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By Thomas Wheeler

Whether one has seen the live-action G.I. Joe movie, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra", or not, there is one thing that anyone spending any amount of time in the toy aisles has had to take note of -- a whole lot of new G.I. Joe toys. And that includes some very interesting all-new vehicles.

Now, I will readily admit, and I'm sure that this comes as no surprise to anyone, that I am first and foremost a collector and fan of the original Real American Hero G.I. Joes. I have made some accommodation in my collection for a portion of the figure format that followed, commonly known among G.I. Joe collectors as "newsculpt", because frankly, some very interesting new characters and Cobra trooper divisions were developed during this time.

I have a handful of the current style of G.I. Joe figures, again, mostly new characters, which admittedly this format, originally developed for the 25th Anniversary, has been a little short on, as it has wanted to emphasize classics characters in the new format. However, we have gotten a number of interesting individuals out of it, such as Matt Trakker, and new Cobra troopers such as the Para-Viper.

But through it all, there has been one consistency that I have relied upon. Whatever the figure design may be, given that they're all pretty much within the same scale, the VEHICLES can work with ANYBODY from ANY figure format. So with the advent of the movie, and the vehicles from same, I've been keeping an eye out particularly for interesting vehicles to bring in to my overall G.I. Joe Collection.

And I certainly found one, in the form of the COBRA STEEL CRUSHER A.P.V., which just for the record stands for "Armor Plated Vehicle". I think this is one of the few times when I suspect the explanation came BEFORE the abbreviation. Given names over the years such as "T.A.R.G.A.T.", "D.E.M.O.N.", and a few others, and given the somewhat strained definitions that followed, I tend to think that more often than not, in the world of G.I. Joe, the abbreviation has come before the explanation.

But, for the sake of brevity in this case, let's just call it the Steel Crusher. Okay, it's not the most reptilian-sounding name in the world. Not exactly the first time in the history of Cobra that that's happened. Nothing especially reptilian about "Pogo" or "Buzz Boar".

What's notable about the Steel Crusher is that it was definitely in the movie. Heck, it was in the commercials for the movie, and pretty much impossible to miss. One commercial had it getting hit by some sort of weapons fire and flying about twenty feet into the air in a vehicular somersault. You don't often see a Hummer do that, I don't care how it's been modified.

Now, in fairness, some of the vehicles being offered in the G.I. Joe movie line are based on the movie. Some aren't. These latter ones are derived from previous G.I. Joe vehicles, and have been given new color schemes and other modifications. In all honesty, I don't have a real problem with that. If Hasbro stuck to what was JUST in the movie, it'd be a pretty small toy line. I don't blame them for expanding beyond that, and it's hardly the first time they've done so. Look at Transformers. My bottom line is -- if it's a cool toy, I'll get it. I can fit a Steel Crusher into my G.I. Joe collection as easily as anything else.

So what, precisely, is a Steel Crusher? From the look of things, it's the primary jeep-like vehicle for Cobra. Now, certainly Cobra has had jeep-like vehicles before. Arguably the best known is the Cobra Stinger, recently revived in the toy line -- barely -- just prior to the movie. But the Steel Crusher is an entirely different vehicle.

And it really is a Hummer. I wasn't kidding about that when I made that somersault remark a couple of paragraphs back. The rear bumper clearly says "HUMMER" on it, and the box for this vehicle has among its assorted copyright notations a distinct mention that Hummer and H2 are trademarks of General Motors, and the box even has the GM logo on it, with the word "Official Licensed Product".

Precisely how GM feels about one of their vehicles, a predecessor of which was developed for use by the United States Armed Forces, being used as a main mode of transportation for Cobra, I'm really not sure, but I suspect they were okay with it, or it wouldn't have happened. If memory serves, they were pretty good sports about some of their vehicles being turned into Decepticons for the Transformers Alternators line...

So, what do we have with the Steel Crusher, apart from its Hummer origins? One cool toy, that's what we have. It comes fully assembled -- and I highly recommend a good measure of patience in getting it out of its cardboard framework. Now, I'm used to having to put together a G.I. Joe vehicle, and it's something that I really don't mind doing. On the other hand, if it's assembled well, I'm not going to argue with it coming out of the box pretty much ready for use. And honestly, there's enough moving parts and assorted little mechanisms on this vehicle, that it might simply not have been practical for this to be a "built it yourself" sort of deal.

A high level of quality is evident from the get-go. The body of the vehicle is molded in a surprisingly glossy black plastic, for something that is largely unpainted. In other words, this is just the natural color of the plastic. About the only downside to this is that it shows fingerprints like the dickens. When I was finished applying the labels, I felt like I needed to take a soft towel to the entire surface and clean it up.

Fortunately, the Steel Crusher wipes clean very nicely. It definitely looks like a Hummer, and not one of the military types. This is clearly the H2, one of the "civilian" Hummers, but it's also been heavily modified by Cobra for combat use. For starters, there's a nasty-looking bit of business up front that as much as anything resembles a cow-catcher from an old-fashioned locomotive train. However, its designation is a "plow", as evidenced by a couple of the labels that come with the vehicles, and yeah, it looks like it could pretty well plow through just about anything that got in the vehicle's way.

The roof is partially missing, and here we get into the real mechanisms of the vehicle. There's a sliding roof, that is pretty much a dead ringer for a rooftop storage bin. But slide it forward and you not only cover the open section of the roof, but a small missile launcher pops up from the rear. Additionally, there's a flip down "armored panel" in the "storage bin" that covers the front windshield except for two slits so the driver and passenger can see where they're driving.

The missile launcher in the back is small, but it's spring-loaded for some extra "play value". The Steel Crusher comes with three missiles, which can be safely stored in a missile rack in the rear section. I was especially pleased to see this. With the roof section pushed back and the missile launcher retracted, the missiles aren't going anywhere. No real chance of them getting misplaced or lost.

But those aren't the only missiles on the vehicle! In what I have to believe would be a superb vehicle modification -- as small panels on the rear side doors pop open to reveal two additional small missiles! These are not spring-loaded, but they are detachable. Talk about an options package!

Overall detailing on the Steel Crusher is excellent. The headlights are two separately molded and installed pieces of transparent plastic. Although painted detail is somewhat limited, what there is of it is superbly well done. This includes a silver front grill, a silver gas cap, some silver trim o n the roof rack, and various red and silver lights on the vehicle. All have been superbly and neatly painted.

The tires of the vehicle have a slightly rubbery feel to them, although they're extremely sturdy. There is extensive tread detail on the tires. Although they're not marked with any brand name, I do find myself wondering just a little if the tread pattern is reflective of any real-world tires.

The wheels/hubcaps are a metallic grey, and the Steel Crusher has actual metal axles! That's a relative rarity in the toy vehicle world these days. The vehicle does not turn, but it rolls incredibly well, even on carpet. A gentle push allows it to travel quite a considerable distance, and very smoothly.

The interior is very well done. The front side doors both open. There are no windows in the front side doors, but there is a clear front windshield. There are two available seats inside, and an extremely well-designed dashboard and other interior details.

The Steel Crusher does come with a label sheet, and it's up to you to place all of the labels. I don't object to this in the least. Some recent G.I. Joe vehicles, both for the movie and in the series prior, came in window boxes, with a few of the labels applied for appearance's sake. Now, I'm a nit-picky graphic artist type, but honestly, I'd rather apply all of the labels to a G.I. Joe vehicle myself. That way, (a) I like to think that the best possible job is being done, (b) I'm not trying to do them as part of some factory production assembly line, and (c) -- okay, if I mess up, the only person I have to blame is myself. But at least it's one less thing I have to look for in the store.

There are, as one would expect, several prominent Cobra emblems. This actually leads to a somewhat surprising comparison. It seems that the Cobra emblem was not especially present in the movie itself, except towards the end. This vehicle did not have the Cobra emblem on it in the movie. This both surprised and saddened me. The Cobra emblem is certainly well known. It's even been seen beyond the world of G.I. Joe. Just ask professional wrestler C.M. Punk about that tattoo on his right arm. Maybe it's not as recognized as Superman's "S" or anything, but it IS recognized, and it's a cool design!

Anyway, YOU can at least put some Cobra emblems on YOUR Steel Crusher. There's a big one for the hood, a couple of slightly smaller ones for the side doors, and a still smaller one for the back window. And in case you're wondering whether the labels will show up on a mostly black vehicle, the labels were printed with white underneath the color. They show up just fine.

Most of the other labels are assorted warning stickers, although there's a series of fairly small labels that need to be applied to the little missile launcher in the back, and those turned out to be something of a challenge, since they were really quite small, and the missile launcher doesn't hold still especially well. I found it useful to put the label on the end of an X-Acto knife blade and gently place it that way, since my fingers were just a bit too big for the job.

On the whole, the Steel Crusher is an excellent size to fit into the G.I. Joe world. It's about 10" in length -- not counting the plow -- 5" wide, and not quite 5" high -- counting the roof rack.

It also comes with a driver figure, who's been designated "Nitro-Viper". This is a trooper designation that has been used once before, in 1993. It was the name of the driver of what I've always thought was a very cool and quite large G.I. Joe vehicle called the Detonator. The Nitro-Viper went down in G.I. Joe history as the first G.I. Joe figure to NOT have a file card included with him, something of a "Whoops!" on somebody's part along the way. Enough of a ruckus was raised about this so that Hasbro authorized Lee's Toy Review to produce a Nitro-Viper file card for the 1994 (30th Anniversary) G.I. Joe Convention.

As for the new Nitro-Viper -- okay, he's got a cool design, but let's be honest here. This was originally supposed to be a Motor-Viper and we all know it. Somewhere along the way it got changed to "Nitro-Viper". I'm assuming there were some entanglements in the legal department. They must have been worked out more in advance than one might expect, though, because the packaging clearly says "Nitro-Viper".

The resemblance to a Motor-Viper cannot be denied. The Motor-Vipers first came along in 1986, as the driver's of the somewhat quirky Cobra STUN vehicles. There were certain distinctive uniform design aspects that were not found on any other Cobra trooper, which are definitely present and accounted for on this Nitro-Viper.

I'm honestly not sure which previous figure parts might have been used to make the body of the figure, although I'm hazarding a guess that Flash's arms were used. Nevertheless, the gloves and boots that the Nitro-Viper has are, in their own way, extremely similar to the original Motor-Viper.

But the two real giveaways are the helmet, and the separate torso piece. Strapped over the torso of the figure (and I have to say, rather cleverly concealing the mid-torso articulation point, which doesn't always look that great on some of these figures), is a protective chestplate/backplate that is undeniably pure Motor-Viper. The "V" shape just below the collar, and the assorted raised pipings, are right off the original Motor-Viper design.

Then there's the helmet. It's pretty close to a Motor-Viper, too, especially at the jawline. And if you were to take that cool and rather large transparent visor, and paint it silver, there'd be no question left whatsoever.

But, Hasbro has named this figure a Nitro-Viper, so we'll call him a Nitro-Viper. In any case, it's a very decent figure. A silver Cobra emblem has been imprinted on the front of the chestplate, and the portion of the face, and especially the eyes, that are visible within the helmet, have been extremely neatly painted. Most of the figure is molded in a very dark blue. The gloves and boots are a dark gray-blue, as is the chestplate. Not the most varied color palette I've ever seen, but Hasbro obviously wants these figures to look as movie-plausible as possible.

Although Hasbro has dropped the practice that they developed with the 25th-Anniverary line of supplying the vehicles with file cards, there is some copy on the back of the box that at least places the vehicle within the context of the movie. It reads as follows: "The Steel Crusher Armor Plated Vehicle (APV) tears through the Paris streets on a mission of destruction: to release the nanomite weapon and destroy the Eiffel Tower. The Nitro-Viper blasts through traffic at top speed and smashes past obstacles in his way, but he can't shake the G.I. Joe team that's determined to stop him!"

The character file cards are not as extensive as usual, either, although the Nitro-Viper does have some information. The paragraph reads: "Nitro-Vipers drive the high-tech vehicles in the Cobra fleet. They're fast, aggressive operators who can expertly navigate narrow city streets and rough dirt roads with equal skill and a total disregard for anything in their path."

So, what's my final word on this vehicle? I'm impressed. Whether you've seen the movie or not, if you have any sort of G.I. Joe collection around, you'll want to bring the Cobra Steel Crusher into it. It's an impressively designed vehicle that looks cool, actually looks more real-world than a lot of the vehicles in Cobra's arsenal, and has a lot of interesting features. The Nitro-Viper, even if I think he's a bit mis-named, is also a nicely done figure in this format, and would be a welcome and unique addition to any related collection.

The G.I. JOE COBRA STEEL CRUSHER A.P.V. definitely has my highest recommendation!