REVIEW: G.I. JOE RETALIATION COBRA FANGBOAT with SWAMP-VIPER
As of this writing, the long-anticipated live-action movie "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is going to have to be anticipated a little longer. The premiere of the movie was bumped at the last minute from June 2012 to March 2013. The reasons for this are quite varied, including a conversion to allow for 3D showings, and I won't get into them to any extent here.
The announcement of the delay, however, came too late to stop the toys from hitting the stores, and Hasbro's official position was pretty much along the lines of, "Whatever we've already shipped to the retailers will be put out for sale, so go ahead, buy and enjoy them."
Thanks, I think I will. Despite a decent 30th Anniversary line with a partial tie-in to the Renegades animated series, it's honestly been quite a while since I've seen any decent supplies of G.I. Joe action figures and vehicles in the stores. A decent supply of figures and vehicles have been appearing at the usual retailers, and that includes one notable vehicle, the COBRA FANGBOAT, and its driver, the COBRA SWAMP-VIPER.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Bruce Willis, with Channing Tatum, Arnold Vosloo, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce and Lee Byung-hun reprising their roles from the first film.
The film will feature the G.I. Joe team coming into a conflict with Zartan, Storm Shadow and Firefly, all serving under the newly released Cobra Commander. Zartan (who is last seen in the last movie in disguise as the President of the United States) controls the U.S. Government and frames all G.I. Joe operatives as traitors to the United States, exterminating most of them and leaving a small group of survivors.
Zartan and the Commander now have all the world leaders under Cobra's control, with their advanced warheads aimed at innocent populaces around the world.
Badly beaten, outnumbered and outgunned, the G.I. Joe team makes a desperate plan to overthrow Cobra Commander and take back the world, with their secret black operation called the "Second American Revolution", which involves the original G.I. Joe General Joseph Colton.
So, what about this Cobra Fangboat? Interesting name, I'll give it that. The vehicle in question is actually based on the Cobra Water Moccasin, which first appeared in the original Real American Hero line in 1984, driven by a Cobra character by the name of Copperhead.
In its original form, the Water Moccasin was a high speed attack boat, with a massive fan engine in the back. It was largely turquoise in color, an unusual choice for Cobra, but not inappropriate for the environment, since it was generally regarded as being for use in swamp-like environments. It was one of the first water-craft in the entire line.
Copperhead, also dressed in a turquoise uniform with bright green trim, was certainly a distinctive-looking character, and his file card made him out to be a former racing speedboat driver who had turned mercenary and was working for Cobra in order to pay off some considerable gambling debts. Despite a distinctive look, the character never received all that much attention in either the comic book or the animated series, although he arguably fared better in the cartoon than in the books.
The Water Moccasin would next appear in the Tiger Force line, captured by the G.I. Joe team and repurposed for this new special team. Copperhead would next turn up the following year, as the only non-trooper figure in Cobra's new Python Patrol, a counterpoint to Tiger Force. One might guess he was more than a little ticked off about losing his boat to the Joe Team. This actually led to Copperhead being a fairly major player in the animated "Operation: Dragonfire" mini-series, which restarted the cartoons, and which focused significantly on Python Patrol. It was Copperhead's most extensive exposure.
There was one additional appearance for the Water Moccasin, in South America, where for reasons one can only speculate over, it was colored mostly red. At the very least, it certainly made for a distinctive version of the vehicle, entirely unlike either of its American counterparts.
The Water Moccasion would disappear for years after that, reappearing as part of the 25th Anniversary line, although now it was named the Sting Raider for reasons unknown to me, but likely having to do with the legalities surrounding certain names, a matter which has come up more than a few times in the history of G.I. Joe. Okay, so "Sting Raider" isn't as aquatic or as reptilian-sounding a name as "Water Moccasin", but it's still a cool name for an attack vehicle.
Interestingly enough, this wasn't the original Water Moccasin, despite identical coloration. It was just as turquoise as the original, but it was an entirely new set of molds. Although clearly based on the same basic design as the Water Moccasin, the Sting Raider was a slightly larger boat, and it was somewhat more extensively detailed.
This wasn't the only original-era vehicle that this happened to in the 25th Anniversary line, and it is a little shocking that an entire vehicle would be remade, basically from scratch, given the expense. However, one would have to assume that expense was overruled by the desire to include a popular and well-known vehicle in the 25th Anniversary line, and why not ramp it up a bit as long as it's going to have to be remade anyway? Arguably, I believe that the Water Moccasin's transition into the Sting Raider was one of the greatest vehicle improvements I saw during this time.
The Sting Raider was driven once again by Copperhead, who was probably pleased to get his boat back with so many upgrades. Interestingly enough, the Copperhead that came with the Sting Raider was wearing a uniform with Python Patrol colors, not his original color scheme, which technically turned up in a comic-based two-pack with Shipwreck.
The Sting Raider returned, somewhat ironically now, one would have to think, as part of the line of toys extrapolated from the first live-action movie. Although the Sting Raider did not in fact appear in the film, neither did a lot of the merchandise that was made available under that particular banner. In this case, the Sting Raider was a Toys "R" Us exclusive, and was packaged with two figures, a Swamp-Viper (more on that later), and once again, Copperhead, given an entirely new uniform color scheme, reflecting the generally dark and limited color palette of the movie figures.
So did the Sting Raider. The base of the vehicle was black, while the top of the boat was an almost eerie combination of olive green and burgundy red. Honestly, I thought it was highly impressive.
The Sting Raider appeared a third time, as part of the 2011 Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention, as one of the additional offerings for 3-3/4" collectors. It was colored in red, like its original South American counterpart, and its designated driver and gunner were modern versions of two very unusual South American Python Patrol characters, who were actually recolored from members of the G.I. Joe team, Rip Cord and Airborne. Their Cobra names translate as "Lightning" and "Trigger". One of the few times when the foreign names sound better, or at least don't sound like names that would be better applied to horses...
So now, the Sting Raider is the Cobra Fangboat. And one question might be -- why bring it back again? Well, for one thing, it's a cool vehicle. But for another, this time around, it might actually be in the movie. Or something reasonably close to it might well be. An early trailer that I saw on television had a split second shot of some sort of watercraft that looked a lot like the Water Moccasin/Sting Raider. Now, I'll admit, I'm not one to go freeze-frame videos to pick out a few pixels of data. I'm just reporting what I saw in passing, and which has been reasonably corroborated by a few friends and contacts I know who are also G.I. Joe fans. So, assuming the evaluation was right, and the footage doesn't end up on the cutting room floor, we might actually see the Cobra Fangboat in the movie when it is released.
So, how's the vehicle? Extremely impressive. Now, admittedly, I've always been a fan of this vehicle, and even moreso by its upgrade. It's a heck of a thing to say about a line of action figures and vehicles that can boast a seven-and-a-half-foot aircraft carrier as part of its arsenal, but the G.I. Joe line has always tended to come up a little short in the watercraft department in my opinion, especially insofar as vehicles that actually look like boats. They eventually overcame this somewhat, but the Water Moccasin -- now the Fangboat -- was really one of very few early seafaring vehicles that bore a reasonable resemblance to something fairly boat-like.
And there is the matter of the upgrade from the 25th Anniversary year. The original Cobra Water Moccasin measured a bit over ten inches in length, and was four-and-a-half inches wide at its widest point, the standing platforms in the back. Its fan in the back was just shy of 2-3/4" in diameter.
The Fangboat is almost precisely a foot in length, a full five inches wide at its widest point, and the fan in the back is slightly over three inches in diameter. Everything is bigger on this modern incarnation of the vehicle, and it's better detailed.
The color scheme is unlike any previously established for the vehicle. The top section of the boat is a battleship metallic gray, with a certain amount of very distinctly placed rec and dark blue trim. The gun turret, the engine cover, and the side storage hatches are blue, as is the new torpedo launcher, which has a certain amount of red trim on it, as does the framework around the front canopy.
The bottom section of the boat is black, as are the standing platforms in the rear, and the huge fan in the back. The gun on the left side of the Fangboat, as well as the smaller guns attached to the turret, are also black.
The overall color scheme does give the Fangboat a more realistic appearance, more along the lines of something that it wouldn't surprise me to see actually turn up in the movie. And it's a fairly dark color scheme, and the red and blue trim definitely tends to give it a rather sinister air, so you're not terribly inclined to think of it as one of the good guys' vehicles.
Honestly, the Fangboat overall is one of the more plausible and realistic-looking vehicles in Cobra's arsenal, dating all the way back to its original incarnation as the Water Moccasin. I'm not engineer enough to know if something like this would actually work, but it certainly looks more feasible than, for example, a HISS Tank or a Trubble Bubble Flight Pod.
A certain amount of assembly is necessary, but for the most part, this is straightforward and easy. Oddly enough, the trickiest part is snapping the rear part of the canopy into place. The tabs are a little on the long side, and I feel that one has to be careful to snap them in without breaking them off. Needless to say, once they're in place, the canopy is in to stay.
The gun turret is a simple insertion and the fan in the back is easier than it looks. One distinct improvement over the original vehicle is that the directional vanes are far sturdier than they once were. Now, if Hasbro would only bring back the WHALE Hovercraft with this improvement...!
The engine cover and side hatches are easily snapped in, and that's pretty much the extent of the assembly. The small torpedo sled underneath the vehicle is already in place.
There is one new feature on this vehicle, that hasn't ever before appeared on any previous version. This is the large, spring-action torpedo launcher on the right side of the Fangboat, taking the place of one of the front mounted large barrel guns. While it's an effectively designed piece, and it does launch a small red torpedo missile, it does have its drawbacks from a practical standpoint. It pretty well kills driver visibility to the right. As such, I tend to doubt that, should the Fangboat or something similar to it appear in the movie, that it will have this particular feature.
As one would expect from a G.I. Joe vehicle, the Fangboat has a series of labels to be put into place by the owner. Oddly enough, it also has a number of Cobra emblems already imprinted on the vehicle. Two of these are on the sides of the vehicle, and two of the others are imprinted on the side hatch covers. These in particular I'm pleased were imprinted in advance. I hate trying to put labels over sculpted ridges. It just never works that well.
Most of the labels, printed in clear vinyl, fit into place very readily, including some "sideways" Cobra emblems on the sides of the vehicle, and various warning and registration marks. However, there are two labels that are very oddly designed. They have warning labels at the top, and a registration number and Cobra emblem at the base. It took me a minute to figure out that what one was suppose to do was apply the label by placing the "Warning" part near the canopy, and then working the label down so that the registration number appeared on the side of the vehicle near the front.
This, to be blunt, was not only over-engineered, but rather unnecessary. It would also require a degree of precision placement that would be, at the very least, annoying to try to achieve. Take my advice here -- trim the warning label down at its base, and then trim the registration number across the top, and apply them as separate labels. You'll save yourself some frustration, and the end result will almost certainly look better.
That odd design decision aside, a minor point at best, the Cobra Fangboat is an immensely impressive vehicle in the Retaliation line, and certainly an excellent addition to anybody's Cobra arsenal.
Now, let's discuss the SWAMP-VIPER, the driver figure that comes with the Fangboat. We first encounter the designation "Swamp-Viper" in a rather unusual place -- the 2003 Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention. The Swamp-Viper -- five of them, actually -- were part of that year's official boxed set of 3-3/4" figures offered at the Convention.
The theme of the set was "Assault on Cobra Island", and involved Cobra Commander, and five of his Swamp-Vipers, shoreline defenders of Cobra Island, meeting up with a new villain named Black Dragon, along with five of his troopers, to arrange an alliance. Three members of the G.I. Joe team -- Lady Jaye, Lt. Falcon, and Major Storm -- stopped by to try to break up the party.
The Swamp-Vipers were derived from the molds of the Mega-Viper, a Cobra specialty trooper first released in 1993 as part of the Mega-Marines special team. Those figures in general were notable for rather bright color schemes, and none moreso than the Mega-Viper, whose uniform was a rather extreme neon yellow with neon magenta helmet, boots, gloves, trunks, and chestplate.
The general consensus was that while the sculpt of the figure was impressive, the color scheme was easily in the top five -- if not right at the top -- of the most eye-searing brightly-colored G.I. Joe figures ever produced, something that didn't sit terribly well with some of the more traditionalist collectors. Speaking for myself, I tended to be a bit more forgiving of many of the brighter color schemes, and rather liked the Mega-Viper, but I'll acknowledge that it was certainly in the extreme range.
The Swamp-Vipers were much more reasonably colored, given pale gray uniforms with dark blue helmet, chestplate, boots, gloves, and trunks. Although perhaps not all that "swampish" in color, they certainly fit Cobra's general color palette, and most fans agreed that they were an improvement over the Mega-Vipers, and proved that the figure design was certainly workable with a toned-down color scheme.
The next time we encounter a trooper called Swamp-Viper, ironically enough, was with the Sting Raider released as part of the first movie line. As noted earlier, this figure was, along with Copperhead, included in the Toys "R" Us exclusive release of this vehicle.
This Swamp-Viper looked nothing like the original, perhaps due in part to the fact that the Mega-Viper had never been brought into the modern G.I. Joe figure format. Instead, this figure was a recolored version of the Cobra AVAC, with a different set of arms, which still blended nicely with the design.
The original Cobra AVAC was released in 1986, as the pilot of the Cobra Firebat, a small rocket plane which was included with the massive Terror-Drome. I'd always regarded the AVAC as a personal favorite trooper figure within my collection. Both the Firebat and the AVAC had been reworked into the modern line, as part of the 25th Anniversary series.
The original AVAC had never been recolored into any other troopers or characters, but now, the modern AVAC had been used for the new Swamp-Viper, and it immediately became a personal favorite of mine. The original AVAC was wearing a rather bright red flight suit, with a silver helmet and body armor. The Swamp-Viper was wearing a dark gray uniform, with metallic green -- more like metallic olive, really, helmet and body armor, with an orange visor instead of the original black, and black gloves and boots. It was really an extremely cool figure, and remains a personal favorite of mine within the modern G.I. Joe collection.
Now, we have an all-new Swamp-Viper with the Cobra Fangboat.
So, how's the figure? The design is certainly interesting. Really, the figure doesn't resemble either previous incarnation of the Swamp-Viper, although there are some very slight similarities.
The helmet is quite reminiscent of the original Swamp-Viper, and by extension the Mega-Viper. One of the most distinctive parts of their helmet was the huge, oval-shaped faceplate that swept up over the top of the head. It was a very unusual design. The new Swamp-Viper has a very similar helmet, although it has a narrow, indented line down the middle of it, and the rest of the helmet has a somewhat bulkier and slightly more high-tech look to it than the original. But the similarity is definitely there. This time around, the helmet is a sort of brick red in color, with a dark silver faceplate.
The Swamp-Viper's uniform doesn't especially look like either previous version. If anything, it looks more like a conventional flight suit. It is rather loose fitting, and is mostly the same brick red in color as the helmet. However, in a slight nod to the second Swamp-Viper, the one based on the AVAC, the new Swamp-Viper does have an armored chestplate and backplate, light gray in color, with a red Cobra emblem on the front. There are differences, however. The Swamp-Viper's new armor has more sculpted detailing to it than before. The Swamp-Viper also has light gray shoulder armor, something else the second Swamp-Viper had.
The Swamp-Viper has a high black collar to his uniform, as well as rather high black gloves. He has a black belt, and the chest protection has black straps on the side, and a number of black pouches on the front in the abdominal region. There are two black straps on the Swamp-Viper's upper right leg, and two black knee pads with black straps. From a standpoint of color composition, the figure might have worked just a little better visually if the knee pads had been the same light gray as the shoulder armor. Rounding off the Swamp-Viper is a pair of black shoes.
Overall, the basic visual design of the Swamp-Viper is very impressive. But -- there is a criticism, and it's one which has been voiced loud and long by longtime G.I. Joe collectors, and it's one that I feel I must address in this review. And that is with regard to articulation.
Although the Swamp-Viper's head is on a ball-and-socket joint and has an excellent range of motion, the rest of the articulation consists of -- arms and legs. No elbows, no knees, no mid-torso, no waist.
One of the reasons the fans have been so vocal about this is because when G.I. Joe first came on the scene in its 3-3/4" format in 1982, the only other major 3-3/4" line on the market at the time was Star Wars, which at that point in time had five points of articulation -- head, arms, and legs. G.I. Joe trumped that with waist, elbows, and knees.
The articulation level went up in the 25th Anniversary line, adding wrists and ankles on most figures. And now we have this? Okay, if one wants to be entire accurate, this Swamp-Viper -- as well as other vehicle driver figures in the Retaliation line -- are not the least articulated G.I. Joe action figures ever produced. Remember the original Deep Six? Deep sea diver that came with the SHARC in 1984? He was intended as a diving toy, and all he could do was move his arms. Two points of articulation. Not five -- two.
But Deep Six was an obvious exception. So, what's going on here? Honestly, I've heard a wide range of explanations for this, most of which get into areas of economics and retailer relations, none of which I can conclusively prove, and really, none of which have anything to do with specifically reviewing this toy, so I'm not going to address them.
Let me instead address a few points. Is the limited articulation, compared to most modern G.I. Joe figures, unfortunate? Yes. Is the Swamp-Viper, in and of himself, a bad action figure? No, I don't think so. I like the design of the character. He has a good visual. And at the very least, at least he can stand up on his own two feet without toppling over, and he's not really pre-posed. His left elbow is a little bit bent, that's it. Anybody remember G.I. Joe Extreme? Now there were some figure fiascoes bearing the G.I. Joe name...
Ultimately, this is something that, those who want to maintain a full G.I. Joe collection will simply have to accept, and hope that it won't be a trend beyond the Retaliation movie line. And that is something that we'll simply have to "wait and see" about. In the meantime, I feel the Swamp-Viper is an impressive-looking figure, from a visual design standpoint, and I'm more than prepared to welcome him into my collection on that basis, with the hope, with others I'm sure, that his limited articulation will indeed be limited within the overall line.
So, what's my final word? I'm very pleased with this set. The Cobra Fangboat is an impressive new take on the Water Moccasin/Sting Raider. And yes, it does float, although it does tend to ride a little low in the water, and I would recommend restricting its aquatic use to the bathtub and not a nearby lake. The color scheme is distinctive, and the labels, all of which are legible if you don't mind a bit of eyestrain, add a bit more authenticity to an already very authentic and realistic-looking vehicle.
The Swamp-Viper has a cool visual design, even with the limited articulation, and I'm prepared to be reasonably forgiving about that, as long as it doesn't become the new standard for the entire line. The figure is very well-sculpted, and the paintwork on the entire figure is exceptionally neat. That right there scores a fair number of points with me.
I honestly don't know how the toy line is going to progress leading up to the now-delayed release of the movie. Supplies as of this writing may be somewhat limited. But whether you get it now, or have to wait for a re-release closer to the movie, I sincerely believe that any G.I. Joe collector will be pleased to add this item to their collection.
The COBRA FANGBOAT with SWAMP-VIPER from G.I. JOE: RETALIATION definitely has my highest recommendation!