REVIEW: G.I. JOE COBRA HAZARD-VIPER
There's a lot you can say about Cobra, that evil terrorist organization determined to rule the world. Granted, a lot of what you can say about them wouldn't be very nice, and this is supposed to be a family-friendly Web Site. But I think one thing that would be entirely accurate to say is -- they don't play fair, and they don't play nice.
Consider the area of biological and chemical weapons. Even in warfare, there are rules, the most of those who make the rules of warfare, including the Geneva Convention, aren't terribly fond of the idea or use of such weaponry. Cobra, quite frankly, couldn't care less about the Geneva Convention, or anybody else's rules, and really, they'll throw whatever they have to into a combat situation if they think it will help them win.
Cobra has designed and used some of the most bizarre and exotic weaponry on the face of the planet. They've used low-frequency radio waves, nanites, humanoid robots, biker gangs, cyborgs, ninjas, trained birds, brainwave scanners -- their chief scientist has thrown together enough genetic gumbo over the years to populate a dozen horror movies. You think Cobra's going to worry about toxic weaponry?
Indeed, they've had specialists for just that sort of thing since 1988, when the Toxo-Vipers first came on the scene. Now, admittedly, it wasn't the most pleasant of duties. It was pretty much considered a punishment detail, the Toxo-Vipers were colloquially known as the "Leaky Suit Brigade", were pretty well shunned by every Cobra specialist division this side of the Latrine-Vipers, and assuming they lived long enough, they'd find out just how impossible it was to get the stink of their own uniforms out of their noses. Still, that just arguably made them that much meaner.
Even so, Cobra had its limits. A few years later, when they took on a biological weapons developer with the dubious name of Cesspool, and he brought along his Sludge-Vipers and co-opted most of the Toxo-Vipers with a new uniform, Cobra Commander was none too pleased to eventually discover that Cesspool's long term goals didn't so much center around global conquest, but global destruction. Nobody's ever likely to accuse Cobra Commander of being "green". I doubt he's that concerned about his carbon footprint or having Destro develop hybrid Stingers or Stuns. But the man doesn't want to rule a trash heap of a lifeless wasteland, either.
Besides, whatever Cesspool was up to kept turning some of the Toxo-Vipers into Toxo-Zombies, and that just got inconvenient.
Some years later, Cobra had another brief foray into the world of chemical and biological warfare with their Heavy Water Troopers. Although not highly emphasized at the time, they at least afforded one of the most interesting figure designs to come out of the newsculpt era -- especially the very cool glow-in-the-dark version offered by the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club.
Still, in recent years, it's seemed as though Cobra has been content to stick with conventional warfare. Their developments have tended to center on technology, not chemicals and biology. The Toxo-Vipers seem to be long gone, and Cesspool hasn't been heard from in years.
But -- just when you think it might be safe to drink the water off Cobra Island again -- after desalinization, of course -- Cobra introduces a whole new toxic trooper to their current cadre. And so we must now consider the HAZARD-VIPER!
Admittedly, I have not been the most ardent fan or collector of the modern G.I. Joe line, especially since when it started with the 25th Anniversary of G.I. Joe (and good grief, are we really already at the 30th!?), the newly-minted format featured remakes of figures whose original versions I already owned, and to be blunt, saw no particular reason to re-collect. Now, I can see that the line as such would be a boon to newer collectors, who knew of many of these legendary characters but had never owned them, or perhaps to those that for one reason or another had not been able to maintain their original collections, but I just didn't get into it all that much, with the exception of the occasional vehicle here and there.
Now, with the 30th Anniversary line underway, we have the all-new trooper division called the Hazard-Vipers. And reading their file card is rather interesting reading, indeed. The file cards are not as extensive as they once were, although they do contain more information than they did during the movie era. The card for the Hazard-Viper reads as follows:
Hazard-Vipers work with unpleasant and nasty substances. They may plant them as part of an attack, or clean them up after an operation. As part of their job, they deal with secretive lab experiments, like the mysterious canisters they carry that contain a dangerous new chemical substance, Compound Z.
There's been a lot of speculation about this "Compound Z". Most of that speculation centers around the fact that a forthcoming (as of this writing) figure in the line is to be named "Zombie-Viper". And rather than the neon-dressed pseudo-zombies of the Eco-Warriors days, the so-called Toxo-Zombies, these new Zombie-Vipers look to be a lot closer to the more typical description and appearance of zombies.
Personally, I hate zombies, and I really do not understand their current popularity, and they seem to be pretty much everywhere. So, I'm going to largely ignore that aspect of the Hazard-Vipers here as much as I can.
I want to make note of two particular details on the Hazard-Viper's file card. The first is there's no mention whatsoever of these guys being successors to the Toxo-Vipers, no mention of them being any sort of "Leaky Suit Brigade". One can assume from this that the Hazard-Viper uniforms are several steps above what Cobra used to pass out to its troopers that had to work in environments such as this.
Secondly, consider the sentence, "They may plant (toxic substances) as part of an attack, or clean then up after an operation." There's no mention that I can recall on any previous Cobra toxic-based troopers' file card about cleaning up after themselves.
What I'm seeing here, and this isn't the only file card in recent times that seems to reflect this, is what I would have to describe as a more professional attitude on the part of Cobra. Somewhere over the past thirty years -- or however relative time may pass in the G.I. Joe universe -- Cobra Commander has figured out that you don't build an effective army by mistreating your troops, and you don't conquer the world by scattering whatever nasty new weapon or concoction you come up with all over the place without a contingency plan to deal with it if it gets out of everybody's control.
It's one thing to be regarded as evil. It's another thing to be stupid. And to me, and I may be reading a little too much into it, but it's an interesting notion, I think Cobra Commander has figured out that he can maintain an army better if he treats his troopers halfway decently, and that it's in his own interests if he's prepared to clean up his own messes when necessary.
So, how's the Hazard-Viper figure? Extremely cool, and very impressive. The figure substantially uses a lot of parts that originally appeared on another Cobra trooper figure that -- well, let's say that its release was -- atypical. That's a good word for it.
Much of the Hazard-Viper figure uses a series of molds that were originally introduced on a figure called the Volcano-Viper. The Volcano-Viper came with a small vehicle called the Lava Pod, which itself was a recoloration of a previous vehicle called the Mole Pod, which had come with a completely different figure called the Terra-Viper. Everybody still with me after that last sentence?
Both the Mole Pod and the Lava Pod were vehicles that were produced as part of the movie-based line, even though the Volcano-Vipers, like many of the figures that came along as part of the movie-based line, was never actually in the movie. It doesn't mean he wasn't a cool figure, he just didn't appear on the big screen.
However, for various reasons that I won't get into here, a fair portion of the movie-based merchandise that had been produced to one degree or another and was intended for release late on in the line -- was never quite released to the usual retailers.
It did start to turn up here and there, however. A batch of intended-for-Target exclusive items appeared at the clearance chain known as Ross. The assortment of vehicles-with-figures that included the Lava Pod with the Volcano-Viper originally turned up at various retailers in Canada, although some time later, a supply of them would also appear at Ross.
I was very impressed with the Volcano-Viper. In his own way, like the Hazard-Viper, he showed that Cobra was more concerned with being effective with their specialists. The Lava Pod was a vehicle designed to drill into volcanoes, and set of seismic and volcanic disturbances. The Volcano-Viper was dressed in a highly protective uniform, a very thick outfit with protective padding on all sides, some of it metallic in color, not unlike the outfits worn by those who traveled to the center of the earth in the movie "The Core", although I don't know if there was any direct inspiration there.
The Hazard-Viper uses many of the same body molds as the Volcano-Viper, but the arms are different, as is some of the equipment. Using a different set of arms works well. The arms used on the Volcano-Viper were definitely more movie-era, especially the gloves, which had appeared on several other movie-era figures.
Additionally, the Hazard-Viper's uniform is predominantly orange, not the darker gray and metallic color of the Volcano-Viper. This makes sense, since while certainly the Hazard-Viper needs to wear highly-protective gear in his job, he's not likely to be traveling into active volcanoes, and there is, I suspect, a greater likelihood that he's going to be found around Cobra research bases, that also include other Cobra personnel. The orange uniform, as such, serves as a warning to them, as well as protection for the wearer. It's basically saying, "Orange suit! I'm more noticeable than everybody dressed in dark blue, and you don't really want to be standing too close when I walk past!"
The Hazard-Viper's uniform, essentially a high-tech "hazmat" suit, consists of an orange tunic that is work over the torso -- and nicely conceals the mid-torso articulation point that is arguably the most controversial part of the current figure design. The tunic includes a ring around the neck for the attachment of a helmet, attachment points for a couple of small tanks, and a number of long, thick pouches, two of which on the front have black Cobra emblems on them.
The new arms include armored shoulder pads in metallic gray, black elbow pads, and dark gray gloves. The rest of the arms are orange. The legs are very thickly padded, and are also orange, with black boots. There are also black straps around the upper legs, and a black pouch on the left side of the leg.
It's interesting to note that, color notwithstanding, the paint pattern is quite different from the Volcano-Viper. The flaps on his pouches, for example, were painted a different color than the rest of the pouch. On the Hazard-Viper, the flaps of the pouches are outlined in black, and have a black Cobra emblem on them, but they are otherwise the same orange as the rest of the pouch. Some details on the back of the figure are painted differently, as well.
The helmet looks like a protective cloth helmet with a gas mask affixed to it. There is a head underneath this helmet, wearing an orange ski mask that only allows the eyes and some of the face around the eyes to show through. Again, the paint work is different, as on the Volcano-Viper, nearly the entire mask and helmet were black except for a small patch of metallic gray on top. On the Hazard-Viper, most of the helmet is orange, and the gas mask is black. Additionally, the Volcano-Viper's helmet was molded in transparent red, allowing for translucent lenses. That is not the case with the Hazard-Viper.
The Hazard-Viper has two tanks that snap onto his chest, and they have hoses which attach to either side of his gas mask. Here we get into some very interesting differences between the Volcano-Viper and the Hazard-Viper. On the Volcano-Viper, there was lettering on the tanks that, if you had a good enough magnifying glass and didn't mind a headache from the eyestrain later, could be read. It's clearly illegible on the Hazard-Viper, which may be just as well. I'm all in favor of precision and accuracy, but this lettering was pretty tiny even WITHIN the scale of G.I. Joe figures.
Additionally, one of the tank hoses, which on the Volcano-Viper had two loops molded into it, has been replaced by a non-looped variety. The Volcano-Viper also had a third tank on the top of his back, with a third hose going to the gas mask. That particular tank is absent on the Hazard-Viper.
To conclude the comparison, there are enough differences between the Volcano-Viper and the Hazard-Viper to make one think that Cobra might have used some of the same basic protective design principles on both trooper uniforms -- which wouldn't really be unreasonable anyway -- but each one has its own distinctive characteristics according to individual specialties.
The Hazard-Viper comes with an impressive array of accessories. He has two small, identical pistols, as well as a third small gun of a distinctive and somewhat futuristic design. He has a large backpack with two large, blue tanks on it. This is the "toxic sludge pressure weapon" device, no doubt. There is a gun attached to this device with a length of transparent hose.
Interestingly enough, this device looks like it may have been designed to squirt water. There is an actual nozzle in the barrel of the gun, and the transparent hose is hollow. There is a large button on the back of the backpack that serves no real design purpose for the figure per se, but which can be pressed inwards.
The only thing really lacking is a reservoir for water. I suppose it's possible that one could dip the barrel of the gun into a glass of water, have it draw in one squirt's worth of water, and then extract the gun, press the button, and get one small spray out of it. To be honest, I haven't tested it. I prefer dry action figures...
The remaining accessory is especially impressive. It's an orange case, looking quite high-tech and sturdy, that contains three equally high-tech, but very plausible-looking, cylindrical containers, with handles on them, mostly bright blue, with a Cobra emblem surrounded by a bio-hazard symbol. Each container has a separate holding spot in the case. This, doubtless, is the mysterious Compound Z. Whatever I may think of its future probable use, I have to give a lot of credit to the design. It's excellent. The figure can actually grasp the canisters by the handle, and in fact is holding one in his package.
The overall painted detail on the figure is excellent. I have no glitches or miscues to report there. And, of course, the figure is superbly articulated. He is poseable at the head (and the helmet turns within its collar), arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles. As thick as the legs are, he doesn't have the double-jointed knees that most current G.I. Joe figures have. This, as far as I'm concerned, is absolutely no loss whatsoever.
So, what's my final word? I'm really impressed with the Hazard-Viper. He's a cool new trooper division for Cobra, the figure has an excellent design, he looks cool, he moves well, his file card presents an interesting and dangerous background, and he's a brand-new trooper division -- something we don't see that much of these days. I believe that any G.I. Joe collector -- long time or newer to the ranks -- would be delighted to add this figure to their collection.
The COBRA HAZARD-VIPER from the world of G.I. JOE definitely has my highest recommendation!