REVIEW: G.I. JOE - COBRA ARCTIC HISS TANK
Any good military or even para-military force is going to need vehicles in order to conduct its business. And one of the most military vehicles ever devised is, of course, a tank.
Almost any other vehicle that is found on a military base or on a battlefield has a civilian counterpart. A given military force is almost assuredly going to make use of motorcycles, cars of some sort or other, trucks, boats, planes -- all of these have civilian counterparts of one type or another. In most instances the civilian types outnumber the military types.
The history of the tank is a fascinating one, and my curiosity got the better of me when preparing to write this review, and I found the following on Wikipedia. Suffice to say this is a fairly meager summary, and I encourage anyone interested in tanks in general to look up the WikiPedia article on tanks.
Apart from Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of a round, tank-like armored wagon, the first description of a tank-like vehicle and its usefulness in trench warfare is found in an H.G. Wells short story, "The Land Ironclads", in the Strand Magazine, December 1903.
Tanks were first introduced by the British during World War I as a means to break the deadlock of trench warfare. They were first deployed at the Battle of Somme in limited numbers. During construction, to conceal their true identity as weapons, they were designated as water carriers for the Mesopotamian campaign and referred to as "tanks" (as in 'water tank').
Interwar developments in both design and tactics evolved during World War II, producing important concepts of armored warfare which persist to this day and were prominently displayed during World War II.
The Soviet Union introduced the T-34, one of the best tanks in service throughout the war and one of the forerunners to the main battle tank.
Germany introduced blitzkrieg, a strategy which makes use of massed concentrations of tanks supported by artillery and air power to break through the enemy front to surround enemy forces and accomplish objectives.
Today, tanks seldom operate alone, as they are organized into armored units which involve the support of infantry, who may accompany the tanks in armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles. They are also usually accompanied by reconnaissance or ground-attack aircraft.
Due to its formidable capabilities and versatility the battle tank is generally considered a key component of modern armies.
So, let us accept WikiPedia's basic definition, that: "A tank is a tracked, armored fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility and tactical offensive and defensive capabilities. Firepower is normally provided by a large-calibre main gun in a rotating turret and secondary machine guns, while heavy armor and all-terrain mobility provide protection for the tank and its crew, allowing it to perform all primary tasks of the armored troops on the battlefield." Now let's apply that definition to the world of G.I. Joe.
The G.I.Joe team, not surprisingly, got a tank in their very first year of existence, in 1982. This was the MOBAT, a very precise-looking tank that remains a hugely popular vehicle to this day. And although Cobra didn't receive any vehicles in their initial year of operation, one had to figure that they weren't going to wait too long before bringing one into their arsenal.
And indeed, they did not. But it was clear from the outset that Cobra in no way felt obliged to restrict themselves to a conventional design motif. One might assume, within concept, that this was Destro's doing, as Cobra's primary contracted weapons supplier. One might well believe that Cobra allowed Destro greater latitude in his designs than larger, more recognized governments might. As to the designs behind the toy, one should probably assume that Hasbro wanted to make Cobra as distinctive and as set apart from traditional military likenesses as possible, without going too far into the implausible.
Thus Cobra devised the COBRA HISS, which stood for "High Speed Sentry", but many people tend to simply call the vehicle, the HISS Tank.
Technically, it does fit the definition of a tank. It is a tracked, treaded vehicle (although on the toy the tracks are "false" and conceal small wheels, but the idea is there). It has a large-scale gun on a rotating turret. It has heavy armor and likely an all-terrain capability. Protection for the tank crew is a little iffy, since the HISS has a clear canopy on a raised front, but let's assume the canopy is somehow protective of its own accord. So -- it is a tank. But it's not like any tank that had ever been seen before.
The treaded tracks used a strange, triangular design. The HISS has a surprisingly high profile for a tank, and a relatively compact structure. The gunner sits in the open in the rotating turret. And as I said, the driver's area was a single seat area that actually jutted forward from the main body of the vehicle, and had a clear canopy over it.
Odd as it was, the HISS quickly became one of the signature vehicles of Cobra, and has remained so ever since. And the sheer number of HISS variants over the years has been nothing less than staggering.
The original HISS was molded in black. But not too much time passed before there was a red one. Some years later, the HISS II, an all new vehicle, larger and more detailed than its predecessor, but sharing the same basic lines, came along. The original HISS was remade, somewhat ignominiously, as the Septic Tank, and assigned to Cobra's Eco-Warriors division. During the 2000-2002 run, the HISS III came along. This was a blue recoloration of the original HISS. In the "newsculpt" era, the eerie STRIKE HISS, sometimes referred to as the HISS IV, came along. This oddball vehicle actually featured a raising canopy. Meanwhile, another red version of the original HISS turned up as a store exclusive, sold with a threesome of Crimson Guards and a recolored ASP.
Late on in the newsculpt run, an all-new HISS came along. Technically not called the HISS V, although some refer to it as that, this particular HISS seemed to have a more realistic, dangerous, and well-armored look to it. Not only was the canopy better protected, but the sides raised to allow troops to be transported. This particular HISS remains a personal favorite of mine.
But, the original HISS endures, and I have to say I have no problem with it. It turned up twice in the 25th Anniversary series, first in a dark blue as a Target exclusive, then back in its original black as a general release vehicle.
Then something unusual happened. An assortment of vehicles was announced, that would include -- an ARCTIC HISS! This was different. Certainly there was nothing wrong with the concept. I can think of a couple of G.I. Joe adventures in the comic books where HISS tanks were seen on frozen tundra. But this HISS would be very specifically arctic-dedicated. Based on the original HISS, it had an entirely new color scheme, and some additional features. I looked forward to this vehicle with great anticipation.
Then -- Hasbro postponed the assortment. Given that the assortment also included a Cobra Stinger vehicle, as well as a red CLAW glider and other popular items, there was, need it be said, a rather decided outcry from G.I. Joe fandom, including yours truly. Hasbro, at the very least wanting to do something with the already manufactured supply, decided that the assortment would be released through select online retailers.
I am hugely impressed with this Arctic HISS. Apart from being molded primarily in a very stark white, something no HISS tank has ever been, of course, the number of modifications and additional parts that have been added to this vehicle is really quite amazing.
I've said it in any number of reviews before, but the single most expensive part of toy manufacturing is the molds. With that in mind, Hasbro has considerably modified this HISS Tank. This is not something one would really expect to see happen for a variant of a vehicle that, technically speaking, has been around for over 25 years.
First off, there's the headlights. On all previous versions of the original HISS, this was simply a sticker pressed into an indented area on the front of the vehicle. On the Arctic HISS, the headlights consist of a separately molded transparent blue plastic piece, that has been inserted into the indentation. This headlight "fixture" is very highly detailed, and looks great. But it is interesting in that there are no other pieces of this color on the entire vehicle. The canopy is transparent grey! This is really quite a remarkable addition.
Then there's all the additional equipment around the turret and rear half of the vehicle. For one thing,. the turret is different. Most HISS tanks have a double-barreled machine gun for whoever's riding in the open turret to use. The Arctic HISS has a brace of four missiles. Interestingly, the specs on the Arctic HISS tank that come with the instructions refer to them as "Stinger Infrared Homing Missiles" -- which fits perfectly, since the missile turret design and the missiles themselves are identical to those from the Cobra Stinger Jeep, which is another vehicle in this particular assortment.
There is a framework around the top of the rear half of the tank, and to this are connected two additional pieces of equipment. One is a cage-like equipment rack. The other is a rolled up bedroll. It would be a pretty good sized bedroll, too, if it were possible to roll it out (look upon it as a prop). I thought it might've been an entire tent, but one of the little labels for the vehicle clearly describes it as a bedroll. This and the equipment rack can be placed on either side of the vehicle. Some of these parts don't stay put as well as I'd like, but they look cool.
There is some painted detail on the vehicle, as well. Although not unheard of previously, it is somewhat unusual. The tank area within the treads has been painted, in this instance white, of course, and has been done very neatly, and certainly adds to the overall arctic look of the vehicle.
Then there's the labels. Hasbro even went all out on these. Several Cobra labels are already placed on the vehicle, but you get to place the rest yourself. One label that will not go where it's supposed to is the one for the tow hook. It's shown as placed on the rear of the vehicle near the tow hook itself. Unfortunately, the plastic in the area is textured, and will not hold the label. However, in years past, this label, however oddly placed it may be, has traditionally been placed on the front of the vehicle, between the two treads. It will still go there most effectively, and one can only hope that the user reads it before wandering around to the back.
For the first time ever, I believe, the label is also readable! Previously, the label consisted of a tow hook symbol and a few straight lines. This time around, the label reads: EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION WHEN USING TOW CABLE. DO NOT ENGAGE WEAPONS WHILE USING TOW CABLE. VEHICLE AND WEAPONS SYSTEMS COULD BECOME UNSTABLE. A second series of lines reads: REFER TO USERS MANUAL BEFORE TOWING ANOTHER VEHICLE. DO NOT TOW ITEMS OR VEHICLES WHICH OUTWEIGH TANK.
There are several labels which are placed inside the cockpit, including one that is already in place on the inside of the canopy, which I assume to be representative of some sort of HUD (Heads-Up Display), thankfully neatly placed, and it seems that in general there's a greater number and variety of labels than one usually expects for a HISS Tank -- several that say "Stay Clear" or "No Step" -- certainly popular phrases for G.I. Joe vehicle labels, but pretty much firsts for a HISS.
Most interesting of all are the numbers. One of the most prominent features on most HISS tanks (of the original style) are the three big stenciled numbers on the sides of the cockpit. These are listed as a "Fleet Identification Number", and for the original HISS, that number was "788". There have been a few others over the years. I have a red HISS Tank here with the number "818" on it. The blue Target exclusive HISS tank bears the number "827".
Well, for the first time ever -- you can make up your own number! The label sheet -- and I think this is an immensely cool idea whose time is frankly overdue and I'm a little surprised somebody didn't think of it before now (myself included) -- features two sets of numbers, 0-9, in the stencil format. So technically, you can come up with any series of three different numbers for the sides of the tank. While the traditional "788" is out of the question, the package illustration shows the number "482", which is ultimately what I went for, since it's never been used before. The printed instructions feature the number "724", which is also new, although they mention that you can use "Any Set of Numbers".
Hasbro has done something else with recent vehicles that I think is a very cool idea. Finally, the vehicles have file cards, same as the figures. The file card for the Arctic HISS reads:
Now, the Arctic HISS does come with a figure, and it's a rather interesting one, at that! Designated simply "Arctic HISS Driver", the figure uses the head of the 25th-style HISS Driver, recolored in a pale grey, with gold visor and blue mask, atop the body of the 25th-style Snow Serpent! That's pretty innovative in my opinion. I love interesting figure combinations like that, and technically, it's not one that would be possible in the traditional-style line, since the HISS Driver and Snow Serpent there had different neck structures.
The Arctic HISS Driver's uniform is white with some very pale grey camouflage (had to check it under the right light to make sure it wasn't just shadow, that's how pale it is), a grey fur collar, and black boots, gloves, and harness. There's a red Cobra insignia on the upper left arm. The figure also comes with a rifle. Really, the overall design is very cool.
His file card reads as follows:
ARCTIC H.I.S.S. DRIVER
Primary Military Specialty: Tank Commander
Arctic H.I.S.S. Drivers, like all Cobra H.I.S.S. Drivers, are selected from the best of the Cobra infantry forces for their skills, physical strength, and initiative (which means they're some of the nastiest, toughest, and aggressive troopers in the entire Cobra army). They are given concentrated training in the optimal operation of these powerful armored tanks; then they receive specialized training in cold weather combat and survival techniques. Arctic H.I.S.S. Drivers are graduates of Cobra Battle School and Advanced Weapons Systems Training.
"The only thing colder than the environments in which we live and fight is the ice in our veins."
Accessorywise, he comes with a rifle, and a very cool little pair of binoculars with a strap.
One small note on the packaging. The painted illustrations on the ends of the box -- one of the vehicle, one of the driver -- are really superbly done, and are worthy tributes of the original style.
So, what's my final word here? Hey, I need a few more of these tanks -- just so I can have fun with the number labels. Kidding aside, this is a very impressive vehicle. It's an amazing and unique incarnation of one of Cobra's best and most popular vehicles, in a color scheme never before seen, with enough additional equipment and special features on it to make it truly distinctive unto itself. Hasbro really went all out on this one, and it shows.
And the Arctic HISS Driver is pretty cool, too. Hasbro could have just recolored a HISS Driver in white and probably gotten away with it, but they decided to do something a little more interesting.
I'm not going to say that it's going to be easy to get this vehicle. The entire assortment blew through online outlets in pretty short order. But whatever you may have to do to obtain one, it's worth it! You will be very pleased to add this remarkable vehicle to your G.I. Joe collection. The G.I.JOE COBRA ARCTIC H.I.S.S. TANK most definitely has my highest recommendation!