It is entirely possible to like a character concept but hate the execution of that design. No company hits the mark all of the time and for every triumph of creativity and form there must also be an example of a bankruptcy of ingenuity. There are just some designs that don’t work—no matter how solid or interesting the character’s back-story may be. One such example of this surfaced in 1990 in the form of a single Crimson Guard with delusions of becoming much more. Surfacing during a period when the most recent Cobra Commander figure had been released four years earlier (and that character is arguably NOT the original Commander according to the comic canon), this individual sought to re-unify Cobra from the chaotic miasma of disparate personalities into a more lethal and deadly whole. He sought a return to “traditional” Cobra values. Meet Overlord—a character who might be more than he appears.
In terms of design, Overlord is a bit of a colorful mess. Clad in colors more appropriate to a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Starlight Express” than to the battlefield, the Dictator driver is a figure that I had passed over for many years. His uniform is as baffling as his origins—gold pants (or possibly tights) with under black shorts with an orange belt cover his lower half. His torso sports a garish sleeveless orange shirt with gold braid and epaulets covering the shoulders. His massive arms are bare while black gloves cover his hands and black boots adorn his feet. The resulting ensemble is something that I’d expect to see at a performance of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey’s Flying Circus as opposed to the operation command of Cobra Island. The uniform is more “strong man” than “dynamic leader” and the gold pants are far too bizarre to be taken seriously. (That is, if they are indeed pants. I’m still wondering if these are supposed to be tights which would toss most of his credibility right out of the window.) At a time when GIJoe was moving radically away from traditional military colors and more into the realm of the Crayon 128 color box, Overlord fits right in. However, between his bizarre costume (I can’t call it a uniform) and his garish colors I just don’t understand what the designers were going for.
In terms of head sculpt, Overlord is the second Cobra character to wear a monocle. (Mindbender v1 was the “pioneer” of this fashion trend.) The design of the head is simple—an aging man with a receding hairline who sports a monocle in his right eye and a scarf to cover the lower half of his face. While precious little detail is visible of the character’s features, the set of the eyebrows tell a different story. There is a sinister and familiar set to the brows (more on this later) that convey a sense of cunning ruthlessness, which is in keeping with the description set out in his file card. Perhaps it’s the monocle but the face carries with it an air of devious intelligence. This is a man that in spite of his ridiculous outfit is not to be taken lightly. He is ruthless and cunning and he is biding his time according to his own agenda. Overlord came equipped with a golden helmet that left his face exposed and a puzzling pair of forearm blades that resemble nothing so much as bird claws. Literally, these could be recolored and given to Raptor to give the former accountant a much more lethal edge. The helmet itself is a nice piece of design work that offers a great deal of protection while still leaving the character’s face exposed. At a time when Hasbro seemed to have been moving away from the removable helmet it is a welcome accessory to a figure that is otherwise a bit silly.
So, I’ve hinted at the fact that there is more to Overlord than meets the eye. (No, he’s not a Transformer!) Let’s look at the release timeline of several figures that populated the ranks of Cobra. 1987 saw the release of the last Cobra Commander figure for some time in the form of the “Battle Armor” version. In the comic series, this armor was originally designed for Cobra Commander but was instead used by Fred VII (a Crimson Guardsman) to take his place and usurp his position in Cobra. The original Cobra Commander was reported to have been killed – at least in the comic book canon. 1988 saw Destro receiving a brand-new deco as the leader of his own private army, the Iron Grenadiers. 1989 gave us Darklon—a distant cousin of James Cullen and successful mercenary commander in his own right. Now, according to his file card, Overlord is described as “the only one with enough strength and charisma to reunite all of the sinister personalities with Cobra’s hierarchy to form a more dangerous, more vicious Cobra than ever before!” His file card goes on to state that he was conducting his rise to power through “back room deals and improprieties under a platform of reform.” In other words, Overlord was working the system to further his own ascension. Mark Bellomo’s comprehensive “Complete Guide to GIJoe 1982 – 1994” offers a further piece to the puzzle that is Overlord. Apparently, early drafts of Overlord’s file card listed file names for him—each one an anagram of the words “Cobra Commander”. I’ve always thought that the character sounded remarkably similar to the Commander in both his ambitions as well as his methods. When you consider the fact that he was released during a period in which there had not been a genuine Cobra Commander figure for several years and that one was released the very next year, it’s easy to see how the “most dangerous man alive” could have used the Overlord persona to re-insinuate himself back into the organization that he founded. He could use the anonymity to help ferret out those who were truly loyal to the organization from those who were only involved for personal gain. It’s a move worthy of the master manipulator and it’s a shame that this potential storyline was never explored in greater detail.
I’ll be blunt—if it weren’t for his appearances in the Devil’s Due comics, I’d most likely have never picked up an Overlord figure. His odd appearance, bizarre vehicle (to be covered in a later review), and garish colors would have left him rather low on my “figures to acquire” list. It took the writing of Brandon Jerwa and his new spin on the character to endear me enough to the character to warrant searching him out. Even after I had the figure in my possession I realized that I was more enamored with the character of Overlord than I was with the actual figure. Thankfully the 2006 Collector’s Convention set promises to deliver an Overlord that is more fitting of the character’s back story (either of them) than original version. Do I recommend this figure to Joe collectors? That’s a tough call; comic fans may want him simply because of his appearances in both the main RAH title and in “Master & Apprentice”. Conspiracy buffs might enjoy his potential toy line back story as a returning Cobra Commander. However, I honestly feel that the vast majority of Joe fans and collectors won’t really feel the need to acquire the Dictator Driver and so I can only really recommend him to those who are seeking a complete collection and fans of the aforementioned comics. Otherwise, he’s a great example of a good concept executed poorly.