As 2002 has progressed, we have seen some awesome newly molded figures, some pretty poorly designed new sculpts, and a smattering of repainted classic figures that have been hit or miss. As the year winds down, though, I look back at the nearly 100 figures released (it will be more if Wave 5 is considered part of the '02 line, though my personal opinion is that it should not) and think that 2002 has been a pretty good Joe year. There have been plenty of army builders, lots of new characters, and plenty of old favorites have been revisited with remarkable success. Not everyone out there is pleased with the direction the line has taken, but there really has been something available that should have appeased all factions of Joe fandom. As such, I'm greatly anticipating 2003 as I think we will continue to see some great new stuff combined with special offers of classically molded figures that should keep collectors' interest high. I really don't think much else could be expected for the line's future.
In the recently released Wave 4, Hasbro tossed two bones to collectors of classic sculpts: a new version of the Shock Viper and a newly created character that utilized the original Range Viper mold who is named Skullbuster. Skullbuster has already been much maligned even though he utilizes one of the greatly under appreciated molds in the history of the line. This figure has been called wonderful names like "Mardi Gras Viper" as a slam to his metallic purple base color. However, in an admission that is sure to be a shock to every long time reader of this site, I like Skullbuster's color scheme and think he is another high quality aesthetic addition to the Joe line.
Skullbuster has a primary color of metallic purple with copper highlights. It is very pleasing to the eye, even if it is not something you would normally consider a "Cobra" color. (Also not the highly detailed Cobra logo on Skullbuster's leg. It is a very nice addition to the figure.) However, it is the white face masking that truly stands out. On the 2001 Rock Viper, the skull like face was painted white in an attempt to accentuate the mold's detail. On this figure, the effect was decent, but the stark contrast on Skullbuster really allows for the effect to be appreciated. It allows the figure to portray the fearsome helmet that was obviously designed with this intent. While the figure is nice looking, though, he is poorly accessorized. Rather than including the full complement of Range Viper equipment like the aforementioned Rock Viper did, Skullbuster includes a version of Low-Light's backpack without the knife or flashlight to fill in the holes. He also includes a version of the 1992 Destro's pistol. The underwhelming accessories leave a sour taste, especially when the originally intended accessories are known to exist. However, on a good note, the awesome 2002 Headman figure comes with a Range Viper rifle. As I outfit my Headman with Mutt's silenced pistol, I have a spare weapon for my Skullbuster to use. With this in hand, he fits in well with original Range Vipers, recent Rock Vipers, or the Acid Vipers you see in the photos below.
Skullbuster is not an army builder. Instead, he is the leader of the Range Vipers. It is nice that we have been given a new named Cobra who had such a specific purpose. However, the utilization of a mold that already has been used for two previous army building figures makes this guy a little harder to accept as an individual character. As such, I don't know if I'll be able to use him as the intended character. Instead, I foresee this guy becoming a ceremonial Range Viper. In my Range Viper profile, I mention how I use them as basic Cobra troops. They aren't only for wilderness use. As such, having one in purple makes sense from a differing uniform perspective, even if the color is not something that would be heavily utilized in the field. As such, I foresee this figure filling out dioramas and melding with my other Cobra hierarchy as a way to augment their visual appearance. In the field, though, I still find uses for oddly colored figures. So, while I don't foresee it now, Skullbuster will probably make future appearances in some of my dioramas.
Skullbuster may suffer from what I, and many others, consider the biggest packaging error in the line's history. Rather than including Skullbuster with another repainted old sculpt figure, or a repaint of a new sculpt figure from a previous wave, they included a Wave 1 Heavy Duty figure. Now, this isn't even the repainted Heavy Duty from Wave 1.35. This is an exact copy of the original Heavy Duty figure that anyone who built a Cobra Claws army has dozens of. This is the same Heavy Duty that is still VERY available in his original pack all over the country. Why he, of all figures, was included with Skullbuster makes no sense. However, I have a theory as to why this was done. Again, this is only my theory and not something that has been confirmed or anything. You see, there are many old sculpt only collectors out there. Hasbro knew that all of them would buy this Skullbuster figure. In an attempt to get them to at least try the new sculpt figures, Hasbro packed the old molds in with new molds so those who had been avoiding the new figures would have to buy at least two. The only problem with this theory is that why would they include Heavy Duty? He is an okay figure, but there are many others from earlier in the line who are better. As such, you would think that if my theory were true, they would have at least offered a high quality figure as the attempted enticement.
Skullbusters availability is yet to be fully determined. However, this figure only ships one per case. As Wave 5 is now starting to ship from Hasbro, it seems that Wave 4 may have had a truncated production run. What truncated means, though, is open to debate. Regardless, if you find a Skullbuster figure and want one, I would buy it when you see it. I don't think that Wave 4 will have the recurrence of some previous waves. On top of that, when a Wave 4 case does appear, the Skullbuster figure is the second fastest to go behind the BAT/Shipwreck pack. Long term, I think this will make the Skullbuster figure one of the lesser produced 2002 figures, but as they are available now and the figure is not a true army builder, I don't think the he will see any major price increases in the future. For me, I'm content with one of these guys. The lack of accessories and inclusion with Heavy Duty is enough to keep me away from any beyond the one you see below. While I like the figure, I don't hold him in high enough regard to spend money for another example that would be better spent on additional versions of other, more desirable, figure packs. Regardless, I'm glad that we got this figure. While he is certainly not the most important figure I've come across, he is cool enough to warrant residence in just about everyone's collection.
Skullbuster is a decent figure. I'm looking forward, though, to seeing this mold in Python Patrol colors. What about you?