1988 wasn't a great year for Joe collectors. While most of the figures that were produced were pretty good, there really were no figures that stood out as fabulous. The Joe figures, though, were superior to the Cobras. Cobra had been treated bad in 1987 and got even more of the shaft in '88. Figures like the Astro and Toxo Viper were okay figures, but not the type of figures who could really be the cornerstone of the Cobra forces available at retail. (The enemy was saved, though, by the inclusion of the Iron Grenadiers.) The other Cobra figure available that year, though, was also rather bland: the Hydro Viper.
It really isn't fair to compare any figure to the original Cobra diver, the Eel. That figure is just too good for any other diver to ever be fairly compared to him. Unfortunately, the Hydro Viper doesn't compare well to any other Cobra Diver that was released. While the basic mold is nice enough and the pack, spear gun, and flippers are cool, it is the helmet that really costs this figure any shot at great popularity. Frankly, the helmet sucks. It just doesn't fit onto the figure in a manner that allows you play with him. With me, playability is the key. If a figure doesn't play well, he is doomed. Such is the case with the Hydro Viper. His helmet and hoses fall off way to easily for the figure to be any great fun. As such, my Hydro Vipers have found a life of display, but not use. Visually, the figure is very cool. The subtle purple uniform works very well and allows this figure some broad use in both fresh and salt water fighting. Of most important note, though, is the left hand of the figure. It is cast with all 5 digits extended and webbing in between them. It gives the impression that these guys have artificial claws embedded into their uniforms, as well as special webbing that makes them better swimmers. It is a level of detail that was never seen again in any released Joe figure. (Of course, that would have changed. Many of you have seen the pictures of the 1995 Dr. Mindbender prototype. He would have come with a deformed hand that would have created one of the best figures in the history of the entire line. It is a true shame that that figure never saw production.) Again, though, we come back to the helmet. With it on, the figure lacks something. It just doesn't fit well enough to have that tight look that enhances figures like Decimator, Aero Viper, Worms, Astro Viper, Airwave and Shockwave. While I know that collectors tend to disdain pre molded helmets, I think the Hydro Viper would have been better served by having the helmet molded onto his head and having accessories that just connected to it.
Over the years, I've picked up quite a few Hydro Vipers. While they look nice on display, I've never really used them. When I first got my pool, I took a couple of Hydro Vipers out into it. Almost immediately, the helmets and hoses detached and floated away. At that moment, I knew that these guys would never get lots of use. The Eel and even the Undertow figures hold themselves together quite nicely. With this guy's accessories going all over the place, I spent more time putting him together than I did actually using him. It is a sad state for a figure that is aesthetically pleasing and really should be able to be used. I think the designers took a chance with this guy. They knew what worked for the Eel as well as Wet Suit. Rather than keep churning out figures that were all the same, the decided to try something new. While I applaud experimentation, this is a case where it failed. When you look at figures like the Undertow, 1992 Wet Suit, and the 1994 Shipwreck, though, you realize that they learned from their mistake and did not repeat it. It may have created a figure that isn't all that great, but it did pave the way for some other future figures that were very nice.
There are a couple of very nice things about the Hydro Viper. First, he is rather easy and cheap to acquire. Like many of the '88 figures, he is readily available and is often mint and complete. The other nice thing is that Funskool produces a version of the Hydro Viper that is very similar to his American counterpart. YoJoe.com sometimes has the Indian Hydro Vipers in stock, but they are almost always available on Ebay for very low prices. Either of these alternatives allows you to easily build underwater armies without spending a whole lot. Of course, the low price is indicative of popularity. The Eel and Undertow are much cooler figures and receive much more collector attention. While I rarely use Hydro Vipers, they are still nice figures to have around. They help flesh out dioramas scenes and fill out the Cobra ranks. While I don't ever see these guys supplanting the more popular divers in people's collections, they are a figure that can have their uses. Even if it is only to build armies.
I really don't need any more Hydro Vipers. Who is your favorite enemy diver? Email me.