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By Thomas Wheeler

I'll readily admit that there have been some interesting CHARACTERS and DESIGNS over the past several years. Cobra Heavy Water Troopers, Cobra Coils, Burnout... And the newsculpt figures can really offer an interesting new character, such as Bombstrike, or a decent representation of someone who is long, loooonnng overdue -- such as the Cobra Medi-Viper.

One area, that hasn't gotten a lot of coverage at all, has been the single-carded figures, that have most frequently turned up at discount stores such a Family Dollar, or in certain pharmacies such as CVS. I came across quite a few such figures recently, and they're a rather interesting batch. Allow me to present a brief overview of them:

STORM SHADOW - Pretty much identical to the Storm Shadow that was sold with the "Ninja Battles" set, this is a less-garishly painted version of the Storm Shadow that has the Cobra emblem across his face, and a dragon embossed across his uniform. The original version of this used a color scheme across the mostly white uniform that involved colors that were not exactly a wardrobe recommendation I'd make for a ninja.

The overall design is a little more ornate than I'd be inclined to expect from Storm Shadow, or any other ninja, for that matter, but it's not too bad, and certainly makes him look dangerous.

SNAKE-EYES - Of course, if you want really dangerous... This is actually an excellent version of Snake-Eyes for a newsculpt figure. The overall design of the uniform is superb, and in a nice nod to the original Snake- Eyes from 1982, the figure has been molded in black and left completely unpainted. I'm sure cost-saving was a consideration here, much as it was in 1982, but the end result is really quite impressive.

The newsculpt Tele-Viper has a massively better headsculpt than the 1985 version. And the vest is a lot more reasonable in appearance. Really, the overall color scheme is virtually identical, so it's easy to make a comparison. If this figure had been carried out in a traditional-style format, I suspect I would've snapped up half a dozen and tried to forget the 1985 edition ever existed. Communications are a vital part of any military operation. Cobra knows this as well as the Joes, the Oktober Guard, or anyone else. This makes the Tele-Vipers an important part of their operations. A shame it took a newsculpt figure to make them look decent, but for those less particular then myself, I certainly recommend him!

COBRA DESERT C.L.A.W.S. - The C.L.A.W.S. troopers were among the first of the new troops added to the Cobra ranks when the line was overhauled in 2002. They were seen as elite troopers, in a sense the new version of "Crimson Guards", much as the Neo-Vipers were supposed to be new versions of the Vipers. The C.L.A.W.S. have a decent design, but it's nothing all that dramatic. The desert version is just a recolored version of the original.

COBRA SAND-VIPER - Cobra's new desert troops. Gotta admit, he looks nastier than the Desert Scorpions from 1991, but I've always liked those guys. Still, from a "pure meanness" standpoint, if I saw something as nasty-looking as a Sand-Viper headed in my direction, I think I'd definitely be worried. It's a superb overall design for a Cobra trooper. About my only complaint is the dings and dents sculpted into the armor. I've never liked this sort of battle-wearing on an action figure, regardless of what form it takes.

COBRA NIGHT CREEPER - Arguably the most interesting of the entire lot. Although he doesn't look a think like any of the traditional-style Night Creeper figures of the past, the figure certainly manages to look menacing enough, with a dark blue uniform, even darker than the usual "Cobra Blue", with metallic gold trom. A most impressive design, one of those that you really sort of would have liked to have seen in the traditional-style format.

KAMAKURA - Basically identical to the Kamakura sold in the two-pack with Storm Shadow a while back, but this is one of those interesting new characters in the line that some of us wouldn't mind seeing in traditional-style format.

SGT. STALKER - Nice jacket, cool beret, really weird camouflage pants. It's like there's just two big blotches of dark green on the inside of the legs of the pants, which are otherwise beige.

ACE - To the best of my knowledge, the only newsculpt Ace figure is the one that came with the Thunderwing Jet a while back -- an excellent plane. And yet the character of Ace is certainly well-known within the universe of G.I.Joe. The figure is overall a decent design. Recognizable head-sculpt, nice pilot suit. But the figure itself, from a construction format, obviously goes back to the time when they were using near-anime proportions. Huge shoulders, long legs, tiny waist.

BARONESS - Although the character certainly looks better with long hair than that "librarian in leather" look that one of the early new-sculpt figures of this character sported.

I also recently acquired several two-packs, or figure-with-vehicle packs. Let's have a look at these, shall we?

COBRA SLASH & COBRA SLICE - A two-pack of Cobra ninjas. The main reason I picked these guys up, was because of their fairly prominent presence in the DVD that is included with the NINJA BATTLES Set, a set that did not include these two characters.

Slice is a character that goes back to the original Ninja Force. Back then he was teamed with another Cobra ninja named Dice. Don't know what happened to him. Slice's uniform doesn't bear much resemblance to the original. It's mostly white, with a black chestplate and red trim. If anything, he looks like he's trying to be Storm Shadow and can't quite pull it off. It's an interesting figure, and he's clearly adept at using more than just ninja hardware. The figure is holding a UZI in the package, and comes with a second one.

Slash is a new character. Overall it's an interesting design. The figure is outfitted in grey and red, and has a very stylized white Cobra insignia on his tunic. According to his file card, he's a renegade ninja that was tossed out of his own clan, and brought into Cobra by Storm Shadow, who respects the man's skills, but isn't too fond of his character. Sounds like a perfect Cobra agent.

The set comes with plenty of hardware. Really, anyone who has enjoyed the ninja aspect of the G.I.Joe concept would want to have these figures.

GUNG-HO vs COBRA VIPER - Certainly Gung-Ho is one of the best-known G.I.Joes. This rough and tough marine was first introduced in 1983. There was no mistaking that open vest or the huge Marine Corps tattoo on his chest. Gung-Ho would later turn up in 1987 in his Dress Blues, arguably the only "formal dress" G.I. Joe figure in the entire 3-3/4" line, and return in 1992, then again in 1993 commanding the Mega-Marines.

This newsculpt version does a decent version of paying tribute to the original. The figure is wearing a sleeveless shirt, although it's not open. He still has a tattoo, though, a design used as a sort of Joe insignia, on his right bicep. The shirt is dark blue, and the trousers are camouflage grey and green. The design, if not the colors necessarily, are quite reminiscent of the original 1983 edition. Gung-Ho even comes with a cap very much like his original, except this time it's removable.

About the only quirk to the figure in my opinion is the mustache. It's the same sort of "Fu Manchu" mustache that the newsculpt Dr. Mindbender has. Makes you wonder if these guys are related, an accusation I don't think either one of them would appreciate.

COBRA VIPER - An interesting tribute figure as well. The original Cobra Viper was introduced in 1986, and in my opinion was absolutely never surpassed as the perfect "basic" Cobra trooper figure. I've always been pleased when a new version has turned up using that set of molds.

Obviously the new-sculpt version does not use those molds, and it's worth noting that the package illustration shows a Viper in a mostly red uniform. That is how this figure was first issued. Seeing as how the original Cobra Viper never had such colors, it didn't go over all that well with fans. So someone apparently made the decision to re-do the newsculpt Viper, and see how close they could get to the original's color scheme.

And, I have to admit, they got pretty close. They pretty well matched the dark Cobra blue, and gave the figure a nice silver visor, black vest
-- or chestplates, anyway -- and red trim on the legs, shoulders, and gauntlets. Arguably, it's as close to the original Viper as this figure design is likely to allow. Stamping the Cobra insignia dead center over the ridged padding on the chestplate looks a little contrived, but it's still a nice touch, and leaves no doubt as to the figure's allegiance.

The DESIGN of the figure is a little too far removed from the original Viper for me to be entirely pleased with it. Honestly, it's a little too ornate to qualify for what is supposed to be a real grunt of an infantry trooper. It's not a bad design in and of itself, and with the tribute- specific color scheme, it just about works, at least as much as it's going to, which is better than one would've expected after the original red version.

Now let's consider some figure-with-vehicle sets:

KAMAKURA with NINJA LIGHTNING CYCLE - The nice thing about vehicles for the newsculpt G.I. Joe line is that they'll still work with ANY 3-3/4" G.I.Joe figures. There's no reason my 1982 Snake-Eyes or my 1984 Storm Shadow can't ride this bike. It's a nice, basic cycle, a little bulky in appearance, and a bit futuristic-looking. I wouldn't expect to see something like this zipping down the highway. But it's not a bad design.

As for Kamakura, he's an interesting character. First introduced in the early issues of Devil's Due's G.I. Joe comic book, and disdainfully called the "Green Power Ranger" by General Hawk, who had no intention of bringing back any aspect of Ninja Force when he reinstated the Joes, Kamakura went on to become known as Snake-Eyes protege and a valued member of the team. Needless to say, he was added to the figure line-up at the earliest opportunity.

Kamakura does a nice job of straddling the world of the ninja and the world of the military. His outfit is mostly a subdued military green, but still looks far more martial-arts-ish than military. It's a basic design, but a good one that works.

By the way, don't buy into that "File Name Classified" nonsense on the file card. The comic book, if you want to take it as official continuity, has established Kamakura as Sean Collins, the adopted son of Wade Collins, an old army buddy of Stalker, Storm Shadow, and Snake-Eyes.

DEPTHCHARGE with WAVE CRUSHER - This is actually a very cool vehicle. The name "Wave Crusher" has been used before in G.I.Joe. The last time it turned up it was used for a recolored version of the original-series SHARC vehicle, reassigned to Cobra and given to a recolored version of the Sludge-Viper, a definite improvement, and renamed the Sub-Viper.

This new vehicle is not the SHARC. It's a one man sled with some impressive detail and some impressive artillery, including a firing missile launcher. Whether this thing would actually float or fire its missile underwater I am not certain. Apartment management sort of takes a dim view on my trying these things out in the swimming pool...

The name "Depthcharge" has also turned up before in Hasbro, although its most prominent use prior to this Joe was an ill-tempered Maximal in the Beast Wars line, a rather large fellow who in the animated series was obsessed with tracking down and destroying the Predacon known as Rampage.

Obviously no relation to this G.I. Joe, who has a very distinctive appearance. There have been diver Joes before -- Torpedo, Wet Suit, Deep Six, and others, but this is the first one I can recall that has a predominantly orange uniform with grey trim. The figure comes with goggled and a diving collar, as well as a rifle. I'll give Hasbro credit here for paint detail on the face. The figure has blue eyes and blonde eyebrows. That's pretty extensive, really.

Since this is a new character, I'll present his file card here:


UDT (Underwater Demolitions Team)

File NameL Langdon, Nick H.

Primary Military Specialty: UDT

Secondary Military Specialty: Bandsman (Glockenspiel)

Birthplace: Pittsburgh, PA

UDT's are the first ones on the scene to check out the general situation, clear any obstacles and eliminate mines and other devices. They must be SCUBA and airborne qualified and have a good working knowledge of explosive ordnance disposal, rubber boats and nasty little weapons that don't make a lot of noise. Depthcharge has ratings in all these skills that are mong the highest ever recorded in the program. He hates the water. He doesn't like swimming, despises pools and hot tubs, gets irritated by the sound of seagulls, is nauseated by the smell of the ocean air, and takes the long way around puddles. What Depthcharge loves is everything else about being a UDT, so he is wuite willing to put up with the annoyance of being immersed in water or riding his Wave Crusher vehicle while carrying out his duties.

"You want to know why I'm so enthusiastic about running up the beach and clearing Cobra off it? Because if Cobra wasn't there, I wouldn't have to jump in the water in the first place!"

Okay, between this guy's anti-water personality despite being a UDT, and his secondary military specialty being a bandsman on a glockenspiel of all things, if Larry Hama didn't write this file card, I'd be truly astonished, because I don't think anyone else would have the nerve to come up with such a specialty-contrary personality, let alone even think of putting the word "glockenspiel" on a description for a toy!

Newsculpt or no, this is a very decent toy and an interesting new character. Finally, let's have a look at...

SAND VIPER with AIR ASSAULT - Yes, this is the same Sand-Viper as I mentioned in the "individual card" group, although this one has been done in more traditional Cobra colors -- that distinctive dark blue, with grey trim and just a bit of red -- specifically the eyes and the carved Cobra emblem. Probably not the best color scheme for a desert trooper, but I suppose it could work for an airborne desert trooper, and this guy comes with a very nice glider device called the AIR ASSAULT, arguably the successor to the original Cobra CLAW glider.

I have to say I like the Sand-Viper's motto - "Stalk like a lion, sting like a scorpion, vanish like a mirage."

So -- do I recommend any or all of these toys? Well, from the standpoint of, "If you're a Joe collector who likes ALL of the 3-3/4" stuff", and you're willing to put up with newscuplt designs, then I would have to say definitely. Get 'em while you can. Wal-Mart, Target, and K-Mart have pretty well sold their remaining 3-3/4" stock. K*B has a bit of stuff.

G.I. Joe has come up with some interesting characters, character designs and cool vehicles. And from that standpoint, I would certainly recommend them to any G.I. Joe Collector.