In the fall of 2001, I planned to profile this figure. I even went so far as to take him outside with the 1997 Rage on a crisp autumn day and took a couple of photos of him. You can see him in the background of a couple of other figures I profiled around that time. For some reason, though, I never got around to writing the profile of the figure. I acquired a few other figures around that time who got my attention. Then, I got really sick for a couple of weeks as the year ended. As the photo session drifted further out of sight, so did the desire to profile this figure.
In the mid 2000's I had occasion to acquire a couple of new versions of this figure. Even then, though, the timing never seemed right. A few years later, I began to purge my collection and trim it down. Among the figures who were let go were all my Flak Vipers. (For some reason, at the time, I was only keeping the best coloring of any mold. So, I got rid of tons of excellent repaints since there was at least one "definitive" version that I retained.) I grew to regret that decision and have been slowly rebuilding my neon army. While this Flak Viper is hardly anyone's favorite, there's something about the bright orange offset against the green base that makes for a stupidly fun to own.
There were a couple of figures that I simply never saw at retail during my 1990's trips to the toy store. I'd stumble across a freshly stocked case of Joes at various stores from time to time. But, in every instance, some common figures were already gone. The two who stick out to me the most are the Alley Viper and the Flak Viper. For a couple of years, those two characters mocked me from every cardback I owned. The Flak Viper, especially, looked like an awesome figure. The fact that I could not find one was overly frustrating. So, when I returned to Joe, finding a Flak Viper was an early priority. It was also fairly easy. While '92 Joes were overly common at the time, there was no competition for lots containing them and most of them contained a Flak Viper. In short order, I had a small army of blue and green 1992 Flak Vipers and a single version of this 1993 repainted Flak Viper.
If you look back at that Flak Viper profile I wrote in 1999, I twice call this 1993 figure terrible. And, at the time, I was about the only person who actually liked neon Joes! But, when I wrote that, I only had one, incomplete 1993 Flak Viper figure. It took a couple of years and couple more acquisitions for me to fully appreciate the orange and green goodness that Hasbro offered collectors in 1993. Sure, this figure uses orange as the primary color to offset the base green and grey of the Flak Viper. But, this works for a couple of reasons. First, bright orange figures are a lot of fun. I don't care if you disagree with me because, if you do on this point, you are wrong. :) Second, since the base colors are identical to the 1992 Flak Viper, this version does work well as a different rank or specialty within the Flak Viper corps. Finally, the bright colors do work with some of the vehicles of the 1990's and having a gunner type figure available for the crews is a nice addition to the Cobra army.
But, if we're real for a minute, this figure is not good. The 1992 is light years ahead of this orange version. And, the 2004 Nullifier simply makes both vintage versions obsolete. (The desert version is also pretty good, though very environmentally specific.) Orange, green and grey are not, exactly, complementary colors and the figure is a mish-mash of contrasting brightness. The orange accessories are probably worse than of the colors from the weapon trees that dominate 1993 and 1994 figure releases. But, it is that terribleness that drives my fondness for this figure. You would never see a figure released at retail like this in the 2000's. (One of the charms of Funskool was that they did, though.) Now that collectors dominate the Joe market, fun figures made just for kids are non-existent. As the collector base has aged and kids of the '90's have become a larger part of the fandom, we've seen some homages to neon figures. But, they are done with an eye towards either realism (to the degree it can be) or as straight homages to subsets that the general collecting world finds more palatable when compared against the worst the vintage line had to offer. That's a good thing since the crazy diversity of the vintage line was what made it so much fun. But, we're not, yet, to a point where a figure like this Flak Viper could come out without being accompanied by tremendous collector backlash.
I do wonder what the Hasbro design sessions were like in those days. I'm guessing that many of the brighter colors were mandated based on focus group feedback. (Hasbro loved focus groups.) I can see the designers having to concede which of their creations would have to have the bright colors infused into them. Some choices were likely made out of necessity. And, in cases where we got a brightly colored 1993 repaint of a solid 1992 figure mold, I assume that those were concessions to avoid the brightness on a newly created mold.
1993 and 1994 brought some construction changes to the Joe line. Torsos got bigger and bulkier. It was a way to move the line more towards other action figure stalwarts of the time. In the case of the Flak Viper, though, the larger body works. Seeing the massive missile launcher that the Flak Vipers wear on their backs, you conclude that they must be big and strong. The overly large rifle also adds to the premise that Flak Vipers are larger than your average Cobra Trooper. Through the years, I've attempted a couple of customs using Flak Viper parts. Even the large chest works well with heads from earlier in the '90's. There are some really nice custom Flak Vipers out there. But, they are few and far between since so few people really focus on the line's final years as a source of parts.
The Flak Viper's gear isn't great. Setting aside the fact that it's cast in bright orange plastic, the figure doesn't include all that much. The rifle is interesting. But, it's a little big. I'm not sure how more Flak Vipers don't have snapped thumbs as the rifle features a very thick handle. Even the softer hands of the 2000's era figures is stretched when holding the rifle. The missile launching pack is kind of cool. If it were a little smaller, it would be within the realm of Joe reason. But, the pack had to accommodate the spring loaded firing mechanisms which necessitated the size. The beauty is that the figure works well without the pack. But, if you're going full on neon army, you might as well push the absurd and have the brightly colored figures wearing back-breaking missile launchers on their backs.
For me, this figure's use is limited. There's not a lot of situations that call for an orange and green trooper carrying massive missiles on his back. Despite that, though, I'm fascinated by this figure and want many, many more of them. It might be a simple relic of not being able to find this figure at retail. It could just be the fact that the figure isn't commonly army built so having several of them stands out in photos. They are good matches for the Nitro Viper and Detonator and those are among my favorite late release items. I could have terrible taste. All are equally likely. But, I like this Flak Viper and will buy all I can find for reasonable prices.
For a very long time, this Flak Viper repaint was cheap. He was never overly easy to find. But, those who did have him didn't care about him. Even into the late 2000's, it was pretty much the same price to get a loose mint figure and a carded figure. Now, pricing is more uneven. Dealers will get as much as $18 for a mint and complete with filecard figure. Yet, on the open market, carded versions of the figure sell for around $15. While the supply isn't as great as an army builder would like, you can get mint and complete figures for just under $10. Missing their gear, the figures can be had for under 1/2 that, too. As with most figures from the line's later years: the perceived dealer rarity far outweighs the actual market desire. So, with patience, you can still get a decently priced Flak Viper army. It may just take a while.