REVIEW: G.I. JOE THE RISE OF COBRA - COBRA GUNSHIP
If one were to comprise a list of the most popular vehicles in the G.I. Joe line, that list would doubtless include a lot of aircraft. I think any reasonably-informed list would have to include the likes of the SkyStriker, the Rattler, the Night Raven, the Dragonfly, and the Tomahawk.
So it's no great surprise that when the movie-based G.I. Joe toy line came along, it included aircraft, including something entirely new, that was unlike anything ever previously released within the world of G.I. Joe. That vehicle is the COBRA GUNSHIP.
This was one of the medium-sized vehicles in the line, offered in the same segment with vehicles like the Steel Crusher, the Ice Dagger, and the Crimson Hydra. Honestly, I'd be little interested in having a discussion with the package designers for the movie-based line. Not every vehicle within a certain box size segment was an especially good fit. The Steel Crusher and the Ice Dagger fit adequately into their respective boxes. The Cobra Gunship and the Dragonhawk XH1 less so. Both had to have their rather lengthy tails snapped into place. Not a big deal, but still... I know we live in a different retail world than that of the 1990's, but remember when boxes were designed to fit the toys, and not vice-versa?
Anyway, the cool thing about the G.I. Joe movie vehicles is that, like any vehicles in the G.I. Joe lines, they'll work with just about any format of G.I. Joe figure. You don't have to be a fan of the movie figures to enjoy the vehicles. You can just as easily assign a driver or pilot from a previous incarnation, and it will still work out well. And I liked the design of the Cobra Gunship.
The thing that struck me about the Cobra Gunship was how unusual a design it was. It didn't look like a plane. It sort of looked like a helicopter, but the lack of any sort of propeller on top was very distinct. It almost didn't look like it could plausibly fly. (Then again, G.I. Joe gave us such oddities as the Cobra Pogo, so where did I get off scrutinizing the Gunship to that degree?) Nevertheless, it was a new vehicle, it was an interesting design, and I was certainly willing to bring it in.
Still, something was nagging at my head. It ALMOST looked familiar. I knew I'd never seen anything like it within the world of G.I. Joe, and it was just a little too futuristic to be based on anything real-world. But I couldn't place it.
That is, until I got the vehicle itself out of its package and was able to study it from all angles. The illustration on the front of the box made the Gunship look almost white. It isn't. It's more of a steel grey in color, a sort of pewter. And that helped a bit with the identification, since that color made it look more rugged somehow.
I had seen something very similar to this somewhere before. The three landing skids, the long tail with the V-shaped wings in the back, the bulky center section, the almost-but-not-quite helicopter look of the overall design. It drove me nuts for about two days until I finally pegged it. The Cobra Gunship, while hardly an exact match, is a fairly close cousin to the Colonial Marines Dropship as seen in the sci-fi movie "Aliens".
Among my considerable collection of books is an "Aliens Colonial Marines Technical Manual". I would recommend this book to any fan of the movie, or anyone who might be interested in reading a book that comes across as a surprisingly authentic-sounding military manual from a couple of hundred years from now. Technical specifications, diagrams, the works. It's a great book. And it has some very nicely detailed drawings of the Dropship. So -- how close is the Cobra Gunship? Well, in fairness, I can't pretend to know what was going through the mind of the designer of the Gunship. But in my opinion, the Dropship was almost certainly an inspiration to some degree.
There are differences. The Cobra Gunship does not have the large missile pods that rotate out from the center, as the Dropship had. The tail section lacks a certain wing structure possessed by the Dropship. It has the same upswept smaller wings, but it lacks the larger sideswept wings. Perhaps most significantly, after the lack of the missile pods, is the cockpit design, which is a single-seater, as opposed to the side-by-side almost twin cockpit of the Dropship.
It would also be fair to say that if one could take a full-size Cobra Gunship and put it next to a full-size Colonial Marines Dropship, the Gunship would be significantly smaller. The Dropship was designed first and foremost as a troop and vehicle transport. While the Cobra Gunship does have room for additional troops, its primary purpose is that of an attack craft.
However, there are a lot of near-identical similarities that I think are just too close for coincidence. The basic shape is extremely similar. The placement of the jet engines is virtually the same. The landing skid placement is pretty well the same, too, and there is the forward-mounted gun underneath the cockpit. The doorway for additional troops, although designed differently and not intended to accommodate an entire platoon the way the Dropship was, is also located in the same general area.
In its own way, the G.I. Joe movie sought to do the same, and by extension, so does the movie-based toy line. The G.I. Joe movie, although not set centuries in the future, did present a military scenario more advanced than we presently have in the real world. And yet it had to be acceptably plausible at the same time. Within that definition, the Cobra Gunship works very nicely. So it may be based to some degree on a similar vehicle from a different movie that nevertheless had to accomplish a similar basic objective. So what? It's still a cool design for BOTH flying machines.
And granted, my comparison between the two is strictly speculative. I'd call it informed speculation. I don't think anyone could look at the two vehicles and NOT see some similarities. But I can't really comment on the degree of deliberateness of it, since I honestly just don't know.
Back to the Cobra Gunship specifically. The text on the box for this vehicle reads: A military convoy is transporting advanced MARS Industries nanomite weapon prototypes when a menacing aircraft appears out of nowhere and launches an attack! The plane is fast, deadly - and unlike anything the special operations team has seen before. It's their first encounter with an advanced Cobra aircraft, and for some, it's their last.
That's a fair description, although I think it's a bit of a stretch to call the Gunship a "plane" -- it doesn't especially resemble a plane, and the body design is honestly closer to a helicopter from a visual standpoint. But I'd certainly say that "unlike anything seen before" is an accurate comment.
Fully assembled, the Cobra Gunship is a pretty decent-sized vehicle. It measures about 15" in length, and it has an abundance of special features. Of course, the cockpit opens, sideways, interestingly enough. There is a hatch on the left side that opens at the top and swings down. This is an access ramp for additional troops. The Gunship has seating for two in the back, with a surprisingly well-detailed interior. The engine covers on the tops of the two jet engines also raise up for "maintenance" purposes.
And the Cobra Gunship is decently armed. Although it may lack the swing-out missile pods of its probable inspiration, there are two fixed missile launchers on the sides of the Gunship, each of which is capable of launching a spring-loaded missile.
The Cobra Gunship is also capable of dropping bombs. This was a rather clever bit of design. There's a small hatch in the top of the vehicle, with a sliding cover. You can drop three small bombs, included with the Gunship, into this hatch, and then close it (which at the very least is a good way to keep from losing the small bombs). There's a button behind the hatch that releases a bomb chute on the underside of the Gunship, that will then drop the bombs. After that, it's a simple enough matter to snap the chute hatch back into place, gather up the bombs, and reload through the top.
The Cobra Gunship rests on the ground on three relatively short landing skids, two in the front and one towards the rear. All of these can be swung back and up when the vehicle is "in flight". And there is a small mounted gun at the front of the vehicle that swivels. Overall, the design is impressive, as is the amount of "play value" that Hasbro has put into this vehicle.
The Cobra Gunship comes with an impressive supply of labels, printed on clear vinyl. As one would expect, these include several large Cobra emblems, which are applied to the sides of the Gunship and loudly declare its allegiance. Many of the other labels are warning labels in the rather bizarre, squared-off font that has turned up for most Cobra vehicles in the movie line. Most of the labels readily fit into their designated areas. Fortunately, for a change, none of them have to be placed in the cockpit. That sort of thing can be a bit of a struggle.
Now, let's discuss the pilot. The Cobra Gunship comes with a movie-style figure of Firefly, and there's a name with a fair amount of history within the world of G.I. Joe.
Firefly was first introduced in 1984, a year when a number of interesting individual characters were introduced into the ranks of Cobra. Firefly comes from the same year as Storm Shadow, Scrap-Iron, and Zartan.
Firefly was officially designated a "Cobra Saboteur", and was as much as anything a hired mercenary. While he never quite gained the prominence of someone like Destro or the Baroness, one never seemed to know just quite when he would turn up, and it was always trouble when he did.
It was ultimately revealed in the original Marvel comic that Firefly had connections to Storm Shadow's Arashikage ninja clan, which gave the character a somewhat greater prominence. He figured rather prominently from time to time in the Devil's Due comic book, as well.
Figurewise, Firefly has also managed to maintain a certain prominence. After the original 1984 figure, a second Firefly was released in the early 1990's. During the era of Toys "R" Us six-packs and the like, from 2002-2006, Firefly appeared a number of times. He was in a Cobra Urban set, with appropriate camouflage that included blue, grey, and black, and even managed to wangle this way into a Crimson Guard set, where the blue trim of his uniform was replaced by red. Firefly even turned up in two different versions for the 2003 G.I. Joe Convention. One uniform bore some resemblance to a Tiger Force color scheme, while the other uniform was mostly straight black, perhaps his most sinister guise ever.
The Firefly figure that comes with the Cobra Gunship is nicely done. Firefly, in his most classic mode, with his grey camouflage uniform, is one character whose color scheme doesn't really need a lot of modification to fit into the rather limited color palette of the movie toys.
However, a few modifications have been made nevertheless. Firefly's uniform is predominantly grey, but it is not camouflaged. Nevertheless, the basic appearance of it does very strongly resemble Firefly. His head is covered by a ski mask, there is a Cobra emblem on the upper right arm, and he has a weapons holster on his right leg.
Some accommodations for Firefly to be a pilot, something he has not previously specialized in, were also made. Firefly is wearing a thick black vest, with assorted equipment pouches on it. There are also three cables hanging from the vest. One of these plugs into the mouth of the helmet, which I'll discuss in a paragraph or two.
The other two cables, interestingly enough, are designed to plug into a couple of sockets in the cockpit of the Cobra Gunship itself! I've never seen anything like this before in a G.I. Joe vehicle. It's a rather remarkable thing to have done. While I tend to question whether the average child receiving this toy and figure will have either the inclination or the patience to set this up completely every time he wants Firefly to pilot the Gunship, I suspect that this sort of moderate complexity and additional detail will be appreciated by collectors.
Firefly's helmet is interesting. The color doesn't really fit the rest of the figure, as it is mostly red. The helmet has a very angular visor, as well. I thought that this helmet looked familiar, and it turned out I was right. The helmet is nearly identical to that of the Cobra Gyro-Viper, a slightly obscure Cobra pilot trooper who was released in 1987 with the Cobra Mamba, arguably Cobra's largest helicopter and one of the wilder designs, as it was designed to have two intersecting rotors.
The file cards that come with the figures in the movie line are not as informative as their predecessors, although the artwork is excellent. In Firefly's case, his specialty and the mystery of his background are pretty much intact, although obviously the additional capability of being a pilot has been added to his information.
So, what's my final word here? I'm extremely impressed. The Cobra Gunship is a very cool and very impressive vehicle, and even if it does take some of its cues from another vehicle outside of the G.I. Joe concept, at least it's taking those cues from a very impressive vehicle in its own right. And, honestly, you don't even have to draw the comparison to see the Cobra Gunship as an impressive addition to the Cobra air armada of any G.I. Joe collection.
Cobra's aircraft over the years have ranged from the highly impressive, such as the Rattler and the Night Raven, to the rather wild, such as the Mamba. I don't believe that they've had quite the number of flying craft that the G.I. Joe Team has had, so the Cobra Gunship is an all-new vehicle that just might level the playing field a bit. Like the box said, the Gunship is unlike anything ever seen before.
The COBRA GUNSHIP from the G.I. JOE - THE RISE OF COBRA line definitely has my highest recommendation!