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REVIEW: G.I. JOE - COBRA FIREBAT with COBRA AVAC PILOT
By Thomas Wheeler

Whatever one's preference of figure style within the world of G.I. Joe, there is one consistent aspect throughout them all -- cool vehicles, which, fortunately, pretty well work with any format of G.I. Joe figure.

The vehicle offerings in recent times have been an interesting mixture of old and new, with an additional category of some older vehicle being overhauled to some degree, and in some cases renamed.

One particular vehicle release remained quite faithful to its original edition, and since it also included a pilot, albeit a modern version, that was a personal favorite of mine, I decided to add it to my collection. That vehicle is the COBRA FIREBAT. The pilot in question is the COBRA AVAC. And yes, that's an abbreviation, but I'm not going to type all those periods if I don't have to.

The Firebat has an interesting history in the world of G.I. Joe. It was actually first glimpsed in one of the animated mini-series, well before it was released as a toy. In the animation, it was colored a sort of bluish-grey. This was doubtless due to the fact that its final color hadn't been selected. The AVAC also appeared in the animation, somewhat later on, properly colored, before the figure was released.

This isn't all that surprising. Given the lead time needed to take a toy from concept to actual manufacture, it was entirely plausible that a character's basic look, specialty, and personality, or a vehicle's basic design, would have been pretty well established in time for the animation studio to use, while the toy itself had yet to be fully produced, packaged, and whatever else was needed. The same thing happened from time to time in the comic book. As far as presenting a nice little preview was concerned, it wasn't a bad way to go about it.

The Firebat was formally introduced into the toy line in 1986, as part of a massive Cobra playset, a circular base known as the Terror-Drome. Keep in mind that in 1985, the gargantuan and unequaled U.S.S. FLAGG AIRCRAFT CARRIER had been turned out. It was logical that Cobra would get something of fair size themselves. Given that Cobra's vehicles and playsets tended to be somewhat more fanciful in design, and given the vast expense of producing the Carrier, it wasn't terribly likely that Cobra was going to get a toy that would match the scope of the Flagg.

The Terror-Drome was nevertheless very impressive. At roughly two feet in diameter and over a foot in height, this dual-level battle station featured multiple rooms on its lower level, including a holding cell, a fueling and repair bay, several weapons areas, and more. The upper level was open and featured numerous computerized work stations. But the real treat to the Terror-Drome was the central launching silo, which opened up on the upper level with a real working elevator that hoisted a one-man rocket plane into launch position. That rocket plane was the Firebat.

The Terror-Drome came with a single figure, a Cobra AVAC -- and it would be years before that abbreviation would get an official explanation. Technically, the AVAC was not the Terror-Drome commander or anything like that. He was the pilot of the Firebat, plain and simple.

Arguably, the Firebat fared better in the ensuing history of G.I. Joe stories than the Terror-Drome did. A massively upscaled Terror-Drome served as Cobra's main headquarters on Cobra Island in the G.I. Joe movie -- until Sgt. Slaughter and his Renegades blew it up. In the comic book, the Terror-Dromes were sold to any third-rate tin-pot dictator with a sufficiently large suitcase of money, as portable, modular weapons platforms. The description wasn't far off -- the Terror-Drome did have a modular design to it to some degree. Of course, what nobody knew for quite some time was that Cobra was using the Terror-Dromes to broadcast low-frequency radio waves, to heighten paranoia and aggression in the local populations, to make them more prone to war -- which of course would be encouraged with arms sales from Cobra. Once that nasty little secret got out, it was pretty much the end of the Terror-Dromes.

The Firebat, on the other hand, was seen as a highly-effective if difficult to handle high-speed attack and reconnaissance plane. It stayed in service even after the Terror-Dromes had had their day.

Toywise, the AVAC was a very popular figure, and it's easy to understand why. The design and look of the figure was superb. The Firebat was pretty cool, too. The problem was, you had essentially an "army-builder" trooper figure that could only be had in a massive playset that was, for most, way too expensive to own more than one. This was entirely different from G.I. Joe's two largest items, the USS FLAGG and the DEFIANT SHUTTLE COMPLEX, which came with figures who were distinct individuals.

No great surprise, a couple of years later, Hasbro offered the Firebat and AVAC pilot as part of their mail-order catalog, inserted with most G.I. Joe vehicles. Now you could add some more Firebats and AVAC's to your collection at a reasonable price and without needing to find space for a bunch of Terror-Dromes or try to turn them into modern furniture by throwing a cushion in the top and passing them off as footrests.

Need it be said the Terror-Drome has not returned. It's a cool battle station, but I think the days when a toy line can get away with marketing anything quite that big are in the past. Star Wars barely got away with a large Millennium Falcon.

But the Firebat has returned, and it's brought a 25th-style AVAC along with it. So let's have a look at both, shall we?

Now, I don't often comment on packaging, but in this case it's warranted. G.I. Joe vehicles in this size range tend to come packaged in window boxes. And there's a painted backdrop within the box, to which the vehicle and figure are secured, to present, if not necessarily a diorama, then at least a fairly imaginative bit of packaging. Some of these are nicely done if relatively generic-looking outdoor-type backdrops. The Firebat, however, has an extremely well-done backdrop. It's the interior of a Firebat hangar. One can see a fuel tank to one side, a missile rack on the other, and lined up very neatly in two short rows are eight additional Firebats! I haven't often been tempted to save the interior backdrop to a G.I. Joe vehicle, but I think this one's a keeper.

The Firebat is a small to mid-sized vehicle, comparatively small for an aircraft within the G.I. Joe line. With its wings folded out, it definitely has the look of an aircraft, futuristic and somewhat fanciful, but not really implausible. The cockpit pretty much is the entire front half of the vehicle, and has a massive clear canopy across the entire top. Two small wings are near the front of its tapered design. The rear half of the vehicle is wings and engines, as well as missiles which attach to the wings.

The Firebat has an unusual attribute in that its wings fold up at about the midpoint on each wing. This was so it could fit into the Terror-Drome tower. The Firebat is about eight inches in length, and, with wings fully extended, has a wingspan of nearly ten inches. Fold the wings in and the span is cut to about 5-1/2".

The Firebat does not have working landing gear. There are two retracted wheels visible on the rear vertical wings, and there's a slot sculpted into the underside near the front of the plane which could represent a front wheel. Obviously, the Firebat has a VTOL launch capability, as its one primary engine is located in the rear center of the vehicle. To what degree it needs a Terror-Drome tower structure to launch vertically, I am not sure. Given the relatively small size of the aircraft, it's conceivable that it could be lifted into a vertical take-off position after a standard landing with a squad of strong men. However, both the text on the package and on the vehicle's file card make reference to launching from a Terror-Drome.

The Firebat is molded almost entirely in a dark burgundy red. This has always been its color. The canopy is clear, and the cockpit seat and instrumentation are pale gray. The Firebat has two long missiles, and four rocket-shaped bombs, all of which attach to the underside of the wings. It doesn't feature any spring-loaded launching capabilities. No big loss as far as I'm concerned.

Of course, there are labels. This is something that I generally enjoy with any G.I. Joe vehicle, and even moreso since, doubtless thanks to advances in computer and printing technology, the labels are more specific and legible than ever -- if you don't mind a bit of eyestrain.

The labels are mostly printed in white or black, except for a red HUD (Heads-Up Display" that affixes to the canopy window. The Firebat uses the standard Cobra emblem for their air corps, which is the Cobra logo with a couple of evil-looking wings extending from the sides. The Firebat has a generous supply of labels, possibly more than the original, although I'd have to get mine out of the Terror-Drome to verify that, and honestly, that would be a rather difficult endeavor, so let's just say that this new Firebat is very well labeled. This is something I approve of, since I think it lends an additional level of authenticity to the vehicle.

A few of the labels were placed at the factory, generally neatly. However, for those picky like myself, they can be carefully removed if a certain amount of adjustment is desired.

Overall, this Firebat impresses. Now let's consider the pilot figure, the AVAC.

I've always liked the AVAC. The red uniform with the silver armor and trim, and the interesting "triangular dome" helmet, always impressed me greatly. I thought it was a great design, and the original AVAC remains one of my top favorite G.I. Joe figures to this day.

Granted, it took a long time to get an official explanation as to precisely what AVAC stood for. It wasn't explained on the original file card. Since the AVACs were recruited from Cobra's Air-Viper corps, it was reasonable to assume that the "AV" stood for "Air-Viper", but what was the rest of it? There was no shortage of speculation in the fan community. One of the better explanations I heard was that the "AC" stood for "Aeronautics Corps", or even "Astronautics Corps", given that the Firebat was essentially a rocket plane, and even had the nickname of the "Pocket Rocket".

Finally, with the new AVAC, we have a full explanation. The file card for the AVAC explains that it stands for "Air-Viper, Advanced Class". Okay, maybe that's not quite as fancy-sounding as "Astronautics Corps", but it works, and it makes sense.

The new 25th-style AVAC figure is an excellent nod to the original, especially if one considers that the majority of the figure is assembled from other figure parts. Flash's ridged padded upper arms and Zartan's upper leg padding and boots are particularly evident, in design if not in color.

However, mold them in the right color scheme, and put in place a new headsculpt which is an excellent representation of the original AVAC, and the end result is still a very nicely done 25th-style incarnation of the AVAC. And that's what we have here.

I have only two very slight criticisms. I do wish that they had found some figure with different arm padding. Flash's ridged padding tends to stick out just a bit. Interestingly enough, the padding of the prototype figure on the back of the box is not ridged. But it's possible that this was either PhotoShopped, or for some reason the originally intended arms were not available.

The other criticism is the color of the helmet. Now, in fairless, it is effectively impossible to really mold a metallic plastic color that's going to look as good as metallic paint. And the silver trim on the AVAC is a very bright silver. The helmet -- is silver, but it's not quite there. The figure still looks good, but it could've been a little better. The original AVAC had a painted helmet, and I think this one should have, too. There have been times in G.I. Joe's history where they've painted the entire heads of figure where there was no good reason to do so. The AVAC would have been a good reason to do so.

Accessorywise, the AVAC comes with a display stand, as well as a small knife, which fits very snugly into a sheath on the right boot. I'm glad it fits snugly, because it's a pretty small piece.

This AVAC has gotten around since his initial release, too. He's been recolored twice, first as an Air-Viper Commando for a Target exclusive item, and then as a new Swamp-Viper included with the Toys "R" Us exclusive Sting Raider vehicle, alongside Copperhead. Both items are affiliated with the live-action movie, and both are cool figures. Interestingly, they use different arms, that have a sort of shoulder armor rather than ridged passing. Honestly, this would've worked well for the AVAC, too.

Both the AVAC and the Firebat have file cards. One thing I especially approved of with the modern G.I. Joe line was finally giving vehicles their own file cards. That was something that was about a quarter of a century overdue...! Let's have a look at both cards.

FIREBAT JET

Designation: Light Assault Jet
Weapons: Bombs, cannons

The Cobra Firebat Jet is a fast and highly maneuverable aircraft with folding wings, so that the craft can fit into a Terror Drome vertical silo. Designed for swift attack, these jets require skilled pilots to achieve the precision needed to fly them effectively and take advantage of their advanced engineering. They are equipped with mini-cannons and demolition bombs powerful enough to reduce smaller buildings to rubble or weaken larger bases in advance of a larger air or ground attack.

COBRA PILOT
Code Name: A.V.A.C. (Air Viper, Advanced Class)

Primary Military Specialty: Terror Drome Firebat Jet Pilot
Secondary Military Specialty: Cobra Air Fleet Pilot

The elite A.V.A.C. Pilots are specially trained to fly the Firebat Jet fleet. They must have exceptional piloting and navigation skills, because the Firebat Jet has been designed with minimal pilot instrumentation to increase its speed and maneuverability. AVAC pilots relish the challenge of "real" flying, in which their control and calculations determine whether they succeed - or whether they go down in flames. They are chosen from the ranks of the Cobra pilots for their utter fearlessness as much as their impressive piloting skills.

"The Firebat Jet is an unforgiving aircraft, so you've got to be the best to fly it. And, of course, we ARE the best."

I found it interesting that the Terror Drome, complete with "TM" trademark designation, was mentioned on both file cards. As far as I know, there are no plans to release this massive playset, and I'm not sure how marketable it would be these days anyway. Apparently they at least want to maintain the rights to the name, however, and certainly the nod to the history of the line is appreciated.

So what's my final word here? I'm impressed. The Firebat is as cool a vehicle as ever, and the 25th-style version of the AVAC is certainly one of the more capable carryovers into this modern style of figure.

The G.I. JOE COBRA FIREBAT with A.V.A.C. Pilot definitely has my very enthusiastic recommendation!