Cobra Night Watch Officer (25th Anniversary)
Overall, the 25th Anniversary line, while far from perfect, did a great job at referencing just about every facet of the small scale Joe brand’s history. One of the biggest surprises for me was the Cobra Night Watch set. I passed on the original set pretty easily when it first came out during the new sculpt era. I was pretty strapped for cash at the time, but the set was also so uninspiring that it wasn’t really even a temptation. Had Hasbro been able to use the new Cobra Troopers they tooled up for the Cobra Infantry set as the Night Watch figures, I would have been all over it, but they had to use the vintage ones for some reason and it meant the set looks pretty dated. So when I heard that there would be another Night Watch set in the 25th Anniversary line, I really didn’t care. However, when I was at the Topeka Toys ‘R’ Us on a Joe run, I saw it and I was actually impressed. I’ve never been much of an army-builder, but I love squad-building and the Night Watch set really did a great job there. For I believe $25 dollars, you got a squad of four Cobra Troopers and a Cobra Officer. You could either arm them all with the traditional Cobra Trooper Dragunov sniper rifle or you could give each one a unique weapon that would cast them in a more specific role. Of course, every good squad needs a squad leader and the Cobra Night Watch Officer leads his merry band of dark clad Cobra Troopers and he looks pretty darn good while doing it.
Head to toe, the Night Watch Officer is the 25th Anniversary Cobra Trooper and unfortunately time hasn’t been terribly kind to it. When it came out, I really was impressed with how good the Cobra Troopers looked. It had a great paramilitary vibe to it and I can see any wannabe terrorist militia leader cobbling together his men’s “uniforms” from army surplus pants and shirts. The Night Watch Officer looks just as good as the Cobra Trooper did originally. However, the mold itself does have a few flaws. His elbows have a rather limited range of motion. You can’t get them to a full 90 degree angle bend, and that’s a problem. Joes have been able to do that for a long time, so this feels like a bit of a step back. The early 25th Anniversary Joes also had a bit more visible chest gap. However, due to the design of the Night Watch Officer’s removable webgear, it is a little less noticeable than it is on other figures that share this mold. The detailing on the mold is still overall rather impressive. The kneepads look realistic and have a different texture from his pants. Both his pants and shirt look like fabric. Some of the old Joe figures had gear that looked more like spandex than actual clothes. I appreciate that the modern Joes have been able to take advantage of more advanced toy- making technology and get realistic looking clothing. The head sculpt was, again, good for its time but has become a little less impressive as the years have gone by. The Night Watch Officer has got a pretty intense glare and he looks like a guy you wouldn’t really want to mess with. The facemask looks quite natural and it lies across his face realistically. The biggest problem that the head mold has is the lack of hair. As a concession to his removable helmet, the original Cobra Trooper head was as bald as a cue ball. The helmet does fit quite nicely up top, but it did kind of become a bit of running joke in the online Joe circles that every Cobra Trooper had to completely shave his head before joining up (or maybe bald soldiers are just more likely to defect and become bad guys). In an effort to combat that problem, for the Night Watch set, Hasbro did decide to paint some hair on top of the cue ball, but without sculpted details up there, it just looks kind of awkward. Despite his flaws, the Night Watch Officer definitely looks sharp. It’s a testament to how good Hasbro had gotten by Pursuit of Cobra that their initial offerings became so outclassed in just the span of a few years. Really when you think about it, though, that’s kind of the story of the Joe brand. They experimented with adding a lot of articulation in small scale action figures in 1982 and by 1985, they’d come up with some new things (namely the balljointed head) that made those initial offerings look very dated. In 2007, Hasbro tried a completely new style of construction and then within a few years, they mastered and made it look great. Yes, there were some missteps early on in the 25th Anniversary line, but were they really any worse than some of the problems the beloved Original 13 had? Personally, I’d say no. Hasbro eventually figured out how to make o-ring figures look great, but they definitely didn’t have it worked out when they first started and the same can be true of this new construction style as well.
The only real difference between the Night Watch Officer and the standard Cobra Officer figure is in his paint scheme and the Night Watch Officer really does look sharp. As befitting a night operations trooper, the Night Watch Officer is wearing a lot of black. His pants are all black, though his boots do add in some brown and the brown straps for his dagger sheath do break up the black a bit. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t do something with paint to bring out his kneepads. It would have helped break up the black a bit more. The brown paint applications on his straps aren’t great but they’re still decent. For his shirt, he’s got a black and gray camouflage pattern. Surprisingly, he doesn’t match the troops he’s leading into battle and I think that hurts him a little. The regular Night Watch Troopers had a dark blue camouflage shirt and I think it helped keep them look dark. The Night Watch Officer’s upper body comes across as drastically lighter than his lower body. I think that’s why I notice the fact that his legs are pretty much straight black a little more. Had they just thrown some of the gray down to his legs (like on the kneepads), I think the figure would have looked just a little more coherent. As it stands, his upper body looks light and kind of busy while his lower body is dark and bland. Overall composition issues aside, though, the camouflage on his shirt looks very nice and the silver Cobra sigil on his chest and the Night Watch patch on his left arm work really well against this background. Over the shirt, he’s wearing the Cobra Officer webgear and they’ve spiced it up with some brown and silver detailing. This webgear is great on its own and it’s even better since the details are accented with brown straps and silver buckles. The 25th Anniversary line may have had some problems, but I think Hasbro made a great call by doing so much with removable webgear. It really adds some visual weight to the figures that wear them. The Night Watch Officer has dark brown hair underneath his black and gray helmet and while I’m still not a big fan of faking hair by painting it on, at least with the dark brown, there’s enough of a difference between his hairline and his forehead that it looks okay. It’s still not ideal, but it’s better than the blonde Night Watch Trooper’s hair. However, the Night Watch Officer has a pretty badly asymmetrical hairline. I can’t remember if this was as pronounced on the other Night Watch figures or not, but hairline quality control was really weak on him.
I’ve touched on some of the Night Watch Officer’s accessories, but there’s still more to be talked about here. Starting off on top of his head, he’s wearing the Cobra Officer helmet, which looks like the standard Cobra Trooper helmet but it has a rank chevron on the front of it. It’s a great way to make the Night Watch Officer stand out but it still leaves him looking like the troopers he’s commanding. To fill his dagger sheath, the Night Watch Officer has the standard Cobra Trooper stiletto. It looks good on his hip and it’s a decent weapon of last resort for a Cobra night operations specialist. The Night Watch Officer’s primary weapon is the Snow Job rifle, which is also the same rifle that just about every Joe carried in the cartoon. While it’s traditionally a Joe weapon, I do like seeing it in the hands of the Night Watch Officer. In my mind, I’ve always kind of seen the Night Watch as Cobra’s sentries while around base but a group of saboteurs if they’re detached to the field. It would make sense that an enterprising Night Watch Officer might snag a Joe gun while they’re raiding a Joe position. It’s a great gun and it always creates a little chaos on the battlefield when you’re firing back on your enemy with the same firearm they’re using. Plus, I can see the Night Watch Officer using the weapon as a point of pride. He’s good enough to be their officer which commands respect, but he’s also got the balls to steal a Joe weapon while they’re on a raid which gives him even more street cred with the thugs he leads.
While the original Cobra Night Watch set was pretty weak, Hasbro really impressed me when they dusted off the concept to make a quick and cheap store exclusive for the 25th Anniversary line to keep the product flowing while they geared up to turn the 25th Anniversary line into something bigger. The Night Watch set was by no means a “must have” set, but it was just so well-executed as a great little squad of Cobras that I couldn’t resist. Add in the fact that the Night Watch name ironically reminds me of a terrible job I had back in college (and believe me, while on the job I wish I could have dressed in all black instead of neon yellow when I was on Campus Night Watch), and I was sold. Take a bunch of Cobra Troopers, give them unique accessories and then add in a squad leader, and I’m sold. It’s definitely an artifact of the time, but as a concept it still holds up pretty well. I kind of wish my local Dollar General had gotten in more of the black Cobra Troopers. Thinking about it, just stealing the webgear and weapons from all the 25th Anniversary Night Watch guys and you could probably make a decent Night Watch squad made from better parts.