Rise of Cobra Air Raid and Sky Sweeper
Kids can be funny sometimes. I don’t mean in the lame Kids Say the Darndest Things way, but it’s interesting to watch how your opinion of a toy changes after seeing a kid’s eyes light up while they’re playing with it. I was talking with a couple of Hasbro design team folks near the “free play” area they’d set up for the kids at Joe Con in 2009. Every now and then, someone from the Hasbro team would trot out another vehicle or figure and it just so happened that while I was standing near there the Sky Sweeper came out. The kids that were playing with it were having a blast with that little thing. That really made me re-evaluate my opinion of what I had just initially considered to be a lame Firebat repaint with a pair of springloaded missile launchers attached. It wasn’t the flashiest vehicle out there, but you really couldn’t deny that it was fun. The Sky Sweeper had been out for quite a while by the time I saw it in action at Joe Con and I passed on it pretty frequently because it didn’t look that interesting, but you couldn’t see the fun factor it had by just seeing it sitting in a window box. So, Hasbro, I’ve got to say, I’m sure your idea of letting kids play with Joes for free probably netted you quite a few new young fans, but it also reminded an old warhorse like me that sometimes, Joe vehicles just have to be fun and the Sky Sweeper with Air Raid definitely has fun in spades and that’s precisely why I bought it for myself.
After getting the set in my hands, I was surprised I passed on the Sky Sweeper as many times as I did if nothing else because I really found myself liking Air Raid’s design. Air Raid, like most of the Rise of Cobra vehicle drivers, is a straight up FrankenJoe, but his parts are either well-disguised (like his head—who would have thought the single pack Resolute Duke would look so different with brown hair instead of blonde) or things that weren’t in my collection (the upper body from the Resolute five pack jet pack Duke). Even the legs, which are a straight up reuse of Resolute Duke look completely different thanks to the radically different paint job they received. Everything really does fit together quite well and looks great as a high-tech flight suit. My favorite part has to be the very high-tech torso gear he’s got. While the sculpt was designed for the Resolute brand, the armored chest plate and back really do fit in quite nicely with the movie’s armored Joe aesthetic. Air Raid himself is a great figure, but the filecard and design create some weirdness. Air Raid’s filename is listed as Franklin Talltree, better known to Joe fans as Airborne. However, the head sculpt looks more like Barrel Roll from the SpyTroops era than it does anyone else. I still call him Air Raid and like the idea of some new blood in the Joe air force, but it’s a little odd that his filename references a classic Joe while his head sculpt, possibly accidentally, looks like a fan-favorite Joe figure from the line’s relaunch in the early 2000s. Sometimes, Hasbro misses the mark a little on inter-brand consistency but that’s really the only bad thing I have to say about Air Raid. He’s a great vehicle driver and unlike some of the Rise of Cobra drivers, he looks like Hasbro did at least put a little time and effort into making him.
As I mentioned before, part of what makes Air Raid look so different from the two Dukes whose parts he borrowed is because of his great paint scheme that was a big departure from how we saw these parts painted the first time they were used. The jetpack Duke that the torso and upper arms came from was mostly white while the carded Duke the rest of the body came from wore the traditional Duke colors of tan and green. Using dark blue and black, with some very light blue for the camouflage on his pants, is such a radical departure that it effectively obscures the parts reuse. I’d passed on the Resolute five-pack quite a few times, so I’d seen it before, but I’d not realized that it wasn’t a brand new piece until I was going through YoJoe’s archives to update my collection listing on there. The two-toned blue look is very effective for a pilot and I like that it also meshes with the light blue they used for the Sky Sweeper. It’s nice that the vehicle and driver actually look like they belong together. Don’t get me wrong, I love that Rampage was included as the driver for the R.H.I.N.O. but he really didn’t seem to fit that well with his high-tech, helicopter and trooper carrier combo. It felt more like they were just looking for someone to fill the seat and realized they could make Rampage pretty easily. Air Raid feels more like he was designed to be the pilot of the Sky Sweeper and looks like he belongs in the cockpit and I think his paint job really helps bring the pairing together. My only real complaint about his paint job is on his head sculpt. He suffers from the same, slightly too dense skintone paint that SDCC Destro had. The details of the mold really get obscured because it seems as though the paint has filled in every little sculpted line that helped give the head sculpt some character when they used it for Duke earlier that same year. While a lot of 25th Anniversary (and even Rise of Cobra) drivers got the short shrift when it came to accessories, Air Raid really got loaded up with them and they all really work well together. To help complete his pilot look, Air Raid gets the same angular helmet that the Resolute jet pack Duke came with and the parachute pack that I’m assuming came from the 25th Anniversary Snow Serpent. I like both pieces and they really help sell the idea of Air Raid as the pilot of a cutting edge fighter even when he’s not in the cockpit. For weapons, he gets the same pistol and rifle that the carded Resolute Duke came with. I really love that rifle. It’s probably one of my favorite weapons from that time. It looks slightly futuristic, but it’s still grounded enough in the real world that it doesn’t look completely fantastical. Plus, the mold is better detailed than some of the generic rifles we got during from Rise of Cobra line. The pistol is another nice addition and I like that Air Raid actually has some equipment to use if he’s not flying the Sky Sweeper. Honestly, my Sky Sweeper is still mothballed since I don’t have a lot of storage space, but I liked the look of Air Raid so much since it also works as a paratrooper that he’s part of my Tomahawk crew. He’s a driver, but unlike some other drivers he works just as well outside his vehicle as he does inside.
Of course, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the driver, so I guess we should finally get around to looking at his ride, the Sky Sweeper. I’ll admit, I passed on the Firebat when it was released during the 25th Anniversary line. A.V.A.C. seemed just too much like a bad custom and I didn’t have any nostalgic ties to the vehicle, so it became a pretty easy pass. I passed on the Sky Sweeper itself for a long time since they shared the mold, but I’m glad I gave it a chance after seeing how fun it was at Joe Con (and scoring it on clearance from my local K-Mart). The Firebat base is a great mold, but they added just enough new features to make it seem a little more different from its Cobra predecessor. The Sky Sweeper is a sleek little jet. The wings fold up and I like the large engines that attach near the back. It really makes the Sky Sweeper look like it can hit some impressively high speeds. The landing skids both under the wings and the nose of the Sky Sweeper have small machine guns built into them. I like that the Sky Sweeper has some great weapons systems. Joe vehicles, especially the jets, often get limited to just missiles. However, modern fighters often have some sort of gun system that’s to be used for closer range air-to-air combat or for ground strafing runs. The Sky Sweeper has four machine guns mounted on it, so it can really fill the air with lead. In addition to that, it has a pair of regular missiles as well as a pair of spring-loaded missile launchers. Finally, on the outermost pat of the wing, it also has a pair of bombs. While the Firebat looked a little unimpressive in the box, the Sky Sweeper, just via these few simple changes, feels like it brings a lot more to the table. While real world jets are often equipped for just one type of mission, the Sky Sweeper can be used in any capacity possible and I like that. I know it’s not realistic, but I like that I can use the Sky Sweeper as either a jet for air combat or as a hit-and-fade strike vehicle that can soften up enemy emplacements before the ground assault.
The biggest difference between the Firebat and the Sky Sweeper is in this paint scheme. While the Firebat was all red, the Sky Sweeper uses a nice combination of light blue and white. Fighter jets tend to be in light color, so the light blue and white is a good pairing from a realistic standpoint, but it’s a little more interesting than the standard light gray look usually used for fighter jets in pop culture. The two-tone color scheme is also just a little more visually interesting than the straight red of the original Firebat. It really helps differentiate it from the Firebat and it kind of reminds me of how Sky Patrol took a Night Raven, chromed it and redubbed it the Sky Raven. I kind of like it when Joes and Cobras repurpose each other’s vehicles and the Joes not only repurposed the Firebat, but actually made me like it a little more. Sometimes as a collector, you just need to step back and remember why you like toys in the first place. I loved playing with my toys growing up but a lot of the modern Joe stuff hasn’t really been all that playable. However, when something as playable as the Sky Sweeper showed up, I passed it up quite a few times because I just wasn’t that impressed with how it looked. However, seeing it being played with made me think about how awesome playing with my Joes growing up was. I’m sure the Sky Sweeper will never be a real display piece, but that’s okay. The modern Joe line has given me a lot of cool display pieces, but the Sky Sweeper is definitely fun so I think it succeeds more as a toy than a lot of the recent stuff has. If I have kids, I’m sure one of the few Joe things that any hypothetical child would be allowed to play with from my collection would be the Sky Sweeper. It’s a fun vehicle, and there aren’t a lot of small parts. It’s the best of both worlds. It looks pretty nice, but it plays even better and I’m more than willing to trade off some aesthetics for something that’s just plain fun.