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    F.A.N.G. and C.L.A.W.

    COBRA F.A.N.G. and COBRA C.L.A.W. w/ COBRA Pilot and COBRA Viper
    Review by Justin Bell

    Like many other G.I. Joe and COBRA vehicles of my youth, I have certain memories of the COBRA FANG. My family had never really been a "picture taking" family, even at special events like holidays or birthdays. Yet, for whatever reason, my mom took a picture of me at one Christmas with my hands proudly clasping my brand-spanking new COBRA FANG. I loved that thing, and it remains one of the few pictures from my childhood featuring a G.I. Joe toy.

    But nostalgia aside, how was that vehicle back then, and how does it translate to the modern day?

    I think it does it pretty darn well, actually. The F.A.N.G. was an iconic COBRA vehicle back in the day, and I find it really surprising that we haven't seen a more faithful update or re-issue since the item was released. Sure we saw it as a store exclusive with the Dreadnok Air Assault, but besides that, we've been getting conceptual updates like the F.A.N.G. II and the F.A.N.G. III. While I'm a huge fan of the second version, the third was pretty much a train wreck from start to finish, but neither one necessarily captured the cool essence of the small attack helicopter like the original did. These things almost looked like pure suicide machines. Open cockpit small form factor aircraft that could be launched en masse at opposing forces. But for such a small aircraft, it packed a great punch with it's four rockets, a rather large undercarriage bomb, and a very nicely designed nose gun turret. All of this functionality was translated to the new version and translated to perfection.

    Hasbro has taken two different roads when it comes to the re-issues, whether they're straight up releases (like the HISS Tank, AWE Striker, or Firebat) or vehicles that end up with fairly significant tooling changes (like the Flight Pod, the VAMP, and the Armadillo). The FANG ends up somewhere in between, where it maintains a lot of the same look as the original, but it has some key cosmetic changes that liven it up a bit.

    First and foremost, the control stick ends up getting completely revamped, and it's a great change. Instead of a gray, plastic toothpick, we end up with a nicely angled, well-detailed joystick and a control device that looks realistic and functional. Also the nose gun, one of my favorite traits of the original F.A.N.G. to begin with, gets some added detail and an ammo hose, which really helps on the cool factor as well.

    The ski mounted rockets and bomb are all fairly unchanged from the original at least from an appearance perspective. The red rockets do have an added middle slot as well as the two slots that mount to the ski's, and a cool effect is that these red rockets will now also fit on the C.L.A.W. This ends up being somewhat necessary, because for some unknown reason, Hasbro only included two missiles with the C.L.A.W., even though it's got four places to mount them. A strange decision.

    One cool thing about this new F.A.N.G. is that even with the new style back peg in the seat, it still seats vintage figures with no troubles as well. So those folks who want to upgrade their old dusty F.A.N.G. fleet can buy these with confidence, as long as you don't want to stand anyone on the ski's.

    All told, the F.A.N.G. is a very nice homage and update to the original, and is changed for the better in pretty much every way possible. Very nice.

    Now even though the boxed item I purchased had the COBRA Viper at the F.A.N.G. controls, judging by the filecard and the box art, it's definitely the COBRA Pilot who is meant to be in the cockpit of the copter. Frankly, the color scheme on both figures doesn't really match up to either vehicle, though the pilot is much more appealing just from an aesthetic aspect.

    The dark blue uniform matches other COBRA troopers, but the pilot is separated by a bright red helmet, red stripes on his uniform, and red trim on the web gear. Even though the color is a pretty stark contrast from the rest of his relatively dark uniform, I do like the red trim, it looks pretty appealing. I'm a big fan of the COBRA Air Trooper as well, and this is obviously built from that, which makes sense as well. It would almost be cool to have this guy be the C.L.A.W. pilot since the Air Trooper is a jet pack specialist, but he works fine as the F.A.N.G. pilot, too. He mixes nicely with your basic COBRA Troopers, but also looks nicely different as well.

    He comes with his helmet, web gear, and a cartoon-inspired laser rifle, though he has no knife for his sheath. That's a minor complaint, though, for a figure that is generally pretty neat, even if it doesn't offer much in the way of new ideas or concepts.

    The C.L.A.W. comes from around the same era as the F.A.N.G. and has a lot of the same cool elements that made the COBRA chopper so awesome. A small size, a maneuverable aircraft that packs a punch, the original C.L.A.W. was less a jet pack and more of an actual airborne vehicle. However, this vehicle was not usually featured in the cartoon or comic that way. In both forms of media, the C.L.A.W. seemed to be more of a light-weight jet pack, but the vintage version was so huge that this didn't really fit. Hasbro changes that up with this version, however those changes have gotten the fandom in somewhat of an uproar. Some of it is understandable, but from a personal perspective, I kind of like having this different "look".

    First of all, there is absolutely no doubt that there is a huge difference in tooling between the vintage COBRA C.L.A.W. and this one. Yes, this jet pack feels somewhat "cheap" compared to the original. Gone are the two separate halves with the elaborate landing gear, moving wingtips, removable gun cover and other intricate details. Instead this C.L.A.W. is tooled up as one simple sheet of material, which does give it a more lightweight feel. In my mind, though, that's not all bad, as you end up with a smaller, more manageable jet pack that COBRA Commander can stand with to launch from the cliffs down on top of unsuspecting G.I. Joe operatives. That was always something about the cartoon that I absolutely loved, and I think Hasbro makes that translation very well, even at the expense of more intricate tooling.

    The handlebars have also garnered some pessimistic outlook, since they lose the landing gear and you end up with more basic handles. But personally I don't mind that. In the comics and cartoon, the person flying the C.L.A.W. has always landed on their feet, with the jet pack being light enough to maneuver that way. This fits the same bill, and it's pretty cool, all told.

    But Hasbro seems to have cut a couple other corners here, mostly by "short stocking" the C.L.A.W. by only giving us two missiles when there are four spots for them. I'm not sure why this was done (does cutting those two tiny missiles really save that much money?) and granted the F.A.N.G. rockets can fill those spots now, but then you're left with some empty space on the F.A.N.G. ski's. Not a deal-breaker, I suppose, but it would have been nice to get enough armament to go around.

    Of course one downside to this new C.L.A.W. is that the vintage figures are pretty much useless with it. With the way the handlebars are oriented and the new style back peg in it, there really isn't way to use this particular vehicle with any Real American Hero figures, which is kind of a bummer. I would love to have some of these lighter weight jet packs for some of my older figures.

    Ultimately, though, even with these issues, I find myself liking the C.L.A.W. a LOT more than I thought I would, and I'm really looking forward to the fifth DVD Set and getting a COBRA Commander with his own C.L.A.W. to fly.

    I have to admit, though, my love for the C.L.A.W. portion of this boxed set pretty much ends there, as the figure takes this set on a straight nosedive and really leaves me scratching my head.

    Earlier in this review I used the term "train wreck" and unfortunately that term also applies when it comes to the initial release of the COBRA Viper in the Anniversary line. From the goggles that fly off when you look at them sideways to his bum ankles and those contorted wrists you get a figure that should have been the backbone of many COBRA armies, but instead really suffers from structural issues and ends up peg-warming. Instead of figures like the B.A.T. (which was a perfect example of how to update and translate and old school figure to the Anniversary style) which fly off shelves at record paces, you end up stopping in a Wal-Mart and Target and seeing rows of Vipers hanging on the pegs. It shouldn't be this way. Judging by Hasbro responses at the Convention this year, they are working changes into the tooling for the figure, and hopefully updated figures will be seen in 2009. I think that will make a world of difference with this figure and character.

    Unfortunately those tooling changes are only part of the problems with this figure. On top of the weird figure design choices we have a bizarre color mixture of flat, light gray, an even lighter red, and splotches of dark blue sprinkled throughout. None of the colors are cohesive, none of them make sense, and none of them really tie into any branch of service that COBRA has. I'm not entirely sure how the color scheme was chosen, all I know is that it's pretty ugly and doesn't match the C.L.A.W. at all.

    But you know, in the grand scheme of things, the lackluster Viper figure is one of the few shortfalls of this set to me, which I find surprising. Originally I wasn't even considering buying this set, but now that I have in hand, I find there is more to it that I like than I thought I would. The F.A.N.G. is a terrific update, I find myself loving the lower-detail C.L.A.W. a lot more than I thought I would (though I certainly understand Joe fans being upset with it) and the COBRA Pilot is pretty neat as well. Is it all worth fifteen bucks? Hmm... not sure I can quite go that far, especially considering so many fans seem upset with the C.L.A.W. I did enjoy the set quite a bit on a personal level, though, and that's worth something, I suppose.

    Archive entries:
    COBRA F.A.N.G. w/ COBRA Pilot
    COBRA C.L.A.W. w/ COBRA Viper(v19)

    More action shots:

    Images from the collection of: Justin Bell

    For a great selection of G.I. Joe figures and vehicles, check out BigBadToyStore.com.

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