The Cobra Water Moccasin had the dubious distinction of being one of the most overmatched vehicles in my Cobra army. It arrived as a gift from my best friend, Corey, at Christmas in 1984. We were in grade two at the time, and he was back in the Northwest Territories after spending the previous school year in Arizona. We were in the same class, lived just down the street from each other, and were the top two GI Joe fans in our neighbourhood.
I can imagine that buying Christmas gifts for other kids was fraught with peril. Our parents couldn’t afford to buy gifts for all of our friends, so generally we were limited to just our closest friends. And unlike a birthday gift, which was the admission price when invited to a birthday party, Christmas gifts were usually unsolicited. And the embarrassment when we showed up at a friend’s house with a gift that wasn’t reciprocated could cause some intense discomfort. (There were scenarios like that from my childhood that I’ve since blocked out, the guilt of having a friend show up at our door during Christmas time, to have a gift handed to me and not have anything ready in return…) With Corey it was always obvious that we were giving each other gifts. In grade three we would be in different classes, our friendship would evolve, and we actually fought in the schoolyard. So, for sure, grade two was the peak for us as friends.
The reason the Moccasin was overmatched was the elephant of 1984, the GI Joe Killer Whale hovercraft. Santa had delivered the big Joe toy to me that Christmas, and so one of the best gifts I had ever received from a friend became the movable object that squared off against the unstoppable force of Cutter’s big machine. Had my Santa gift been something else – the Rattler, for example, or even the Headquarters – the Moccasin would not have been thrust into such a dubious position. Copperhead and the Moccasin would have just fought against the Sharc, aided in their battle by Zartan and the Chameleon. Instead, and as usual, my Cobras were underdogs – as they were on land and in the air – but the Moccasin was the key antagonist in the year of my life that revolved around the Whale. And it held its importance one year later, when Santa delivered the Transportable Tactical Battle Platform.
The Moccasin is one of the sleekest Cobra vehicles ever produced. It has nice angles, a split front that is reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon, and simply looks fast, its main advantage in battles against the much bigger and better armed Whale. But even being a small-to-medium vehicle compared to a giant, the Moccasin has some incredible features.
Once put together, the Moccasin was solid, like the water-based version of the Hiss. There’s compartments for storing rifles, an engine cover – damn, I love engine covers! – and a subtle level of functional firepower in its swivelling turret, side cannons and surface torpedo. If produced a few years later, it would have been littered with poorly positioned missiles. But the subtlety afforded earlier toy releases is one of its greatest features.
There were lots of movable pieces that allowed constant interactions, such as the aforementioned turret, the spinning turbines, the swayable veins.
The level of detailing isn’t overwhelming, but enough to sell the vehicle as believable. Highlights include the venting on the engine panel, the mechanisms that support the side cannons, the rivets around the front windshield panel, and the texture on the running boards. And if you contrast the driver’s seat vs. that of the Hiss, the additional effort on the Water Moccasin is much appreciated, and not just by Copperhead, his lumbar region and his sciatica. Realistically, though, I wonder if the Moccasin was created as the water-based version of the Hiss, a vehicle that was affordable enough to troop-build.
After saying that, it surprises me that I hadn’t noticed the similarities before: the driver, gunner, and two rider configuration. The swiveling turret and even the bar across, between the gunner’s legs, to swivel them along with their gun.
The Moccasin missed the key markers for troop-building: the non-differentiated, unnamed driver and the standard Cobra colours. Red wasn’t yet common for Cobra, white might have stood out too much on a larger vehicle than the Claw or Trubble Bubble, and blue might not have worked for a water-based vehicle. That leaves black as the remaining option for the Moccasin, potentially with bright red cannons and a medium grey driver’s seat and rotor. (I’m drawing inspiration from the Stinger, as I’m considering this.) In retrospect, we might now be talking about an icon of the line, instead of just a solid vehicle, in its off-brand, dark teal.
The vehicle, itself, is damn-near flawless, and the only obvious issue is that the cockpit is tight and Copperhead is a chunker. He doesn’t slide in, directly, but can get through the two bars with a twist. A slimmer figure might still have required that twist, but a barrel-chested driver seems to be crammed inside his own vehicle.
Like Wild Weasel, Copperhead falls into the category of named Cobra driver who might as well have been a nameless troop. I had one of each, and treated them as unique characters – as they were positioned when introduced in the comic book. But had I owned two or three of each figure, I might have thought of one Rattler pilot as Wild Weasel and one Moccasin driver as Copperhead, marked on their feet with a black Sharpie, and the rest would just be drivers from the same squad.
Actually, I used Copperhead as a key cast member in my GI Joe vs. Cobra drama. He was the driver of a key vehicle, after all, and I didn’t have enough Cobra figures to be picky. Everyone had a role to play, even my original, thumbless, straight-arm Cobra Officer. The cake from my 8th birthday showcases Copperhead waiting with Destro and Scrap Iron to ambush my favourite Joes of the day.
The figure is okay, and was one of my earliest strongmen – Roadblock’s foil on Cobra – but some of the details are soft (the definition on his arms, notably, and the rhinestones on his spanky pants). His paint is one of the earliest examples of bright, non-standard, colours on a Cobra, and that made him a little less believable as a participant in war. He was fine in the cockpit, but the colouring slapped you in the face whenever he was outside of it. It was something I was fine with at eight years old, but something that would become a pet peeve in later years.
It’s the fact that Cobra strayed too far from GI Joe in realism that justified my departure from the brand. Four years after Copperhead’s arrival, but still he was a harbinger…
An interesting note is that the Water Moccasin and Copperhead were both rereleased in future years, but separately, the Moccasin in Tiger Force paint for the Joes, in 1988, and Copperhead in Python Patrol, in 1989. The Tiger Shark is a beauty I wouldn’t have appreciated as a kid, had I not already outgrown Joes earlier in 1988. And although it took me a long time to come around to the subsets, I now have a deep affinity. But Python Copperhead is probably my least liked of the six original Python figures.
I do picture a Tiger Force versus Python Patrol battle in which Copperhead sees the Tiger Shark, and immediately thinks, “What have they done to my baby…?”
Another random thought: GI Joe never really had anything in the Water Moccasin’s class. The Whale was too big, the Devilfish too small, and the Sharc, while the right size, was a hybrid submarine/flying vehicle. At least Joe didn’t until they stole the Moccasin’s designs and repurposed it as the Tiger Shark…
Going back to my childhood, I had to hold up the Water Moccasin as a reasonable opponent for the Killer Whale. So the answer was staying out of range of the Whale’s missiles, disabling them first, or simply starting every battle with the Moccasin launching a sneak attack on the unsuspecting Whale. (The Joes should have always been suspecting Cobra was afoot, of course, like a young couple in a slasher flick who are too busy making out to consider the danger of their situation.)
Although the battles were following standard formulas – “rinse and repeat” – I enjoyed using the Water Moccasin in this capacity, Copperhead at the helm, with Destro, Baroness and Scrap Iron taking turns in the turret or the running boards.
My memories of Corey are positive, overall, although we haven’t seen each other in 20 years, and one of the vehicles that most reminds me of our friendship is the Water Moccasin. Who knew that when he knocked on my door, that day, the sun going down in the late afternoon, the ground whited out with snow, the weather near minus-30 Celsius, his parents car running in our driveway though they only lived two blocks away, that he was providing the perfect punctuation on what had already been an incredible Christmas, the best available foil for my big Santa gift?
And was I ready for him, with a gift, even when he showed up unannounced? Sure, I was. I’d love to say I got him something cool like the Moccasin – the Stinger, maybe – but the truth is I got him one of the “Flip Crashers”, a toy line I have so few memories of that I had to look them up online, a few minutes ago.
Well, it’s the thought that counts. And Corey was definitely thinking the better thoughts than me, when we were each out at the Bay with our moms, picking out each other’s Christmas gift.