In the late 1960s, DC wasn’t much known for innovation. That is, until the arrival of Marvel co-creator Jack “King” Kirby in 1970, who in short order injected the DC Universe with more new blood than it had seen in decades, characters and concepts like Darkseid, Orion, the New Gods, the Forever People, Kamandi, the Demon, OMAC and more.
However, by 1975, relations between Kirby and the DC higher-ups, particularly DC’s then-publisher Carmine Infantino, had broken down, with Kirby leaving the company to return to Marvel. Kirby’s surviving DC books like KAMANDI went to other creators, while his trademark characters the New Gods would languish in limbo for a few years before being truly embraced as a major part of the DC Universe in the next decade.
Which left in February 1976 one Kirby creation still unpublished: KOBRA.
A comic-book take on Alexandre Dumas’ THE CORSICAN BROTHERS, KOBRA was a very unusual concept for DC at the time (and still today, really) as it was one of the few monthly books that starred a supervillain (with the Joker’s short-lived 1970s series one of the only others that immediately springs to mind).
From the looks of it on the stands under an Ernie Chua cover, you’d never know it was a Kirby book. And even the credits seem to downplay Kirby’s involvement:
However, a look at the art itself and there’s no mistaking this as a Kirby book:
Look at that “Kirby crackle.” And look at that face:
Oh, yeah. This is a Kirby book. So what happened?
The comics’ text page explains that the book was cooked up by Kirby and his assistant Steve Sherman, and then penciled, inked and lettered before Kirby’s resignation from DC. With Kirby’s departure, new editor Gerry Conway handed the book over to writer Martin Pasko for a rewrite, with inker Pablo Marcos called in to “youthen up” one of the book’s two main characters, which explains why series protagonist Jason Burr, twin brother of the titular Kobra, has a distinctly non-Kirby look about him.
So how’s the book itself? Well, it’s a decent enough start, but it definitely has a feel of neutered Kirby about it. And as was common for 1970s comics, it’s narrated within an inch of its life:
Our story opens with some gangland types being invited for a pow-wow with infamous underworld crimelord Kobra:
Naturally, Kobra tries to impress them by showing off his mini-Mammoth-in-a-box.
For some reason, the gangsters want his Box O’ Mammoth, and pull guns on him, but he distracts them with another of his discoveries, an alien robot called “The Servitor”…
Then orders the Servitor to pound the gangsters to a pulp. Ick.
Next on the Servitor’s agenda is a rampage through Columbia University. Why? To kill the aforementioned Jason Burr, who is just learning of his unique heritage from an NYPD officer, who’s about to break the news when the Servitor busts in and starts tearing up the place:
But when the Servitor puts the squeeze on Burr, Kobra feels the pain as well, and puts it all together:
Later, the cop explains the same situation to Jason Burr, that he and Kobra were born Siamese twins and separated at birth, Jason’s brother stolen by a snake-cult who believed him to be their future lord and master:
Even stranger, there exists a strange mental link between the two, such that whatever pain one brother feels is also felt by the other:
A theory that Jason wastes no time in testing with an open flame:
Man, I love that screaming Kobra panel. So Kirby.
Kobra tracks Jason down and confronts him, only to find that he’d been lured into a trap, which he naturally slithers out of.
The series only ran six more issues without Kirby, although the character lingered around the DC Universe off and on for the next couple of decades, finding its best exposure as the antagonist in several of Geoff Johns’ more notable JSA story arcs.
But I still want to know why he had that tiny mammoth. That must have been a seriously evil plan.
Scott Tipton wants a tiny mammoth-in-a-box. If you have questions about Kobra, Kirby or comics in general, send them here.
I would opine that Kobra was best represented in John Ostrander’s later Suicide Squad stories, where he was more closely tied to Kali. That would influence much of the later treatment seen throughout the DC Universe, including his involvement in Kingdom Come. Unfortunately, nobody but Kirby seemed to know what to do with the hero, Jason Burr (they had the same problem with Eclipso).