2002 was actually a pivotal year in G.I. Joe history. It was the first real relaunch of A Real American Hero, and Hasbro had put a legitimate push behind it. I’ll readily admit, the New Sculpts weren’t for me, but I can recognize that Hasbro did attempt something with G.I. Joe in 2002. I personally would’ve preferred a few more years of the generic orange and blue 2 packs, but hey that’s just me. Hasbro did have a few things going for them, as it was immediately after 9/11, and the short run of 1980s Nostalgia was in full bore. In a way, it’s kind of amazing, that 2002, which would’ve been the 20th anniversary of A Real American Hero, didn’t result in the same kind of cash-in, the 15th, 25th, 30th or 50th anniversaries did. It was commemorated in a Magazine mail-in for a Snake Eyes and Scarlett set. Things sure change as the years go by.
A lot of the 2000s era repaints weren’t all that great, in retrospect. Some of this is due to the fact a few of the figures were repainted often, with diminishing returns each time (Looking at you, Alley Viper!). It also is because they were sandwiched in between the ARAHC, which while bland, generally had a little bit of thought behind the figures accessories and colouring, but at the same time things like the convention figures were coming out. With far better paint apps (Which were seemingly retail possible in 1998). Skullbuster is one of the few standouts. He’s a unique colouring, decently detailed, and he’s metallic, metallic looking figures are cool.
Hasbro really nailed the Range Viper sculpt. It was well done, highly detailed and memorable. Even with the wild colouring the 1990 figure received, it was a well received figure. It’s got an intimidation factor with the skull mask, enough plausible detailing to make up for the outlandishness of the mask, as the bullet belts and Webgear look cool. The gloves and boots give the wilderness vibe, and as it was a 1990 sculpt, things like wrinkles in the outfit are still a common detail. In the ARAHC releases, they did a Range Viper repaint, who was called the “Rock Viper”. It was hokey, but a stellar figure nonetheless. The problem with this, was it confused things between the mold and figure. By 2003, the “Range Viper” idea had seemingly been revived, after a couple years where it looked as though it’s mold had become the “Rock Viper”. As the 1990 Rock Viper mold was making a return in the Python Patrol 6 Pack, and Skullbuster had been designated as the “Range Viper Commander”.
The role of a specialized Viper Commander, was a thing I felt Hasbro probably should’ve done more often. It provided more depth to the COBRA side, without completely obliterating the need for either the High Command or Army Builders. It allowed for a repaint like Skullbuster to exist, without really needing a new mold to be created. There’d also been a precedent for that, with the COBRA Officer.
Skullbuster is an interesting figure, as the colouring was apparently done as a homage to Skeletor, from He-Man. It’s interesting because it’s easy to see once you notice it, but also done in a subtle enough way that no legal issues could result. I honestly never picked up on it, until I read someone’s comment in 2019. The baby blue highlights on the visor and pouches made a hell of a lot more sense afterwards!
While, the figure itself is great, Skullbuster had HORRIBLE accessories, an accessory-less Low-Light v2 Backpack, and 92 Destro’s terrible gun. Luckily, the actual Range Viper accessories were fairly common back then. Skullbuster also happened to be packaged with probably the worst Joe from Wave 1 of the New Sculpt era, Heavy Duty, who didn’t even get a repaint! He was a straight repack of a figure that came with an army builder, that people bought a few of because “IF WE SUPPORT THE LINE, HASBRO WILL MAKE GOOD STUFF”.
Skullbuster, while not an A-list character, is one of the more memorable 2000s era characters. His unique colouring and name stood out, so when the collectors club was trawling the dregs of the line for it’s figures subscription service, he was an early choice, with fewer “who?” responses than a lot of the 2000s era chumps. The character was also re-envisioned for an RLA figure, who has a lot of the design tropes, without the bad ass colour scheme (though the grey and black is a nice look!).