REVIEW: G.I. JOE COBRA JUNGLE-VIPER
Most military forces will endeavor to have specialists within their ranks that are trained to deal with specific environments. This planet is a very diverse place with a wide range of climates, and concurrent hazards. Someone trained for desert warfare is not going to perform that well in the arctic unless he receives additional training for that very different environment.
It's no great surprise that on a team as specialized as G.I. Joe, there were individual specialists for different environments. One would assume that if the Joe Team needed to send a squad into a particular specific region, they would send that specialist or specialists along, either to head up the mission or to at least provide on-the-spot training and advice to those team members who were not as familiar with that particular environment.
Similarly, Cobra, with its diverse forces and global intentions, also developed entire specialized trooper divisions to deal with specific environments. The somewhat curious thing is that they generally seemed to do so after the G.I. Joe team had already taken on an individual specialist for that particular environment.
The G.I. Joe team acquired a Jungle Specialist, Recondo, in 1984. Cobra -- hello? Wow. I mean, talk about a glaring omission. Okay, technically, Cobra developed the Range-Vipers in 1990. But these guys were officially listed as "Wilderness Troopers" -- not specifically jungle troopers.
At no point in the original run of the Real American Hero did Cobra get a specialized jungle trooper. And it would take the Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club to come up with the first one, as a special figure during the newsculpt era. This was the first Jungle-Viper.
Although assembled from previously existing parts from other newsculpt Cobra troopers, this first Jungle Viper nevertheless had a very distinctive look to him. He had a uniform that was several shades of very appropriate green, with a dark gold Cobra emblem on the chest, black gloves and boots, brown belt and trim, and a green helmet with a metallic blue faceplate. The uniform was notable for an abundance of pouches on the legs, doubtless carrying the sorts of supplies needed for jungle survival and combat.
This Jungle-Viper didn't really get a lot of action, unfortunately, although a squad of them did turn up briefly in one Devil's Due comic book adventure, which I thought was pretty cool for a Collector Club-based figure.
Now, as part of the current G.I. Joe line, Hasbro has created an all-new Jungle-Viper. And it's certainly making up for lost time. I mean, sure, Cobra should have come up with a Jungle-Viper a lot earlier than even the first one. But this new one certainly compensates for that, and it's easily one of the wildest Cobra troopers ever created for any G.I. Joe line, and has been garnering plenty of attention in the collecting community -- and for good reason.
The Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club Magazine interviewed Design Manager John Warden, specifically about the Jungle-Viper. Warden said that they were really looking to fill a spot in the toy line for the Jungle Environment. He remarked that within Cobra's existing army, the Night-Vipers felt like the closest thing to what they were trying to develop with the new Jungle-Viper. But the Night-Vipers are not jungle specialists. Warden commented that some of the visual cues were similar, and in this, he is quite correct, at least as far as a basic color scheme and at least one piece of hardware is concerned. The Night-Vipers are known for having uniforms that are predominantly dark green and black, and their helmets have an extended night-vision scope attached to a visor. Similarly, the new Jungle-Viper has a uniform that is predominantly black and dark green, and among his extensive accessories is a huge set of scopes attached to a visor.
But, in my opinion, that's about as far as the resemblance between the Night-Viper and the Jungle-Viper goes. And there's not a lot of similarity between the new Jungle-Viper and the original -- not that this is a criticism of either figure. About the only similarity there is an extensive supply of assorted pouches on the uniform.
It's fair to say that the current G.I. Joe line is going for a more realistic, or perhaps a more accurate term would be "military real" look to its figures, on both sides of the story. As usual, the Cobras can stretch this a little further than the G.I. Joe team usually does, but I think it can be said that the newest assortments of figures look a lot more like something that wouldn't be at all implausible to see on a real-world battlefield, if the technology existed to create them. Without at all putting down the earlier incarnations of G.I. Joe, the same was not always the case there.
In basic form, the Jungle-Viper appears to be wearing a mostly black uniform, with a heavy padded mesh on parts of the shirt and trousers. Certainly the sculpted detail on the entire figure is superb, and very intricate. The Jungle-Viper is wearing an all-covering helmet with some jagged sculpted detail on it, that while reminiscent of some of the helmetry from the movie-based line, isn't anywhere near as weird or annoying in appearance. The eyes and a bit of the face around the eyes are the only visible portions.
The shoulders appear armored, and there s a silver Cobra emblem on the left shoulder of the Jungle-Viper, just so you don't mistake him for a good guy -- which isn't terribly likely. He has a series of three green pouches on his chest, that are rather long and which I personally suspect would contain ammo clips. The Jungle-Viper is wearing a green backpiece that comes over the shoulders, and also connects to a belt, that has two extensions hanging from the sides, almost akin to an ARC Trooper from Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
The Jungle-Viper has huge, armored knee pads. One assumes if he spends a lot of time crouching in the jungle waiting for a target, this would be a serious boon. There is a holster on the lower right leg with a small, removable pistol in it. The Jungle-Viper's uniform is completed by the strangest pair of boots I've ever seen. They are very heavily laced, but seem to be padded more than soled on the bottom, almost like a combat boot for a ninja.
That's the basic figure. Painted detail is relatively minimal. Most of the uniform items are molded in the color that they need to be molded in. But the painted detail that does exist has been very well done.
So, what makes the Jungle-Viper such an unusual and remarkable figure? It's not the basic uniform, as impressive as that overall design is. It's the accessories to the uniform, and I don't mean the weaponry, or the fancy visor.
The somewhat limited file card for the Jungle-Viper states that the Jungle-Vipers are Cobra troopers with special training as silent marksmen. In other words, they're not just jungle specialists, they're jungle snipers. This explains the knee pads and the boots. They not only need to be familiar with a jungle, they need to be able to be sneaky in it.
The file card continues: Their opti-cami ghillie suits have digitized camouflage blades, which make them disappear from any detection devices.
Now, a traditional ghillie suit is a form of camouflage, generally designed to look as much as anything like a large clump of the local plant life, a pile of fallen leaves, or a small leaf-covered rise in the earth. It's designed to make a sniper blend in with his environment. Personally, I've always thought the things looked silly as heck and, more to the point, would be danged hard to move around in, but they've been around as part of warfare for a very long time, so I suppose they're effective.
Cobra has clearly taken ghillie suits to the next level -- the technological level. According to the G.I. Joe Magazine interview, Design Manager John Warden first got the idea for this outfit from a nightmare he had while sick. I suppose we take our inspiration where we can get it. He imagined "several mysterious figures cloaked in weird outfits that looked like long shards of glass or venetian blinds. They shimmered and came in and our of view, like ripples on a puddle that has gasoline in it."
This, needless to say, startled him awake, and the first thing he did was grab his sketchbook and drew a rough sketch of what he had seen in his dream. That's some interesting foresight.
But it was that idea of "long shards of glass or venetian blinds" that led to the real image of the Jungle-Viper, a high-tech ghillie suit so scary that if Batman ever got a look at it, he'd wish he'd have thought of it first. Warden described this in the Magazine as a "fractal opti-camo ghillie suit. The suit is made of numerous digital camo blades, each of which is coated with special conductive paints on both front and back sides." The blades take in data of the surrounding environment, allowing the Jungle-Viper to blend in almost seamlessly.
The ghillie suit comes in multiple pieces, and here is where some assembly instructions would have been rather helpful. I'm especially grateful to the Club Magazine at this point, since it had several excellent photographs of the fully-assembled Jungle-Viper.
There is a green device with three posts on it that snaps into the back of the figure. There are seven distinct camouflage pieces. The one that looks a bit like the top of a palm tree snaps into the top post. The two largest "wings", for lack of a better term, snap into the side posts. They have sockets of their own, into which the second largest "wings" snap. Finally, the smallest pieces snap onto posts that are part of the Jungle-Viper's lower arms.
All of the pieces are distinct, and once the main section is assembled, it doesn't need to be disassembled. It can be easily removed from the figure at the back when desired, and the arm attachments snap off easily enough. Additionally, since all of the "wings" are attached along a ball-and-socket design, the entire structure has its own articulation -- which is probably a good thing for the Jungle-Viper. Fully assembled, this high-tech ghillie suit still looks like it would be very difficult to move around in, but one has to assume that within the G.I. Joe universe, the technology works, so it's worth if, and even if something goes wrong, it's scary-looking enough so you're bound to just plain startle the heck out of someone long enough to get a few shots in.
The pieces are all painted, as well, and very impressively. The pieces are all black on the inside, dark green on the outside, with tan airbrushed trim done in an extremely impressive fashion, and some of the wing tips have little red marks on them in little indentations, a reflection of the technology, no doubt. All of the paint work is very well done, through proper stencils. Hasbro really went all out on this figure.
Then there's the fancy visor. It has three different scopes on it, each of which has its own set of high-range sights and optics. Again, according to Warden, the fourth, smallest extension is a boom microphone, which detects sounds and footsteps.
Of course, all of this is fine and well, but if you're a sniper, you need to be able to shoot something. The Jungle-Viper comes with a multi-piece machine gun with a massively extended barrel, as well as a little stand that looks almost like a pair of short skis. He also comes with a second pistol, just in case he needs to get up close and personal..
Any complaints? Just one. For whatever reason, the decision was made to give the Jungle-Viper this weird "blank-eyed" look. His face right around his eyes is visible, with a little bit of flesh-tone skin, white eyes, and black lines above the eyes to represent eyelashes. But the eyes are blank. No irises or pupils. And really, I can't quite imagine the reason for it, and in my opinion, it's not a good look. Some characters can get away with a blank-eyed look. Batman can. Certain other super-heroes. But not a Cobra trooper from a new era of G.I. Joe that's trying for a certain highly-detailed military-based pseudo-realism. It just doesn't work here. Fortunately for those sufficiently skilled, it's nothing that a really fine point pen can't remedy. I recommend Micron, available at many crafts stores. Still, I'm not sure why it was decided to leave him blank-eyed in the first place. But it's a relatively minor complain on an otherwise really outstanding figure.
So, what's my final word here? If anybody needs convincing that Hasbro is taking the modern G.I. Joe line very seriously, just show them a Jungle-Viper. The figure in and of itself is highly detailed and very nicely designed within the current figure format. The high-tech ghillie suit is an amazing piece of work. The other accessories and weaponry are well-made and well-detailed. Regardless of which version of the 3-3/4" scale G.I. Joes is your favorite -- and it's no secret that I prefer the originals -- this is an abundantly cool and extremely impressive figure that you should welcome in to your collection.
The G.I. JOE COBRA JUNGLE-VIPER definitely has my highest recommendation!