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By Thomas Wheeler

As I have said in other reviews, one of the most interesting toy developments to come out of the action figure and vehicle line based on the live-action "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" movie has been the combination of all-new vehicles, such as the Steel Crusher or Cobra Gunship, along with interesting new takes, generally just recolorations, of longtime favorites, such as the Crimson Hydra or Armored Panther.

The Cobra Sting Raider, a Toys "R" Us exclusive, can, in a sense, fit into both categories. And yeah, that'll take some explanation, as well as an admission on my part of not paying proper attention to a previous version of this vehicle.

The Sting Raider, or rather its predecessor, was known as the Cobra Water Moccasin. Originally released in 1984, it was created as a high-speed, well-armored attack boat, with a huge fan-like engine in the back, a tank-like gunner's turret behind the cockpit, and two forward-facing guns on its two-pronged hull. It was a very cool and impressive design for a mid-sized vehicle, and was certainly one of the more plausible sea-faring vessels in the entire line.

The Water Moccasin came with a driver named Copperhead, and as far as I was concerned, was one of the real treats on the year. An impressive vehicle with a distinctive driver. The Water Moccasin was recolored as the Tiger Shark four years later, as one of the Cobra vehicles captured by the G.I. Joe team, and integrated into their new Tiger Force team. And, except for a South American release of the vehicle, molded in red, that was pretty much it for distinctive versions of the Water Moccasin.

Towards the end of the 25th Anniversary line, not too long before the movie-based line emerged, the Water Moccasin made a comeback, or so I thought. Now dubbed the Sting Raider, a name which had been used before for an entirely different vehicle, at first glance it looked like a straight reissue of the Water Moccasin. Same shape, same color -- so in all honesty, since I still had my original Water Moccasin, I didn't give the Sting Raider a second glance.

When Toys "R" Us presented the world with a recolored Sting Raider, a store exclusive tied in with the movie-based toy line, complete with two figures, Copperhead and a Cobra trooper known as a Swamp-Viper, with a fascinating and dynamic new color scheme, I decided I would add this vehicle to my collection, since the colors were certainly vastly different than either the original Water Moccasin or the Tiger Shark.

I got a considerable surprise when I opened the box, extracted the vehicle, and discovered that, while the Sting Raider certainly takes all of its basic structural cues from the Water Moccasin, and is certainly intended to have been entirely based upon it -- it's also a completely new vehicle from stem to stern!

I should've known, after the upgrades Hasbro gave to vehicles like the VAMP and the Cobra Stinger, that this was possible, but I pretty well blew this one. At least I didn't miss out on THIS Sting Raider, anyway.

What's the same? Well, it's still clearly designed as a high-speed watercraft, with a large, above-water engine propeller in the back. It still has a dial on the main body of the vehicle that you can turn to spin the propeller. It has two fins in the back that can be swung back and forth for directional purposes. It has a removable engine cover, and two storage bays towards the back. There's a turret behind the main cockpit, for a second figure to stand and fire a double-barreled machine gun. There are two large, forward facing guns on either side of the top of the boat. And you still place the driver into the cockpit by removing the canopy. There's even still the two platforms on either side of the boat towards the back for anyone crazy enough to try to stand on this thing back there while it's in motion. And, it has a little "torpedo" of sorts on skis that slides out from underneth neat the back.

What's different, between the Water Moccasin and the Sting Raider? For one thing, the Sting Raider is noticeably larger. And I don't think this was done just to accommodate the fact that 25th-style figures are generally taller than the original line. The original Water Moccasin is about 10-1/2" in total length. The Sting Raider is very nearly a foot! The Water Moccasin is a little over 4-1/2" wide at its widest point. The Sting Raider is nearly 5". The Water Moccasin is 2-1/2" in height -- not counting the fan engine. The Sting Raider is over 3".

The engine propeller has five blades, relative to the Water Moccasin's four. The storage bays are larger. The guns are bigger. There's more sculpted detail. And I think the fins are sturdier. Heck, even the little torpedo-on-skis is a bit larger, and held in place more securely. And, I must say, I am extremely impressed with Hasbro, in taking what was already a very cool vehicle, the Water Moccasin, and being willing to put forth the time, effort, and expense, of COMPLETELY remaking it with the new Sting Raider, keeping the basic flavor of the Water Moccasin, and at the same time turning out something as impressive as this.

Of course, the biggest difference between the Water Moccasin and this particular Sting Raider is the color scheme. The original Water Moccasin (and for that matter the first release of the Sting Raider) was a dark turquoise in color. Not so with the movie-related Sting Raider. The bottom half of the vehicle is black. The top of the vehicle has been given this very interesting camouflage paint job that almost looks like Python Patrol, but not quite. It's an eerie mix of two shades of swampish green, with a dark burgundy red. It's all been airbrushed on very impressively.

Many of the Sting Raider's other features are black, including the guns, engine cover, turret, storage bay covers, and the propeller. The side platforms are a metallic grey in color.

The Sting Raider comes with a generous supply of labels, a few of which have been put into place already, fortunately very neatly. One especially impressive label is a side view of a Cobra-like snake graphic, that trails off into flames. High speed attack boat, indeed. Most of the other labels are what one would expect, the usual "Warning" and "No Step" labels, and in fact many of them may be carryovers from the non-movie Sting Raider -- with the distinct exceptions of the "MARS Industries" labels and the ones that show the G.I. Joe movie emblem with an "X" through it.

Interestingly, the worded labels for this vehicle do not use the strange sort of squared-off letter font that many of the labels for other Cobra vehicles in the movie line have used. This is not a complaint. While a distinctive font, it's a little hard to read at times. One can imagine some hapless Cobra trooper trying to figure out what he's supposed to be careful of, and by the time he's figured it out, he's on the way to the infirmary. Overall, the Sting Raider's labels are well done, and add a little extra something to the look of the vehicle, as the labels generally do.

Now, let's consider the two figures that come with this vehicle.

COPPERHEAD - As one would expect, the driver of the Sting Raider is Copperhead, who was, of course, the driver of the original Water Moccasin vehicle, when both were released in 1984.

Copperhead is one of those characters that I have always wished had managed a greater prominence. The original figure is one of my favorites, and appearance-wise, especially from a color standpoint, was certainly distinctive for his time, and for quite some time afterwards. He still holds up well today, even after the "neon era" of the early 90's.

The original Copperhead had a mostly turquoise uniform, to match the color of his vessel. The inside of his trousers had bright green ridges, a green which also appeared as trim on his helmet, and was the color of his gloves and armbands. He had a silver Cobra emblem on his tank-top-like shirt. The overall appearance of the figure definitely set Copperhead apart from the rest of the Cobra hierarchy, as well as the rank and file. Clearly he wasn't one of the good guys, but his color scheme was vastly different from anybody else's.

Unfortunately, the character never saw a lot of time in either the comic book or the animated series. He had a few cameos in each, and enough speaking lines here and there to reveal a Cajun accent, which was well in keeping with the character as profiled on the file card. Copperhead -- his real name never revealed -- was believed to have been a professional boat racer from the Florida or Gulf Coast region, whose gambling habit got him into more trouble than he could handle. He sold his services to Cobra in the hopes of paying off his debts, and was the logical choice to drive the new Water Moccasin boat.

Copperhead, several years later, was recolored and released as the only individual character figure in the original Python Patrol. All the other figures were troopers, and Copperhead finally got a chance to shine in the animated mini-series "Operation Dragonfire", where as the only non-trooper individual in the Python Patrol line-up, he was pretty much given command of the unit.

Copperhead vanished after that, and didn't return until fairly recently, when the Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club released an excellent newsculpt version of the character, with a removable helmet and a color scheme precisely matching the original. A second version with a new Python Patrol color scheme was later released by the Club.

In the 25th-style line, Copperhead was released in his original colors in a comic-based two-pack alongside Shipwreck. A second Copperhead with a different color scheme was released in a movie-based two-pack to Walmart, and a somewhat Pythonized version was sold with the first release of the Sting Raider.

No great surprise, Copperhead is back again, with the movie-line Sting Raider. In keeping with the rather subdued color scheme of the movie-based figures, Copperhead's original turquoise and bright green colors are nowhere to be found. However, there's no doubt that the figure is Copperhead. Any G.I. Joe fan would be able to figure this out even just being presented the figure without any clues whatsoever.

Copperhead's helmet has always been highly distinctive regardless of what colors it's been produced in. The ridged top, the ear pieces, and the muzzle across the front are unmistakable. One additional advantage to the helmet being molded on, too. A large number of the 25th-style figures, just by nature of the design, tend to have rather long-looking necks, especially from the side. Copperhead manages to avoid this. The he;met is dark grey with black trim.

He's wearing a tank-top, which is another distinctive aspect to the character's appearance. In this case, it's black, with a red Cobra emblem on it. Copperhead has a separate little holster with a harness on it that fits over his shoulders and under his left arm. This is a dark olive green in color, with neatly painted silver buckles.

Copperhead's trousers are dark grey, but they have the distinctive ridged padding on the insides of the legs. The padding is olive green in color, so at least there's some element of green on Copperhead, and appropriately placed, really. He also has a wide green belt.

Copperhead's gloves, boots, and armblands are black. He has a large knife in a sheath on his upper right leg. The knife is removable, and has a silver blade. Mean-looking thing. Much bigger and it would qualify as a machete.

Copperhead is a notably tall figure, even by the somewhat taller standards of the 25th-style line, which generally tend to be closer to 4" to begin with than their 3-3/4" original-style counterparts. Copperhead is more like 4-1/4", with a fairly powerful build. Not someone you'd want to pick a fight with. Even according to his original file card, he's pretty good at that sort of thing.

The background on the file card is minimal, although the artwork is superb. There's no mention of Copperhead's gambling problems or prior racing experience. Rather, it reads, in part, "Copperhead pilots watercraft for Cobra and can escape from anyone with a combination of speed, skill, and sheer bravado."

Overall, it's a very decent figure in the 25th-style format, and the color scheme is in keeping with the movie-based line, without sacrificing the recognition factor that this is Copperhead and really couldn't be anyone else. Now let's consider the other figure that accompanied the Sting Raider.

SWAMP-VIPER - The second figure that comes with the Sting Raider is a trooper figure called the Swamp-Viper. This figure is interesting in two aspects -- the origin of the name, and the figure utilized to make him.

The name Swamp-Viper originally appeared in 2003, as part of the Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club Convention Set for that year. In that particular set, Cobra Commander, accompanied by a group of his Swamp-Vipers, was meeting on the shores of Cobra Island with the enigmatic Black Dragon Leader, and his Black Dragon Troopers, for purposes of forming an alliance. Hoping to break up the party were G.I. Joe team members Lady Jaye, Lt. Falcon, and Major Storm.

The set included five Swamp-Vipers, who had been recolored from a previous Cobra trooper specialist, who desperately needed it, known as the Mega-Viper. The Mega-Viper had first come on the scene ten years prior, in 1993, as part of the special team known as the Mega-Marines. Along with the Cyber-Viper, he represented the Cobra side of that particular conflict.

Most fans agreed that the Mega-Viper was an excellent sculpted design. The color scheme was another matter. The Mega-Marines as a whole had rather garish colors. The four G.I. Joes made extensive use of molded-in camouflage, with bright color painted trim. But none of them were at the eye-searing level of the Mega-Viper, who had a bright, neon-yellow uniform, with equally bright, pinkish-purple helmet, chest-and-back plate, trunks, gloves, and boots. The Mega-Viper, however cool the sculpt was, is generally regarded as the most obnoxiously brightly-colored figure in the history of the line.

Recognizing a good sculpt when they saw one, the Collectors' Club remade the Mega-Viper into the Swamp-Viper in 2003. Although the pale grey uniform with the Cobra blue helmet, chest-and-back plate, trunks, gloves, and boots, with silver faceplate and some black trim, was perhaps not especially evocative of the swamps, it was certainly a far more reasonable color scheme for an otherwise excellent figure, and the colors used were well in keeping with ones Cobra had used for other trooper divisions. The Club's Swamp-Viper was proof that the Mega-Viper molds, when properly colored, made for a very cool Cobra trooper.

The new Swamp-Viper is an entirely different figure, as one would expect. Of course, it's a 25th-style figure. To date, and perhaps mercifully, the Mega-Viper has not been rendered in the 25th-style format. And with the advent of the movie-based toys, the color palette for the entire G.I. Joe line has become more subdued than ever. So to create the new Swamp-Viper, Hasbro had to use somebody else. And as far as I'm concerned, they made a good choice. They recolored the 25th-style version of the Cobra AVAC.

I'll readily admit that the original Cobra AVAC from 1986 is one of my personal favorite figures in the entire line. The red uniform with the silver helmet and protective padding always just looked extremely cool to me. The AVAC -- and it wasn't until years later that we learned that this stood for "Air Viper, Advanced Class", was originally released with the Cobra Terror-Drome, the largest Cobra-based playset in the entire line. The AVAC was the pilot of the rocket-plane known as the Firebat.

The AVAC, and for that matter the Firebat, proved so popular that Hasbro later released them both as a mail-order offer, so you could "army-build" the AVAC a bit without trying to find room (or money) for multiple Terror-Dromes.

I'll admit I never got the 25th-style version of the actual Cobra AVAC, when it was released with a reissued Firebat prior to the movie-based line starting up, since, like many of the 25th Anniversary figures, I already had the character in his original format, which, also admittedly, I had a distinct preference for.

But, to turn that coin around a bit, the original Cobra AVAC was never recolored as a Swamp-Viper. And what we have here may well be my favorite figure yet in the 25th-style format.

The color scheme -- no offense whatsoever to the Club since I do very much like their Swamp-Vipers -- but the new Swamp-Viper does have a color scheme that is not only more in keeping with what one might expect for a specialist in that particular environment, but is so far removed from the AVAC as well, that if it weren't for the obviously distinctive helmet, you'd be hard-pressed to make the comparison. And honestly, it's such a cool helmet design.

The helmet, chestplate, leg padding, shoulder armor, and armor around the boots is a semi-metallic yellowish-green. In and of itself, it's not the most attractive color in the world, but for a swamp trooper, it works -- and it's certainly vastly different from the silver of the AVAC. The main body of the uniform is dark grey -- again a significant change from the AVAC's original red. The visor in the helmet is orange, the gloves, boots, belt, and chestplate straps are black, as is a stripe around the helmet, the mouthpiece, and a very neatly stamped Cobra emblem on the chestplate.

The Swamp-Viper is one of those figures in the line who can get away with the mid-torso articulation point better than some, since the way it's designed it looks like a split in his chest armor as much as anything. The figure has excellent articulation, and an interesting little feature. He has a knife in a sheath in his right boot, and the knife is removable, and even has a silver-painted blade. Fortunately, the knife is a snug enough fit in the sheath so that I don't think removing it and putting it in a precautionary Ziploc bag in required.

The Swamp-Viper's file card isn't extensively detailed, although the artwork is superb. It states that Swamp-Vipers are Cobra troopers who patrol the waterways in jungles and swamps. They are trained in marine combat and skilled in tropical battle tactics. They can be ruthless adversaries or silent predators with equal skill.

So, what's my final word here? I am hugely impressed. The Sting Raider is an upgrade of the original Water Moccasin, already a very cool vehicle in and of itself, with a remarkable new and interesting color scheme that is well suited both to its environment and for being a Cobra vehicle. The figure of Copperhead is very capably done, and fits in well with the movie-based figures, and the Swamp-Viper is extremely cool.

On the whole, this is really a vehicle and figures set that you simply can't go wrong with. It's a Toys "R" Us exclusive, though, so you won't readily find it anywhere else. But it's well worth it. The G.I. JOE THE RISE OF COBRA - COBRA STING RAIDER with COPPERHEAD and SWAMP-VIPER most definitely has my highest recommendation!