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By Thomas Wheeler

I'll go on record as saying that I haven't been terribly impressed with the 12" G.I.Joe vs. Cobra line, 12" figures based on popular 3-3/4" characters. In too many instances, the figures look pretty much like basic 12" Joes that just happen to be carrying the name of a popular character from the 3-3/4" series. But once in a while, there is an exception that impresses.

That exception in this case is TUNNEL RAT, an explosives ordnance disposal specialist that was originally released in 3-3/4" form in 1987, and later saw duty in both Night Force and Sonic Fighters. And if you want to include the European G.I.Joe figures, he was also assigned to Tiger Force.

The character Tunnel Rat only turned up once in any animated sequences, as one of the new recruits, the "Rawhides", in G.I.JOE: THE MOVIE. In the film, he was portrayed as a short-but-feisty character, effective if a little offbeat, and good friends with the lanky Big Lob, who was unfortunately never made into a figure.

Tunnel Rat saw some play in the G.I.Joe comic book, and as I recall figured rather prominently during the Cobra Island Civil War. This was hardly surprising in a way, since the character, although his real name was listed as Nicky Lee, was based to a substantial degree on famed G.I.Joe writer Larry Hama.

The new 12" TUNNEL RAT figure is actually very cool. For one thing, he's the first 12" G.I.Joe figure in the modern line that actually has a good resemblance to his classic 3-3/4" counterpart. Green shirt, black trousers, brown shows, and a neckerchief and bandana around his head. About the only deficiency in any of this is that the green shirt is molded on, but this has been a practice with a number of lower-cost 12" Joes in the regular (non 3-3/4" affiliated) line, and the plastic "shirt" has actually been given a decent "fabric pattern" sculpt, so it really doesn't look bad. "Tight-fitting", perhaps, but it doesn't look bad.

Tunnel Rat's shoes are amusing in their own right. Although molded in solid brown, a careful study of the overall sculpt reveals them to have a strong resemblance to any number of types of high-tech, highly-detailed athletic shoes. I have no idea if these molds have been used before, but it's an excellent sculpt. Anyone know if they ever turned up perhaps in the Action Man line?

Tunnel Rat comes with an abundance of equipment, including a belt and a shoulder harness so he can carry most of that equipment around with him. He comes with an MP5 submachine gun with clip, a pistol, knife, canteen, and flashlight.

He's technically listed as an Army Ranger on his file card, although he retains his EOD Primary Specialty from 1987. His file card reads as follows: "TUNNEL RAT earned his code name through his daring missions into dark, narrow tunnels, which are dug by COBRA forces to connect underground hideouts. TUNNEL RAT goes into the tunnels to gather information or sabotage the hidden areas. It takes extreme courage to crawl into a dark, booby-trapped tunnel that leads to the enemy's base, but TUNNEL RAT has plenty of courage - he's one of the Army Rangers, the elite soldiers who are sent on secret, highly dangerous missions. Ranger training is known for its intensity. Only the best are able to complete the tough physical and leadership exercises that make sure Rangers always move fast, strike hard, and never quit. And those who do are men like TUNNEL RAT -- exceptionally brave, highly skilled soldiers in one of America's finest fighting forces."

This is a rather substantial departure from Tunnel Rat's original file card, and it sounds a bit like a sideways sales pitch for Hasbro's "regular" 12" G.I.Joe ARMY RANGERS Collection, but I can think of worse ways to promote the product, and the file card still reads well, so I'm not really complaining here.

It's not often that a 12" G.I.Joe based on a 3-3/4" character lives up to the potential established by the original these days, but TUNNEL RAT does a good job. If you want to add one 12" G.I.Joe to your collection that's based on a good version of a classic 3-3/4" figure, then TUNNEL RAT is the one for you. YO JOE!