Few characters in the Joe world inspire such disparate emotions than Serpentor. For every fan who considers him a favorite, there is another who despises him more than any other character who was ever immortalized in plastic. Some see Serpentor as a great idea and concept that helped to popularize Joe at a time when it's impact was waning. Others see Serpentor as the harbinger of the later "atrocities" that were made part of the line. Few collectors, though, have no opinion on the character. Most have strong feelings either way. For that reason alone, Serpentor must be considered among the most important pieces of Joe history.
Back in 1986, I was at my Joe peak. I was old enough to appreciate just about all elements of Joe. I was mowing lawns to earn the money I needed to buy all the Joe figures I wanted. But, I still wasn't so old as to have lost the innocence of childhood. As such, when the character of Serpentor, and his origin, was revealed, I thought he was really cool. His creation, as the DNA composite of the greatest military leaders in history, was just realistic enough where I could accept it. In fact, that sci-fi origin was the impetus for many of the later Joe adventures that I conjured. It really opened me up to the possibilities scientific breakthroughs could allow.
I first found the original Serpentor figure in a Target store in late spring of 1986. I didn't have any money with me, so, I hid one a couple of aisles over. A week or so later, I returned to the store and claimed my hidden prize. From that point, he played a vital role in my collection. He was quickly elevated above Cobra Commander (mostly due to the fact that my figure was worn out!) and became the de facto Cobra leader. However, after a few months, something interesting happened. Serpentor got played out. Having him be this uber leader and soldier was just too much and made the character uninteresting. As such, when I acquired the battle armour Cobra Commander right before Christmas of '86, I killed Serpentor off. He just wasn't the type of character who had any long term potential. I think this was played out in the comic in later years. Cobra Commander was just a more interesting leader for Cobra since he had more depth. Serpentor was a perfect side diversion, but might have been better suited as the super-soldier the Commander originally intended.
Today, Serpentor sees little use in my collection. Frankly, he just does not fit into the Cobra hierarchy I have created. As a figure, though, he is still one of the most visually appealing figures to ever be released. This version, with the black background accentuated by the regal golds and greens is even more striking than the original. (Also, his black cape is highlighted in a way that makes it actually appear to be metallic. The effect is that Serpentor is wearing a chain mail cape and is a very nice touch.) He just creates an aesthetic visage of royalty befitting an Emperor. In that sense, this figure is one that I would consider essential to any collection. It offers a version of the Serpentor character that is a little more menacing than the original version but still fits with most fans' ideas of who Serpentor should be.
As Serpentor was a major player in the cartoon at a time when it had many viewers, though, Serpentor's legacy in the Joe world is among the top. As such, there are many fans who want to see the character return in the new Joe line. Done differently, I think that Serpentor could be made into an interesting character who wouldn't fizzle out after a few months. However, making him be the Cobra leader is probably not the way to go. Perhaps bringing him back as a genetic experiment, but having him fill the role originally envisioned for Overlord might be a way to extend the conflict and allow Serpentor time to develop some characterization.
The Serpentor mold hasn't seen much use. After the original run was complete in 1987, the figure did not appear again in any form until this 2002 release. After that, we had to wait until 2005 before the body mold with a new head and well done snake cowl helmet appeared in a comic pack. The mold was never used by any foreign company, but there is an alternative pre production version of the 2005 figure that features green hair instead of the standard black. While it sounds odd, it works for the Serpentor character. If you collect the new sculpt or anniversary figures, there are many alternatives to acquire a Serpentor. But, in the ARAH style realm, we have but these three distinct releases to represent the character.
Based on the research I have done, it appears that the Wave V figure assortment had a production run of between 3,000 and 5,000 of each figure. With numbers that low, the 8 unique figures in that wave are among the rarest Joe figures ever produced. In fact, that number is even lower than many of the variant figures out there that collectors are now paying big bucks to acquire. Right now, you can still get a MOC Serpentor/Shock Viper pack for around $25. Based on the production numbers, my feeling is that these figures are currently under-priced. Face it, in one MOC pack, you get a well done Cobra army builder as well as a true fan favorite figure who has only this one repaint. As many people like me opened their extra packs for the Shock Viper, you can be sure that there are substantially less than the original production run of figures still left MOC. Going forward, this is the type of thing I would look for were I looking for any recently produced Joes who will develop strong future trade value. As the Joe collecting world expands, there simply won't be enough of these figures to go around. When that happens, I think you will see the price for this figure soar. Even now, a little over a year removed from this figure's release, the number of them available on the second hand market has dropped significantly. It was possible to sell this figure for a substantial profit only months after his release. That helped redistribute the secondary market supply and there probably aren't a whole lot of dealers out there who are sitting on more than a case or two of Wave V. As such, if you don't have this figure, want him, and find him for a decent price now, I would certainly take advantage. Serpentor is one of those characters that will always have a loyal following in the collecting world. As this is one of only two versions of him available, this figure will always have a demand. Personally, I'm glad I had the chance to get this guy when he was first available. Otherwise, I probably would not have him in my collection.
I'm well set on this version of Serpentor. I could, though, use a cape from the '86 version. Also, I have a spare of this version that I might be willing to trade. If you are interested, email me.