Kiss of the Kobra (#SFWApro)

Kobra has been a Dr. Doom/Red Skull type super-villain in the DC universe for more than 30 years now. Reading one of his appearances from the 1990s prompted me to dig out the original series that introduced him (cover by Ernie Chan, rights with current holder)

kobra1The text page of the first issue explains that publisher Carmine Infantino asked Jack Kirby to come up with a Corsican Brothers idea (Siamese twins, separated at birth, but able to feel each other’s sensations). Steve Sherman remembers it differently: he came up with the idea for a book about supercriminal King Kobra and the brilliant detective hunting him, then Kirby suggested the Corsican Brother angle as a hook. So did Kirby simply grab Infantino’s suggestion and apply it to the book? Or is one of the versions wrong?

Both parties agree that Marty Pasko rewrote the script massively, de-aging the characters among other changes. In the story we finally got, Kobra (no longer “king”) attempts to murder Jason Burr, a college student, then discovers what hurts Burr hurts him. Burr learns from the cops that his supposedly dead conjoined twin was kidnapped, shortly after their separation, by a cobra cult “that makes opium dens look like Christian Science reading rooms” (yes, it’s heavy on Sinister Oriental Cult stereotypes). The rest of the first three issues deal with Kobra and Burr reluctantly working together against a scientist, Solaris, who’s stolen a device Kobra hopes will break the brothers’ link.

The story is fun — though Burr adapts to the action too quickly — and the brother’s relationship is good. Kobra’s personality is quite different from his later appearances, in that he has one: a snarky sneering sense of humor and a lot of ego (he brags to a henchman about financing an Atlantean archeological expedition). We learn he left the cobra cult as a teen, fell in love, but when his lover was killed, he turns the cult into a crime ring as a way to lash back at the world (he also has a past relationship with Jason’s girlfriend which was never really explained). Despite minor quibbles (what sort of self-respecting obra cult needs the CIA to weaponize snake venom for it?) it wasn’t bad.

After the first three stories, everything changed. I don’t know if it was sales, or if Pasko (who’s written that he hated the original concept and wrote with tongue in cheek) was trying to shift it to something he liked better. Or both. Or neither. But in the next arc, new characters came in to fight Kobra—Randu Singh, a supporting character in Kirby’s The Demon; and Johnny Double, a PI who’d bounced around in multiple DC books over the years. Jason spends most of the arc trapped on a plane (in a fairly pointless plot, as we know Kobra can’t kill him). Kobra is now the diabolically evil, serpent-hissing villain he’d be from then on, with a network of covert agents everywhere.

This phase wasn’t as effective. It’s fast-moving and fun, but rereading it I can’t but notice Kobra’s big on the idiot plot. Double gets involved because Kobra has provided every PI in San Francisco with a case to keep them occupied so they won’t stumble on his Big and Evil Plan. If not for that, Double would never have known anything was going on. It’s the kind of thing Scott Evil in the Austin Powers movies mocks villains for doing.

In any case it didn’t help as the book was cancelled, the final issue coming out in an anthology book instead. In it, Batman gets involved in helping Jason, but too late: Kobra’s severed the link and kills his brother. Which was a shocking moment, but I’m not sure it was a smart move: the brotherly connection was one thing that did make Kobra different from other Evil Geniuses. I’m sure I’d have enjoyed more issues, but I don’t know I’d have enjoyed them as much.

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