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By Thomas Wheeler

One can hardly blame a toy company for wanting to get more than one use out of a given set of molds. There is no greater expense in the world of making toys than the production of the metal molds into which the plastic is injected.

Some action figure concepts are more accommodating to this sort of thing than others. Mattel's DC Universe Classics and Masters of the Universe Classics make extensive multiple uses of molds, and the end result is still some seriously spectacular action figures because the original designs are so impressive. Hasbro has turned out countless varieties of Clone Troopers in their Star Wars line by recoloring or repainting the same set of molds, but the end result is still some impressive figures, because the design is so good.

Others, not so much. Mattel's Planet Heroes line, which featured cartoonish characters representing each planet in the solar system, was a series of entirely unique figures. Only later on did they do a few recolorations. And the Avengers movie line from Hasbro doesn't really open itself up to a lot of recoloration, because the figures have to resemble their cinematic counterparts. And nobody's going to mistake Thor for Captain America.

Then there's Marvel Legends. Unlike Mattel's DC Universe Classics, most of the Marvel Legends figures have tended to be fairly unique. However, with its relatively recent return, Hasbro has discovered that you can sometimes get more than one figure out of largely the same set of molds, and still produce a couple of impressive, and accurate, action figures of notable Marvel characters.

This review will focus on one of these figures. Sold as "Marvel's Madames", the two figures available, individually packaged, under that particular banner, are Madame Masque, and another character that one might call Madame Viper, although she's also known just as Viper.

I'm sorry, but as a longtime G.I. Joe collector, I have a little trouble hearing the name "Viper" and thinking of anything other than a Cobra Infantry soldier dressed in a blue uniform with a black vest and red trim, wearing a fancied-up motorcycle helmet with a mirrored faceplate. So, since she's part of the "Marvel's Madames" moniker, I'll call her Madame Viper, at least for a bit here. Plus the fact that as one of the heads of the terrorist Hydra organization, she's sometimes known as Madame Hydra.

Neither Madame Masque nor Madame Viper are especially pleasant individuals. Apart from that, however, they don't really have all that much in common. Except, as it turns out, just enough common aspects to their costumes so that they could be turned out in the same mold, substantially recolored, just with different heads. Madame Masque wears a costume that is mostly white with black sleeves and leggings. Madame Viper wears a mostly dark green sleeveless outfit with light green boots. Hey, it works.

I reviewed Madame Masque a while back. There's some reason to believe that Madame Viper is the harder of the two figures to track down, but to be perfectly honest, these Marvel Legends figures don't tend to linger in the stores all that much, so that's a relative measure. Sort of makes you wonder why Hasbro ever pulled the plug on Marvel Legends in the first place. Now, they're boasting its return right on the package, and if the empty shelf pegs I see at places like Walmart and Target are any indication, the only real problem after two full assortments is that either Hasbro isn't making enough of these figures, or the stores aren't ordering enough.

Anyway, I did finally come across a Madame Viper, and this review shall focus on her. Let's consider some of her backstory, shall we?

Viper, formerly known as Madame Hydra, is a foe of the Avengers and the X-Men. The character was created by Jim Steranko and first appeared in Captain America #110 (February 1969). Her real name is Ophelia Sarkissian, so one can hardly blame her for going by any convenient alias...

It is known that Madame Hydra was orphaned as a child in Eastern Europe (Hungary) and that part of her face was scarred at one time, but this is obviously no longer the case. Among twelve other girls, she was taken in by HYDRA and raised by Commander Kraken. For twenty-two years, Viper excelled and became Kraken's best student. She eventually rose through the ranks of HYDRA and frequently came into conflict with Captain America and the organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D.

She first appeared as a leader of HYDRA under the codename Madame Hydra, and first fought and captured Captain America while trying to contaminate New York City's water supply. She captured Rick Jones to bait a trap for Captain America, and then subdued the Avengers with gas, planning to bury them alive, and battled Captain America again. However she was apparently killed when Captain America and Rick Jones dodged missiles she fired at them and she was caught in their explosion. Some time later, it was revealed that the Space Phantom had exchanged places with her, and her whereabouts at the time were undisclosed.

She severed ties with HYDRA, and then helped Jordan Stryke, a supervillain codenamed Viper, escape custody in Virginia, only to proceed in assassinating him and usurping his codename (do you think asking nicely might have worked!?) and leadership of the group known as the Serpent Squad.

As the new Viper, she kidnapped Roxxon president Hugh Jones in order to put him in thrall of the Serpent Crown. She battled Nomad and Namor the Sub-Mariner.

Viper took over the SHIELD Helicarrier, and planned to crash it into the Congress building. She employed Boomerang and the Silver Samurai as operatives, and battled Spider-Man, Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and Nick Fury. Viper later employed the Silver Samurai as her chief operative, and attempted to kidnap Michael Kramer, a man carrying a fatal experimental disease, in order to release it on America.

The Viper battled the first Spider-Woman, and became convinced that she was Merriem Drew. Drew was the mother of Spider-Woman and was considered deceased since 1931. The issue revealed Merriem had become allied to Chthon and was granted longevity in return. The Viper revealed herself to have been a pawn of Chthon for fifty years, but saved Spider-Woman's life by defying Chthon. Viper, employing Constrictor as her chief operative, captured Spider-Woman, believing she was responsible for making her think they were related. It was revealed that Chthon had actually granted Viper false memories of mothering Jessica as part of a plan to place both women under his control.

Viper captured Captain America, and planned to release her new bubonic plague. Whether Viper actually has extraordinary longevity was left uncertain.

Employing the Silver Samurai, Viper attempted to coerce Team America into stealing the cavourite crystal, and then battled the New Mutants. In one of her many terrorist acts, she would try to gain control of the snake-themed organization called the Serpent Society, with Slither, Copperhead, Puff Adder, Fer-De-Lance, and Black Racer as her operatives. The latter four operatives infiltrated the Serpent Society in an attempt to take it over. Viper dispatched Cobra, Boomslang, and Copperhead to poison Washington D.C.'s water supply with a snake mutagen. Viper terrorized the White House and the President, and battled Captain America. She attempted to assassinate the organization's former leader Sidewinder, but she was betrayed by Cobra and arrested by Captain America.

Madame Hydra has also had conflict with the X-Men. She first came into contact with them upon trying to assassinate Mariko Yashida on behalf of her ally and presumed lover Silver Samurai, and tried to poison the team while disguised as Mariko's unconscious maid. She nearly killed X-Men members Rogue and Storm on two separate occasions, with Storm being nearly killed by Viper during the invasion of Khan. She also faced the New Mutants and was considered responsible for the presumed demise of Karma.

Madame Hydra is a professional terrorist and has her own organization. She has come into conflict with many superheroes and supervillains over the years. Her nihilism and tendency to spread death around her has made it hard for other villains to associate with her. Only the Red Skull has found it a charming tendency and pursued a relationship with her for a while. The relationship ended when the Skull found out Viper was using his resources to finance massacres with no apparent financial benefit for either of them.

I mean, really, how rude. However, this might explain why the Viper action figure comes with the "Build-A-Figure" variant torso of Arnim Zola that has the face of the Red Skull instead of Zola.

Later she blackmailed Wolverine into marrying her as a means to secure her criminal empire in Madripoor. Although this was a marriage of convenience, she did request to consummate the arrangement. Some time later, her body was briefly inhabited by the spirit of Ogun, and Wolverine mortally wounded her as a means of driving the spirit from her dying body. In return for seeking medical attention to save her life, Wolverine demanded a divorce. It is later implied that she actually had feelings for Wolverine.

Viper was then a member of an incarnation of the Hellfire Club, working with Courtney Ross, briefly under the title 'White Warrior Princess'. She has also associated with the Hand and resumed her ties with the Silver Samurai. She has also retaken the name "Madame Hydra".

For a time, Viper was the dictator of the nation of Madripoor, using the nation's resources to support global terrorism via HYDRA. She was recently overthrown by new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Tony Stark and Tyger Tiger, the latter of whom is now ruler of Madripoor.

In Secret Warriors #2 during the Dark Reign storyline, Viper is seen leaving her lover, the Silver Samurai, to rejoin Baron Von Strucker and the ruling council of HYDRA. It was revealed in Secret Warriors #3 that she is no longer Madame Hydra, as she was replaced by Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine.

In Secret Warriors #12, Viper is kidnapped by the mysterious Leviathan group, who are determined to find out the location of a mysterious box that both she and Madame Hydra procured from the Yashidas. Madame Hydra arrived at the Leviathan headquarters and offered the box to its leader, much to Viper's dismay. Madame Hydra then shot Viper to death. However, when HYDRA arrived, the Hive resurrected her, giving her tentacles that stemmed from her head, and she renames herself Madame Hydra.

Following the Fear Itself storyline, Madame Hydra joins up with H.A.M.M.E.R. after Norman Osborn escapes from the Raft and regains his leadership.

Viper has no superhuman abilities but her strength, speed, reflexes, agility, dexterity, coordination, balance, and endurance are of the order of an Olympic athlete. She is a great swordswoman and even greater markswoman with most long range weapons, and has extensive training in hand-to-hand combat. Viper occasionally employs poisoned weapons with snake-motifs, such as venomous darts or artificial fangs filled with poison. She utilizes experimental weaponry, including a ring that enables teleportation, and in X-Treme X-Men, she made use of razor-sharp claw attachments apparently built into her gloves.

A brilliant strategist and tactician with extensive combat tactical experience, Viper is highly skilled in the management of criminal organizations and very well connected in the international criminal underworld. She is also a master of stealth and espionage. Perhaps her greatest strengths are her influence, the financial resources at her disposal due to her stature in organized crime, and an uncanny luck which has allowed her to cheat death in situations where lesser people would have died. Viper may or may not have supernaturally augmented longevity.

Viper is usually armed with various ray pistols and conventional handguns. She formerly possessed a teleportation ring. She has also used various other special weaponry, including poison-tipped throwing darts, knives, and whips.

So, how's the figure? Well, Viper may not be the most pleasant of individuals, but the action figure of her is superb!

But clearly, this woman has a thing for the color green. I don't know if it's because she was raised by Hydra, whose uniforms are green, or if she always just considered it her favorite color. But -- her uniform is green, her lipstick is green, she's got a hint of green eye shadow, she's even got green streaks in her hair.

Her headsculpt is excellent. I wouldn't necessarily call Viper an attractive woman, but neither is she disfigured or anything like that. I would call her facial expression sinister, and her overall facial appearance aristocratic. When I reviewed the Madame Masque figure, I said at that time that the body molds could be used, with a different head and color scheme, to make a very good "Legends" scale figure of Scarlett, from G.I. Joe.

Well -- here's the Baroness' headsculpt. Even the hairstyle is similar, rather long and parted in the middle. Give her a pair of glasses and call Destro. Kidding aside, the hair is a separately molded piece, and molded from flexible plastic so that the head turns readily enough despite the long hair. Ironically enough, the first time I encountered this practice was on the original Baroness figure in 1984. What the heck, it works, and no shortage of toy products have used it since from multiple lines and companies.

The facial details on Viper are very neatly painted, and very extensive. This includes eyes that have their whites painted, green irises (come on, even her irises are green? Is this natural or did Hydra spring for colored contacts?), black pupils, black outlines around the eyes representing eyelashes, menacingly arched eyebrows, and green lipstick. Metallic green, no less. Where the heck does she shop for her cosmetics!?

The body molds are very effective. As I said earlier, they've seen two uses, but what sets the two figures -- Viper and Madame Masque -- apart, is not just the colors, but their distribution. Most notable, Viper's outfit is sleeveless, something that she can get away with since Madame Masque's outfit consists of tights, so Viper's arms can be molded in a flesh tone without any "fabric wrinkles" in the plastic.

Viper's costume is almost entirely dark green, including the gloves. There is a thin, light green harness around her shoulders, that connects in the back, that is almost invisible because of her long hair. There is a silver zipper down the front of her uniform, and she is wearing light green boots. She also has a light green belt, separately molded but not removable, with a small silver buckle.

The costume is basic enough so that there really isn't a lot of paintwork. Mostly it's just the harness and the zipper on the upper torso. However, these have been very effectively done.

Viper comes with two accessories -- a rifle and a pistol. The pistol can be placed in a holster on her belt. The weapons are very nicely done and superbly detailed. I'm not entirely sure if either one is based on any real-life armament, but they certainly look close enough so that they might be.

There's just one thing -- they're both green! Oh, they both have some painted detail on them, but they're both colored in shades of green. Look, I like the color green as much as anybody else -- preferably on money, and not when it's being used as a catchphrase color for environmental extremists. But this is getting a little ridiculous. A green rifle and pistol!? Oh, well, at least it's distinctive.

As one would expect, Viper is superbly articulated. She is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, including a rotational swivel, glove tops, taking the place of wrists, mid-torso, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles, including a swivel.

Any complaints? Just one, really. She's a bit top-heavy because of the hair, and her ankles are just a little wobbly. It's difficult to get her to stand up and remain standing. Honestly, I've had the same problem with Madame Masque. It's not too serious an issue, but it does bother me a bit when a figure can't stand on its own two feet.

One other note. In the last run of Marvel Legends figures from Hasbro, one of the more impressive figures, in my opinion, was a HYDRA Soldier. I also found it highly amusing that the group was described on the package back as "an evil terrorist organization determined to rule the world". Accurate, but also a phrase used to describe another organization that is, shall we say, a little more "in-house Hasbro"...

Anyway, the HYDRA Soldier is an excellent figure, although admittedly long off the market, and also made for a superb army builder. Need it be said that Viper's occasional role as HYDRA commander could well come into play here for anyone who did a certain amount of army-building with this figure. Just a thought, really.

So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. I sincerely hope that Hasbro will be continuing the Marvel Legends line, now that it has returned. Much like Mattel's DC Universe Classics line, most of the major players have been covered, and it's time to bring in some characters that maybe haven't been rendered in plastic before. At least not in this scale. Of course, Hasbro also has the 4" Marvel Universe line, which has been doing an excellent job of bringing in a considerable population from the Marvel Universe, but some of us just like our super-hero figures to be a bit bigger. For that, we have Marvel Legends, and I hope it's here to stay.

And certainly, Madame Viper here is an excellent addition to the line. The figure looks great, the headsculpt is superb, the uniform masterfully done and nicely detailed, and the overall design of the figure is also excellent. Although Viper isn't exactly what one would call an "A-level character", she's managed to stir up more than enough trouble over the years, and I believe any longtime Marvel fan will be pleased with this figure.

The MARVEL LEGENDS figure of MADAME VIPER from "MARVEL'S MADAMES" definitely has my highest recommendation!