1988 Hydro Viper


Like a lot of the late 1980s Army Builders, the Hydro Viper is an incredibly frustrating figure. Owed to the fact that he’s common as hell, usually dirt cheap, and for the most part entirely bare. For some reason the Hydro Viper had a TON of easily lost parts, and unfortunately the figure really loses a lot of cool points when he has nothing. So lately after picking up a few Hydro Vipers, I went on some stupid quest to get them to somewhat presentable levels of equipment (Backpacks, Helmets and Flippers). The 5 bucks you spend getting the figure is quickly overshadowed when you’re paying at least the same amount for a pair of Flippers!

The Hydro Viper is a very odd figure, as Hasbro really went all in on this figure, and tried an assortment of new sculpting and accessory ideas, most of which didn’t work, but their failure wasn’t repeated. The removable helmet is something I probably would’ve rather been how they sculpted his head, but that’s neither here nor there. Hasbro did manage to do some impressive engineering with the head and helmet, though. There’s a circular indentation on the inside of the mask, that allows the “lips” on the figure’s face to connect, therefore keeping the helmet on quite snug. If you look at Hydro Viper’s face and see the red paint on his mask still intact, it’s quite likely the mask was never properly put on and lost quickly.

The webbed hand is one of those things that I find to be an impressive level of sculpting, especially considering that figures didn’t quite have fully detailed ears in 1988. It’s somewhat of a waste, as it reduces the figure’s overall usefulness, especially considering he comes with both a knife and a speargun. What really bothers me is the lack of symmetry, I think had both hands been done up in the sprawled out web style, it would’ve probably actually made the Hydro Viper stand out better and likely have a better reputation. Or not, construction changes are serious business that can really bother purists.

Either way, despite Hasbro trying new things on this figure, the fact they weren’t all that well received nor successfully implemented, is interesting, because Hasbro didn’t attempt anything like them afterwards. Undertow, the next diver didn’t have a removable helmet or breathing tubes that attached to the backpack. Shipwreck in 1994 had a mask that’s airbuses were closer to 1986 Wet Suit’s than the Hydro Viper. The outstretched hand never really made an appearance again either, though it was slated to return with the 1995 Dr. Mindbender figure.


Since this figure comes with so many accessories, that are oft-lost, the fact they’re as well sculpted as they are tends to be forgotten. The Speargun is probably the best one released in the G.I. Joe line, and is very detailed. The knife, is bad as hell too. It’s funny how there weren’t really any knives in G.I. Joe until 1987-1988. The backpack is really well done too, it’s huge, has detailed gauges and dials, and really adds some contrast to the fairly bright coloured figure. The Devil like helmet is quite the topper, and surprisingly well done, even if I think in retrospect doing the figure’s head as the demon, rather than removable helmet would’ve been the way to be. In the end, the knife and speargun are nice, but not the make or break aspect of the figure, that I find the Flippers, Backpack and Helmet to be. The helmet has two pegs for air hoses, that could then attach to the two pegs on the backpack. It’s a neat idea in theory, but they don’t work too well in real life, so I never bother with them.

The Hydro Viper is a late 80s COBRA. Part of what makes it so evident, is the pinkish-purple that he’s cast in. The late 80s were definitely a stylistic shift. The 1988 production year is quite evident as well, since there’s very few paint apps, though the mold is quite detailed, there’s not really a lot of places that were really missing out. The card art gives the impression that the Hydro Viper is wearing a black scaly vest, but it being the basic purple of the figure isn’t really that big a deal to me.

Hydro Viper being a “Demon Of The Deep”, gives an aspect of the character, that is quite interesting. The idea of regular EELs undergoing numerous mentally destabilizing surgeries and injections, to become the ultimate deep sea warrior, is both a plausible enough explanation for the otherworldly design, but also almost the kind of thing you could see happening with a group like COBRA. The fact it’s described as “mentally destabilizing” is interesting, as it explains away a lot of the silliness of why would a grown man dress like a sea-demon? I like it, because there’s almost a sense of worry in the part of the figure’s face that’s visible without the helmet. Or at least that’s what I’ve always seen. I tend to think when helmet less the Hydro Viper is almost at a state of constant unease, probably because he’s no longer underwater.

There’s also a line in the filecard about them leaving damp spots on the furniture, while it’s a silly line, it’s the type of humour I don’t have a problem with in regards to G.I. Joe. Humour is a bit of a difficult to put into a thing like G.I. Joe, as there’s a fine line where it could cross over from the absurd, and into almost irreverent self-parody.

Overall, the Hydro Viper is a figure I like, but I can also see the glaring issues the overall figure has. Even though, those problems likely prevent the figure from being thought of the same way as either the Eel or Undertow figures are, it’s still a solid figure, and in a way it’s neat to see the figure where Hasbro failed at numerous things it tried to pioneer with the Hydro Viper.



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7 Responses to 1988 Hydro Viper

  1. Mike T. says:

    When I first discovered this figure as a young collector, I thought it was awesome. Great gear, amazing sculpt and good colors. But, over time, the figure kind of lost it’s appeal. The gear is necessary for the figure, but can also be clunky.

    When it came time to purge my collection, my entire army of these guys went. Now, with how much complete ones cost, that turns out to have been a terrible decision. (I purged Undertow’s, too. Freaking dumb!)

    Like you, I always thought the figure’s face was expressing an odd emotion. I took it as constant fear that their surgeries would fail at any moment and they’d just keel over, dead. With units like the Toxo Vipers, too, that seemed to be a common theme in Cobra.

  2. paint-wipes says:

    i liked that weird muskrat prototype that had the webbed hand, i assume that was a test concept for something related to valor vs venom, it would have been neat or you’d have a muskrat that’s constantly jazz handing. most importantly it was proof hasbro was sitting on this mold (from what i’ve been told, most if not all the post 87 molds we’re available) a hydro viper done in the same sliver/blue as undertow/lamprey/sub viper wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world.

    • A-Man says:

      Hasbro was bad enough. But the Collector’s Club showed off plans for a Cobra’s diver’s set with Eel-colored Hydro-Viper and some kitbashed Cobra divers (like the MASS Device cartoon ones, but not exactly) and then the Club hedged because the winds of 25th sculpt era were blowing. IIRC, they asked fans which style they’d prefer. They wound up making neither version, because they never gave a crap what fans wanted.

  3. A-Man says:

    1988, Cobra troopers in space, deep water and chemical soup. Overspecialization year.
    I remember seeing the card on the back of the first 1988 figures I found and worrying that Hydro-Vipers were Cobra-La related. I was left wondering for awhile as I would not find Hydro-Vipers until late spring.

    I had a few Hyrdo-Vipers because I only had one Eel. By a few, I mean like 3. Considering how little use frogmen got that was a lot, but there were all those water vehicles. Cobra does love its divers.
    Yeah, awkward hoses. Cool but useless left hand.
    Some odd asymmetry on the wrist bands and that left bicep band. Cobra sigil is different, like it was meant to be a unit logo but lacking something.
    Removable helmet is painted, which wasn’t too common.
    Hama used “Viper” in their name which some fan dislike, as they see Viper as a separate thing from Cobra navy.

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