In May of 2000, news broke that Hasbro would be bringing Joe back to retail shelves. Joedom was rife with rampant optimism and speculation of how spectacular the new releases could be. Soon thereafter, pictures of the figures surfaced. While the choices weren't all universally classic characters, the anticipation of Joes being available at mass market again excited the collecting world to the point where some of the more obscure figure choices could be forgiven. About six months after the new first broke, collectors began finding the new figures. Favorites emerged among the collecting community and many people purchased large quantities of the figures just because they could. Sadly, in under a year, though, the Joe rebirth had collapsed under poor figure choices, terrible case pack ratios and general retail apathy. This lead to the first generation of newly sculpted Joes in 2002. But, within the A Real American Hero Collection from 2000 - 2001, there were a few figure gems. Among them is the 2000 Undertow repaint.
Originally released in 1990, Undertow was the final Iron Grenadier aligned figure in the vintage line. Called Destro's Frogmen, the Undertow were divers who specialized in murky waters. While the figure was given to Destro, his colors did not match the typical palette of the Iron Grenadiers. This 2000 version, though, brings the character fully into the Cobra fold. Emblazoned with a red Cobra sigil on his forehead, there is no doubt that these Undertow belong to the world's most fearsome organization. The blue color is not a match for the traditional Cobra blue, but it is reminiscent enough that it works for the character's new alignment.
There are actually a couple of variants for this figure. The most noticeable is that the figure either has a protruding peg onto which the hose that connects to the airmask attaches. Or, there is a hole in the figure's chest into which the hose will plug. The variants with the pegs seem to have been the earliest releases and are a bit tougher to find than the version with the hole. In addition to this, all of the wave I figures featured paint wipes. This controversial application of paint in an effort to make the figures look "worn" was not well received by collectors. As such, you can find Wave I figures with substantial paints or minimal paint wipes. (The differences are subtle in Wave I releases, but more more pronounced in Wave II figures.) This is nice as it allows for a display of Undertow with just enough differences to add some realism. But, it's also a pain for OCD collectors to track down the variants and try to get a good sampling of the figure's various incarnations.
The blue base color for this figure isn't a match for the classic Cobra version of the color. But, it is a perfect match for the 2000 Lamprey and 2001 Sub Viper figures. Hasbro threw collectors an Easter Egg by making these three figures in colors that complement each other perfectly. So, while this figure isn't a match for the classic Eels. There is a full contingent of Cobra aquatic troopers that do match him. If you can find one of the blue Moray decks from the 2004 Convention, it is also a nice match. One of those hydrofoils outfitted with Lampreys, Sub Vipers and Undertows from this era is a great display piece and integrates well into even the most staunchly vintage collection.
The overall paints masks for this figure are convention quality. The A Real American Hero Collection figures did not skimp on the paint applications like the figures from 2002 onward did. Undertow features his lighter blue base, grey, red and dark blue colors. While this isn't the 7 colors Hasbro would use on some figures, the Undertow makes up for it in the applications. All of the figure's details are highlighted. He even features fingers on his hands that are a different grey color that offsets them from the blue wetsuit. The overall result is a blend of color that is not too busy and is realistic enough to use, especially for a diver figure.
Undertow's accessories are holdovers from the vintage figure. (Except for the molded Barracuda that did not make the transition into the modern line.) Sculptwise, they are fantastic. But, they are also a bit lacking. Undertow's mask is a malleable plastic that fits tightly over the figure's head. It is well detailed, though could stand from paint on the eyes like that seen on the vintage figure's mask. A hose attaches to the mask and will affix to the air tanks molded onto the figure's chest. This hose, though, can also be attached to the well detailed underwater sled included with the figure. This device is meant to allow for faster underwater travel. It also features a blue missile underneath it. The figure has the requisite flippers required for any diver. His only weapon other than the sled's missile, though, is a thin handled spear. The large, pointed head atop the thin body makes it look like the spear was intended to fit into some type of launcher. But, if that was the case, the launcher never saw the light of day and the spear leaves Undertow vastly unarmed when dealing with Torpedo or Shipwreck. The inclusion of even a single spear gun would have saved the figure. The upside is that silver Eel or Torpedo spearguns aren't terribly hard to find and can make all the difference when arming the Undertow.
In my collection, these Undertows took the place of Eels for a while. Their greater availability, Cobra coloring and modern, pliable plastic made them a great alternative to vintage Eels...especially if I wanted to take them out into the pool. However, this novelty eventually wore off and the Eels regained their rightful place as the pre-eminent Cobra underwater specialist. Still, this Undertow retained some use. Without the mask, the figure can be used as a land based trooper who arrived at a location via water. So, they became basic commandos who would swim up rivers or canals to attack locations with little warning. This remains the primary Undertow function to this day. It is a more limited role, but these guys are definitively inferior to the classic Eels. So, that leaves them with more limited functions since the Eels are the figures of choice for any true underwater missions.
The Undertow mold got a bit of use in the modern era. After this 2000 figure was released, Hasbro revisited it again in 2002 when the mold was colored red and included in the 8 figure Gift Set release. This figure had the makings of a solid repaint. But, the red was not crimson, it was bright, fire engine red. But, the most glaring issue was that the figure was not given Undertow accessories. With no air mask or flippers, the figure was rendered basically useless and has fallen on the scrap heap of repaint era failed figures. In 2006, Master Collector dusted off the mold and released an Undertow with his full complement of accessories in colors that matched the 2005 Convention Iron Grenadier set. It was a neat idea that pretty much fell flat. Despite low production numbers, the figure is generally ignored by collectors and can be had for next to nothing today. The 2002 release pretty much soured collectors on the Undertow mold and there really is no clamor for it to return. The 1990 and 2000 releases gave collectors two options for the mold that are both high quality and useful. There really isn't a need for more.
In late 2001, the market for this figure was ridiculous. Collectors were in a frenzy for both the woodlands Firefly and this Undertow army builder. In the fall of that year, I sold two MOC packs of Firefly/Undertow for $75 each! Naturally, this was an unsustainable price. Within a year, the cost had fallen. But, loose, mint and complete with filecard Undertows still managed to fetch almost $20 for a few more years. Slowly, though, the release of other, better army builders combined with the decline of the army building craze has rendered this figure basically moot. Today, those same mint, complete figures can be had for between $4 and $7 with carded versions available for around $10. Considering that TRU charged $7.99 to get the figure new in late 2000, that's not too bad a price over a decade later.
Personally, I still like this figure. Aside from the fact that he's a high quality repaint of a decent mold with his original accessories, I find an attachment to this figure because of his release date. I was an adult collector at the time, but still young enough that something like new Joes at retail was really exciting. I bought a large quantity of these figures because I had the money and it was a lot of fun to army build at retail. I still think this is the best version of the Undertow figure and he is a great addition to a Cobra army. For the price of acquisition, it's not unreasonable to still army build these figures today. When looking back at the repaint era, there are terrible figures, good figures and great figures. I'd classify this Undertow as between good and great. He has everything collectors tend to appreciate and isn't expensive. Those factors have left him a valued member of my collection and reinforce the notion that he's a worthwhile pick up for any collector.