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By Thomas Wheeler

There has certainly been no shortage of vehicles in the G.I. Joe line over the near three decades of its existence. Few action figure lines, with the possible exception of Star Wars (and I'd still want to do a comparison), have matched G.I. Joe for the sheer amount of vehicular hardware made available to the figures within that line. I don't really count Transformers, since in that particular instance, the figures ARE the vehicles.

There have been tanks, boats, planes, a 7-1/2-foot Aircraft Carrier, space shuttles, helicopters, skimobiles, and a few things that have defied easy description. If you can come up with an easy term to describe an oversized circular sawblade that the driver actually rides within, I'm all ears. Then there's the Cobra Pogo. I mean -- what the heck!?

However, not surprisingly, the most frequent vehicles within the world of G.I. Joe have been those on wheels -- motorcycles, jeeps, and the like. Granted, some of the stuff that travels on wheels has been known to get a little strange, too, but some of it tends to be more conventional in appearance.

The first four-wheeled vehicle within the G.I. Joe line was the VAMP, a sort-of Jeep but with its own distinct design. It proved popular enough to warrant the VAMP Mark II a couple of years later, and was -- creatively borrowed by Cobra, to make the Cobra Stinger. Subsequent to this, both sides would make use of the basic design over the years.

Of course, neither G.I. Joe nor Cobra would restrict their four-wheeled activities to the VAMP and its variants. The G.I. Joe team developed the Hammer, among others. And Cobra developed the slightly weird but not entirely implausible COBRA RAGE, which in the current line has recently been recolored, slightly reworked, and re-released as the COBRA FURY. Rage -- Fury -- I can live with that. Probably find both words under the same heading in a thesaurus.

The original Cobra Rage was released in 1990. There is still evidence of this on the Fury, as the copyright date on the bottom of the vehicle reads 1989. The early 1990's were an interesting time for the world of G.I. Joe, and remain somewhat controversial among collectors even to this day. The vehicles tended to get weirder, and the color schemes on both vehicles and figures tended to get brighter.

Honestly, the vehicles in 1990 weren't all that bad, although some were moderately peculiar, such as the Retaliator helicopter, the Cobra Hurricane Jet, and a few others. But 1990 also saw the debut of the G.I. Joe Avalanche, the largest arctic-dedicated vehicle to date, and extremely impressive even to this day, and the massive G.I. Joe General, at that point the largest vehicle that had been produced since the Defiant Shuttle Launch System in 1987.

And there was the Cobra Rage. Interestingly enough, it didn't come with a figure of its own to act as a driver. In 1990, Hasbro was starting to phase out driver figures. They would disappear almost entirely in 1991, but would return in 1993. In 1990, there were some vehicles that had driver figures, but several that did not, that one might expect would have.

The Cobra Rage was an odd-looking vehicle in some respects. Although possessing four wheels, and more or less possessing a car configuration, it was clearly intended more as a rolling battle wagon of sorts, really not entirely matching an easy definition of car, tank, or anything else.

Almost impossibly low to the ground, which admittedly was something of a strategic advantage since it would be that much harder to hit, the basic body of the Cobra Rage was scarcely larger than its own wheels, which were these wide, tapered cylindrical contrivances. The only real high point on the Rage was a manned turret with two long-barreled cannons on it, and pity the poor Viper that had to ride up there. This section could also elevate to give the Cobra Rage some semblance of "high ground" advantage.

The Cobra Rage was defined as an urban warfare vehicle, and this wasn't hard to discern. It rode so low to the ground that it wouldn't be especially practical on an open battlefield. Conversely, its exceptionally low profile was rather well suited for an urban environment, where there's a certain amount of protection provided by buildings -- or the ruins thereof depending on which urban environment one finds oneself in and how long one has been shooting up the place and blowing it up here and there.

Perhaps the most odd thing about the Cobra Rage, and it was certainly not alone in this regard in G.I. Joe figures and vehicles of the time period, was its color scheme. Now, it wasn't especially garish, unlike some figures and vehicles of the time. But it didn't really seem to fit an urban environment, or really any other. The main body of the Cobra Rage was a light tan, while many of its assorted attachments, such as doors, hatches, and the like, were burgundy red. It was a rather odd color scheme. It didn't really detract from the overall look or the functionality of the vehicle, but it did tend to make one wonder how the color scheme had been decided upon.

The Cobra Rage returned, during the 1997-1998 Toys "R" Us exclusive era, which followed the original run of the Real American Hero. This time around, the Rage was colored in both a more sensible and more Cobra-esque black, with blue details, such as the aforementioned panels and doors. It was really an improvement, and made the Rage look much more dangerous. It also came with a driver this time around, a Cobra Alley-Viper, which made perfect sense, since the Rage was viewed as an Urban Assault Vehicle, and the Alley-Vipers had been well-established as Cobra's Urban Assault Troopers.

1997 was the last appearance of the Rage, until now, under its new name, the Cobra Fury, as part of the new like of G.I. Joe vehicles following the live-action movie. There's no direct ties to the movie at this point, although the movie toys have clearly had the effect of Hasbro wanting to up the ante on realism in some respects, at least as far as the toy line allows.

G.I. Joe has tended to be rather mercurial in this regard. When the line first started in 1982, it was viewed as a relatively realistic military-based action figure line, although Cobra, perhaps understandably, got away with more weirdness than the Joe Team. As the years went on, both sides became more fanciful, and certainly more colorful, creating a certain amount of controversy. For myself, I always regarded that by this point in time, the line was more character-based than specifically military.

The 1997-98 and 2000-2002 eras saw something of a return to at least a less intense color scheme, while the newsculpt line of 2002-2006 saw the G.I. Joe concept directed to specific themes, such as SpyTroops and Valor vs. Venom. The 25th Anniversary line, by necessity, was based on what had gone before, while the movie line was based fairly close to the movie, and particularly saw a rather limited color palette.

In my opinion, the current, post-movie line, seems intent on maintaining a far greater sense of realism, or at least plausibility, than any prior G.I. Joe concept. The package illustrations are astounding in their detail and precision, and the color choices of the vehicles reflect a similar intention towards what might best be stated as, "If this thing existed in real life, this is what it would look like." New figures seem to also take this direction. I'm not saying that we'd really encounter a Cobra Jungle-Viper or whatever out there, but if we DID, the figure reflects as closely as possible what he'd "really" look like.

This can be a little tricky when it comes to using vehicles that come from earlier eras, but in the case of the Cobra Fury, I think Hasbro has done a very commendable job. It helps that the vehicle isn't all that implausible to begin with. Somewhat fanciful, perhaps. But I am convinced that the Cobra Fury represents something that a military engineer might actually design if he thought to do so. If he was instructed to come up with a car-like vehicle, with as low a profile as conceivably possible, and armed to the teeth, the Cobra Fury might not be too far removed from the end result.

The Cobra Fury is a rather wide vehicle. Of course its lack of height helps this look. The Fury is about 10-1/2" in length, 8" wide -- which is very wide for a G.I. Joe car-type vehicle, but, discounting the top turret, the main body of the Fury is just slightly over 2" in height!

The Fury is extremely close to the Rage in overall appearance, of course, but there are two very obvious differences at the outset. The first is the wheels, or tires. The original Cobra Rage had smooth, tapered wheels, with no apparent tread markings on them. Great for a toy -- not so great in real life. The Cobra Fury has been given entirely new wheels. They're just about as wide as the originals from the Rage, but the design is completely different. Almost "double wheels", there is a larger, treaded section close in to the vehicle, and a second section, also treaded, but smaller in diameter, further out.

I'm honestly not sure what the advantage to a tire design like this might be, since arguably the second smaller section would never hit the pavement. It might be useful if indeed these are intended to be two separate tires per wheel, in the event that the larger section suffers a blowout. It might also be useful on really tight turns. As wide as the Fury is relative to its length, it's got to have a lousy turning circle (and in fact on the toy, the front wheels do not turn). If it's trying to take a corner in an urban environment at a high rate of speed, it's conceivable that the vehicle might actually rise up off the ground on one side, and need the wider, smaller tires to keep it from flipping over completely.

In any case, it's a cool design, and the heavily treaded tires give the Fury a certain added look of ruggedness.

The other new feature on the Fury is the spring-loaded missile launcher. This device attaches to the rear of the vehicle, along one of the supports that allows the cannon turret to raise. These two mounts were previously used for two of the four missiles that the Fury comes with, and which date all the way back to the original Rage. The thing is -- you still get four missiles, two of which are mounted on either side of the turret itself. But the other of these are impossible to mount if you use the spring-loaded launcher, which has its own distinctive missile. My recommendation -- store them in a Ziploc bag along with the instructions and be glad for a couple of spares.

The Cobra Fury has an interesting color scheme. It's such a dark burgundy that it almost looks black. There is a certain amount of black, urban-style camouflage painted on the main body. The front armored grill is a very dark gray, as are some of the other details on the vehicle. The cannon barrels are also dark gray, while the turret itself is a lighter gray, as are the hatch doors on the front of the vehicle, as well as the engine panel on the side.

The Cobra Fury is a very well-armed vehicle. Along with the obvious turret above, with its double-barreled cannon, there is a gatling gun mounted in the front of the vehicle, a pull-out drawer of mines in the back, a second set of machine guns pointing to the rear, the aforementioned missile launcher, and some sort of contraption on the left side of the vehicle that swivels out. It's hardly a conventional-looking weapon, a short, thick cylinder with a pointed tip. I don't recall offhand what the original Cobra Rage identified this as being, and the Cobra Fury doesn't even try. Given the look of the thing, I've always thought it might be some sort of high-tech laser weapon, or a sonic weapon of some sort. Seriously, Cobra has packed this vehicle as full of armaments as it possibly can, so why not throw something like that in?

One of the ways Hasbro seems to want to aid a certain greater level of "authenticity" to the current crop of G.I. Joe vehicles is with plenty of labels. Labels have been a part of G.I. Joe vehicles since the inception of the line, and for the most part, I've found them an enjoyable feature, as well as a personal test of precision. Being a graphic artist and something of a perfectionist, I try to get them all placed as precisely as I possibly can.

But WOW -- the supply of these that comes with the Fury is considerable. I got my first experience with the current level of labels with the new VAMP. While the Fury doesn't have quite that many labels, the supply is still very generous.

Now, let me give you a piece of advice right off -- there are a few labels that need to be placed around the sliding drawer where the mines are held. These labels are most easily placed if the rising turret is all the way up and locked into its upward position. However, the only way this is going to happen is if you remove the spring-loaded missile launcher. Fortunately, it just slides right off and back on again. Otherwise, you can't lock the turret in the raised position.

One of the labels, that unfortunately you don't even see most of the time, is particularly cool. It's a control console that fits underneath the passenger-side hatch. Honestly, the configuration of "lighted" buttons reminds me of some of the control panels on the original U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek. Just something about the pattern. But it's an excellent illustration, and very nicely detailed.

Among some of the labels are some with interesting reading, if you don't ming a little eyestrain. !ATTENTION! COBRA PERSONNEL ONLY - PLEASE USE CAUTION AROUND MISSILES AND HYDRAULICS. Another one reads, FOLLOW SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS IN MANUAL TO PREVENT SERIOUS INJURY. I mean, since when does Cobra say "Please"? Or is worried about their personnel being seriously injured? One gets the impression that Cobra has figured out that it is best to take care of its own troopers instead of treating them like expendable cannon fodder as much. In this, it makes Cobra seem like more plausible organization.

There's also a cool little logo emblem that appears on the turret. It seems that the Cobra Fury is part of a Cobra section called MAD - METRO ARMORED DIVISION. One of the better abbreviations and explanations they've come up with, if you ask me.

Overall, the labels do add a decided additional level of authenticity to the vehicle, and the vast majority of them do fit where the instructions recommend. I had to get a little creative with a few of them, and trim a couple of them down a tad to fit, but overall, they worked abundantly well.

Now let's discuss the driver that comes with the Cobra Fury. He's officially designation as an ALLEY-VIPER OFFICER. Well, that makes sense -- the Alley-Viper Officers probably would get to ride into battle more likely than the Alley-Viper troopers.

Alley-Vipers are, as I said, the logical choice for the Cobra Fury, as both are Urban Specialists. The Alley-Vipers are certainly a well-established part of the Cobra ranks, first appearing in 1989, and having been remade over a dozen times since then. I believe them to be second only to Cobra Vipers as far as that's concerned, unless we start counting all the B.A.T. variants.

The original Alley-Viper was a rather garish fellow, dressed in an implausible orange and blue uniform. Not exactly urban, but certainly distinctive. The Alley-Viper returned in 1993, outfitted in yellow and black. Again, not especially urban in coloration, but in my opinion, definitely cooler. This edition of the Alley-Viper was recolored in 1994, into something resembling the original color scheme.

The next Alley-Viper actually appeared with the Cobra Rage, in 1997. This Alley-Viper was dressed in dark blue and black for the most part, but had these odd areas of white camouflage on him. It was a very strange color scheme.

Subsequent to this, the Alley-Viper received an excellent uniform coloration during the early days of the 2002-2006 run, when original-style figures were sometimes mixed in with the newsculpts. This Alley-Viper had a molded-in gray and white camouflage uniform, with black highlights, and a dark blue helmet and chestplate. It was probably the most effective color scheme yet. The blue aspects were later recolored as red, which wasn't too bad. Yet another Alley-Viper took on a mostly blue uniform, a fairly intense blue, and the last traditional-style Alley-Viper, which was part of a Cobra Urban Strike 6-pack, had a mostly black uniform, which certainly made him look the most dangerous of the lot.

There were also a couple of newsculpt Alley-Vipers, who bore a reasonable resemblance to the original.

Now we have the Alley-Viper Officer, and in keeping with the apparent intention to create figures that, when necessary, have a good resemblance to their original counterparts, but also look more "real world", the new Alley-Viper Officer certainly fits this description abundantly well.

Two things have always been especially distinctive about the Alley-Viper -- the distinctive shape of the helmet, and the protective chestplate and backplate. The Alley-Viper Officer certainly has the helmet. The chestplate and backplate, however, have been replaced by a thick, protective vest, or harness, even more loaded with accessories than the original. It's almost as if the Alley-Viper Officer was a practice session for Cobra's new Shock Troopers.

Of course, the Alley-Viper Officer has the distinctive helmet of the Alley-Vipers. This is one thing that has remained virtually unchanged throughout their history. The helmet is not easily described. It looks somewhat ovaloid, but with a distinct upswept ridge through the center, all the way to the back. The open face of the helmet is also somewhat upswept, with inward points in the center.

In the case of the Alley-Viper Officer, the helmet, which is the same very dark burgundy as the Fury vehicle itself, is removable, something that has never been the case before. The head underneath is unremarkable for the most part, a basic head covered in a ski-mask-like covering, although it does have a red Cobra emblem imprinted on it, just so you don't mistake him for one of the good guys when he's not wearing the helmet. It is worth noting that the visible eyes have been very neatly and meticulously painted, even giving the figure's eyes brown irises around the black pupils.

The helmet includes an opaque faceplate that raises and lowers. This, too, has been a common feature of Alley-Vipers over the years. One sort of expects that if it really existed, some means of seeing through it would have to be part of its design. I've never been all that fond of the face plate, and have generally not equipped most of my Alley-Vipers with them. In the case of the Alley-Viper Officer, if one so desires, it is removable.

The uniform, as one might expect, looks like what a more real-world version of an Alley-Viper uniform might look like. In this respect, it might almost go a little too far. It definitely has the flavor of an Alley-Viper, but perhaps has taken away a little too much of the fantasy. This, however, is strictly personal opinion, and is not intended as a negative comment in any way with regard to the superb design and detailing of the costume.

The Alley-Viper Officer's uniform is mostly gray. He has black gloves, knee pads, and boots. A ridged silver wristband on his left arm emulates a similar wristband worn by most Alley-Vipers. The previous chestplate and backplate have been replaced by a thick vest, which also does a capable job of concealing the often inconvenient-looking mid-torso articulation point. The vest is exceptionally well-detailed, and armed to the teeth, with numerous pouches across the center and over one shoulder (the latter aiding the overall Alley-Viper look). There is thick protective padding on the back.

Additional pouches hang from the vest on both sides, and the Alley-Viper Officer also has holsters on his legs. There are Cobra emblems on his armbands. Unfortunately absent in my opinion is the "UA" emblem which many Alley-Vipers wore, which stood for "Urban Assault".

The Alley-Viper Officer does not have a lot of personal accessories. He does not have a shield, something most Alley-Vipers came with, or a gun. However he does have two small knives which do come out of their sheaths, one on his vest, the other on his right wrist.

The overall figure is very impressive, certainly intimidating-looking, nicely-painted, extremely well-detailed, and manages to look very much like a modern, more "realistic" version of an Alley-Viper, if perhaps going just a little too far in the realism direction. He really needs the helmet on to maintain the Alley-Viper look.

The current file cards don't really go into quite as much detail as they used to, although they tend to be a bit more informative then the ones from the movie. Strangely, the illustration for the Alley-Viper Officer shows him without his helmet. It reads: Alley-Viper Officers specialize in urban combat and lead platoons of Alley-Viper troopers in ground assaults. These Cobra officers train their troops to conduct fast-strike operations of takeover and sabotage in cities around the world. In an Asian city, they battle the G.I. Joe team to prevent them from infiltrating a Cobra warehouse.

Which explains the fancy box illustration which shows the Alley-Viper Officer in the turret of the Cobra Fury (of course if he were seated inside the vehicle you wouldn't even see him), with a modern, if foreign looking city in the background, with several explosions going off around him. And the dummy still isn't wearing his helmet. Clearly Alley-Vipers aren't recruited for their intelligence, and I wonder how much of an afterthought this helmet even was! It's really needed to complete the Alley-Viper image.

So, what's my final word here? This is a very cool vehicle, a most impressive update of the original Cobra Rage into the Cobra Fury. The extensive labels do add a greater air of authenticity to it, as do the new wheels. The Alley-Viper Officer is an impressive figure, very well-suited to the current design motif of the G.I. Joe line, if perhaps not quite as comparable in some design aspects to his ancestors. Still, I cannot argue the overall detail and design work. This is all superb. But I'm glad he has a very obvious Alley-Viper helmet.

Any G.I. Joe collector would be very pleased to add this vehicle and figure to their collection. The vehicle, of course, will work with any incarnation of the 3-3/4" G.I. Joes.

The G.I. JOE COBRA FURY with ALLEY-VIPER OFFICER definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!