Back in 2014 (this is a repost from my own blog that year), as part of rereading my comics collection, I came across a Kobra story from the 1990s. On impulse, I dug out my copies of his short-lived Bronze Age series to see how it held up.
Steve Sherman (no relation), who coplotted the first Kobra story with Jack Kirby, told the Jack Kirby Collector that Kirby hated writing for DC’s 1st Issue Special because it didn’t allow for much plot or character development. One issue of Manhunter, one issue of the Dingbats of Danger Street, then on to the next thing. Sherman suggested they collaborate on an issue, which meant less work for Kirby and put the King’s imprimatur on whatever Sherman came up with.
Sherman’s idea was to build the story around a villain modeled on Vincent Price’s Dr. Phibes, mixing in the Hindu thuggee murder cult. As Sherman developed the concept, his villain became the mastermind “King” Kobra, pitted against a brilliant LAPD cop as his nemesis. He showed his outline to Kirby who liked the villain protagonist but said the story needed something more. Kirby suggested borrowing from Dumas’ The Corsican Brothers — conjoined twins, separated at birth but psychically linked. Sherman liked the suggestion and rewrote the leads accordingly.
The text page of Kobra #1, however, says publisher Carmine Infantino assigned Kirby to come up with a new take on the Corsican Brothers. Not that the two accounts conflict: Kirby could have accepted the assignment from Infantino and combined it with Sherman’s story.
And yes, it was #1 rather than a 1st Issue Special. According to Tom Brevoort, Infantino didn’t like the finished product and shelved it. Finally new DC editor Gerry Conway picked it up to give him another series to work on and Kobra launched in 1975. To Sherman and Kirby’s dismay, Conway had Martin Pasko rework the script and Pablo Marcos redo the art. The changes included de-aging both Kobra and his nemesis, who’s now college student Jason Burr.
The finished product has Kobra sending a robot to destroy Jason only to discover that what hurts Burr hurts him. Burr learns from the cops that his supposedly dead twin was kidnapped, shortly after their separation, by a cobra cult “that makes opium dens look like Christian Science reading rooms” (the Sinister Eastern Cult stereotypes are quite unsubtle). The next two issues have Kobra and Burr reluctantly working together against Solaris, a scientist who’s stolen a device Kobra believes can break his psychic link with Burr.
I enjoyed the first three issues, though Burr adapts to being an action hero way too quickly. And there’s a plot that involves the cult stealing weaponized snake venom from the CIA — seriously, what kind of self-respecting cobra cult needs government help to make poison?
It’s hard to imagine the post-series Kobra bragging about his archeological research.
We learn that Kobra left the cult as a teenager, fell in love, but his wealthy lover turned out to be a professional thief. After she was gunned down by the cops, Kobra returned to the cult and made it over into an international crime ring with which he could lash back at the world (he also had a past relationship with Jason’s girlfriend that was never explained).
With #4, though, things changed. I don’t know if it was sales, or that Pasko — who said later he hated the series and wrote it with tongue-in-cheek — was trying to remake Kobra into something he’d like better. Or both. Or neither. But the second arc largely sidelines Jason, with Randu Singh (yes, the guy from the Demon) and PI Johnny Double taking on most of the heroic action. Kobra now has a network of covert agents spanning the globe, and his personality is just “evil” (he’s also taken on the sibilant, hissing accent that he’s had ever since).
The story is fast-moving and fun, but it relies heavily on idiot plot. Kobra’s plan requires him to keep every PI in San Francisco occupied with a case so they won’t stumble onto his scheme by chance. It’s only because of this trick that Double is in a position to thwart Kobra’s plans. In any case, the soft reboot didn’t help, as Kobra died with #7. The eighth issue came out in an anthology book, wherein despite Batman’s intervention Kobra successfully severs his psi-link with Jason, then kills him. Presumably that was Pasko’s solution to getting rid of everything he didn’t like about the series.
While it was a startling twist, I don’t think it was a smart twist. The brotherly connection made Kobra different from the rest of comics’ evil geniuses; I’d probably have enjoyed subsequent issues, if they’d happened, but I don’t know I’d have enjoyed them as much. Then again, eliminating Jason did make it easier for Kobra to become a free-floating villain, fighting everyone from Wonder Woman to the Outsiders over the years ahead (a later story resurrected Jason to make him the real Chosen One of the cult, but it was so pointless it ain’t worth discussing here)>
#SFWApro. Art by Kirby, cover of #1 by Ernie Chan.