email thomas




















By Thomas Wheeler

It's no great surprise that the action figure line produced for the live-action G.I. Joe movie, "G.I. Joe - The Rise of Cobra", distinctly surpasses the characters the vehicles that actually appear in the film. The same was true of Transformers, and in the case of G.I. Joe, between store exclusives, numerous concept-established characters that didn't appear in the movie, and the opportunity to get some new life out of established vehicles, there's plenty for Hasbro to offer the G.I. Joe universe under the movie banner, even if some of the items offered weren't technically in the movie.

Granted, over the long history of G.I. Joe, some previous vehicles and related items probably have a better chance of being worked into the movie line than others. Let's be honest here and say that there are a few things that just wouldn't be a very good fit, not because it would be difficult to bring them into the movie per se -- CGI effects are getting to the point where they can throw just about anything into a live-action setting and get away with it, at least visually.

The flip side to that particular coin is that there are some items that, even if they didn't appear in the movie, work very well in the movie line because there's no real reason why they could NOT have appeared in the movie, because they're just as plausible, if perhaps not a little more so, than some of the stuff that did.

Such a case in point is almost certainly the COBRA SNAKE TRAX ATV, one of the vehicles in the movie line in the smaller-size segment.

Snake Trax is a good name for a Cobra vehicle, but it's not the first name that this vehicle ever had. First introduced in 1985, the Snake Trax first entered into the world of G.I. Joe as the COBRA FERRET, a somewhat unusual name for a Cobra vehicle, as the average real-life ferret doesn't especially like snakes.

The Ferret was, much as the suffix of its new name implies, an ATV, an All-Terrain Vehicle based very strongly on the popular recreational vehicles that enthusiasts use to plow through any number of landscapes when the opportunity presents.

I decided to do a little research on ATV's in general. They've been in use since the early 1970's, with no shortage of controversy surrounding them to this day regarding human safety, noise pollution, and environmental concerns. Their primary uses are recreation and, somewhat surprisingly, agriculture. Maybe they're easier to operate than a tractor?

Trying to determine whether or not there had been any real-life military uses for ATV's proved to be a little more difficult. There are ATV's in use by the United States Armed Forces (and presumably other armed forces around the world). Their resemblance to the popular recreational vehicle tends to vary considerably, however. Some of them look like a bizarre mid-point mutation between an ATV and a Hummer. Most of them are so loaded down with equipment and special features -- much as a human soldier must carry a considerable amount of equipment into the field himself -- that even with pictures, I'm not entirely sure if the vehicle underneath all of that would be recognizable to the average civilian as an ATV.

The closest I got to something that really looked like an ATV but which was specifically intended for military use was the MV800, nicknamed the Patriot an ATV produced by Polaris. It's designed to run on JP8, which is a standard military fuel customarily designed for jets. That must add a little extra kick! The picture accompanying the article I found showed a green-colored MTV with camouflage netting and several equipment racks attached to it front and back. Military aside, a civilian camping enthusiast would probably love this thing. Enough storage space to take your tent, food, and who knows what else along.

From this standpoint, the Cobra Ferret/Snake Trax is closer in appearance to the more recreational models. And yet, this makes sense from two standpoints. One, it makes it more recognizable to the average kid or even collector who's going to want it. Two, the Ferret has generally been portrayed as a two-man high speed personnel unit, generally used for quick escapes by Cobra, or as a short-range battlefield vehicle, thanks to its one major difference from a traditional ATV -- the side-mounted cannon and rockets. Neither main purpose would seem to require extensive equipment transport capabilities.

The Cobra Ferret saw additional entries along the way prior to its most recent incarnation. When Tiger Force came along, it was one of a number of Cobra vehicles "captured" by G.I. Joe and converted for their use with the new Tiger Force paint scheme. Molded in yellow, with the black tiger stripes and other Tiger Force details, it became known as the Tiger Paw.

Most recently prior to the movie, the Ferret was made twice-over in different molded-in camouflage color schemes, for use by two specific factions in the Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club Convention for 2006. That special set, entitled "Cobra: Mercenaries", featured two new enemy forces: Major Bludd's Skull Squad, and the mysterious COIL organization. Both groups received Ferret ATV's with distinctive color schemes, as well as labels and markings.

Now, for the movie line, we have the Cobra Ferret, renamed the SNAKE TRAX ATV. As I said at the top of the review, I like the name. At the very least, it sounds more Cobra-ish than "Ferret".

This time around, the Snake Trax has been colored in a very deep burgundy, almost a brown. The entire movie line is notable for its use of subdued colors, even moreso than when the G.I. Joe line first started out and was more realistically military than it eventually became -- even moreso than its successive runs, for that matter.

The Snake Trax, like its predecessors, is remarkably filled with what might well be described as "play value". There's no shortage of moving parts. The front wheels turn together. The handlebars are linked to the double-barreled machine gun mounted on the front of the vehicle. The gun turns in the same direction as the handlebars. The rear wheels have a simulated sort of "suspension" system, giving the vehicle a little extra "bounce" of realism over rough terrain.

This brings up what some might see as a minor point. During the original run of G.I. Joe, and to a lesser degree in later years, G.I. Joe vehicles came largely unassembled. It was up to the buyer to put the vehicle together. More often than not, this was part of the fun of buying the vehicle.

However, with the advent of window box displays in G.I. Joe packaging, this hasn't been the case as often. It doesn't really help to sell a vehicle if what you see in the package is a pile of parts. Doesn't really give you that good an idea of the finished product. So generally speaking, G.I. Joe vehicles come pretty much fully assembled these days
-- and my sympathy to the factory workers in China.

In the case of the Snake Trax, I am not at all bothered by the fact that this vehicle comes fully assembled and ready to use. Frankly, the assembly of the Ferret, or the Tiger Paw, or the Convention Exclusives -- was a pain to put together. Don't get me wrong. They're cool vehicles and I'm glad to have them all and they've all been successfully assembled. But they weren't easy. Snapping certain aspects of the framework into place was tricky, and honestly, assembling the mechanisms to allow the front wheels to turn (and stay on the vehicle), and the handlebar/ machine gun combo, and easily the most frustrating aspect was snapping the rims on the rear fenders and -- well, I'm not sorry that assembly was left to somebody else this time around.

Detail on the vehicle is excellent, although some unaware of the history of the vehicle might wonder at what looks like a seemingly meaningless little circular detail towards the rear of the vehicle. Well, the Snake Trax's "ancestor", the Ferret, came out in 1985. That was the same year that saw the release of the massive USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier. And one of the features of the Carrier was a small refueling trailer. As a sort of cross-product "plug" for the carrier, every vehicle released in 1985 had a little fuel port molded onto it, both G.I. Joe and Cobra. Although one does tend to wonder whether the G.I. Joe team would've been willing to top off the tanks of an attacking Cobra Moray, and I can't even imagine how a Ferret would've gotten out to the Carrier to begin with.

Among other details on the Snake Trax are large, rubbery tires, although the wheels underneath the tires take up enough space so that there really isn't a lot of flexibility in the tires themselves. There's also a visible and realistic-looking engine, exhaust pipes, and a small removable panel in the back that could be used for the storage of small weapons.

The one major difference between the Snake Trax and any of its predecessors, besides the color scheme, is the side weapon. All previous versions of this vehicle have had a long, if fairly slender cannon mounted on one side. This cannon was non-functional, since the original vehicle was developed before G.I. Joe started incorporating spring-loaded weaponry into its arsenal.

Well -- the Snake Trax has it now. Gone is the fairly slender, round cannon, replaced by a distinctly larger, more angular, almost futuristic- looking cannon, that is also a fully functional spring-loaded missile launcher. It looks cool, but one sort of has to wonder just a bit -- if this was a real-life vehicle, firing something that big from a vehicle as proportionately small would probably kick it back about ten feet on the recoil. That might hurt.

Nevertheless, it's an interesting alteration, and it certainly gives the Snake Trax ATV a distinctive look all its own.

But what really gives the Snake Trax ATV a look all its own is the entirely new front end. Although the prototype pictured on the package shows this molded in the same dark burgundy as the rest of the main body of the vehicle, on the toy itself, it's been molded in the same sort of dark steel blue as the hatch cover and missile launcher.

This new front end is somewhat angled, and shows headlights (which amusingly are shown as lit up on the photographic package art, something that the toy is not capable of), as well as a sculpted tow cable. It's an interesting addition to the overall vehicle. I've always felt a little like the Ferret and it's successors needed a little more something in the front, and now the Snake Trax has it.

Another slight modification note. The original Ferret had a somewhat flexible, short cable that went from a post on the vehicle into the side of the original side cannon. The missile launcher is not equipped for this, but the cable is still there. One rather gets the impression that it's intended to represent a communications antenna of some sort. Frankly, I consider this an improvement. Bending that not quite flexible enough cable around and trying to plug it into the side of the original side cannon so that it would stay put was easily the single most miserable assembly operation of the original version.

There's no shortage of labels for the Snake Trax, as well, only a few of which have been applied. You get to do the rest. Some of these have extremely small print, but it is legible if you have a magnifying glass and don't mind giving yourself an eyestrain headache. Whether that's worth it to you to be able to read such elegant phrases as "Follow all safety precautions", etc, I'll leave up to you.

Somewhat interesting is the one that reads, "Do not launch missile while vehicle is in motion." Really? Let's see -- you're on a battlefield. You're dodging incoming fire. You want to retaliate. But you have to put the brakes on first? Yeah, that's gonna work.

The other tiny-print label is almost as funny. "No smoking near the vehicle. Keep hair and clothing away from the missile launcher." Might be a good idea to keep the rest of yourself away from it, too -- especially the business end of it...

Included with the Snake Trax ATV is a driver figure. And it's a unique individual, not a trooper. His name is Scrap-Iron, and he has his own history in the world of G.I. Joe.

Scrap-Iron was introduced in 1984 as Cobra's Anti-Armor specialist. Interestingly, Scrap-Iron never quite achieved the same level of popularity as many of the other Cobra individuals. I think part of this was his look. I don't want to say he was bland, but the original Scrap-Iron was outfitted in a basic Cobra blue jumpsuit, with the only real highlights being an unusual helmet, and a dark red chest harness. He didn't look as "plain" as a Cobra Trooper or Cobra Officer. On the other hand, he didn't look as distinctive as other Cobra characters released in 1984, such as Firefly, Storm Shadow, and Zartan, all of whom went on to loftier heights.

A certain lack of media presence might have been a problem for Scrap-Iron, as well. He was never strongly featured in the comic book, or the animated series. In fact, his most notable animated appearance was during the mini-series designed to introduce many of the 1986 characters, "Arise, Serpentor, Arise". Scrap-Iron was on hand and kept switching sides within Cobra between Cobra Commander and Dr. Mindbender depending on who tossed the bigger bribe his way.

Scrap-Iron sort of disappeared after that, and given the number of high-ranking Cobra personnel he double-crossed, if he had a brain in his head under that helmet, he took his collected bribes and went on an extended vacation someplace remote and tropical.

Indeed, Scrap-Iron didn't appear again in the original toy line. He had a couple of appearances in the "newsculpt" line, and the original figure received two incarnations during the same time period, once in a Toys "R" Us six-pack, and once in a comic-based three-pack.

Somewhere along the way, Scrap-Iron's popularity increased just enough for him to be included in the 25th-style line, and it is a recoloration of that figure which is provided with the Snake Trax.

The figure has the basic appearance of Scrap-Iron, but much as with the vehicle itself, in more subdued colors. The uniform is largely black, and the formerly red chest harness is now a very dark burgundy, almost a brown, pretty much the same color as the Snake Trax vehicle itself. One nice bit of added detail to the figure, however, is that the sculpted Cobra emblem that appears on the front of Scrap-Iron's helmet has been painted, and in an impressive metallic gold.

The file cards that come with the movie figures are far shorter than before, but they provide some basic information. The one for Scrap-Iron reads as follows:

Anti-Armor Engineer
Scrap-Iron is a weapons engineer at M.A.R.S. Industries, where he creates next generation weapons that target air and ground vehicles. While he likes developing weapons, he really enjoys applied testing, when he blows things up with his inventions. PREFERRED WEAPON: M.A.R.S. Industries Glif-8 ER/SAM (extended range surface-to-air missile).

My one regret about the new movie-based vehicles is that the practice instituted with the 25th Anniversary product line -- that of finally giving the vehicles their own file cards after all these years, along with the figures -- has been discontinued. There is no additional information regarding the Snake Trax ATV.

So, what's my final word here? Look, even if you're not that interested in the G.I. Joe movie per se, there's an impressive product line out there, with some interesting new vehicles, and some interesting new versions of previous vehicles, and heck, there's no reason they won't work with ANY G.I. Joe 3-3/4" scale figures you might happen to have in your collection.

The Snake Trax ATV is precisely one of those vehicles. It looks cool, it's certainly one of the more plausibly realistic vehicles in the line, past or present, and whatever names it might have had over its history, and the new spring-loaded missile launcher on the side adds a fun new element of "play value" to a vehicle that already had a decidedly above- average measure of that to begin with.

Any G.I. Joe fan would be delighted to own this item, believe me. The G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA SNAKE TRAX ATV certainly has my highest recommendation!