I can still remember standing the toy aisle of a Kmart store in Stevens Point Wisconsin in 1987 debating whether I was “too old” to purchase a three-pack of GIJoe figures. The concept of buying three at a time was new to GIJoe, at least according to my experience, and the characters intrigued me. One was a former circus acrobat and another was a former football player who indulged in “unnecessary roughness”. It was the third character, however, who truly held my interest. A former Viper-turned-Joe, Mercer stood out in my mind like few characters before him ever had. His back story opened up a whole world of storyline possibilities; just imagine the reaction he’d receive from the other Joes not to mention any Cobra “high rankers” that he might encounter on missions. Unfortunately, I left that pack there on the peg and decided that I was no longer buying new Joe figures, yet Mercer stuck in my mind. Yet as much as I liked the design of the original version I completely floored. It was amazing what a difference four years could make for a character.
Four years can bring about a lot of change in a man and Mercer is living proof of that. In 1987, fresh from his Cobra defection, Mercer was wearing an orange vest, blue pants, his Viper boots, and a single black glove on his right hand. This new version, however, is darker—not only in color scheme but in overall tone. Some of the original design elements from the first version are still present such as the vest and blue pants. However, the vest is now rendered in black with silver trim and red buckles on the side. It looks less like a quilted vest worn for warmth and more like a modified piece of body armor. One arm is now covered in what appears to be a form of light mail. (Yes, as in chain mail.) The arm is definitely not a prosthetic but rather this appears to be worn for additional protection—possibly in knife fighting. On his left wrist is strapped a small knife, while twin pistols are holstered on his thighs. A lone silver grenade is strapped to his vest, just over his heart. This overall darker look could be interpreted many different ways: General Hawk used this version in his dio-stories to show Mercer as a double-agent for Cobra in the Joes. Tim Elf showcased this version as a much darker brooding figure in his dio-story “Resurrection”. Others have indicated that this version is Mercer after having gone freelance. Regardless of how he is used, it is hard to argue with the more hard-edged nature of this design.
You have to wonder just what happened to Mercer in the four years since he left Cobra. The changes in his head sculpt from 1987 to 1991 speak volumes of the man’s experiences as a defector and intelligence asset. Mercer’s face, once very youthful, is now deeply lined and covered by a thick brown beard. His military crew cut is gone, having been replaced by a longer mane of wavy brown hair. There is a real weight to his features as though the years have literally weighed heavily upon him. Mercer was a traitor to Cobra and therefore rejected by the members of an organization that he once joined voluntarily. He left and defected to the US Military—primarily the GIJoe team—as an intelligence asset and a member of the infamous “Pentagon Pest Control”. However, I can see many of the Joes keeping Mercer at arm’s length—after all how else should they react to a former enemy now working in their midst. Unlike Storm Shadow who did his share of “side switching”, Mercer has no prior contacts on the team. Tommy at least had shared experiences with both Snake Eyes and Stalker, as well as family ties with Jinx—all of whom could vouch for his character. Mercer, on the other hand, had none save his fellow Renegades and one can only wonder just how closely-knit a group they are. I’ve always envisioned them as a group that will trust each other with their lives on missions but that pretty much keeps to themselves in their down time. So, this new “darker” Mercer really is someone that is an “island unto himself”. Oddly enough, I could somehow see him and Hit & Run getting along given their back grounds of losing any previous “family” they had.
If Mercer truly has a weak point it’s his gear. 1991 was a time when logic started to go out the window when it came to weapons and the accessories became more and more “TMNT-inspired” in their colors. Mercer comes with two rifles and a spring-loaded launcher. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem except that 1) the rifles are the color of super-concentrated Tang and 2) the rifles look more like props from a Star Wars flick than a GIJoe figure’s accessories. As I’ve said before, I’m not really certain what Hasbro was going for here except possibly trying to ride that TMNT-neon tide that was taking the toy world by storm at that time. The smaller of the two rifles isn’t bad and would honestly look fantastic molded in black and held by a Star Wars arc trooper. However, it just doesn’t fit in a Joe line. Call me crazy but I don’t like my weapons brighter than my figures. (Just imagine a figure like Ice Cream Soldier carrying this stuff around. The image would remain burned onto your retina for decades.) My advice is simple: get the figure and the file card and loose the accessories. Either hit up Marauder Inc or go through your extra parts drawer as I’m relatively certain that ANY spare weapons that are lying around are less offensive to your eyes than these.
I’m torn on my opinion of this figure. I really like the Mercer v1 figure quite a lot, which is odd considering that it is a far less detailed sculpt than this one. The biggest reason for that preference is simply because the first version came with the Renegades who never received an updated look. The 1991 Mercer, however, is a terrific design in its own right—featuring a detailed head sculpt and some great colors. If you don’t own the Renegades and have no attachment to them, then this is the Mercer for you. He’s a great standalone figure and is one whose “darkness” reflects the back story that his file card only hints at. His design conveys that “lone wolf” mentality that someone like Mercer would have to adopt to survive. I was able to get this figure for a pretty reasonable price complete and, since his gear is all but useless, that means that an incomplete figure can be had for a song. Snag this figure with confidence and add him to your collection today—regardless of which side he remains on.