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By Thomas Wheeler

It's fair to say that within the world of G.I. Joe, arctic troopers are far more prevalent than desert troopers. To a degree, this is logical. I was once told by a Hasbro representative that arctic toys sell better than desert ones. More of this country sees a cold winter with an abundance of snow, than lives in a desert climate. And it's also likely that kids are going to enjoy rolling around in a snowbank more than they would a sand dune.

As someone who spent his first 14 years in the midwest, with plenty of snowy winters, I can see the logic of giving both G.I. Joe and Cobra more arctic personnel and equipment than desert. However, as someone who has spent MOST of his life in a desert setting, the disparity does seem to be a BIT much, and if you want to draw a real-world connection, most of our real-world military conflicts have taken place in desert environments.

On the G.I. Joe Team, the main desert trooper is Dusty, first introduced in 1985. There have been other troopers with some connection to desert specialties. Duke was outfitted in desert fatigues in 1993, and Flint was a desert paratrooper in 1994. A proposed three-member team of desert-camouflage G.I. Joes was in the works for 1998, but didn't quite come to pass. A six-pack of desert specialists was part of the Toys "R" Us Exclusive a few years ago.

On the Cobra side of things, it took Cobra until 1991 to introduce a desert trooper, the Desert Scorpion. Certainly a very impressive design, the trooper profile was hardly complimentary. Being a Desert Scorpion was considered punishment duty just a few steps up from being a Toxo-Viper. It wasn't until the newsculpt line that Cobra decided to bring in a dedicated desert specialist trooper that was actually decently trained and equipped for the environment.

As we have certainly learned, there are considerable natural resources available in some of the most inhospitable (climate-wise and otherwise) desert environments on the face of the planet. Would Cobra, certainly out to control as much of the world as possible, and realizing that one means of doing so is to control its resources, relegate that responsibility to a bunch of malcontents that were so off-kilter even by Cobra's standards that they needed to be assigned to punishment duty!? The Desert Scorpions are a very cool design, don't get me wrong, and I was sincerely pleased that Cobra finally got around to developing desert-dedicated troopers.

And so we have the COBRA SAND VIPER. Introduced in 2003 (assuming the copyright date on the bottom of his foot can be taken as accurate), the Sand-Viper was clearly the result of Cobra's realization that they needed to take the desert environment more seriously than they had been.

Usually I wait until closer to the end of a review of G.I. Joe figures to present the file card, but in this case, the background presented on the file card is such an integral part of the character, that I would prefer to present it now. The file card reads as follows:



Sand Viper troops are trained and equipped to operate in deserts as hostile to human life as the Sahara and the Mojave. The ability to endure high temperatures, blistering sun and total lack of water is the prime requirement for a Sand Viper candidate. In addition to total proficiency with the entire range of Cobra small arms, the Sand Viper trooper is also expected to maintain and repair his weapons under conditions that are highly destructive to finely machined metal parts. His body armor can deflect shrapnel and most pistol bullets. The armor is actually the outer layer of a watertight suit that retains, purifies and recycles body moisture to keep them cool and hydrated. The suit allows Sand Viper troops to function in extremely arid environments for extended periods without a re-supply of water.

Not exactly a walk in the park, I'm sure, but we're not exactly talking poorly-equipped punishment troopers here, either. What we have with the Sand Vipers are highly dedicated, highly trained troopers outfitted with what I am sure are expensive uniforms designed to protect them in the desert environment just as well as full scuba gear allows divers to endure the watery depths they choose to head into.

The uniform design is excellent, although it could almost be mistaken for a B.A.T. It's predominantly black with dark gold trim, which one would think is a pretty insane color scheme to use in the desert, but given the filtering system within the uniform, it probably doesn't much matter. Certainly the costume manages to look menacing enough. It is all covering, as doubtless it would have to be to function properly.

The dark gold includes a mean-looking and not very human face mask with beady little eyes (hence in both instances the B.A.T. resemblance), a chestplate with a red Cobra insignia in it, shoulder pads with gold Cobra insignias, gauntlets, and high boots. There's a certain amount of gold armor on the back, as well. The figure also has a red belt.

Accessories for the figure include, for starters, a helmet. It's been my experience that some figures look good with helmets, some look better without them (assuming they're removable in the first place). In my opinion, although clearly the face and headpiece for the Sand Viper is well armored in and of itself, and the package illustration shows a helmetless Sand Viper, the figure honestly looks a bit better wearing the helmet. It makes him look a little more military, at least from a Cobra standpoint. The helmet has a pair of gold goggles, possibly night vision goggles, on it, with red lenses. The helmet can be positioned so that the goggles are either above the eyes of the figure, or in front of them.

Other accessories with this Sand Viper include a superbly realistic rifle, nothing at all fanciful about this, a backpack that looks like it was based on the original Firefly's, and a small handgun of a slightly peculiar but not at all implausible design. All of the accessories are molded in black.

There have been four other incarnations of the Sand Viper. The first one, sold in a two-pack with Beach Head, had a dark greyish green uniform with tan trim. The second version, sold with a Cobra C.L.A.W.S. Trooper, reversed this color scheme, giving the Sand Viper a tan uniform with greyish green armor. One version looked quite similar to the single-carded version I bought, although the red trim was brighter. The fifth version of the Sand Viper actually had a blue uniform with what looks like metallic dark grey armor. This last one is easily the strangest. Although some of these color schemes, at least the first two versions, might be more appropriate coloration for a desert environment, I believe that the version I purchased is the most imposing and menacing of the entire group.

Technically, newsculpt G.I. Joe figures are not easily found at this point. If you, like me, tend to feel that dedicated desert troopers have simply been too few to too far between, and that Cobra warranted a more dedicated desert division than the Desert Scorpions, then I would definitely suggest keeping an eye out for the COBRA SAND VIPER! It's really a very cool figure, and definitely has my recommendation!