Has there always been, lurking in the back of your mind, questions regarding specific facets of comic, cartoon or television mythology - such as 'why is the Hulk green?' or 'what is the Joker's real name?' or even 'who's hotter - Jessica Rabbit or Starfire?'. Comic book fans and retro geeks are always plagued with such uncertainties in life, which usually result in sleepless nights, loss of appetite and chronic blogging.
While catching up on an episode of one of my favorite shows, AMC's 'Comic Book Men' (which I re-watch religiously), a customer had brought in a vintage G. I. Joe play-set for sale. It was mentioned by this person that the inspiration for Cobra was Marvel's Hydra. So began the sleepless nights and rapid weight loss (not really).
As my spider-sense got to tingling, a little info-engineering began !
The long and short origin that most of us are aware of is that the Joes began as 12" military figures. However, it wasn't until 1982 that Larry Hama (writer for Marvel), under advise from Jim Shooter (then editor-in-chief for Marvel) began developing an idea for a new on-going comic book called Fury Force.
The original back story was that S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury had had a son whom was assembling a team of elite commandos to battle neo-Nazi terrorists HYDRA. The wiki version goes that Shooter had suggested to Hasbro that "G.I. Joe" should be the team name and that they should fight terrorists, while Archie Goodwin (another Marvel writer) invented Cobra and the Cobra Commander. Hama was largely responsible for the rest of the Joe universe. This is a view that is subscribe to by a number of fans out there.
A second opinion that is maintained in Joe mythology is that Fury Force and the original wave of GI Joe characters were as totally disparate lines. It is purported (as opposed to the above) that Hama's proposal for a Fury Force comic book series, which was supposed to be a spin-off of the Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD comic book, was shot down by Marvel. The designs for the 3.75" Joe figures were actually from the imagination of Ron Rudat of Hasbro Toy Company.
In 1982, Hasbro approached Marvel Comics proposing to do a licensed comic book based on the G I Joe toys. Forum gossip claims the only person up to the task was combat engineer-turned-comic book artist/writer/editor Larry Hama, who accepted the assignment.
Various interviews between Larry Hama and Ron Rudat show that: Hasbro had sent the original character designs and prototype figures, made by Rudat, to Hama, who then had the job of coming up with code names and filecards for the characters. This is where the Fury Force and G I Joe connection comes from.
Ultimately the rejected Fury Force proposal was the basis for the famous Joe filecards. For example, Sgt. Fury/Nick Fury, Jr. character was re-purposed to serve as 'Hawk', GI Joe's commanding officer. Fury Force mystery man Spook became the inspiration for 'Snake-Eyes'.
Therefore, while similarities between the Cobra Command and SHIELD's arch-nemesis, Hydra, there was not meant to be any direct parallels between the two organizations. Any design similarities that Cobra Command and Hydra share is most likely due to the fact that they were both based on the same World War II villains such as the German Nazis or Italian Fascists.
It makes sense that if the Joes were not based on SHIELD, there is little reason for Hydra to be the inspiration for Cobra.