REVIEW: G.I.JOE TARGET EXCLUSIVE TIGER RAT
Perhaps it is no great surprise that after reissuing the superb Cobra Rattler and Conquest X-30 planes from the G.I. Joe line, as Target exclusives, that Hasbro and Target would team up once again to release the next best known and next most popular versions of those particular aircraft, the G.I. Joe Tiger Rat and the Cobra Python Patrol Conquest.
Many of the airplanes in the G.I. Joe line are based, to one degree or another, on actual fighter planes. The SkyStriker, easily the most popular plane in the entire line, is derived from the F-14. The Rattler/Tiger Rat has a great deal in common with the A-10. The Cobra Night Raven shares quite a few qualities with the SR-71 Blackbird. And the Conquest X-30 is based, although somewhat more loosely, on an experimental fighter plane called the X-29, which also had the unusual forward-sweeping wings. This might also explain, to a degree, the Tiger Rat's greater popularity. The A-10 is a fighter plane presently in operation. I don't think the X-29 ever saw actual service.
The A-10 is apparently a rather difficult plane to fly, and one can understand why. It doesn't have the sleek design of a standard fighter plane. The wings are at a distinct right angle to the plane, rather than swept back as is the case with many fighter jets. The entire profile of the plane just doesn't fit the conventional visual look of what most people expect a modern fighter plane to look like.
However, it is not to be underestimated. It wouldn't have been in service as long as it has if it wasn't effective, and seeing a group of them in the sky -- which I do frequently -- in flight, it's a powerful- looking airplane that while maybe not sleek and fancy, looks like it means business. I sure wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of one.
The first appearance of this plane design within the world of G.I.Joe was in 1984, with the development of the Cobra Rattler. In later years, after the original run of the Real American Hero, it would be issued in dark green, assigned to the G.I. Joe team, and officially designated as the A-10 Thunderbolt. It would also reappear as the Cobra Rattler, but with a radically different color scheme, mostly a metallic copper in color. The original Cobra Rattler was, of course, dark Cobra blue.
There were several significant differences between an actual A-10 and the Rattler. An A-10 has two main jet engines, which are mounted near the rear of the plane. The Rattler has three engines, only one of which was mounted near the back. The other two were on the wings.
Which brings me to the other main difference between a real-life A-10 and the Rattler. The Rattler was able to pivot its wings ninety degrees for VTOL (Veritical Take Off and Landing) capability, something no A-10 in the world has ever managed. On the toy, though, it was a cool feature.
And then we have the Tiger Rat. Originally introduced in 1988, the Tiger Rat was part of the newly launched special team within the ranks of G.I. Joe known as Tiger Force. Conceptually, this was a special team of re-uniformed G.I. Joe team members, whose uniforms had distinctive color schemes and tiger-like stripes on them somewhere, that made use of repainted G.I. Joe and captured Cobra vehicles as part of their missions.
There was, at the time, a very impressive animated commercial for Tiger Force, which also amounted to a significant part of the VERY limited amount of animated in 1988, that portrayed Duke ordering a team of G.I. Joes to, "Get those Cobra vehicles repainted! They're ours now!" Swing over to a shot of some G.I. Joes repainting a Cobra Rattler in Tiger Force colors. It was a pretty effective commercial.
Toywise, it was a way for Hasbro to get an additional use out of a series of figure and vehicle molds. They could hardly be blamed for this. As I have said in a great many reviews of all types of action figure toys, making the molds is the single most expensive part of toy manufacturing. If a company can find a way to get more than one use out of them, they likely will. And if that additional use is a decent idea that works well and comes across as cool, I have no problem with it whatsoever.
And I never had a problem with Tiger Force. Neither did most G.I. Joe fans. Tiger Force is one of the most highly-regarded special teams that was ever developed for G.I. Joe. It ran for two years within the line, the second year being a handful of new vehicles, but it went on to have a life of its own, with unique figures, in both Europe and South America, and when Toys "R" Us started carrying exclusive multi-packs of G.I. Joe figures during the 2002-2007 run, the first one out of the gate was a new Tiger Force set. New Tiger Force members were also featured in the 2004 G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention set. All of that certainly speaks to the popularity of Tiger Force.
So, let's discuss the new Tiger Rat. And although I generally don't discuss packaging, it's worth a mention in this instance. Unlike the "window boxes" of the Cobra Rattler and Conquest X-30, the Tiger Rat (and the Python Conquest) are packaged in sealed boxes, with painted artwork on the front. And it's a really impressive image, too, showing the Tiger Rat flying low over a river through a jungle setting, with mountains in the background, guns blazing and missiles firing. Trim it carefully enough from the box and it would be suitable for framing.
The Tiger Rat is mostly assembled when you open it. Now, as much as I have enjoyed assembling G.I. Joe vehicles in the past, the Rattler/Tiger Rat was always a bit of a pain in the neck, especially the VTOL mechanism, and snapping the landing gear into place. If Hasbro wants to save me the trouble this time around, I'm not going to argue the point. In fact, I'll thank them for it.
The Tiger Rat is clearly an attack plane. This is no stealth jet. Along with the nose cannon, which is a rotating machine gun, and the gunner station behind the cockpit with a rotating double-barreled gun, the Tiger Rat is loaded with missiles and bomb racks. Six small bombs are mounted on two racks of three each on the underside of the winds, joined by three different types of missiles. You would not want to be on the receiving end of what this plane is carrying, and it's carrying plenty.
The Tiger Rat has some cool features. Along with the rotating gunner station and an opening cockpit canopy, and of course the VTOL function, the Tiger Rat has landing gear that raises and lowers, with rolling wheels; the aforementioned brace of removable bombs and missiles, as well as the rotating nose cannon, removable engine covers with plenty of painted engine detail underneath, and two side panels that can be swapped out for "battle damaged" panels -- you know, in case Cobra gets a lucky shot or two. No shortage of play value on this plane.
The paint job of the Tiger Rat, identical in basic principle to any Tiger Force vehicle, has always been one of the highlights. The plane is molded in yellow, with wide black stripes across it, and an airbrushed brown front merging into white. This, along with the toothy grin stickers and eye stickers, gives the Tiger Rat something of a "face".
As I have the original Tiger Rat, I was able to make a comparison of the painted-on "tiger" markings between the two planes. Impressively, they are identical. Either Hasbro was able to successfully and very accurately duplicate the markings for a plane from over 20 years ago -- or they found the original paint stencils. Either way, it's a nice and very impressive job.
Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the labels. They look good. There is one noticeable difference, and that's with the G.I. Joe logo used. In 1988, the G.I. Joe logo had a slight 3-dimensional effect to it, which was reflected in the markings for vehicles. That particular G.I. Joe logo is no longer in use. Rather, something more akin to the original G.I. Joe logo is presently being used, and that's also reflected in the labels.
Additionally, the basic font on some of the other labels, such as "United States" and "No Step" has been changed. I also don't have a problem with this, as frankly, the newer labels look better and a bit cleaner in design.
Thankfully, the decorative "tiger face" pieces -- especially the huge fanged mouth -- worked. Others didn't, such as the G.I. Joe logo labels and others. These began to tear as I tried to remove them from the sheet, and the only solution was to cut the entire sheet apart. While this worked, it was obviously a bit of a nuisance, and really was something I should not have had to do.
Now, okay, in fairness, this is a relatively minor point, and not necessarily one that would be encountered on every label sheet to every Tiger Rat out there. The Tiger Rat is otherwise a truly superb airplane, I am sincerely pleased to have it, and I am not complaining about the plane whatsoever. But I did feel I needed to address this matter.
All right, let's discuss the pilot. The original pilot of the Tiger Rat, in 1988, was a new character by the name of Skystriker. This was a figure more or less cobbled together using the head of Thunder, and the substantially recolored body of Wild Weasel, who was the original pilot of the Cobra Rattler. While it might have been possible to re-do him in the 25th-style for the Tiger Rat, since Wild Weasel has been done in this style, and Skystriker's head wasn't so distinctive that another existing 25th-style head could not have been substituted, Hasbro chose to assign the Tiger Rat to a better-known pilot -- Wild Bill.
Wild Bill is easily one of the best known pilots and popular characters in the G.I. Joe universe. This friendly cowboy is best known as the pilot of the Dragonfly Helicopter, but he's turned up elsewhere over the years, and it's very interesting that he's the pilot of the Tiger Rat, since Wild Bill was originally going to be part of Tiger Force back in 1988!
The original team make-up for Tiger Force, as presented in an early Hasbro catalog, pictures of which have been circulating for years, show quite a few differences between what Hasbro initially planned, and what actually came out. Among these differences were plans for a new character named Sabre Tooth, who was a recolored version of Firefly, as well as the fact that Rip Cord and Recondo were intended as individually-carded figures. Additionally, Wild Bill was scheduled to be the pilot of the Tiger Fly, a Tiger Force version of his original helicopter, the Dragonfly.
Somewhere along the way, Sabre Tooth vanished, Rip Cord was dropped from Tiger Force, as was Wild Bill, and Recondo, in a different color scheme than originally proposed, became the pilot for the Tiger Fly.
So, it took him 21 years to pull it off, and doubtless some additional flight training so he could move into fighter planes from helicopters, but Wild Bill finally made it into Tiger Force!
The figure is, of course, a 25th-style version of Wild Bill, and it's a capable likeness of the legendary cowboy. The sunglasses, the hat, the mustache, the vest, the belt buckle, the cowboy boots -- they're all there. It really is a nice rendition of the character in this figure format.
Just one little thing -- he doesn't look especially Tiger Force-ish. There's no stripes on him! Some of the details on his vest, like a holster and a couple of straps, are painted yellow, but that's about it. One can sort of envision Wild Bill saying, "Well, shucks, I musta left that fancy striped vest they gave me back in my other footlocker." Okay, so it's hard to get mad at this guy.
Wild Bill's hat is removable, which is probably a good thing, since he also comes with a fighter pilot helmet, molded in yellow, with a black visor and grey microphone. The helmet is an excellent fit. And cowboy or not, and despite the painting on the box, it's probably against more regulations than I want to think about to fly a fighter jet without wearing a proper helmet! So it's a nice accessory to have included, as are the two western-style pistols that Wild Bill also comes with.
Wild Bill's file card reads as follows:
TIGER RAT PILOT
Slow talking and easygoing, Wild Bill doesn't let anything shake him up. This might not sound like much, but it means a lot to the G.I. Joe team if they are pinned down and need serious backup. Piloting a VTOL aircraft in combat requires a unique combination of skill, stamina, physical coordination, and spatial perception. Wild Bill can pull maneuvers in the air that defy gravity (and sanity). Always willing to lay himself on the line for his team. Wild Bill's been in more crashes then anyone can count, but he always manages to get back on his feet, and right behind the yoke again.
"You've got an aircraft that can dogfight, bust a bunker, and drop down into a war zone and lay down enough sustained machine gun fire to cover our guys? Not many pilots could fly a machine like that. Good thing you've got me."
One of the things of which I especially approve in the current G.I. Joe line is that, for the first time ever, the vehicles also have their own file cards. It took them two and a half decades to come up with this? The Tiger Rat's file card reads as follows:
The Tiger Rat is the pinnacle of aerial combat versatility. Capable of Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) with its rotating twin turbofan engines, the Tiger Rat can deploy from nearly anywhere. It carries a full complement of heat-seeking missiles and smart bombs in addition to a nose-mounted 30mm anti-tank gun and dual 20mm pivoting turret. Though not as fast as some supersonic fighters, the Tiger Rat has the unique ability to elevate like a helicopter mid-flight - capable of pulling moves to teach even the most advanced Cobra pilot a lesson they won't soon forget.
So what's my final word here? Label problems aside, this is an immensely cool plane. The Rattler is a personal favorite of many G.I. Joe fans, with the Tiger Rat close behind, especially with it being part of a popular special team like Tiger Force. Original Tiger Rats are doubtless very difficult and rather expensive to find, especially in brand new condition like this. If you're wondering if this new Tiger Rat lives up to the reputation and look of the original, please be assured, it does.
So, whether you're looking to add or replace a plane you wish you'd bought 20 years ago, or you're just looking to add a new plane to your current G.I. Joe collection, the Target exclusive G.I. JOE TIGER RAT most definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation! This is one immensely cool and impressive plane. You'll enjoy it!