For many years, I was not a fan of the Hiss Driver. The bright red color, odd leggings and bug eyed head all made for a figure that simply did not do anything for me. Even as a kid, I replaced my Hiss Drivers with Hooded Cobra Commanders since they better matched the Hiss Tank and Cobra Troopers/Officers of the day. (To be fair, the Hiss Driver did get matched with my Crimson SMS Hiss Tank, but only until a third Crimson Guard's thumb broke and he then became the full time driver.) I always found the figure lacking. In more recent years, though, my opinion of the Hiss Driver has changed. While he's still not the excellent design of the Cobra Trooper, the mold has merit. Plus, the fact that he's so iconic as the driver of the Hiss Tank has left me more room to appreciate the figure and the character.
I have two main memories of the Hiss Driver as a character. The first is that he was not introduced into the comic until Issue #30. But, in this issue, the uniform was used as a FANG pilot rather than a Hiss Driver. Honestly, it's not a bad use for the mold and this is a figure I would use in FANG's today over superfluous Cobra Troopers. The second, and more endearing memory is from Special Missions #2. Here, a Hiss Tank attacks Alpine, Airtight, Snow Job and Breaker on the tip of an iceberg. In the battle, the Hiss Tank falls over the cliff, leaving the driver clinging to a ledge above the frozen ocean below. The Driver's grip breaks and he falls to his death. The piece about the story that captured me was the Driver's knowledge of his own, unpreventable death. He knew, when clinging to the bit of ice, that he was dead. There was no escape or hope of rescue. He would meet his painful end in icy water below. Whenever I see the Hiss Driver, this is the image that comes to mind.
As a kid, the Hiss Driver did get some use. He helmed the Hiss Tanks with great skill, for a while. But, in 1984, the Hiss Driver was replaced by the Hooded Cobra Commander. (My brothers and I had three of this figure, so he quickly manned the Hiss cockpit, gunner station and the ASP that it towed behind it.) At some point, I acquired a second Hiss tank. When this occurred, the Cobra Commander's went to the gunner stations and I reintroduced the Hiss Drivers to their intended specialty. Here, they would be armed with Destro or Major Bludd pistols from the Battle Pack. Upon their return to their given duty, I often incorporated situations similar to Special Missions #2 where a Driver would be in a situation where his demise was a forgone conclusion. In fact, the reason I outfitted the Drivers with accessory pack weapons was due to a story where a Hiss Driver was trapped in the cockpit of a burning and disabled Hiss Tank. His agonized screams as he burned to death were broadcast over the entire Cobra battlefield and were extremely demoralizing. So, Cobra gave all drivers pistols they could use to shoot out of the tanks in extreme circumstances. To this day, Hiss Drivers displayed in the driver's seat of version 1 Hiss Tanks have accessory pack Cobra pistols in their with them.
Hiss Drivers, though, fell out of favor. When I found my childhood Hiss Tanks tucked away in an attic, it was Hooded Cobra Commanders who were in the seats. As I amassed large quantities of figures in the late 1990's, Hiss Drivers were rarely part of the hauls. I got a few here and there. But, in those days, I had a scoring system on figure lots where certain figures were scored a 0, 1 or 2 based on their desirability to me. I would bid on lots where the score correlated to a certain price. (Usually, about $3 per point.) Most army builders got a score of 1. But, I had Hiss Drivers with a 0 as they were not a figure I cared about enough to acquire in quantity.
Now, though, I appreciate the Hiss Driver for his charm. Sure, the figure is still deeply flawed and easily the worst designed Cobra from 1982 through 1984. But, in the grand scheme of things, he's still decent enough. I will maintain that had the Hiss Driver been first released in 1993 instead of 1983, he would be as neglected and cheap a figure as is possible. Collectors would hate him. But, he was a 1983 release and that paints him with a nostalgic picture that is hard to escape these days. So, I have a real Hiss Driver in command of each of my Hiss Tanks. I even have one in my SMS. He's not a figure I army build beyond needing one for each Hiss Tank.
The Hiss Driver mold was used by Hasbro for a long time. After the Hiss Tank's retail run was over, the figure was offered as a mail away by Hasbro Direct for many years. So, even kids who came into Joe long after the Hiss was gone from retail had a chance to own both the tank and the figure. The mold was finally repainted in 2001. But, rather than being a new Hiss Driver, the figure was a newly created character named Rip It who was included with the Toys R Us exclusive Hiss III Tank. This purple and red figure was interesting, but not cool enough to really do the mold justice. In mid 2003, though, Hasbro showcased some upcoming Wal Mart exclusive paratrooper figures. Among this 6 figure set was a newly painted Hiss Driver. It's likely that the figure would have been named Rip It as well. But, the blue base and golden chest painting looked very solid. Unfortunately, the Sky Patrol figures were cancelled due to safety concerns.
Fortunately, though, some early samples of the figures were available from Asia in 2004 and 2005. These Wal Mart Hiss Drivers are in a blue that is a bit lighter than Cobra blue and have a red chest. They are a marked improvement from Rip It and are probably the best Hiss Drivers ever made. In 2007, Master Collector released a new Rip It with a black base and blue highlights. (Basically, the figure is the inverse of the Wal Mart Hiss Driver.) Limited to about 500 figures, it's a great use of the mold, but too hard to find and expensive to ever become the de facto driver for a Hiss army. The figure's torso was also used in 2005 as one of the terrible "Greenshirts" exclusive set. Sadly, these are the only uses for the mold. And, the two best are extremely expensive and hard to find. So, aficionados of the Hiss Driver mold are left with few choices for the figure. It's unfortunate as the mold had such untapped potential. But, at least there's something to look for.
It is difficult to find Hiss Drivers with no emblem wear, uncracked elbows and pefect silver visors. The silver paint rubs easily and tends to wear on many figures. The upside, though, is that there were so many Hiss Drivers produced that the volume helps to offset the fragility. The result is a figure that is less expensive today than he should be were he only released in 1983 and 1984 and not also as a mail away. You can get high quality figures for $12 or so. But, truly mint figures tend to sell closer to $20. Though, to be fair, you can often get a Driver and a Hiss Tank for the $20 price tag, too. There are tons of bagged Hiss Drivers out there and they tend to sell in the $30 range. So, there are a lot of options for Hiss Driver fans. (There are also decent restoration kits for Hiss Drivers out there. So, you can buy an off condition figure for $4, restore it and have a nice display army for cheap.)