In the latter part of 2001, information appeared that showed a planned fifth wave of retail figures for the A Real American Hero Collection that had adorned toy shelves since 2000. But, these toys were not to be. Wave II of the series had stagnated at retail, leading to lower production on Wave III and Wave IV being dumped to overstock and discount retail outlets. The fifth wave was cancelled and vintage Joe collectors were being shepherded into the JvC figure style that would replace vintage Joe repaints in 2002.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to the fair. As the figures in Wave V were relatively far along, Hasbro decided to offer the wave to only online Joe dealers. Such a thing seems normal today. But, in 2002, this was outright novel. At that point, no line had seen an internet exclusive. So, Hasbro's handling of the final wave of the ARAHC was ground-breaking. Dealers appeared to line up to buy the figures and even did pre-orders. Collectors warmed up and, on the night of February 15th, 2002, they swarmed the SmallJoes.com website to order sets from the only dealer who was selling the figure packs individually.
The reality of Wave V is that only two dealers actually ordered them from Hasbro. Entertainment Earth and SmallJoes.com were the only sellers who got their stock direct. Several smaller G.I. Joe dealers bought bulk cases from EE and resold them. This makes these figures among the rarest "retail" figures Hasbro ever produced. It's unlikely there were even 5,000 of each figure made. This has lead to figures that are somewhat hard to find today. Of the 8 figures in the wave, though, only two have really found any staying power in the community. And, they were sold together.
Serpentor is the most famous figure from the wave. I'd argue that the 2002 Serpentor is the best version of the character that's available. But, the Shock Viper isn't far behind. Based on the then obscure Ice Cream Soldier mold, the Shock Viper was decently colored and featured a nice cadre of weapons. As is was mostly impossible for early collectors to have more than 6 of them, the figure morphed into both a character that collectors justified in smaller numbers and one that was overly desirable.
In the ensuing years after his release, the Shock Viper always remained the most popular figure from this wave. He was never easy to find. But, carded and loose versions weren't bank-breaking. In recent years, though, that has started to change. Both Serpentor and the Shock Viper have gotten substantially more expensive. And, to this day, it's exceedingly rare to see armies of Shock Vipers in the collecting community.
For me, though, this wave represented the beginning of the end. Hasbro had moved on from vintage Joes in 2002 and the vintage figures never again saw Hasbro's focus. At the same time, the collecting community was beginning to mature. The community aspect of collecting waned and collectors turned more competitive in their pursuits of larger armies or rarer items. In 2001, it was still possible to conduct trades that were measured in the wants of the parties involved. After 2002, the dollar value of a trade was usually the only consideration. This was inevitable as the core Joe collector group aged, got better jobs and began to stratify. We see the results of that today. Looking back at this Shock Viper, though, reminds me of a simpler time when the hobby was more innocent and even a bit more fun.