If you ask any GIJoe collector what their top 10 dream six-packs would be I can almost guarantee that a “Viper Infantry” entry would be there somewhere. While not the original Cobra troopers, the Vipers are by far the most recognized as the backbone of the “army of the serpent”. From their debut in 1986 up through the end of Valor vs. Venom, Vipers have always been sought after by army builders and casual fans alike. After all, it’s not much of a challenge for GIJoe to defeat Cobra if their “legions” consist of 1 Viper, 1 Crimson Guard, and a lone Techno-Viper, now is it? Now, twenty years after their initial debut, Hasbro delivers the signature troops of Cobra in new six-pack entitled “The Viper Pit.” Sporting their classic color scheme and decked out for battle, this six-pack should satisfy even the most infrequent of collectors, right? Right?
To say that this figure looks familiar is an understatement. Hasbro has actually been releasing Viper re-issues since the days of the Real American Hero line. The original Viper mold saw use in 1986, 1989 (Python Patrol), and in 1990 (Sonic Fighters). A fourth release occurred in 1994 but featured an entirely new mold. In 1997, Hasbro debuted the “Real American Hero Collection” with a slightly retooled version of the original Viper. Featuring the torso, head, and arms of the original Viper the body was completed via the use of the 1986 BATS waist and legs. This last version has become the standard for all subsequent RAH Viper re-releases. The “Viper Pit” Viper deviants from this recipe ever so slightly; the thighs of this figure appear to be those of the original 1986 Viper! In other words, the Vipers in this set are just two mold pieces shy of being complete original Vipers! (The missing pieces are the lower legs and the waist which are still utilizing the ’86 BATS pieces.) All six figures in this set utilize the exact same construction with only a few minor color differences.
As a character design, this hybrid Viper/BAT construction works quite well at replicating the original figure. The original padded vest is still present, as are the forearm guards and gloves. These new Vipers once again feature the striped pant legs of the original as well as the utility pouches sewn over the out seam. The boots are still those of the ’86 BATS but I’ve seen them enough times since 1997 that I’ve grown accustomed to them as the standard footwear of the Vipers. All-in-all this is a pretty satisfying release of a classic design. The uniform is both functional and fanciful in the same breath; the rolled sleeves giving the design a “working man” look while the helmet conveys a more futuristic sense. The vest is offers practical storage capacity as well as effective torso protection—after all you have to assume that this vest can stop certain small arms fire. The forearm guards and gloves, once painted the same shade of “fire engine red”, are now rendered in two different colors. The gloves are black as are the molded forearm straps while the guards retain their signature red look. However, the single greatest change to the figure is found in the shade of blue that predominates the color scheme. The original Vipers were molded in a deep navy blue that gave them a slightly “dark” look. These new Vipers are actually in more of an “electric blue”; this provides a greater contrast with the black and red of the vest and arm guards. It’s a smart move, in my opinion, as it gives the Vipers a far more dynamic look than the original color palette offered. This more vibrant shade of blue simply makes the troops a bit more visually appealing. Sure, it’s not smart camouflage for the battle field but neither is having a giant silver face plate. It is interesting to note that, while only one file card is included for the set, there are two distinctly different classes of Vipers included in this set. Five of the Vipers feature the familiar silver face plates and buckles while one is sporting gold in those areas. This is a reversal from the Cobra Infantry Team three-pack of the late 90’s which features two gold face-plated troopers and one silver face-plated officer. Regardless, it’s apparent that the “gold Viper” in this set is meant to be the squad leader, even if no written indication is present.
The Viper Pit features a very basic assortment of gear. Included in the set are four gray rifles, two SMG’s, and two of the newly sculpted SAW’s that debuted with the DTC SAW Viper, as well as six red figure stands. The SAW’s are a great choice, as are the SMG’s. The gray rifles, however, leave something to be desired. Originally debuting with the 1990 version of Ambush, these rifles are a poor fit for an RAH-era sculpt. The hand grip is located in the center of the rifle’s length which makes it difficult for a figure to hold it in a standard grip without placing excessive stress on the figure’s thumb. Move the rifle too far in one direction or another and the grip slips completely from the figure’s hand. Now, I understand that the original Viper rifle mold has most likely been lost but I fail to see how Hasbro could have seen this rifle as the best possible choice for the Vipers. The pseudo AK-47 that was featured in comic pack #6, comic pack #7, and comic pack #101 would have been a far more suitable choice and would have offered a much greater degree of posability. Even the much over-used “Firefly” rifle would have been a better fit. Personally, I’m going to be using Marauder Inc’s NVR rifle as the standard for the Viper Pit troops as it is the closest thing to an original Viper rifle that can be found today. One other aspect of the gear is a bit puzzling and that is the color choice used for the figure stands. Traditionally, Hasbro has done six-pack stands in a standard black; this time, however, a more vibrant hue of “red” was chosen. I’m not certain why the change was made as it causes these stands to jump out from all of the others I’m currently using. Maybe “red” is the new “black”—but then again that doesn’t really explain the Crimson Shadow Guard does it?
If this review sounds a bit lackluster—as if I’m just going through the motions rather than being genuinely excited about this set—it’s because it is. If you’ve read my reviews previously then you know that I’m one of those “sick” fans who refer to themselves as “army builders”. As such, a set like this should have me jumping around manically like Gollum once he finally had possession of his “Precious”. I should be huddled under the stairs clutching this set to my chest, clad only in a loin cloth, and muttering something akin to “so bright, so beautiful, my preciousssss.” Yet, I look at this set and while I find them to be visually appealing I can only muster up a non-committal “Meh”. Part of the reason is that since 1997 the hybrid Viper/BATS figure has seen no less than six previous re-releases. As such, it’s a bit hard to get excited about a figure that I’ve already got in abundance in multiple color schemes. Another part of my malaise comes from the variety of construction issues found with this figure. The original Viper thighs and the BATS waist are NOT an ideal fit and the T-hook opening on the top of the legs will occasionally get stuck on the back of the waist if the figure is placed in a sitting position. Secondly, the o-rings used for this set are among some of the tightest used since I’ve been collecting GIJoe which means that about half of the figures in my set have legs that literally “snap” back to attention if moved. Lastly, these figures are also plagued by the “drooping head” syndrome that has been a bane of the Viper reissues since 1997. Molded into the inside of the head socket is a small raised tab that makes it all but impossible for most of the Vipers to look anywhere but forward and downward. Fans have lamented this tab since its introduction and yet here it remains. As such, it severely limits the posability of what could have been Hasbro’s most popular troop builder to date. Sadly, design oversights and over-saturation in recent years keep this figure from living up to two decades of anticipation.
I’m baffled. When I first wrote the review for the Cobra Infantry Forces (blue shirts) six-pack, I was giddy at the thought of troop-building six packs and wanted Hasbro to release more immediately. Yet, when I finally have the most sought-after six-pack “in hand” I can only give it a half-hearted recommendation. IF you didn’t buy up the various repainted “Mirage vs. Viper” two packs and the “Viper & Alley Viper” pack from the end of Spy Troops, then this is a set that you’re going to want to buy by the case. However, if you’ve been picking up multiple Vipers with each successive re-release, then this set really doesn’t offer you much more than a more accurate v1 color scheme at a decent price. I’ve seen original Vipers on Ebay sell pretty regularly in the $20.00 range so this set does provide an affordable alternative to the original vintage versions. With this set priced anywhere from $21.99 to $24.99, it’s still a six-to-one improvement over buying vintage troops. Just be prepared to spend a lot of time with a dremel removing the “neck tab of death” from each individual trooper, as well as replacing a lot of o-rings and rifles with something more usable. Considering the spotty distribution that Joe product has been receiving at both Toys R Us and HasbroToyShop.com of late, I would suggest that, if you’re planning on buying this set, you buy them when you have the first opportunity as you really never know IF you’ll see them again.