The Cobra H.I.S.S. IIb is a repaint of a pretty great but often overlooked toy vehicle from over 15 years ago. Thankfully, it holds up well-- despite no figures being included this time around. (For the record, the original release included a figure called the Track Viper.)
1989 will never be remembered as the year to end all years for toys, but there were some fine items produced around this time. Hasbro basically recast the original toy sans a few figure clips, so we assume this means the figures aren't as secure as they should be. Just as well, because as of press time, we're not sure what figures would be best for this craft and used what we had around 16bit.com Labs courtesy of some recent clearance runs.
We're longtime Joe fans but, as the saying goes, first-time callers. We've had our eye on this mold for years but recently said "hey, let's just get the expensive awesome one and then sell some bodily fluids to pay for it." Despite a crippling lack of interest in the staff's bodily fluids, we decided to go ahead and snag one for review just the same.
The H.I.S.S. is one of the great iconic vehicles of the enemy forces from the old Joe toy series and continues to be a major force today. Why, just since 2000 there's been a H.I.S.S. III, the H.I.S.S. IV, the Crimson H.I.S.S. III (2002 convention), a Built-To-Rule H.I.S.S., and the version from Operation Crimson Sabotage. This thing is basically the TIE Fighter of the fictional terrorist forces, and as such, we're glad to see one of the lesser-seen incarnations of the mold brought back to fans, even if the quantity was low enough that one hardcore fan could conceivably absorb the whole run.
In 1989, it was blue-grey with some red bits. Today, it's a very COBRA-friendly blue with lots of red. But is it an improvement?
The sculpt is a little primitive-- but advanced for its age. Coming from the day when Kenner's Robocop figures were something special, and when the old TMNT line was supposedly a thing of greatness, it's a pretty incredible little toy with a lot of detailing. There are tons of wires, cables, and pipes meant to make this thing look-- well, we guess the term would be "realistic." While somewhat ridiculous given the color scheme and armaments, it does look a little less fantastical than it could have, and certainly looked a little more plausible than some of its peers. (Buzz Boar, Pogo, we're looking at you. But we still love you.)
There are a few moving parts here, and it's surprising what Hasbro can do with so little. For example, there's the cockpit-- it opens in a manner not unlike a snake mouth, and figures are raised up into the driver's position. Neat.
The back trunk pops open and has seating space for four. Also, the top gun turret turns around 360 degrees and a figure can be dropped in when you raise the gun, giving you a gunner. Not clearly shown are two foot pegs, which you can see on the back shot of this toy if you look in the right spot.
In 1989, some assembly was required. With this new convention exclusive, practically none is needed-- you pop the gun into position, connect the non-firing rockets to the sides, and you're done. No labels, no nothing-- just add figures. As such, we added some of our favorites from our stash, namely the G.I. Joe Comic Packs and some figures from the oft-overlooked but superb line from 2000.
This little tank can hold a surprisingly good amount of figures-- two in the cockpit, one in the gunner's seat, four in the trunk, and two more can be placed on the back and held in position by both foot pegs and a place for their hands to go and "hold on" in a little cubby hole type thing. Brilliant design here. Lately, you're lucky to get a small vehicle to hold two figures, and here we have ones that holds an easy nine.
(For the record, in the cockpit: Undertow 2000, Cobra Commander 2000. Gunner's Station: Lampreys 2000. Trunk: Comic Pack Edition Cobra Trooper 2004, Comic Pack Edition Cobra Officer 2004.)
The coloring is slick, and the toy's capacity for play value is high. Unfortunately, it's an expensive low-run exclusive and as such won't be seeing a lot of play time.
As you can see Hasbro spared no cost-cut here. No labels, no instructions, just a plastic bag and a piece of scotch tape. Score one for efficiency.
While some exclusive vehicles got special printing on the bag to ID it as a convention toy, or to give it a name, the H.I.S.S. IIb has no such luxuries-- it's as bare bones as they come. As such, it's a safe bet no collector or fanboy will be buying this one for the packaging.
In early 2005 our affair with G.I. Joe went from "passing fancy" to "disgusting lustful urges" resulting in our tracking down the entire comic book line and some of these convention exclusives. They're expensive, they're molds that were used nearly two decades ago, and they offer virtually nothing new-- yet we love them.
Hardcore Joe fans no doubt have one, two, or an entire armory stuffed with these things. But what of the collector that doesn't have one or seven of every vehicle in the Cobra armory? Well, that would be us-- we can fit our Joe archives into a couple of medium-sized boxes. We also felt we had to get one of these to show you, the readers, because it sounded a lot better than saying that we have no willpower and will buy anything in the right shade of blue.
The toy offers nothing new except for color-- the peculiar design allows for a lot of play value while offering no electronics, no spring-powered weapons, and no odd gimmicks. Hasbro relied on a solid design and were rewarded by their ability to reuse it as a high-end convention exclusive, meaning it's a good toy and if you have the means you won't be sorry to add it to your stash. Rumors persist that Hasbro will be tweaking and re-releasing this toy in some other capacity in the future, but given the current buzz surrounding the demise of the line, we are not optimistic. Recommended if you find it at a price you deem fair. (Note: as of early 2005, none of the prices we've seen or paid are what any sane person would deem "fair.")
Text and photos by Adam Pawlus
Review posted on March 12 2005
Sample purchased in February 2005 from eBay