For vintage Joe collectors, there are two eras that define collecting: the vintage era from 1982 - 1994 and the repaint era that stretched from 1997 through 2006. (The Post 2006 convention releases are included in the repaint era, but they were so small that they are afterthoughts rather than part of a full release.) While both have their highs and lows, you'd be hard pressed to find any collector who would rank the repaints over the originals: in general. Specifically, though, the late 1990's and early 2000's did see Hasbro revisit some molds who had suffered from lousy color choices in the vintage run. While Hasbro didn't do this often enough, they did start right from the beginning in 1997 by choosing a later Alley Viper and Destro mold. In 1998, Hasbro outdid themselves. While the overall 1998 line was smaller, each figure was well done with solid accessories and exceptional paint masks. While collectors have long focused on the Cobras and Oktober Guard from this year, it is from the underappreciated Navy Seal pack that find the focus of this profile: the 1998 Torpedo figure.
In 1992, Hasbro brought back the Wet Suit character. He featured a sleek, militaristic appearance that was in line with the figure styling of the time. It was a solid mold that was accentuated by the black base used for the figure. Unfortunately, Hasbro chose to accent that black with bright orange. While the figure is striking, it is also a bit gaudy. As bright colors were a thing in the early 1990's, though, Hasbro followed up on the orange 1992 figure with a bright yellow repaint in 1993. Neither are bad figures. But, they are a product of their time. The true value of the figure, though, was that it introduced a removable helmet that showcased a solid head underneath. While Wet Suit has a mullet, you have to remember that he was likely sculpted in 1990 or 1991 and that you can only tell when you look at the figure from behind. Finally, a classic character had a face that was not obscured by a helmet.
To this point, though, this profile is about Wet Suit. But, the character profile is Torpedo. The reason for that is one of the great introductions of the 1998 line was molds being renamed. Thunderwing is the most obvious example. But, this figure mold originally used for Wet Suit became Torpedo. In 1997, the original Torpedo was released with a repainted Cobra Night Landing. For the 1998 Navy Seal set, Hasbro wanted the big three divers in the vintage line. Shipwreck was released as a repaint of his under-rated 1994 mold. Wet Suit, deservedly, was released with his original mold. This left Torpedo. As 1997's were still on the shelf when this wave was rolling out, using the same mold as the prior year made little sense. So, Hasbro commandeered the 1992 Wet Suit and renamed him Torpedo for this set.
While the 1997 figures have a lesser reputation among collectors for their quality, the 1998 line does not. It seems Hasbro learned a bit and produced a higher quality product without having to raise their prices. The highlight of the 1998 figures, though, is the intricacy of the paint masks. If you look at the original releases of the molds that Hasbro dusted off in 1998, most of them had fairly basic paint applications. The original uses of this body mold featured just one paint application on the body and are among the most basic figures you can find in the line. Hasbro created at least one additional mask for the Street Fighter line. But, that was still a fairly simple overall design. For this 1998 version, though, Hasbro pulled out all the stops. Not only did they paint up the details, but they also painted details within the details. The figure's black base is accentuated with aqua blue, grey, silver and a dark bluish/grey color. The result is a figure that showcases everything that's great about the mold. And, while the aqua blue is a somewhat audacious color, it's limited use helps to highlight the figure without overpower the overall ensemble.
When I first learned about the 1998 Joes, it was this Navy Seal pack that most interested me. I loved the 1994 Shipwreck figure and even bought two of them in the mid 1990's as Joe was fading from retail. As these sets came out, I bought some extras for army building. I liked the base figures and accessories and molds were enough to get me to come back. In total, I think I bought three sets that I opened and a 4th that I kept carded. While this number was still lower than the overall number of Cobra sets I bought from that year, it was substantially more than the Oktober Guard. I quickly realized, though, that I was likely the only collector who liked this set. And, even I had to admit that the Mission to Brazil Wet Suit and the 1994 Shipwreck were better figures than the repaints of those molds released in this set. The same could not be said of this Torpedo figure. Somewhere, I have photos of this figure in the pool from my first house that I took in the summer of 2000. It was this Torpedo who got taken out and used. While I liked the idea of the other two figures, the actuality was that there were better versions readily available to me. So, to me, this figure is always Torpedo and remains the highlight of the Navy Seal set...even though I like the other two molds more.
This mold had a fairly decent life. It had the yellow and orange releases of the Wet Suit in 1992 and 1993. In 1995 or so, the body was used for the Navy Seal Guile figure in the Street Fighter movie line of toys. This Torpedo appeared in 1998. In 2004, the figure's head was used on the high quality VAMP Chief Torpedo figure. After that, the mold disappeared. The black highlight variant of the Navy Seal Guile and this 1998 Torpedo are probably the best uses of the overall body mold. While it might have been nice to see something a little different in terms of base colors, you can't say the mold was under-utilized. And, this Torpedo figure was about the best way possible for the mold to fade into obscurity.
In late 2000, G.I. Joe's popularity amped up drastically. Collectors discovered the newly released A Real American Hero Collection and started returning to vintage collecting in droves. While both the 1997 and 1998 Toys R Us sets had been well received, they also hung around retail for quite a while. As the new blood of 2000 and 2001 rushed in, though, these sets began to disappear and rise in price. The Navy Seal set, though, was not part of this. While the 1998 Cobras had long disappeared from retail and were fetching $50+ on the secondary market in 2001, Navy Seal packs still hung from Toys R Us shelves around the nation. The set was stuck due to it being packed 2 per case (the Cobras were 1 per case) and it being divers with an aqua blue highlight package. In short, the figures were duds.
18 years later, not much has changed. While collectors do appreciate these figures a bit more, they are still not overly popular. Mint and complete with filecard sets of the Seals can be had for $15. Finding the individuals sold separately is a bit harder. Dealers will sell this figure mint and complete for $10-$12, but you find no takers at that price. If you can find out on his own, he shouldn't cost more than $4 or $5. But, it's much easier to find all three figures together. For the price, the figure is worth owning. He's a solid update to the mold: whether you want to call him Torpedo or Wet Suit. He's cheap to pick up. And, you're not going to see another repaint of him ever again. So, Torpedo has a lot going for him, even if he's not the type of figure you would otherwise seek out.