You can see from the comparison photo below that this version of Mirage is distinctively different from the previous two releases.
The most obvious difference is the yellow goggles. But, a closer look shows this figure is more of an amalgamation of the two previous designs. It is darker and more muted that either of the previous versions and better blends with the more militaristic Joes that were his contemporaries. The not quite black pants mesh well with the olive torso. The brown and metallic highlight showcase the mold's detail. They also create a more realistic look than either of the previous versions. It is unfortunate that this version lacked any accessories beyond the goggles. However, anyone who was collecting in 2002 and 2003 probably has plenty of spare Mirage figures lying around so outfitting the Hoverstrike version with decent accessories is an easy task for most collectors.
As a character, Mirage is pretty much a blank slate. With no canonical characterization, collectors are free to develop his personality as they see fit. For me, though, Mirage remains a Joe army builder. In that capacity he works the best for me. This is the mold that I see as the backbone of the Joe reinforcements...not the terrible "greenshirt" figures we saw at retail. In that capacity, this figure gets a lot of use. But, now that I have a more distinctive version of Mirage, I've started to rework the character into my collection. The reality is that we now have lots of figures that can be used as Joe army builders. Many of whom become stale if for no other reason than you use them all the time. (I find that I also rotate through Cobra army builders. A figure who's hot today might end up in the box for years after I get tired of him. If you scroll through the pictures on this site, you can see some of the figures as they fall in and out of favor with me.) Bringing back the character of Mirage becomes a way to reinvigorate the figure in my collection.
Ahh, but what to do with him? I toyed with the idea of using the character as the Joe foil to Zartan. But, that idea didn't lend itself to great uses. As this figure is more militaristically colored, I see him taking on more of an infantry type role. Also, his colors do mesh well with the 2007 Star Duster and Grand Slam pack. So, I could also see Mirage as being teamed with them. Overall, though, I think the character will simply join in with figures like Hit and Run, Recoil, Repeater and a few others who comprise my Joe backup and support teams. They are not the main players in a display, but are there to complement the key figures who are represented. This version of Mirage fits in nicely with many of those classically colored figures and I think it is in that role that he will see the most use.
No one really knows why Hasbro got on such a Mirage and Big Ben kick in the early '00's. But, the overexposure left both molds, though high quality, rather tired. At this point, collectors have 5 versions of Mirage to choose from. Three are very well done, one is vintage and the other is gimmicky. So, there really isn't any valid reason for the character to return. The parts of Mirage fit together very well and it would be hard to see them used on another figure. (Oddly, there was a test shot figure from Asia cast in all black that was the Mirage body with a Flak Viper head. But, it's not likely that this was anything more than mold tests. Though, it did get some people interested at the time.) As such, I think Mirage is a mold and character that simply could be retired. What we have is great and there is no real reason to damage the legacy of these decent figures with more and more takes on a character that is obscure at best.
If you wanted a Mirage figure back in 2003 and 2004, they were pretty easy to find. The Hoverstrike was a retail dud and most Toys R Us stores around the country were knee deep in them well into 2004. At $30, the retail price of the Hoverstrike was well inflated beyond the value it provided to all but the most serious completists. In 2004, though, Toys R Us marked down the Hoverstrikes in an attempt to finally rid their shelves of them. Many collectors were able to pick up the vehicle and figure for under $15. Even at this price, many people balked. But, this clearance was the final straw that put a large amount of Mirages into the collecting community. However, not too many people bought extras. Once the clearance did its job and the Hoverstrikes were gone from retail, there weren't surplus Mirages on the market. In fact, it is rather rare to find one of these figures for sale...especially without the Hoverstrike. But, in one of those great ironies of Joe collecting, no one cares. You see, Mirage is a collector pariah. A figure and character of whom collectors were sick and tired when he was released again. This version isn't different enough from the widely available 2-pack figures for most collectors to care that it is missing from their collections. As such, even though this figure is very hard to find today, when you do find one, it is unlikely that you'll have to spend even $7 to acquire it. (Truth be told, if you buy a Hoverstrike with the figure, you'll probably pay more in shipping than you do for the actual toy.) To me, things like this make no sense. Joe collectors will pay through the nose for easy to find army builders. But, a high quality repaint of a great mold that is hard to find, but an unpopular Joe character, is scoffed into bargain bins. For the savvy collector, that's not a bad thing.