Of all the environment-specific figures, the underwater troops might be my least favourite.
As a child, I could imagine my bedroom floor being anything – jungle, grasslands, desert, snow, water, the surface of the moon, but imagining swimmers under my carpet required significant suspension of disbelief. Regardless, I owned all the frogmen – Torpedo, Eels and Wet-Suit. And they were all important to me, mainly because so many of my vehicles and playsets – the Killer Whale, Water Moccasin, Sharc, Manta, Transportable Tactical Battle Platform, Night Landing and Devilfish – were water-based. Each was an important crew member on one (or more) of those vehicles, used for underwater reconnaissance, and sometimes snuck up on opposing troops as an assassin. They also fought each other a lot.
Eels’s arrival, shortly after Christmas 1985, signalled that Torpedo would need to return to the fold as a main cast member in my playtime, much as Snow Job had made a return once I’d acquired the Snow Cat, Frostbite and Snow Serpent.
Of the figures that came with flippers, the best was Eels. He had better molding and colours than Torpedo or Wet-Suit, and had great accessories and an actual weapon, something that couldn’t be said for Wet-Suit. He also seemed to be more of a threat than either of the Joes. And an army of Eels is the formidable opposition I always envision storming the USS Flagg one day, when I find the room to set it up.
When Eels arrived in my collection, he spent a lot of time pretending that his mismatch against Torpedo was more of an even fight. But the good guys always won in my household, so that meant Eels took a few dives. He also became the figure who most frequently rode the sideboards of the Water Moccasin with Crimson Guard on the other side, Copperhead at the helm and one of the leaders – hooded Cobra Commander, Baroness, Destro or Zartan – in the gunner’s seat. He was always the first Cobra up the ladder, boarding the TTBP, or sneaking onto the Killer Whale. But he didn’t spend a lot of time in the water with me. That had caused noticeable wear on Torpedo, Copperhead and Zartan – rusty screws, dried out O-ring and soap residue – and I had learned my lessons.
Where my childhood Eels never got to shine was in two of the roles he was designed for, as a crew member of the Moray and attacking the Flagg, since I didn’t own either. But using him as a crew member on the Water Moccasin and storming the TTBP were the next-best roles. Plus, he frequently piloted the Night Landing.
His prominence was prolonged by Wet-Suit’s arrival a year later. Again, Eels was being forced to pretend the new Joe frogman was a match for him. But I think my appreciation for Eels as a figure was one of the reasons I included Wet-Suit in my first batch of new Joes purchased when the 86s came out.
Eels are among the most-attractive figures in the GI Joe line.
The dark tones of black and grey, along with the red chest, are striking together. I can’t think of many figures whose colours meshed with their mold so nicely. The grey transitioned to black and back along seams, and the red both prevented him from being too dark, and brought him more in-line with the core Cobra colours. He also has a silver Cobra emblem on his chest, a throwback to the Cobra Officers and Viper Pilots. The emblem is punctuated by the red chest section and his physique, but sometimes rubs off on played-with figures.
I don’t know anything about the appropriateness of his ribbed cuffs, but they look cool to me, and I love his boot knife and the utility belt. He has enough pouches to make Batman jealous. I also like the nub above his right ear piece – an antenna, presumably, to allow communication and coordination with Cobra Command and his fellow frogmen.
Eels portrays a great deal of menace, through his expressive eyes on the action figure and in Hector Garrido’s artwork. You don’t picture too many wise-ass remarks from the Joes when an Eel is approaching, just a nasty fight for the good guys.
His pack, flippers and harpoon are all improvements from Torpedo’s modest gear. The breathing hose and removable pack were nice additions, making “gearing him up” more exciting. The air hose is often missing from lose samples, or broken, and the harpoon is also prone to breakage with its narrow tip, but his accessories are top notch, overall.
Somehow, my childhood Eels survived the 80s and made his way into my adult collection, although his flippers and harpoon were long- lost.
I finally completed him again in 2015, 30 years after he first arrived. I’ve since added some Eel troops, enough to man the Moray or storm the Flagg, but not enough to do both.
And, eventually, I added a US carded Eels early in 2017. I think he looks amazing in a row of 1985 troops with the Crimson Guard, Snow Serpent and Tele-Viper.
Oh to be a kid again and find those four on the pegs in toy stores…!