REVIEW: G.I. JOE THE RISE OF COBRA - DRAGONHAWK XH1 COPTER with WILD BILL
One of the things I especially like about the G.I. Joe movie based lines are a good number of the vehicles. On the one hand, we're getting some very interesting remakes of some old favorites. The Armadillo mini-tank, for example, has returned as the Armored Panther, with some additional artillery, and was first of all released in a desert color scheme. The Cobra Rage is being renamed the Cobra Fury, and this interesting, low-to-the-ground urban combat vehicle is also being provided with an interesting new color scheme.
The flip side of that coin is that we're getting entirely new vehicles, as well, which arguably can work with any G.I. Joe figures. If you have a preference for the original-style figures, such as I do, or the newsculpts, there's no reason in the world why they can't be driving or piloting some of these interesting vehicles around the battlefield. They're all good.
One of the interesting new vehicles, that until recently had been proving to be a little elusive, is the DRAGONHAWK XH1. This is an attack helicopter, assigned to the G.I. Joe team.
Attack copters are certainly nothing new in the world of G.I. Joe. Both the Joe Team and Cobra received their first copters in 1983, the second year of the line. The G.I. Joe team received the Dragonfly, a long and rather lean machine, while Cobra picked up the FANG, a one-man open-cockpit helicopter that became one of the mainstay vehicles for Cobra.
These would hardly be the only helicopter contributions. In 1986, G.I. Joe would acquire the massive helicopter known as the Tomahawk, generally regarded as the best helicopter ever produced for the G.I. Joe line. One year later, Cobra would come out with the huge and slightly weird, but nevertheless menacing, Cobra Mamba.
Sometimes the copters took a turn for the weird. G.I. Joe picked up the SkyStorm X-Wing Chopper. Ostensibly based on actual military designs, this thing was part copter, part jet. It was cool, but strange. A few years after that, the G.I. Joe team added the very strange Retaliator to its arsenal. This was a rather bizarre copter, and probably the least remembered by fans, that could actually lower its tail to perform rescue operations. The G.I. Joe team also acquired the Locust, a small, one-man copter that, for an attack copter.
Easily the largest helicopter of all time in the G.I. Joe line came during the 2002-2006 era, in the form of the Night Attack Chopper. It was later recolored in a desert color scheme, and then recolored again and slightly refurbished for Cobra, as the Crimson Command Copter. The helicopter was even one of the focal points of a CGI adventure that was released on DVD at the time. Cobra captured the desert version of the Night Attack Chopper, and Cobra Commander insisted that it be repainted into the Crimson Command Copter, so both versions got some play.
It's no great surprise that there have been all of these helicopters over the years. Apart from generally making cool and active toys, with the rotating propellers, helicopters have been part of the global military scene just about since they were invented.
And that brings us to the all-new Dragonhawk XH1. I know it's all new because it was a 2009 copyright sculpted on one side, although hysterically, one of the labels that you have to put in place pretty well covers it up. And I've certainly never seen this vehicle before. I think I'd remember it.
So, what have we got in the Dragonhawk? For starters, we have a vehicle that's a bit larger than its box would imply. The Dragonhawk is part of the same series of vehicles that includes such mid-range vehicles as the Cobra Gunship, the G.I. Joe Ice Dagger, and the Cobra Steel Crusher. These vehicles, including the Dragonhawk, all come in boxes that are about 11-1/2" long. However, the Dragonhawk is about 14" in length, and has a propeller span of over 13". How's that work out?
Simple. Although G.I. Joe vehicles do not require the same degree of buyer assembly that they used to, in the case of the Dragonhawk, you do have to insert the propeller blades into the core rotor, and snap the tail section into place.
There are a few other basic assembly steps -- nothing especially complicated. You have to snap the stabilizing wings into the sides, and the engine covers on the top.
The Dragonhawk comes with a series of labels which need to be applied. Full instructions and diagrams are included. Let me give this recommendation -- get the labels in place BEFORE you insert the propeller blades. It will be a far easier procedure.
The labels are printed on clear vinyl, and although many of them need to be applied to dark surfaces -- most of the Dragonhawk is dark green, some portions are black -- the markings on the labels themselves are backed in white ink, so that they'll still readily show up when they're in place. I have to say I was extremely impressed with the quality and precision of the labels. All of them fit well where they were supposed to, and looked good.
I do have one concern. A few different types of plastic were used to make the Dragonhawk. Nothing unusual about that, it happens all the time, and I'm sure all of the plastic is of good quality. Certainly the vehicle as a whole is. But there were some areas -- the side wings, the engine covers, and the propeller blades -- that were made from a type of plastic that for whatever reason, the labels did not want to adhere to especially well.
I don't have an explanation for this, and it's NOT a complaint. It's just something that happened. I ultimately just decided not to use those particular labels, and it doesn't detract from the look of the Dragonhawk on the whole (although I do recommend using as many labels as possible). It's not even the first time it's happened. There were a few little labels even for the USS Flagg that didn't want to stay put.
Of the labels that do go in place readily, there are nevertheless a few that are a little tricky as far as placement is concerned. Now, one could argue that technically, Hasbro designs these toys to be used by children. But I think even a child-size hand would have trouble fitting a few of these labels into place, especially the one inside the cockpit. I personally recommend placing it on the tip of a toothpick and gently easing it into place before securing it with pressure from your thumb.
Let me add one additional thought about the labels -- I think it's remarkable what printing technology, doubtless enhanced by computers, allows these days. If you've been collecting G.I. Joe for anywhere near as long as I have, or have studied the line sufficiently, then you know that some of the early vehicle labels just printed a few straight lines to represent several lines of text that would have been some sort of warning or instruction if it could have been printed that small. Well, these days, it CAN be printed that small, and frequently is. All of the labels containing print for the Dragonhawk are entirely legible -- if you don't mind a bit of eyestrain here and there.
The Dragonhawk, as a copter, is not the largest helicopter in the G.I. Joe arsenal. It's bigger than some people might think, however. If you set it next to the original Dragonfly, it's not really that much shorter -- just by about four inches. The Dragonfly tends to look more massive because the Dragonfly is a somewhat taller copter, mostly due to its landing skids. The Dragonhawk is something of a "low-rider" in comparison.
The perception of the Dragonhawk being "too small" might also come from a particular attribute that is actually one of the Dragonhawk's most impressive features -- the level of sculpted detail. I suppose there's a sense in which one would perceive that a copter this well detailed should be larger, but let's not knock it for the detail it possesses, which is considerable, and in many respects, superior to some of its predecessors.
From front to back, the Dragonhawk is a very intricately detailed helicopter, with carefully sculpted panels, ridges, and rivets throughout. This is doubtless in keeping with the "movie" image of a greater degree of perceived "realism" than has previously been required for G.I. Joe toys. In the case of the Dragonhawk, it works well and is a distinct advantage for the vehicle.
I am not enough of an expert on military aircraft to really state whether the Dragonhawk closely resembles any actual, real-life military helicopter. I have heard it called a miniature first cousin to an Apache. Granted, despite some of the fanciful designs from the earlier years of G.I. Joe, there's only so much you can do with a helicopter design, especially if you want it to look at least somewhat real-world. I would have to conclude that ultimately, the Dragonhawk is a plausible enough, very modern-looking helicopter, that looks like something that COULD exist, and would certainly be highly effective in a combat situation if it did.
The Dragonhawk has a number of interesting features. Of course, the canopy raises, and the rotors turn, both the big one on the top and the smaller one on the tail. The front landing wheels also turn.
In addition to this, the machine gun mounted below the nose of the copter swings from side to side. There are also a couple of spring-loaded features. If you pull back slightly on the assembly just behind the main body of the copter, at the front of the tail, the sides of the main body of the Dragonhawk spring out to the sides. These are a pair of spring-loaded dual missile launchers. Press the buttons in the back of each launcher, and you can launch a total of four missiles -- two from each launcher. They then snap back into place. I've found that these side panels on mine can be a little reluctant to snap back into place properly, and it's a little easier if you try to get them to snap back in at the same time, but they do go in and will stay put well.
Amusingly, among the "warning" type labels provided for the Dragonhawk, are warning labels for the sides of the aircraft, that warn that the sides of the copter do extend. At G.I. Joe size, if you're standing in the wrong place and these things pop open, it'd be the equivalent of getting hit by a small but very sturdy wall. That wouldn't feel too good.
The Dragonhawk is a one-man helicopter, and it includes the one man that should really come with a G.I. Joe helicopter, and that one man is WILD BILL.
Introduced to the G.I. Joe team in 1983, Wild Bill was originally sold with the original Dragonfly copter. This affable Texas cowboy quickly endeared himself to the rest of the Joe Team, not only with his generally likable, friendly nature, and charming Texas personality, but also because of the fact that he could fly a helicopter better than just about anyone on the face of the planet. In both the comic book and animated series, Wild Bill was able to do things in the air with a helicopter that anyone else would have said defied the laws of physics. Then, back on the ground, he'd tell a few tall tales while smiling through his mustache and dusting off his cowboy hat.
Wild Bill's distinctive personality propelled him to prominence in both the comic book and, perhaps especially, the animated series, which was able to take full advantage of Wild Bill's Texas drawl, and where someone who was a little bit more of a caricature personality-wise was a better fit. Wild Bill had several notable adventures, not the least of which was when he and a team of G.I. Joes ended up on a Cobra-run dude ranch, and Wild Bill broke up the operation with a cattle stampede! Even Cobra Commander had a hard time accepting THAT one...!
Various versions of Wild Bill, as a figure, have come and gone throughout all incarnations of the action figure line. There's even been a superb 12" version. And there's no better pilot for the Dragonhawk than Wild Bill, so he's back once again in the movie-based line.
As one would expect, the figure is based on the 25th-style design. The headsculpt is a good likeness of the character, and, I have to say, even uses the right hair color. The original Wild Bill had a hair color that was sort of a light red-head, not quite blonde. Since that time, he was given all sorts of hair colors, and at one point in the newsculpt line, was even bald! I'm pleased to see this figure acknowledge the original's hair color. Wild Bill is wearing silver-lensed sunglasses, and has a removable hat.
The rest of the figure is somewhat less "Western" than previous Wild Bill figures. He's wearing a dark green shirt, and tan trousers with dark green leggings over them, typical of many modern pilots. He's also wearing a thick black vest over his torso, a separately assembled piece.
Overall, it's a decent figure, if a little less distinctive in design than some of Wild Bill's previous incarnations. However, the headsculpt is right on the money, and there's certainly no question about it being Wild Bill, and it really is superbly rendered.
I have to say that equally well-rendered is the illustration on the file card, a head shot of Wild Bill. It's such precise artwork it almost looks like a photograph. The relatively small file cards in the movie line don't go into a lot of character detail, but the card did get Wild Bill's real name correct.
The description on the back of the box for the Dragonhawk itself reads well: "The DragonHawk XH1 helicopter conducts attack and support missions. It has AG-202 missile launchers that quick-deploy from recessed compartments. The helicopter is swift, maneuverable, and capable of extremely low hoverability, and in the hands of an expert pilot, will aggressively perform under any light and weather conditions."
So, what's my final word here? I have to say I really don't understand some of the criticisms I've read about this copter. The Dragonhawk is really a superb vehicle. Granted it's not as big as some in the overall G.I. Joe arsenal, but it's certainly impressive in its own right. It looks cool, it's well-designed, certainly well-detailed, and has some interesting built-in functions. I sincerely believe that any G.I. Joe collector would enjoy adding the Dragonhawk to their collection.
The G.I. JOE DRAGONHAWK XH1 HELICOPTER definitely has my highest recommendation!