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By Thomas Wheeler

Every so often something a little unusual turns up in the toy world, and I'll make a bit of an effort to track it down. This was one such.

Sometime between 2003 and 2004, there was supposed to be several sets of recolored traditional-style G.I.Joe figures released to Wal-Mart. For various reasons, those sets never happened. I won't bother to speculate on the reasons. Plenty of other people have done that already, and the rumors have been flying more than fertilizer in a cow pasture. And amount to about the same thing, too.

The sets would've included characters including Duke, Low-Light, an Alley-Viper, and several others. One of the more notable ones was a substantial recoloring of the Cobra HISS Driver. And one of these turned up on eBay a while back.

Some history on the character. The HISS DRIVER was first introduced in 1983, packaged with the Cobra HISS Tank, one of the first vehicles ever assigned to Cobra. Unlike the blue-uniformed Cobra Trooper and Cobra Officer figures, which had been released in 1982, the HISS Driver was dressed in a fairly bright red outfit, with a blue chestplate that bore the Cobra logo in silver. He didn't have any specific code-name. He was just "HISS Driver".

The figure would not return in any form for many years, but did emerge once again in the 2000-2002 line, when Hasbro reissued the original HISS, now calling it the HISS III (The HISS II had been released in 1989 with a figure called Track-Viper). However, this time, the figure was considered an individual character, not a trooper figure, and was given the name "Rip-It". As it was explained to me by a Hasbro representative, this was a golfing term and some sort of in-joke at Hasbro that I never quite had explained to me.

RIP-IT was molded in a dark blue plastic, with a red face mask, black goggles, black chestplate with a red Cobra logo, red belt and wrist cuffs, and black boots. The figure also had a mold black overspray that thankfully was nowhere near as annoying as the black paint smears that far too many G.I.Joe figures were saddled with during that particular run. Of course even doing that to one figure is too many (in my opinion).

And now we have this unusual HISS Driver, intended as part of the Wal-Mart set. I have no idea if he was going to be a HISS Driver, or Rip-It. The auction said "HISS Driver", so that's what I'm going with. Colorwise, he's somewhat closer to Rip-It, but the figure tends to look more like a HISS Driver.

Both this figure and the original HISS Driver from 1983 have silver goggles and black facemasks. Rip-It has black goggles, and a red facemask. Somehow, that makes the two HISS Drivers look more like each other than either one looks like Rip-It. The "Wal-Mart" Hiss Driver has a red chestplate with a white Cobra logo, which I have to say is probably the most distinct, neatly stamped Cobra logo I've ever seen on a 3-3/4" figure. Granted, there's plenty of room to work with. But it really looks superb.

The HISS Driver is also a shade lighter blue than Rip-It. Arguably, the "cancelled" HISS Driver is a color-reversal to the original 1983 version, red where the original was blue, and vice-versa, even if the specific shades of red and blue are not identical. Rip-It is a bit of a sidestep.

I honestly don't know how many of these "cancelled" intended-for-Wal-Mart HISS Drivers are out there. I have no idea how far into production these figures got before the project was scrapped. I not only got the figure with the auction, but his accessories as well. I don't know what that might say about the overall production run, but it wouldn't surprise me if a fair supply of these exist.

Overall, it's a cool figure that looks different enough from either of his previous versions to have been interesting enough for me to obtain, and I'm sincerely glad I did. It's a shame that he and his companions never officially made it to market. I'm certain they would've been popular and well-received.