Zartan's background is a mystery but many security experts believe that he must have had training at a European military academy. Others believe that Zartan's true birthplace is in Nice, France, however it is shown in modern times that he is Australian of origin. He is the brother of Zandar and Zarana. He is a master of disguise and ventriloquism. It’s believed that he can speak at least 20 if you count various dialects. When Zartan takes the guise of another person he immerses himself in the role, not only looking and sounding like whoever he chooses but also being able to pass close scrutiny. He is an acrobatic-contortionist and has studied several forms of martial arts. He is also a skilled marksman and is very efficient and deadly with a bow.
Zartan was created for the G.I. Joe Toy line, and eventually comic book that was published by Marvel Comics. When Zartan was first released, Hasbro originally decided to name him The Chameleon. An ever shape-shifting reptile that could mimic and copy the looks and sounds of others. However, through careful thinking and through the process of elimination, Hasbro decided to make Zartan an advanced human with the abilities to shape-shift. Zartan was created by G.I. Joe writer Larry Hama and first appeared in G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero #25 in mid 1984.
The mysterious man known as Zartan is considered as deadly, if not deadlier than Storm Shadow or Snake-Eyes. Besides being a highly accomplished martial artist, he is almost unequaled as an archer and is unsurpassed as a master of disguise. He uses a form of holography and hypnotism to change his appearance. He is also a ventriloquist, and can throw his voice in over 20 languages and dialects.
Zartan's earliest origins are unknown. Some believe he received his military training in Europe, possibly St. Cyr. At some point early in his career, he was approached in a bar by the man who would become Cobra Commander. The man offered Zartan a large sum of money for the use of his deadly skills to kill the young Snake-Eyes, the surviving member of a family who had perished in a head-on car collision with Cobra Commander's brother, who also perished. Cobra Commander blamed Snake-Eyes for the death of his brother, even though Snake-Eyes had nothing to do with it. Zartan infiltrated the ninja clan that had taken Snake-Eyes in, by becoming the apprentice of the Sword Master Onihashi. However his teacher purified him, and Zartan no longer felt he had anything to prove by killing Snake-Eyes. He had finally found satisfaction in life under his teacher. However, Cobra Commander threatened to reveal Zartan's true motives to his teacher, and thus was forced to go through with the hit.
Having access to the Arashikage household due to his position, Zartan stole one of Storm Shadow's arrows, under the guidance of the Faceless Master (Firefly). Using a sound amplifier, Zartan honed in on Snake-Eyes' breathing so he could kill him from behind the screen in the room he was practicing. He mistakenly killed the Hard Master, the clans leader, who was demonstrating to Snake-Eyes the technique "The Cloak of the Chameleon". Zartan fled and escaped, whilst the clan believed it was a jealous Storm Shadow. Onihashi could not be fooled when Zartan returned. His shame was so great over the atrocity perpetrated by his student that he committed suicide. The tragic incident took all that Zartan had wanted from him, and the guilt over his master's death drove him over the edge. He took up with a rotten band of miscreants known as the Dreadnoks, and became their leader. They set up in the Florida Everglades, frequently working for Cobra Commander as thieves and mercenaries for hire. Storm Shadow, soon joined Cobra, hoping to learn the identity of the Hard Master's murderer and to clear his name.
Cobra Commander came to Zartan whilst being sought after by the Joes: Mutt & Junkyard, Tripwire and Torpedo. After a skirmish in the swamp, the security of Zartan's hidden shack was compromised, forcing him and the Dreadnoks to abandon it. In retaliation, Zartan sought out the Joes' secret base. He and the Dreadnoks discovered the Joes' aircraft at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, destroying much of it. Storm Shadow later left Cobra, and deduced that Zartan was his uncle's murderer, and swore vengeance.
When the Joe Rip-Cord parachuted onto Cobra Island, he was confronted and subdued by Zartan. Zartan switched outfits with the unconscious Joe, and when the Joes arrived to extract Rip-Cord, they picked up the disguised Zartan by mistake. Inadvertently, the Joes brought Zartan right into their secret headquarters, The Pit. Once inside, Zartan attempted to escape, and after a long chase and battle with Gung-Ho, Sgt. Slaughter finally managed to subdue him. However Zartan was rescued soon after by his younger siblings, Zarana and Zandar. Some time after his return to Cobra Island, Zartan and the Dreadnoks sided with the Cobra Commander imposter, Fred VII, and the Baroness, against Serpentor and Dr. Mindbender in the Cobra Civil War. Mindbender cut a deal with the U.S. government, and the Joes were ordered to assist Sepentor's forces in the conflict. They were on the verge of victory, partially due to Fred VII's inept leadership, when Zartan shot and killed Serpentor. Seeing his commander die before his eyes, Mindbender buckled and cut a deal with Fred VII, ending the war.
Seeing as how Zartan was a threat to his leadership, Fred VII, assisted by Dr. Mindbender, planned to do him in. Before they could strike, they were ambushed by the Red Ninjas: renegade members of the Arashikage. The ninja clan had teamed up with Zartan in an effort to kill Storm Shadow for the trouble he had brought to their clan by bringing an outsider in: Snake-Eyes. Zartan planned to kill Storm Shadow, before Storm Shadow could kill him and reveal his plans to Fred VII. He set up an uneasy alliance with Fred once again. Zartan and the Red Ninjas attacked Storm Shadow's ninja school, but were unsuccessful in killing Storm Shadow. In a dramatic car chase through San Francisco, the chase ended when Zartan's vehicle was forced off the Golden Gate bridge and into the waters below.
Zartan escaped a watery grave and continued his criminal activities. However, he was soon confronted by the Blind Master, a veteran who had been befriended and taken in by the Hard Master many years ago. Although Storm Shadow had forsworn seeking vengeance, the Blind Master had not. The Blind Master fought and overcame Zartan, and was prepared to kill him. Just at that moment, his student, Tyrone, showed up and stopped him. As the student left in tears at the sight of his teacher about to commit cold blooded murder, the Blind Master realized his mistake and turned to go after his student and apologize. Zartan took advantage of the distraction and delivered a deathblow to the Blind Master. With his dying breath, the Blind Master revealed that Onihashi had forgiven Zartan, with his dying breath. This shocked Zartan so much, that he assumed the guise of the Blind Master and renounced his evil ways. Teaming up with Billy, the original Cobra Commander's son and Storm Shadow's ninja pupil, Zartan confronted Fred VII on Cobra Island. As Zartan and Billy attempted to expose him for the imposter that he was, the original Cobra Commander returned. The two were included with Fred VII and many of the Cobra officers that were seen as traitors. The Commander imprisoned them in the land-locked freighter and buried them alive beneath the volcano. Sometime later, Cobra Vipers found a tunnel leading out of the freighter. The freighter was filled with dead bodies. All but two of the bodies were accounted for. Zartan and Billy managed to escape and sought out Destro for asylum from Cobra Commander. Instead, they found Destro being hunted down by Cobra Commander and they decided to work with the Joes to help Destro rescue the captured Baroness. During the rescue, Zartan and Storm Shadow worked together, leaving the impression that the vendetta was truly, at long last, settled.
Cobra meanwhile, abandoned Cobra Island and recaptured the Silent Castle, held by Destro in Trans-Carpathia. Destro and the Baroness managed to escape with the help of the Joes, and joined Zartan on Cobra Island. Zartan had returned to the island and discovered that Cobra Commander planned to revive the dead Dr. Mindbender. Knowing of a computer disk that could be used to revive Mindbender, and guessing that Mindbender's body was being preserved for replication, Zartan had alerted the Joes. Together with Destro and the Baroness, Zartan managed to recapture the Silent Castle, while the Commander and most of the forces were away in Millville. In Millville the mad scientist Dr. Mindbender had been abruptly awoken. Expelling the remaining Cobra forces, Destro and the Baroness were once again lord and lady of the castle, and Zartan remained with them for asylum from Cobra. However, Cobra had backed the winner in a civil war in the neighboring nation of Borovia. Becoming the fully legitimate power behind a government of a real nation.
Cobra Commander learned from Mindbender of brain implants he had surgically placed in both Zartan and Destro back during their days with Cobra. Paying an unexpected visit on his neighbor, Cobra Commander walked right up to the castle doors alone. By revealing his face, both Destro and Zartan's implants were triggered. Soon after they were given evil personas to imitate their former allegiance to Cobra. Brainwashing the Baroness, Billy and the recently captured Storm Shadow with a new and improved Brain-Wave Scanner, Mindbender turned them to Cobra's side once again. Cobra then launched an assault on Wolkuckuckland, on the border of Borovia. The Joes aided the nation in forcing Cobra out of their country, stopping Destro and Zartan's forces in their tracks. Still bent on expanding into Wolkuckuckland, Zartan was sent to assassinate President Metz, Cobra's puppet governor of Borovia. In order to make it look like the Wolkuckucklanders were responsible, and incite Borovia into war. However upon the cruel dictator's death the people rejoiced and proclaimed Wolfgang, the man who had been framed for the assassination by Zartan, as their liberator.
A short time later, the G.I. Joe team was team was disbanded by the U.S. military. Soon afterward, Cobra forces fell to a unified attack by regular military forces. Most of Cobra's "high command" disappeared in the wake of the conflict. After laying low for some time, Zartan resurfaced in the United States, leading the Dreadnoks which he turned into a organized national biker gang. He also developed a seemingly incurable skin condition brought on by years of his own genetic manipulation, which was intended to enhance his chameleon-like abilities. He also met a person that he didn't even know existed, his teenage daughter, Zanya. After a few years passed, much to the dismay of Zarana, Zartan seemed intent on passing leadership of the Dreadnoks onto his daughter. In 2001, Cobra Commander reemerged and contacted his former lieutenants, hatching a new plan for world domination. He held a meeting at Zartan's Dreadnok compound in the Everglades. The Commander was hoping to add the growing number of Dreadnoks to his Cobra ranks. But soon after Destro arrived, he forcibly took control of Cobra from Cobra Commander. Zartan wasn't thrilled by the idea of following Destro's leadership, but the weapons supplier claimed that he knew how to cure Zartan's condition, and persuaded him to again work for Cobra. The first battle between Cobra and the reinstated G.I. Joe team occurred in the swamps outside of the Dreadnoks' compound. Destro revealed his plan to take over the world using nano-mites, microscopic machines, to infect not only people, but computer systems around the world, which would bring the planet's technology to a standstill. He revealed that Zartan was infected with the nano-mites. Eventually, the Joes defeated Cobra in a battle in Washington, which Zartan, Zanya and many of the Dreadnoks escaped. It was later revealed that "Destro" had in fact been Destro's son, Alexander.
After the nano-mite threat ended, Cobra Commander returned to take control of Cobra. He threatened the lives of his old high command to ensure their loyalty, and made Zartan believe the once again brainwashed Storm Shadow would carry out his long-forgotten revenge on Zartan. The Dreadnoks continued to work for Cobra, and Zartan was surprised to learn that his previous nano-mite infection had cured his skin condition. He was reunited with Zarana at the Dreadnok chapter in Chicago, where Dr. Mindbender was working on an advanced Battle Android Trooper. When the B.A.T. went berserk and escaped, the Dreadnoks and the Joes had to work together to stop the rampaging android. Some time later, Cobra Commander was captured by the forces of a revived Serpentor, and was being held on Cobra Island. Cobra, the Dreadnoks and G.I. Joe soon staged an assault on Cobra Island. During the fighting, Zartan was attacked by a soldier. In the ensuing fight, Zartan stabbed his unknown attacker, and was shocked when the soldier revealed himself to be Zandar, who had joined the Coil, and was tired of being subordinate to his brother as his power and organization grew. Zartan immediately took his Dreadnoks out of the fight and left the island, carrying his wounded brother in his arms.
After Cobra Commander once again took control of Cobra Island, Zartan arrived there to reconcile his leaving in the midst of the battle, and was hoping to make up for the treacherous actions of Zandar, who had since recovered from his injuries. They made a secret deal for Zartan and Cobra Commander to switch places. When the Joes baited the Commander into attacking a military train supposedly holding Destro, it was a disguised Zartan who arrived leading the Cobra forces. Though all the Joes were believing Cobra Commander to be the culprit, it was Zartan who, after a hand-to-hand fight with Hawk, shot the Joe commander in the back, leaving him paralyzed. The still-disguised Zartan was then taken to a federal installation to await interrogation. The real Cobra Commander eventually led the Dreadnoks to rescue Zartan, and they headed back to Cobra Island, where Destro was now running the organization. Many of the Cobra agents betrayed Destro and allowed the Commander to get past the Island's defenses. Zartan and Zandar then watched as the Commander took control of the weapon known as the Tempest, a device that could seed the clouds to make it rain. With Dr. Mindbender's help, it was used to make the flesh-eating Death Angel Virus rain down upon a chosen area. Zartan had no interest in committing mass murder, and he and the Dreadnoks left the island. They remained in the Everglades while the Joes defeated the Commander's plans and dealt with a new threat known as the Red Shadows.
In the wake of their defeat at the hands of the Joes and the attack by the Red Shadows, Cobra was again scattered across the globe, and Cobra Commander's whereabouts were once again unknown. Eventually, he emerged in the United States and infiltrated the White House by disguising himself as Chief of Staff, Garret Freedlowe. He used technology developed by Zartan to impersonate Freedlowe, but Zartan was not involved. His sister Zarana had stolen the technology without his knowledge, and later let the Commander use it to disguise the faces and voices of the former Cobra agents who made up the Phoenix Guard. The group was a commando unit created by the Commander to infiltrate and kill the G.I. Joe team. Zarana under the guise of Friday, was one of its members. After attacking the Joes, the members of the Guard were defeated and arrested. Due to Zarana's treachery, Zartan showed little interest in helping to free her from prison. Zartan later encountered the Joes: Duke and General Philip Rey when the pair came to the Everglades searching for answers about Rey's past. In one of his many aliases, Zandar had some connection to the men who used the process that created Serpentor to give life to General Rey. Zartan turned Zandar over to the two Joes, believing that anything Zandar was involved in on his own, did not concern him. Duke and Rey got the information they needed and left the swamps. Zartan and the Dreadnoks have since had no contact with G.I. Joe or Cobra.
Danger Girl/G.I. Joe
After the acquisition of the Danger Girl characters by IDW it was decided to first launch the characters under the IDW banner with a crossover with one of the major properties at IDW, G.I. Joe (as they are owned by the same company it seems possible that these characters exist in the same continuity, though this is never confirmed.) The series starts off with a dog chase involving Scarlett and Flint and they are soon shot down. It is revealed that they were providing escort for a shipment of rediscovered missiles with great destructive power. They are soon shot down though and the missiles are taken by Cobra, who also take the two prisoners. Once in Cobra custody they come across Abbey Chase who is acting undercover, though the two members of G.I. Joe do not know this. Elsewhere the American president arrives to the USS Flagg and informs the Joe team to stand down and to not seek to free their teammates. General Flag orders them to stand down. The remaining female members (Cover Girl, Lady Jaye and Jinx) come up with a plan where they will contact the Danger Girl team (Cover Girl had previously met Johnny Barracuda.) The team shows up and exposes the U.S. president as Zarana in disguise. Soon enough it is revealed that the Danger Girl team already has an operative in place and she informs them of the plan. Firefly is to head to Moscow and detonate one of the missiles while Major Bludd is to go to Beijing to detonate another. Three teams head out, one to each of the two cities and the third to the Cobra base. By now Abbey is under suspicion of Baroness, Destro and Cobra Commander and is captured by Zartan when she attempts to free Scarlett and Flint. While they are trying to escape a team of Low Light, Snake Eyes and Stalker arrive to free them. Meanwhile in Beijing a team of Jinx, Johnny Barracuda and Sonya Savage stop Major Bludd while a team of Sydney Savage, Cover Girl and Roadblock stop Firefly. It is soon revealed that there is another missile which is headed for the homing beacon which Zarana has placed on the USS Flagg. Silicon Valerie, Duke and Lady Jaye quickly deal with it. Meanwhile at the Cobra base Storm Shadow has arrived to stop the Joes and he engages Snake-Eyes in combat. Eventually this group is also able to escape, while blowing up the base and they are all reunited on the USS Flagg.
Zartan first appeared in the G.I. Joe mini-series "The Revenge of Cobra", along with the other members of the Dreadnoks: Buzzer, Ripper and Torch. He and the Dreadnoks abduct Colonel Sharp, so that Zartan can impersonate him and free Cobra Commander from prison. In the cartoon, his disguise techniques are all masks, make-up and vocal-impersonating techniques. In "The Revenge of Cobra", Zartan and the Dreadnoks recover a piece of Destro's Weather Dominator, offering to sell it to the highest bidder: Cobra or G.I. Joe.
Zartan is also initially able to change the color of his skin to perfectly blend in with his background. Zartan's camouflage abilities are negated by the sun, causing his skin to turn blue (much like his action figure), and weakening him significantly. However, both aspects were dropped almost immediately after the first season began. "Countdown For Zartan" was the last episode to showcase this particular ability.
Zartan appeared throughout the first season of the cartoon, and was one of the few Cobra characters to carry over to season two, along with Cobra Commander, Baroness and Destro. In the second season of G.I. Joe, he expanded the Dreadnoks to include his younger siblings Zarana and Zandar, as well as Monkeywrench and Thrasher. The Zartan of the cartoon had a rivalry with Destro, who considered Zartan a petty criminal. He was also a more cowardly character, often fleeing battle when things turned against him. His loyalty usually lay with Cobra Commander, even after Serpentor took control of Cobra. Zartan also helped Cobra replace people with Synthoids in one episode.
G.I. Joe: The Movie
In G.I. Joe: The Movie, Zartan is seen being angry with Cobra Commander, for blaming his lack of courage on the troops. 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.
Zartan appeared in the direct-to-video CGI animated movie G.I. Joe: Spy Troops, voiced by Colin Murdock.
G.I. Joe: Sigma 6
Zartan appeared in G.I. Joe: Sigma 6. His disguise techniques are due to hologram generators in his suit. He possesses an exaggerated Australian accent.
Zartan makes two appearances in the G.I. Joe: Resolute series. He first appears in a flashback at the beginning of the series, where he injures Snake Eyes, and assassinates the Hard Master. He later appears near the end of the series, where he is leading a security force guarding a Cobra base. He manages to corner Duke and Scarlett, when Scarlett gives him the option to just leave, as Zartan is only a mercenary and not part of Cobra. Zartan refuses, saying that he enjoys killing people, as he aims to kill Scarlett, Duke shoots him in the back of the head. Again, Zartan is portrayed with what is supposed to be an Australian accent.
Zartan first appears in the G.I. Joe: Renegades episode "Dreadnoks Rising." He is the leader of the Dreadnoks, and has a talent of impersonating people's voices. Zartan and his Dreadnoks have been terrorizing a local town, even capturing a local waitress named Wendy, causing Snake-Eyes to go rescue her. The other G.I. Joe members teach the town how to stand up to Zartan and the Dreadnoks. When the Dreadnoks present the captured Snake-Eyes bound in chains, Zartan fights the Joes. Zartan is taken down a notch when Snake-Eyes easily escapes at the right moment, and uses the chains as a weapon. Zartan is tackled by Sheriff Terry, who manages to defeat Zartan and arrest him. When Flint and Lady Jaye arrive in town to arrest Duke's team, they end up capturing Zartan and his Dreadnoks.
In "Knockoffs," Flint and Lady Jaye use Zartan to help them track down the Joes. He has Flint lend him a GPS, since he had a tracer on the motorcycle that Snake-Eyes stole from him. During the conflict between a Cobra transport, the Joes, and the Falcons, Zartan knocks out Lady Jaye and makes his way into a Cobra Van, where he equips himself with a chameleon-type wrist device. This outfits him in a suit (resembling the one used in the other cartoons), which will enable him to mask his appearance, by taking the form of anyone it scans. Zartan uses it to take the Cobra van and to get away from Flint. During the conflict, he tried to dispose of Scarlett by disguising himself as Duke. When the real Duke arrives, Snake-Eyes takes down Zartan, as his heartbeat is different from Duke's. Scarlett touches the suit, which results in a surge that leaves black burns around Zartan's eyes as she removes it. Zartan is taken back to prison while Baroness takes the chameleon mold to Cobra Commander. Due to the device acquiring the DNA of the first wearer, as part of the chameleon mold's "fail safe imprinting feature", Baroness ends up visiting Zartan in jail, where she makes a "get out of jail" offer that Zartan accepts.
In "Cutting Edge," Zartan posed as Cobra Commander in order to fool Jinx when she was hired to assassinate Cobra Commander.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Zartan is played by Arnold Vosloo in Stephen Sommers's film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, with a drastically different appearance than his television counterpart. He is a master of disguise, able to mimic other peoples' mannerisms and characteristics. Sent by McCullen with the Baroness and Storm Shadow, Zartan breaks into the Pit and disguises himself as a G.I. Joe Pit member. He murders Cover Girl with a knife as she reports to General Hawk, taking them by surprise. When the two Cobra agents fight their way out soon after, Zartan takes an alternate route and kills off a nearby wanderer, donning his clothing to escape detection by Pit members.
Later, with the help of nanotechnology provided by The Doctor's nanomites, Zartan gains his ability to assume exact physical appearances for a special mission (but without the mind control elements, which he quickly broke away from the machine to keep his free will). During the final battle, Zartan is sent to America using the missile crisis as a cover, where he infiltrates the White House as part of Cobra's plans for world domination, and assumes the identity of the President of the United States. Several times in the film, he whistles the tune "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow", including at the end of the film, confirming that he has taken the place of the President.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Vosloo will reprise his role again as Zartan in the 2012 sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and is expected to have a much bigger role. According to Vosloo, Zartan is still in disguise as the U.S. president and he's got the world leaders all under his thumb, war heads headed towards innocent populaces, and some new heavies on the payroll, to keep G.I. Joe at bay. The trailer reveals that he has framed the Joes as traitors and successfully eliminated all but a few of them, forcing the survivors to go "off-the-grid" to try and stop his plans, before he completes his ambitions of world conquest.