G.I.JOE COBRA PYTHON PATROL
In 1988, Hasbro released a specially repainted set of G.I.Joe figures, code-named TIGER FORCE. That team returned with all-different members in a specially-boxed Toys "R" Us exclusive five-pack in early 2003.
In 1989, Hasbro released a specially repainted set of Cobra figures, code-named PYTHON PATROL. That team's uniforms were supposedly resistant to radar. They were the only Cobra-specific special team ever produced in the G.I.Joe line. The primary colors of the uniforms were burgundy, black, grey, green, and pale yellow. The figures all, to some degree, had criss-crossed lines somewhere on their uniforms, indicative of the "Python" effect that rendered them invisible to radar.
The team was an interesting lot. One individual and five troopers. The individual was Copperhead, formerly the driver of the Cobra Water Moccasin. The troopers included the original Cobra Trooper and Officer, the Cobra Viper, Cobra Tele-Viper, and the silliest of the lot, the Crimson Guard, who although a very cool figure in his original form, had very little crimson on him this time around, and not a lot of Python effect, either.
There were three vehicles that bore a more common color pattern. Molded in black, they had red criss-cross lines across them and a slight silver undercoat. The vehicles had yellow trim. These included the ASP, STUN, and CONQUEST.
Welcome to 2003, and the new era of PYTHON PATROL. As before, there is one individual and five troopers in this special Toys "R" Us boxed set, which turned up in early June. But somehow, they're generally a lot more menacing than before. The more consistent color pattern of the vehicles has been applied to the figures' uniforms, with the yellow being swapped out for metallic gold. And the members are a lot more specialized than ever before. The premise is the same -- the uniforms protect the soldiers from radar detection. But these guys look like they mean a lot nastier level of business than their 1989 predecessors.
I can only think of one previous special team that had a consistency to their uniform patterns to this degree, and it wasn't either the original Tiger Force or Python Patrol. It was Slaughter's Marauders, and while they were known for having some of the coolest tanks in the business to go with their special camouflage pattern uniforms, I think even they'd be a little worried about this new 21st century Python Patrol.
The team is led by MAJOR BLUDD. This figure is actually a slight reworking from any previous version. It uses the 1994 Major Bludd head, and the body of the 1991 Super Sonic Fighters Zap. The overall effect works very nicely.
Next up we have the ROCK-VIPER. This isn't the renamed Range-Viper from the 2000 line. He's still doing service as Skullbuster in some areas. This is the original, 1990 ROCK-VIPER, an immensely cool figure that bears the Python Patrol pattern very nicely.
Hasbro was also nice enough to bring in one of my longtime favorites. The LASER-VIPER. As with the Rock-Viper, this is the original Laser-Viper, not the Sci-Fi body with a new-sculpted head. Hasbro reached back a second time to 1990 to retrieve the original Laser-Viper, who probably has more Python patterning on his uniform than any of the others in the group. And it works well. I also get a kick out of the fact that on the illustration for his file card, the center area of his chestplate is glowing. Nice touch.
Next we have the H.E.A.T.-VIPER. The body has seen use in recent times as the Fast-Blast Viper, but with a different head, the Undertow head. The original 1989 HEAT-Viper head has been retrieved, and put back where it belongs. This is a very effective figure. He has more black and gold on him than some of the others, and the effect, especially with that silver half-visor emanating from the all-black helmet, is somehow more sinister and menacing than any of the other members of Python Patrol. This is a very scary-looking Cobra trooper.
Then we come to the LAMPREY, another of my personal favorites. An interesting touch here -- previous Lampreys have been painted to have long pants with basic shoes on their feet. This one's been painted to be wearing boots, and what's interesting is how well it works. The greenish-silver visor on the Lamprey's otherwise black helmet is a nice effect, especially when you consider that this is an underwater specialist.
Finally we have the S.A.W.-VIPER. He's a bit of the odd-man-out, but maybe Hasbro figured they needed an attention-getter in the set. While some of the other figures have a certain amount of red trim on their uniforms, the SAW-Viper's uniform is MOSTLY a bright red. He has the least amount of Python effect on his uniform. He doesn't look that bad, really, as a figure, even if the bright red is a little on the glaring side. He just looks like maybe he didn't quite get the point of Python Patrol. Still, I'm not complaining.
As for the overall detail of the figures, it is truly astounding. I've never quite figured out how they get all of those criss-crossed lines on these small-detailed parts. Add to that is the fact that all six have very small but perfectly legible PYTHON PATROL logos on their arms, and everybody but Major Bludd also has a COBRA insignia on the other arm. Apparently while Major Bludd is willing to lead the team, he'd prefer to keep his status as a semi-independent mercenary. But these logos are so small that you could get eyestrain looking at them too long. It's the sort of nice little touch that isn't really necessary, but you appreciate it when you see it.
There is a very minor flip side to this coin. As with the recent B.A.T. 6-pack, there's a few details on a couple of these figures that have rather obviously been hand painted. I refer here to the red ring around the Laser-Viper's helmet, and the belt on the SAW-Viper. I don't know why this is. And I feel a little sorry for the poor assembly line workers who have to do this on hundreds of figures and make it look reasonably decent on every single one of them. But I can't ever recall in the 20+ year history of G.I.Joe any Joes made (for the American market) that had hand-painted details on them, and I really wonder why they do now. And in all honesty, I rather hope it's not a trend.
The six figures come with an abundance of accessories, and even their file cards have the Python effect on them. The cards appear to simply use the text from previous versions, so there's nothing especially original. None of them even make any specific reference to Python Patrol. But they read well, and for those who have gotten used to the comic-style artwork of the file cards, the ones for the six members of Python Patrol are very nicely done.
The set is receiving good marks across the board among longtime G.I.Joe collectors, and it's no surprise. It's a great assortment, and everybody except Bludd is an "army-builder". You don't have to have just ONE Laser-Viper or Rock-Viper or whomever, Buy more sets and build an entire Python army!
At the very least, though, if you're a longtime fan of G.I.JOE, you will definitely want to find your nearest Toys "R" Us or head to their Web Site online and get yourself a set of the new PYTHON PATROL figures. Easily on a par with TIGER FORCE, and a superb addition to anyone's G.I.JOE (and COBRA) Collection!