be a dead end, on returning to their vehicles the team found that they had been mysteriously disabled; "Brad" noted that the situation was "exactly how most horror movies start".
- Background details in "The Origin of Zartan" clearly mark the city that Zartan was created in as the Spanish city of Vigo, hometown of artist Alex Cal, but "Operation Deadfall" places the laboratory in Brussels, Belgium. Adding to the confusion, the city that Zartan escaped to had a subway system, which Brussels has in real life but Vigo doesn't.