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REVIEW: G.I. JOE COBRA H.I.S.S. TANK WITH HISS COMMANDER
By Thomas Wheeler

The Cobra H.I.S.S. Tank, which stands for HIgh Speed Sentry and which from this point forward in this review will be spelled as "HISS", has been a mainstay vehicle in the Cobra arsenal practically since the beginning, so it's no great surprise that it has been incorporated into the modern line. In point of fact, it's been incorporated three times -- twice as a Target exclusive (in one instance on its own, in another as part of a large multi-vehicle and figure set), and once as a general release vehicle to all outlets carrying G.I. Joe. This review shall take a look at that one.

First introduced in 1983, the Cobra HISS Tank was one of two main vehicles that the previously vehicle-less ranks of Cobra would gain on the year, along with the FANG Copter. Although the copter was not too unconventional in appearance, the HISS tank certainly was, and was evidence of Cobra's willingness to design effective, but unusual-looking vehicles.

The original HISS Tank came with an exclusive figure simply known as "HISS Driver". Specific named specialties for Cobra troopers were still a couple of years away, and wouldn't really get going until 1985's Tele-Vipers, Crimson Guards, Snow Serpents, and Eels. Prior to this, Cobra consisted of individuals, such as Cobra Commander, Destro, Major Bludd, the Baroness, and others, and the rank-and-file Cobra Troopers and Officers who were simply designated as "The Enemy" on their file cards.

Nevertheless, the HISS Driver had a surprisingly dynamic appearance, wearing a mostly red uniform, with a very stylized helmet, high ridged boots, and a blue chestplate with a large Cobra emblem on it. He was a definite standout in both the ranks of Cobra and in the entire figure collection.

The HISS Tank would become one of the best-known Cobra vehicles in fairly short order. It was recolored in red for a Sears exclusive. In 1989, an all-new HISS, called the HISS II, debuted, mirroring the basic structure of the original, but larger and more detailed. The original HISS would be pressed back into service several years later, in the rather ignominious role of the Septic Tank, for Cobra's side of the Eco-Warriors conflict. Not exactly the tank's finest hour.

The original HISS returned during the 2000-2002 era, now dubbed the HISS III, with a recolored HISS Driver figure who had been given an individual character name -- Rip-It. An all-new HISS, easily the strangest to date, would come out in the 2002-2006 newsculpt era, alternatively called the HISS IV or the STRIKE HISS, given its ability to extend its cockpit upwards and outwards.

A completely new HISS, alternatively known as the HISS V or the DTC: HISS, was offered as part of the Direct to Consumer products at the tail end of the newsculpt run. Although it was close to the original design, it was far more detailed and rugged-looking. In my opinion, the HISS V is the finest of all the HISS Tanks ever, and I wish it would make a return appearance someday.

But, there's something to be said for tradition, and when most G.I. Joe fans think "HISS Tank", they're likely thinking of the original, and it's put in plenty of time in the line, and has arguably earned the right to be considered pretty much "the" HISS Tank for Cobra. Apart from its original 1983 appearance, its red Sears recoloration, its Septic Tank incarnation, and its blue remake as the HISS III, the original HISS has appeared multiple times, as a store exclusive in a Crimson Guard set, as a Convention exclusive, as the aforementioned Target exclusives, which were in blue and red, and even an almost-not-released Arctic version done in white!

So, if you're going to produce a HISS Tank for a run of G.I. Joe that is supposed to honor in its own way the original line, you're going to use the original HISS. And that's what this is.

The HISS Tank does not look at all like a conventional tank, and I think that's what has set it apart and made it so distinctive as one of Cobra's most popular and recognizable vehicles. Cobra has had no shortage of vehicles over the course of its existence. Some of them, such as the Rattler Jet or the Stinger Jeep, weren't too far removed from conventional designs. Others, such as the Pogo or the Buzz Boar, were pretty strange stuff. The HISS Tank, I would have to say, splits that scale down the middle. It looks like it could work in real life, but I'd still be surprised to see anything especially close to its design on an actual battlefield.

The basic description of a tank could likely be stated as an armored vehicle with treads on the sides and a gun turret on the top. From this standpoint, the HISS Tank fits the basic description of a tank. However, the specifics are pretty far removed from any real world tank design that I've ever seen.

The driver of a HISS tank sits up front, in a cockpit that protrudes forward from the main armored body of the rest of the vehicle. This one-man cockpit has a clear canopy over it, something one would not likely see on an actual tank, and which one would hope in the case of the HISS is some sort of super-strong transparent material that is highly resistant to bullets, missiles, and explosives.

The front section of the HISS is rather angular in appearance, and raised fairly high off the ground, another unusual characteristic for a tank. One does sort of wonder how the driver gets into the cockpit in the first place. The HISS II featured a working hatch on the underside of the cockpit, which conceivably, the HISS could have, it's just not designed as a play feature of the toy.

The main section of the HISS tapers back from the cockpit, and is somewhat angular, but also a bit boxy in appearance. Clearly heavily armored, this section is notable for the main gun turret section, an open gun station (this would almost have to be considered punishment duty), with access to two long-barreled machine guns of considerable size. As to what else this section of the HISS might consist of, we don't know. Later and larger HISS Tanks, especially the II and V, featured crew compartments for limited troop transport, but the original HISS doesn't really look large enough to carry anybody back there, allowing for the turret. Then again, comfort is hardly a factor for Cobra. The question is moot toy-wise, since none of the armored sections open.

The tread design is as unusual as the rest of the vehicle. While most tanks use a relatively level tread design -- that is, the front and rear of the treads are pretty much on the same level, the HISS Tank actually uses a triangular tread design, with a large wheel in the back, and two smaller ones up front, the topmost of which is extended slightly forward from the bottom one. To be honest, the HISS Tank has always looked a little front-heavy to me, and this is the one thing that makes me wonder if it would work in real life. However, it's entirely possible that the rear section would be much heavier than it looks. To what degree this unusual tread design would compensate for weight distribution, I really don't know.

In any case, the end result is extremely distinctive, and has certainly made the HISS Tank the most iconic of the Cobra vehicles. Toywise, the treads are not real. This has been a common practice throughout the G.I. Joe line on most tank-type vehicles, not just HISS Tanks and not just Cobra's. The only tanks that have ever warranted real treads are those that have also been battery operated and motorized, and that's been the MOBAT (and its counterparts), the Mauler, and the massive Patriot Grizzly. However, the HISS still rolls very effectively. Hasbro developed a clever means of providing its tank-type vehicles with small wheels that are underneath the vehicle behind the treads.

Other moving parts on the HISS Tank including the opening canopy, and the gun turret, which swivels around, and the guns themselves raise and lower.

The HISS Tank comes fully assembled, but like all G.I. Joe vehicles, also comes with a set of labels. Some of these have been applied in advance, and surprisingly well. Fortunately, if some of them are a little misplaced, for those of you like me who tend to be pretty nit-picky about that sort of thing, they can be reasonably easily removed and replaced. However, out of five pre-placed labels of considerable significance -- the three large Cobra emblems and the large stenciled unit numbers.

The remaining labels are well made and fairly easily placed. There's a couple that need to be tucked under the main body of the tank, above the treads, that are not so easily placed, but navigating them into position on the tip of a toothpick or an X-Acto Knife seems to work quite well. The trickiest label to place evenly is the one designating the headlights on the front. There's another label that goes on the front near the treads, which has a symbol of a hook on it, and some really teeny-tiny printing that I'm honestly not sure if it's meant to be read or not. In recent times, thanks to technological advancements, G.I. Joe vehicle labels have featured actual print, rather than just straight lines, and with a little eyestrain, can generally be read. This one -- not quite. And maybe it's not supposed to be.

The unit designation number for the HISS Tank is interesting. HISS Tanks feature a large, stenciled, three-digit number on either side of their canopy. It's pretty much one of the hallmarks of a HISS Tank. The most customary number, and that used by the original HISS Tank, is "788". In recent years, however, other numbers have turned up, including "818", "813", "827", and the Arctic HISS even came with a full double-set of numbers, 0-9, so the owner could place whatever numerical combination he wanted to, as long as each number was only used once per side. That was a cool feature in my opinion.

The unit designation number for this HISS Tank is -- "001". That, coupled with the fact that this HISS Tank comes with a HISS COMMANDER, not just a HISS Driver, has led some fans to create their own little backstory that this particular HISS Tank is Cobra Commander's personal battlefield vehicle. Not a bad bit of storytelling, in my opinion, even if there's no official corroboration for it.

Now, let's discuss the figure, the HISS Commander. The first inevitable question out of the gate is -- why doesn't this HISS Tank come with a standard modern-style version of a HISS Driver? And the answer to that question is very simple -- the HISS Driver, admittedly rather unusually, was offered as part of one of the assortments of single-carded figures. This figure was a very capable and color-correct version of the original HISS Driver. A second version of this HISS Driver, with a silver-colored chestplate, came with the Target "Ultimate Battle" multi-vehicle set.

So, when it came time to include a driver with the general-release HISS Tank, obviously something a little different was required. And who better to drive a HISS Tank designated "001" -- whether it's Cobra Commander's personal tank or not -- than a HISS Commander?

There is precedent for his color scheme. When the HISS III came out during the 2000-2002 run, the HISS Driver figure was recolored, and given the name of Rip-It. This HISS Commander, although not given an individual name, closely matches the color scheme of Rip-It.

To a large degree, the HISS Commander is a reversal of the HISS Driver. Rather than a red uniform with a blue chestplate, the HISS Commander has a blue uniform with a red chestplate. He still has a silver Cobra emblem on his chestplate, as well as silver goggles on his helmet, and a black mask covering the lower section of his face. However, there are a few differences, as well. The HISS Commander's fancy ridged high boots are a dark silver-gray, rather than the HISS Driver's traditional black. But, given how dark the blue of the uniform is, the lighter-colored boots actually look very good composition-wise. There's actually not that much black on this figure. Along with the face mask, he has black gloves, belt, and holster. That's about it.

The figure is a very capable modern rendition of the HISS Driver, in the Commander colors, especially since a few parts come from other figures. Notably the upper arms come from Flash, as the ridged padding will attest. However, since this is not painted, it's not terribly visible. The torso has also seen use on the Cobra AVAC, as well as the AVAC's counterparts, the Air-Viper Commando and the Swamp-Viper. However, it's a good design. The HISS Commander's helmet and boots are certainly distinctive, and haven't been used for anybody that didn't have "HISS" in their name.

The figure has excellent articulation and stands well, although the ridged boots are rather flared at the ankles, and are a slight impedance to ankle articulation. So sometimes he has a little trouble with his balance, but this can generally be compensated for with the double-jointed knees.

Both the HISS Tank and HISS Commander come with file cards. Ask me if I think it's a little annoying that it took over 25 years for Hasbro to decide to do file cards for the VEHICLES as well as the figures and I'll answer that in the affirmative. Still, it's nice to have it for the modern versions of at least some of the more iconic vehicular hardware. Let's have a look at the vehicle's file card first:

COBRA H.I.S.S.
Designation: Tank
Weapons: Cannons

HIgh Speed Sentry (H.I.S.S.) tanks are one of the Cobra organization's primary combat vehicles; these armored workhorses can move at a good assault speed and can blast the G.I. Joe team with turret-mounted cannons. Cobra H.I.S.S. Commanders are specially trained to use the sophisticated electronics to maximum advantage: infrared for nighttime attacks and radar for pinpoint targeting accuracy. Cobra H.I.S.S. Tanks have been at the front defending Cobra Island and in the Battle of Springfield, the town controlled by Cobra.

Interesting, the designation number on the illustration is the original "788". The "001" must have been a late change.

The HISS Commander's file card reads as follows:

COBRA INFANTRY
Code Name: COBRA H.I.S.S. COMMANDER

Primary Military Specialty: Tank Commander
Secondary Military Specialty: Mechanical and Electrical Systems

Cobra H.I.S.S. Commanders are selected from the best of the Cobra infantry forces for specialized training in how to operate these top-of-the-line armored tanks and use the vehicles' sophisticated electronics systems. They're chosen for their skills, physical strength and initiative (which means they're some of the meanest, toughest, and most aggressive troopers in the entire Cobra army). Cobra H.I.S.S. Commanders are graduates of Cobra Battle School and Advanced Weapons Systems Training.

"We are dedicated to destroying the G.I. Joe team and will crush them under the treads of our tanks!"

The file card, to me, doesn't really seem to differentiate that much between HISS Drivers and HISS Commanders, but it's still a good file card.

So, what's my final word here? I'm very pleased to have this item. The HISS Tank is one of Cobra's most iconic vehicles, and this version is an excellent chance for those who have never owned it to acquire it in its most classic color scheme. Honestly, this is the first time since its initial release that it's BEEN DONE in black! That alone makes it worthwhile! And the HISS Commander is a cool figure, as well, in a cool color scheme, and if you have some assorted HISS Driver rank-and-file types around, here's someone that cam maybe keep them in order for you.

Overall, the COBRA H.I.S.S. TANK and HISS COMMANDER from the modern G.I. JOE Collection certainly have my highest recommendation!