Although the Cobra Eels are certainly Cobra's best-known underwater specialists within the world of G.I. Joe, they were not the first.
Technically, they were the first as far as the toy line was concerned. The Cobra Eels joined the G.I. Joe action figure line in 1985, alongside other new Cobra specialist divisions which included the Crimson Guard, the Tele-Vipers, and the Snow Serpents.
Prior to this, Cobra's trooper divisions had been pretty much divided between the Cobra Troopers and Cobra Officers. A HISS Driver came along in 1983, who was a distinctive figure, an a Stinger Driver in 1984, who was a recolored Cobra Officer.
But for the most part, Cobra's figure entries in 1983 and 1984 was individual characters, such as Cobra Commander, Baroness, Destro, Major Bludd, Storm Shadow, Zartan, Scrap-Iron, and Firefly. Even most of the vehicles came with individual characters, like Copperhead and Wild Weasel. Cobra didn't really start expanding the troops until 1985.
However, in 1983, there was a need for Cobra underwater specialists. I'm sure many of you reading this recall the storyline of the first animated mini-series. Cobra had built a machine called the M.A.S.S. Device. It was the world's first practical teleportation device. With it, Cobra was able to send their armies anywhere in the world in an instant, teleport entire armies away from their countries, kidnap world leaders, and even steal the Eiffel Tower.
To counter this, the G.I. Joe team decided they had to build their own M.A.S.S. Device. But there was a catch. The machine required three extremely rare elements in order to function. These weren't things you could find in your local hardware store. They had to be sought out on specific missions. Of course, Cobra already knew where they were. And they weren't about to let the G.I. Joe team get their hands on them if they could help it.
One of these elements was found under the ocean surface. The Baroness, traveling in a bathysphere, along with a number of Cobra underwater troopers, got into a pitched battle with members of the G.I. Joe team on the site where this water element could be found.
This battle was really rather unusual from both sides. The only true underwater specialist the G.I. Joe team had in 1983 was Torpedo. And technically speaking, Cobra didn't have any underwater specialists as far as the toy line was concerned. But the characters in the animated series were a little more versatile than their action figure counterparts. The G.I. Joe team may have had a designated Ranger, SEAL, Arctic Trooper, Laser Rifle Trooper, whatever -- but if the mission called for an arctic team, you passed out the parkas to whomever was around. If the mission called for an underwater team, then you passed out the diving suits and everybody got wet. You're a Ranger? Great. Today you're a diver.
In the midst of this battle in the deep, the entire group was set upon by these gigantic creatures which were identified as "tube worms". Apparently they didn't much care for a battle taking place on their doorstep, and they went after everybody, even as the Joe Team and the Cobras kept trying to fight each other. Finally Stalker suggested to the Baroness that the two sides team up, or none of them were going to survive the experience.
The Baroness thought this was a preposterous suggestion -- right up until one of the tube worms decided to attack her protective bathysphere. Then all of a sudden it seemed like it wasn't such a bad idea. The Baroness ordered the Cobra divers to work with the G.I. Joe team to drive off the tube worms. They ultimately succeeded.
The Cobra divers shown in this sequence didn't exist as action figures, anymore than you could go out and buy all of the Joe Team members that had been in that battle in diving suit variants. And the Cobra divers weren't Eels. They were never referred to by that name. Arguably, they might have been some sort of proto-Eel, but even allowing for the considerable advance time needed in the development of the average action figure, I doubt that even Hasbro had quite conceived of an actual Cobra underwater specialist at quite that point. They were just -- Cobra divers. And when the Eels did emerge on the scene in 1985, of course they were worked into the animated series, as well as the comic book, but they didn't look much like the Cobra divers from the animated mini-series.
That's not a complaint. I've always held forth the belief that the original Cobra Eel is the most impressive diver figure ever created in the G.I. Joe line, regardless of affiliation. There are other cool diver figures. I have no problem with Wet-Suit, the Undertows, or anyone else. But those original Cobra Eels really looked like divers. It's an incredibly effective design.
Still, the design of those early Cobra divers wasn't a bad one at all, and it might've been nice to have seen them in figure form. But -- it didn't happen...until 2008!
A very nice interpretation of the original, animated COBRA DIVER has become a part of the current G.I. Joe Collection.
Now, I'll readily admit I haven't been an extensive collector of the current series of figures. One of the reasons for this is that for the most part, I have these characters already. The focus of the current G.I. Joe line is rendering classic characters in a new figure format. That, just for myself, isn't a sufficient reason to purchase another Duke, another Shipwreck, another Destro, and so forth.
But every so often, a new character works its way into the line, that is sufficiently interesting for me to add to my collection. I had no reservations about buying the Para-Viper. A decent Cobra Paratrooper specialist was way overdue. And I wasn't hesitant to buy the Cobra Diver. I'd've liked to have seen this guy about 25 years ago. Whatever the figure format, I'm pleased to see him now.
I'd also like to make an observation about the package artwork. Whenever possible, Hasbro has been using the classic, original artwork. That's appropriate for what they're seeking to achieve with this line. But it also means that whenever a new figure comes along, they're going to have to create new artwork that is a reasonable match for the style, at least, of the original artwork. And I have to say that they have been succeeding abundantly well at this. I was impressed with the Para-Viper card art, and I am extremely impressed with the Cobra Diver card art. It's really an outstanding painted illustration that really showcases the figure superbly well!
So -- how's the figure? Pretty nice, really. It's obvious that the body is the same as that which was used for the Torpedo figure in this figure style. There's not much mistaking the pattern lines of the uniform, regardless of the colors, and there's certainly no mistaking that belt buckle, the design for which was carried over from the original 1983 figure.
The head of the Cobra Diver is actually the same head as the new Cobra Eel figure, just in a different color. The Cobra Eels, unlike their original predecessor, have removable helmets, so this somewhat generic but not inappropriate head was crafted, and neither is it inappropriate to use it here for the Cobra Diver. They're both underwater troopers.
Apart from the structural resemblance, there's not much about the Cobra Diver that you're going to mistake for Torpedo. Appropriate to the cartoon, the Cobra Diver's uniform is mostly red, with black running down the center from neck to feet on the front and back of the figure. On Torpedo, these colors were black and grey, respectively.
There's a very nicely imprinted silver Cobra insignia on the center of the uniform, and white striping between the black and red areas of the outfit. The Cobra Diver also has white striping down both arms, a nice little bit of detailing.
All of the details on the Cobra Diver seem to be neatly painted. This includes his belt, some shoulder pouches, a couple of weapon holsters on his legs, with straps, and the cuffs around his wrists and ankles, which are painted black. Everything is neatly done, and I see no sign of the sometimes sloppy hand-painted detailing that occasionally creeps into some figures here and there. The facial detail is restricted to a small area of flesh tone around the eyes, and the eyes themselves, but these are also painted nicely.
As with all of the G.I. Joe figures in this style, the Cobra Diver is well-articulated. He is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles. Plus, the current line of G.I. Joe figures tend to have a great deal of separately-molded equipment placed upon their bodies. Sometimes this is appropriate. The Para-Viper is loaded down with equipment, but he needs it. Sometimes it doesn't work so well. I don't necessarily believe that molding the basic equipment harnesses that Cobra Troopers (for example) wear as separate pieces necessarily enhances the look or adds to the authenticity of the figure.
The Cobra Diver is rather thankfully lacking in such accouterments. He has two weapon holsters molded to his legs which carry removable weapons. In the original line, doubtless those weapons would not have been removable. I'm not going to say which option is preferable. But I was rather glad that the Cobra Diver wasn't saddled with too much extra stuff.
That doesn't mean that he isn't well-equipped! The Cobra Diver most certainly is. The Cobra Diver has a nasty-looking knife stuffed into one of those leg-holsters, and a small pistol in the other. Personally, I'd recommend placing both of them in a Ziploc bag, but that's mostly because the pistol wasn't too well secured when I opened the figure.
Along with these, the Cobra Diver comes with a rifle (how effective this would be underwater I wouldn't care to estimate), a diver's mask that looks good and has a clear visor but could really stand to be made out of somewhat more flexible plastic than it is, an oxygen tank backpack that looks distinctly Torpedo-ish, complete with an air hose, swim fins, a display base (although the figure stands perfectly well of his own accord, better than most in my opinion), and a little clear canister with some blue "water" molded into it.
Interestingly enough, the two small oxygen tanks in the backpack pop out. At least I think they're supposed to.
This last item is the Water Element Component to the M.A.S.S. Device. Portions of this legendary contraption have been included in figure sets and even certain individual figures for some time now. As far as I know, the Water Element is only available with the Cobra Diver.
One last observation on the figure. For the most part, he looks great. He's not especially compatible with any previous styles of G.I. Joe Real American Hero figures. That's been my other major gripe with this line. The figures as a rule, are too tall and too thin. In this, standing at 4-1/8" in height, and with a build that, because of the nature of his uniform, makes him look more slender than usual, the Cobra Diver doesn't really work that well with previous generations of G.I. Joe figures, unless we're to assume that Cobra hired a bunch of very tall, very slender divers.
(Although one wonders if the original Torpedo molds ever turned up if they couldn't be used to make some Cobra Divers in the original-style, since clearly doing so in the 25th-style worked well!)
His file card reads as follows:
File Name: Various
The Cobra Diver division is comprised of Cobra infantry troopers who have received training in underwater combat, demolitions and infiltration. They're called "grunts with fins" by higher-ranking Cobra forces, but the Cobra Diver units let it roll off their backs like water. They know that if they prove themselves to be thoroughly competent at their job, they will have a real shot at being selected to join the elite EEL team. To that end, every Cobra Diver wants to be the one to retrieve the precious water element for Cobra Commander and win his notice - and approval.
"We lurk beneath the surface of the ocean, striking in silence to attack and destroy."
That's really an excellent file card. "Grunts with fins" is the perfect description for the Cobra Divers. They're not Eels, but they might have a shot at it. They're essentially the aquatic version of the basic Cobra Troopers, and that makes sense given how they were portrayed in their animated debut. And their simpler uniform design lends itself well to seeing the Eels as an upgrade for those deserving from the Diver ranks.
So, what's my final word here? Although I am not a regular collector of the current style of G.I. Joe figures for various reasons, I am prepared to add figures here and there to my overall collection that represent new and interesting characters or specialties. The Para-Viper was one. Matt Trakker was certainly one. And the Cobra Diver is also one. He's an older character in a sense, finally brought into the action figure world. And I'm glad to have him, regardless of the format. The G.I. JOE COBRA DIVER definitely has my recommendation!