This is another book that I got from my friend Donald Sims back in fifth grade. And honestly, it was a bit of a mess of an issue, though I enjoyed it quite a bit. KOBRA had started life as one of the last projects worked on by Jack Kirby before his return to Marvel. Under Kirby, the title was called KING KOBRA, and his assistant Steve Sherman had a lot of input into the idea. It was essentially a modern take on the Corsican Brothers, with one being a super-villain and the other a criminologist dedicated to hunting him down. The cover here conveys the concept succinctly–the two men are connected, so when one feels pain, the other experiences it as well.
Kirby only produced one issue of KING KOBRA, and somebody, presumably DC’s head man Carmine Infantino, who had come up with the core concept of KOBRA along with Kirby, didn’t like it. He didn’t even bother to burn it off in 1ST ISSUE SPECIAL as was done to a few other stranded Kirby projects. The book sat around in the DC offices until newly hired editor Gerry Conway was casting about for more projects for his office. He took on the responsibility for overhauling KOBRA, bringing in writer Marty Pasko to completely rewrite the first issue, and artist Pablo Marcos to make extensive revisions to the art. The big one was making the lead hero, Jason Burr, much younger. So you’d get pages like this splash above, that were half-Kirby and half Marcos with the pieces not really integrating terribly well.
What results is an ill-fitting mess of a story that has all of Kirby’s stylistic and conceptual quirks smothered in a sauce of seeming 70s narrative styling. It’s not really fair to use it as an example this way, but this is what the result might have been if others had dialogued Kirby’s later works, as many fans during that era hoped would happen. The issue opens with a trio of hired killers being summoned by the mysterious cult leader, Kobra. He has a job he wants them to perform–and when they refuse, Kobra unleashes a deadly robotic servitor that he’s salvaged from another world upon them, wiping them out.
With the gunmen dispensed with, Kobra decides that subtlety is overrated, and so he chooses to release his robotic Servitor on his mission of murder. The man he wants killed is Jason Burr, who is talking with Police Lieutenant Perez in the student union of a nearby university. (This is pretty clearly a revision by Pasko and Marcos, and they had been speaking at police headquarters. As I said, the joins in this book are readily apparent.) Perez has called upon Burr because he believes the younger man has a hidden connection to the worldwide terrorist that his task force is attempting to bring to justice, the man called Kobra.
But before Perez and Burr can really get to the nitty-gritty of their conversation, the Servitor bursts through the wall and attacks Burr, crushing him in its terrible grasp. But as this happens, Kobra feels the tightening pressure himself, and realizing what is going on, orders the Servitor to release Burr. Which raises the question here: if Burr is just a student and Kobra doesn’t know about their link and how it works, why is Kobra trying to kill him? When Burr had initially been the man trying to hunt him down, that made a bit more sense. Anyway, the Servitor blows up for nonsense reasons indicative of changes to the plot, and Burr and Perez catch their breath.
Perez and Burr head out, supposedly going to Burr’s dorm rather to where they’re about to lay a trap for Kobra, and Perez gives Burr the lowdown in a sequence clearly meant to represent Burr telling the story to Perez. Anyway, we learn how Burr had been born one of a pair of Siamese twins. He thought his brother died shortly after childbirth, but Perez lets him know that instead the baby was spirited away by the Cult of Kobra in fulfillment of an ancient prophesy. Every 44 years they seek out their leader, who is said to be reincarnated. Kobra was tutored and trained in all the deadly arts over the years–and every time he felt pain, Burr experienced it, his symptoms drove him to countless doctors who could diagnose nothing wrong with him. So now he knows the truth–he is feeling his brother’s pain.
Kobra’s got a new plan, though: he intends to abduct Burr and imprison him for the rest of his life, so that Kobra can be sure that his vulnerability will not be exploited. But before he can act, he’s compelled to seek Burr out himself, as the young man deliberately burns his hand as on the cover to draw Kobra to him. This is a trap for teh villain, but one that Kobra is well up to facing. And Burr himself is horrified that Perez’s men seem intent on killing Kobra, not simply capturing him–and if they succeed, he will die as well. But there’s little chance of that, as with his snake-like attributes and gimmicked-up weapons, Kobra is a match for Perez’s squad of Keystone Kops, and he easily gets away. But now Burr is tangled up in this mess whether he likes it or not. And that’s where this first story ends. The final panel pretty clearly replaces an area where Kirby had a blurb for the next story, a story that would now be totally different in Pasko’s hands.
There’s also a text page in the middle of the book which details much of the genesis of the project, albeit in a very Marvel-esque “Here’s all of the nutty things that happened along the way to making this comic” sort of a style. As this was no doubt written by Conway, that’s not surprising given his own Marvel background. Most interestingly to me, the text page speaks about Joe Kubert doing the cover, but the cover on the final issue is by Ernie Chua. So somewhere, there probably existed a KOBRA #1 cover by Kubert that was likewise rejected and discarded. What a mess!