What’s the deal with villains and chemical accidents? Seriously—it seems like half of the villains running around comic books and toy lines from the past 20 years all had some sort of harrowing chemical accident that made them into the anti-social miscreants that they are today. Don’t believe me? One of the Joker’s origins involved him falling into a vat of toxic soup at a chemical plant that turned him into a hideous clown man. Two-Face had half of his face scarred by acid which unleashed a darker secondary personality. Even the classical tale of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Hyde involved a chemical cocktail gone wrong. Personally, if I were any sort of villainous type I wouldn’t get close to anything stronger than a kids chemistry set. Heck, even Nutri-sweet might turn me into some sort of evil criminal mastermind hell-bent on world domination. Regardless, Hasbro decided to cash in on the “chemical villain” cliché back in the early 90’s with an aptly-named character called Cesspool. Bearing the requisite facial deformity and preclusion toward toxic substances, Cesspool stormed onto the scene as the nemesis of the neon-clad Eco-Warriors. Yet is he a character that belongs in every Joe collection? Read on, and find out this Joe fan’s opinion.
I have to say that I wasn’t terribly surprised that Cesspool won the “Choose the figure for review” poll. At a time when most of the Joe team seemed to be the result of a neon paint bulk buy by Hasbro, Cesspool had a design that almost seemed to hearken back to the “glory days” of the mid 80’s. His uniform, primarily composed of a blue jumpsuit, is basic enough to be believable. The color is almost a turquoise rather than a standard Cobra blue but it still is something that doesn’t require the use of sunglasses to be viewed comfortably. Yet, it’s the detail that is added over the top of the jumpsuit that makes this character design truly shine. Parts of his uniform (I refuse to say “costume”) are quite mundane—such as the black boots, gold belt, and purple gloves. Again, this is all pretty standard fare for the character designs of this era. Cesspool, however, must really be proud of his new allegiance to Cobra as he is sporting the largest Cobra sigil I’ve seen to date in the entirety of the GIJoe line. Emblazoned across his chest in 3-D relief is an impressive classic Cobra logo—its jaws open wide as if to strike at the entire world. It’s a powerful declaration of allegiance and an impressive bit of sculpting. Whereas the GvC attempts at a raised Cobra sigil have met with mixed results—none of them terribly “Cobra-esque”—the RAH era designers nailed the most recognizable icon of Cobra in a manner that is to be admired both for its audacity as well as its style. Cesspool’s design doesn’t stop there; closer examination of his left bicep reveals a “bio-hazard” sigil to dispel any illusions of his specialty in Cobra. The torso of the figure is adorned with golden shoulder pads and a golden braid hangs around his left arm; a small purple keypad is attached to his left thigh. His right arm is a bit of a mystery— with its sinewy ribbed texture and golden coloration. Was it damaged in his disfiguring accident? Is it simply covered in a protective material? Is this a mechanical replacement for his real arm, possibly lost forever? Is he a fan of Marvel Comic’s Cable and just wanted to be more like his idol? (There are some design similarities between the two—the arm and the scar over the eye.) Regardless, all of these elements blend into a cohesive whole that leaves a strong impression with anyone who’s seen him. This is one of those designs where all of the elements just really do “come together” and instead of being a jumbled mess of random components instead tie together to form a unique gestalt. However you want to phrase it the design of Cesspool is one of the most striking and interesting bits of design work that I’ve seen from the RAH era Hasbro team.
I’ll admit it—I do find a lot of the RAH-era head sculpts to be a bit “blah”. I don’t know if it is the softness of their features or the paint apps but there are great many of them that do not let me forget that I’m looking at a toy that was designed for children rather than a small work of art. (Boy, that didn’t sound pretentious did it?) Cesspool is a character, however, whose face tells a story. At first glance, you see a middle-aged man with a receding hairline. The face is intelligent without being stern and conveys the impression of someone who is most likely more at home in a board room than a battle field. However, there’s more to this head sculpt than just a former CEO. Much like Harvey Dent, Vincent D’Alleva’s face has been split down the middle, creating a dichotomy of a visage and this is where the Hasbro sculptors really pulled out the stops. It would have been simple to etch a line across one side of the face and add in a red paint application. This would have left Cesspool looking more like an older clone of Tomax & Xamot. Instead, a scar that resembled a ragged gash dominates the side of this former CEO’s face, affecting his right eye, cheek, and even the corner of his mouth. It is to this horrific wound that the red paint has been applied and the result is a face that almost resembles an older version of Snake Eyes as he was finally revealed in the Marvel series. This is not something that could be cleared up by a visit to the plastic surgeon or even a trip to the same institute that patched up Snake Eyes. This is a life-altering disfigurement that takes a toll on one’s sanity and forever rips the psyche. In other words, this is a mark of the death of Vincent D’Alleva and the birth of Cesspool.
When it comes to gear, I’m a bit puzzled by Cesspool’s equipment compliment. Okay, he’s got the requisite “Ghostbusters” backpack and rifle that all of the Eco-Warriors figures were equipped with. Simply fill the backpack with water and squeeze to douse your opponent and activate the color-changing plastic of the figures to show “plasma-tox” damage. Whatever—I can do without this concept and lead a full and happy life. No, what puzzles me is the inclusion of a rather nasty-looking chainsaw. Seriously, I’m thinking that Buzzer is going to have some serious feelings of inadequacy if he ever lays eyes on this brutal monstrosity. This isn’t a cutting device used for felling trees but rather something that could tear its way through armor plate and concrete. What I don’t understand is why Cesspool comes with this. What does a former chemical company CEO need with Tim Allen’s favorite gardening tool? It’s a fantastic accessory but it just seems out of place here. The other remaining piece of equipment is a terrific removable helmet that is oddly evocative of that of the head gear of Viper v3. Seriously, the design of the head piece right down to the vertically aligned gas mask is too similar to be a straight forward coincidence. Either these two figures shared a common designer or the fourth release of the Cobra Viper was somehow intended to be part of the Eco-Warriors subset. Either way, it’s a terrific helmet and one that adds even further distinction to Cesspool.
I’m going to just go ahead and say it—I really like Cesspool. In my Joe-verse, he was the head of a CEO of a successful chemical company who had fallen prey to some bad press. As his file card details, he went on a PR tour of his facilities to alleviate concerns over safety issues but instead was the victim of a tragic accident when the gantry he was standing on gave way. However, rather than toxic waste this plant produced pesticides and other poisons used to control insects and vermin. The plant had come under the fiscal knife of accountants who had cut corners on safety standards and corporate executives who had bribed safety inspectors to look the other way—all of which led to his accident. Disfigured and disheartened, Vincent was considered washed up and discarded by the very industry he’d dedicated his life to. This might have been the end of his story until a visit one day by an infamous set of twins who remembered his business acumen and brilliance as a chemist. They showed him how corporate greed and restrictive federal safety regulations led to his accident and career downfall. They also told him of a way to get back at the corrupt system that destroyed his old life. Vincent died that day and Cesspool was reborn as the head of the Cobra Chemical Weapons division. He now uses his genius in the field of chemistry to create new and deadlier nerve agents and substances which Cobra uses in their nefarious schemes. As such, he’s widely regarded as the “Chemical Ali” of Cobra and is at the top of many nations’ “most wanted” lists. Do yourself a favor—if you don’t already own a Cesspool go out and snag one. I was able to obtain for a very reasonable price from GIJoeHQ.com and he’s already found a place in my Cobra army. He’s also a terrific example of a great mold painted in “non-blinding” hues with some truly unique equipment. Seriously, this is one of those vintage figures you’ll never regret owning!