Most people out there know that I'm not the most canonical Joe follower out there. In fact, my Joe world is probably about as different from the traditional stories that are out there as anyone's. However, while I keep my universe separate, I still maintain an interest in Joe canon. I think that this casual interest has lead to my dislike of many of the canonical mainstream figures and characters. However, while I may not use the more popular figures in their traditional roles, I've always been able to appreciate them for the quality they portray. This tradition continues with the new Joe vs. Cobra line and is most recently embodied by the brand new 2002 O-ringed version Snake Eyes figure.
This figure already exists in two distinct paint schemes. One is a combination of purple and grey and the other is the classic black uniform with silver highlights. As there is a significant reason for these variations (which I will delve into in a later paragraph), I felt it proper to profile both of them at this point. I have not made up my mind as to which I like better, overall, but have found smaller niches where one figure is superior to the other.
The purple Snake Eyes mold's strong points are mainly in presentation. The subtle purple, grey, silver, and black all meld into an aesthetically pleasing figure that has a nice look. The broader color scheme also showcases the detail on this figure. In that sense, it is remarkable. This figure is finely detailed on just about every level. His head sculpt shows a tight mask that barely covers Snake Eyes' mouth and nose. It gives the figure a dramatic flair by having such a detailed head. The figure's torso is covered in complex web gear that perfectly matches Snake Eyes' role as a commando. The arms follow this with a series of complexly molded patterns and gauntlets that depict Snake Eyes' heritage as a swordsman. The figure's wrists are even articulated as a nice little added posability bonus. The waist and legs are done in similar style and showcase a level of detail we haven't seen on any Joe figures for quite some time. (Be sure to check out the small knife molded onto the back of Snake Eyes' belt.) The final showstopper is that the figure's ankles are articulated as well. While I've not been too sure about adding articulation to Joes, I have to admit that I like the swivel wrist. The ankles do less for me, but are still kind of a fun little feature to have on a figure.
The black version of this figure is also pleasing to the eye, but in a very different way. While the other figure is more subdued, the black version is very striking in appearance. The dark black color combined with the silver highlights make for a figure that is bold and powerful. While the black color draws attention away from the mold's details, it more than makes up for it in sheer dominance. This look is more classically Snake Eyes, though the darkness of the black seems deeper than even Snake Eyes' classic molds.
The figure is well accessorized with a backpack-style scabbard that holds the figure's sword. It is a toned down version of what the first new sculpt Snake Eyes figure had and is a welcome change. It makes the figure appear as less a ninja and more a commando who happens to use a sword for certain purposes. However, the accessory area is also where some criticism is due. The figure does not include an Uzi. Instead, he comes with a sound chip laden rifle. Frankly, Snake Eyes without his Uzi just seems off. Fortunately, the original new sculpt Snake Eyes is still readily available and the guns from that figure are easily swapped out with this one.
One other minor area of criticism is the molded holsters on the figure's legs. As you can see from the photos below, the holsters are rather bulky. They even have gun handles that are molded so that they pull away from the figure rather than just hug the leg like the vintage molded holsters did. When I see this, I have to ask why these were not make working holsters a la the Wave 1 figures. As we are seeing working holsters return with Wave 4, I wonder why this figure did not incorporate them. Perhaps it had something to do with a different design team. (Which created this highly stylized wave of figures. I still think this figure, when posed, looks like Spider-Man.) It is a small point and one that, I'm sure, will be rectified on some future version of Snake Eyes that will appear at some point in the line.
A recent issue of ToyFair broke the story that there were going to be two versions of this figure mold. They showcased the first picture of the black Snake Eyes and reported that Hasbro determined that the purple version would be produced for the first 20,000 pieces of the mold, then all subsequent pieces would be done as the black version. 20,000 is a substantial amount of figures and many collectors feared that the black Snake Eyes, which they thought would be more desirable, would end up being hard to find. As such, Hasbro then reported that the Firefly/Nunchuk repaint pack that was planned to ship 1/case in Wave 4 had been cancelled and replaced in the case packs with a black Snake Eyes vs. Cobra Commander pack. This would ensure collectors would have more of a chance to acquire this figure. However, after that, the Director of Marketing for the G.I. Joe line made this post in the newsgroup. I read this as an affirmation that there could be considerably less than 20,000 of the purple Snake Eyes figures out there. As I found my purple Snake Eyes at retail on October 4, 2002 (only a few days removed from the first sightings of them) and the first findings of the black version happened within days of my find, I am suggesting that either one of two things has happened. Either: there are cases containing the purple Snake Eyes that are stuck somewhere in a warehouse and have yet to ship to retail. I do not find this very likely as the new waves of Joes seem to be selling through very well. If the purple Snake Eyes figures were all stuck somewhere, it is doubtful we would be seeing cases with the black Snake Eyes figure, either. Or: the purple Snake Eyes was changed much earlier than the 20,000 figure estimate and he exists in numbers far smaller than what was originally anticipated. To me, this is the much more likely scenario. Again, I have no proof of this. However, based upon my observations and knowledge of the quantities of 20,000 pieces would look like at retail, I am very convinced that the purple Snake Eyes figure was produced in much lower quantities than was originally reported.
What does this mean? Well, I don't know. The Black Snake Eyes is far and away the more popular with collectors. As such, in the long term, more people will want that figure as a key piece. Also, right now, the new Joe line is relatively young. As we have seen 5 versions of the Snake Eyes character released in 2002 alone, I would suggest that we will see him at least once or twice more in 2003. Any of his future figures could easily outdistance this one in terms of collector desirability. As such, it is hard to say that this figure will remain the definitive version of Snake Eyes over the line's duration. The purple Snake Eyes, if he really was produced in numbers lower than was reported, will always remain an elusive variation. As more people become completists, or simply track down rarities, this figure could become very hard to find. As such, if you do not have the purple Snake Eyes figure and find one at retail, I would certainly buy it now. I have a feeling that those who now pass on him will regret it in a year or so....
OK. So, I miffed this one. Neither of these Snake Eyes versions is expensive or popular. In fact, they can be had for less than retail price today. Hasbro released the black version a few more time and the purple version again. On top of that, the mold was used for several other figures, too. On top of all this, the new sculpt style of figures have been wholly replaced in the collector conscience with the Anniversary style figures. As such, there is no market for figures in the new sculpt style and modern collectors can complete a set of the new sculpt figures for a fraction of what it would have cost at retail. It's both a sad and fitting fate for many of these figures, though. There are some decent members of that style, but others were nothing short of horrible. This Snake Eyes, though, is highly emblematic of the entire new sculpt era and retains some relevance for that. But, when all is said and done, it will be these new sculpt figures that are the truly forgotten members of the Joe pantheon.
*** End 12/22/08 Update***
As a collector, I like the black Snake Eyes as a representation of the character. However, I like the purple Snake Eyes as a visual oddity. (Those who are familiar with the site know that I like oddly colored figures.) As such, both have found a home in my collection. Each will have his uses depending upon the situation. I find both of the versions to be a great representation of the Snake Eyes character and the first mold since the '85 that adequately combines his role as a ninja and a commando. From what I've seen out there, I'm hardly alone in this assessment. For now, I think this figure will become the definitive Snake Eyes for many newer collectors who do not wish to plunk down the $25 or more that a decent conditioned '85 seems to always cost. With that in mind, I see this figure remaining popular for its entire retail run, regardless of which version becomes more prevalent. Time will tell if that remains the case when we are a few years removed from his release. However, this figure certainly has all the trappings of a truly classic mold.
If you have any questions, or comments, email me.