Friday, August 9, 2002

1989 Night Viper

Back in 1989, I took a family vacation. One of our stops was at a friend of my mother's home. Her children were younger than I was and had tons of the new Joe toys from 1989. I had stopped buying any new figures in 1988 (even then I had only bought about three of them) and had only picked up the new Snake Eyes figure in January. Beyond that, though, I was totally unfamiliar with the new Joe releases. While visiting, I saw the Heat Viper and Annihilator figures. I thought them both very cool. However, I didn't take the next logical step to buy any more figures. In the summer of 1990, though, I was old enough to drive and had a job bagging groceries at a local supermarket. One day at lunch, I decided I was going to go buy a new Joe figure. After seeing one of the '89 catalogs, I wanted either Downtown or the Annihilator. One day, during my 30 minute lunch break, I drove down to a nearby Kohl's store. (I knew they had Joe figures. Kohl's doesn't carry many toys anymore, but they used to be a great source for Joe figures.) I stared at a wall of '89 Joes and found the Downtown I wanted. However, another figure caught my eye. He was a remarkably colored Cobra who came with great accessories. I put the Downtown back on the shelf and bought the subject of this profile: the 1989 Night Viper.

There is little about this figure that you can not like. First off, he is colored is dark green and black that creates a menacing presence. He is slung with bandoliers full of intricate detail and sports one of the coolest unit insignias that was ever created for a Cobra specialty Viper. The thought of these guys slinking around in the night was a concept that I just wanted to capture. The look of the figure was just so striking that it took me a while to fully appreciate the intricacies of the mold. His accessories, with the face shield, subtle pack, useful monocular, and awesome gun perfectly complemented both the look and purpose of the figure. The mold has a detail level that requires full examination to fully appreciate. He moved beyond the simple mold of the Annihilator and remains one of the better sculpted figures during his era.

One thing I've always lamented about the Night Viper is his specialty. This guy is just too cool to only use at night. That's why I've made my Night Vipers more versatile. Sure, they are still primarily responsible for night time operations as well as security. (They often team with Python Patrol Vipers and Alley Vipers to form my complete night time forces.) However, I've also found many uses for these guys during the day. Their guns, with the attached grenade launcher, make for decent infantry weapons and the green and black colors lend themselves to forest and jungle operations as well. As such, I'm able to use my Night Vipers in a variety of elements and they (along with Range and Alley Vipers) remain the core of my basic Cobra forces. I've never liked the Viper and have long thought that a more flattering colored Cobra would be better suited as Cobra's main ground forces. With the Night Viper, I got that.

I don't think I'm alone in my expanded uses of the Night Viper. It seems that many other people out there have built large contingents of a Viper whose specialty lends itself to small numbers. This speaks to the popularity of the mold. Overall, the Night Viper is one of the most popular Cobra army builders that was ever produced. Whether used as a small, elite unit, a single specialist who supports other Cobra operations, or as a basic infantry soldier good in any situation, the Night Viper figure works wonderfully and has enjoyed a wide acceptance among modern collectors. He remains one of the most oft requested characters to be in line for a new sculpt in the Joe vs. Cobra line and I think he would make an excellent candidate.

I've got some bad news, some good news and some more bad news and some final good news about the availability of the Night Viper. First, the bad news. Back in late 2000, Night Vipers with even only their face shield and gun were selling for $25-$30 each. This made them about the most expensive Cobra army builder of the time. There was some serious pent up demand and the prices reflected this. Now for the good news. In early 2001, Funskool figures became widely available in the U.S. for the first time. Among these figures is a nearly identical repaint of the 1989 Night Viper. As these sold for $4 each, collectors snatched them up with incredible zeal and sellers would sell through their Night Viper stock in a matter of hours. By the summer, though, the pent up demand had been sated and cheap Night Vipers were available all the time. As such, the prices of American figures dropped significantly. Now, you can get a mint, complete Night Viper for under $15 without too much trouble. But, if you're building armies, why pay this much? The Funskool Night Viper (which can be seen intermingled with American Night Vipers in the pics below) are nearly identical to the American version and can be had for a price that allows a collector to amass 6 or 7 of them for the price they would pay for 2 American figures. Taking this route is a great way to pick up Night Vipers for your collection. Now, though, for the final piece of bad news. $4 Funskool Night Vipers will soon be a fond memory. Commercial Funskool shipments to the U.S. have been halted and online sellers who wish to replenish their Night Viper stock will have to incur greater expense to do so. As such, once the current stock of Night Vipers sells through, you will see prices on these figures rise. When that happens, the American figure will follow suit. However, there is one final piece of good news. Many collectors, myself included, have satisfied their Night Viper army building requirements via Funskool. As such, there still won't be the demand for the American Night Viper that existed before the Funskool stuff was widely available. Also, there are many new collectors who have flocked to Joe in the past year. Many of these people have quickly built Cobra armies via retail means and have huge stockpiles of Funskool Crimson Guard Immortals, Neo Vipers, Cobra Claws, and any other recent retail Cobra figures. The fact is, when Joe's popularity diminishes (It WILL happen. It happens in every collectible market.) many of these people will liquidate their collections. As it will likely happen in a very short time frame, you will see many large lots that contain multiple Funskool Night Vipers as well as the other figures. During that time, many collectors who are in for the long haul will be able to get many nice deals on loose lots of some of these more recent Cobra figures. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my Night Viper armies. He's long been a favorite of mine and nothing about that has changed. Once you have the figure in your collection, I think you will see why.

1989 Night Viper, 1994 Action Soldier

1989 Night Viper, 1994 Action Soldier

1989 Night Viper, Funskool, Variant, 1985 Snake Eyes, V2, Abutre Negro, Relampago, Brazil, Estrela

1989 Night Viper, Funskool, Variant, 1985 Snake Eyes, V2

1989 Night Viper, Funskool, Variant, 1985 Snake Eyes, V2

1989 Night Viper, 1994 Action Soldier

1989 Night Viper, Funskool, Variant

Night Vipers are great, but I'm set for what I need of them. Who is your favorite 1989 Cobra army builder? Let me know.

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