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By Thomas Wheeler

Right on the heels of the G.I.JOE WINTER OPERATIONS Set, the COBRA IMPERIAL PROCESSION Set turned up at Toys "R" Us. The set includes interesting versions of COBRA COMMANDER and the BARONESS, plus four of a new trooper called the COBRA IMPERIAL GUARD. Apparently Cobra Commander has seen the Star Wars movies and decided that if that wrinkled old prune Palpatine could have Imperial Guards, then he was entitled to them as well.

The set is interesting, and I always welcome new trooper divisions and characters, but I'll be honest -- the set is not as impressive as the Winter Operations Set, and there's a few glitches in the figures that speak to some of the problems with modern traditional-style figures that could be very easily dealt with.

However, I'll deal with that in good time. I'll still take any traditional-style G.I.Joe figure over any other action figure line presently available around here. The concept, imagination, and for the most part, quality, remain unequalled. That's not to say there isn't some other cool stuff out there. But G.I.Joe, as an overall concept, remains at the top to this day, despite a few stumbles here and there.

Let's consider the figures in this newest set. They're all molded in a sort of pearlescent dark reddish-orange that almost looks metallic. This feature hasn't been used on very many G.I.Joe figures in the past, and it does create a cool effect. Now, let's take a look at the individuals.

COBRA COMMANDER: The main bad guy of the enemy forces. He's managed to survive attempts at being overthrown by both Destro and Serpentor, and his terrorist organization remains the most severe threat to peace and freedom in the G.I.Joes' world. The figure is a recolored version of the one that came with the Comic Book three-pack based on G.I.Joe #1. It's not a bad figure at all, but there's something ljust a little strange about seeing Cobra Commander dressed in RED. He's generally been known for wearing either "Cobra Blue" or, on occasion, black. Red's a new look for him, and it's a little strange.

My only real complaint, though, with this figure, is the back. It's derived from the 1991 Talking Battle Commanders line, not one of the high points of the original collection, so it protrudes rather noticably to accommodate an electronic backpack that is no longer present. There was a different backpiece used for this figure in 1993, when it was incorporated into the Battle Corps line. Unfortunately, I suspect that piece has been lost.

Cobra Commander's file card reads as follows:

COBRA COMMANDER - Commander of Cobra Forces File Name: Unknown Primary Military Specialty: Intelligence Secondary Military Specialty: Ordnance (Experimental Weapons) Birthplace: Unknown

Cobra Commander is the ruthless egomaniac who leads the evil forces of Cobra in their bid for world domination. Devoid of conscience or scruples, he will stop at nothing to achieve his terrible goals, going so far as to order the twisted genius Dr. Mindbender to experiment with combining human and animal DNA to produce more savage warriors for his legions. A roiling mass of contradictions, Cobra Commander is intelligent, yet oblivious to reality; passionate about his nasty aims, yet cold to people; perceptive of the minor faults of others, yet blind to his own foibles. He is basically a small-time hustler and card-cheat who has risen to greater power than was ever expected - but the same could be said for many infamous dictators of the past.

"The G.I.Joe Team has no chance against us. What do they stand for, fairness and honor? Euphemisms for weakness!"

I have to say that's got to be one of the least pleasant file cards in the entire line -- even compared to others written for Cobra Commander...

BARONESS: As with Cobra Commander, this figure is based on the Baroness figure that came with the very first Comic Book-based three-pack. While the Baroness body mold is pretty much the same, that figure was given a new head sculpt. There was good news and bad news about that. The good news was that, on its own, it was a really good head sculpt. The bad news was that it was so small -- I suspect being designed around the proportions of the head sculpts that were being used on the new-style figures -- that it was severely out of proportion to the rest of the body. The only one that was as bad as this was Scarlett. The end result, unfortunately, is a Baroness who looks like she has the shoulders of a football player.

One other gripe -- the entire face is painted flesh-tone. Now, maybe it was molded in red. I'm not sure. But I've seen this happen too many times lately, including on figures whose heads were otherwise molded in flesh- tone, to let it slide without comment. There is NO GOOD REASON not to mold these heads in the proper color, and then NOT PAINT THEM, except for the eyes and hair! It's a waste of paint, and all it takes is one little paint bubble or scratch to ruin the look of the figure! And if that sounds nit-picky for a "kids' toy", it is. But....collectors of all ages care how their figures look and I hope that this practice is not one that will continue.

Baroness has been seen in a red uniform once before -- in the 2002 Convention Set. However, this is a sufficiently different figure, even setting aside the different head sculpt. It's a different enough color red, the details are painted differently, and the Cobra logo is gold, rather than silver. From a coloration standpoint, this Baroness uniform is really quite elegant, and works well with Cobra Commander. It's a different and perhaps strange look for both figures, but not necessarily a bad one.

This Baroness has removable glasses, which are included, as they were with the comic set, but the package illustration shows her without glasses, and frankly, head SIZE notwithstanding, the figure looks better without them. So, she finally used some of her ill-gotten gains to get herself some contacts. Her file card reads as follows:

BARONESS - Cobra Intelligence Officer File Name: Classified Alias: DeCrobray, Anastasia Primary Military Specialty: Intelligence and Sabotage Secondary Military Specialty: Helicopter Pilot Birthplace: Classified

It is believed that Baroness received her training in espionage and sabotage at an exclusive training facility run by a former Warsaw Pact intelligence age

ncy. Although she is officially the head of all Cobra intelligence operations, she also has old ties and loyalties to Destro, who has his own business and interests outside of Cobra. Baroness denies that this is an ethical conflict. How can it be? She has no ethics to speak of. Baroness is a world-class expert in cryptography, psychological warfare, and bio-chemical skin irritants. She consistently places third in the annual Cobra Combat Pistol Tournament, but this is no mean feat considering that Destro always places second. But in her arrogance she believes that her failure to secure the gold medal is due to political favoritism rather than the quality of her marksmanship.

"I hate the G.I.Joe Team. Who do they think they are? What makes them so special? And they dress so badly!"

Okay, look, Baroness, get over the Eco-Warriors, okay? We agree with you... Actually, that quote is pretty funny, really.

COBRA IMPERIAL GUARD: You get four of these in the six-pack, and the design is superb. Take the head and legs of the Range-Viper, and the torso and arms of the Armored Cobra Commander. Now, the Range-Viper, when first introduced in 1990, was designated as a "Cobra Wilderness Trooper". This despite the fact that the helmet and shirt were molded in a fairly intense blue. The mold has turned up a couple of times since, but the color schemes have not tended to be significant improvements. Granted, red has never been among those colors. And honestly, that skull-like image of the helmet seemed out of place. But perhaps not for an elite group of soldiers whose specific purpose is to guard the Commander. If I saw a "face" like this, I wouldn't want to get that close to it, either.

Then there's the Armored Cobra Commander. Not the biggest highlight of the various Commanders over the years. First introduced in 1987, the bright blue and gleaming silver outfit seemed somehow inappropriate for the greatest evil in the G.I.Joe world. In fact, for most of its use, it actually housed a devious Crimson Guardsman who tried to usurp the Commander's place, if one sticks to the comic book background. This is being reflected in an Armored Cobra Commander in a three-pack that will have a removable helmet, revealing the Crimson Guardman's face.

So, you've got parts of two -- less than impressive Cobra figures. Or let's just say offbeat. Put 'em together with a red-and-gold color scheme and what do you get? Something pretty darned cool, actually. The COBRA IMPERIAL GUARD. It actually took me a few minutes to figure out just whose torso and arms had been used here. The Range-Viper head certainly wasn't a problem. So, who exactly are these new troopers? The file card reads as follows:

COBRA IMPERIAL GUARD - Elite Guards for Cobra Commander

The Cobra Imperial Guard are hand-picked by Cobra Commander to be trained as guards to protect him from attack at any cost. They are chosen for their strength, fearlessness, and loyalty, but because the evil Commander does not trust anyone, the recruits are bio-mechanically "adjusted" to make sure that their one and only thought is to protect their leader. They form a silent, stony wall of protection around Cobra Commander and seem to detect betrayal and attack before the perpetrator has made a move. They strike down the threat swiftly and efficiently, without so much as the twitch of an eyebrow. They consider themselves a highly elite force and will not fraternize with anyone outside their unit.

Real bunch of party boys, this lot. Still, you can't argue with the efficiency of them.

Now, there's just one little structural problem in these otherwise really cool figures that I need to discuss, and it'll take a little explaining. On some modern-day traditional-style figures, the once-circular hole that is molded into the top of the lower leg, to fit over the peg hole of the upper leg halves, that allows for knee articulation, has become a hexagon. It's no longer round, for whatever strange reason. This has caused, in some figures, somewhat jerky knee articulation and worse, in some figures, it is impossible to position the leg "straight down". There's something about the hexagon that makes it move back just a bit. Just enough to keep the figure from really standing straight.

Unfortunately, the Cobra Imperial Guards have this problem. Fortunately, they don't have a problem that has become all-too-common among other traditional-style G.I.Joe figures. Hasbro has adopted the peculiar and redundant habit of not only screwing the upper leg halves together, but gluing them as well. This is as thoroughly pointless as molding a head in flesh-tone plastic and then spraying flesh-tone paint over it. It also makes disassembling the legs for repair work impossible. Never mind knee- joints, God forbid if the metal T-hook should break. I realize that allowing for collector repair work isn't high on Hasbro's list of priorities, but it's still a little redundant to glue a leg together that's already got a screw holding it in place. It turned up most recently on the WINTER OPS set. Fortunately, the IMPERIAL GUARDS do not have this problem, so repair of the peg hole can be managed.

Please understand -- I'm NOT picking specifically on the Cobra Imperial Guards here, or the Winter Ops Set. They're all very cool figures. I'm very impressed with them. But I AM using this opportunity to point out what I consider a problem with the way the figures are assembled these days that Hasbro needs to have brought to their attention and corrected. If I had to give a priority to anything, I'd say STOP GLUING THE UPPER LEG-HALVES! It's not necessary, and it makes several types of repairs impossible!

Okay, I've said my piece. And I feel it needed to be said -- and will until the matter is dealt with. That doesn't mean that I dislike this set. Quite the contrary. While the Cobra Commander and Baroness figures are a little odd, especially the Baroness, the color schemes aren't bad, and the Cobra Imperial Guards, essentially an all-new character/trooper, something we don't see often in traditional-style figures anymore, is worth the price of the set alone.

The accessories are interesting. There's four flags, one for each Imperial Guard. It's a serpentine-like staff with a jagged black flag on it with a white Cobra emblem backed with a red lightning bolt. There's also the Baroness' glasses, and a nasty-looking silver pistol of some sort that I suppose anybody could use. There's a chair, one might presume a throne for Cobra Commander, that a friend of mine told me was brought over from one of the Star Wars Jedi Council sets. Boy, first Cobra Commander decides he wants Imperial Guards of his own, and now he's stealing Star Wars furniture...!

There's also a large and very ornate cape for Cobra Commander, which one has to assume is strictly ceremonial. It's so big that if he actually wore the thing, it'd be dragging the ground. It does have a pretty amazing design on it, though. It's a black cape with several Cobra logos on it, the front image and the lesser-seen "profile" Cobra, silver lightning bolts, gold lines, and more. Honestly, it looks like something someone with the ego of Cobra Commander would wear to such ceremonies as an "Imperial Procession".

Which brings me to the illustration on the back of the package. Since only three file cards were needed, rather than the usual six (there's only one Imperial Guard file card), there was room on the back for more of an illustration than usual, and it's a truly superb one. Baroness is in the center, managing to look sexy and sinister all at the same time. Cobra Commander is sitting on a very grandiose throne behind her, and he's flanked on all sides by Imperial Guards standing at rigid, perfect attention (would that the figures could). The copy for this set reads:

"COBRA forces have gathered in a secret location to celebrate their victories, honor the worthy and punish the weak. All are dressed in resplendent uniforms, especially Cobra Commander, who is flanked by an Imperial Guard that protects him at all times. Seated on his throne with Baroness beside him, Cobra Commander bestows awards on those who have destroyed and sabotaged to his satisfaction. Any who have failed to wreak havoc are dragged from the room, never to be seen again. Let the ceremony begin!"

Sounds like a fun evening.

I know I've been rather critical of certain aspects of this set. That's only because, as I've said before, I hold G.I.Joe in far higher regard than any other action figure lines. In its original incarnation, it set certain very high standards that remain largely unmatched to this day -- unfortunately including by its own successor products. And I find that not only upsetting, but inexcusable, so I will bring it up as needed when I have the opportunity. But that's only because I sincerely care about G.I.Joe, and want it to be the best that it can be, and indeed, has proven it can be.

That doesn't mean that I dislike the COBRA IMPERIAL PROCESSION Set. In fact, I recommend it very highly. The set includes unusual but interesting versions of Cobra Commander and the Baroness, as well as the new Cobra Imperial Guards! While not quite as impressive as its same- time-of-release counterpart, the G.I.Joe Winter Operations Set, it is nonetheless a very cool set, and will also certainly make "army-builders" happy, with the four new trooper figures!

So, if you haven't already picked up this set at Toys "R" Us, go get one while there are still some available! YO J -- er, sorry -- COBRAAAAA!