Say what you will about the infamous “new sculpt era” but there really wasn’t much question that the toys developed from 2002 – 2005 were developed with one audience in mind first – the kids. Yes, if Hasbro could do things to appeal to the collector demographic they would, but by and large, the design focus was really on figures and vehicles that would be exciting for a new generation of fans, and for a little while, it seemed to work.
The Cobra Hydra is a clear example of ways Hasbro did this right and ways that they did this wrong, and while I’m pretty honestly surprised to see the Collectors Club venturing into the arena of new sculpt vehicles to satisfy their collector demographic, they are at least doing it in an interesting way.
Back in the day, this vehicle was known as the Sky Sweeper, and as most of us should be able to tell, it’s based vaguely on the F-117 Stealth Fighter. The design of the vehicle is much smaller and a bit blockier than the real world Stealth, with proportions and an overall size that looks woefully out of place. G.I. Joe vehicles have always, from day one, been pretty compact in their size and scale, however, it’s just that in the case of this particular vehicle that size discrepancy is extremely obvious. Hasbro tries to make up for this, however, by adding some neat play features, and unlike many collectors, this is a strategy that I appreciate. While the look and feel of this Cobra Hydra is pretty far from the level of typical 80s greatness that we’re all accustomed to, I can’t help but love the flip out top panels revealing deadly offensive weapons, and the awesome drop-down escape pod/attack jet latched onto the bottom. These are small additions that add at least some play features to this vehicle.
The last time we saw this at retail was in 2009, I believe, and it was also called the Cobra Hydra then, released as part of the Rise of Cobra retail line. It was colored in red and came with a cobbled together Aero-Viper with a healthy infusion of Rise of Cobra aesthetics. This time around, the Hydra is a very nice shade of Cobra blue, a color that I find strangely appealing, to be honest, even if the foundation vehicle itself is from a questionable era in the line’s history. I would have to agree with the majority of my collector friends who say that most of the vehicles in the new sculpt era struggled with their aesthetics, but managed at least to leverage some interesting play features. In the case of the Cobra Hydra, I’m not sure the play features make up for the size and shape of the vehicle…but at least the Aero-Viper has some redeeming qualities.
Speaking of the Aero-Viper…
One of my favorite Cobra pilot figures (one I liked far more than the Strato-Viper for sure), the pilot of the Cobra Condor was a great figure back in the day, filled with character and intriguing design. Aside from the fact that apparently Cobra mandated that all Aero Vipers wear goatees, the figure had a fantastic design aesthetic, awesome looking helmet, and was just really well put together.
The update in 2009 was… not so much. They smartly eschewed the bandana/half mask, going with a full mask instead (only Cobra Commander knows if they’re all still wearing goatees under there) and gave him a great new helmet, but the majority of the figure was the Rise of Cobra Neo-Viper base, which wasn’t so hot.
This figure uses the same head, torso, and legs, but switches up the arms, which actually makes the most difference, since it was those weird elbow/forearm pads that really drew people to the questionable design of those new age Cobra Troopers. With a knife sheath and more slender, well-articulated arms, this Aero-Viper feels like a considerable improvement, even if there are only a few adjusted pieces.
His color scheme is nice, managing to reflect the vintage look with the distinct green color complimented by the gray, all topped off by the helmet of vibrant gold. The colors are a bit brighter than the vintage version, and a completely different hue from the Rise of Cobra rendition, much more green and less black. It’s a decent figure. The articulation of the Alley-Viper arms is far better than that of the Rise of Cobra Neo-Viper, and the design looks a lot more distinct as well. Even though it’s a small change, the different arms do make for a nice update, even though it’s tough to tell if its an update worthy of the $85 price tag.
Aero-Viper comes with a removable gold helmet, removable gray vest, removable knife and a pretty neat heavy pistol (the same one that the G.I. Joe: Retaliation G.I. Joe Trooper came with). A relatively small accessory compliment, but a good one, and I like all the removable aspects that have a place to go on the figure itself when he’s piloting the Cobra Hydra.
This feels like a steep price for a Rise of Cobra era repaint, though the new Aero-Viper arms are certainly a big improvement. I do like the vibrant blue of the new Hydra attack plane, and if this were a retail item, I might love it a lot more than I do. As a convention item it doesn’t feel like it delivers the $85 value (especially with collector opinions towards new sculpt vehicles).