Review by Fred "Leonardo T Dragon" Meyer & Justin "General Hawk" Bell
   Pics by Fred Meyer
& Justin Bell

G.I. Joe: Direct To Consumer Wave 4 - Night Viper
Early Samples

   Review by Fred "Leonardo T Dragon" Meyer & Justin "General Hawk" Bell
   Pics by Fred Meyer
& Justin Bell

Joe fans are being witness to a pretty unique situation here that might not be what everyone wants to see or hear, but is still an interesting process to be involved with, nonetheless. What we are seeing here is perhaps the closest a series of figures have gotten to production without actually getting released (at least to this point, any way). While I do think the chances that Wave 4 will get released eventually are pretty solid, at this point things are really in limbo. From what we've seen, Wave 4 is pretty darn close to production level items (even though no one has seen packaged samples yet) and the fact that they haven't hit yet, I think shows that there is still a high level of product out there that needs to be moved along before new stuff can be distributed. It's a simple retail philosophy...if you have a bunch of product already out and available, and it's not selling, investing a lot of time and money in distributing new product doesn't make a whole lot of fiscal sense. I would estimate, in fact, that the first three DTC wave sales were lackluster enough that there is simply so much stuff out there, there really isn't room for new waves to get pushed out (whether the destination is Toys "R" Us or Hasbro Toy Shop). No one can deny that among the select few collectors, there is a high demand for Wave 4, or at least a strong desire to see it released. But a few hundred Joe fans aren't enough of a driving force to get Hasbro to invest tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) on distributing a wave that is likely to barely get noticed by the shopping public as a whole. Sorry, so far, the Joe collecting dollar just hasn't held the power that we may have thought it had.

It doesn't help that on the surface, Wave 4 didn't look all that exciting. I am happy to say that once the items are in hand, these figures prove to be a lot more fun, but that's not going to help drive enthusiasm for this series, or drive Hasbro to get it out on store shelves without a promised return on investment.

I have to concur with my “esteemed colleague” on this initial assessment. If you had asked me what I thought of Wave 4 just a month ago my level of excitement would have been similar to when I heard that a new Survivor series was debuting. In other words, I really didn’t care. The character selection was “okay” but the heavy-handed reuse of existing molds just left me completely cold. The Night Viper in particular seemed to incur my “fan boy wrath”; I’d seen customs of the very same trooper done with new sculpt parts that seemed to be much more faithful to the original design than what Hasbro had “schlepped out”. Yet, I always try to reserve final judgment until I have the product in hand—which is fortuitous as I have to eat a big plate of crow on this figure.

Night Viper originally was exceptionally underwhelming to me when I first saw him. It has become somewhat common practice, for whatever reason, to do new sculpt Night Viper customs using Overkill torsos. While I'm not sure what the motivation behind this part choice is (as it only slightly resembles the classic look) but I've grown to really love how the Overkill torso's look as a new sculpt Night Viper. The first glimpse of this figure using a Sgt. Airborne torso really left me pretty cold, especially considering how mis-proportioned that figure was. However, I'm quite happy to report that once I got this figure in hand I found myself much more pleased with it than I thought I might be. Hasbro ended up using a pretty genious combination of parts to assemble a decent looking update to the infamous COBRA Special Forces trooper.

See, this is the problem with having so many talented customizers in the online fandom! Much like Justin, I’d seen a number of really solid customs of the Night Viper in which the Overkill torso was used. The shoulder pads and torso plating worked well as an update to the classic nocturnal operations Cobra trooper. When this trooper was released I had made up my mind that since it wasn’t like the customs I’d seen (and pondered replicating), it wasn’t any good. As such, I had written this figure off before ever having seen it.

From a sculpt standpoint, Night Viper actually has zero new sculpted parts, and I was not a fan of this move originally. However the end result does present a more positive look. Night Viper uses a combination of Kamakura parts (for the head, arms, and lower legs) and Sgt. Airborne parts (for the torso and upper legs). While I was initially concerned that this would look very shaky, I'm quite pleasently surprised to say the combination ends up working remarkably well.

Night Viper's basic Kamakura masked head sculpt works fine for your basic generic COBRA Trooper, and it works well here as a night-based SpecOps soldier. The torso with the strap and shoulder pad look is a pretty stark departure from the old school Night Viper, but I think it is still pretty effective. Where the quality of this figure really shines, though, is the way Hasbro integrated the pads on Airborne's legs with the ridged armor on Kamakura's arms and lower legs to give you a really unified armor plated look that ends up approximating the same look on the classic Night Viper very, VERY nicely. Much better than I thought it might. These Kamakura parts also serve to shrink up the overall figure enough to reduce the proportion problems. Don't get me wrong, there are still some wonky limb length things going on with this figure, but they are remarkably less compared to the original Sgt. Airborne, and not so much that it makes the figure unusable or anything. This figure actually really looks REALLY nice. The way the shoulder pads, forearms, thighs, and shins are all textured really brings the mold together nicely and presents a very cool looking figure. Agree or disagree on this one, Fred?

I’ve got to agree with Justin on this one. I was completely unimpressed by the pics of the Night Viper that came out of Toy Fair last year. The Airborne torso seemed completely inappropriate and while there was a superficial resemblance to the original RAH figure, the combination just came across as extremely lackluster. (Here’s the part where I start eating crow. Seriously, I’ve got a big bottle of Maul’s Barbeque sauce ready as this is particularly big bird.) I’m going to admit that I was completely wrong in my assessment of this particular trooper. I’m not really certain what it is about the combination of parts used to create the latest Night Viper but they actually work quite well together. The Airborne torso is just detailed enough that it could work as a combat suit instead of as a dive jumpsuit. The padded shoulders resemble the original RAH character design without taken the homage too far and the raised collar breaks up the neckline quite nicely. (This was something that always bothered me about the original figure.) What’s even more surprising is how well the legs come together—especially considering that they are comprised of parts from two entirely different figures. While Airborne is once again the source of the figure’s upper legs, the lower legs (and the lower arms) are all from the Valor vs. Venom sculpt of Kamakura. Now, it might seem a bit odd for a “low light” trooper to be wearing both arm guards and shin guards. After all, why would a specialized trooper be wearing the same gear as a ninja? Yet I find the Kamakura parts actually work quite well in the trooper’s favor—breaking up the green jumpsuit nicely and adding some desperately needed color in a sea of green. This is a trooper that is streamlined for maximum noise discipline as well as aesthetically pleasing. I’m a bit puzzled by the white shoulder pads which I can only assume was done to brighten the color palette just a bit. Otherwise, this figure is a fantastic update to the original and one that is definitely worth snapping up.

Of course the colors come in to play as always with these updates, and as usual with the DTC stuff Hasbro endeavors to replicate the classic colors as closely as humanly possible, and they do a decent job. The green base color is an almost exact match to the green shade of the old school COBRA trooper, and it's complimented nicely by the black pads closely matching the way the original Night Viper is colored. Side by side the two figures look very comperable color-wise, and Hasbro really did a nice job with that. This new Night Viper has his trusty COBRA logo on his left arm, colored the same bright greenish/yellow that the '89 version had as well. A little light gray color splash on the shoulder pads adds some interesting color to this new Viper, something that the classic one doesn't necessarily have.

Night Viper always kind of stood out amongst the pack of the troopers released in '89, in that he had a much more realistic color scheme and something quite a bit deeper and more natural than stuff like the yellow and purple HEAT Viper, orange and blue Alley-Viper, orange and purple Annihilator, etc... Night Viper stood out in a good way, maintaining a much better, darker, more "normal" color scheme. This color pallet translates pretty well to the new sculpt format, and this figure ends up looking pretty decent.

I’ve jumped the gun a bit and already discussed the colors somewhat. As Justin already stated, this trooper follows the colors scheme of the original almost perfectly—right down to the yellowish Cobra sigil. Molded in a similar shade of green, the figure is instantly recognizable as a Night Viper with only a few subtle placement differences. Most notably is the movement of the Cobra sigil from the chest to the left arm. This makes perfect sense to me and brings the trooper more in line with the other troopers released in through the DTC line. Having such a large insignia on the chest was pretty much inviting snipers like Low-Light to “shoot here”. As I’ve already stated, I’m a bit puzzled by the gray patches on the shoulder although they don’t really detract from the figure’s design as much as they add some needed color variation. So, if you pardon the pun: color me impressed.

While Wave 4 has drawn very mixed reactions in regards to the figure selection and characters used, pretty much every single person has agreed that the new accessories with these figures are pretty much home runs from start to finish. While Outback hasn't gotten much love, you can't argue that his harness is really terrific. The COBRA Officer isn't so hot, but he comes with some great gear...and while Airtight's gear choices are somewhat strange, you cannot argue that the actual design and implementation of these accessories is terrific. Great stuff, start to finish. Well, the trend definitely continues with the Night Viper, and in fact, the accessories almost make the figure in this case.

First of all, his webgear is very nicely designed and meshes with the normal color scheme of the Night Viper pretty flawlessly. It looks realistic, fits well, and I really love how it attaches to his legs and the buckle detailing throughout is very nicely done. I'm not really sure what's going on with those leg hooks, but for the most part the harness is great. It looks great, works great and adds a lot to the figure.

For a primary weapon, Night Viper comes with a new sculpt machine gun very much designed after Firefly's original weapon. In fact, it was shown with a new sculpt Valor Vs. Venom Firefly repaint that appeared on eBay for a short amount of time before disappearing and being relegated to the history books. It would appear that Hasbro wanted to make use of that machine gun, and I'm glad they did, because it works pretty darn well for this figure. But honestly, the creme de la creme of the accessory compliment with the Night Viper is the helmet/night vision goggles. The helmet design is patterned very strongly after the original Night Viper's version (which was permenantly attached). It's somewhat sloped, but still thick and looks to provide a lot of protection as well as looking very cool in the process. The flip up night vision goggles are extremely well designed and I actually like them better than the oversized monocle that the original version came with. Technology has come a long way in the last fifteen years, so I'm glad the figure's vision gear reflects that and doesn't sacrifice that for a more similar resemblance to the original. The helmet and goggles really take this figure and change it from decent to great, and they make a perfect topper in general. Very good accessory compliment all around, I have to say.

The Night Viper’s gear really shows just how much Hasbro has improved over the years. Case in point: the web harness and how it fits on the characters legs. A few months ago, I stumbled across some insanely cheap vintage Night Force figures at a local comic shop. I greedily snatched them up and then ran home (not literally—this was 20 miles away and I’m not in any semblance of “shape” anymore) and set them up on my Joe shelves. I was pretty happy with my purchase until I got to Crazy Legs. I had just put finished putting his chute harness onto the figure when I realized that there was no way he could actually close his legs. He could put one leg in front of the other, but there was no way that he could realistically stand at “attention” while wearing the harness as the straps were just too thick and cut too low on the figure’s thighs. The Night Viper escapes this problem by wearing a harness made of a thinner material that rides much higher on the figure’s legs—almost to the bottom of the waist. The end result is that the figure’s movement isn’t nearly as restricted as it could have been which opens up a wide range of poses that can be achieved. I’m not certain what weapon should be stashed on either of the two hooks found on the sides of the harness but I’m sure the final production pieces will shed more light upon this.

As for the rest of his gear—it’s pretty much perfect. As Justin already stated, the included machine gun might look familiar to sharp-eyed Joe fans as it was previously seen with the ill-fated gray VvV Firefly figure. (Pics of this illusive piece were posted by TheMatrix in this thread! ) While the comic pack Firefly seems to have doomed this figure to “rarity” status, it’s nice to see that Hasbro has managed to find a use for his newly-sculpted machine gun. It’s a fantastic update to the original (and almost over-used) Firefly weapon and it’s a weapon that makes sense for a Nocturnal Operations Trooper. The weapon still features the signature flash suppressor and now has a more elongated clip. While I would have preferred to see it released with that particular Firefly, I applaud its use here with the Night Viper. As Justin has already stated, the real highlight of this figure’s gear, however, is found in the night vision scope. I’m going to be honest here—I never really liked the original monocle of the RAH Night Vipers. Sure, it represented the cutting edge of passive night vision back in the early 90’s but it was also big, bulky and almost comical when not worn over the eyes. The new binocular-style optics and “Delta Force” style helmet give this figure a look that is much in line with Splinter Cell than the “Dalek look” of the original. (C’mon—who gets that reference?) The optics are much smaller, more compact and functional in appearance showcasing Cobra’s access to the best technology currently available. The unit flips up onto the top of the helmet and yet doesn’t require an additional inch-and-a-half of clearance. The only downside is that I’ve found the attachment to be rather weak and care should be taken to avoid popping the optics off and losing them. However, the sleek nature of the helmet and the night vision firmly establishes this trooper as a modern spec ops warrior as opposed to a nostalgic reissue.


Originally from appearences, this figure left me quite cold, but once in hand, the Night Viper almost immediately assuaded all of my fears. Authentic colors, proportions that are sort of iffy, but not nearly as bad as I originally feared, and an amazing array of quality accessories pushes this figure up several notches from my original opinions of him based solely on pictures. It follows the DTC formula pretty stringently, but ends up being a fairly successful update in my opinion. I can dig it, and surprisingly enough Fred agrees with me, don't you?

Moi? Agree with you? Absolutely! I’m just about to sit down with my “crow sandwich” and start munching away. (Perhaps a slice of “humble pie” for dessert?) I’ll be blunt—this is, hands down, the BEST figure in Wave 4. Sure, I’ve only been able to get my grabby little paws on four of the figures but I’ve already seen enough of the DTC Cobra Trooper to know that the Officer simply won’t wow me in any size, shape, or form. The Night Viper, much like the SAW Viper, takes a previously existing character and modernizes him to such an extent that the original is almost forgotten. Between the parts combination and the selection of gear (which hopefully won’t change too much when this figure is finally released), Hasbro has a real winner on their hands with this trooper. Evocative of the original yet decidedly modern, the Night Viper makes me want to break out my copy of Splinter Cell and start waging a spec ops war against whomever happens to get in my way. ( France, I’m talking to you.) I think a lot of fans are going to perform a complete 180-degree turn when this figure finally sees release, as I know I certainly did. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a barbequed crow sandwich to eat—unless Justin wants to take half.

When it comes right down to it, Fred and I seem to be of a consistent opinion on this figure. The mold has some minor flaws, but is quite successful as a whole, but the colors and the accessories more than make up for it. I'm not always a fan of these direct re-inventions of already existing figures/characters...I like some new concepts. But this Night Viper has some interesting differences that makes it a worthy purchase, and I think ultimately if fans can get this figure in their hands, we'll see some opinions really start turning. Great figure.





Copyright 2003