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By Thomas Wheeler

Who keeps watch over Cobra Island in the wee hours of the night when even Cobra Commander is snoring -- or maybe hissing -- away in his bed? The COBRA NIGHT WATCH Team, that's who!

This excellent six-pack of traditional-style G.I.Joe figures was one of the first offerings among the Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) G.I.Joe items at HasbroToyShop.Com. I was recently able to acquire it, and I am very pleased that I did.

The set features two slightly differently-colored Cobra Officers, and four Cobra Troopers. Although I have always tended to prefer Cobra Vipers, as opposed to these figures from the earliest years of Cobra, I can understand their appeal on the level of them being good basic troopers.

The figures are clearly based on the remakes of the Cobra Trooper and Cobra Officer that were designed for the Comic Packs a while back. Prior to this, there had been, of course, the Cobra Infantry 6-pack, one of the most highly sought-after of the Toys "R" Us exclusive six-packs, which had all new head-sculpts and somewhat more detailed bodies. Although they were clearly intended to be based on the original Cobra Trooper and Officer from 1982-83, there was a greater level of detail to them. These are intended more to be a closer likeness to the originals, especially with regard to the head sculpts.

Despite their structural resemblance to the original Cobra Trooper and Cobra Officer, the colors are quite different. The four troopers are dressed in bluish-grey shirts, with bluish-grey trousers and helmets that have a slightly lighter shade of bluish grey painted on them. The gloves, boots, belts, and face masks are all black. They have a standard red Cobra insignia on the front of their uniforms, and a variant on one sleeve and the left side of their helmets, which shows the outline of the Cobra insignia, with a stylized skull in the center of it.

Of the four Cobra Troopers, one of them is black. I'm pleased to see this. In the original line, I always thought it was a little too politically-correct that there were never any black bad guys, even as troopers. There was no reason to assume that Cobra was a racist organization, any more than there was any reason to assume that all of the minorities represented in the G.I.Joe line were good guys.

The figures are well-made, and I am happy to report that I don't see any significant sign of molding creases in the heads. Of course, it might be because the heads are apparently molded from the more rigid plastic that is also used in the bodies, rather than the slightly more flexible plastic that is also used on the lower arms, and which I suspect is more susceptible to this problem.

My only complaint about the heads is that they look a little lopsided for some reason, as if each trooper has his head cocked slightly to the left. It's not that severe, but it is noticeable.

I didn't detect any real assembly problems here. Nobody really has any arms or legs shooting out to the side because of incompatible parts or some such, and for the most part, articulation points are nice and tight.

Paintwork is excellent. The Night Watch logo is a cool design, the colors and camouflage are well done, some very tiny details, such as buckles on the straps and belts, have been painted in. Hasbro is continuing the unfortunate practice of hand-painting some details, but it's not too bad here. Gloves, boots, knee-pads, and leg straps. Everything but the leg- straps work out fine. And generally speaking, it's the leg-straps on ANY figure where this practice is used that are going to turn out sloppy. But I've certainly seen worse. Somewhat amusingly, the silver buckles on the leg straps are spray-painted. Go figure. Overall, these are four excellent and distinctive Cobra Troopers.

It's also worth mentioning that, except for the black one, obviously, the skin tone used on the other troopers as well as the Officers, admittedly only a small area of their faces around their eyes showing, is closer to the fairly "pale" white used by early G.I.Joe figures, rather than the "been out in the sun for a while" shade that started turning up rather frequently in 2002.

Now let's turn to the Officers. I'm honestly not sure which one outranks which. There are only two file cards on the package back, one for the Troopers and one for a "Squad Leader". Technically the picture shown is the one with the red mask and the silver Cobra insignia, so let's assume he's the Squad Leader. That still leaves the one with the black mask and the gold Cobra insignia unidentified. Let's assume he's some sort of intermediary between the Squad Leader and the Troopers. Maybe he's the one that walks around and makes sure they all stay awake during the night.

Both are, except for a few color details, identical figures, and based on the Cobra Officer format. They are both molded in a very dark blue, an even darker blue than one normally expects from basic Cobra uniforms, almost a bluish-black. One of these Officers has a black face mask, gold Cobra insignia on his uniform, and a gold "V" on his helmet, with purple details on his shoulder pads and collar. The other Officer has a red face mask, distinctly setting him apart from the others, silver Cobra insignia on his uniform, and a silver "V" on his helmet, with red details on his shoulder pads and collar.

The one glitch on these two figures is that something smeared one edge of the silver Cobra insignia on the Squad Leader. Now, I am capable of fixing this, but this is the one thing I don't like about buying figures online. You're buying sight unseen. And with limited quality control in effect these days, while you can see a picture of the set of figures you're buying, that's just a picture of A set, not THE set that they're sending you in the mail, and that could mean trouble.

I am extremely particular about figure condition, lack of molding creases, and neat paint jobs, because I know that Hasbro (and any other reasonable toy company, really) is capable of achieving a proper quality level, and because I feel G.I.Joe deserves it. I often surprise fellow toy collectors when I tell them I am much less concerned with package condition than I am with the quality of the figure, if his manufacture, assembly, and painting meet what should be, and HAVE BEEN, the standards that G.I.Joe established during its original run.

That having been said, a smeared Cobra insignia, while certainly undesireable, is also fixable, and also less serious than a few other mishaps I've encountered since G.I.Joe became an online exclusive, that cannot be attributed to that fact so much as somebody in authority at Hasbro just not paying proper attention.

The Officers appear to share the same arms and lower torso pieces as the Troopers. Despite the fact that both Officer and Troopers have a knife leashed to their left legs, this is NOT the same mold. However, the paint detailing on both is excellent. Once again, small buckles have been neatly spray-painted.

The one mystery is the right leg of the Officers. This is generally where a figure is dated. The Troopers have a date of 2004 on their inside left leg. But the inside right leg of the Officers reads -- 1991? And it's such a nondescript leg that I'm honestly not sure whose it might have been before it was used here. Don't get me wrong. It's perfectly workable. I just hate weird little mysteries like this.

Now, while I don't make it a practice of commenting on accessories, this set deserves comment. These Cobra soldiers come with a pretty good-sized arsenal. Theres a wide range of pistols, knives, and four of this strange rifle-like thing that appears to have a smaller pistol attached to the front that has its own trigger. If this has ever been used in G.I.Joe before, I suspect it would've had to have been in the newsculpt line, because I don't recognize it.

Also included in the set are six bases for the figures to stand on, with a peg for the holes in the bottom of theor boots. These are often welcomed by people who like to put their figures on display and don't quite trust the figure's own sense of balance, or want to pose them in a stance that they wouldn't be able to hold on their own, or sometimes use in dioramas. These bases don't turn up in every G.I.Joe set, and I'm sure they'll be appreciated here.

The description of the Night Watch Team on the back of the package reads as follows: COBRA Infantry Troops fight on the front line, patrol the perimeters, and perform the grunt work that keeps the evil Cobra organization operating. Within this main infantry force are many smaller, specialized groups, like the COBRA NIGHT WATCH. These dusk-to-dawn foot soldiers dwell in the darkness and slither in the shadows, defending Cobra bases during the night and assisting in nighttime raids on G.I.Joe bases.

As I said, there are only two file cards on the package, one to represent the Cobra Troopers, the other for the Squad Leader. Those file cards read as follows:


Cobra Night Watch

Primary Military Specialty: Night Patrol

Secondary Military Specialty: Infantry

COBRA NIGHT WATCH troops are on duty during the dark, empty hours from midnight to dawn. While the rest of the Cobra infantry troops are dreaming of mortars and machine guns, night troopers patrol the perimeters and remain ready for a nighttime attack... which never comes, much to their disappointment. They drink gallons of super-caffeinated coffee to remain alert, haunted by nasty stories of what happens to anyone found asleep at his post by Cobra Commander. Night troopers are ideally suited for their job. They shun the sunlight and skulk in the shadows even when not on duty. Because they are chronically sleep- deprived, they have learned the fine art of sleeping with one eye open so as always be at least half-awake at all times.

"Cobra Night Watch troops are always wired from too much coffee and too little sleep. You don't want to startle them, because they're so jumpy that they attack first and ask questions later."

I had no idea that Starbucks had an outlet on Cobra Island, but they're everywhere else, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. As to the other file card:


Cobra Night Watch

Primary Military Specialty: Night Patrol Leader

Secondary Military Specialty: Infantry

The leader of the Cobra Night Watch troops is a master of the midnight patrol. He can completely disappear into the shadows, instantly pinpoint the source of a strange sound in the darkness, and stay awake with just a quick catnap while pouring himself another cup of coffee. He trains his troops with light-deprivation techniques in pitch-black subterranean cells that he designed himself. While the day0shift squad leaders derisively refer to his troops as "the vampire squad", the night trooper leader is proud to work the midnight-to-dawn patrol. He believes that G.I.Joe forces will eventually strike at night, hoping to catch Cobra forces unawares. But the night trooper squad leader and his forces will be ready and waiting for them.

"My troops and I rule the dark. While the day-shift guys are snoring away in their pajamas, we're out there every night, guarding them from enemy attack."

Nicely written file cards, I must say.

I am very impressed with this COBRA NIGHT WATCH Set. Given some of the mildly disappointing six-packs that turned up at Toys "R" Us -- the Greenshirts set, the Heavy Assault Squad -- this Cobra Night Watch set is a definite winner! The figures are cool, they're well made, the one that I received thankfully has no structural problems to speak of, and it's a cool concept.