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REVIEW: G.I. JOE RETALIATION COBRA CYBER-NINJA
By Thomas Wheeler

Within the world of G.I. Joe, the forces of Cobra have proven quite capable of bringing in very unusual trooper divisions, as well as developing advanced technology that is at least somewhat ahead of what one would expect to find on a conventional battlefield.

Coming from the line of G.I. Joe figures based on the sequel live-action movie G.I. JOE RETALIATION, it would seem as though Cobra has found a way to combine some of their more distinctive troopers, with some of their more distinctive technology. One of the brand-new trooper divisions making its debut in the Retaliation line is known as the Cobra CYBER-NINJA.

Now, Cobra certainly has a history with ninjas. The very first ninja in the entire G.I. Joe line was Storm Shadow, a Cobra ninja introduced in 1984. This character proved so popular that he was nearly impossible to keep in the stores. This was back in a day when the lack of availability of a certain action figure was due more to that character's popularity than any glitches in distribution or the store chain not ordering enough.

Storm Shadow's popularity was doubtless enhanced by a link to Snake-Eyes, who had originally been showcased as the G.I. Joe team's mysterious masked commando, but who soon showed ninja abilities of his own, which doubtless explained some of what he was able to get away with in combat even before this information was revealed. Over time, the origin of these two highly popular characters was woven throughout the adventures of the G.I. Joe team in their battle against Cobra, and any number of other characters, ninjas and otherwise, were shown to have been a part of their past.

But these two were hardly the only ninjas that would be part of G.I. Joe. Hasbro recolored the original Storm Shadow figure, making him into a troop-builder figure known as the Ninja-Viper. Although the Ninja-Vipers never appeared in the comic book, they were a very popular figure, and remain well-regarded to this day. Cobra would enlist the services of a group of ninja mercenaries known as the Night Creepers along the way, and Storm Shadow, right from his first appearance in the legendary "Silent Issue" of the original comic book, showed that he had aides of his own, with the infamous Red Ninjas, who have definitely taken their place in G.I. Joe lore to the point where they are featured in the Retaliation movie!

With all of these ninjas flying around on Cobra's side, G.I. Joe eventually had to do something about it. A reformed Storm Shadow helped to build Ninja Force, one of the Joe Team's special teams, with characters such as Dojo, Nunchuk, and T'Jbang, perhaps the single most confounding, how-do-you-pronounce-it code-name ever. Cobra countered with two new individuals who went by the names of Slice and Dice.

Let's take a look at the cybernetic side of things. The G.I. Joe concept has long had machines, and robotics, that are well in advance of what's actually possible in today's technology. But the earliest example of applying this technology in a more human-based format would have to be -- no, not the Cobra B.A.T. -- but Major Bludd. This character, who debuted in 1983, had obviously been through some battles. The original figure not only had an eyepatch, but a right arm that was clearly artificial. Bludd's uniform had no sleeve on that side, the toy's articulation had no elbow joint or swivel arm, the arm looked mechanical, and the hand had a thumb and two large fingers.

An arm such as this was a bit of a stretch beyond what was feasible for prosthetic limbs, but it wasn't quite "Six Million Dollar Man" time, either. In both the comics and the animated series, this odd arm was downplayed, and Major Bludd's right arm was portrayed as having the requisite number of fingers, and the mechanical attributes seemed more to be some sort of protective armor. Subsequent figures of Major Bludd also downplayed the apparent artificial nature of his arm, giving him a full uniform sleeve and a normal-looking hand, although the 1994 Major Bludd did have a semi-retracting spike on the elbow. No explanation for the arm has ever been given to my knowledge.

Now we come to the Cobra B.A.T., or Battle Android Trooper. Not really a cyborg, since it contained no organic components, the Battle Android Trooper was introduced in 1986, and was entirely a humanoid robotic construct designed for combat. This was one of the early instances of the G.I. Joe line really stretching the boundaries of what was currently feasible in technology.

In 2004, when I was in Walt Disney World for that year's G.I. Joe Convention, I saw a demonstration of a humanoid robot named ASIMO. This was not part of the convention, but a special event taking place at Epcot. ASIMO was a four-foot-tall humanoid robot with a remarkable sense of balance and dexterity. Operated remotely from elsewhere in the demonstration hall, ASIMO could walk, climb stairs, and even dance. His hands, which were structural duplicates of a human hand, had considerable dexterity. ASIMO was considered a substantial breakthrough in the field of robotics, and I have to admit he presented an impressive demonstration.

But, ASIMO wasn't going to be picking up a laser rifle and charging across a battlefield anytime soon. If anything, he was designed to be an aide to people who were confined to wheelchairs, hence one of the reasons for his smaller height. And he still came along nearly twenty years after the Cobra B.A.T. was first introduced into the toy line. One of the greatest hurdles that had to be solved with ASIMO was the balance issue. This was not a problem for the toy line. If a 4" tall action figure tips over, it doesn't take much to right him. If a highly expensive four-foot-tall robot falls over and can't get back up again, that's a problem.

And, if a full-sized robot that's supposed to be engaged in combat on a battlefield just falls over before it can even get off a shot, that's also a problem. Obviously it was a problem that Cobra's technical staff resolved. Cobra B.A.T.s might blow up, get shot to pieces, get thrown around by Sgt. Slaughter in their animated debut, and/or open fire on other Cobra troops given their limited computer memories, but they didn't tend to just lose their balance.

The Battle Android Troopers proved so popular that the B.A.T. II was introduced just a few years later, in 1991, and a special version of the B.A.T. was also part of the Star Brigade Armor-Tech line. B.A.T.s have been a part of the G.I. Joe line ever since, showing up in literally every incarnation of the line. There's been at least a dozen or more versions of them, a record that few trooper divisions, perhaps only Vipers and Alley-Vipers, can match.

Cyborgs are another matter. There haven't been quite as many of those. Cobra introduced a Cyber-Viper in 1993, part of the Mega-Marines group. It was an impressive figure, unfortunately saddled with a rather extreme color scheme, as were all of the Mega-Marines, in this case with an emphasis on red, bright green, and neon yellow. The Cyber-Viper would return in the modern line, as the driver of one of the exo-frame-like constructs, and with a somewhat more reasonable color scheme, if an entirely different appearance.

Another distinctly cybernetic character would be the second Overkill, the B.A.T. Commander. The first Overkill was entirely robotic, but the second one had human components, looking somewhat like an evil Robocop.

Even G.I. Joe had one cyborg -- Robo-J.O.E., who helped develop the Armor-Tech spacesuits for the Star Brigade team.

So now we have the Cyber-Ninjas. It's not the most Cobra-sounding name in the world, but somebody probably figured that "Cyber-Ninja-Viper" was a little too wordy.

But -- a cybernetic ninja!? Would this be feasible? Within the world of G.I. Joe, quite possibly. The Sigma Six line introduced Ninja-B.A.T.s, programmed by Storm Shadow. They were rather odd-looking robots, but apparently well capable of their duties and living up to their names.

And within the pages of the current G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic book, an extension of the original Marvel comic, now published by IDW and still written by Larry Hama, we have met the mysterious Blue Ninja clan, who themselves are a group of ruthless cyborgs. So -- yeah, I think we can say within the world of G.I. Joe, it's possible.

So how's the figure? Really outstanding. I honestly don't know if the Cyber-Ninjas will appear in the Retaliation movie. As I am writing this review, the movie is still nearly two months from its premiere. And as with the last movie, I am sure there will be no shortage of merchandise that fits well within the movie environment, but doesn't actually appear in the film. In the case of the Cyber-Ninja, we'll simply have to wait and see.

Unfortunately, the Retaliation figures don't have much in the way of background information on their packages. The traditional file cards are simply not present this time. There's a few short sentences on the back which read as follows: "The Cyber-Ninja is the ultimate combination of ancient ninja fighting and advanced technology. He almost defies gravity as he slides down the side of a heavily guarded building. With his cybernetic invisibility suit, he slips inside undetected to carry out a lethal sneak attack!"

Invisibility suit, hmm? Nice enhancement to have.

The figure is certainly not the most colorful character that has ever appeared in the G.I. Joe line, but given the trooper's designation and specialty, it works. The Cyber-Ninja is wearing a helmet that is solid dark metallic gray. It's largely featureless -- which actually serves to enhance the cybernetic nature of the trooper -- except for a distinct wraparound visor across the front, with a couple of small rectangles on either side near the top. It doesn't take much to envision these rectangles as some sort of visual feeds, and the interior of the visor as some sort of massive electronic display, doubtless with any number of capabilities beyond normal human vision.

The main uniform of the Cyber-Ninja is black, heavily streaked with silver. While I normally don't approve of this sort of "weathering", in this case it works rather well, giving the Cyber-Ninja a somewhat more mechanical appearance. It could readily be perceived that however human the Cyber-Ninja still is, this uniform has some technological enhancements of its own for its wearer, along with the aforementioned invisibility capacity.

Protective armor plating seems to have been secured to the uniform at the shoulders, elbows, and elsewhere. Especially interesting are the lower arms and legs, which appear to be particularly cybernetic. They are too slender to really be part of the uniform, but they also clearly have mechanical enhancements. They're almost B.A.T.-like in appearance. The feet are also of note, as the big toe of each foot seems to be somewhat separate from the rest of the front of the foot, and yet the feet also have a somewhat mechanical look to them.

Completing the uniform is a large bit of silver armor that is worn as a protective chestplate and backplate. This is a separately molded piece that was attached to the figure during assembly. There's a snap clasp on the lower left side, but it's been my experience with pieces like this that they're really not designed to be removed.

Some of these uniform pieces have seen use before, I can say that, but the lower legs and feet are definitely new, and I believe the head to be as well. Certainly the feet are, if you don't mind giving yourself a little eyestrain to read the 2012 copyright date on the bottom of one foot.

Still, previous parts or not, the Cyber-Ninja is still an entirely new character, and he certainly looks both distinctive and highly impressive.

In a way, I've saved the best part for last. The chestplate and some of the armored elements on the arms and legs have been outlined and enhanced with narrow lines of a very bright blue. There is also a similarly bright blue Cobra emblem -- I think the first time it's ever appeared in this color -- in the center of the chestplate. This goes a long way to enhancing the cybernetic look of the character, as well as giving him something of a "Tron" look to him. Since I'm a fan of both of the Tron movies from Disney, I'm hardly complaining. It's a nice and very distinctive bit of detailing on the figure.

Of course, the Cyber-Ninja is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists (well, glove tops), mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles -- which have a surprisingly wide range of motion, I might add. In a time when it seems a number of 4" scale action figure lines are cutting articulation across the board, it's nice to see most of the G.I. Joes keep up the good range of movement.

The Cyber-Ninja is very well supplied. He comes with two ninja swords, that have little blue stripes on them, two small pistols, a rifle, a scabbard for the swords, and a large backpack, that has some very Tron-tech-like bright blue stripes on the back.

He also has a "Zipline" feature, officially called a "Zip-Tech Line" for this figure. This consists of two large suction cups and a two-foot-long black string between them for the Cyber-Ninja to slide along by way of a handle that he also comes with. I haven't had a chance to test this out. Lack of sufficient smooth surfaces to secure the suction cups to in my home. I can say that the suction cups work well. One of them had adhered most effectively to the smooth plastic package bubble.

So, what's my final word? This is an immensely cool new Cobra trooper division in the world of G.I. Joe, and there's no real reason to think that it has to be restricted to the movie line. If you have any substantial collection of modern G.I. Joe figures, the Cobra Cyber-Ninja will be a superb addition to the ranks of Cobra. And since he's a troop-builder type of figure, you can bring as many in as you like. I hope to add several to my collection. He's well made, looks very cool, and certainly has a look about him that live up well to his name.

The COBRA CYBER-NINJA from the G.I. JOE: RETALIATION line definitely has my highest recommendation!