My parents enforced a six-friend limit on invitations to my 8th birthday party, and that meant a few difficult decisions. The most significant absence was my buddy, Laren, who lived a few houses down the road from us. I couldn’t invite him, though, after his mother had forbid us from being friends in the aftermath of a recent swearing incident at their house.
Although the group included most of my core group of friends, the gifts I received that day seemed somewhat underwhelming. I spent every moment of my life dreaming about GI Joes and Transformers, and on that day I received three cars, a book, a puzzle, some money, and only one GI Joe figure. And she was a girl, FFS.
(Okay, so maybe Laren’s mom was right to banish me.)
The cars were fun, I loved to read and do puzzles, and the money could be parlayed into whatever I wanted, so feeling disappointment was only an immediate reaction, and showed a distressing sense of entitlement. But if I had only grasped how special that Baroness figure was, just receiving her should have made my whole day.
The Baroness was my first female GI Joe or Cobra figure. She was also one of my earliest Cobras, joining Destro, Zartan, Copperhead, Scrap Iron, Wild Weasel and a thumbless Officer, a small Cobra force fighting against 20 or so Joes. But I didn’t know what to make of her at first, so she was eased into play – riding shotgun in the Rattler, and sometimes piloting the Fang or Claw. But thanks to owning the biggest gun of all the bad guys – a “high density” laser rifle – she quickly became a key figure for my Cobras.
Baroness was third in command for me, behind Hooded Cobra Commander, who I acquired shortly after her arrival, and Destro. But her authority was constantly being questioned, particularly as Zartan was ambitious about moving into a bigger leadership role in the Cobra organization.
The Joes went out and fought the good fight and always won in the end, but their personalities were so much tamer than the Cobras. Some of them questioned authority, went rogue on occasion or were sometimes motivated by revenge, but all were driven to do the right thing in the end. But the bad guys had wonderful inter-Cobra drama: a love triangle between Coco, Baroness and Destro, Baroness’s rivalry with Zartan, and constant in-fighting between operatives. All of the Cobras were lacking compassion and constantly trying to one-up each other through cunning and villainy. And the Baroness was the most ruthless Cobra I owned, at least until I acquired Firefly, years later.
I sometimes had her spying on the Joes and getting captured, turning the old trope about rescuing the damsel in distress on its ear by having the bad guys rescuing the “damsel” from the good guys.
The Baroness was easily one of the most complex characters in Joe lore. She was introduced in the first issue of the GI Joe comic book, the first named character on the Cobra side, and she immediately showed herself as a villain, leading a kidnapping mission, dragging Dr. Burkhart around by her hair while pointing a gun in her face. She was later portrayed as a master manipulator, exploiting the feelings of the lovesick puppy, Destro. She trained a child, Billy, to assassinate Cobra Commander, his own father. She also vouched for an imposter who took over as Cobra Commander, since no one else could tell it was actually a Fred underneath Coco’s advanced battle armour. And she became Helen of Troy during the civil war on Cobra Island.
Her time in the spotlight was just below that of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, and on par with Cobra Commander, Destro, Zartan, Scarlett, Stalker and Hawk.
I loved her rivalry with Zarana, and in all her appearances I can only remember one selfless act, stopping Major Bludd from killing Destro in GI Joe #16, putting herself in great peril by doing so.
I always found it interesting that the version of Baroness who showed up in GI Joe #1 wore a blue Cobra outfit, whereas the version that appeared on retail pegs two years later wore all black.
The Baroness’s card art was stunning.
Now, the only complaint I see is that her glasses seem crooked. One can only imagine that in the heat of the battle that proceeded her pose – in the flaming explosions and destruction left in her wake – that she had been subjected to some intense physical confrontations, her glasses knocked around and misshaped.
In the cartoon, Baroness had the most grating voice, somehow topping even Cobra Commander. She often showed up in disguise to trick the Joes and kick off the story, including in the first episode of “The MASS Device”. I kept think that the Joes would catch on to her act, and that of Zartan’s. But as much as the Cobra soldiers couldn’t shoot straight, the GI Joes couldn’t see through wigs, fake accents and counterfeit military credentials.
Baroness was also one of the four pivotal characters in “The Gamesmaster”, one of two episodes I found on VHS tape years later, an episode that I watched over-and-over again as a shiftless teenager.
The inspiration for Baroness’s sculpt seems NSFW.
Black body suit? A little risqué for a children’s toy line. The thigh high boots and brazier? Hasbro was getting into BDSM territory. But I guess she wasn’t as out there as the White Queen in Uncanny X-Men, if that can be considered the standard for children.
Recognizing the brazier as body armour makes her outfit feel less sordid. And maybe the librarian-style eyeglasses were meant to lower the temperature in the room, but those glasses would have become a fetish for some young boys on the brink of puberty.
The Baroness was the third female figure in the Joe line – following in Scarlett and Cover Girl’s footsteps – the only female on the Cobra side, and easily the best of those first three. It is arguable that she is the premier female figure ever released, although I love Lady Jaye too. Scarlett’s frame was slight and prone to breakage, and her hair was a poor recreation of her card art. At least Cover Girl was a more solid figure, but she also suffered from poorly sculpted hair, betraying her backstory as a model.
Baroness’s hair was a vast improvement from her predecessors, and leads me to wonder why Hasbro went back to short hair with Lady Jaye, hid Jinx’s hair behind a ninja mask, and stopped producing female figures the following year. Whatever they had done with Baroness should have been replicated in at least one other female figure.
The sculpting on the Baroness is exceptional, overall, including the pistol on her leg, the straps for her body armour and the Cobra symbols on her wrists. But the all-black look obscures some of these finer details. Hasbro could have put some colour on the collar and sleeves of her shirt, and anywhere else where her body armour was lacking.
I can only assume that the black would have been difficult to paint over.
Red lipstick was an important component of her look, as was the red Cobra symbol on her chest, some colour to break up the monotony of that all-black outfit. Regardless, Baroness has one the most iconic looks of all GI Joe figures. And she continued to be a key character in the original comic series right until the end, despite not having a second figure released during the original run.
The Baroness’s accessories are decent: a little backpack and a giant laser rifle that are almost comically mismatched. The backpack has another Cobra symbol, for emphasis if you hadn’t yet realized her affiliation. And her rifle was among the longest released at that point, behind only Rock n’ Roll and Roadblock’s. It was also the thickest, and worked fine at playtime, but the sculpting on the handle and stock didn’t meet Hasbro’s usual standards.
Looking at the card art, it wouldn’t surprise me if her laser rifle was a last minute substitution for a modified Dragunov sniper rifle, with a different stock.
The Baroness I received on my 8th birthday was a key figure in my play for years, as Cobras stayed in rotation longer than Joes. Being outnumbered, I was constantly fishing older Cobras out of the bottom of my toy box. My continued use of her mimicked the storyline in the comic book, where the Baroness was a mainstay.
Unfortunately, she didn’t survive my toy purge in the early 90s. But she was an early acquisition for me in 2009, while I was using action figures to illustrate a comic I wrote. The Baroness was an obvious choice to play a character inspired by one of my friends with big glasses, someone who had a look best described as “early 2000 Chloe”.
These days, Baroness hangs out with my v1 Destro, in a 90% complete MSV, with Hooded Cobra Commander in a plastic body bag a short distance away. So you can only imagine how I think that love triangle ended.