As one considers the concept and specialty of this new Para-Viper as a Cobra Paratrooper, the one glaring, mind-blowing question that comes to mind is -- what the heck took Hasbro twenty-six years to get around to this figure!??!
I mean, come on. Paratroopers of one sort or another have been active in the world's military forces for a great many decades. Within the world of G.I. Joe, the first paratrooper specialist was Rip Cord, introduced in 1984, followed by Free Fall in 1990, not to mention the entirety of Sky Patrol. There was also a Target exclusive parachute pack that came with Light Infantryman: Hit & Run.
But except for a Convention Exclusive figure, designed for the popular Parachute Drop event, dubbed the Air-Viper, which -- all due respect to the Collectors' Club and it's a perfectly fine figure, we're not exactly talking about something that was a mass market release -- Cobra just never seemed to get in on the act.
There was no Cobra Paratrooper Specialist in the original Real American Hero line or its successive returns to the toy world -- unfortunately. Neither was there one in the newsculpt line. Never mind the fact that a name like "Para-Viper" is not only glaringly obvious, it also sounds pretty good. I came up with a semi-custom Para-Viper for Cobra years ago, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who did so.
I got a little curious about the history of paratroopers, and for that matter, the parachute itself, when I started writing this review. Not being a historian, I had assumed that parachutes were something that had come along after the invention of the airplane, when someone realized that there was no easy way to get oneself out of a dying aircraft that didn't result in just as much damage to oneself as staying with the aircraft all the way down. Seems I was rather considerably mistaken about that.
Parachutes of one sort or another have been around for centuries. Technically, I suppose you don't really need an airplane to make use of a parachute. You just need a high place. Chinese texts described a primitive form of parachute 21 centuries ago. In 9th century Al-Andalus, Abbas Ibn Firnas (Armen Firnas) developed a parachute, and Ali Ben Isa also created one of the earliset versions of a parachute which John H. Lienhard described in "The Engines of Our Ingenuity" as "a huge winglike cloak to break his fall" when he "decided to fly off a tower in Cordova". Precisely why he decided to do a silly thing like that is not mentioned.
A conical parachute appears for the first time in the 1470s in an Italian manuscript, slightly preceding Leonardo da Vinci's conical parachute designs. It was intended as an escape device to allow people to jump from burning buildings, but there is no evidence that it was actually ever used. Leonardo da Vinci sketched a parachute while he was living in Milan around 1480-1483: a pyramid-shaped canopy held open by a square wooden frame.
The first implemented parachute was created in 1595 by the Croatian inventor Faust Vrancic, who named it "Homo Volans" (Flying Man). Twenty years later, he implemented his design and tested the parachute by jumping from a tower in Venice in 1617. The event was documented some 30 years after it happened in a book written by John Wilkins, the secretary of the Royal Society in London.
According to Evliya Çelebi in the early 17th century, the Ottoman inventor and aviator Lagari Hasan Çelebi launched himself in the air in a seven-winged rocket, which was composed of a large cage with a conical top filled with gunpowder. The flight was accomplished as a part of celebrations performed for the birth of Ottoman Emperor Murad IV's daughter in 1633. Evliya reported that Lagari made a soft landing in the Bosporus by using the wings attached to his body as a parachute after the gunpowder was consumed, foreshadowing the sea-landing methods of astronauts with parachutes after their voyages into outer space.
The modern parachute was invented in the late 18th century by Louis- Sébastien Lenormand in France, who made the first recorded public jump in 1783. Lenormand also sketched it beforehand. Two years later, Jean- Pierre Blanchard demonstrated it as a means of safely disembarking from a hot air balloon. While Blanchard's first parachute demonstrations were conducted with a dog as the passenger, he later had the opportunity to try it himself in 1793 when his hot air balloon ruptured and he used a parachute to escape. And one sort of has to feel sorry for the dog in that early test.
As for the military use of parachutes, the first "paratroopers" were actually found in World War I, and were tethered to observation balloons. Sounds like a fun ride.
However, military paratroopers as they are more conventionally known didn't really come into being until World War II. Paratroopers were used for tactical advantage as they can be inserted into the battlefield from the air, thereby allowing them to be positioned in areas not accessible by land. It is one of the three types of "forced entry" strategic techniques for entering a theater of war. The other two are by land and sea. This ability to enter the battle from different locations allows paratroopers to evade fortifications that are in place to prevent attack from a specific direction, and the possible use of paratroopers forces an army to spread their defenses to protect other areas which would normally be safe by virtue of the geography.
This doctrine was first practically applied to warfare by the Italians and the Soviets. During World War II, however, the forces of these two countries were overstretched in their battle with their enemies and the elite paratroopers were mainly used on land. Instead, paratroopers were first used extensively in World War II by the Germans (in German service, they were called Fallschirmjäger) and the Allies.
So once again, with a history that extensive, the question does sort of arise -- what the heck took Cobra so long to develop a specific paratrooper? (Or, by inference, what took Hasbro so long to get around to this?)
Well, at least they HAVE gotten around to it. And the end result is extremely impressive. The only two even slightly negative things I can say about this figure is that he doesn't actually include a WORKING parachute, and the 25th-style format of the figure makes him a little incompatible with the traditional-style and newsculpt figures. He's a bit too tall, standing roughly 4-1/4" in height. So unless Cobra enlisted a bunch of paratroopers that are even taller than Destro, he's not the best fit in other formats size-wise.
But let's set that aside. As few and far between as truly new characters in the current G.I. Joe line are, when they decide to come up with one, they really go all out on it. And this Para-Viper is an amazing piece of work.
The figure is dressed in a dark bluish-purple jumpsuit that has orange elbow pads and knee pads, the latter of which comprise the actual knee joints. As to any details on the jumpsuit itself, I'd love to tell you, but apart from extremely well-detailed gloves and even more highly detailed boots, it's a little hard to determine, because the figure has so much equipment.
Here is where the Para-Viper really excels, even moreso than any previous paratrooper experts in the world of G.I. Joe. Now, if you take a look at those previous figures, they generally come with a backpack that either represents a parachute pack or, in the case of Sky Patrol, contains a working parachute. The end result of this latter equipment is a backpack that is pretty large in relation to the figure, but after all, we do want him to have a safe landing, yes?
However, that isn't entirely realistic. If you look at the average real-world military paratrooper, he's wearing what looks like a literal ton of equipment, hanging off his back and front, practically down to his knees, and you wonder how the poor guy can even move. Often it's not easy, and it's about all these guys can do to take little steps towards the exit ramp of the airplane and hop out.
Clearly, although the Cobra Para-Viper does not include a working parachute, the figure has been given a very realistic design as far as overall equipment is concerned. He may be a Cobra, a trooper from a fictional terrorist organization, but the figure has been designed and, more to the point, equipped very realistically.
This is sort of why I can't really describe what the jumpsuit underneath the figure looks like. I'm not sure how much of this equipment is actually designed to be removable. One of the hallmarks of the current G.I. Joe figure line is a lot of "loose" equipment that's attached to the figure, rather than sculpted as part of the body parts as in the case of the original line, but this equipment is still not designed to be removable.
Even if some or most of this equipment IS removable, I'm not personally all that inclined to make the attempt, mostly because I'd be concerned as to how well I'd get it back in place. And anyway, if I wanted to play dress-up doll, I'd collect Barbies...
The Para-Viper is outfitted with an impressive helmet -- which is removable and is perhaps the easiest removable part, revealing a headsculpt underneath wearing a non-removable ridged "ski-mask", typical of the anonymous nature of the average Cobra trooper. Along with this helmet is a separate pair of transparent orange goggles, which seems a little redundant given the silver visor that's part of the helmet, but maybe they offer some protection from direct sunlight?
The front of this helmet, I assume an oxygen mask, has a series of four transparent hoses that plug into sockets in the helmet, and curve around behind to two separate points on the back. The hoses are nicely flexible and plug into the helmet well, but they're a little on the small side and this makes them a bit tricky to handle. They're not especially fragile or anything, however.
The Para-Viper is wearing a massive harness, for lack of a better word, that contains the backpack representing the parachute on the back, and assorted equipment common to modern military paratroopers on the front, which hangs practically to the knees. Precisely what the nature of this equipment is I'm really not certain. There are straps, designed to look like fabric, which loop around the lower legs and are part of this overall harness.
Just so there's no way to mistake this Para-Viper for one of the good guys -- the overall design as I have said is very realistic and doesn't go especially far into the fanciful that Cobra has sometimes been known for -- Cobra insignias abound, and they're in a rather bright yellow, so they really stand out. There's a small one on the front of the helmet, another small one on the front of the harness, and another large one on the back of the parachute pack. All have been very well imprinted.
The Para-Viper has some additional equipment, as well. There's a yellow knife sheath on his lower right leg, and the knife is removable. It's a nasty-looking little serrated piece of business with a silver blade and a black hilt. There's an altimeter on an orange wristband on his left wrist. This is not removable, but sculpted as part of the figure. Strangely, there's a pair of swim fins which have been stuck under the harness loops on the lower legs. These are removable and can be used by the Para-Viper. I suppose this is in case of a water landing? I didn't know paratroopers did that.
Non-attached equipment includes a small machine gun (or maybe it's a big machine pistol), and a longer rifle with a folding stock and a tripod. All very nicely made.
The only really unusual feature on the figure are these rather sharp-angled attachments on his lower arms. I'm not really sure what, if anything, these are supposed to represent. Some sort of aerodynamic feature?
The Para-Viper is very well-articulated, and is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles. Most articulation points have a multiple range of motion. I will say that the most disagreeable aspect of these G.I. Joe figures to me has always been the mid-torso point, which I just don't think looks that good. It's barely a factor here, because the equipment covers it up so much.
Conversely, there's so much equipment on the figure that, while he looks really good, he's probably about as movable as a real person would be wearing all this stuff. Anybody would have their articulation hindered a bit lugging this much stuff around.
The figure's card art is excellent. On those occasions when Hasbro comes up with someone who, for whatever reason, doesn't have artwork from the classic line, they've been doing a good job of creating artwork that looks like it comes from the original era, even if it didn't. The Para-Viper painting is one of the best I've seen to date in this regard. It's really very well done.
The figure's file card reads as follows:
File Name: Various
Cobra Para-Viper troopers are the deadliest, most highly-trained commandos in the Cobra legions. They specialize in high-altitude, low-opening jumps to go behind enemy lines or infiltrate unsuspecting countries or targeted facilities to conquer, steal, or cause generalized chaos. Cobra Para-Viper troopers are selected from the ranks of the Cobra Eel troopers are are chosen for their exceptional audacity, independent attitude and utter fearlessness. They are given a parachute, instructions, and not much else; their purpose is to go in first and pave the way for the main assault force.
"Jumping out of a plane into cold, thin air, when everything is pretty much a speck below you, and there's nothing to keep you alive but some thin fabric, sounds like a completely insane thing to do. You're right; it is. That's why we do it."
Cobra Eels, huh? Well, that explains the swim fins. Still, that file card seems almost a little contradictory. It calls them highly-trained commandos, but then says they're just handed a parachute and instructions and off they go. Not sure how that works together.
Whatever the case, though, it certainly appears that Cobra has a highly dangerous new group of specialized troopers, and representing a specialty that, honestly, is long, long overdue. Even if you're not extensively collecting the current crop of G.I. Joe figures, and even taking into consideration some compatibility issues with previous versions, you really need to add the COBRA PARA-VIPER to your G.I. Joe Collection. This is one cool figure. The G.I. JOE COBRA PARA-VIPER definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!