Cobra Hydra and Aero-Viper (Project: Downfall)
As you could already tell from the photos of what I purchased that I posted during my Joe Con After Action Reports, the GIJCC really managed to hit my nostalgia buttons with their choices for souvenir sets. When I went in 2009, I was really only interested in one set. However, in 2016, I snagged everything but the Sky Patrol Skystriker. Yeah, it was a little hard on my wallet (though I did budget a fair amount of cash for Joe Con exclusives), but it was worth it. The exclusive that really surprised me was the Aero-Viper and Cobra Hydra set. First of all, I was pretty shocked to learn that it was the first one to sell through. More importantly, though, I was surprised at how much I liked the set. I had passed on the Rise of Cobra Crimson Hydra a few times, so it’s not like the GIJCC had created a new vehicle this time around. However, when paired with a modified Aero-Viper, it was a perfect fit for me.
Because of my ties to the Cobra Condor, I was a bit more interested in the Aero-Viper than I was the Hydra. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ll talk about later, the Hydra is a surprisingly fun vehicle, but I’ve wanted a modern version of the Aero-Viper for a while, but the ones Hasbro released had all been kind of lacking because of all the M.A.R.S Industries Trooper parts they used. There are still a lot of M.A.R.S. Industries Trooper parts being used here, but the one change the GIJCC made really helps make him a better figure. The legs are shared with the M.A.R.S. Industries Trooper, but those legs actually work pretty well to replicate the vintage Aero-Viper’s look. The vintage figure was wearing pretty tall boots and basic pants and that’s what these legs bring to the table as well. The torso comes from the same source, which means it has the commando sweater texture on it. However, you won’t see much of it because the Aero-Viper has the same elaborate vest that’s been used on its modern incarnations. While the vest is a little more detailed than the vintage figure’s torso, it’s still got the dual straps and large chest pouches that were the hallmark of the original Aero-Viper. My main problem with the Hasbro version of the Aero-Viper was that they just used the M.A.R.S. Industries Trooper armsas well. Those aren’t great arms because the funky armor doesn’t really fit with the Aero-Viper’s specialty and the elbow bends were incredibly shallow, so it just made for a weak looking figure. The GIJCC swapped these out for the 25th Anniversary Alley Viper arms, and I think that was a great call. The modern Aero-Viper’s arms are a bit busier than the vintage version, but beneath all the extra details, they’re nice, basic arms with short gloves and that’s what the Aero-Viper had back in the day. However, I do really like the added details that the Aero-Viper has thanks to the Alley Viper arms. I like the idea of the Aero-Viper having a wrist communicator and a knife sheath. After all, if the Aero-Viper winds up getting shot down, he’d need a wrist communicator to stay in touch with base and a knife for survival situations. The arm bands make his arms a little more interesting and the thick seams molded into the arms also look appropriate for a flight suit. Up top, the Aero-Viper uses the M.A.R.S. Industries Trooper head. Truthfully, I’m still not wild about this head after all these years. The basic balaclava look is fine for the Aero-Viper, but the sculpted eyes have always looked a little bored or lazy and a lazy-eyed pilot isn’t going to last long. I know the GIJCC couldn’t have molded up a new head to look like the vintage one because there wouldn’t have been a lot of reuse potential outside of modern versions of the Dreadheads, but I think a different head would have helped the Aero-Viper feel a little more like his own man. Personally, I’ve always preferred the 25th Anniversary Para-Viper head, but I’m sure the reason the GIJCC went this way was because that tooling is likely all grouped so they wouldn’t have to license a different head tool for this mold. Despite my personal preference for a different head, the Aero-Viper is a great recreation of a fairly obscure vehicle driver and I’m glad to finally have an Aero-Viper that looks like mine in my collection.
The other problem I had with the mass market release of the Aero-Viper was its color scheme. Don’t get me wrong, the black and gold look they chose for him is striking, but considering I figured we’d only ever get one Aero-Viper, I would have vastly preferred for Hasbro to have referenced his original color scheme. Thankfully, the GIJCC stepped in to make an Aero-Viper that uses its vintage colors. The base of the flight suit is a very dark green. It’s a striking color and the light gray used for the vest, armbands, wrist sheath, communicator and gloves pops really well against it. The boots are still black, though the M.A.R.S. Industries Trooper details are painted over. There’s a little gold used on the buckles on the vest and up on the helmet. Gold is a color that should definitely be used sparingly, and there’s just enough gold on the Aero-Viper to reference the figure’s original colors without overwhelming him. The balaclava is a matching green, and I get why the GIJCC went that way, but I think a black balaclava would have referenced the original figure’s bandana mask nicely and made him just a little more itneresting. Again, though, that’s a personal preference and I’m not going to consider the Aero-Viper a failure because the GIJCC didn’t make his facemask black.
Like many vehicle drivers, the Aero-Viper doesn’t have a lot of gear, but he has more gear than the vintage figure, so that’s a nice touch. I’ve already mentioned that he has a gold helmet, but I haven’t really talked about it. This helmet is what almost got me to pull the trigger on the Rise of Cobra Crimson Hydra a few times. Hasbro made an amazingly accurate recreation of the vintage figure’s helmet and I loved that piece as a kid. Seeing it on the modern Aero-Viper was almost enough to make me buy a vehicle I didn’t really want and a driver I thought had some problems. However, I never weakened enough and personally, I’m now really glad I waited. Unlike the vintage helmet, the modern version is molded out of clear plastic with gold painted over it so the Aero-Viper can actually see out of his helmet. All the classic details are still present on this helmet and I think someone at Hasbro must have loved the Aero-Viper as a kid because that’s the only reason I can think of for someone to have taken this much time to redesign this specific helmet for a Rise of Cobra vehicle driver. The Aero-Viper gets an Alley Viper knife to fill the sheath on his arm and gets a black version of the high-tech revolver that I think first came with the Retaliation G.I. Joe Trooper. I like the look of this weapon to begin with and I think it makes sense for the Aero-Viper to have a small pistol like this with him. He may not be able to do a lot with the gun, but he can at least use it to defend himself and potentially kill a Joe to get a better weapon in the event he gets shot down. It’s not a lot of gear, but it all works well for him, so I’m very satisfied with the choices the GIJCC made here.
For his ride, the GIJCC went back to the Spy Troops era and ironically took the Sky Sweeper jet and did what Hasbro did and rechristened it the Hydra. I think it’s an interesting parallel that the Sky Patrol Sky Sweeper started its life as the Cobra Firebat and the Cobra Hydra started its life as the Joe Sky Sweeper. The Hydra’s overall design is inspired by the famous F-117 A, the premiere US stealth fighter. It’s quite a bit shorter than the craft that inspired it, but the inspiration is still clear. I think it’s a nice touch that the Spy Troops line added a stealth fighter to the Joe brand and I like seeing it here since now you have a stealth vs. stealth battle going on between the Joe Sky Patrol team and the Cobra A.D.D.E.R.S. squad. Despite coming from a more kiddified era of the Joe brand, the Hydra still has quite a few details packed into it. There aren’t a lot of guns sticking off this thing, but there are quite a few small machine guns molded into the vehicle’s body. I appreciate that realistic detail on a very kid friendly vehicle. The vehicle is very sleek and it fits nicely in the hand, which is something I think is crucial for a toy plane. Of course, being from the Spy Troops era of the brand, this thing is chocked full of action features. First of all, it’s got sound attack weapon ports on each side of the vehicle. Hasbro stripped the electronics out of it when it was released in the Rise of Cobra line, but the GIJCC still included the same large handheld rocket launcher that Hasbro made for it back in the day to fill the port. Personally, I think it breaks up the vehicle’s lines a bit, so I count it more as another accessory for the Aero-Viper, but I do appreciate that it was included for completeness’s sake. The second action feature is located on the back of the vehicle, where the rear wings can be slid in and out. Truthfully, the vehicle looks kind of weird with those rear wings slid in, but they’re something that a kid can interact with, so I figured I should mention them while I’m talking about action features. The third action feature can be found on the back half of the vehicle. The Hydra’s tail fins are mounted on a track. Sliding the tailfins back allows you to flip open two large panels in the middle of the vehicle that reveal a pair of spring-loaded missile launchers. Yes, it’s not the most realistic way to deploy missiles from a plane (seriously, the drag issues alone would probably make most pilots crash the Hydra if they tried to use them like this), but I appreciate the engineering behind it. You can see the seams when you look at the vehicle, but it’s still fairly well obscured so if you don’t like that feature, you’re not stuck staring at it. I do wish Hasbro had found a way to engineer this vehicle differently so you didn’t have to flay the back half of the plane to fire its missiles, but it’s still a great piece of toy engineering and it’s a pretty fun feature. The other reason you can open that much of the Hydra is to access its fourth and final action figure. Since this vehicle was part of the Spy Troops line, the Joe Sky Sweeper had a Cobra themed insertion pod mounted inside it so the pilot could abandon the Sky Sweeper and then, disguised as a Cobra, use the pod to sneak into a Cobra stronghold. The insertion pod is a fairly small piece, but it’s also nicely designed. It tucks up inside the belly of the Hydra quite well and is also fairly easy to remove while still being securely held inside the vehicle. The pod is a basic piece, with a large front canopy, a single jet engine on the back and two small wings that can be flipped out once it’s outside of the Hydra. There aren’t any noticeable weapons on it, so I see it more as an escape pod than anything else, but it’s still a nice little touch. I may not play with my Joes much and passed on the Sky Sweeper back during my high school days, but I have to admit that this is a solidly designed toy with a lot of fun interactive features.
To give the Hydra a Cobra touch, the paint scheme is very different from the relatively realistic look the original Sky Sweeper had. The Hydra and its pod are both painted a rather bright blue and both have red tinted canopies. I’m still not wild about red canopies, but they at least look nice with the blue base color. Personally, though, I think the blue is just a bit too bright. I’d much rather see the Hydra done up in a dark blue than a light blue. The rest of the molded details that are painted get painted in black and it’s a good combination. There’s not a lot of paint work on this vehicle, but what there is well done. The Hydra also has the Cobra Air Force logo tampoed on its rear wings, the sides of the hatches and the sides of the pod. I’m on record saying how much I like that logo and it looks good everywhere on this vehicle. Truthfully, the Hydra’s paint scheme isn’t all that complicated, but it works.
The Hydra was a pretty big surprise at Joe Con. There aren’t a lot of large scale Cobra air vehicles in the modern line. I was expecting to see some rehashed form of Rattler, and I wasn’t super excited by that prospect. I like the Rattler, but it’s still a fairly safe choice and would have been a fairly expensive piece. However, the GIJCC is always pretty good at thinking outside the box and the Hydra was a way cooler option in my opinion. It’s a solidly built toy but the GIJCC managed to make it seem like something a little more by giving it a great, unique look. Add in the fact that they created a superior version of Aero-Viper and I was sold on the set. Apparently, so were a lot of people considering how quickly this vehicle sold through at Joe Con. Truthfully, I was pretty surprised by that fact. I figured for sure the Sky Patrol Sky Sweeper would be the first sell out of the con, but apparently enough people passed on the Hydra at retail for the same reason I did that there was a lot of interest in that set. While I still don’t have a lot of vehicle display space, the Hydra is a small enough vehicle that it’s not too hard to have on display and that’s something I really appreciate as well. If I’m going to be dropping serious cash on a Joe item, I want to be able to display it at least for a while. I don’t know how long the
Hydra will be on display in my collection, but it’s a solid addition to my growing collection GIJCC exclusives.