Ninja COBRA Strike Force

Toy name: Ninja COBRA Strike Force
Assortment: N/A
Price: MSRP $19.99
Availability: October/November, 2004- Toys "R" Us Exclusive

I'll say it right up front--no I am not really a big ninja fan. I can accept and understand their place in G.I. Joe lore, and I don't fault them for the "deth of teh line" or anything like that, but I much prefer the military aspect of G.I. Joe.

That's not to say I don't like integrating martial arts and mystical combat into my stories from time to time...I definitely do. But I just don't want the entire focus of G.I. Joe to be on ninjas and nothing else. It seemed that Hasbro had learned from their mistakes, too, and was on the way to bring Joe into a more military focus...but not any more.

I'm not sure what changed really...was it the triumphant return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (an event scary enough on it's own merits)? I don't know for sure, but with this set, the "Ninja Battles" set and the wild success of the Master and Apprentice mini-series, it seems to me that Joefans as well as Hasbro are starting to become more accepting of Ninja lore in their Joe universes. Well, as long as the sets released can continue to be of this quality, then I'll be a big fan as well!

Let's start right at the top with Storm Shadow.

First of all, this figure looks like Storm Shadow to me about as much as the Urban Strike Force Storm Shadow did (which means not at all). But, honestly, I prefer it that way. The bulk of the rest of the figures in this set all seem oriented towards straight army building...and Storm Shadow in this odd camouflaged uniform doesn't really fit. So I'm happy to make him some random Arishikage jungle ninja, and Hasbro seems quite willing to go along with it (especially considering the lack of the familiar tatoo on his right arm).

First of, I am quite excited to see this mold get some life again after being in India for so many years. While the '84 Storm Shadow is definitely the classic sculpt difinitive version of the character, as a kid, I used this version much, much more. I'll try not to continue to bring up my issues with pre '85 sculpts compared to the mid-late 80's sculpts, but suffice it to say, I loved the beefier, more playable mold we got with the '88 Storm Shadow compared to the original.

His head sculpt is terrific, with the pull-over hood and wrap-around ninja mask...they all come together perfectly, looking nicely different from the original, yet still maintaining a strong "Ninja" feel, and a Storm Shadow feel as well. The rest of the mold is very martial arts-oriented, with the baggy, loose-fitting uniform, all accented brilliantly by an assortment of waist pouches, the chest-rope, and the wrap around foot bandages/bamboo shin guards. The whole package is executed to near-perfection, and I can't tell you how excited I am to see Hasbro have this mold under their control again. Hopefully it will signal the end of the abominable Ninja Force Stormy mold we've had to endure over the past four years.

And WOW...Hasbro has done an AWESOME job livening up this mold!! I can't really explain why, but I find myself loving this camouflaged ninja trooper! I can see them as personal apprentices of Storm Shadow, used more for jungle infiltration and almost in a defensive posture. They patrol the jungles near COBRA HQ and keep a watch for intruders, fully capable of removing any should they appear.

I love the green color chosen, and the black wash over it does a marvelous job of simulating some sort of camouflage pattern without really going all out with the paint apps. Some molds were designed to have paint wipes, while on some it really doesn't work. The wrinkles and surface of this mold prove to be a great canvas to apply the washes and wipes, and it looks terrific. The application of black trim on the mask, rope, boots and pouches just adds more nice color and flash to the figure and makes it all the cooler.

How about these "Vypra" figures?

Well, honestly, that kinda torques me off a little bit.

Vypra was originally released in 1998 as a vehicle driver...she was not a ninja by any stretch, and I found a pretty cool personality for her and integrated her into my dio-stories as a pretty cool new character. I don't really dig the fact that Hasbro took the name, just slapped it on a couple figures who have the same mold, and basically threw away the older character. It kinda sucks, I think.

So, in my world, these twins will just be a pair of female red ninjas...personal assassins for the Arishikage clan, using their beauty and feminie wile to get the better of their targets. When they are not out assassinating and causing havoc, they remain at the Clan home, guarding the forge as indicated on their filecard. They are direct descendents of Onihashi, the sword smith and take his sword making very seriously. They have an eternal grudge against Zartan for the death of their relative, but continue to work for COBRA out of the honor of previous agreements and, more importantly, the desire for the money they make. The two sisters are not nearly honorable enough to consider abandoning a valuable contract merely out of family loyalty. I'm kind of combining the current filecard with classic Joe continuity to make these characters fit.

The figure mold is a straight mold of Jinx, from 1987, and works pretty well, even though the figure would almost appear to be a close re-release. The original Jinx was in red, as these two figures are, but a great application of paint wash, plus some fantastic oriental detailing really brings these figures apart.

The mold is simple enough, with a basic martial arts uniform and ninja hooded mask. There really isn't much extra added detailing or sculpting involved, but the simplicity works here. Extra detail is found here in the oriental trim and the skirting, which is great, as it sets these figures apart from Jinx and lets them stand on their own merits.

The paint applications are to thank for the way these figures exist on their own. A simple red would not have been enough...they would have been too the additions of the white and red applications to the uniform is really, really nicely inspired. It also blends well with the Wave 4 Storm Shadow skirt and looks pretty neat. The figures look nice and ceremonial as they should, yet still able to kick some butt if it comes down to it. Great additions to the set, I think.

Next up is the "Black Dragon Ninja".

It seems pretty painfully obvious that Hasbro is simply using this name as a random name that they already own the trademark for...I cannot see any other reason why they would tie this figure to the Black Dragon group. Especially since it is quite blatantly stated that the Black Dragons do NOT consider themselves ninjas, nor are they in any way tied to the Arishikage.

However, I do have a way to utilize this figure. In my world, as you may know, the Black Dragons and the Night Creepers have banded together. Well, the Arishikage Clan has started resurfacing as paid assassins and criminals...basically mercenaries. Storm Shadow has turned his back on them to a certain degree, and they are currently working for COBRA for hire. He does not affiliate himself with them really any more.

Now the Night Creepers are quickly considering them a direct rival to their mercenary company. So, the Black Dragons have selected some volunteers to infiltrate the Arishikage Clan and try to destroy it from within...these are the Black Dragon Ninjas.

What about the figure itself? Well, as I've said, some of the older molds don't always hold up the best when compared to the newer figures. They're smaller, less muscular, and some times less detailed. However, I don't find myself having that problem with these figures. The original Storm Shadow figure was a landmark in figure design and execution. His uniform and accessory detailing was pretty near flawless and it ends up translating pretty well into these more modern day figures.

The skin tight ninja mask looks great sculpt-wise and the look of the face is very oriental. The somewhat pointed shoulders of the uniform are cool little touches as are the great, infamous bandaged forearms. While pretty simple compared to some of the modern-day sculpts, it serves its purpose very well and is a terrific figure mold.

I also really like how it looks in this new color scheme. The black base is great, and a color that is very tough to go wrong with. While Storm Shadow has always been known to be white, the mold looks great in black (as the South American Joefans already know since this mold was released in black as "Ninja Ku" down there back in the day). I find myself very drawn to this black version of Storm Shadow, and I really dig how the white looks in contrast to it. Brown, leathery straps cover his torso, with the right touches of silver on the knife and throwing stars pressed into his belt. The white bandages stand out somewhat, but I like the different splash of color, and the black wipes/washes drown it out nicely enough to work. Hasbro went pretty wild with the paint wipes in this set, and I like it a lot, personally.

So the mold works as a Black Dragon about as a Red Ninja?

It works equally well, I think, and it's about time.

How long have the Red Ninjas been in existance? They were first revealed at the same time as Storm Shadow, way back in 1984, and are considered a pretty influential componant of the G.I. Joe mythos. Why the heck did it take so long for figures to be made? (No, I do not count the "Red Ninja" travesty that appeared in Ninja Force in '94).

As members of the Arishikage clan, the Red Ninjas have proven themselves as friends and foils for most of the remaining clan over the past 20 years. They have a long and storied past, and are pretty crucial parts of the history of the two most popular G.I. Joe characters. It's about time we got them in plastic form, I must say!

And yeah, they're executed very well.

While the Red Ninjas in the comics always looked pretty different from Storm Shadow, with a much more basic martial arts uniform, I can see how they would equip themselves for battle these days. It also helps that since we got a terrific version of Storm Shadow in Wave 4, now these Red Ninjas can exist as their own figures rather than being mere repaints...I'm loving the fact that we've got these guys now!

I'm especially loving the paint applications of these figures and how nicely they really turned out...pretty much the highlights of the set, I would have to say.

The red color used is nice and muted...not overly bright, and a nice even tone. It's deep and dark and could definitely be dark enough for night-time inserts and missions. The light washing and wiping over the red color deepens its shade even more and looks the '88 mold, this one lends itself very nicely to this technique and you end up with a fantastic looking figure.

His belts are the same nice brown color of Black Dragon Ninja's, and it looks as nice here as it does against the black background...and the dark wraps around his arms and legs (with an opposite red wash!!) look just plain terrific. Fantastic, fantastic figures all around.

One minor issue, though, is that the plastic on the Red Ninja Vipers seems somewhat brittle for some reason...I'm not too sure why. Usually these classic sculpts gain a new life in new sculpt form because of the difference in, however, the figure still seems somewhat breakable, which kind of worries me, since I'd love to be able to use them without fear of damage. The Black Dragon seems okay...I'm not really sure how to explain it.

Okay, so this set is chock full of ninja goodness...normally that would automatically be two strikes against it. But the execution is such that you can't help but love how this six-pack came out! It is heads and tails above the Desert Patrol Squad and is a pleasure just to sit and look at. I can't honestly say how much use it will get in my little corner of the Joeverse, but it defintely deserves some attention.

Besides a generally crappy accessory compliment (no surprises there from the TRU exclusives...) I can't really find too many issues with this set, ninja-ness and all. It's great, you should definitely pick it up, even if you are a ninja hater.

To see a little mini-dio I did with my Ninja figures, head On to Page Two...


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