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FLASHBACK REVIEW: THE ORIGINAL PYTHON PATROL
By Thomas Wheeler

In 1988, the G.I.Joe Team developed TIGER FORCE, a team of specialists
chosen from within the ranks of G.I.Joe, and equipped with repainted
G.I.Joe vehicles, as well as some captured from Cobra. In response, the
following year, COBRA created PYTHON PATROL, the only distinctly Cobra
"special team" within the original run of the Real American Hero.

The "hook" to Python Patrol was not that they were created just to go up
against G.I.Joe's "best of the best". Reportedly, the uniforms and
vehicles used by Python Patrol were specially coated to deflect all known
forms of radar. Just as many real pythons out in the wild remain hidden
until they strike, so Python Patrol would be able to remain hidden from
military radar until they were right on somebody's doorstep.

In the comics, Python Patrol had one major appearance, which stuck
decently closely to the backstory for the team. Unfortunately, the issue
was illustrated -- and I have to say this -- absolutely horribly by one
Tony Salmons, who also did one other issue and a short story in one of
the G.I.Joe Yearbooks, and then was, to the best of my knowledge, never
heard from again. At least not within the pages of G.I.Joe.

The story suffered for the art, but it was also a rather peculiar story
in its own right, focusing on the conflict between the fictional
countries of Darklonia and Wolkekuckuckland (and the fact that I can
remember THAT one after all these years without looking it up should
probably worry me just a bit). Some of the more oddball characters to
turn up in the story were Dr. Mindbender, Darklon, and a carload of Joes
in a Camaro. One sort of gets the impression that Larry Hama had a hard
time taking Python Patrol seriously.

In the animated series, Python Patrol actually heralded the return of
animation. The five-part mini-series "Operation Dragonfire" was DIC
Studios first G.I.Joe adventure. It would also be their best, as when
they were given the go-ahead the following year for a daily series, the
quality dropped through the floor, the basement, the subway, you name it.
But "Operation Dragonfire" was a capable effort in and of itself, and
featured the development of Python Patrol, going up against, for the most
part, Slaughter's Marauders, another Joe specialist team introduced later
in 1989. If the mini-series suffered from anything, it was visually, from
the rather limited color palette of both Python Patrol and Slaughter's
Marauders.

As for the toys, there were six individual figures, and three vehicles.
None of the vehicles came with figures of their own, which was something
of a surprise, as two of them, in their previous incarnations, had
included figures, and certainly the previous year's Tiger Force
collection had included vehicle-with-figure sets.

As to the figures. The only individual character in the assortment was
COPPERHEAD, renamed Python Copperhead for the team. Copperhead was
originally introduced in 1984, sold with a small attack boat called the
Water Moccasin. His original appearance had featured an unusual (for the
time) turquoise and light green uniform. While his Python Patrol uniform
wasn't necessarily an improvement, it could be argued that as the only
individual character on the team, he was probably in charge of Python
Patrol. What's a bad fashion statement when you get to run your own small
army?

Python Copperhead's file card reads as follows:

PYTHON COPPERHEAD
Python Patrol Swamp Fighter

It is presumed that Python Copperhead is native to, or otherwise
intimately familiar with, the rain forests of the Amazon basin.
Intelligence sources venture a guess that he raced speedboats in high-
stakes races in Monaco and Japan. His major weakness is gambling and is
in debt to Cobra for a large sum of money. Without enough money to cover
what he owes, he joined Python Patrol as a faster means of paying off his
debt.

"You know the type. The Python Copperhead can drive a swmp buggy like the
devil himself, rebuild a V-8 with a coat hanger and a toothpick, and
start a ruckus that will last until daybreak. Live hard and fast is his
motto, and he stands by it 100%. This
Python is all take and no give!"

The next figures in the collection worth mentioning would be the PYTHON
TROOPER and PYTHON OFFICER. Originally produced in 1982 (altered for
Swivel Arm Battle Grip in 1983), these were recolorations of the original
Cobra Trooper, first released under just the name "Cobra", and the Cobra
Officer. Interestingly, their names were switched for Python Patrol. The
figure that was technically the Cobra Officer was listed as the Python
Trooper, and the figure that was listed as the Python Officer was
originally the Cobra Trooper.

Although somewhat simplistic in design compared to figures from
subsequent years, although not as undetailed as the original 1982 Joes,
both figures received enough of a color overhaul to compensate,
especially the one known as Python Trooper, who got a green shirt with
yellow Python patterning in it.

Their file cards read as follows:

PYTHON TROOPER
Python Patrol Infantry

The Python Trooper is the basic infantryman of the Python Patrol and is
cross-trained in at least two support-skills such as computer operator,
cook, and ordnance supply specialist. Unlike most armies where
specialization is the norm, Python Patrol expects its computer operator
to be as proficient with assault rifles as he is with word processors.

"When this guy takes up his position on the battlefield, you know you're
in for one heck of a fight! He's so well disciplined, trained, and
mentally prepared for battle, that only total victory will satisfy him!
The Python Trooper swears absolute loyalty and allegiance to Cobra
Commander, his supreme ruler!"

PYTHON OFFICER
Python Patrol Officer

Python Officer is trained at Cobra leaderhsip schools and is required to
take a special course in stealth tactics that utilizes the advantages of
the Pythonizing Process. He is a qualified air-traffic controller,
artillery spotter, and infantry leader. His proficiency with second-
generation, digital keyboard message devices enables him to coordinate
infantry, armor, artillery, and air-support instantaneously, in code and
without audio transmission.

"This slithering mastermind is dedicated to destroying G.I.Joe and the
free world. He'll stop at nothing to crush transportation lines,
communication lines, or just about anything that he can obliterate! The
Python Officer displays no fear in his actions. He has contempt for
everything and is willing to show this in the most violent of ways!"

Next up we have the PYTHON VIPER. Although this figure may seem as little
redundant, as the original Cobra Viper was introduced in 1986 as a new
version of basic Cobra infantry forces, essentially a replacement for the
Cobra Trooper, the overall design of the Cobra Viper remains one of the
most impressive to this day, and was a welcome addition to the ranks of
Python Patrol.

The Python Viper was the first recoloring of the Cobra Viper, and within
Python Patrol, was one of the most effective color schemes. The Python
patterning is extensive enough to be plausible, and the overall color
scheme is probably the best looking of the lot. With an emphasis on dark
grey and black, minimizing the yellow, it's a Cobra trooper to be taken
seriously.

The Python Viper's file card reads as follows:

PYTHON VIPER
Python Patrol Assault Viper

The Python Viper is the backbone of the Python Patrol. He is highly
motivated, superbly trained, and formidably equipped. Due to the
Pythonizing Process*, this particular Viper is equipped with stealth-like
capabilities, whereby he can penetrate enemy areas undetected! His
combination rifle/grenade launcher has been retro-fitted with a passive
infrared seeker and the barrel rifling has been changed to accept hyper-
velocity discarding ammunition.

"If you want to get anywhere in the Python Patrol, you have to start out
as a Python Viper. That's the bottom line of the pyramid, and serving in
the Python infantry is a small price to pay to gain access to the
glittering prizes at the top. The Python Command doesn't reward success
with parades and medals. They offer material wealth, power, and an outlet
for the terrible urges that drive those who are greedy, envious, and
cruel. If that doesn't make a Python Viper a dangerous opponent, nothing
does!"

*A process in which personnel and/or vehicles are outfitted with a
primary layer of radar-resistant black-ball paint, then blanketed with a
thermal-wave dispersal grid.

Interesting that it's the Python Viper's file card, and ONLY his file
card, that explains the Python process for any of the toys.

Now let's turn our attention to the PYTHON TELE-VIPER. The original Tele-
Viper was first introduced in 1985, and was actually the first Cobra
trooper division to use the suffix "Viper", even preceding the standard
Cobra Viper by one year. Placing the Tele-Vipers within the ranks of
Python Patrol was a logical move on two counts: A specialized team is
going to need specialized communication, and in 1989, most Cobra trooper
divisions were already too specialized to be placed within an
additionally specialized team. It didn't make a lot of sense to put an
Eel or a Snow Serpent within Python Patrol. The troopers chosen were, for
the most part, either fairly generic, or, in the case of the Tele-Viper,
had a specialty that worked well with the team.

The Tele-Viper had a fairly bland design initially, and the Python Patrol
version isn't what I'd call outstanding, but it does make good use of the
Python patterning.

The Python Tele-Viper's file card reads as follows:

PYTHON TELE-VIPER
Python Patrol Communications

He's the RTO (Radio Telecommunications Officer) of Python Patrol's ground
forces. The Pythin Tele-Viper is equipped with a modular radio pack that
contains all new sophisticated radar jamming devices. He carries digital
scrambler/decorders and low speed recording decks for ultra-high speed
burst transmissions, enabling Python Patrol personnel to communicate
rapidly with other Cobra units and support elements.

"It's almost impossible to stay undetected as long as this guy is in the
field! As soon as your position is discovered, you might as well 'call it
a day', because he is going to radio-in for an air-strike on your
location before you can get away! Once he has you, he has you!"

Finally we have the PYTHON CRIMSON GUARD. The Crimson Guards have, over
the years, become a legend within the ranks of Cobra and the world of
G.I.Joe. First introduced in 1985 as a special "elite" force, the name
has become one of a very small number of trooper division within the
ranks of Cobra to really soar above the rank and file. The Crimson Guards
remain a dangerous force to this day.

While a logical choice for the Python Patrol team, much as the Tele-
Viper, in that the Crimson Guards didn't have any specific
"environmental" specialty, the color scheme given to the Python Crimson
Guard was easily the most contradictory. Among the colors used for the
Python Patrol figures was a very dark red, even darker than the original
Crimson Guard. So why was this color not used more extensively on the
Python CG? Instead, the figure has a yellow shirt, pale grey trousers,
and the Python patterning only appears on the chest. Only the Python
Officer figure makes less use of the patterning. So, the end result is a
Python Crimson Guard that frankly doesn't live up to either designation
especially well. If there's one mild disappointment in the original
Python Patrol, it's probably this figure.

The Python Crimson Guard's file card reads as follows:

PYTHON CRIMSON GUARD
Python Patrol Elite Trooper

The Python Crimson Guard is the creme de la creme of shock troopers. All
Crimson Guardsmen must be college graduates and in top physical
condition. The Python Crimsom Guard is a master at infiltration and
sabotage. His function is to spy on his fellow Vipers and report all
violations of Cobra policy to the Python Patrol commander.

"This guy is too precious to be wasted on the conventional battlefield.
He is usually dispersed throughout the country, assuming an apparently
normal appearance and lifestyle. Watch out! That friendly new neighbor of
yours just might have a snake skin Python Patrol uniform hanging in his
closet..."

A lot of the file cards are very similar to their original versions, but
enough changes have been made to still make them fairly original, and
interesting reading. And let me add this. The source of the detail on
these file cards is obvious -- Larry Hama. I doubt that you'd read very
many toy descriptions that make mention of things like "hyper-velocity
discarding ammunition" or the like. The man does his homework, and in
1989, that homework made it onto the file card.

Then there are the vehicles. While fewer in number than Tiger Force, they
make up for it with one of the most complicated paint-jobs I've ever
seen. Molded in a dark red plastic, an overspray of black and silver in a
grid pattern that I honestly have no idea how it was accomplished gives
the three Python Patrol vehicles a distinctive appearance that remains
unmatched to this day. "Thermal-wave dispersal grid", indeed!

The smallest of the lot is the PYTHON ASP, based on the original Cobra
ASP. This small, towable vehicle's main feature is two adjustable gun
barrels that are perfect for either pointing up and shooting down planes,
or pointing forward across a battlefield. The canopy is also adjustable,
so that the gunner can either recline back, or rise up to face the
battlefield, but given that the canopy is open, really more or less a
"cage". that might not be a terribly bright idea. For such a small
vehicle, it has a remarkable number of moving parts.

Next up is the PYTHON STUN, based on the strange but effective enough
Cobra STUN from several years prior. This medium-sized vehicle has room
to seat four -- a high-positioned driver, a gunner in the back, and two
movable gun pods in the front, that honestly provide the greatest degree
of protection from oncoming fire. Really, the driver is a little exposed
in this thing. The oddest feature of this otherwise fairly low-slung,
three wheeled vehicle are the two narrow flagpoles in the back (they're
also the most breakable). Not that I ever think we'd see anything quite
as peculiar as an actual STUN on an actual battlefield, but those things
would just be waving in the breeze, pointing out the target.

Finally, there's the PYTHON CONQUEST. Just as G.I.Joe picked up several
Cobra vehicles for use in Tiger Force, including a Cobra Rattler Jet,
Cobra managed to obtain one of the Joe Team's CONQUEST X-30 jets to place
within their Python Patrol team. The Conquest is based to a fair degree
on the real life prototype fighter plane, the X-29, which was especially
known for its highly unusual forward-swept wing design. The Conquest X-
30, and by inference, the Python Conquest, are a somewhat stockier, and
yet also more fighter-plane-looking design than their real-life
counterpart. The Conquest X-30 has seen two additional uses in more
recent years, but its "evil brother", the PYTHON CONQUEST, remains the
one with the most distinctive, and certainly complex, paint job, and is
one of the cooler planes in the entire collection.

I would be remiss in this review of the original Python Patrol if I
didn't make some mention of a couple of additional entries from the
international realm. In South America, there were two figures and one
vehicle added to the Python Patrol collection, and the figures were quite
unusual as such.

While their names in their native language wouldn't mean much to English-
speaking collectors, the molds used for the figures were RIP CORD and
AIRBORNE! Did these two Joes head south and then defect!? The color
scheme for "Airborne" is remarkably similar to the uniform for Python
Copperhead, "Rip Cord" is an entirely distinctive uniform, colored almost
entirely in dark grey with pale grey Pythonizing patterning.

And there was one distinctive Python Patrol vehicle from South America,
as well. The DREADNOK SWAMPFIRE, a strange but surprisingly plausible-
looking contraption that could operate as either a boat or a one-man
open-cockpit helicopter, was recolored with Python Patrol colors and
markings.

I've never seen one of these vehicles in person, although I have seen
pictures of it. Some collectors comment on the fact that G.I.Joe products
from South America tend to be visibly inferior from their American and
European counterparts. While there is some validity to this comment, if
they were able to duplicate THAT complicated paint pattern to a
reasonable degree, they're not THAT inferior.

Python Patrol never caught on quite as much as Tiger Force, for whatever
reason. It is notable for being the only Cobra-exclusive special team in
the entire run of the original line, and most of its figures were pretty
cool, and certainly its vehicles were. It finally got a bit of overdue
respect in 2003, when an all-new Python Patrol special set was introduced
to Toys "R" Us -- right on the heels of a Tiger Force set. The new set
featured Major Bludd, and five troopers, including the Lamprey, Laser-
Viper, Rock-Viper, HEAT-Viper, and SAW-Viper. These figures were all
given very complicated color schemes, reminiscent of the original Python
Patrol VEHICLES. The only real exception was the SAW-Viper, who had an
excess of bright red and not enough Python. Maybe he and the Crimson
Guard can go make fun of each other or something.

But overall, the original PYTHON PATROL was a real treat, a cool addition
to the G.I.Joe line, and probably deserved a bit more attention than it
got at the time. Given more of a chance, they doubtless would've posed a
severe threat to the Joe Team, and to the world!

COBRAAAA!