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By Thomas Wheeler

G.I. Joe has always been known for some truly fascinating and remarkable aircraft. Planes, helicopters, and a few items that defied easy description have all been added to the line practically since its inception.

With the advent of the current line, which got its start in 2007 as part of the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Real American Hero, it was hoped by many fans that some of the more impressive combat aircraft would eventually make their return, even if many of those planes were of a size that might cause some measure of concern among retailers who are reluctant to carry large-scale toys these days.

Target, however, proved willing, and two of the most popular airplanes in the history of G.I. Joe have made their return. This review shall take a look at one of them.

Arguably the second most popular aircraft ever produced in the world of G.I. Joe, after the SkyStriker, is the COBRA RATTLER. This plane, introduced in 1984, was based heavily on the real-life A-10 Thunderbolt II. I was certainly familiar with that particular aircraft. It's the most commonly-flown combat jet at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. I frequently see them in the skies here.

However, some significant alterations were made between the A-10 and the Cobra Rattler, and I don't just mean producing the plane in a very cool but very distinct Cobra Blue. The main engines were moved to the wings, a third engine was added to the rear of the plane, and the Cobra Rattler can do one thing that no A-10 ever built is capable of -- it can rotate its wings 90 degrees for VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) capability. The Rattler also added a dorsal-mounted gun turret.

The Rattler, given its year of introduction, was very heavily featured in the first season of the original animated series. Cobra clearly had entire fleets of these airplanes, which were used extensively in air battles against the Joe Team's equally large fleet of SkyStrikers.

In the comic book, the first appearance of the Rattler was at the funeral of General Flagg, where the plane was planning to make a strafing run on the gathered members of the Joe Team. It was shot down by new team members Duke and Roadblock, who were waiting on a nearby hillside.

Arguably the Rattler's finest appearance was in issue #34 of the original comic book, in a story entitled "Shake Down". By complete coincidence, both Ace, the SkyStriker pilot, and Wild Weasel, the Rattler's pilot, are taking their planes, which have reportedly been modified with some new gadgets and gizmos, up for "shakedown" flights, accompanied by Lady Jaye and the Baroness, respectively.

The two pilots happen across each other, and a dogfight ensues, until both planes run out of weaponry and are damaged a little too much to continue the battle, although they're still able to fly. Ace and Wild Weasel exchange a salute of mutual respect, and return to their home base airfields, with both Lady Jaye and the Baroness complaining loudly.

Although Cobra did develop other aircraft, including the massive and popular Cobra Night Raven, based on an SR-71 Blackbird, and the Cobra Hurricane, which was an interesting design but not really based on much of anything, the Rattler remained Cobra's best known and most popular airplane.

It also served multiple duty on both sides of the conflict. In 1988, the Rattler was released as the Tiger Rat, one of a number of Cobra vehicles captured by the G.I. Joe team for use in their new Tiger Force division. The animated commercial even showed the Tiger Force team repainting a Rattler in Tiger Force colors.

In 1997, the Rattler appeared once again, still assigned to the G.I. Joe team. This time around, Hasbro took advantage of the fact that the plane was based on a real-life combat jet, and simply named it the A-10 Thunderbolt. This time around, it was molded in a very authentic-looking military green

The Rattler also put in an appearance in 2002, at the beginning of the newsculpt era. It had been returned to Cobra and given its original name back, but was now molded in an interesting if unusual metallic copper. One aspect of this version of the Rattler is that since the rather broad-shouldered newsculpt figures had trouble fitting into the manned gun turret, the canopy for the turret was left off. Yeah, an open manned turret in a high-speed combat jet. There's a good idea...

Well, fortunately, for 2008, the turret canopy is back, and so is the original color scheme. This Target exclusive is the Rattler as it is best remembered, in dark Cobra blue.

The plane is sizable, and Hasbro developed some very creative and impressive packaging for it. The box is nearly 16" square, and about 6" deep. It is basically a large window box, showcasing the fully assembled plane up against a backdrop of combat over an ocean, with SkyStrikers and Conquests all over the place. And one Cobra FANG.

The box has the G.I. Joe logo, and a large illustration of Wild Weasel, the Rattler's pilot. on the front, as well as the Wild Weasel figure (I'll discuss him in a bit) displayed in a smaller window.

The back of the box has a photograph of the plane and pilot, up against a black background that tapers into red, a color previously associated with some Cobra packaging in years past. Overall, the packaging has been very effectively done.

The plane, of course, is excellent. It's been already assembled. I'll admit, I sort of miss putting these vehicles together myself. On the other hand, as long as they're put together properly and WELL, I'm not going to fret over that too much. One thing I am pleased with -- and this is doubtless by graphic artist sensibilities coming through, is that the bulk of the labels have been left up to the buyer to apply. The only ones actually applied to the Rattler for display purposes are a Cobra insignia and a registration number on each wing. There is a large label sheet that comes with the aircraft, packed behind the backdrop along with instructions.

The labels are of an excellent quality, I would say perhaps even superior to the originals. There were a few that for whatever reason didn't want to stick too well. Whether this was because of a different type of plastic used on the part they were supposed to be applied to, or some other factor, I really don't know. The only fault I can find is that the labels are a little more -- rigid, for lack of a better term, and there are a few contours over the plane where they don't "stretch to fit" as well as one might hope.

And there were a LOT of labels. Both the Rattler and the SkyStriker were known for having a large number of labels, a considerable percentage of them being tiny little warning labels regarding aircraft usage and safety precautions. While this might seem unusual in Cobra's case as the "bad guys", even Cobra doesn't want its pilots to crash and burn because of carelessness or safety violations.

The Rattler is a well-armed airplane. Along with a rotating machine gun mounted in the nose, the Rattler has a large supply of bombs and missiles, including some that are actually mounted as distinct blocks of bombs in sets of three. Technically, this was in keeping with the Rattler's real-life counterpart, the A-10, which is regarded as a ground- attack aircraft, even though the Rattler saw no shortage of air-to-air combat and assorted dogfights in both the comic book and in the animated series, even though its first comic appearance was as a ground attack jet.

Among its other features, the Rattler also features an opening canopy, an opening gun turret, and fold-up landing gear. I have heard it reported online that some fans are especially grateful to be able to purchase a new Rattler, since apparently the landing gear of the original is prone to stress breakage after so many years. The landing gear on my Rattler is intact, but in fairness, the landing gear hasn't seen a lot of back and forth usage, and to be honest, after reading some of those posts, I'm not terribly inclined to put it to the test, so I can't really verify it. It's possibly true, I suppose. Hasbro never intended or expected, I believe, for these toys to last as long as they have.

Ultimately, this Rattler is a beautiful and impressive counterpart to the original. It's right on the money, and anybody who's ever wanted a Cobra Rattler should definitely look into getting this plane.

Let's consider the pilot for a few moments. Wild Weasel was developed as a distinct individual, even though he never reached the same level as characters like Destro, Baroness, or Zartan. He's not, however, a Cobra trooper. There is only one Wild Weasel.

The 25th-style figure of him provided with this Rattler plane is a reasonable likeness, in the new figure style, of the original. One thing that always sort of caught my eye about the original Wild Weasel was the presence of the little note pads on his upper legs. Those have been reproduced superbly well on this new figure. Wild Weasel also has a removable pistol in a holster on his upper right leg.

If I have one criticism about the transition to this new figure style, it is that the helmet looks woefully small. Granted, the original Wild Weasel's helmet (neither version is removable) was rather considerably large, but if this new one was any smaller, I'd wonder how he managed to stuff his head into it.

There is one neat feature that the original helmet didn't have. The goggles are removable, and you can at least see his eyes underneath. The goggles are a pretty small piece, and I recommend careful handling or they are very likely to get lost. But the visible eyes are, in a way, a nice little nod to the "Shakedown" comic story, since Wild Weasel's visor was damaged in that story, and was the only time we ever saw his eyes.

The figure is appropriately dressed in a red flight suit, and has a Cobra logo on his upper right arm. Overall, its a decent transition to the new figure format.

Interestingly enough, not only does Wild Weasel have a file card on the package -- so does the Rattler! Hasbro has started doing vehicular file cards, and it's such a cool idea that one sort of wonders why it took them 25 years for someone to think about doing it. The only major structural difference to the cards is that the tab raises up on the right rather than the left, and the item picture is on the right, as well.

Let's have a look at Wild Weasel's file card first, though:

File Name: Classified
Military Specialty: Ground Support Pilot
Birthplace: Classified

Wild Weasel learned his trade flying for Cobra operations in every hemisphere in which the evil organization has conducted its corrupt business. His knowledge of close support aircraft ranges from jerry-rigged civilian conversions to state of the art flying weapons platforms. A mouth injury inflicted during a strafing run is rumored to be the cause of the characteristic sibilance in his speech pattern. As wild and unpredictable as his code name, he'll buzz his own guys just to cause some trouble.

"There's no place where G.I. Joe can run or hide when I'm flying above them!"

That's a bit different than the original file card, in which Wild Bill gave Wild Weasel some grudging respect for his flying skills in the last sentence. I've always wondered about that "characteristic sibilance" in his speaking voice, but unfortunately, Wild Weasel himself never really was developed enough in the animated series for the producers to do much with that.

Here's the file card for the Rattler itself:

Designation: Fighter
Weapons: Missiles, Bombs

The Cobra Rattler fighter was designed to address the threat posed by the G.I. Joe team's Conquest X-30 aircraft. With technology bought or stolen from the most advanced aeronautics firms and military installations, Cobra engineers have constructed the Cobra Rattler with next-gen avionics and engineering to reach supersonic speeds while retaining maximum control. Only an expert such as Wild Weasel is able to use its highly responsive maneuverability to its fullest capacity. Carrying heat-seeking missiles and cluster bombs, the Cobra Rattler can inflict devastating damage on its targets.

That bit about the Rattler being built in response to the Conquest X-30 is a bit of a historical stretch, since the Rattler first came along in 1984, and the Conquest didn't appear until 1986, but I think that's what we call "marketing". Technically, the Rattler was designed as a counterpoint to the SkyStriker, but until that aircraft turns up again
-- and it wouldn't've fit in a box this size anyway -- we'll have to work with what we've got. I'm just pleased and impressed that the vehicles are getting file cards.

So, what's my final word here? Look, even if I'm not collecting the current G.I. Joe figures that extensively, if you've ever enjoyed the G.I. Joe aircraft -- and who hasn't? -- or if your original Rattler is looking a little worn out after all these years -- this IS, for all intents and purposes, the original Rattler, brand new like the day it was first made. This is an extremely cool airplane, one of the finest in the entire G.I. Joe series, and here's your chance to get it -- or RE-get it -- at a very reasonable price, while they last, at your local Target. And pick up the Conquest X-30 while you're at it. They're a good matched set.

The G.I. JOE TARGET EXCLUSIVE COBRA RATTLER most definitely has my highest recommendation!