The Viper was the beginning of a long line of cool Cobras. At the time he came out, I desperately wanted one. When I finally got one, I used him all the time. As the years went by, though, his red and blue color scheme didn't do it for me anymore. The Viper was relegated to backup roles as newer, better colored Cobras started taking his place in infantry battles. Of all his variations, the 1998 Cobra Infantry team (Sure the filecards have them lower than Vipers, but I use them as the basic Cobra infantry troops and they look much, much better in dioramas and such. I never put much stock in other people's characterizations anyways. That's why Joe was so enduring to me.) is the best. The Python Viper is a much better painted figure than this and has much more action time in my collection. I also use the Range Viper as the basic Cobra troop. For whatever reason, I just don't like the '86 Viper. The mold is awesome, but the colors just don't look good. (Of course, I'm known for liking many of the later neon figures. Why this guy seems so ugly to me is really a mystery.) I think after seeing what they could have done with him, I've become disillusioned about this figure. The other Viper incarnations are so good that this guy seems pale by comparison.
Still, this guy holds an important distinction in Joe history. He kept Cobra from becoming too specialized an enemy. While the good old blues faded away after his introduction, the Viper was a good solid soldier that was a formidable opponent to the new Joes. After disappointing years in both 1987 and 1988, Cobra was really in need of this guy. Of course, the awesome '89's ended the Viper's run. I think part of the collector sentiment about this guy is that he is really the only link between the immortal '85 line and the '89 Cobras. In between, there was this guy and maybe a case could be made for the Iron Grenadier, though he wasn't really Cobra. Since he came out in a time full of so few good Cobra figures, I think the sentimentality for the Viper is high. That would also explain his high degree of popularity.
The Viper accessories are decent enough. While he only features a rifle and pack, both of these items became iconic to the Viper figure. However, both were also largely lost after 1989. The backpack did make a return in 2002 with the convention Crimson Vipers. But, it has not appeared anywhere else since. The rifle was remolded in a larger size and with a sound attack tab in 2002. But, the properly sized weapon hasn't been used for a figure release since the '80's. However, there are some bootleggers out there who have tried to cash in and have offered reproduction Viper accessories. Be on the lookout for these as they can be misleading.
In my collection, the Viper mold remains the basic field trooper of the Cobra army. I see Vipers and the original Cobra Troopers as one and the same. The Trooper is simply wearing the "leisure" uniform that is donned for work around the base. It functions in combat, but is better suited for manning base positions. The Viper uniform is the field combat gear that is worn by the entry level Cobra troops. It isn't as comfortable as the Trooper uniform, but it is more useful in combat as it offers the wearer more protection and armour. However, when I need a version (or versions!) of the Viper, it is rarely the '86 figure that I select. The '98 is just so much better that I can't justify this version over that one. But, every now and again, these versions do come out. Usually, they are on vehicles or at a base. In those settings, I can justify these colors. But, once the troops leave those arenas, it is a later version of the Viper that I will seek.
The Viper mold has been well used by Hasbro. Aside from this 1986 figure and the 1989 repaint, the entire mold was used again in 1990 as part of the Super Sonic Fighters line. From there, the legs and waist appeared again in 1993 as part of the Dr. Mindbender figure. Those were then sent off to Brazil when the good Dr. was exported for foreign use. In 1997, the head, chest and arms reappeared with the Trouble Bubble. That mold configuration was then used again in 1998, 2002 and 2003. Finally, in 2006, the waist and feet were remolded and added to upper body and BAT thighs to create another version of the Viper that is colored very similarly to this one. But, while this mold has been done to death, there are still useful versions of the Viper that have yet to see production. I would definitely buy multiples of desert or arctic Vipers. But, if those don't happen, we do have enough of this mold to keep my attention for years.
Vipers are expensive. I don't think they are worth the price they fetch, but many people do like this figure and want to build massive armies. Personally, I think $15.00 is overkill, especially when you can get a 1998 Cobra Infantry team 3 pack for less than that. Like all Cobra soldiers, though, the Viper is destined to always have built in popularity. Unlike Joe figures that most people are content with one or two of, people always build Viper armies. Hell, I have five of these guys. I, though, don't use them. There are so many other Viper incarnations that work so much better for so many things that this figure sees very little time out of the '86 Cobra drawer. Still, many people really like this figure and will pay for the privilege of owning more than one. As such, be prepared for an easy search, but high price tag for this guy. Again, the Collector's Paradox comes into play. This guy is easy to find, but high in price. It makes no sense, especially with the sheer volume of Vipers that are always readily available.
I don't like this guy. He was fun, but nothing like the later vipers that were introduced into the Cobra ranks. If you don't agree, email me.