email thomas

















By Thomas Wheeler

Certainly one of the most iconic vehicles in the world of G.I. Joe would have to be the HISS Tank. Introduced in 1983, it was, along with the FANG Copter, one of the first two vehicles ever assigned to the forces of Cobra, that "evil terrorist organization determined to rule the world", that G.I. Joe persistently pursues.

The original HISS Tank didn't look all that much like a conventional tank. Say what you will about how miserably evil Cobra is, they can get really creative with their vehicles. But there was something about that jutting angular canopy and the odd triangular treads that caught on. Granted, the original toy didn't even have real treads. They were molded as a static piece, concealing small wheels underneath, that were truly what allowed the vehicle to roll. It was an effective shortcut that would be implemented time and again on G.I. Joe, Cobra, and even Iron Grenadiers vehicles over the years. Only a handful of the largest, most impressive tanks would have real treads.

Still, with the HISS, it didn't seem to matter. Cobra finally had some vehicular hardware, and if it was somewhat wilder-looking than the more traditional-looking equipment that the G.I. Joe team had, well, that just made Cobra a more interesting and unpredictable adversary.

The HISS, which stands for HIgh Speed Sentry, certainly caught on, and for all of the wild vehicles and hardware that Cobra has possessed over the years, it's remained one of their best known and most iconic vehicles. And as such, it's been remade on more than a few occasions, with the original returning on a frequent basis. One of the first times was in a red version, part of a Sears exclusive set. Although not officially assigned to the Crimson Guard, it came out the same year as the Guard debuted.

The HISS II debuted in 1989. It maintained the basic shape of the original HISS, but was larger and distinctly more detailed. The original HISS was reissued later as part of the Eco-Warriors line, with a different color scheme and some additional squirting equipment, and was dubbed the "Septic Tank". Not exactly the HISS' finest hour.

The original HISS returned during the 2000-2002 run, now dubbed the HISS III, although it was basically the original HISS, redone in a dark blue instead of the original black.

The newsculpt line from 2002-2006 saw two distinctive HISS tanks, one of which was called the Strike HISS, which had the rather peculiar ability to extend its front section and strike like an actual snake.

The other new HISS tank, unofficially known as the HISS V to some fans, even though the package just calls it the HISS, since the Strike HISS was seen by some as the HISS IV, basically took the particulars of the original HISS, and gave them a little extra "oomph", for lack of a better term. The result was a HISS Tank that, while larger than the original, wasn't quite like the HISS II. If anything, it was a far more realistic, plausible, and dangerous-looking version of the original HISS. It's always been a personal favorite of mine, and I wish it had gotten more than a single rather limited release, coming as it did at the tail end of the newsculpt line.

The original HISS would continue to appear. A special Crimson Guard version of it turned up during the newsculpt era, with several original-style Crimson Guards. It was also offered at one of the G.I. Joe Conventions at the time, as was a recolored version of the HISS II. The HISS also returned several times during the 25th Anniversary line, in several versions, including black, dark blue, red, and most impressively, a white Arctic HISS Tank, with some additional features, including the ability to assign it its own distinctive registration number.

At the advent of the post-movie line, the HISS returned once again. Now officially known as the HISS v.5, since the previous tank had never officially had the "V" designation, this was an entirely new vehicle.

Now, I'm going to be really blunt here. When I first saw some images of the HISS v.5, I wasn't all that impressed. Despite the fact that this was the first HISS ever to have real treads, it just looked a little too strange. I've gotten increasingly particular about which G.I. Joe items I bring in to my collection, and this was just a little weirder than I was comfortable with. So, I initially took a pass on it.

But then, here as part of the 30th Anniversary line for the Real American Hero, they had to go and make a Crimson version of it. And I've always been something of a sucker for anything affiliated with the Crimson Guards.

The Crimson Guard was a special elite unit formed within Cobra and first introduced in 1985. These red-uniformed soldiers were the best of the best. Trained not only in combat, but also in a wide range of other skills, everything from industrial espionage to corporate subterfuge. If they didn't shoot you on the battlefield, they'd roast you over legal paperwork. Offhand, I think most people would prefer to be shot.

They were led by Tomax and Xamot, twins who worked for Cobra, but also operated their own business called Extensive Enterprises, which had its hand in just about every conceivable dirty deal you could imagine. The Crimson Guard worked for Cobra, but you still had to wonder just where their real loyalties lay, and to what degree they could be trusted -- even less than the average Cobra.

The Crimson Guard became an extremely popular part of Cobra, and you never knew where they were going to turn up next. There were Crimson Guards in Python Patrol. A more battle-ready Crimson Guard division, the Crimson Guard Immortals, turned up along the way. Crimson Guard Commanders, presumably above most Crimson Guards but operating under Tomax and Xamot, also appeared.

The very first 3-3/4" Convention Set featured the Crimson Guard, as Tomax and Xamot finally appeared in red uniforms, alongside a red-costumed Baroness, and no less than a dozen Cobra Vipers who had been brought over to the Crimson side of things. And there were the sinister-looking, black-uniformed Crimson Shadow Guards, towards the end of the 2002-2006 line, a special set of original-style figures.

The advent of the modern figures certainly hasn't kept the Crimson Guards away. They've been back like never before, with desert troops, multi-packs, officers, and more. They remain a dangerous threat to the G.I. Joe team, and you can't help but wonder if they might truly be an organization within an organization that might one day seek to overthrow Cobra Commander himself.

Granted, it helps to have your own vehicular hardware, and the Crimson Guard has made use of HISS Tanks before, so it's probably no great surprise that they acquired one of the most recent versions.

So, how's the vehicle? Well, honestly, it's cooler than I expected it to be. Some of the photographs and images I saw must have been taken at weird angles, because if you study this HISS closely enough -- it looks more like a HISS than I originally thought it did. And it's not even as weird as that Strike HISS.

What initially throws off the resemblance to the traditional image of a HISS Tank is the -- well, I can only call it a tail. The Crimson HISS has an extended tail section behind the main body that is simply not something any previous incarnation of the HISS has possessed, and it does throw off the lines a fair bit. That, added to the fact that the treads extend outward from the main body of the vehicle, instead of being more tucked underneath, and you really have to study this vehicle to see where the HISS imagery comes into its design. But it's there if you really look.

Most obvious is the treads. Although larger than the original HISS, they maintain the same basic, distinctive triangular formation, with two ground-based points, and the third point rising above and slightly ahead of the front ground point. Unlike previous HISS Tanks, these treads are real. They actually move with the wheels, which are part of the tread design, not something hidden underneath a set of false treads. The Crimson HISS rolls well enough, but it works best on smooth surfaces.

Then there's the main body of the HISS. Here is where it's easy to get thrown off from a design standpoint. Initially, it just doesn't look especially HISS-like. But if you study the main cockpit section, you start to see it. Although the Crimson HISS doesn't have the window canopy of previous HISS tanks -- which if you think about it probably wasn't the brightest thing to do with a tank anyway, but is one of those things where you have to implement a sort of "willing suspension of disbelief" -- the Crimson HISS does have a similar shape, at least in its front half to two-thirds, to a traditional HISS. The canopy over the cockpit is similarly angled, and although the rest of the main body is a little wider and more detailed than a traditional HISS, and it lacks the open turret, the basic shape is there.

The open turret of the original probably wasn't too bright from a real-life comparative note, either, and it's been completely eliminated in the Crimson HISS. And herein comes the design element that I think sort of threw me off a bit. The rear section of the HISS stretches back, and up, almost looking like a truncated version of the rear section of a helicopter, especially since the very back of the vehicle spreads out into something vaguely resembling a wing.

It's not a wing, however. Instead, it's a double weapons-mount, arguably replacing the original open turret, with a machine gun and a spring-loaded missile launcher mounted to either side.

The Crimson HISS has some interesting details. There's a double-barreled machine gun up front. There's a lever in the back, that allows both of the rear-mounted weapons to turn from side to side in a synchronized fashion. One might wonder how the driver of the Crimson HISS can see where he's going, given the opaque canopy, but proper placement of the labels provides him with a number of screens on the underside of the canopy. There's also a second cockpit of sorts, near the rear of the vehicle, where a second figure can sit, and presumably operate the weapons. It's worth mentioning that the machine gun also has a belt of ammunition that attaches to it, and stretches to an ammo supply container on the main body.

The Crimson HISS does take after the Strike HISS, just a little bit, with one particular feature. If you press the button on the top of the tank, the entire main body rises up, and can then pivot around. This has been designed very effectively, and as realistically as something as implausible as this can be. There's even connecting cables between the top section and the lower section where the treads remain. Nice touch, really.

The Crimson HISS is a decent size, measuring about 7 inches in height -- recessed -- slightly over a foot long, counting the machine gun barrels up front, and almost eight inches wide at the widest point, which is the tread spread.

The labels are nicely done, and for the most part fit where they're supposed to. Like the Arctic HISS, and a number of other vehicles since then, the labels for the Crimson HISS do include a random series of letters and numbers for its registration designation. However, there's also a specific label marked "788", which is the original and most traditional number for a HISS Tank. I ultimately decided to use these, but if you want, you can give your Crimson HISS a registration number of Q237 or whatever.

The type font for the numbers and some other prominent markings is interesting. It's a futuristic computer-looking font, but it's also been turned into a stencil font, much like the registration numbers of the original HISS. Of course, there are the usual Cobra emblems, and assorted warning and informational labels. Modern printing techniques allow for some astoundingly small type, which appears to be actually legible, if you own a good magnifying glass and don't mind giving yourself eyestrain.

Overall, the Crimson HISS is far more impressive than I expected, and I sort of regret passing up on the initial version of this vehicle at this point. Maybe someday.

Now, the Crimson HISS does come with its own driver, an all-new trooper character given the name of CRIMSON HORSEMAN. It's an interesting name, and there's something about the name "Horseman" that definitely has an elite sound to it.

The figure is impressive, although he doesn't resemble any previous Crimson Guard member that I've ever encountered. Nevertheless, he's a decent fit. He's tall, even for a modern-style G.I. Joe figure, measuring over 4-1/4" in height -- close to 4-1/2". "Imposing" would be one word to describe him, relative to some of his peers.

The figure has an all-black helmet, with a glossy finish. There's a distinct visor, which has a red Cobra emblem in the center of it. The strange, faceless single-colored helmet reminds me a little, at least in concept, of the helmets worn by TARGATs, Destro's near space-worthy Iron Grenadier troopers.

The Crimson Horseman's uniform is mostly black and burgundy. A sort of "wash" has been applied to some portions, a practice I normally dislike, but in this case, it makes the Crimson Horseman look as though he's wearing some sort of slightly worn burgundy-black leather. In this instance, it works pretty well.

The Crimson Horseman is wearing a separate vest, to conceal the mid-torso articulation point. The vest also has a high collar. There is a gray pouch on one side of the vest, and five smaller pouches, which I suspect may contain ammo clips, on the other.

The uniform is colored to make it appear as though the Crimson Horseman is wearing a black-and-burgundy jacket, not so much a vest, with black trousers and burgundy boots.

Additionally, the Crimson Horseman has red armor plating throughout his uniform, on the front and back, as well as on the arms and legs. Most of these armor sections are very nicely detailed.

Any complaints? Just two. The jacket vest isn't the best fit in the world. It's snapped onto place on the sides, and the snaps don't want to stay put all that well, and the jacket is a bit short. I almost wonder if a different body was used underneath than was originally proposed, but I have no way of knowing that. Still, the prototype figure shown on the vehicle package looks to be a little better tailored.

The other gripe -- the armor plating is marked with silver "chips" indicating battle damage. I really hate battle damage. And it's pretty extensive on this guy's armor. I really wish this hadn't been done to the figure.

The Crimson Horseman comes with a rifle, a display stand, and some other accessories, and of course, there is a file card. The file cards are not quite as informative as they used to be, but they are certainly more informative than the ones from the live-action movie. And the painted portraits have been truly excellent, and this one is no exception. It's an excellent illustration.

The file card reads as follows:

Cobra HISS Tank Driver

Crimson Horsemen are part of the Crimson Guard, an elite private army led by the power weapons manufacturer Destro. Crimson Horsemen specialize in mobile combat tactics. They prefer tanks because of their strength, armor, and weapons, but they can turn even the most humble vehicle into a weapon of destruction. They are highly trained in many disciplines and can switch from aggressive infantry fights to clandestine operations with ease.

Since when did Destro get involved with the Crimson Guard? I think those of us who have followed the adventures of G.I. Joe for a long time need to start considering the possibility of alternate universes here. What the heck, Transformers got away with it.

By the way, it doesn't really take that much to turn a humble vehicle into a weapon of destruction. Just have a driver who likes to talk on a cell phone...

So, what's my final word here? I'm impressed. I'm a lot more impressed than I expected to be. The Crimson HISS is a very cool vehicle, and it's not as far removed from the basics of the original HISS as I initially thought it would be. It's well designed and certainly has some interesting capabilities.

The Crimson Horseman figure has a few faults, but a lot of that is personal opinion. You may not mind the silver scrapes representing battle damage on the armor plating. And setting that aside, the figure is a very cool and impressive new design. I'm always glad to add something new to my Crimson Guards.

Ultimately, if you're a longtime, or even recent, G.I. Joe fan and collector, you'll want to add this cool vehicle and driver to your collection.

The G.I. JOE COBRA CRIMSON H.I.S.S. TANK and CRIMSON HORSEMAN definitely have my highest recommendation!