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By Thomas Wheeler

One thing the line of toys based on the movie G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA has given us is a very impressive line-up of vehicles, which honestly can be used with any existing G.I. Joe figures. Only a few of these vehicles are directly related to anything that appeared in the movie, perhaps the Cobra Steel Crusher being the most obvious of these.

Others are entirely new vehicles, while still others are recolorations of previous releases, some of them based on old favorites, others of them from somewhat more obscure periods in the long history of the Real American Hero.

Which brings us to the COBRA MANTIS ATTACK CRAFT.

Both G.I. Joe and Cobra have had numerous underwater or sea-based vehicles over their long history. Everything from small vehicles such as the Devilfish or the Barracuda, to medium-sized items like the Cobra Sea Ray, to larger and more impressive vessels such as the Cobra Moray and the G.I. Joe WHALE hovercraft, all the way up to, of course, the U.S.S. Flagg Aircraft Carrier!

It makes sense, really. More of the surface of the Earth is covered by water than by land, and even though man cannot survive, unaided, underneath the water, it's still territory and resources that doubtless Cobra would be interested in controlling.

The COBRA MANTIS looked like a cool vehicle, so I was happy to bring it in to my collection. And with a 2004 copyright date stamped on it, it had obviously seen a previous release.

Now, in some moderate defense, I was not as attentive to the 2002-2006 years of the collection as I was to the early years. That went for figures as well as vehicles. I have SOME, but not all or even most. And honestly, the names of some of the vehicles in this time period were, shall we say, open to interpretation.

There actually was a previous vehicle from 2002 called the Cobra Mantis Sub, which I initially thought this might have been a recoloration of. I do own the original, and it's a cool vehicle, even though it was initially developed by Galoob Toys for their Jonny Quest line, before Hasbro acquired Galoob. It's still a cool vehicle, but the original Mantis is not this Mantis. For one thing, the year of release was wrong. The original Mantis was released in 2002, and has a 2001 copyright date.

So I researched the vehicles for 2004 and found it under the Sting Raider title!

The original version of the Cobra Mantis was released in 2004, as part of the Valor vs. Venom line, with a recolored version of the Electric Eel figure, so clearly it was intended to be an aquatic vehicle then, just as it is now. I liked the original version of the Electric Eel figure, molded in translucent green and with a backpack that make him seem to light up. The version that came with the Sting Raider was opaque, and in my opinion, less impressive. Still not sure why I passed on this (or a number of other vehicles) on their first releases, other than I assume for budgetary and space considerations.

So, what have we got with the Cobra Mantis? Clearly a vehicle intended as a high-speed submersible. It's original name, the Sting Raider, is almost a play on words. The basic shape of the craft, as seen from the top, looks a fair bit like a stingray.

If you thought the G.I. Joe SHARC looked like a "Flying Submarine", then the Cobra Mantis definitely fits that particular bill even better. There's nothing to indicate that the Mantis is supposed to be capable of flight through the air, but honestly, it would take even less of a leap of imagination than it did for the SHARC to envision it doing so.

Let's be fair and call it a "winged" submarine. Nevertheless, between the sleek design of the craft, the extended wings, and the powerful engines in the back, I sincerely believe that the Cobra Mantis could run rings around the SHARC in just about any environment, even if its intended purpose is underwater. Arguably the movie world isn't likely to go for something like "flying submarines", so we'll just leave that particular potential alone. But hand one to a kid and see what he does with it on his make-believe battlefield...

The Cobra Mantis comes MOSTLY assembled, and I think it's a good thing that the original designers gave it a number of moving parts and a few portions that did have to be attached by the buyer -- otherwise this thing never would've fit in the modern box that was designed for it. As it is, one of the wings is folded up, and one of the engines needs to be attached, as does the tail.

Fully assembled, and with wings folded down but not extended to reveal the missile launchers, the Cobra Mantis is very slightly over 10" in length, and has a wingspan of nearly 8-1/2 inches. The outer inch and a half of each of the wingtips folds up for some inexplicable purpose, although it's always nice to have interesting moving parts.

The wings also extend, close to the main body of the vehicle, ultimately giving the Mantis a wingspan of nearly 9-1/2". Extending the wings reveals the spring-loaded missile launchers. Four missiles come with the Cobra Mantis, and it can fire these through the missile launchers.

Somewhat curiously, the wings have missile apertures in their fronts, but it's impossible to access the missile-firing buttons on the launchers without extending the wings. It still looks cool, though. You can snap a missile into each of the launchers, and see the tips of the missiles through the apertures with the wings closed.

The two engines for the Mantis are mounted above and towards the back of the main body of the vehicle, on two posts. The engines are large fan-like engines. The fan blades actually turn. Each engine is capable of a 90-degree rotation, so that they are positioned either horizontally towards the vehicle, one might assume for a particularly fast vertical dive, or can be rotated to 45-degree and 90-degree angles, whereby the fan blades are pointed behind the vehicle. That's the extent of movement. Nothing about a quick dash to the surface, but then we wouldn't want to give the pilot a nasty case of the bends, would we?

The Cobra Mantis has a long, pointed tail-like structure. Remember, the original release of this vehicle was during the Valor vs. Venom era. Dr. Mindbender was tinkering around with genetic engineering and bringing the DNA of various nasty animal species into Cobra. That didn't just include modifying troopers. He was looking for ways to incorporate animal attributes into Cobra's entire arsenal.

There are several small fins on this extended tail on the rear of the Cobra Mantis, as well as a small, double-barreled gun, that rotates around. Honestly, it rotates all the way around. If the pilot's not careful, he could shoot himself in the back with this thing.

Up front is a mechanical pincer claw. This is also on a spring-loaded mechanism. Stretch the two halves of the pincer claw to the sides until they snap in place. Now push the button you see at the base of the canopy.

The canopy swings up from the front -- and I discovered, detaches rather easily. Fortunately it also reattaches easily, and given that a few of the labels need to be placed in rather tight spaces in the cockpit, it might be just as easy to temporarily remove the canopy during this procedure.

The cockpit is a single-seater craft, with a seat, control panels, and a large control stick with handlebars. This is adjustable with a certain amount of up-and-down movement.

Although designed as a watercraft, I have my doubts that the Cobra Mantis would actually float. It's front-heavy, and that would probably flood the canopy. Extended exposure to water also wouldn't likely do the screws holding it together on the bottom much good, or the springs in the spring-loaded missile chambers or the pincer claw.

That this vehicle is clearly designed as a "pretend" watercraft is evident in the presence of three small wheels, fairly inconspicuous, on the underside of the vehicle. The Cobra Mantis should roll along any smooth surface quite nicely.

Colorwise, the Cobra Mantis is well in keeping with the subdued color scheme of the movie. The vehicle is mostly a somewhat metallic pewter grey in color, with a limited amount of silvery grey trim, and a somewhat greater amount of red trim, including the pincer claw, bold stripes along the interior of the wings, the fan blades, and some detail in the back. Interestingly enough, this color scheme isn't too far removed from its original incarnation in 2004. Hey, if it works, no reason not to use it.

There is a small sheet of labels for the Cobra Mantis. These have been printed on a good sheet of clear vinyl. Most prominent of the labels are the Cobra emblems, of course. There are also some labels for several of the panels in the cockpit. For these, I recommend placing them on the tip of a toothpick, placing them very carefully, and then smoothing them down with your thumb or a pencil eraser.

There's a handful of other labels, including a couple of rather peculiar "NO STEP" labels that use a very curious squared-off font that is almost illegible, but which I've seen at least once before, on the movie-based Wave Crusher vehicle.

The Cobra Mantis comes with its own driver figure, who is named AQUA-VIPER OFFICER. That's a good name. I'm honestly surprised that "Aqua-Viper" hasn't turned up before. Despite the name, though, it's fairly obvious what the figure is, based on the helmet. It's a recolored 25th-style version of the Cobra LAMPREY.

However, there's nothing wrong with that. It's an excellent choice. The Cobra Lampreys were first introduced in 1985, as the drivers of the Cobra Moray Hydrofoil. This amazing vehicle was one of the most boat-like vehicles, appearance-wise, ever to appear in the G.I. Joe line. A rather large vehicle, even if it was massively overshadowed by the Aircraft Carrier in the same year of its release, it was a remarkably well designed and executed craft, with plenty of interesting features. The Moray, under other names, has made multiple appearances since its initial release, which is unusual for a vehicle of its size.

The Lamprey would go on to turn up, in recolored form, in the Sonic Fighters Team in 1990, and then be part of the 2000-2002 line, in yet another color scheme, as a driver of a small submarine for Cobra. The final appearance of the original Lamprey was in the second incarnation of Cobra's dreaded Python Patrol special team, part of a special Toys "R" Us exclusive six-pack of traditional-style figures during the newsculpt era of 2002-2006.

A 25th-style version of the Lamprey was part of one of the recent special seven-packs of figures, that emerged around the same time as the movie, but are not directly affiliated with it.

The original, and likely best known, version of the Lamprey provides the character with a silver bodysuit, what appears to be an inflatable or padded blue vest over the chest and back, and a distinctive helmet, mostly silver, with a black bar over the top, and a wide blue visor that seemed to extend all the way to the back of the head. This back section would not always be painted as part of the visor on later versions of the original figure.

The Aqua-Viper Officer has a Lamprey helmet, so that's pretty much a giveaway right there. However, the colors are overall drastically different.

The Aqua-Viper Officer is wearing a black uniform. He does have distinctive shoes with silver toes, heels, and soles. Although this in and of itself isn't especially Lamprey-ish, the original Lamprey was notable for having shoes rather than boots, although some later versions painted the lower leg to resemble boots.

The Aqua-Viper Officer is wearing a red vest. Although not looking especially padded or inflated, given the presumably more "realistic" style of the movie figures, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see this figure as a Lamprey if the colors were changed to those of the original. The pouches on his upper arms, and a couple of padded segments on his upper legs, are also red.

The helmet is actually removable. The head underneath doesn't look like anyone in particular, although it's probably notable for not having its lower face covered with a mask, typical of most Cobra Troopers.

The VERY Lamprey-like helmet is molded in transparent red, and has the base painted silver, and the bar over the top of the head painted black. Except for the visor color, it's identical in basic appearance to that of a Lamprey. With the helmet in place, the Aqua-Viper Officer could definitely look like a movie version of a Lamprey, but we'll go with the name given to it.

About my only complaint with the look of the figure is that the helmet visor is a little too transparent. It's readily easy to see the facial features behind the red visor. So your eyes sort of want to try to see the helmet as part of the character, and yet see the face at the same time, which is somewhat unusual for the average Cobra agent. It's a curious look, although I will say that the overall color scheme is impressive, and the final result is a figure that definitely looks Cobra, definitely looks dangerous, and definitely looks like a proper pilot for the Cobra Mantis.

The file cards that come with the movie figures are not especially extensive, although in the case of the Aqua-Viper Officer, some details are revealed. It reads:

AQUA-VIPER OFFICERS lead platoons of Aqua-Viper troopers on ocean-based attacks and raids. Their physical abilities have been enhanced with nanomite technology, enabling them to withstand extreme ocean depths.

His preferred weapon is the MARS Industries D57-A extreme environment tactical pulse rifle, and the figure does come with a fairly fancy rifle, as well as a backpack with two hoses that attach to the back of the helmet, something which definitely sets the Aqua-Viper Officer apart from any Lamprey, although really, not at all an inappropriate addition given his specialty.

So, what's my final word here? For any G.I. Joe collector, the Cobra Mantis Attack Craft is an impressive vehicle, and will be a cool addition to any G.I. Joe collection. For movie fans, or those collecting the 25th-style figures, the Aqua-Viper Officer is an interesting addition, with a cool nod to one of Cobra's better-known aquatic vehicle driver troops. The color scheme certainly makes him look a good bit more threatening, too.

As such, the G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA - COBRA MANTIS ATTACK CRAFT with AQUA-VIPER OFFICER definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!