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REVIEW: G.I. JOE: PURSUIT OF COBRA - V.A.M.P.
By Thomas Wheeler

In any sufficiently large and long-lived pop culture concept, there are certain things and people within that concept that become better-known, and more iconic, than others. Certainly this is true of G.I. Joe. Certain characters, such as Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Duke, Destro, etc., are simply better known than other characters, admittedly worthy parts of the concept, like Free Fall, Updraft, and so forth.

This is also true of the vehicles within the line. Most people moderately familiar with the G.I. Joe concept will readily know about the MOBAT, the SkyStriker, the HISS, etc. They might be less familiar, however, with the Avalanche, the Dominator, etc.

Certainly one of the most iconic vehicles within the world of G.I. Joe is the VAMP. Introduced in 1982, it was the equivalent of a Jeep for G.I. Joe. However, "Jeep" is a trademarked name, despite its somewhat casual use in military circles, and as such likely couldn't be used for G.I. Joe. To the best of my knowledge, the only licensed vehicle within the G.I. Joe line was the Cobra Steel Crusher, which was a slightly reworked Hummer. Definitely a cool vehicle in its own right, but I do find myself hoping that the side door missile launchers aren't actually part of an options package.

VAMP, as a bit of a stretch, stands for "Vehicle Assault, Multi Purpose". Now, there's been no shortage of abbreviations throughout the history of G.I. Joe that have received explanations that have ranged from the plausible and the logical to the moderately eyebrow-raising. As for this one -- did Yoda come up with this or something? I mean, "Vehicle Assault, Multi Purpose"? Really? Granted, calling it the "Multi-Purpose Assault Vehicle" would result in an abbreviation that would be pronounced "M-Pav", and that doesn't really sound like much of anything. So, we'll stick with VAMP, and try not to envision a certain Jedi Master saying, "VAMP you will use. Cobra you will fight..."

Dubious abbreviation aside, the VAMP was a definite hit with G.I. Joe fans and kids the second it was released. It was a very impressive, very modern-looking, four-wheeled military vehicle. And what kid, if he's playing with soldiers, doesn't want vehicles for them? And in 1982, the choices were pretty limited. There was the RAM Motorcycle, which was cool, and there was the MOBAT, which was big and cool, but a little pricey. But the VAMP was four-wheeled, not two-wheeled, it came with its own driver, Clutch, and it was of a size that allowed it to be within a much more affordable price-point than the MOBAT.

Hasbro knew a good thing when they saw it, and the VAMP would appear, in various forms, many multiple times over the years. It would return twice in 1984, as the VAMP Mark II, and as the Cobra Stinger. The main differences were the colors, the weapons mounted in the back, and the fact that both vehicles had roofs and doors, something the original VAMP didn't. Nevertheless, the basic VAMP body was still used for both vehicles. There was even a Canadian version of the VAMP II, molded in a slightly different color of tan, and with Canadian stickers instead of American ones.

For an interesting turnaround, the Stinger version of the VAMP was recolored in 1988, and reassigned to the G.I. Joe team through the Tiger Force program as the Tiger Sting. This time around, it was yellow with black stripes.

Even the demise of the G.I. Joe line in 1994 couldn't keep the VAMP down for long. It turned up in the G.I. Joe based Street Fighter line, and almost as soon as G.I. Joe returned to the shelves, the VAMP was back in action, albeit sometimes under a different name. One of the cooler editions came during the 2000-2002 era, when the VAMP was tricked out with some new attachments and given the name Desert Striker. This time around, Flint was the driver, having recolored his old Eco-Warriors uniform in a much more agreeable shade of tan.

During the 25th Anniversary of G.I. Joe, of course the VAMP appeared yet again, and was once again ultimately remade into the Cobra Stinger, as well. Both vehicles, although still utilizing the basic original VAMP body, had more interesting built-in features than ever. There was even a G.I. Joe Convention Exclusive edition of the VAMP in 2007.

Now, with the current G.I. Joe line, post-movie, there's yet another VAMP. But to paraphrase an old TV car commercial -- this is not your father's VAMP. It's not even the 25th Anniversary VAMP. It's an all-new VAMP, bigger and badder than any VAMP that ever rolled into a toy store and into somebody's G.I. Joe collection -- and not just because it's a four-seater rather than a two-seater.

There was a second prominent vehicle in the G.I. Joe line, that came along in 1990. Dubbed the "Hammer", it was intended as a G.I. Joe take on the Hummer -- although structurally was not close enough to warrant needing to be licensed like the Steel Crusher. It was brought out just as the real-life military Hummer was garnering attention in the news. It was absolutely massive compared to the original VAMP, almost comically so. It's had a few different versions over the years, including a Convention version, and is generally well-regarded, although not usually as well as the VAMP.

The new VAMP -- well, it falls pretty much between the two. It's certainly far larger than the original VAMP, but it's not as big as the Hammer. It also isn't as exaggerated as some aspects of the Hammer seem to be. It's a little more straightforward-looking than the Hammer. It has enough of a resemblance to the original VAMP to be seen as a plausible extension of it, although it definitely has its own "identity", which makes it look more rugged, and distinctly more realistic than the Hammer. I think if you crossed the original VAMP with a real world Hummer, not a Hammer, the result might well be the new VAMP, and maybe that's what was intended.

To give you an idea of the size difference, the original VAMP is about 8-1/4" long, slightly over 4" wide, and 3-1/2" tall at the roof. The new VAMP is 10-1/4" long, almost 5-1/2" wide, and 4-1/2" tall at the roof. Just for additional comparison sake, the Hammer is 12-1/2" long, 6" wide, but just slightly over 4" tall at the roof. Watch your head getting in, folks.

The original VAMP is a two-seater vehicle. The new VAMP has four seats. The original VAMP has a double-barreled gun in the back, which as was shown in the comic book was capable of being remote-controlled. The new VAMP has two massive weapons, a gatling gun and a laser cannon (the latter of which fires a spring-loaded laser missile), which can be swapped between a weapons mount in the back, and two mounts in the framework of the roof of the new VAMP. In fairness, the original VAMP went through enough iterations to have a wide variety of weapons in the back, including a couple of types of missile launchers, but it was always ONE weapon mount.

The new VAMP has some other interesting features. There's a smaller gun mount on the passenger side of the vehicle, which the passenger can readily use. There's a huge claw on a working winch at the front of the vehicle. The claw actually opens and closes. What I haven't quite figured out yet is a proper way to stow the claw so it doesn't drag the ground. The claw CAN be made to take hold of the front grill, at least. The winch works on a little dial in the hood.

In the back, there's a removable shovel and hammer. There's also a rack in the very back of the vehicle with a couple of gas cans. Now, it just wouldn't be a VAMP if it didn't have that. Virtually every version of the VAMP over the years has had a little rack in the back with a couple of gas cans. And so, the new VAMP has two gas cans in a rack in the back.

The original VAMP had neither doors nor much of a roof. Instead, there was a sort of protective "roll cage" over the driver and passenger area. Similarly, although the new VAMP looks somewhat more reinforced than the original in this regard, it doesn't really have doors or much of a roof. Instead, there's a framework around the driver and passenger area, of varying thickness. It's really an interesting design that as much as anything else helps to give this vehicle its identity as a larger successor to the original VAMP.

The main color of the vehicle is a desert tan in color, with an underside that is largely dark gray. The seats are a golden tan in color, with dark gray trim. There is one unusual color element about the vehicle, and that's part of the underside. There are two platforms, to which the wheels attach, that also give the VAMP a certain amount of individual suspension. For reasons that I can't quite figure out, these parts were molded in dark red. If they were restricted to the underside of the vehicle, this wouldn't be a big deal. However, these two pieces do include the attachment points for the four wheels, and the end result is a VAMP that looks like it has small, dark red hubcaps. It doesn't throw off the look of the vehicle all that much, but it is just a little peculiar, and it wouldn't surprise me a bit if a number of collectors went in with some color of more military-looking paint.

Then there are the labels. I generally enjoy a well-labeled G.I. Joe vehicle, and I like getting them in place nice and neatly. But when I opened the instruction and label packet and noticed that the labels were numbered into the HIGH 80'S -- I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into.

First of all, if you're reading this and you have an unopened, unassembled VAMP in front of you, or you're thinking of getting one, allow me to offer the following sage advice -- DO NOT assemble any aspect of the vehicle before putting the labels on. One quick study of the label sheet told me that I would be a whole lot better off leaving the wheels and everything else off the vehicle until I had the labels in place. There's enough near-impossible places to try to install labels without working around tires and weapons fixtures in the process.

Secondly, I recommend the following tools -- an X-Acto knife to gently place the label on for those hard to reach areas -- and trust me, there's plenty of those; the patience of a saint; and several aspirin. You will be using most or all of these items to some degree before you're finished.

I think the last time I saw a G.I. Joe vehicle with this many labels, it was either the USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier, or the Defiant Shuttle Launch Complex. And those are both a whole lot bigger than the VAMP. The labels are numbered up to 87, and that doesn't even count two distinct groups -- a little batch of bullet holes, and a large supply of alpha-numeric characters to give your VAMP its own personal registration number. All together, there's probably closer to 150 labels for this vehicle. Most of them pretty teeny-tiny.

I do like the fact that you can spell out your own alpha-numeric registration number for the VAMP. This technique was first, and last, used on the Arctic HISS tank a while back. You get two each of every number from 0 to 9, two each of every letter from A to Z, as well as four dashes, and four slash marks. The number recommended by the instruction sheet is "V46-7", but really you can do anything you want to, with space allocated on the vehicle for about five characters. Try to be polite with it.

For myself, I just decided to leave it blank. There were so many options that I just ultimately couldn't decide. I also left off the bullet holes. According to the instructions, they can be placed anywhere. But I just bought this thing! I don't want it looking all shot up.

I'd be hard-pressed to say which one of the labels is the toughest. The two for the dashboard are pretty nightmarish, especially the little one for the computer screen. The larger one -- well, I was just getting it in place when it bounced off the X-Acto, and I'm still looking for it. The labels for the weapons mount are actually easier than I expected. There's even labels for the underside of the vehicle! Those were actually relatively easy.

I was at it for over an hour and I still hadn't finished (deducting time looking for the dashboard label). This is NOT a project you want a small child to attempt. That will more than likely result in a very distraught child and a possibly wrecked VAMP. For that matter, I think there's a lot of adults that would have trouble managing this. I consider myself highly experienced with G.I. Joe vehicles, very adept and precise at label placement, and with a fair amount of artistic talent, which I do think comes in handy, and it still drove me nuts. I almost find myself wondering what Hasbro was thinking with this. The labels are so numerous and must be placed in so many tricky areas that only an experienced modeler should even attempt it.

Granted, the labels are very well made, printed on good quality clear vinyl. And thanks to modern computer technology and printing techniques, the days where the "fine print" on these labels was just a straight line are long gone. There really is actual fine print on the labels. But you'll just compound the headache you'll give yourself trying to get them in place if you're crazy enough to actually try to read them. Even with a magnifying glass it's not easy.

A word of warning, although I don't know if it will apply to all of the label sheets. I had a little trouble getting some of the labels off the label sheet without them trying to bring the top layer of backing paper along for the ride. In fact, a few of them did. And it's a real problem then trying to separate the label from a same-size thin length of paper, especially with the smaller labels, which seem to be the most prone to this problem. Remove the labels from the backing paper VERY carefully.

The vast majority of the labels will fit where the instruction sheets designate them to, but I had to get a little creative with a few of them. I do not recommend placing these labels over any distinct ridges or other raised areas on the body of the VAMP. They just won't stay put as well. They're best on as smooth a surface as you can find in the immediate area.

One last note on the labels -- as far as I can determine,. Label #68, a length of black and white checker pattern, has no apparent placement on the vehicle. Maybe they just threw it in to tease us? However, if someone can tell me where this is supposed to be placed, please let me know. On one final note, I do like the fact that there were labels for the gas cans, just like before.

As for assembly -- the days when a G.I. Joe vehicle had to be fully assembled are pretty much in the past. Nevertheless, I don't mind at all putting some of it together -- or even doing all the labels (better me than some poor overworked person at the factory). Since the VAMP does not come in an open display window box, it didn't need to be fully assembled. You are required to snap the wheels on -- including the spare in the back -- the steering wheel, some grenades on the side, the shovel and hammer in the back, the gas cans, and the weapons mount. None of these are especially difficult, although the post for the gatling gun is a little tricky, and the ammo box mounted to it looks a little strange even when you get it right.

The vehicle rolls superbly well across any reasonable surface. I have rather old carpeting in my apartment, and it presented no difficulties for it.

Of course, the VAMP needs a driver, and it comes with a fairly familiar face. The driver of the original VAMP was a fellow who went by the name of Clutch. He was basically a "grease monkey" from New Jersey who'd worked in various auto repair shops before enlisting, and saw himself as something of a ladies' man despite a tendency to refer to women as "chicks". Somehow he managed to elude Scarlett's crossbow for a generous number of years.

Somewhere along the way, and for reasons that doubtless have to do with certain legalities over rights, his code-name was changed to "Double Clutch", although it was still the same individual. And he's hardly the first member of the Joe Team to have something like this happen to him.

The file cards provided with the current G.I. Joe characters are less informative than in years' past, and generally a lot more businesslike, but I can certainly confirm that it's the same individual. His real name is the same as before -- Lance J. Steinberg -- and the file card describes him as a "fearless driver and ace mechanic" who has "the raw instincts of a street racer and the tight discipline of a soldier, with lightning fast reflexes and intense focus." That's a pretty good description of the character.

The card also gives a name to the laser weapon mounted on the VAMP. It abbreviates it as D.E.A.L.R., which stands for "Directed Energy Amplification Laser Rifle". Actually, that's one of the better ones I've heard over the years.

The Double Clutch figure is a good modern take on the original character. The original Clutch, being from the first year of figures, used a lot of the same parts as his teammates, but was noted for having a sort of brown vest over his otherwise green uniform. Similarly, the new Double Clutch figure is wearing a mostly olive green uniform, but has been given a black harness which fits over the torso. It looks impressive, but it probably could have stood to have been made out of a slightly more flexible plastic than it was, as the snap on the right side doesn't want to stay put all that well.

Double Clutch has black gloves and shoes, a pistol holster on his right leg which will hold a pistol accessory that he comes with, a knife sheath on his left leg (non-removable), and he also has a helmet with a working strap. He also has a satchel which he can sling over one shoulder, that has a number of little pouches sculpted into it. A nice and impressively made little accessory.

The figure is not overly colorful -- mostly green uniform with black accessories, and a small imprint of the current G.I. Joe emblem on the upper left sleeve, but in a way, this isn't inappropriate for the character even based on his 1982 incarnation.

The headsculpt is a good take on the original character, with black hair, a slightly high forehead, and a full mustache and beard, also black. Overall, it's a good modern take on the original Clutch, that fits in well with the pattern of the current toy line, which seems to be trying to be a bit more realistic than the original in appearance respects.

I'd like to comment on the packaging, briefly, particularly the art. I'm not sure who, or even how many, artist(s) are presently providing the painted artwork for G.I. Joe vehicle packages, but they're doing a magnificent job. The front of the box has a truly astounding painting of the VAMP, plowing through a jungle setting, weapons blazing, Double Clutch at the wheel. It's really excellent, and the artist should be commended.

So, what's my final word here? The new VAMP is an incredibly cool vehicle, that will be a superb addition to any G.I. Joe collection. Even if you're not a fan of the modern line, the modern figure format, or whatever. The scale is still the same, and the vehicles will work with any G.I. Joes you have in your collection. And this vehicle deserves to be part of any good G.I. Joe collection. The labels will drive you nuts, but once you get them done, you'll be -- first of all, relieved -- and secondly, very impressed with your completed VAMP. Hasbro has taken the original, beefed it up, given it some more seating and weaponry, and created an all-new vehicle for the G.I. Joe Team that is a very worthy addition to the entire collection.