Art of the Genre: Art of the Iconic Female #4: The Baroness
What isn’t to love about The Baroness? Well, I suppose a great deal if you are on the side of ‘good’, but nonetheless she’s still a character that has captured the imagination of a generation of young men growing up in the 1980s.
I was a fan of action figures, and when Hasbro initially released their G.I. Joe A Real American Hero line in 1982, I spent three days one weekend catching nightcrawlers (bait worms in southern Indiana speak) by hand with a flashlight at five cents a pop until I had enough to purchase the first run (rough calculation, I caught upwards of 1000 of the slimy little buggers).
At the time, I was eleven, and my G.I. Joe figures provided a great combat story to be told over and over again in the woods by my house, in my sandbox, on the riverbank, and on the floors of various friends living rooms, but I must admit a purely war-driven story can get tiresome without something more meaningful to fight for.
Enter Cobra, the G.I. Joe nemesis. But still, even after you could lay hands on villains to fight, there was something lacking until women were finally added to the story. The addition of Scarlet was a turning point for me in my action figure storylines, and yet a great deal of imagination had to be used because to this point action figure manufacturing hadn’t really ‘figured women out’. That is to simply say, female action figures weren’t all that alluring, mostly because you couldn’t effectively produce their hair.
Sure, there was Star Wars, of which I had a nice collection as well, who had Princess Leia, and that figure was fine, but they (the manufacturers) had a huge advantage because of Leia’s famous head-buns. Those could be sculpted, but free-flowing hair was a much more difficult endeavor and so figures like G.I. Joe alums Scarlet, Lady J, and heaven forbid Covergirl (probably the ugliest figure ever created and based on a model turned soldier of all things!) never really made boys’ hearts go pitter-pat unless you were reading the Marvel comics or watching the animation.
Then, in 1984, the world of action figures was changed forever when someone, somewhere, discovered a way to attach soft plastic hair to a hard plastic model. The creation was put into practice with The Baroness and the effect was stunning. Finally, the world had a female action figure that manifested the same sex appeal as the other media, and perhaps more.
Unfortunately for me, by 1984 I’d moved from action figures to D&D, and thus having a Baroness figure was not a part of my youth, although I did find one at a comic shop in college and purchased her on a whim because she was still one of the most stunning things I’d ever seen.
But enough on my personal experiences with The Baroness (for now), let’s get into a bit of her own history. Born Anastasia Cisarovna, this daughter of European aristocrats was created as a radical who became an international terrorist (when being a terrorist was still ‘cool’ in American minds) trained by the Warsaw Pact intelligence community before joining the forces of Cobra.
Impressively, she was on hand for the Tet Offensive in Southeast Asia in 1968 (nice to never age, huh?) and there blamed her brother’s death on Snake-Eyes, who she witnessed standing over his body with a smoking .45. As for her love life, much to the chagrin of young boys everywhere, she’s a known consort of the silver-masked Destro, and perhaps the only person to know his true identity, or at least what he looks like.
However, The Baroness has transcended action figures. In fact, she’s actually a product of the Marvel Comic as she appeared in G.I. Joe #1 and has continued to be viewed, and drawn, with great regularity in comics ever since.
There was also her appearance in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in 2009. Sienna Miller’s infamous movie poster butt shot is hard to forget, as the movie did nothing to steer clear of her skin-tight leather outfits and fetish inciting librarian glasses.
The Baroness is ever the tease, the fan-boy fantasy come to life, and I can’t help but wonder how this tough Vietnam veteran became the poster child for S&M fanfare. Certainly the male mind can have just as much of a desire for the bad girl as a young woman can be entranced by the bad boy, and Baroness plays on this to no end.
As if all the above incarnations weren’t enough, however, we’ve now moved into the realm of cosplay as an acceptable form of entertainment in our society. In 2010, I attended the San Diego Comic Convention and as I perused the booths I happened to run into pro cosplayer Alodia sporting her best, and shiniest, Baroness outfit. I have to say, even three years later I’m not sure I’ve fully recovered from the experience.
To have The Baroness, in the flesh, right before your eyes has pushed the envelope of what makes her an Iconic Female. She has transcended the subconscious desires of young men and manifested so profoundly that even as a villain, she illuminates our desires brighter than all the women of G.I. Joe combined (and one of them is a red-head!). I guess that is the power of evil, black leather, a scarlet cobra on your breasts, and those killer black-rimmed glasses. She manages to make evil beautiful no matter the medium, and although after thirty years her story has become as twisted as the serpent her organization is represented by, she just never seems to get old in the minds of the fans that have followed her.
So to The Baroness, I salute you, not for your political agenda, but for the ability to make me think, if even for a second, I’d relinquish my deep G.I. Joe patriotic ties to possess you.
If you’ve enjoyed this volume of my Iconic Female series, you can view #1 here, #2 here and #3 here.
If you like what you read in Art of the Genre, you can listen to me talk about publishing and my current venture with great artists of the fantasy field or even come say hello on Facebook here. And my current RPG Art Blog can be found here. Also, for my hardcore fans and those that love small press books, I’ve launched my latest crowd-sourcing campaign that I’m determined to see become the most successful fantasy fiction Kickstarter of all time, so come help me and all my artist and writer friends create a franchise to remember!
More Tales fo the Emerald Serpent? Cool! I pledged and posted a link to the Kickstarter page on my blog.
Keith: Awesome, glad to have you on board and thanks for the social media bump! You are my people 🙂