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By Thomas Wheeler

Arctic vehicles have always been popular within the world of G.I. Joe. The very first one came along in the second year of the line, 1983, when the Polar Battle Bear Skimobile was introduced to the G.I. Joe team. That was also the same year that the first arctic trooper, Snow Job, came along.

In the ensuing years, both G.I. Joe and Cobra would find ways to motor across the frozen tundra. Generally speaking, the Joe Team fared better at this than Cobra. In 1985, G.I. Joe introduced the Snow Cat, arguably the most popular arctic vehicle in the entire line. It has actually put in several appearances over the years, including a recent one in the Pursuit Of Cobra line, under a different name.

In 1987, Cobra finally developed the Wolf. While not a particularly reptilian sounding name, unlike most of their vehicles, the Cobra Wolf was nevertheless an effective and very capable vehicle, one of two environment-specific vehicles developed by Cobra that year (the other being the underwater Sea Ray), and is generally regarded as Cobra's best arctic vehicle.

The G.I. Joe team picked up an arctic tank in 1987, as part of the Battle Force 2000 team. I think as such, this vehicle tends to get overlooked once in a while. It was called the Dominator and it combined with the other BF2000 vehicles to make a Future Fortress. Far more impressive, though, was the Avalanche, introduced in 1990. A massive, and somewhat futuristic-looking tank-like vehicle, it is easily the largest arctic-dedicated vehicle that was ever produced for the G.I. Joe line. Its unusual design tends to get it somewhat mixed reactions among the fan base, but I've always liked it immensely.

Cobra retaliated in 1993 with the Ice Snake, a somewhat peculiar-looking contraption, but as the years of the original line progressed, peculiar seemed to become more commonplace than not, and Cobra was generally known for more -- innovative designs than the G.I. Joe team. The Ice Snake, although a bit strange, had a decent size to it, although not on the level of the Avalanche by any means. Then in 1994 the G.I. Joe team came out with the Blockbuster, a large arctic vehicle that looked somewhat like an enlarged version of the Snow Cat, with real working cannons when you pushed the vehicle's treads along!

Since the demise of the original line and the subsequent return, in various iterations, of the Real American Hero, there have been arctic vehicles -- the Ice Sabre, the Ice Dagger, the Rockslide -- but they've been fewer and further between. I believe part of this is a reflection of real life. Most of the real world military conflicts that have affected the United States in recent years have been based in desert environments. It's ironic, in a sense, since desert-based troopers and vehicles tended to get the short end of the stick when it came to environment-specific personnel and equipment in the original line. Arguably, kids have more fun playing in snow than in sand. But G.I. Joe must keep up with the times, to some degree, and so the arctic side of things has tended to be relatively minimal in recent years.

Cobra's most recent entry into the world of arctic vehicles until now was the Arctic HISS, a very cool recoloring and re-outfitting of the classic HISS tank, the quintessential Cobra vehicle, with a missile rack instead of the twin barreled guns, equipment baskets to the side, a white main body, and the very cool feature of being able to use the labels to place your own vehicle number on the sides. The Arctic HISS very nearly didn't make it out, but ultimately did through an online offer, and has since appeared sporadically at certain select retail outlets.

With the current, post-movie G.I. Joe line, Hasbro is developing quite a number of new vehicles for both G.I. Joe and Cobra, as well as giving new life to some old favorites. One of the entirely new vehicles for Cobra is a one-man arctic tank of extremely impressive design, called the ICE CUTTER!

The Cobra Ice Cutter is really an awesome and impressive little vehicle. Had it been released during the original run of the Real American Hero, I'm convinced it would have become one of the small vehicle classics of the line. It still might, in time. The overall design of the vehicle does what Cobra does best -- it manages to look both plausible and somewhat fanciful at the same time. It doesn't really look entirely like anything you'd expect to see making its way across a frozen battlefield -- but it does look like something that COULD do so if someone had the imagination and the engineering skills to build it in real life, although I suspect that its main action feature, which I'll get to in a little while, might end up being dropped from a real-world design.

It occurred to me when I bought this that -- unless I missed something during the post-original-series years -- the Cobra Ice Cutter is Cobra's first relatively small arctic vehicle. Although it's certainly larger than the Joe Team's Battle Bear, it's still a relatively small, one-man attack vehicle. Most of Cobra's arctic vehicles -- the Wolf, the Ice Snake, even the Arctic HISS, have been of a size that I am inclined to call "mid-range". The Ice Cutter, while approaching this size overall, has a relatively small armored body. A fair portion of its overall size is taken up by the means of locomotion.

The overall measurements of the Ice Cutter are 8" long, a little over 4" wide, and 4" tall, counting the gun turret. 3" if you don't. The driver's cockpit is snug and angular in appearance, and featured an opening canopy that for some reason reminds me more than a little of a condensed version of the canopy to a Rebel Snowspeeder from Star Wars. It's probably the angular design as much as anything.

The canopy does have one feature that I find especially amusing. One of the cool little features on the G.I. Joe Snow Cat from 1985 was the working windshield wiper. The canopy window to the Snow Cat had a slightly frosted look to it, except for this curved swath across the middle, which traced the path of the windshield wiper, which really could be moved back and forth.

In a cool nod to the Snow Cat, I'm sure, the Ice Cutter has the same feature. Although its canopy front window is far smaller, there is a windshield wiper, and the front canopy window is frosted, with a clear section in the center, just like the Snow Cat. Just goes to show -- when it comes to extreme environments, both the Joe Team and Cobra must make allowances. The weather is always going to come out on top otherwise, and it doesn't care whose side you're on.

At the rear of the Ice Cutter is an immense, single wheel. In this respect the Ice Cutter reminds me a bit of what is surely the most peculiar arctic vehicle of all, one I have not mentioned -- 1989's Arctic Blast. This G.I. Joe vehicle was little more than a sort of dune-buggy like framework, which didn't strike me as the best idea in a cold weather setting, with two small skis up front, and two massive tires in the back. This one large, heavily treaded tire in the back of the Ice Cutter rather reminds me of that, although the Ice Cutter is assuredly a sturdier piece of vehicular equipment.

However, the wheel is hardly the only thing that propels the Ice Cutter along. On either side of the vehicle near the front are these tank-like treads, with what appear to be huge, angled blades in them. This is where the Ice Cutter earns its name. And the treads don't just turn. Technically, they don't really turn at all. Most G.I. Joe tanks over the years haven't, except for the motorized ones. But the Ice Cutter's treads have an even more extreme function. They roll as individual units along a sliding rail, and when they reach the end of that slide, they pivot up, flip over, and then slide along again until they reach the end, and then -- well, just keep doing it.

I think there was a Masters of the Universe vehicle, decades ago, that had this function. But if memory serves, it looked a little silly -- especially in the cartoon. The Ice Cutter doesn't look silly. Frankly, given the look of the treads, it looks downright dangerous. There are these little labels among those to be placed on the vehicle, that go on the sides of the treads, that read, "Caution - Stand Clear While Vehicle is in Motion". Uh, yeah, no kidding...!

The description of the Ice Cutter on the package reads as follows: Cobra Ice Cutter vehicles clear areas for Cobra bases. As the roto-grinder treads move, they disintegrate snow and ice with impact vibrations and ultra-high carbon steel blades. Powerful and unyielding, these frozen furies also demolish any other barriers in their path.

I think it's that "also" that's the key point here. Anybody really think Cobra's just going to use these things as glorified snow plows? Never mind the gun turret on the top, you wouldn't want to see this thing coming in your direction. Those roto-grinder treads and ultra-high carbon steel blades can probably pound and slice a lot more than just ice and snow. If I'm part of a G.I. Joe attack force, I'm going to want to come at these things from the side or the rear -- maybe blow out that huge tire in the back. Anything but head on.

The Ice Cutter has a mostly white body, with a black front, and angular camouflage that merges the black and white areas rather nicely. There is some sort of device up front, that almost looks like an inverted snow shovel, and the aforementioned gun turret on top. One has to believe that this is operated remotely by the driver, since there's no room anywhere on this vehicle for a second trooper.

The vehicle comes fully assembled, and I'll admit I sort of miss the days when you got to put these vehicles together. On the other hand, the Ice Cutter is complex enough, especially the "roto-treads", that it might have simply been too difficult. Besides, Hasbro likes to display these vehicles in window boxes these days, and a boxful of disassembled parts doesn't make for the best presentation.

You do get to place the labels yourself, and the Ice Cutter comes with a generous supply. There are some fairly large Cobra emblems that go near the back of the vehicle, some smaller ones for the front, and assorted instruction and warning labels elsewhere, most of which are referring to the side treads, and obviously with good reason. Most of the labels go in place well, but a few don't quite fit the areas designated on the instruction sheet. These include the small yellow-bar labels on the front, and the "Keep Clear" labels for the sides near the rear. Those can be placed close to their designated position, however, and there are other spots for the small yellow bar labels if one so chooses.

The Ice Cutter comes with a driver figure, designated a SNOW SERPENT OFFICER. Now, the Snow Serpents have a lot of history in the world of Cobra. They were first introduced in 1985, and alongside the Cobra Eels, were the first environment-specific Cobra troopers ever created. Their heavy padded and even furred uniforms made them an immediate hit, and the original Snow Serpents are certainly a classic of the line.

The Snow Serpent were completely redesigned in 1991, and although a capable figure, it was never as well received as the original, despite several different color schemes in the ensuing years, the most effective of which was probably the 1998 version, although the mail order 1993 version was also cool.

For years, it seemed that the original Snow Serpent figure was gone forever. But the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club tracked it down, came up with a revised color scheme for it, that included some cool camouflage on the uniform, and created the SNOW SERPENT COMMANDER as part of one of their special-edition two-packs.

Of course, with the advent of the 25th Anniversary line, and the new design of the figures, the original Snow Serpent was certainly a popular enough Cobra trooper to be included in that group, and Hasbro created a very effective modern version of the original Snow Serpent. As one would expect, the new SNOW SERPENT OFFICER is a recoloration of this figure. I think it's safe to assume that rank-wise, he falls somewhere between the Snow Serpents, and the Snow Serpent Commander.

The original Snow Serpent had a very pale gray uniform, with white fur, and blue trim. The Snow Serpent Officer mimics this color scheme, but substitutes the blue with a dark red. Although not exactly the most arctic color around, it is certainly a color used frequently by Cobra. The Ice Cutter itself has a certain amount of this red on it, with the gun turret and the windshield wiper, as well as the interior side of the roto-treads.

One gets the impression that the color scheme of the Snow Serpent Officer was a late decision. The figure pictured on the back of the package is clearly the same figure, but a different color scheme, and even the painted illustration -- and I want to continue to commend the artist or artists who are doing these modern illustrations, they're excellent -- gives the Snow Serpent Officer blue trim -- not red.

I have to say I approve of the change, at whatever point it happened. The red trim sets the Snow Serpent Officer apart from both the original Snow Serpent, as well as the Club's Snow Serpent Commander figure. And given that red, or shall I say "crimson", seems to denote a generally higher rank within Cobra, it seems fitting for the Snow Serpent Officer to be thusly outfitted.

Overall, the figure looks very much like a Snow Serpent, as one would expect. There are a few differences. The faceplate is not entirely black as it was on the original. The areas around the eyes are pale grey, while the eyeslits are black. It's a little weird looking relative to previous Snow Serpents, but not intolerable. The goggles were obviously made from transparent red plastic, and had the frames painted pale grey, and then attached to the helmet. Unfortunately, they don't lower into place, but the detail of the transparent lenses is appreciated.

The Snow Serpent Officer's uniform is pale grey, with white fur trim around the collar, shoulders, and gloves. The fur has some tan highlights, which probably aren't really necessary, but don't look too bad. The Snow Serpent Officer is wearing a dark red harness, and has dark red boots. He also has a Cobra emblem properly placed on the upper left arm.

The overall detail is excellent, and the harness does a nice job of concealing the sometimes awkward-looking mid-torso articulation point. Overall, the Snow Serpent Officer is very well-articulated, but I do have to say that the thickness of his arctic uniform, admittedly a necessity for the figure's specialty, is a mild hindrance to articulation and posting. In particular, the ankles can be a struggle to work, and the fur collar and shoulder piece can be restrictive to the arms. However, in fairness, he sits in the vehicle just fine.

The Snow Serpent officer comes with the same accessories as the original Snow Serpent, just recolored in a few instances. He has the traditional snow shoes, backpack, mortar cannon, and rifle. It's just that the mortar cannon and backpack are now dark red.

File cards on modern G.I. Joe figures are rather brief in detail -- an unfortunate loss in my opinion -- but the one for the Snow Serpent Officer reads as follows: Snow Serpent Officers are in charge of Cobra arctic combat squads. Like the Snow Serpent troopers these ruthless officers are experts in polar battle tactics and survival skills. Their polar experience makes them a dangerous enemy when they battle the G.I. Joe team at a Cobra base in Greenland.

So, what's my final word here? As I said earlier, I really believe that this Cobra Ice Cutter is an immensely cool vehicle. It's a superb design, and something that I believe Cobra has needed for some time -- a smaller-level arctic vehicle, that also manages to be a serious threat. The Ice Cutter accomplishes this.

And format aside, the Snow Serpent Officer is an extremely impressive figure, and concept. As I said, he's doubtless somewhere between the Snow Serpents and the Snow Serpent Commander, and that's not unlike how a real military structure would work. I like the trade-off between the original blue trim and the red trim that the Snow Serpent Officer has. It makes sense from a Cobra color standpoint.

I'm pleased to see that the arctic world is not being ignored by the modern G.I. Joe line, and the Cobra Ice Cutter and Snow Serpent Officer are superb additions to the line.

The G.I. JOE COBRA ICE CUTTER with SNOW SERPENT OFFICER definitely has my highest recommendation!