REVIEW: G.I. JOE COBRA ALLEY-VIPER FIGURE
There can be little question that urban warfare is a far greater factor in the modern military world than it used to be. Troops must now be as skilled at tracking down enemy forces in cities, or the ruins thereof depending on how much shelling they've been subjected to -- or just how poorly built they were in the first place -- as they must be skilled at tracking down enemy forces in any natural environment. "Sea, Air, and Land" just doesn't quite take in the full spectrum of modern combat anymore. We have fought in jungles. We have fought in deserts. And we now fight on city streets, in buildings, and from rooftops as needed.
Who would've figured that the fictional forces of Cobra would actually be ahead of the game in this regard?
Environment-specific specialists, or in the case of Cobra, trooper divisions, are certainly a hallmark of the G.I. Joe line, and appropriately so. In 1983, the G.I. Joe team enlisted the services of an arctic specialist, in the form of Snow Job, and a SEAL in the form of Torpedo, who was dressed in a diving suit. The following year, Recondo, a jungle expert, joined the team. The year after that, the G.I. Joe team acquired the expertise of Alpine, a mountain specialist, and Dusty, a desert trooper.
Similarly, Cobra developed its own environment-specific specialists. Eels for underwater combat. Snow Serpents for the arctic. Rock-Vipers for the mountains. Desert Scorpions for the desert. Jungle-Vipers for -- well, you get the point...
And then there were the ALLEY-VIPERS! First brought about in 1989, these were Cobra's urban combat specialists, something that G.I. Joe didn't really have, unless you wanted to count Shockwave, a S.W.A.T. Specialist who'd served with the Detroit Police Department. And since that time, not only has the real world gotten a lot more involved in urban warfare, but with the sole exception of the basic Cobra Vipers themselves, no other trooper division within Cobra has seen more revisions and new editions than the Alley-Vipers. So it should come as no great surprise that a new Alley-Viper rendition has been made a part of the current, post-movie, "Pursuit of Cobra" G.I. Joe action figure line.
Let's consider a bit of history of the Alley-Vipers. They were first introduced in 1989, and one of them was even prominently featured in that year's animated mini-series, "Operation Dragonfire". The original Alley-Vipers were -- interesting. Their file cards portrayed them as highly dangerous individuals, kicking down doors, taking names, opening fire on anyone convenient, and generally being ill-mannered. But it was a little hard to take them too seriously, given their bright orange uniforms with the bright blue camouflage. The closest urban counterpart you were going to get to these colors was a traffic cone.
Now, in fairness, this was the era of a fairly broad color palette for G.I. Joe, and the Alley-Vipers were hardly the only subjects of color schemes that could charitably be described as less than military, something Cobra hasn't necessarily adhered to all that closely in the first place. Looking as far back as 1983, they outfitted their HISS Drivers with uniforms that were mostly bright red. 1987 saw a surplus of purple, with both the Techno-Vipers and the Sea Slugs, carried over into 1988 with the Toxo-Vipers and Hydro-Vipers. 1989's HEAT-Vipers were dressed in bright yellow-orange with purple trim. And of course, 1990 saw the Range-Vipers, Cobra's Wilderness Troopers, with their bright blue skull-like helmets and shirts.
Standing in a crowd like that, the Alley-Vipers looked positively subdued. Still, it was just a little hard to picture a bunch of soldiers dressed like that kicking doors down in a dimly-lit section of town. Granted, if they did and I happened to be on the other side of the door, I don't think the first words out of my mouth would be a criticism of their wardrobe.
1993 saw a return of the Alley-Vipers, in what remains for me my favorite incarnation of their uniforms. Their outfits were mostly yellow, but had black stripes, and significant black detailing. Again, not especially military in appearance, but dang cool looking in my opinion. And perhaps a little more plausible. Something closer to their original color scheme came along in 1994, when the '93 Alley-Vipers were recolored in orange and blue, but there was a lot more blue this time around. Still, it wasn't an improvement.
Following this, however, the Alley-Vipers took on a much more subdued color scheme. In 1997, an Alley-Viper came out with the reissued Cobra Rage, and he was colored quite darkly in shades of blue, black, and gray.
The next prominent appearance of the Alley-Viper was in 2002, where he had a gray and black camouflage uniform, with dark blue helmet and trim. A variant of this version was released around the same time, where the dark blue trim was recolored -- and this will be notable for the review -- in red.
The Alley-Viper continued to have a presence in the line. A mostly black one was sold as part of a six-pack of figures. Another one, in a two-pack, had a mostly blue uniform. There were a couple of newsculpt versions in the years from 2002-2006. It seemed that there was always an Alley-Viper waiting in the wings, ready to strike into any urban environment where he was called upon to do so. Some had more effective color schemes than others, but I'd have to say that they were all pretty cool, and certainly impressive.
Fast forward now to the current line. The first indication we had that the Alley-Vipers had made it into the present day was in fact the driver of the Cobra Fury, a renamed version of the Cobra Rage, a specific urban assault vehicle that Cobra had first unleashed in 1990. The driver of this vehicle was designated Alley-Viper Officer. Outfitted mostly in gray, with black accessories and trim, he comes with an Alley-Viper type helmet in an exceptionally dark red. He's a cool figure, don't get me wrong. However, the color of the helmet relative to the rest of the figure makes it stand out. He almost looks like he could be almost any Cobra soldier who just happened to find the helmet. The figure is impressive enough, nicely detailed, and well-designed. But I would've liked to have seen something a little more distinctive.
Brother, did I ever find it, when I discovered the single-carded Alley-Viper figure. Although using the same molds as the Alley-Viper officer, what makes the difference between the two is (a) a more dynamic color scheme, (b) a more unified color scheme relative to the accessories and equipment, and (c) a heck of a lot more painted detail on the uniform.
Although the Alley-Viper might be best known for its original color scheme, the orange and the blue, that color scheme wouldn't really be that workable in today's G.I. Joe line. But there have been so many color schemes for this trooper over the years. I don't think one can really take just one of them and say, "This is what the Alley-Viper should be like". As such, Hasbro has crafted an entirely new Alley-Viper, that has his own color scheme, that certainly utilizes colors that have previously appeared on Alley-Vipers in the past, and yet also has his own distinctive identity -- while still looking very much like a modern incarnation of an Alley-Viper.
The original Alley-Viper had several distinctive attributes about him, which to one degree or another have been maintained over the entire history of the figure. The Alley-Viper has had a distinctive helmet, with a face shield that slid into place, over a somewhat upward angular opening that revealed a covered face, seemingly covered by a fabric mask, that only revealed the eyes.
The Alley-Viper has had armbands, generally emblazoned with the Cobra emblem. He has had chest armor, generally rife with assorted weaponry, including a grenade, a sheathed knife, and assorted pouches, usually over one shoulder. He has had ridged wrist-bands, and thick boots with protective knee-pads.
The new Alley-Viper has all of these things, and more, and while on the one hand he looks fairly laden down with the equipment that he's wearing, and you sort of wonder how the poor guy can even move, he also looks more than capable of not only moving, but moving very quickly, very decisively, and very nastily when the situation calls for it. He looks like he's saying, "So, Cobra's got those new Cobra Shock Troopers to operate in urban environments? Great, welcome to the club, boys. I'm an Alley-Viper, my division has been around a lot longer than yours, and I'm going to step up and show you why."
First off, there's that helmet. It's molded in a fairly dark red, and it's removable. The head under it doesn't look like a whole lot -- although it is different than that of the Alley-Viper Officer. The head is concealed by a mask covering almost all of the head, but the eyes are visible, and there's some sort of mechanical-looking apparatus around the mouth area. It's not painted, and is not overly complex. I'm not really sure what it's supposed to represent.
The eyes are nicely detailed and very well painted. The Alley-Viper even has blue irises. When done neatly, which these are, I never fail to be impressed by how such intricate eyes can be painted on such a small head.
The helmet is entirely based on the classic Alley-Viper, and is really what gives the modern Alley-Viper his connection to the original, more than anything else. It has the angular-yet-ovaloid appearance of the original, with the same shape to the open area underneath the lowering protective face shield. Here is a sculpted Cobra emblem on the forehead of the helmet, painted black, and another Cobra emblem, unpainted, on the face shield. Probably not the best place for it. Sort of makes an easy target, y'know?
The Alley-Viper is wearing a uniform that is mostly black. However, he is also wearing a thick vest, for lack of a better term, or perhaps it's body armor, that is the same dark red color as the helmet. This allows a certain color consistency that the Alley-Viper Officer is lacking. The vest also does a proper job of concealing the mid-torso articulation point, which many fans and collectors believe can be somewhat awkward-looking on some G.I. Joe figures.
This vest is certainly well equipped! There is a series of small, light gray pouches that run over the right shoulder. There is another group of small pouches, painted dark gray, across the front of the vest, and a larger dark gray pouch on the left side, that somewhat conceals the clasp that holds the vest in place, and two additional small pouches on the right side. There is a black strap over the left shoulder, that holds a small bronze-colored grenade. There is a small knife sheath next to the grenade, which has a small removable (!) knife in it, with a black hilt and silver blade.
The uniform has two light gray armbands, another carryover of sorts from the original Alley-Viper. Both of these have small Cobra emblems sculpted into them. The left wrist has a ridged wristband sculpted onto it, but, in keeping with the fact that this guy is loaded with equipment and everything seems to have a function, there's a small device of some sort, which I suspect is intended to be a communications unit, sculpted onto the wristband.
The right wrist lacks the ridged band, but there's a second knife sheath here, with a second, removable knife. Fortunately, these small blades are very tight fits in their sheaths, and there's no great danger of them falling out and getting lost.
Hanging from the belt, which is almost concealed by the vest, are two small items, bronze in color, whose purpose I am not entirely certain about. I think they might actually be a pair of brass knuckles, but they don't quite look right for that. They're some sort of equipment that I can't quite define, but they certainly add to the overall look of the Alley-Viper being equipped for every imaginable scenario.
The trousers are black, and there's a black holster strapped to the upper right leg, and some sort of pouch or device mounted to the upper left leg. The Alley-Viper has ridged knee-pads, that look very protective, colored in light gray. His boots are black, but have very dark gray armor pieces strapped to their fronts. There is evidence of sculpted laces underneath them, although the feet of the boots do not have any laces.
Additional detail includes narrow white bands on the middle left arm and upper left leg, with thin diagonal black stripes in them. It's an odd feature, and I'm not sure what purpose it serves, but it certainly adds to the overall detail of the figure, it looks cool, and there's something about it that looks urban, too.
Painted detail on the figure is excellent. The black straps on the back of the vest are hand painted, but neatly, as are the clasps on the light gray pouches on the front. I do not approve of hand painted details, but to the credit of whomever did this work, it came out well enough in this instance.
Of course, the figure is very well articulated. The Alley-Viper is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid torso, legs, knees, and ankles.
The current trend seems to be providing enough equipment, weaponry, and hardware for individual figures, so that if they had the capability to think and look around in their own sealed packages, they'd probably be thinking, "Man, I'm supposed to drag all of THIS around with me!?" Well, not necessarily. That's what I use Ziploc bags for. But certainly, if you wish to display your Alley-Viper with all his accessories, there's a wide variety to choose from!
Interestingly, the Alley-Viper comes with an alternate helmet. Even more curiously, it's the one that he's wearing in the package illustration. It's a decent helmet, but it's nothing all that distinctive, and it's really the distinctive helmet that makes the Alley-Viper, in my opinion. This second helmet is black, more form-fitting to the head, and includes a set of removable goggles, light gray with opaque black lenses. I'm not entirely sure why the Alley-Viper would need a second helmet, unless the more traditional one, which is admittedly larger, would get too heavy to wear on a regular basis, and would be reserved for more intensive combat situations.
The Alley-Viper also comes with a gas mask, with a series of straps, and clear lenses for goggles. I don't believe this would fit over the smaller helmet, and it certainly wouldn't fit over the larger one. One sort of wonders if this Alley-Viper is going to have some of his effectiveness as an urban combat specialist hindered just by having to change headgear repeatedly.
The Alley-Viper comes with a large shield, something else that certainly has a place in Alley-Viper history, and this new shield is clearly an update of the original. It is dark red, quite stylized, and has a black Cobra emblem on the front of it, as well as a horizontal white stripe with red diagonal lines in it, very much akin to the details on the Alley-Viper's uniform. The shield has a handle on the inside of it, as well as a couple of raised tabs, which can be used to hold another of the Alley-Viper's accessories, a black nightstick. The nightstick is a small enough piece that I would recommend attaching it to the shield to prevent loss. The shield isn't so small as to be easily lost.
The Alley-Viper comes with two rifles, one of which has a sort of crossbow-like front to it. Odd-looking thing. This, according to the file card on the back, is not actually a gun, but a grappling system, referred to as a Pneumatic Grappling Ascent Cannon. Just the thing for an assault on a skyscraper when the elevators aren't working. I'm not entirely sure how plausible either weapon is, but they look impressive, and are certainly well-made and nicely detailed.
Finally, the Alley-Viper comes with a backpack, a decidedly high-tech-looking apparatus, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure what any of the apparent devices or gizmos on this backpack might actually do. It's arguably the least plausible-looking piece of equipment the Alley-Viper comes with.
There's also a display base included with the figure. The file cards are not as extensive as they used to be, but the Alley-Viper does have a file card on the back of his package, which reads as follows:
Alley-Vipers are Cobra urban combat specialists. They are armed with close quarters battle gear including blast shields, anti-armor weapons and assault tonfas. They are guarding the Cobra warehouse when it is infiltrated by G.I. Joe forces including Beach-head, who battles one-on-one with the Alley-Vipers.
So what's my final word here? As a modern incarnation of one of Cobra's most frequently revisited troopers, this new Alley-Viper works. He's not a straight remake of any previous version of the Alley-Viper. He's not just taking a previous version of the Alley-Viper and putting him into the current figure format, or I doubt I would have been that interested in him. No, he's a modern incarnation, with a good color scheme, an impressive level of detail, plenty of equipment, and overall, a very cool look to him that is at once distinctive, and also respectful to the Alley-Vipers that have preceded him. I believe any longtime or recent G.I. Joe collector would be pleased to welcome this Alley-Viper into their collection, and I think plenty of them have been, since he has reportedly not been that easy to find, and I certainly haven't seen that many. But he's definitely worth tracking down.
The G.I. JOE COBRA ALLEY-VIPER certainly has my highest recommendation!