REVIEW: G.I. JOE THE RISE OF COBRA SERPENT ARMOR WITH VIPER COMMANDO
Among the more interesting aspects of the line of toys based on the live-action G.I. Joe movie have been the vehicles. There have been some amazing new vehicles, such as the Cobra Gunship, the new Night Raven, and others, and some new takes, modifications, and recolorations, of longtime favorites, such as the Crimson Hydra, the Sky Sweeper, and more.
A number of retail chains have also received exclusive merchandise related to the movie, and these have tended to be recolorings of popular items from years past, with new movie-based figures along for the respective rides.
One of the most popular, or at least most elusive, is without a doubt the Target exclusive SERPENT ARMOR, with Cobra Viper Commando.
Target has produced a series of small figure-and-vehicle packs, that have consisted of such things as jet-skis, gliders, jet packs, and a couple of small motorcycles. Some of these are more readily found than others. The Serpent Armor has proved to be easily the toughest of all to obtain. And under its original name, it has quite the history in the world of G.I. Joe.
Originally named the Cobra SNAKE Armor -- SNAKE standing for "System: Neutralizer-Armed Kloaking Equipment -- one of those times when I'm very certain that the abbreviation came before the explanation, especially since the explanation ended up with a spelling typo in it -- this item was originally released in 1983 in a small box, sans figure.
It was, basically, an early-model robotic battle suit. Now, when one considers how commonplace that sort of thing has become since then, everything from G.I. Joe's own Star Brigade Armor Tech and Defense Mechs, to things like Exo-Squad and who knows what else, the SNAKE armor almost seems somewhat laughable by comparison. But of its own accord, it was certainly ahead of its time, and in my opinion, holds up pretty well if one keeps that in mind.
The SNAKE Armor was molded in an off-white color, and while it had its own little support framework within, it was really designed to be placed around a Cobra trooper figure. The torso and both legs all split in half, and could be snapped back together around a Cobra figure. The robotic arms were separate appendages and were not linked to the actual arms of the Cobra figure, which were tucked into the torso.
The unit was bulky, but well-detailed. Four different weapons could be attached to the arms, which were articulated at the shoulder. The legs were somewhat poseable, but the entire battle armor was bulky enough so that you got the impression that the Cobra soldier inside wasn't intended to run in this thing, but rather stand his ground on the battlefield and hope that Cobra built this thing as well as they claimed they did.
The SNAKE armor never saw a lot of time in either the comic book or the animated series. In the animated series, they turned up in the very first mini-series, where they were presented as, apparently, actual robots, rather than robotic armor worn by human troopers. In the comic book, the SNAKE armor was seen as the invention of Dr. Venom, who had built two working suits. He tricked Snake-Eyes and the Eskimo mercenary Kwinn into donning the armor, neglecting to tell them that the SNAKE armor contained a mind-control unit, essentially turning the will of the wearers over to whomever commanded the armor, which was, of course, Dr. Venom himself.
One wouldn't think that the SNAKE armor would become all that popular, and yet somehow, it did. Granted it was a somewhat oddball item. It wasn't a vehicle, and it was a bit of a stretch concept-wise for what was at that point in time a relatively realistic pseudo-military line of action figures. Admittedly, Cobra was stretching things as it was. 1983 also saw the release of the FANG Copter, which wasn't too much of a stretch even if the open canopy probably wasn't the brightest idea tactically speaking, and the HISS Tank, which was definitely a stretch design-wise, but not entirely implausible. Arguably, a bulky but functional suit of robotic battle armor was pushing the envelope even further. I'm not going to discuss plausibility too much since I don't exactly have access to the Pentagon. Who knows what they might have been working on?
Nevertheless, the SNAKE armor was well-received enough to be re-released the following year, 1984, in a whole new color scheme. Instead of the original off-white, it was now done in the trademark Cobra Blue, the same dark blue common to Cobra trooper uniforms. It was otherwise identical to the original version, but certainly the vast color change set it apart from the original version.
That blue version is pretty scarce these days, and considered something of a major score for a lot of longtime collectors in the G.I. Joe world.
What those who may not pay a lot of attention to G.I. Joe's international contingent may not be aware of is that there is actually a third version of the SNAKE armor out there. In Europe, a RED version of the SNAKE armor was produced, to be assigned to the at that point unnamed enemy forces being faced by what was at that point in time known as Action Force. This red version is highly sought after by collectors, obviously.
Huh -- red, white, and blue. Bit of unintentional (I'm sure) patriotism on Cobra's part...
So, what do we have with the re-named SERPENT Armor? Well, for starters, I'm not sure it's an abbreviation this time around. There doesn't seem to be any sort of explanation for it as such, and given what they had to work out in order to get "SNAKE" as an abbreviation, I'm not sure I'd even want to know what would be required for "SERPENT". So let's call it the Serpent Armor and assume it's not an acronym this time.
The molds are the same as before, except this time, they've been done in BLACK. Granted there are some who might argue, with some justification, that this is a color that has been somewhat overdone in the movie line, but at least in the case of the Serpent Armor, it looks cool.
One can readily see why this piece has become so popular. If you're a longtime enough collector to have the white and the blue versions, from 25+ years ago, and maybe even fortunate enough to have the red, then you're certainly going to want the black.
Hasbro has changed a few things, albeit minimally, for the Serpent Armor over its predecessors. For one thing, it has an updated copyright date on it, of 2009. One might surmise that a copyright date of 1983 or 1984, for something that basically hasn't been seen SINCE then, unlike some other vehicles, might have raised a few eyebrows among newer collectors. And it's always a good idea to keep copyrights up to date.
Another thing that's been changed is the visor. This was a black sticker on the white and blue versions, and it worked very well on the white version, and adequately on the blue. Obviously a black visor on a black suit of armor isn't going to work terribly well, so this time around, it's red. And it's not a sticker. It's been painted on, in advance. And very neatly, I might add.
There are other painted details, as well, something the original SNAKE Armors distinctly lacked. The Serpent Armor has a certain amount of painted silver trim, mostly on highlighted sculpted areas, on the back piece and the fronts of the legs. Now, if you throw that in with the painted visor, this means that paint stencils had to be created for a toy item that had never previously had them. That was an interesting additional expense and effort to proceed with for this item. Not that it isn't appreciated. It does all look very cool on the Serpent Armor.
The labels have also changed somewhat. The Serpent Armor still has two Cobra emblems that attach to either side of the "head". And there is the "6" sticker, as well. Both previous versions of the SNAKE Armor had this number "6" sticker, a fairly ordinary-looking "6" in a black circle, that was affixed to the front of the robot suit. I find myself wondering how many people inverted it to a "9" just for a little variety if they owned more than one. I custom-painted a SNAKE armor silver once, and did this.
The "6" sticker is a different style of lettering than before, and obviously there was no need for a black circle around it, but I think it was a nice touch to include it.
Some of the other stickers don't quite want to fit where they're directed on the instructions. These include "Hazard" and "Danger" stickers in the strange blocky font that's been developed for Cobra vehicles for the movie line. However, there's enough smooth surface on the Serpent armor so that you can get them close to where they're supposed to be, with a little imagination. There's another sticker that's supposed to fit into a sculpted, indented square area on the back, that's a little too big to fit. However, it can be trimmed to size.
The Serpent Armor comes with four attachments, which can be fitted to the ends of the two robotic arms. These have been described as a claw, a rocket, a flamethrower, and a machine gun. They're basically identical to their original pieces, as is the rest of the Serpent Armor.
Now, let's discuss the figure that comes with this set. He's officially listed as a Viper Commando.
Okay, let me get this out of the way. I wasn't all that crazy about the design of the movie Vipers. The original Cobra Viper was released in 1986, and has seen a great many recolorations since that time, most of them very cool. The Vipers are Cobra's basic infantry, and I think it was one of, if not THE best, basic enemy trooper design that Hasbro ever came up with. So I tend to be a little picky about messing with it.
Would that design have worked in the movie? Perhaps not in its original color scheme. In something more subdued, maybe, although I'll acknowledge that the somewhat "motorcycle helmet" design might not have been seen as sufficiently villainous. However, I really wasn't very fond of the streaked pewter "techno-skull" look that they came up with. I just had a hard time seeing this as a Cobra VIPER, particularly. In fairness, I had the same problem in 1994 with that purple-and-orange thing. If it had been named anything else, fine and well. But for me -- watch what you call a Cobra Viper.
But, this soldier has been called Viper Commando. Okay. Let's try to work with that. Basically, it's a recolored movie Viper. But the recoloration is an improvement. The skull-like helmet, rather than the streaked pewter color, has been done in solid black, and given red eyes. As I said, this is a distinct improvement.
The bulk of the uniform is black, with silver ridged passing on the shoulders, lower arms, and around the legs. Then there's that massive, carapace-like ridged vest that wraps around the torso. It's done in a pewter color, and weathered with some black streaks. Not a practice I've ever been fond of in any action figure line. And honestly, it looks so bulky, I don't know how anybody can even move in it.
Granted, the end result is a figure that you're not going to mistake for one of the good guys, even if you don't notice the Cobra emblem on the upper left arm. But some of this almost looks like it's out of Cobra-La, rather than Cobra.
The overall sculpt and detail level is excellent, however, as is the assembly. I was impressed with how tight most of the articulation points were, including the legs. The articulation is quite extensive, as well, and includes the head, arms, elbows (including swivel), lower arm swivel (substituting for the wrists), mid torso (very effectively hidden by the vest), legs, double-jointed knees, and ankles.
The Viper Commando stands well and holds a pose, and comes with some weaponry of his own, including a backpack and a couple of large rifles. The file cards for the movie figures do not go into the same level of detail as file cards from previous incarnations of G.I. Joe, and the file card for the Viper Commando is fairly generic, emphasizing the fact that they carry out particularly dangerous and deadly missions, and throwing around words like "ruthless" a fair bit.
One interesting point is the "preferred weapon" is stated to be the "MARS Industries D57-B extreme environment electromagnetic rifle."
Now, we come to one big question. Given that the Serpent Armor is derived directly from an item designed in 1983 for the original Real American Hero figures, and given that the movie-based figures are based on the structural designs developed for the 25th Anniversary line, which at the very least made G.I. Joe figures noticeably taller than they had been before, and this includes the Viper Commando, which, derived from the movie Cobra Viper was not designed to wear this suit, the question that must be asked is -- can the figure wear the Serpent Armor?
Honestly, I felt this was an entirely valid question. I presumed that the Viper Commando COULD wear the Serpent Armor, otherwise there'd be a lot of disappointed buyers out there who would likely make some amount of noise about it. But that still left the unanswered question of the different figure type from what the Serpent Armor was originally designed to accommodate.
Granted, I'm sure that any traditional-style G.I. Joe figure can fit into this. But I am impressed to report that -- so does the Viper Commando! Just make sure you take his backpack off first. But, if you tuck his arms in properly, the torso piece fits, and the leg pieces snap into place without any difficulty whatsoever.
I will say this -- the head of the Viper Commando does come all the way to the top of the Serpent Armor. He's pretty much bumping his head on the roof of this thing, and I'm not sure that was the case with the original figures. Might've been, but I'm not sure. I won't say that it isn't a tight fit. And I won't say that if you took the Viper Commando in his Serpent Armor and put him next to any original-style figure in a SNAKE Armor, that he might not stand just a little taller. But the fact remains -- he DOES FIT.
Assembly around the figure is easy enough. You snap the leg sections into place, pop a couple of weapons onto the arms, snap them into the back piece, rest the Viper Commando with his armored legs into the back piece, and then snap the front piece over it. I was impressed with how secure a snap into place it is, too. I found it somewhat difficult to pry it open, and while I'm not saying that this toy is necessarily fragile, I do recommend appropriate caution.
So, what's my final word here? This is a cool item. Regardless of whether you're collecting the movie figures, if you're a longtime collector of G.I. Joe, and have the other SNAKE Armors, then you're definitely going to want the Serpent Armor. Given its color, it looks more dangerous than either of the other two. And it's cool just in and of itself. The Viper Commando is not bad for a movie figure, and the recoloration, especially of the helmet, is, in my opinion, an improvement over the movie Viper.
This item has proven to date to be distinctly elusive, and I'm not saying it will be easy to find, and it is a Target exclusive, but as such time as you do find it -- don't hesitate. Get it then and there. For one thing, you might never see it again. For another, it's a cool item that will be a welcome addition to any G.I. Joe collection.
The G.I.JOE - THE RISE OF COBRA - COBRA SERPENT ARMOR with VIPER COMMANDO definitely has my highest recommendation!