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REVIEW: G.I. JOE 30th ANNIVERSARY COBRA VIPER
By Thomas Wheeler

Within the world of G.I. Joe, Cobra is often referred to as a "ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world", but what they really are is an army. Unlike G.I. Joe, which is a very large group if individual specialists, Cobra has a handful of individuals, most of whom are part of the command structure of the Cobra organization, and a huge assortment of troopers, most of whom are specialized to one degree or another.

On the G.I. Joe team, there really isn't any "rank and file". Well, certainly there's rank -- just ask General Hawk. And there are individuals who are more prominent than others -- Duke, Snake-Eyes, Roadblock, Stalker...

Cobra, on the other hand, has prominent characters such as Cobra Commander, Destro, Zartan, Dr. Mindbender -- and specialized troopers such as Night-Vipers, Tele-Vipers, Snow Serpents, and of course, we cannot forget the elite Crimson Guards!

But specialized troopers will not always carry the day. A large force such as Cobra needs basic infantry. And for Cobra, that basically comes in two forms -- the Cobra Troopers, and the Cobra Vipers.

Technically, the Cobra Troopers came first. In the first year of G.I. Joe -- 1982 -- the enemy forces consisted of Cobra Troopers, then called simply Cobras, Cobra Officers, and a mail-in offer for Cobra Commander that was so successful it's a wonder that the post office closest to Hasbro's headquarters didn't put in a requisition for a forklift just to process the requests.

The Cobra Troopers were pretty generic, but also managed to look fairly authentic, within the world of G.I. Joe. Hasbro chose dark blue as their main uniform color so as to not confuse them with any real-world military forces. They wore a cloth mask that covered the lower portion of their faces. This not only gave them a rather sinister appearance, it also made them more anonymous. It also enabled those so inclined to build an army of Cobra Troopers, without worrying if they'd all have the same facial expression or details, such as a mustache, a silly grin, or a huge zit. Anything could be under those masks.

However, apart from the masks, the uniform color, and the huge red Cobra emblem on the chest, the Cobra Troopers looked like fairly conventional soldiers. They wore military-type helmets, the various details of their uniforms were fairly military in appearance, and all of this came together to make them the perfect "basic soldier" for G.I. Joe to combat.

Then in 1986, Cobra decided to up the ante with their new "basic infantry" -- the Cobra Vipers. By this time, Cobra had developed any number of specialized troopers that used "Viper" as the suffix of their name, and certainly there would be plenty more afterwards. To simply name one division "Viper", without any additional descriptive term, was to deem them as infantry -- nothing specialized, just some good old-fashioned infantry.

Of course, the real reason for the creation of the Vipers was to provide Cobra with some basic soldiers that looked more advanced than the original Cobra Troopers, and indeed, the Cobra Vipers accomplished this. Although perhaps somewhat less "soldier-like" in appearance, their high-tech helmets, ridged and padded vests, and other uniform details certainly set them well in keeping with the designs being produced for Cobra at the time, as well as being more sophisticated than the Cobra Troopers.

I have little doubt there's been a lot of speculation over the years along the lines of, "Okay -- who's really the basic infantry of Cobra? Vipers or Troopers? Which ones are the ones that are really at the bottom of the ladder, so to speak?" And I think the answer might well be -- both! Even with the creation of the Vipers, we had not seen the last of the Troopers. They turned up several years later in Python Patrol, and since that time, both they and the Vipers have remained a vital part of Cobra. There's no reason to assume that they don't work side-by-side, and pretty much at the same level. As to how one might become either a Viper or a Trooper upon joining Cobra in the first place, and what differences might exist between the two -- I haven't the slightest idea. That's a story for someone else to tell.

I'll admit, I have a certain preference towards the Vipers. Nothing whatsoever against the Troopers. I like them as well. But I always liked the look of the Vipers. It was more advanced, and seemed to fit in extremely well with the "slightly ahead of the real world but we're still pretty real" universe in which G.I. Joe takes place.

And, over the years, no Cobra trooper division of any sort, including the basic Cobra Trooper, has produced more variants than the Cobra Viper. None. The Alley-Viper, interestingly enough, comes in second, but the Cobra Viper has turned out more variants, across every incarnation of 3-3/4" scale G.I. Joe figures, than any other Cobra trooper division.

Let's consider a little bit of the history of the Cobra Viper. He was first introduced in 1986, in his best-known dark blue uniform, with the silver face plate on the helmet, the black vest, and the red ridged padding on the sides of the vest, the gloves, and the sides of the trousers.

The Cobra Viper next turned up in 1989, as part of Python Patrol, and then turned around the next year and joined the Sonic Fighters, in an unusual but interesting tan uniform with gold trim, gold helmet, and bright red faceplate.

The Cobra Viper received an entirely new figure in 1994, but honestly, the less said about that version, the better. The design didn't look anything like a Viper, and between a bizarre design and a uniform that was mostly purple and orange, a lot of people would just as soon forget that one. Fortunately, the design was salvaged, substantially recolored, and reassigned to the Iron Grenadiers in 2005, as their new paratrooper division, the Iron Anvils, in that year's Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention set. And as a specialist trooper with a vastly improved color scheme, it worked. Just not as a Cobra Viper.

The Cobra Viper returned in 1997, looking more like himself, dressed in a somewhat curious dark burgundy uniform. Then, in 1998, the Cobra Viper molds were actually used as new versions of the Cobra Trooper and Cobra Officer! This was for a special "Cobra Infantry" three-pack that was offered that year. Talk about crossovers. Still, whether you call them Troopers, Officers, or Vipers, the 1998 offerings were quite interesting, with an almost entirely dark blue uniform for the "Trooper", and a mostly gray one for the "Officer". One wondered if Cobra Commander had been watching "Gettysburg" or some such...

The Vipers finally managed to get at least a visual enhancement in 2002, when they would side with Tomax, Xamot, and the Baroness, who, as the commanders of the Crimson Guard, were looking to build up their own distinct forces within Cobra, and decided that the best way to do that was to create a new crimson division of Vipers! These were released as part of the 2002 G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention set, which included crimson-uniformed versions of Tomax, Xamot, the Baroness, and no less than a dozen crimson Vipers! Instant army!

During the so-called "newsculpt" era of 2002-2006, there would be plenty of Vipers, in both the original-style of figures, and the new figure design. The new Viper was somewhat fancier than the original, with a more ridged vest, and a fancier helmet, but they still looked enough like Vipers to pass as such -- certainly moreso than the 1994 purple version. Several recolorations of this particular Viper emerged over the years of this run.

But there were also a number of new colorations of the original-style Viper, in several shades of olive green, interestingly enough (a color one usually associated with members of the G.I. Joe team), and an abundantly cool one with a black helmet, metallic blue faceplate, black vest, and a uniform that featured molded-in camouflage of dark blue and purple.

Finally, at the very end of the newsculpt run, just before the 25th Anniversary line got running, a "Viper Pit" six-pack was released, featuring five Vipers, and one Viper Officer with a gold faceplate instead of silver. All six figures were otherwise in their original colors for the most part. Hasbro even went so far as to recreate the original upper legs, which had long been lost. The Vipers had been using B.A.T. legs for years. It was a very nice gesture on Hasbro's part, and the six-pack proved immensely popular to army-builders.

As one would expect, the Cobra Viper was among those figures converted into the new format for the 25th Anniversary line, and for the most part, it was a capable figure. And yet, there were some criticisms of it. Some remarked that the hands were oddly positioned and made it difficult for the figure to hold its weapons. Others claimed that the arms were too short. My only real gripe about the figure was that the goggles which perched atop the helmet had been molded as a separate piece, and they didn't tend to stay put all that well -- and the Viper didn't look quite right without them. Still, the figure saw several releases, including one in his Python Patrol colors as the pilot of the reissued Tiger Rat, and as part of a 2009 remake of the 2002 Crimson Strike Team Convention Set.

And now, we have a new 30th Anniversary Cobra Viper that has entered the line with this newest edition of G.I. Joe figures. Interestingly enough, he shares that assortment with a new 30th Anniversary Cobra Trooper. I think the last (and only) time that happened was with the original Python Patrol.

So, how's the figure? Really, it's very impressive -- and honestly, I didn't expect to be all that impressed by it. I tended to agree with some of the criticisms of the 25th Anniversary Cobra Viper, and I wasn't entirely sure how many of them would have been dealt with for the 30th Anniversary. However, I had purchased a 30th Anniversary Cobra Trooper, and discovered it to be a radically different and much improved figure from the 25th-and-subsequent versions of the Cobra Trooper, so I decided to acquire the 30th Anniversary Cobra Viper, and see what might have been done.

The changes are as impressive as the ones made to the 30th Anniversary Cobra Trooper, if not quite as extensive.

First of all, there's the helmet. Two observations here. For one thing -- the goggles are molded as part of the helmet. Although the combination of an all-covering faceplate as well as goggles might seem like a strange feature going all the way back to 1986, it's nevertheless become an iconic part of the Viper's overall "look".

With the advent of the 25th Anniversary line, Hasbro wanted to make as many of the accessories of a given figure as "workable" as possible. On any number of figures, that duplicated in basic appearance their "originals" from the 1980's, suddenly gun holsters and knife sheaths that were purely decorative now actually functioned and had removable weapons. To varying degrees, it worked. One on which it didn't work especially well was the Viper's goggles. They didn't tend to stay put around the circumference of the helmet very well, and the Viper never quite looked right without them.

I am pleased to report that for the 30th Anniversary Viper, the goggles have once again been molded as part of the helmet. They are positioned properly and they're not going anywhere.

Secondly, there's the faceplate. It's been given a CHROME finish. Now, here's something I would have liked to have seen a lot more of in the original G.I. Joe line. As far as I'm concerned, the moment that the original Destro came out in 1993, with his fancy chromed helmet and faceplate, that sort of put anybody with a silver-painted faceplate into a distant second-place appearance-wise. I realize that it would not have been all that feasible to give everybody who might have benefited from it a chrome helmet or faceplate -- although I would have at least liked to have seen the original Cobra Commander get one. The simple economics of toys at the time prevented it. Still -- it would have been nice.

This 30th Anniversary Viper is proof of just HOW cool it looks. Now, the way it's been made is more complex than probably could have been done with the original line. Technically, the head of the Cobra Viper is a smooth-faced head that is entirely chrome plated -- and the helmet, which is not chromed, has been attached separately. Still, it works, and it looks extremely cool. Also, the chrome plating has resulted in a tighter neck joint. Nothing wrong with that at all as far as I'm concerned.

The main body of the Viper does use the same vest as the previous 25th-style Vipers have used. The vest is a separate piece, I believe, because after quite a few fans and collectors raised their voices to protest the new mid-torso articulation point of 25th-style figures, Hasbro likely figured they'd better do what they could to minimize it a bit -- hence an assortment of vests, chestplates, harnesses, and other assorted methods of moderate concealment.

Fortunately, the vest looks excellent, and is entirely reminiscent of the original Viper. The ridged shoulder pads and sides are just as they should be, the Cobra emblem is nicely imprinted, and the two grenades on the other side of the vest are a nice and appropriate addition, and are superbly well-detailed with the addition of little silver stripes down the middle.

The upper arms of the Cobra Viper are, interestingly enough, identical to those of the Cobra Trooper, complete with the diagonal-facing pockets, a relatively new development in real-world military uniform design. However, the Viper's have been painted differently. The Cobra Trooper's pockets remain blue, and he has a Cobra emblem on his left pocket. The Viper's pockets have both been painted black, and both have Cobra emblems.

The lower arms of the Cobra Viper are vastly improved. Although the gauntlets don't resemble the original figure's all that closely, they do look very impressive, and are certainly well detailed, with ridges and ties, and the hands are much better configured and articulated than on previous 25th-style Cobra Vipers. This is a distinct improvement in all respects.

Then we come to the legs, and here we tend to lose the look of the Cobra Viper rather dramatically. The stylized boots with the ridged knee pads, the large pouches on the outsides of the legs, and the red ridging on the outside and inside of each leg is distinctly gone. While I regard this as unfortunate, what's interesting is the fact that the far more military look of the trousers and boots on the new Cobra Viper makes the entire figure look more real-world, and perhaps that was the objective.

I tend to think that Hasbro wants to push these figures just a little closer to reality (of course that'll be a good trick with the likes of Sci-Fi and the Techno-Viper), and as such chose a set of legs that may have lacked the ornamentation of the original Viper, but resulted in a Viper that looks like he means business -- nasty business -- more than ever.

The new legs are almost entirely dark blue, except for black armored knee pads and black boots. The legs do have pouches on the fronts and sides, but they're not as pronounced as the original, and not quite as noticeable due to the lack of red ridging. The armored knee pads presumably take the place of the high padding of the original boots, and the boots that the Cobra Viper is now wearing are far more realistic and military in appearance, including nicely detailed laces, and impressive treads on the soles. For reasons unknown, the boots have been given a slight overwash of silver.

Painted detailing is excellent, including a belt visible on the figure below the vest. It's identical to an unpainted belt that appears on the Cobra Trooper, so they clearly use the same mid-and-lower torso, but the Viper managed to get his painted.

The Cobra Viper comes with an impressive arsenal. Honestly, so did the Cobra Trooper. Hasbro's really arming these figures as much as they can these days. The Cobra Viper comes with four different rifles, at least one of which is clearly a machine gun with a circular ammo case, and one of which is a modern version of the original Viper's light gray rifle, except now it's a bit more detailed, less bulky-looking, and has been molded in metallic pewter.

The Viper also comes with a backpack, with two more red grenades on the back, and also has an Rocket-Propelled Grenade launcher. Remarkable, the oblong grenade at the end of the device actually comes loose. As always presented with such small accessory pieces, I am recommending a Ziploc bag for storage.

The Cobra Viper's file card reads as follows, and may I say that the artwork on the packages for the 30th Anniversary line is spectacular:

COBRA VIPER
Infantry

Cobra Vipers are the highly motivated, superbly trained and formidably equipped backbone of the Cobra legions. Their combination assault rifle/grenade launcher can function as a short burst assault weapon, sustained fire cover support weapon, or long range marksman rifle with a night vision telescopic sight and rangefinder.

Okay, do we want to talk about the Vipers, or the stuff they lug around with them? Anyway, at least the file cards are more extensive than they've been in several years, ever since the movie-era file cards, really.

So, what's my final word? Okay -- I will always prefer the original-style G.I. Joe figures. Period. That's never going to change, and I am pleased with each and every Viper in my collection. That being said, the 30th Anniversary Cobra Viper is an extremely impressive piece of work for the modern G.I. Joe collector in the modern format. Both he and the Cobra Trooper are evidence of a number of significant and needed improvements in both appearance and function. The Cobra Viper looks extremely cool, the helmet-goggles issue has been addressed, as have the quirky arms, and the new, more military-looking trousers add an extra element of "real world" to the overall look of the Cobra Viper.

I can readily see a determined G.I. Joe collector picking up a supply of Cobra Vipers and Cobra Troopers and building a very formidable-looking enemy army for the G.I. Joe team to go up against, and yes, I have to say that the Viper is more formidable-looking than ever. The chrome faceplate is a nice -- and overdue -- touch, as well. I do recommend a bit of visual inspection in the store before you buy, on this basis. It doesn't take much for that chrome to get scuffed, unfortunately. Nevertheless, I can't imagine any current, or even long-time, collector of G.I. Joe not being impressed with this newest Cobra Viper, and it will certainly be a welcome addition in any collection.

The 30th ANNIVERSARY COBRA VIPER from the world of G.I. JOE definitely has my highest recommendation!