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Tele-Viper with Cobra Flight Pod

GI Joe Classified Series
by yo go re

Tele-Vipers drop into battle in their one-troop jet pods while jamming Joe communication frequencies. They bring nothing but trouble!

Heh, cute: "trouble." Tele-Vipers were introduced in 1985, and were basically glorifed cell towers. Or "radio towers," I guess, to be more era-accurate. They didn't even carry weapons, they just roamed the battlefield boosting communication signals and trying to jam the Joes. According to the intelligence profile in the comics, to be a Tele-Viper you had to already have a degree in mathematics or physics, and then you had to take a bunch of other specialized acedemic courses after finishing regular Cobra bootcamp. These days, everything they used to do could probably be handled by an RFID built into every dog tag, so you'll have to make up your own in-story reason for why they're still actively deployed in a modern fight.

Vintage Tele-Vipers wore the classic "Cobra blue" on the majority of their uniform, but accented it with purple on their vests, so they always looked like ther were part of the team, but a special division. You likely won't recognize it due to the colors, but most of this figure's parts come from Recondo - he's even still wearing the watch! The arms are new, with the small pouches on the sleeves, and the new belt and vest help disguise the rest. One decidedly new feature for this release is the thing strapped to his right forearm. It's some sort of high-tech digital display, presumably used to control or monitor his various signals, and though it's not something seen on any previous versions, it makes a lot of sense for the character to be using.

There's one more change to the arms. The 1985 figure had his sleeves rolled up, exposing his bare arms. And that's probably part of the reason why the existing Recondo molds were chosen as a starting point for this figure. However, instead of seeing skin where the sleeves have been pushed up, the body has been done in solid black, like he's wearing an undersuit or compression sleeves or something. It's minorly annoying - the bright skin on the original figure created a bit of visual contrast against the dark uniform and gave the toy some "pop" that this new look lacks - but the reason it was done is a net benefit to the toy.

Tele-Vipers are known for their big, chunky helmets, which according to the filecards contain high-sensitivity earphones and dual voice-activated mics. (Also, on the cartoon, sometimes random words would flash across their silver visors, which made their few appearances very distinct.) The helmet does leave the lower face exposed, but for whatever reason Hasbro has decided to take the opportunity of this release to add some diversity to the Tele-Viper ranks. You can give him a head that shows him either as a white guy or a black guy (they're both the same sneering Dan Mitchell sculpt, just flipped horizontally because it's digital), and that wouldn't work if they also had to worry about his arms at the same time.

The set also includes a third head, with a slightly different helmet and no exposed skin at all. The mouth is fully enclosed, and instead of being flat silver goggles, the visor is now a raised black block with four red "eyes" on it. Theoretically this is meant to be some kind of night vision or something, but several years ago the comics introduced a new faction working against both Joe and Cobra, the Blue Ninjas. Originally indicated to be a splinter group of Arashikage, it turned out they were secretly cyborgs built by Revanche Robotics, a front company for a living AI. Revanche's plans often involve replacing generic Cobra troops with their own sleeper agents, so it's entirely possible this isn't a mask but is actually a robot face and his cover's been blown.

His only real accessories are his radio comms backpack, his VS-11 Scanner, and a tube to connect the two to one another. Considering how heavy the "communipac" would be, with all those 1980s electronics inside it, and the fact it doesn't have any straps or anything to help hold it on, do you think it hooks in directly to the Tele-Viper vest and that helps distribute the weight over the entire upper body? It might certainly explain why the shoulders of the vest are padded. The backpack is sculpted with various dials and switches, and even a short antenna on top. The scanner (which has never been a gun, but was sometimes shown on the cartoon to work like a portable television screen, and would more realistically operate like a directional mic) has a large, conical tube on the front and can plug onto the side of the backpack, though the hose does tend to get in the way.

Like Baroness before him, the Tele-Viper is only available packaged with a vehicle. This time, he was exclusive to Hasbro Pulse, so there was no hope of a sale of gift cards to make the price more reasonable, either. This is a highly iconic ride, though, the Cobra Flight Pod - aka the "Trubble Bubble."

Introduced in 1985, the Trubble Bubble is basically just a chair under a glass dome, on top of an engine. It hardly seems like the safest vehicle in the world, but that's how the GI Joe do. It was the counterpart to the Joes' Sky Hawk, being a one-man VTOL thing, and in the cartoon was seen being piloted by pretty much everybody, Cobra and Joe alike. The Tele-Viper was painted on the toy's box, and was animated in its commercial, which is why the two are regularly linked today.

The sculpt of the Trubble Bubble is obviously going to be more detailed than the original toy was, with rivets around the panel seams to make it look like an actual object, and some elements now being part of the sculpt that used to simply be decals or production artifacts. Like, the control stick on the original toy had two hollows on the front where tabs were bent up to allow it to clip together with the back; on this version, those are sculpted vents. Whoever designed this did a lot of work to modernize and real-ize what was there before.

The interior of the pod is detailed with all sorts of controls and equipment that seem like they would be impossible for the user to reach while operating the vehicle - like, there's a reason a car's controls are all in the middle of the dashboard and not on the back of the passenger seat, y'know? It's great that these are here, just don't think about them too hard. The padding on the seat has a subtle Cobra pattern, and there's a harness seatbelt to keep the figure securely inside. Until they inevitably get shot down or crash.

There's a targeting HUD printed on the canopy, which is nice, but also three Skystriker silhouettes on the engine in the back. Really? We're supposed to believe a glorified beauty salon hair dryer has taken down any fighter jets? Remember that, despite what movies tell you, aerial combat does not take place face-to-face: effective missile lock-on range on a modern jet fighter is 30 miles, which is beyond visual range; whoever was flying this Trubble Bubble wouldn't even know a Skytriker had been in the area before he was blown out of the air. Make those symbols VAMPs or RAM cycles and we'd believe it, but not anything airborne.

The pod's main weapon is a large machine gun mounted on a balljoint under the front, and there are missiles on the sides. Rather than having the missiles fit ont "dog bone" struts built into the vehicle like every 1980s Joe ride did, this one opts to make the supports separate pieces that simply plug into the sides of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the part that fits into the missile is tighter than the part that fits into the pod, so the wrong part tends to pull out. Not a great choice on the designers' part. Finally, there's an "aerial mine," which the vintage Trubble Bubble also had, though comically this one is smaller than that one. How would that even work? The point of mines is that they stay in place until something hits them, be that land- or water-based, so how can something in the air achieve the same function? If it moves toward the target under its own power, it's a missile; if it gets dropped on the target, it's a bomb; in order to be a "mine," it needs to stay in place and wait. It does appear to have an engine underneath it, so does it just hover wherever you put it? What's to stop a plane from just going higher? How long can it hover in place? Does it just fall to earth and explode when it's out of gas? Better hope you're not on patrol where you left it when that happens! Also, how is it supposed to be deployed? Considering it's smaller than it used to be, they missed a perfect opportunity to actually have it plug onto the Trubble Bubble somewhere (between the engines in the back would make most sense).

The box does list the Tele-Viper's stats - Communications 2, Telecommunications Device 2, Electrical Engineering 1, Cryptography 1, with a lot of those categories feeling like they were created specifically for the Tele-Viper alone - but it came out when we were getting photo scenes on the front of the box, and the only art being boring and straightforward. What really stands out however is what we don't get: the Trubble Bubble is a Cobra Flight Pod, yes? So why don't we get any kind of flight stand for it? Or even a socket underneath where one of their standard ones could fit? There is zero way to get this thing up off the ground without needing to provide it yourself. This is particularly bad because there's a ton of dead space inside the box, a giant gap between the figure and the vehicle where such a stand could easily have been packed. As it is, a full 25% of this box is wasted, being larger, what, just to help justify the high price? "If we made the box smaller, it wouldn't look worth the money!" Well, guess what, it wasn't worth the money anyway.

The Tele-Viper and Flight Pod set became available about a year ago, but I wasn't about to pay full price for it - put it in stores or lose a sale, those are your options Hasbro. I was really tempted by the Target-exclusive Python Patrol repaint several times, inluding when it went on markdown and when it showed up on Target's eBay page, but I still never bought in. Luckily for me, Hasbro Pulse finally had a sale, and my Pulse Premium subscription from last year was still active, so I can happily tell you that for 35% off what Hasbro was trying to sell this set for, it's definitely a lot of fun and a decent value for the money, and that both the Tele-Viper and the Trubble Bubble have little upgrades to keep them from being the same thing(s) we got 40 years ago. Still, I'd be mad if I'd paid full price for this, and even madder if I'd settled for the Python Patrol version rather than the regular one.

-- 06/21/24

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