Tuesday, January 28, 2020

2006 Range Viper - Operation Flaming Moth

You can make a strong argument that the first Joe desert figure appeared in 1983 with the tan Grunt repaint.  The 1984 VAMK Mark II and the tan Clutch figure appeared the next year.  But, officially, the first Joe desert fighter appeared in 1985.  From there, Dusty appeared again and there many other Joes done in base tan colors.  Cobra's first desert fighter, though, didn't appear until 1991.  And, that was it.  The desert was an area where Cobra was under represented.  Even the repaint era did nothing to rectify this.  Finally, in 2006 Master Collector offered some environmentally themed sets featuring vintage molds.  As Joe collectors of the age were army builder crazy, most of the figures were classic army builder molds.  There was a jungle set, an arctic set and a desert set.  The desert figures featured a tan repaint of the 1990 Range Viper.  The character made sense in this new color scheme and a full array of gear helped sell him.  Yet, the figure failed to sell pretty much at all.  14 years later, we can look at why something that should have been so successful simply was not.

At its core, a desert Range Viper makes perfect sense.  The Range Vipers were generic "wilderness" troopers.  And, deserts make up 33% of the land on earth.  So, having Range Vipers who could operate in the vast deserts that appear all over the world is a logical outreach for the figure.  I could see Range Vipers who are adapted to pretty much all the major world eco systems.  They may not be experts like Desert Scorpions.  But, I can see some Range Vipers getting desert training so they can move into the more specialized units.  As such, the notion of a desert Range Viper worked for me.  I do enjoy environmentally specific figures...in moderation.  But, it made no sense to have desert camo clad Joes battling bright red or dark blue Cobras in a setting where most of the color is brown, agave or grey.  

In looking at the Range Viper, you see the quality of the design.  This figure brings out the details of the mold, but in more subtle colors than the original use in 1990 or either of the JvC era repaints of it that appeared in 2000 and 2002.  I like the fact that the skull like face isn't white.  Playing up the skull motif worked for the Rock Viper and Skullbuster.  So, it was good to see it abandoned on this figure.  It allows him to more stand as the desert specialist.  The green eyes are nice, too.  They bring a splash of color to the Range Viper.  But, they don't detract from the overall design.  (You can make a case they are tinted lenses to help deflect harsh, desert glare.)  The base of the figure is brown and tan with a subtle camo pattern on the legs.  It's all offset by some darker browns and the silver bullets across the figure's chest.  The design is understated, but entirely effective.  The figure looks like a desert trooper without any fancy trappings that try to upsell his duties.

Normally, this is the spot where I harp on the club's failures with this figure.  But, I've pontificated enough on those bungles.  Instead, I wanted to take a dive as to why these Operation Flaming Moth figures failed so miserably.  Ostensibly, the sets should have been winners.  Collectors loved army building figures and the paint masks that shamed retail figures along with excellent accessory complements should have been very appealing.  There is an easy answer: it was 2006 and Joe had pretty much died due to Hasbro and the club's negligent handling of the brand.  However, there was still a strong collector base out there, especially for vintage style figures.  The price point of the figures, of course, is the next most obvious culprit.  In 2006, very few army builders crossed the $15 per figure threshold.  So, these Moth figures were competing with '86 Vipers, '83 Cobra Troopers, Alley Vipers and Crimson Guards for collecting dollars.  The appeal of the retail army builders was the $3 per figure price point.  The appeal of the convention sets was the appeal of the event itself.  Without the con-going experience tied to the figures and the price point that was 5 times the retail rate, these figures were doomed.

But, why were the figures so expensive?  Defenders of the club quickly point to the additional paints masks, greater accessory complements and low production runs as the primary drivers of the figures' cost to collectors.  And, all of these are a factor...to a point.  At the time, Hasbro produced the Toys R Us 6 figure packs in numbers varying from 16,000 to 20,000 of each set.  These were sold to Toys R Us for between $8 to $12 a set wholesale where TRU turned them around for a $20 retail price.  So, Hasbro was selling figures for a profit to a retailer for around $1.33 to $2 per figure.  It probable that the lower production runs (we don't really know the club numbers, but it was certainly less than 20,000, maybe even less than 5,000) raise the price.  But, it's reasonable to assume the figures cost under $5 or $6 to the club with the actual number probably being far less.  The issue, of course, comes in the box that the club insisted on including with the figures.  For full retail releases, generic packaging tended to add about 33% to the overall cost of the figure.  The Flaming Moth boxes were far more expensive than retail packaging and likely doubled the cost of the figures.  This cost was passed on to the consumer and help quell demand for army builders at a time when army building was holding its last stronghold of popularity. One of the strengths of the convention releases is that you could buy a bagged set for a discounted price.  While the initial cash outlay was greater, for loose collectors, this helped to reduce the cost per figure and gave them superfluous characters that could be sold: usually for higher than retail prices.  Had the same strategy been employed with Moth figures, they might have been more successful. 

This leads us, though, to the reasoning behind the boxes.  For collectors of vintage Joes, the primary attraction has always been loose figures.  This is due to the fact that collectors grew up playing with the figures.  While we loved the card art, it was a selling point in the store while the main reason for buying a figure was to take it out of the packaging and play with it.  Those who collected vintage Star Wars are the same.  Loose is the entry point as it's the nostalgic factor.  Sure, collectors do move to carded.  But, if you started collecting vintage Joes any time after 1994, you had 100's of carded figures to track down.  To this day, carded collectors are former loose collectors who got bored and switched, collectors who have small carded collections, based on their childhood favorites or those who supplement their loose collections with carded items.  In 2006, there were far fewer carded collectors than there are today.  The club had this weird notion that they were going to force 3 3/4 Joe collectors into carded/boxed collecting.  And, the shoved expensive boxes down people's throats from the beginning in 2002.  While some collectors enjoyed the boxes, the fact is that the higher price point that the boxes created drove down demand for the club's figures.  Had the club accepted this at an earlier point in their life, then many of the products like Flaming Moth would have been far more successful and it's possible that we would have gotten a few more releases.

2007 really changed that, though.  With the advent of the anniversary Joes, collectors had a chance to be in on the ground floor of carded collecting.  In 1995, the same thing happened with Star Wars collecting.  Those who had loose vintage sets simply decided to collect the new releases carded.  This bore out of both a collecting mentality (the carded would be worth more in the future) and a reality that adults don't really play with toys and having them loose didn't do anything but save space and create hassles with missing gear, falling figs, etc.  With the anniversary Joes, Joe collectors had the same chance since the anniversary packaging hearkened back to the vintage designs and was starting over.  This release, while substantially less popular than the 2002 relaunch in terms of retail sales, brought in a huge number of new collectors.  Most of these were retail toy collectors who bought anything that was based on a vintage property.  (Which is why they abandoned the line when it turned into a movie line and no longer had that retro appeal.)  For them, packaging was a key component of the release since they had no desire to open something.  With this, the club mandate of packaging became more accepted and we see their packaged options now being very popular at original release and on the aftermarket.  This is all fine and good.  But, the anniversary and vintage collectors were a very different group of consumers.  Even today, though they have merged more and more, people have different expectations of vintage figures versus anniversary style releases.  Had the club understood this, or listened to their customers who were telling them this only to fall on deaf ears at the time, they could have created multiple offerings that appealed to both groups and found success across all lines.  But, certain club members were on record about their hatred for the 3 3/4 vintage figures and seeing them fail had bring some schadenfreude to them...especially as the anniversary items worked with their vision of what collectors should enjoy.

The Flaming Moth figures were a disastrous failure that spelled the the end of the club's forays into vintage style figure releases that weren't convention sets or membership figures.  Eventually, the figures were clearanced by the club at both conventions and in their online store.  Many army building collectors cashed in at that point to fill out their armies.  Many dealers also swooped in to buy cheap stock in the hopes that it would quickly appreciate and they could make their money back.  That didn't really happen, though.  By the early 2010's, boxed sets still sold for original price or less with loose figures barely commanding $10 each.  This was aided by the fact that huge amounts of Flaming Moth figure overstock was found in Asia and sellers there flooded the American collecting market first with cheap figures (though missing accessories) and later with complete or partially complete figures.  As recently as 2018, you could find both the Range Viper and Flak Viper, mint and complete, from Asian sellers for around $12 each.  While stock has started to dry up, now, the demand hasn't caught up.  You can still buy boxed sets of the Range/Flak Viper for around $30.  To be fair, though, it remains the cheapest of the Moth sets and others do sell for more.  So, the figure's lack of popularity also hurts pricing.  But, convention figures were cheap and plentiful for years and years.  Then, since the onset of 2018, they have steadily risen in price and started to disappear from online sales.  It's possible the Moth figures will follow suit since the Asian supply seems spent and those who bought armies have already liquidated or are content to keep their figures.  But, in the end, these remain obscure repaints from a time when the collecting world was, basically, dead.  So, it seems unlikely that they will suddenly become the figure du jour in the collecting world.  But, stranger things have happened.

2006 Range Viper, Operation Flaming Moth

2006 Range Viper, Operation Flaming Moth, 2017 Gold Head Steel Brigade, Black Major, Bootleg, Factory Custom

2006 Range Viper, Operation Flaming Moth

2006 Range Viper, Operation Flaming Moth


  1. "Certain club members were on record about their hatred for the 3 3/4 vintage figures and seeing them fail". Yes, I remember the HATE that a lot of HISS tank members had for the vintage line once the 25th was popular.Pinheads with that stupid chest joint! Rubbery figures that couldn't stand up straight. Hands that would just fall off. While the 25th definitely got me into Joe collecting, the poor quality and impossibility of finding figures at retail, along with the exclusive Club subscription (over 300 bucks for 13 figures) led me to dump all modern and go back to vintage collecting.That was a good time to collect vintage-prices were decent for quite awhile before that Netflix show and before the end of the club.

    1. They liked the diaper crotches that prevented 25th style from sitting down, because they didn't care about vehicle interactions, since most of them weren't opening the stuff anyway. Then when 25th style
      took off and they started complaining how vintage vehicles wouldn't work with the scale-creeped up 25th figures. "When are they gonna remake (some common vehicle from vintage era)?" So Hasbro wasted tooling remaking the VAMP and altering the HISS, but made sure the SHARC was still a POS.

    2. I recently bought a bus load of 25th figures- having passed on many originally - and I have come to the conclusion that they are not that great. It was wonderful to have modern interpretations of classic Joes but they can barely stand or hold their weapons. They are meant for carded display only. The same problem exists with Hasbro's much-loved Star Wars Vintage Collection.

  2. The sets looked wonderful but I didn't have the money at the time, and when I had the money, Joes weren't a priority. I can't remember for sure, but weren't they (the club) going to do the Hurricane if these figures did well?

  3. Hasbro was more interested in red Cobras and night ops than making desert, jungle or arctic teams.
    Really, Flak Viper and Range Viper should've been in a DTC set with Desert Scorpion, SAW-Viper, Viper* and of course, Firefly, because he's obligatory, like Roadblock, Stalker and/or Tunnel Rat are for Joe special teams.

    *Since the closest to a desert repaint of Viper was the sonic fighters one.

  4. Current ebay prices beg to differ...then again, the sellers could just be overzealous.

  5. Past NastificationJanuary 30, 2020 at 2:17 AM

    It's worth noting that the Collectors' Club tried to present this as a named character, giving it the file name of "Keith B. Holland".

    They were probably trying a little to hard to make this a unique character, given that it's a perfect army builder. Great design and the best colors ever on a Range Viper (my opinion).

    Sadly, with the crazy prices, I never would have bought additional sets and didn't know about the price drops.