In late 2000, Hasbro released the 2nd wave of the A Real American Hero Collection figures. This wave had appeared in a toy rag prior to its release and many collectors were anxiously anticipating its arrival. When it appeared at retail, it did not disappoint...at first. Unfortunately, Hasbro vastly overproduced the 2nd wave and they became pegwarmers all over the U.S. The problem was even worse in Canada where the colossal failure of Wave 2 choked future Joe distribution that has caused availability problems that Canadian collectors are still dealing with. Lost in this, though, was the great thought in design that was placed into 5 of the 6 Wave 2 offerings. The figures were fresh and original and offered collectors new ways to enjoy previously obscure molds. While I still hold the Duke from this wave as the best figure of the series, it was the Rock Viper that most captured collector attention at the time.
First off, this figure really isn't a Rock Viper. While he has that name, the reality is that he is a straight repaint of the Range Viper figure. However, this figure really isn't a Range Viper, either. The Cobra colors don't lend themselves to a wilderness trooper and his gear isn't conducive for a Rock Viper. So, how to use him??? What I've found, though, is that this figure meshes well with many of the vintage color schemes of Vipers and other Cobra troopers. As such, he makes an excellent Cobra infantryman. He has some heavier weapons, but his overall look fits that profile. I see him as just a different type of Viper who patrols the Cobra compounds and fights alongside the traditional Vipers.
The Rock Viper does have some nice attributes. Aside from his large complement of accessories (a gun, an ammo clip for the gun, a large backpack, a hose, a grenade launcher, a plunger grenade and one of the coolest combat knives in the entire line) the figure also features an intricate paint mask. While the figure only features 5 colors, they are applied to the smallest details that hearken the mold back to the vintage era. It is amazing that only a year later Hasbro had taken to skimp so badly on paint applications that this figure would be a paragon of their modern retail achievement.
In my collection, the Rock Viper's importance changes. A few years ago when the figure was newer, I used them as the backbone of my Cobra Infantry forces. But, like most of my figures, I tired of them after a while and put them away. In subsequent years, I've used them as urban infantry soldiers as well as specialized hybrids of Vipers who are in training to become Range Vipers. Now, though, they are back to their generic role of infantry. The colors of the figure don't really lend themselves to woodland fighting, so I see these figures as the urban branch of the Range Vipers. They move into bombed out cityscapes and forage among the debris while keeping outsiders away. This utilizes their survival skills while not requiring them to be colored in an appropriate forest manner. It also gives me more chances to use the figure as his coloring and accessories are so far above most of what we've been offered in the years since his release that it seems a waste to leave the figures sitting, unused, in their drawer.
When the A Real American Hero Collection was first released, collectors were very divided over it. While most agreed that many of the repaints were fairly well done, they also were torn over some of the elements that were introduced with the new figures. Now, over 5 years later, though, the figures have taken on a new dimension. Subsequent to the cancellation of the ARAHC, all ARAH-style Joes took a turn for the worse. The began to only be released in multipacks and almost never included any of the mold's original accessories: things taken for granted in the ARAHC. As such, many collectors have grown nostalgic for those simpler days: not realizing how good we actually had it. In the grand scheme of things, the ARAHC only lasted for about 18 months and produced a scant 49 figures. Not much time when you consider it in relation to the line as a whole. While the line was far from perfect, it did produce many high quality figures who surpassed even their vintage versions. Had only that trend continued. Maybe we wouldn't be in the spot Joe collectordom now finds itself.
The Range Viper mold was used in 1990 and 1991. A few Range Vipers were also produced for Asian markets. (Some of these feature unique card art, too.) After that, the mold did not show up again until this Rock Viper release. Hasbro broke the mold out again in 2002 for the Skullbuster figure. In the nearly 4 years since that figure, though, the entire Range Viper mold has been MIA. (Parts including the head were used in 2005 in the Imperial Processional set.) As the mold is decent and we have yet to see a Range Viper repaint that is actually in wilderness colors, I think that the time has come where collectors would welcome another interpretation of the Range Viper mold.
One other item to be on the lookout for when you are in the market for the Rock Vipers is that the figure features slight differences in the paint wipes. The earliest Rock Vipers did not feature any paint wipes on the figure's face. Instead, the skull mask was left all white to showcase that feature. On later figures, though, the paint wipes started to appear all over the figure's face. This gives these a more dirty look. Of my 9 figures, only the first one which was purchased the day after the first reported US sighting back in December of 2000 has a totally clean face. The nature of the paint wipes and marbleized plastic used on the ARAHC releases makes it problematic to call one figure a variation over another who features a slightly different paint wipe or composition of plastic colors. But, as you search for more figures, you may find preferences and will have to ask questions accordingly to ensure you get figures that match the look you desire.
The other source of contention in regards to the Rock Viper is his official release year. The first ARAHC Joes were released in October of 2000. As such, it was difficult for the second wave to hit retail during the same year. I've already mentioned that I found my 1st Rock Viper in 2000. But, as it was in the last week of the year, that is more an anomaly than his actual release year. It was in 2001 that the Rock Viper was really shipped. As such, you will see various guides that list the Rock Viper as a 2000 release while others list him as a 2001 release. Solid arguments can be made on both sides. (The figure didn't really get out until 2001 yet it was shipped in cases that were, basically, carry overs from Wave 1.) Personally, I list the figure as a 2001 release as I consider the 1st wave of the ARAHC to be more of a preview wave with 2001 being the first full year that the line was actually pushed to retailers. (Which is why all but the largest retailers never carried Wave 1 of the ARAHC.) It doesn't really matter when you get down to it, but is another slight discrepancy you may notice when you are in the market for Rock Vipers.
These days, Rock Vipers aren't as easy to find as I would have thought back in 2001. While this figure warmed the pegs for a good long time and was available in sufficient quantities to satisfy even the most ambitious army builder, it has not appeared with my expected frequency on the second hand market. However, this has not translated into an expensive figure. You can still buy mint, complete Rock Vipers for ~$4 each with little trouble (though it is easier to find them in the $9 range!). While there aren't too many out there, not too many people are actually looking for the figures. So, the lack of demand trumps the sparse availability. This is not a bad thing, though, as the Rock Viper is a well done Cobra Trooper who meshes well with lots of vintage and many newer army builders. If you're looking for a cheap way to increase your Cobra forces, I'd highly recommend looking the Rock Viper's way.