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REVIEW: THE MYSTERY OF THE RED VIPER
By Thomas Wheeler

Different sort of review here, folks. It's for a single, unusual G.I.Joe figure that I came by a number of months ago, and whose origin remains a mystery to me.

In 1986, Hasbro introduced the COBRA VIPER into the ranks of the G.I.Joe line. This VIPER was Cobra's new basic "grunt" soldier, essentially replacing the COBRA TROOPER originally introduced in the first year of the line. The Viper had a more up-to-date and more detailed appearance. The helmet with the silver-painted viper lent an air of authenticity to these "nameless, faceless" legions of Cobra. The figure was molded primarily in "Cobra blue", with a black vest and red details.

The Viper proved to be an extremely popular figure, and was recolored in 1989 for Python Patrol, and again in 1990 for the Sonic Fighters team. About the only misstep the Viper character took was in 1994, when an all-new sculpt was given the name "Viper". Between the rather unwelcome new look, plus the rather garish purple-and-orange uniform, this 1994 Viper went over about as well as a loud fart in a crowded elevator. A number of collectors who even have this figure tend to call it "Infantry-Viper" just to differentiate it from the original.

The original Viper returned in 1997, albeit with a different set of legs. The original lower torso and legs had gone missing, so Hasbro swapped in the original Battle Android Trooper lower torso and legs. It was a reasonable solution. The Viper turned up again in a 3-pack in 1998, this time designated both Cobra Officer and Cobra Trooper. And there were several more color variations between 2000-2002, when the Viper figure was totally redesigned for the new-style format.

The last traditional-style Viper, not counting the Crimson Convention exclusive, is a fairly scarce figure that actually came fairly close to his original 1986 counterpart. Dark blue uniform, dark gold visor, and a dark red vest. He was among the last to come out of the SpyTroops series.

But then, this one oddball started turning up in eBay auctions, right around the same time. Those auctions originated in the Orient. The figure was clearly production level, right down to the cobra insignia stamped on his vest. But the color scheme was like no previous Viper ever seen.

This Viper has a predominantly red uniform, and it's a pretty bright red, too. A couple of shades brighter than "Cobra Crimson". He has a blue vest, and again, it's a fairly bright blue. It's not the darker blue of many Cobra uniforms. If anything, it's closer to the brighter shade of blue worn by the first Cobra Commander figure. Add to that black boots and gauntlets, and most unusually, a black visor on the red helmet! This was unheard of. Viper helmets had tended to have silver, gold, or other metallic visors. The only exceptions to this had been the Python and Sonic Vipers, which had had burgundy and red visors, respectively. Certainly no Viper had ever had a black visor.

I'm always interested in unusual recolorations, and I suspected that this would be a very scarce figure. Unfortunately, I blew the first auction that I saw. Fortunately, a friend of mine who follows eBay a little more closely than I do found a second one and sent me the link. I made very certain to win that Viper. About two weeks (two very long weeks, I might add), here came my Red Viper, all the way from the Orient.

I had him with me at the G.I.Joe Convention in Walt Disney World in July 2004. Okay, I can be a bit of a show-off. He attracted a LOT of attention. Some people thought he was a custom until I let them get a closer look at the figure and they realized he wasn't. Several people wanted to photograph him. But no one, not even the top experts in G.I.Joe collecting, could explain him.

There have been a few more of these Vipers on eBay since. One particularly prolific individual who seems adept at getting unusual toys set up a couple of auctions of three Red Vipers each. If I'd had any money at the time, I would've gladly built a small squad.

But, for now, I just have the one. And I'm very pleased to have him. He is a distinctly unique entry in the world of Cobra Vipers, and in the world of G.I.Joe, for that matter. What was he? A color test? A rejected color scheme that eventually evolved into the dark blue and dark red Viper that was released? He's not a prototype. Even the rivets are metal-painted in the right colors, and there have been enough of these Red Vipers to make me think that this was a production level figure that, for whatever reason, got cancelled or changed at the very last second. For that matter, he even came with accessories! I have a backpack and rifle for him.

Which, in a way, is too bad. I think he has a dynamic color scheme that would've appealed to both kids and collectors. I haven't checked eBay lately to see if any more have turned up, but if any ever do, I certainly recommend him.

I don't know that the traditional-style Cobra Viper will ever return. If he does, it will likely be in some Toys "R" Us six-pack or some such. But it is interesting that a figure that had such a long history with G.I.Joe, and roughly a dozen color variations (an article I intend to write for the G.I.Joe Collectors' Club Newsletter in the near future), ended his run on such a cool-yet-mysterious note.