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By Thomas Wheeler

It takes a lot for me to get excited about toys these days. And granted, that's a relative measure. I still enjoy collecting action figures. And I can be quite enthusiastic about any number of new products. But for me to see some new item that makes me want to do a backflip or turn a cartwheel - well, perhaps fortunately for my 40-something, never-athletic frame, that doesn't happen very often.

I came pretty close when I learned about the "Cobra Viper Pit" six-pack, though!

So imagine my surprise and delight when this set was showcased!

Now, a little background. In 1982, Hasbro produced two generic-type soldiers for the forces of Cobra. They are known to this day as, simply, the Cobra Trooper and Cobra Officer. And they've seen several remakes in recent years, most of which have been very decent.

But in my opinion, they just don't stand up that well when compared to some of Cobra's other, later, more specialized trooper units. Furthermore, there was a much better basic infantry soldier for Cobra.


The Viper was first introduced in 1986 as Cobra's new infantry soldier. Certainly a more advanced and detailed uniform than the Trooper or Officer, a distinctive unit name, and the helmet with the all-covering faceplate came across a lot better than the "handkerchief across the lower face" bit that the Troopers and Officers used. I really liked the Cobra Vipers, and I had quite a few of them.

There have been quite a few recolorings of the Cobra Viper over the years, and the more recent editions, since 1997, have had to use the legs of the original Cobra Battle Android Trooper, since the Viper leg molds, used for Dr. Mindbender in 1993, are no longer available. But it wasn't too bad a compromise.

So, Hasbro wants to do a Cobra Viper 6-pack? That's great! They want to make them in as close to the original colors as possible? That's even better! They want to remake the upper legs, the most glaring difference between the Viper and the B.A.T.? WOW! That's almost unbelievable! Sign me up for several of these, and I hope Hasbro's made enough, because what you've got here is the ultimate "army-builder" set!

Kinda nice that it's also the 20th Anniversary of the first release of the Cobra Viper. That's not mentioned on this package anywhere (and maybe it should've been), but I'm mentioning it.

The COBRA VIPER PIT 6-Pack is being made available through online outlets. However, given a fairly limited number produced and the fact that most people, myself included, are categorically not going to be content with just ONE set, I suspect this item to be a very quick seller. In short, if you see it, or one of the online outlets advertises it as still being "in stock", and you want it -- get it -- quickly.

The set includes six Cobra Vipers. Five of them are absolutely identical. The sixth is different only from the standpoint of having a gold visor and gold buckles on the front of his vest. Although there is only one file card on the back of the package, and this gold alteration as such is not explained, I think it's probably fair to say that this particular Viper should be regarded as the squad leader for the other five.

A comparison between a 2006 Viper and a 1986 Viper reveals some interesting differences -- apart from the more obvious ones of the boots and lower torso pieces. Although the colors are very similar, there are variances, and frankly, they're in favor of the 2006 Vipers for the most part. It's nothing extreme. By means of a comparison, I'd call the differences between the two a little more extensive than when the uniforms on Star Trek The Next Generation acquired a somewhat looser fit and that higher collar, but less extensive than the all-black with colored shoulders of the Deep Space Nine uniforms.

First off, the 2006 Viper has a bit less red on his uniform. The 1986 Viper has entirely red gloves, belt buckle, vest buckles, and grenades, along with the shoulder, side, and leg padding. The 2006 Viper has the red shoulder, side, and leg padding, but only the padding on the gloves is red. The rest of the gloves are black. The belt buckle is a very dark grey. The vest buckles are silver (or gold in the one case). And the two grenades are dark metallic grey, which really makes more sense if you think about it.

The Cobra emblem on the vest is also better for the 2006 Viper. It's the one with the eight "ridges" in it. The 1986 Viper has the, in my opinion less-detailed, five-ridged Cobra emblem. I was never sure why they developed that one in the first place.

Additionally, the 2006 Viper has the lenses of the goggles on the helmet painted, the same dark metallic grey as the grenades. The lenses on the goggles of the 1986 Viper are the same black as the rest of the goggles.

About the only area where the 2006 Viper comes up short is that the ridged padding on the inside of his legs remains unpainted. The outer padding is red, but on the 1986 Viper, both outside and inside padding is painted red. Still, given the near-miracle of even getting the upper legs redone to their original format in the first place, that's certainly nothing that warrants complaining.

Obviously the biggest difference between the two is the fact that the 2006 Viper uses the lower torso and boots of the original 1986 Cobra B.A.T. However, it's amazing that a difference the newly redone upper legs, with their leg pouches, makes. The original B.A.T. upper legs were disturbingly -- cylindrical, and didn't quite work as "human" legs. There's still a bit of an odd shape to the back of the lower torso piece, but on the whole, the remaking of the original Viper legs has improved the overall look of the figure a hundredfold. And it was no doubt a fair expense for Hasbro to do this, and it wasn't something that they really HAD to do. This was, truthfully, Hasbro saying, "All right, we know those B.A.T. legs don't really look that good on a Viper. Tell you what -- for this last set, we'll redo the worst part of it back to its original form." So thank you to Hasbro for that!

On his own, the 2006 Viper definitely has some features worth mentioning. All aspects of the paint work are properly spray painted. And if you consider how small some of the detailing is -- the two-tone gloves, the vest buckles, the grenades, and somewhat more significantly, the red padding stripes on the new upper legs, which as such would have also required new paint- stencil masks, that's pretty incredible.

Then there's the flesh tone. Although very little "skin" shows on these figures -- just a bit on the arms -- a friend of mine pointed out to me that it's a very interesting color. Joes (and Cobras) from the original years had fairly pale skin. Joes in more recent years have tended to have darker skin, almost orange-ish in some respects. "Peach" is the term my friend used. It's not a bad color, but it's certainly different. The arms on the Cobra Vipers are a very good compromise. They're not as pale as the originals, but neither are they as peach as other current figures. They're a very nice light tan. Sort of figure someone sent these Vipers off for a week's vacation in Florida before dispatching them to the toy outlets.

Overall detailing is excellent. A little gizmo of some sort on the side of the lower torso has been carefully painted red. The vest is molded in a sort of flat black, while the boots have been painted in a gloss black. I also very much appreciate the fact that the copyright date on the leg clearly reads "2006". For most of the G.I. Joe line, Hasbro was quite careful to make sure that a given year's figure had the proper date on them. Thus I can show you Joes that have 1983, 1987, 1992, 2004, etc, on them. It's nice to have one that has 2006 on it, because if you show someone that along with one of the earliest Joes, it's conclusive proof of the longevity of this line.

I don't tend to pay a lot of attention to accessories, but the Vipers come very well equipped, although they don't all come with the same equipment. There are four backpacks, two pistols of a sort, four rifles of one type, and two rifles of another type. Still, all of the equipment looks good, and no one can argue that the Vipers are not well-equipped. The set also includes six of the standard G.I. Joe display bases that crop up every once in a while. Curiously, the six that come with this set are molded in red! I don't believe that color has ever been used for these before.

Any complaints? Very minimally. A couple of these guys have rather loose arms at the shoulders, and it looks like the metal rivets didn't go through as well as they should've. But honestly, that's not a new problem. I've had other Joes from across the years with loose arms. And on a couple of these Vipers, the new upper legs don't quite fit into the B.A.T. lower torso as well as they should. But again, this is minor, and I've certainly seen worse. When they started giving the Cobra Alley-Viper Duke's legs in the 2000-2002 line, the result was a figure that wouldn't even stand-up, and looked like it was trying to breakdance.

One of the Vipers in the first set I acquired had some VERY serious mold creases in his helmet, honestly the worst I've ever seen since this problem started affecting G.I. Joes a couple of years ago. However, the other five were fine, and even the paint was off on this one, so unless I start seeing this problem with greater frequency or severity in other Viper Pit sets I might acquire, I am going to try to optimistically believe that this was more of a glitch than a widespread problem. It's still something that should be dealt with, though, and by more companies than just Hasbro, and for many more lines than G.I. Joe.

Apparently the plastic used for portions of these figures is very rigid, almost brittle. The newly sculpted upper legs don't fit into the B.A.T. lower torso as well as they should. I personally recommend the following for anyone
concerned: VERY CAREFUL replacement of the O-Ring with one that is somewhat less tight, to alleviate the stress, and equally careful general handling of the figure.

If anything at all was shortchanged on this set, it was the illustration on the back of the package. Since this set really only needed ONE file card, the rest of the space had to be filled in. This was filled in by a drawing of what looks like a massive subterranean training room for Cobra Vipers, but in all honesty, the drawing looks like it was done in some haste.

This is obviously the "Viper Pit", the official name of this set, and the description for it on the back of the package reads as follows: The COBRA VIPER PIT is a dark, cavernous area buried three levels below ground and simmering with bad attitudes, big egos and twitchy trigger fingers. Part barracks, part military facility, and part home-for-the-chronically-hostile, the Cobra Viper Pit is where COBRA VIPER troopers are trained to battle. Heated discussions about who is the greatest Cobra Viper constantly fill the air, but all talk ceases when the battle alarm sounds: that means it's time for another one-on-one with the G.I. Joe Team!

As I said earlier, there's only one file card for the set, and it reads as follows:


Cobra Infantryman

Cobra Viper troopers are the grunts of the Cobra legions. If there's a dirty job that needs doing, these guys are first in line. They wear multi-layered body armor and wrap-around helmets with built-in radio telecommunications gear, and carry multi-burst laser pistols, commando rifles and grenade launchers. Even though they are superbly trained and formidably equipped, they are looked down upon by the more elite Cobra groups, simply because of their "basic infantry" status. However, this actually makes them fight even harder, just to prove that plain rottenness gets the job done as well - or better than - all that "specialized" training. They're ready, willing, and able to cause harm and do damage anywhere that Cobra Commander sends them.

"G.I. Joe be warned! We have more weapons and more guts than you could ever hope to have!"

I'd like to offer a few concluding thoughts in general, if I may. I do this partly because I believe that, with the Viper Pit set, the traditional-style Real American Hero has come to a conclusion, aside from whatever items, Convention and otherwise, the Club might offer in the future.

Hasbro's Joe emphasis is on Sigma Six right now, and although 2007 is the 25th Anniversary of the Real American Hero concept, there's no knowing at this time what form any figures they choose to produce for that may take. I don't have any concrete proof, but I think that we've largely seen the last of the traditional-style, made-since-1982-with- only-minimal-changes, Real American Hero.

But from the tradtional-style format, we saw a remarkable amount of amazing stuff in the last few years. Some immensely cool six-packs (and sadly a few clunkers as well). We got the ENTIRE Oktober Guard, all of them long overdue by anywhere from 15-22 years. We finally got a figure of popular character Kwinn, also long overdue. Hey, Hasbro even gave us a 3-3/4" version of Action Man, Europe's version of the 12" G.I. Joe for many years, in the Night Force set, thus creating some interesting cross- continuity. I am grateful for all of these.

We also got some impressive vehicles along the way, including a couple of fairly recent entries, such as the R.H.I.N.O. and R.O.C.C.

And if the line is ending, I can certainly think of worse notes it could end on. A six-pack of Cobra Vipers, arguably Cobra's best basic infantry troopers. That's a nice army builder set to have, especially for those of us that were forced by circumstances to sell off most of their originals.

The concept lives on in the hearts and imaginations of its collectors and fans. I look around at my displays. There's the original Tiger Force, and the one from a few years ago. I'm fortunate enough to own the European Tiger Force figures, as well as some from South America and elsewhere. There's the Lunartix Aliens. Maybe not many like them, but I do, and I'm glad to have them. There's the Oktober Guard. Finally, the Oktober Guard. Sometimes I can hardly believe Horror-Show is standing up there.

And God willing, they're not going anywhere. I look forward to owning and enjoying these figures for the rest of my life, even if Hasbro never makes another 3-3/4" traditional-style G.I. Joe figure ever again.

And the Viper Pit 6-pack is, if that's what it turns out to be, not a bad conclusion for the most amazing toy line/pop culture concept -- of the past 25 years. I don't think this toy line will ever be topped, either. And as for the Viper Pit 6-pack specifically, it most definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation. Any G.I. Joe fan will want to have at least one and probably more than one of this set.