REVIEW: G.I. JOE RETALIATION COBRA H.I.S.S. TANK with COBRA COMMANDER
There can be little question that the most iconic vehicle in the Cobra motor pool is the HIgh Speed Sentry, better known as the Cobra HISS Tank. Upon its arrival in 1983, accompanied by the Cobra FANG Copter, the HISS was one of two vehicles that were the very first in Cobra's arsenal.
However, unlike the relatively conventional-looking FANG, which is nevertheless almost as iconic as the HISS, the HISS Tank, with its wedge-shaped, forward-jutting cockpit and triangular tank treads, pretty well put the world on notice that Cobra was not going to be at all bound by conventional military designs in the development of its vehicles. The HISS looked like an extremely formidable vehicle, not something you'd want to see charging your way on a battlefield. It also didn't look a thing like any tank that had ever rolled onto any real-world battlefield.
The HISS Tank was an immediate hit, and has become more associated with Cobra than any other vehicle. Its unusual design set the stage for a wild array of Cobra vehicles over the years, some more plausible than others. As to the HISS Tank's plausibility -- well, I'm no engineer, but I do have to question it a bit. From a military standpoint, the windowed canopy and the completely unprotected gun turret on the top look like they're asking to be targets. I'd also tend to question whether a real world version of this vehicle would have some serious balance problems, with that front cockpit jutting out from the main body and treads the way it does. In fact, it generally didn't take much of a roll to cause the HISS to pitch forward sometimes.
But, it was a cool-looking toy, it gave the bad guys something to work with, given that in the first year alone, the G.I. Joe team had picked up a motorcycle, a jeep, a tank, a towable missile system, and even a towable high-powered laser cannon. I mean, really, you started to feel sorry for Cobra after a while.
The HISS Tank, in one form or another, has continued to be a part of Cobra's arsenal ever since, including right up to the present day, as a HISS Tank is being offered as part of the toy line based on the G.I. Joe: Retaliation movie. Although, as of this writing, the movie itself has been delayed in its release for a number of months, a supply of the action figures was released to retailers prior to the official announcement of that delay, and those items have hit the stores. That supply includes the new Cobra HISS.
Let's have a brief look at the history of the Cobra HISS Tank, and then have a look at the newest entry in the series.
The HISS Tank, as first introduced in 1983, was molded almost entirely in black, except for the dark clear canopy. The wedge-shaped, forward cockpit looked almost like a separate component from the rather blocky rear section of the tank, which featured an open turret on the top, with a large, double-barreled cannon. One of the most distinctive aspects of the HISS was the large registration number labels that were placed on the sides of the cockpit. Massive red stencil-style numbers reading "788" became almost as iconic as the HISS itself.
The triangular treads of the HISS Tank did not actually turn. They were part of the toy's design, and concealed small wheels on the underside of the vehicle which were the vehicle's actual means of locomotion. Although perhaps a slight letdown after the real working treads of 1982's MOBAT, the faux tread design would become standard for most tanks in the G.I. Joe line, and in fact were also used on 1983's Wolverine tank for the Joe Team.
The HISS Tank came with a driver figure, who was simply known as "HISS Driver". The days of assorted specialized "Prefix-Viper" troopers were still a couple of years away. The HISS Driver was easily the most colorful figure in the line to date, with a bright red uniform with a blue chestplate with a silver Cobra emblem on it, and high, ridged, black boots. As much as the HISS Tank set the standard for unconventional vehicles from Cobra in the ensuing years, the HISS Driver set the standard for equally unconventional uniform designs for future Cobra specialty troopers.
It didn't take long for the HISS Tank to see additional uses. A red-bodied version of the vehicle was paired with a recolored version of the Mobile Missile System and was offered as a Sears exclusive, back when Sears had a toy department that amounted to anything.
In 1989, both the FANG and the HISS were updated with entirely new models. The HISS II was a larger and far more detailed tank than it's predecessor, although the shape remained largely the same. Colored mostly in a steel blue, the HISS II featured limited room for troops in the rear section, and a drop down seat from the cockpit so that the new driver, designated a Track-Viper, could effectively board the vehicle. Years later, the HISS II would be recolored in a darker, more Cobra-esque shade of blue by the Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Club for one of its Conventions.
The original HISS wasn't done, however. It turned up in the Eco-Warriors line, molded in a neon red-orange, with a strange green attachment over its canopy, and a water-squirting weapon. It was now known as the Septic Tank. Hardly a high moment in the history of the HISS, and if a toy tank could ever be embarrassed, it was probably then.
The original HISS was redeemed, some years later, during the 2000-2002 run of G.I. Joe. Now designated the HISS III, it was really just a recoloration of the original HISS, now presented in a very dark blue. The driver figure, a recolored version of the original HISS Driver, was now an individual with the unusual code-name of Rip-It.
During the 2002-2006 "newsculpt" run of G.I. Joe, a new HISS Tank came on the scene. Officially known as the "Strike HISS", and somewhat unofficially known as the HISS IV, this entirely new HISS Tank bore some resemblance to its predecessors, but it had the unusual capability of rising up on its treads, and actually striking forward like a real snake.
The original HISS hadn't been retired, however. As part of the original-style figure offerings being produced during this time, the original HISS was recolored in red, and assigned to a special detachment of Crimson Guards known as the 1st Crimson Division. This boxed set included the HISS, a recolored ASP, and three Crimson Guards. There was also a red-colored HISS tank offered at the 2002 G.I. Joe Convention, to accompany the Crimson Strike Team set of figures offered at that Convention.
Yet another all-new HISS came along at the end of the newsculpt run. Officially known as just the Cobra HISS, but known to some fans as the HISS V, or HISS v.5, this all-new HISS was clearly an attempt to make a more armored, and perhaps even more real-world plausible version of the HISS without sacrificing the now-iconic design elements. And it succeeded admirably.
This new HISS looked very much like a HISS Tank, but unlike its predecessors, it wasn't as hard to imagine it coming at you across a real-life battlefield. It was stockier than its original counterpart, with an armored framework around the canopy, side missile launchers, and definite troop carrier room in the rear section. This was a HISS that you could believe in across the board, and many collectors, with all due respect to the original, consider it a personal favorite. I think it's a shame it's never been brought back.
However, one can understand how, with the advent of the 25th Anniversary line, that the vehicles associated with that line would be as close to their original counterparts as possible, if not in fact those original counterparts. Such was the case with the HISS, which saw three releases during this time, two individual versions, and one as part of a massive vehicle and figure playset that also included a MOBAT and a number of other items.
These HISS tanks came in the original black, an impressive dark blue, and most distinctive of all -- a white version, dedicated for arctic use, with a specialized Arctic HISS Driver. This last version was nearly impossible to find due to a limited release, although sometime after its initial release, some additional supplies showed up at clearance stores. This HISS is notable for having a missile launcher, borrowed from the Cobra Stinger jeep, in the back, as well as some additional arctic attachments, as well as a new series of stencil-style registration numbers that allowed buyers to put their own number combinations on the tank, for the first time ever!
Which brings us closer to the present day. As part of the line of G.I. Joe figures that followed the first movie, a series of toys known as "Pursuit of Cobra", an entirely new HISS Tank was created. It bore, at best, a superficial resemblance to the original, in that the body retained some of the shape of the original, and it had triangular treads. However, there were also significant differences.
The original HISS had a cockpit and a rear section that almost seemed to be separate components. The new HISS was more of a single unit, with a leaner, angular body that didn't have as high a profile. The canopy was opaque, with the driver expected to navigate the tank based on instrumentation. The bulky rear body of the original HISS was gone, replaced instead by an upswept, almost wing-like rear section that tapered upwards and then split outwards to either side. There was room in the back for a gunner -- assuming he wasn't the claustrophobic type, who could man the machine gun and spring-loaded missile launcher that were poised on either side of the rear "wing".
The treads, for the first time ever, were real, actually turning on the three wheels that each tread segment had. The treads were spread further apart and away from the body than on previous HISS versions. And the surprises didn't end there. The entire body of the HISS could rise up on a hinged platform, essentially giving the tank its own high ground. It was, to some degree, a take on the capabilities of the Strike HISS, but a bit less peculiar.
There were several versions of this particular HISS, including one for the 30th Anniversary line that was specifically assigned to the Crimson Guard. Although a fairly radical redesign of the basic principles of the HISS, the tank's intricate design and interesting capabilities made it a hit with the fans and collectors.
So now we have the HISS Tank associated with the G.I. Joe: Retaliation movie. And one would tend to assume, especially based on a cursory glance of the package illustration, that it's pretty much a recoloration of the most recent HISS.
Wrong. Although clearly taking most of its basic design cues from the most recent HISS, it's an entirely new vehicle. And I do mean entirely.
Although not designated as such, I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to consider the Retaliation HISS something of a "HISS II" relative to its most recent predecessor. It's larger, and it's a completely new mold. The treads are bigger, it's better armed -- it's not quite as intricate or versatile in its toy-based capabilities, but it still looks as though it's designed to pack a bigger punch. If you were on a battlefield and had just taken out a few of the previous HISS tanks and were feeling pretty good about that, and then saw one of these things lumbering your way, you'd really be hoping you had some better ammo.
In a way, I'm reminded of what was done with the Mauler tank, back in 1989, when it was reworked to become the Equalizer, part of the Slaughter's Marauders arsenal. Okay, they took away the motor and the real treads, but they gave it a really cool camouflage color scheme, and that massive new turret pretty well overcame any shortcomings.
The previous HISS measures a little over 11" long, and is a little over 6" high. The Retaliation HISS is over a foot long, and around 8" high. The treads are not real this time around, but they're longer and, in a way, leaner in appearance. There's more segments to the treads. As one would expect, they have the small wheels underneath to allow the vehicle to roll along.
The angular, upswept shape of the body has been maintained, but it is more intricate than the previous HISS. The canopy is no longer opaque, having a sturdy framework with windows in it, although a couple of the labels to be placed in the vehicle cover a couple of the windows with computerized targeting displays.
The Retaliation HISS still splits to either side in the back, but the structure is definitely heavier-looking, and instead of a machine gun and a missile launcher perched on the tops of either side of that "wing", there are two huge, multi-barreled machine guns complete with large ammo boxes poised on the sides. This sends an impressive message to anyone thinking about taking on this tank. It says, "I've got two really big guns and plenty of bullets. Go ahead and try something..."
The classic rear turret of the original HISS has also been reinstated -- probably right after a bunch of Vipers went into the Cobra psych ward for claustrophobic treatment. The turret has a huge, spring-loaded, missile-firing cannon attached to it, and of course, it rotates.
The entire main body of this HISS tank also pivots on its mount, allowing for an impressive range of fire. However, the rise-up function of the previous HISS has been lost. This isn't too surprising too me. That was a fairly intricate piece of business, and there are aspects to the design of this new HISS which, while resulting in a larger and more formidable-looking tank, also result in a somewhat simplified one. This isn't a complaint, merely an observation.
The new HISS does have a body which can angle forward somewhat, although what sort of advantage this provides I'm not entirely sure. One would think it would send the poor guy in the turret sprawling in front of the tank. Let's hope he's on good terms with the driver.
The Retaliation HISS is a very dark blue in color, for the most part, with some steel gray trim. Studying this HISS next to its predecessor, one can see that some of the basic lines have been maintained, especially on the sides of the vehicle just behind the cockpit. It's nearly identical -- and yet this is definitely an entirely new vehicle. Impressive carryover.
Although I'll always like the earlier designs of the HISS the best, I've got no real problems with the modern version, and this new HISS from the Retaliation line is, overall, a most impressive upgrade.
Speaking of the driver, the designated driver for this particular HISS is none other than COBRA COMMANDER himself! To delve too much into his history would really make for a lengthy review, to say nothing of the fact that he's literally had dozens of figure incarnations over the years, so let's just hit some of the basics.
When Hasbro considered bringing back G.I. Joe as a special team, they realized that G.I. Joe had never really had a significant enemy. Clearly, an effective enemy for the new G.I. Joe was needed, but the one thing Hasbro really didn't want to do, understandably, was to base an enemy concept on any of America's real-world adversaries. That was the sort of thing that led to the kinds of political headaches that a toy company simply does not need.
Enter -- COBRA. As defined by the animated series, an "evil terrorist organization determined to rule the world." Cobra was allied with no nation. They were an entirely independent group, out to conquer -- well, everybody. They were friend to no one, enemy of everybody. Even the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union put together their own special team, the Oktober Guard, to combat Cobra. Additionally, the main color of Cobra's uniforms was dark blue, a color that was definitely not used by any established military force, and their emblem, a stylized cobra's head, was entirely the creation of the toy line.
But, no such organization like Cobra gets going without a powerful leader. And this leader took the form of Cobra Commander. The name had a good rhythm to it, and certainly worked.
In the initial year of G.I. Joe, the first offering of figures consisted of nine members of the G.I. Joe team -- not counting those available with vehicles. The year was not done before two generic enemy soldiers, a Cobra Trooper and a Cobra Officer, were added to the mix. These were the first "army-builders" of the line. You could buy as many as you could afford and had space for.
But what about Cobra Commander? The initial Cobra Commander figure was actually offered as a mail-in figure. You could clip the "Flag Points" off the package cards and, along with a little something for shipping and handling, receive a Cobra Commander figure directly from Hasbro. It was a huge success, to put it mildly.
Cobra Commander soon made it to a standard retail release in two forms. One was a standard carded figure in 1983. The other was as part of an early Sears exclusive, a Cobra Missile Headquarters, really an illustrated cardboard playset ("four-color action cardboard", as I once had a Hasbro rep inform me) that included figures of Cobra Commander, a Cobra Trooper, and a Cobra Officer.
Before long, a second Cobra Commander was offered through the mail. This was a hooded Cobra Commander, swapping out his battle helmet for what was probably a much more comfortable fabric-looking hood, as he had appeared in both the comic book and the animated series by this time. The response was similarly enthusiastic.
Cobra Commander has, as one would expect, maintained a presence in the G.I. Joe line ever since. In 1987, Cobra Commander returned, wearing his new Battle Armor, designed by Destro, and costing as much as a typical fighter jet. In 1991, a new Cobra Commander figure was produced, with a semi-translucent faceplate that almost allowed you to see what he looked like for the first time -- and did if you didn't mind breaking the pegs on the faceplate to remove it. There was a second Cobra Commander that year, part of the Talking Battle Commanders set, and this new version of the hooded Cobra Commander would be remade in 1993, in a very sinister black uniform, instead of his traditional blue.
Cobra Commander has since been part of every version of G.I. Joe. He turned up in the 1997-98 series, the 2000-2002 series, repeatedly in the 2002-2006 newsculpt series, and has been part of the modern line ever since it commenced with the 25th Anniversary line in 2007. And there have been several 12" Cobra Commanders, and of course, he was also part of the Sigma Six concept.
In the comic book, Cobra Commander has been portrayed as a devious, sinister individual, absolutely committed to his goal of global domination, and heaven help anyone who stands in his way. He has, on rare occasion, shown some compassion, generally for his son, Billy, and he didn't react at all well when on one occasion, a Cobra S.A.W.-Viper exceeded his orders and gunned down a number of G.I. Joe prisoners. A vendetta over that on the part of the Joe Team was the last thing the Commander wanted. But for the most part, this is not a man you want to be on the bad side of -- and he doesn't have that much of a good side.
Cobra Commander's origin is largely that of an individual who was pushed too far. Between what he saw as the powers-that-be increasingly keeping the rest of the populace down, and becoming rather unhinged over the death of his brother in a traffic accident -- a traffic accident that his brother caused, it should be noted, and ironically enough, the same accident that cost Snake-Eyes his parents and sister -- the man who would be Cobra Commander set forth to build his own private army of individuals dedicated to the overthrow of governments, and the conquest of the world. He was surprisingly successful given that he started out funding his operation with telephone sales calls and pyramid schemes selling household cleaning supplies...
In the animated series -- well, I'm not going to get into the whole "Cobra-La" thing -- but Cobra Commander was seen as somewhat less competent than his comic book counterpart, something of a bumbler who barely managed to keep control of his organization. The animated series did, however, give Cobra Commander his voice, the manic screech produced by the late Chris Latta, a voice that no other incarnation of Cobra Commander seems quite right without.
Cobra Commander's background in the live-action movies is quite different from previous incarnations. Cobra Commander appeared in the movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but was called "The Commander", and was played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Gordon-Levitt wore a mask and prosthetic makeup. Gordon-Levitt described his vocal performance as being half reminiscent of Chris Latta's voice for the 1980s cartoon, but also half his own ideas, because he felt rendering it fully would sound ridiculous.
For most of the movie, he is referred to as "The Doctor", a scientist working with James McCullen concerning his research on nanomites. It is revealed that he was Rex Lewis, the younger brother of Ana Lewis (later the Baroness), and once a soldier alongside Duke. Rex was presumed dead, after a building Duke sent him into was hit with a premature air strike called in by Duke. But prior to the explosion, Rex saw McCullen's early experimental research on nanomites conducted by the real Doctor Mindbender, and was in awe of the sight.
Surviving the incident, yet scarred both physically and mentally, Rex learns from Mindbender and perfects the nanomites. He uses his own sister as a test subject in creating the Neo-Vipers, as well as having a vendetta against Duke for leaving him to die. When Duke is captured, Rex reveals himself, as he attempts to subject Duke to the nanomites and make him a slave like the Neo-Vipers. But the Baroness overcomes her programming and saves Duke, so Rex escapes with a badly burned McCullen.
Rex uses specially made nanomites to heal the man's face, but also encases it in a living, silver-like metal. Dubbing him Destro, Rex puts on a mask and tells McCullen to call him Commander. Though under arrest and placed in a high security prison aboard the USS Flagg, Cobra Commander's master plan had only begun, with Zartan disguised as the President of the United States.
Cobra Commander will return in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. He will have an altered appearance from the first film, more similar to his helmeted look from the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoon, and will not be played by Gordon-Levitt. He will be voiced by actor Charlie Adler, who voiced Low-Light in the original G.I. Joe animated series.
So, how's the figure? Well, whatever altered appearance Cobra Commander may have in the movie, and there is an individually-packaged figure of him available, I doubt he'll look quite like his HISS-driving incarnation. Which isn't to say this isn't a cool figure, it certainly is.
Essentially, I would have to say that this Cobra Commander figure looks like a more real-world, or at least live-action-movie-derived, version of the Battle Armor Cobra Commander. Cobra Commander is wearing a very intricate, and very high-tech and armored looking uniform. It looks a little like he designed it from Battle Android parts.
Cobra Commander's silver-faceplate helmet is present and accounted for, but the helmet is more intricate in design, with some serpentine detail at the edge of the silver faceplate, and some ridges over the top.
Most of Cobra Commander's uniform is black, but it has a great many armored, and downright mechanical-looking sections, especially on the chest, back, and legs -- less so on the arms, although Cobra Commander does have armored shoulder pads, and what appears to be a miniature machine gun strapped to his right wrist. You can't even trust this guy to give you a basic handshake! The armored sections of his uniform are a metallic pewter gray, as is his helmet. Really the only bright silver section is the helmet's faceplate.
The Cobra emblem can be found on the chestplate. There isn't a lot of painted detail. A few sections have been given some dark red trim, but for the most part, the uniform colors are black and pewter. The metallic trim is painted on, and has been done very neatly, and the intricacy of the design, especially of the armored sections, is most impressive.
Any complaints? Just one, and it's one that's being echoed by a great many G.I. Joe collectors. The figure only has five points of articulation -- head, arms, and legs. I won't get into the reasons as to why this has happened. All of the known vehicle drivers for the Retaliation line, including Cobra Commander, Duke (with the Ghost Hawk II), Swamp Viper (with the Cobra Fangboat), Snake-Eyes (with the Ninja Commando 4x4), and a couple of motorcycle drivers, have this limited articulation. Fortunately, most of the characters have a more articulated version in the individually-packaged figure segment, although those figures do differ in design.
Am I happy about this? No -- and I hope it's not a trend for 2013. However, the figure has an impressive design, he's well-made, he stands well on his own, and he doesn't look bad standing in the company of other, more articulated figures from the Retaliation line. I'm not going to get overly negative here, and I'm not going to discard him just because he doesn't move as much. It's an unfortunate development, and again, one that I hope does not endure for long, but I'm not going to reject the figure because of it.
So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. I think most fans were expecting a recoloration of the existing modern HISS Tank here. Instead, we got a whole new vehicle. It might not have quite as many bells-and-whistles as its immediate predecessor, but it makes up for that with greater size and some more serious firepower. Honestly, I think it's a more impressive, and certainly more imposing vehicle.
And the Cobra Commander figure has a good basic design. It's intricate, well-detailed, well-made, and not a bad incarnation of the character at all. The limited articulation is unfortunate, but the overall look of the figure is definitely cool, and definitely impressive.
I believe that any G.I. Joe collector will certainly be impressed with the HISS Tank, and hopefully they'll give this Cobra Commander a reasonable chance, as well.
The COBRA H.I.S.S. TANK with COBRA COMMANDER from G.I. JOE: RETALIATION definitely has my highest recommendation!