G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Mantis w/ Aqua-Viper Officer

In the early part of the 21st Century, G.I. Joe did not have the best track record when it came to vehicles. Ironic perhaps, because the Real American Hero line was first conceived as a vehicles line, with the figures acting only as compliments to the "real" toys.

Plagued by poor design, blocky tooling, and rounded edges, the Joe vehicles of the early 2000's were misshapen, badly built, and just not a whole lot of fun. Certain advances were made during the Spy Troops era, with an obvious trend to more angular, "fun" designs, built with play features that didn't hinder the basic functions of the vehicle. The Night Attack Chopper and Patriot Grizzly really started to turn the corner, and then once Valor Vs. Venom hit, things were on a much more even keel.

The Sting Raider first appeared in the Valor Vs. Venom line, and it was a great, fun little vehicle. At little more than a handful, with some neat little features and a great design aesthetic, the Sting Raider really seemed to call back to more classic days, and even now, five years later, it's a pretty effective vehicle design. I will admit this version suffers from the fact that it's nearly identical as its predecessor, but for folks who don't own the previous version, there's some stuff to enjoy here, too.

Now known as the Mantis, and somewhat surprisingly Cobra's flagship sea vehicle in the Rise of Cobra film, this small underwater submersible has a very cool sealife design, with sleek edges, nice angles, and some pretty neat play value throughout. It's small enough to be handled easily, flown around, and played with, yet the flip-up wing tips, the extending wings (with revealed rocket launchers) and the distinct Cobra flair make it a pretty neat vehicle in 2009 as it was in 2004. The oversized cockpit serves the newly tooled figures well, and I still love that whole pivoting joystick mechanism. Yes, I'm pleased by the little things.

But as I said before, the main issue with the vehicle at this point is that it remains virtually unchanged over the past 5 years. No new color scheme, no new tooling (like the Skysweeper benefited from). Even the missiles are the same. I would have loved to have seen the Mantis in a dark, jet black, or even some sort of patterned metallic shine, but as it is, while still a fun vehicle, it's the same thing we got several iterations ago. However, there is a major benefit that the Mantis has, which the Sting Raider does not.

Aqua-Viper Officer

This guy.

I don't know why, but I absolutely love this figure. I have no special appreciation for the Anniversary line as a whole, but the Snow Job figure has always been one of the highlights, and even though it makes little sense for an arctic figure to be used as a base for an underwater specialist, for whatever reason I really dig these parts on both the Lamprey and the Aqua-Viper Officer. They just look cool, and let's face it, not every underwater guy can use Torpedo's parts.

First of all, Snow Job was near perfect in the Anniversary formula, with some nice baggy pants, a cool slender arm sculpt, which looked arctic, yet retained some decent elbow articulation. The pouches on his chest and forearms were all pretty exceptional at the time. Aqua-Viper Officer retains most of those cool qualities, and using the jet black uniform with the vibrant red scuba vest just sets this figure apart on anyone's display shelf.

In normal circumstances, I'll be the first guy to lay down some criticism on the Rise of Cobra color schemes...you can only go so far with differing levels of black and gray. Yet, on this figure the contrast between the black and red, the silver, and the incredible detail of the paint apps on his vest just make this figure amazing, and he's not shoe-horned into the Rise of Cobra universe either.

The Officer comes with the same vest, backpack, and rifle that the standard Lamprey does, but with one added twist...a removable helmet! I have no idea why this random Aqua Viper Officer was deemed worthy of such a tooling modification, yet the regular Lamprey was not, but for whatever reason, it works amazingly well. The helmet fits his head, slips off easily, and still works flawlessly with the twin hoses on his airpack. Greatness.

Yes, I'm a bit bummed that I could have spent $15 in 2009 and got more or less the same toy that was available five years ago. However, getting this particular vehicle on TJ Maxx clearance makes it feel a lot more worthwhile, and you start to appreciate things about it that you may not have at full price.

It really is a great little vehicle with a fantastic pilot, and if you can still find them at discount prices, jump on it. You won't regret it.