REVIEW: G.I. JOE COBRA LAVA POD with VOLCANO-VIPER
It's fair to say that over the years, Cobra has had more than its fair share of bizarre and odd-looking vehicles and assorted hardware, far more than the G.I. Joe team. This makes sense from the standpoint that Cobra, as an entirely fictional entity, doesn't really have to adhere to any particular rules beyond those imposed by the concept itself, unlike the Joe Team, which arguably has to look at least somewhat plausibly military most of the time, with a reasonable relation to the real world.
Cobra can go a little further and, for the most part, get away with it, although how well they get away with it will admittedly depend on who you ask, and what you're talking about. The Cobra HISS Tank probably isn't all that plausible, but it's become so iconic that you're not going to hear much negativity about it. On the other hand, you've got something like the Cobra Earthquake, which bore a decent structural resemblance to a real-life steam shovel, but the thing had such a ludicrous color scheme, to say nothing of raising the question as to why Cobra would try to weaponize a steam shovel in the first place, that it's generally not well-regarded.
Then you have the really peculiar stuff life the Cobra Pogo and the Cobra Buzz Boar. In the one case you've got something that looks like a domed planter on three spring-loaded legs, and in the other you've got an overgrown manned buzzsaw blade. And there's people out there that think our real-life Defense Department comes up with strange stuff?
In more recent years, both G.I. Joe and Cobra have tended to stick a little closer to reality, both in the appearance of their respective figures, and in the design and function of their respective vehicles. Many of these vehicles are direct carryovers or slight modifications of previous releases. Some vehicles are entirely new. The vast majority have tended to be from either the more plausible choices of previous offerings, or have not strayed too far away from believable designs. Nevertheless, Cobra has still shown a certain unusual flair for the bizarre. The newest version of the HISS Tank is proof enough of this.
One vehicle in particular seemed to stand out, though, perhaps especially since it came out as part of the vehicles offered during the run of the live-action movie. Called the "Mole Pod", it was literally a giant drill, designed to tunnel underneath the earth and undermine areas above it, and/or create underground passageways through which Cobra troopers could travel.
Mining and tunneling are legitimate activities, but they're generally not carried out in single-occupant drilling machines. Granted such fanciful hardware has turned up in a wide range of assorted fiction over the years, and perhaps that's one of the reason why it tends to be seen as a source of some amusement today. It's been done -- any number of times -- in fiction, sometimes well, sometimes not so much. I remember seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger face off against such a contraption in the movie "Total Recall". There was even such a device employed in an episode of the original G.I. Joe animated series, which had helped Cobra carve out a cavernous base within a hollowed-out mountain.
For the most part, the Mole Pod was seen as pretty much in the same category as the Cobra Pogo and the Buzz Boar -- stretching plausibility maybe just a little too far for G.I. Joe, especially given the limitations of the live-action movie.
After the movie version of the Mole Pod was released, I found out about a second version, called the Lava Pod, that includes an extremely distinctive figure, called the Volcano-Viper.
Let's consider the LAVA POD vehicle first. And yes, it's rather strange-looking device. But I think it's an improvement over the Mole Pod, appearance-wise. The Mole Pod has a massive drill bit up front, that is chrome-plated. Now, I have no problem with chrome-plated toys. I tend to think they look pretty cool, and the practice has certainly been used to great effect within the world of G.I. Joe, everything from Destro's head to the vehicles of Sky Patrol. But there was something about using it on the front piece of the Mole Pod that, in my opinion, and unfortunately, just enhanced the moderate preposterousness of the vehicle. It made it look too much like a toy, and not enough like a significant threat against the G.I. Joe team.
The Lava Pod doesn't have any chrome-plating on it, and it has a color scheme that is well in keeping with its intended purpose, which even reads on the back of the package as being a good bit more dangerous than the Mole Pod's basic tunneling abilities. The description of the Lava Pod reads as follows:
Lava Pod vehicles burrow into extinct or dormant volcanoes to reactivate them, and turn them into weapons of destruction. The subterranean vehicles drill through rock with a carbon steel bit, and have an EHS-3 extreme heat shield armor that withstands heat up to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit (1649 degrees Celsius).
And who says toys can't be educational? Anyway, I think it's fair to say that the Lava Pod is the Mole Pod's meaner brother, and it certainly looks the part.
The Lava Pod is not an especially large vehicle. It measures 9" in length, with the front missile installed. It's about 3 inches in diameter at the widest point, and slightly over 3 inches in height.
The front half of the vehicle is the drill bit. It exists in three sections. The first section is the tip of the spring-loaded missile. I tend to count this as part of the vehicle, because the tip of the missile has a raised spiral section on it that conforms to the spiral pattern of the rest of the drill bit that is part of the vehicle. One assumes that the Volcano-Viper would use this missile to either get through some particularly difficult section of underground terrain, or perhaps more likely, to set off the volcano itself once he's drilled his way through. One might also assume at this point that he hits the reverse gear on the Lava Pod as fast as he can.
The second section of the drill bit is the nosecone past the missile tip. It goes about two inches back, and has a raised spiral pattern sculpted into it, resembling a broad drill. Then there's a mid-point section, a raised set of ridges that are in place around the circumference of the drill bit, that have their own pattern to them and do not follow the spiral. It's an interesting feature.
I'm no engineering expert, and I know virtually nothing about what it takes to drill into the earth, either for tunneling, drilling for oil, or any such thing. So this is purely speculation, but I would tend to guess that this mid-section of fairly tightly placed raised ridges serves the purpose of finely grinding the rock and earth that the Lava Pod is drilling through, so that the vehicle itself can proceed somewhat more smoothly.
Past this point is the rest of the drill bit, which continues the original spiral pattern. The entire drill bit is definitely not chrome-plated, but rather is black, with a gradual airbrushed red tip, and the missile itself is entirely red.
The rest of the vehicle, where the Volcano-Viper sits, is an interesting design. It has a sort of sci-fi retro look to it. I'm reminded vaguely of the rather retro overhaul of Tomorrowland at Disneyland that took place in the late 90's. There's a certain retro-future design to it, that makes the Lava Pod look something like out of a future world as envisioned by H.G. Wells or Jules Verne.
The front and back of this part of the Lava Pod are circular, each with a series of twelve small raised fins running around the edge. The fins on the front section point forward, the fins on the back point backward. They are molded in a very dark copper color, almost a sort of pewter-copper, which only lends to the retro-future look in my opinion.
Also adding to this look is the cockpit section. It is six-sided and angular, as opposed to the circular areas ahead and behind it. The top three panels are transparent red windows, the two lower side panels are painted a bright red, and all of the panels have an angular framework running around and through them, also in the same pewter-copper color of the rest of this part of the vehicle. Again, to me, this only serves to enhance the retro-future look of the entire vehicle.
The most modern, high-tech-looking aspect of the Lava Pod would be the treads, which appear on either side of the vehicle. Relatively small and narrow compared to what one usually expects from a treaded vehicle, these are black, with a surprisingly sleek design. As with many treaded G.I. Joe vehicles, they're not actual working treads. They largely conceal a set of four small wheels that are installed on the underside of the vehicle that are the Lava Pod's actual means of locomotion.
There is a small red button in the top of the Lava Pod, that fires the missile. While one might think it breaks up the design of the vehicle, I can see it being passed off as perhaps a light source? And the large drill bit actually turns. It's linked to a gear system connected to the front wheels. As the vehicle rolls along on a smooth surface, the drill bit turns. And it is just as effective in reverse as forward.
The interior of the cockpit is fairly basic. The canopy opens along the right side of the vehicle, and opens to the left. There is a red steering wheel, a somewhat oddly curved seat, and a control console with a viewscreen.
One of the labels that comes with the Lava Pod is a detail of the viewscreen, and features a number of displays. I was surprised by the decidedly small number of labels that came with the Lava Pod, but I suppose I have been getting used to the decidedly large number of labels that have been coming with more recently-produced G.I. Joe vehicles lately. With such vehicles as the VAMP, the Cobra Fury, and a number of others, the number of labels coming with G.I. Joe vehicles has rivaled that of the USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier! I don't mind a generous supply of labels, since I do think it lends a bit more authenticity to the vehicle, and I don't even mind placing them myself, since I'm a nit-picky graphic artist type -- but after an hour and a half of working with tiny labels on the tip of a toothpick or an X-Acto Knife, going a bit cross-eyed in the process, I'm not going to complain about getting a break from that with the Lava Pod.
There were a total of ten labels, one of which was already in place, a "Danger" label on the top of the vehicle. Its counterpart needed to be put in place, along with the dashboard console (the trickiest of the lot, but I've faced far worse), two Cobra emblems on the red sides of the vehicle, two "No Step" labels on the tread mechanisms, and two "Unlatch" labels on either side of the canopy.
Given where this thing travels, I'm surprised there wasn't a label that read "Caution! Hot Surface!" Anyway, the labels with lettering on them used the odd, squared off and sort of broken lettering style that a lot of Cobra vehicle labels used during the live-action movie run. It's a strange style, but certainly distinctive.
Now, the VOLCANO-VIPER is certainly a distinctive and interesting figure. I think a question needs to be asked is -- if we accept the Lava Pod as a workable machine, how plausible is the Volcano-Viper? Let's assume for a moment that Cobra has at least installed an air conditioning unit in the Lava Pod. The Volcano-Viper is still be in a highly dangerous environment, arguably the most dangerous and inhospitable environment on the face of the planet, exposed to a level of heat that turns solid rock into a gooey morass, and has no shortage of toxic gases flying around as well. This guy is going to need protection.
Let's consider the plausibility question. I'm sure we've all seen enough documentaries from National Geographic or the Discovery Channel or whatever, to know that there are scientists out there who make close-up studies of volcanoes on a regular basis. Generally speaking, they tend to pick largely dormant volcanoes, and set up sensor equipment to measure the level of activity in the area. And even then, they have to wear protective equipment to protect themselves from the heat and the fumes.
The protective gear worn by the Volcano-Viper looks a whole lot like the protective gear worn by the actors in "The Core" movie, as well as pretty similar to protective gear worn in other related movies, and presumably in real life by scientists exploring actual volcanoes.
I have found it interesting to note, in a subtle way, with regard to warning stickers on vehicles, and protective gear, that the Cobra of one decade in to the 21st century seems more concerned about the welfare of its troops than the Cobra of the 80's and 90's, who thought nothing of putting their Toxo-Vipers in such poorly-designed suits that it was considered punishment duty to end up in the "Leaky Suit Brigade". That's not the sort of thing that's going to help morale or recruitment. Okay, Cobra is a dangerous terrorist organization determined to rule the world, but they'd still better know enough to take decent care of the rank and file if they expect to have a decent shot at that. The Volcano-Vipers are proof of this new attitude.
The basic head of the Volcano-Viper has the figure wearing a black ski mask, that leaves his eyes exposed. Don't worry, though, he has a very complex and protective helmet that I will be discussing.
The Volcano-Viper is also wearing a very thick, protective tunic, that covers his entire torso. Dark silver in color, it is designed to look heavily padded, and the front has ridges in it that honestly look a bit like the coils on the back of a refrigerator. There are four pouches at the base of this tunic, silver with dark red flaps, the front two of which have Cobra emblems on them.
The trousers of the Volcano-Viper are perhaps the thickest I have ever seen on any G.I. Joe figure from any era. They are dark gray in the back, and dark silver in the front, with visible straps, as if additional padding has been strapped into place, which certainly appears to be the case, given the presence of straps on the tops of both legs. The left leg also has two narrow pouches.
The arms are not quite as heavily protected, but nevertheless present an image of armored padding, and work well with the rest of the figure.
On the front of the Volcano-Viper is a small, cylindrical tank, black in color, with a white label with red lettering on it. The lettering is agonizingly small, but it can be read with a magnifying device and a fair amount of concentration. Most obvious is a red triangle with a white exclamation point on it, and the word "DANGER" below. The rest of the printing, smaller still, reads:
HAZARDOUS GASES. CONTAINS BLEND OF LIQUID XXXXX AND OXYGEN. SUPERCOOLED. TOXIC AND/OR HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED. USE ALL OF THE CORRECT DEVICES. USE CAUTION WHEN HANDLE.
There really wasn't room on that last line to spell out "Handling", so I'll let the grammatical error slide. I get the impression that this tank doesn't so much contain a breathable mixture, as chemicals for the cooling unit in the suit. There's one lengthy chemical word there that I just couldn't quite decipher.
Now, let's discuss the helmet. It's an interesting apparatus, that looks like a thick hood, fronted by a high-tech gas mask. It also has hoses attached, and a second tank identical to the first, which clips onto the chest. One of the hoses plugs into a third, unlabeled black tank on the back of the wide collar of the tunic, and I suspect this may be a cooled oxygen supply. Although the hoses to the other two tanks link in with the gas mask, I suspect that they are part of an overall cooling system for the Volcano-Viper. The goggles of the gas mask feature translucent red lenses, although it's a little hard to tell from straight on that they are in fact translucent. It was almost an accidental discovery for me. Nice touch, though.
Despite how thick some of the limbs of this figure are, especially the legs, he still has the same level of articulation as any modern G.I. Joe figure, and is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles. The detail work is truly superb on this figure, the paintwork is neatly done, and certainly the labeling is! This includes the neatly imprinted Cobra emblems on the waist pouches.
One might find it a bit surprising that so many new molds would be created here, but the Volcano-Viper's molds have already been recruited for use in yet another new Cobra trooper that will come out later in 2011, in a different color scheme, called the Hazard-Viper. Certainly seems suitable -- given the suit.
The file card, although not as extensively detailed as cards from years past, reads as follows: Volcano-Vipers are experts in the destructive uses of geothermal energy. Nanomite infusions have made them able to withstand poisonous gases and volcanic ash. Fearless to the extreme, they work deep inside volcanoes to engineer devices that cause massive destruction.
It also states that the Volcano-Viper's preferred weapon is "M.A.R.S. Industries D57-A extreme environment tactical pulse rifle", which no doubt explains the rifle accessory that the figure comes with. Although how much use a rifle is inside a volcano is something I would find rather debatable.
So, what's my final word here? This is an extremely impressive set. The Lava Pod is a visual improvement, colorwise, over the original Mole Pod, and the Volcano-Viper is certainly a distinctive and interesting new figure, very intricate in the details. Any G.I. Joe collector would be pleased to add him to their ranks of Cobra troopers, and the Lava Pod is an interesting vehicle. Admittedly a little quirky, but no moreso than some from the past.
The G.I. JOE COBRA LAVA POD and VOLCANO-VIPER definitely have my highest recommendation!