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By Thomas Wheeler

For fans and collectors of the G.I. Joe product line, there are few greater treats than the annual Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club Convention, especially given the amount of exclusive-to-the-convention merchandise to be had. The highlight is, of course, the 15-figure themed set, which this year featured the popular NIGHT FORCE team taking on a squad of bad guys dubbed the "Cobra Demolitions Team". But there are always additional items, figures and vehicles, available beyond the primary set, which are just as popular and as well received.

This year, one such vehicle was the ATV last released as the TIGER CLAW, this time reassigned to Night Force. It is a moderate overhaul of a vehicle first introduced in 1985, the COBRA FERRET. Allow me, if I might, to present something of a history of this vehicle.

The Cobra Ferret first came on the scene in 1985. It is, in basic terms, an armed, four-wheeled ATV, or all-terrain vehicle. Such vehicles are highly popular in the recreational world. They present an interesting challenge to their riders, as they venture across a wide range of uncultivated and often treacherous terrain, as their name implies, seeing the sights and scaring the wildlife.

To what degree an ATV would be an effective combat vehicle is something that I personally think would be open to interpretation. An ATV has certain advantages over other vehicles. It's smaller and more maneuverable than a larger, multi-passenger four-wheeled vehicle such as a Jeep or a Hummer. Its four wheels make it arguably more stable than a two-wheeled motorcycle. It can handle a wide range of rough terrain. On the other hand, it offers virtually no protection for the driver/rider, and isn't especially well armored itself. One good bullseye with a big enough missile, and it's going to be turned into scrap, and I'd rather not describe what's likely to happen to the driver.

But, this is the world of G.I. Joe. This is the battlefield environment that produced such oddities as the Cobra Pogo and the Cobra Buzz Boar, where humanoid androids take to combat as readily as their organic counterparts, so why not throw an ATV into the mix? It's more realistic and at least as plausible as some of the stuff that showed up over the years.

The original Cobra Ferret, as one might expect, was colored in a dark Cobra blue. Among its more combat-ready features were a long, bright red cannon mounted along one side, and two small missiles mounted to either side near where the driver would place his feet. One would assume rather carefully.

The Ferret returned a few years later, as one of several former Cobra vehicles that had been "captured" and repurposed by the G.I. Joe team to serve as part of their Tiger Force armada. In this instance, the Ferret was renamed the Tiger Paw, and was given an appropriate paint job. The main body, as well as the hubcaps, was molded in yellow, and given the white front, with the brown airbrush trim, and black stripes leading towards the back.

The Cobra Ferret materialized again as a mail-order vehicle, but strangely in a much brighter blue than before.

It then vanished from the scene for quite a number of years. It was initially brought back by the Collectors' Club, as a pair of vehicles specifically designated for a couple of mercenary teams that were part of the 2006 Convention offerings. These ATV's were assigned to Major Bludd's Skull Squad, and the COIL, overseen by the Cobra Overlord. Both vehicles had molded-in camouflage color schemes, and specialized labels respective to these groups. The Skull Squad ATV had a brown-and-grey color scheme, while the COIL ATV had a green-and-gray color pattern.

The ATV returned yet again, this time with some new modifications, as part of the "Rise of Cobra" movie line. This time around it was mostly burgundy, with black trim, and came with a figure of Scrap-Iron.

A second modified ATV, also designated as part of the movie-based line, but one which received much more limited distribution, turned up, this time bearing the name "Tiger Claw", and assigned to the G.I. Joe team. This ATV had some different modifications, and are the same ones seen on the Night Force model. This ATV came with a figure of Leatherneck.

And now, we have the Night Force incarnation of the ATV. Although it doesn't come with a specific figure, one can assume that any of the Night Force figures available in this year's Convention Set would be eligible to ride it.

Night Force, for those who may not know, was a highly popular special team of G.I. Joes, that were offered in two-packs as a Toys "R" Us exclusive. The items ran for two years, from 1988-89, and featured twelve extensively recolored G.I. Joes, who had originally been released in 1987 and 1988, as well as a series of eight vehicles, renamed and remolded in black and dark gray, with bright red highlights and glow-in-the-dark labels. Given that this was a surprisingly extensive line for a store exclusive, that it had a specific theme, and that some of the most popular vehicles in the entire run of G.I. Joe were chosen to be part of it, Night Force remains one of the most popular special teams of all time.

A second Night Force team emerged during the so-called "newsculpt" era of 2002-2006, when once again, Toys "R" Us was offering multi-packs of original-style figures, a number of which were based on previously established teams, including Tiger Force, Python Patrol, and Night Force. Their set featured five Joe Team members in all-new and highly plausible-looking night camouflage colors, as well as a sixth figure, the first ever 3-3/4" G.I. Joe-style rendition of Action Man, G.I. Joe's European counterpart.

The 2013 Convention Set essentially marks the third iteration of Night Force, and uses the very impressive logo from this special Toys "R" Us multi-pack.

It's interesting to study how the ATV has been modified from the original Ferret. Much remains the same. The core body is identical, although for its Night Force incarnation it has been molded in an extremely dark green. The cushioned-looking seat is colored a slightly lighter green.

What sets the Night Force ATV apart from its predecessor, the Ferret, are two distinct platforms that have been secured to the top front and top back of the main body. These highly detailed platforms, molded in black for this vehicle, have a much more rugged look to them. I almost liken it to taking the original Ferret, and crossing it with some of the visual aspects of a Hummer, if that makes sense.

The front platform has the framework of a windshield rising up from it, and a pair of rectangular headlights on the front, and some additional framework hanging down in the front of the vehicle. This portion has been painted silver, and the headlights, appropriately enough for a night-based vehicle, have been painted green.

The rear platform takes the place of a storage compartment that used to exist on the original Ferret, and features a large cannon mounted to one side that features a spring-loaded missile launcher. This missile launcher replaces the long cannon that used to exist on the original Ferret.

The cannon is an impressive construct, mostly dark green in color, mounted to a black turret, with a green lens on its tracking scope. The missile itself is bright red, which is in keeping with some of the colors used on the original Night Force vehicles back in the day.

The side missiles have been replaced by small, rugged-looking platforms. I'm not really sure to what degree this ATV is meant to be a multi-passenger vehicle. One might suppose that someone could sit or stand on the rear platform and man the missile launcher, unless it's remote controlled. I don't really think the side platforms are meant for long-term standing while the vehicle is in motion. Heck, when this vehicle was known as the Cobra Ferret, they had Tomax and Xamot riding one in both the comic book and the cartoon, and they looked cramped on it.

Additional painted detail on the vehicle is impressive. The visible engine components near the front have been painted silver. And on either side of the vehicle near the center is the modern NIGHT FORCE emblem, in white.

And I decided to check something. It was just a hunch I had, not sure what beyond that really made me think to look. But yes, these Night Force emblems indeed do GLOW IN THE DARK, just like the labels of the original Night Force vehicles! Now -- that's what I call some serious attention to detail, as well as respect for history.

The Night Force: Covert Ops ATV rolls along very capably on its four big wheels, and the front wheels even turn from side to side. So do the handlebars, but they're no longer coordinated. This vehicle lost that capability a while back.

So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely impressed with this vehicle. Given the unfortunately limited presence G.I. Joe seems to have at retail, it's nice to see additional items through the Collectors' Club, both through the Convention and through other means. They're producing special figures through their Fan Subscription Service, often characters that would not likely otherwise see the light of day -- and which need to. The second series of these figures was announced at the Convention, and there's definitely a lot of winners in it, including such notables as Oktober Guard members Dragonsky and Big Bear, the Cobra Desert Scorpion troopers, Admiral Keel-Haul, and Bombardier, the name given to a mysterious, unproduced European Action Force figure who's finally getting his due in the modern line.

And, thanks to the Convention, Night Force has also returned, and joined the modern line. The figures are great, and the Night Force Covert Ops ATV is also a great addition. I'm not saying it's easy to obtain, but if you're a G.I. Joe fan, you definitely need to track one down. You'll be glad you did.

The NIGHT FORCE COVERT OPS ATV from the 2013 OFFICIAL G.I. JOE COLLECTORS' CONVENTION definitely has my highest recommendation!