G.I. Joe Collectors' Club Operation: Flaming M.O.T.H.
Arctic Theatre - Snow Serpent Commander & Ice Viper
When I first heard about the Flaming M.O.T.H. theme, I was actually a bit disappointed. Throughout the years, I've never really been a fan of environmentally specific characters. I liked the figures that worked in any situation, or were kind of a generic "jungle fatigue" look because they weren't so restricted. When you had figures like Dusty or Wet Suit, you were extremely limited (especially with the first version of Wet Suit) to how you could use them or when they would fit a particular mission specification. When M.O.T.H. was first announced, they were pretty specific that the figures would be designed as environmental specialists, and that made me a bit dismayed.
Once the figures started getting released, though, that opinion shifted a bit. Seeing the Jungle Theatre Night-Viper and Frag-Viper made me kind of realize that even limited to specific climates, the Collectors' Club was still putting out fantastic figures, and that's really the most important thing. However, as cool as they were, I did have some minor issues with the first two sets. The somewhat bright green colors on the aforementioned Jungle Theatre, and the figures chosen for the Desert Theatre, which had been used very recently, left me a bit cold, too, even though I still loved which figures were chosen. Both sets were good, but neither had really knocked me out.
Then came the Pacific Theatre...first pictures had me a bit disappointed yet again, seeing Shipwreck and Chuckles in almost identical representations of their classic looks. But once I got the figures in hand, I was infinitely more impressed...the Pacific Theatre was very, VERY impressive and quickly became my favorite M.O.T.H. two-pack...then came the Arctic Theatre.
I didn't foresee being a big fan of the arctic two-pack, mostly because I don't like my figures shoehorned into wintery environments...but when figures are done as well as these are, it's tough to look down on them for any reasons. It would appear that the Collectors' Club really pulled out all the stops for the last set, and saved the best for the end...as cool as Flaming M.O.T.H. has been, this last two-pack simply tops them all.
Without a doubt, a big part of the appeal of this set are the figures that were uncovered to make it happen. I don't think anyone in the Joe community thought for a second that the Collectors' Club had access to either the Ice Viper or the Snow Serpent tooling, so when the boxart was shown and it looked like those two characters were in the set, it really got the boards buzzing. Still, there was some doubt that the figures would really end up being what the art dictated...thankfully those doubts ended up being unfounded.
As a kid I really loved the Ice Viper. Back in the late 80's, early 90's, "ninjas" were the rage. I spent many a summer afternoon renting ninja movies and watching Bruce Lee work his magic before the whole Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze really took it mainstream. Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes' ties to ninja history was very cool back then (before everyone and their cousin was a ninja and before the whole Ninja Force fiasco soured collectors' on the concept as well) and any kind of small tie to martial arts combat was really emphasized in my 13 year old mind. Ice Viper was a cool enough figure as it was, but if you took off his helmet, he had a pretty "ninja" look to him...and he came with a pair of sais! With the smallest touch of detail on the figure, it added a ton of character, and immediately in my young head, Ice Vipers were all highly trained martial arts warriors who also happened to drive arctic vehicles.
I was thrilled to see that the Collectors' Club was able to dig up this tooling and find the sai's while they were at it, since they were such an important part of what made the figure cool to me back then.
The overall sculpt of the Ice Viper is quite interesting...it has a lot of superfluous details that don't necessarily make sense, but still had great elements to the figure as a whole. The head sculpt is a fairly simple, straight forward masked head, yet there appears to be some sort of metal plate sewn within the mask for somewhat unknown reasons. Being from the late 80's, the Ice Viper's body is nice and bulky, and works very well as an arctic figure wearing a nicely insulated bodysuit. Like the head, though, strange details kind of sneak through. First we have that odd sash across his chest that almost seems like a combination of armor and compartments to hold something. On each upper arm, there are diamond-shaped armored plates to match two equally shaped plates on his thighs. While the plates on his thighs are obviously designed to hold the knives, I have no clue what the design or purpose is of the armor on his arms, or on his chest. These seem like somewhat odd design choices, but they add some flair to the overall look of the figure. I'd love to see some concept art for the Ice Viper, if only to get an idea what the original thought process was behind these strange armored plates.
Sculpting on the Ice Viper figure is simply phenomenal. With a nicely layered fur collar, matching cuffs on his arms, and cuffs on his boots, we have a figure that is instantly identified as an arctic one and really looks the part. The double-strap belt is a somewhat odd choice that almost looks a bit out of place on the figure, yet that's such a minor detail that it doesn't really have an impact on way or the other on the overall look of the figure's sculpt.
All in all, from a mold standpoint, Ice Viper is the perfect specimin to disprove some of those folks who think that the best figures all came out in 1986 or before, since from a sculpting standpoint, he's got a lot of great attributes, and manages to stay pretty locked in the real world as well.
But really, you can't give the Collectors' Club credit for the sculpting...obviously they made a terrific choice and put in some hard work locating the tooling, but Hasbro gets all the credit for the way this figure came out in 1987...what you can give the Club credit for, though, is the paint job...and believe me, the Club deserves a TON of credit for the paint jobs both of these figures have...they are simply out of this world.
Obviously, being an arctic expert, the Ice Viper is based in white, as his original figure was. The question is, how different can the figures be made? The answer is, quite different. In fact, I say without hesitation that the paint apps make this version of the Ice Viper superior to the original in almost every single way. Over what could have been a bland white base, we get some very elaborate and very cool looking gray camouflage paint applications. Using sharp corners and very defined shapes, the camouflage really blends in with the white nicely, yet manages to add a nice zing to the figure. Arctic figures have bored me a bit in the past, simply because they often lack color...but the Club really manages to bring this figure to life, not only with the camouflage, but the other paint touches as well. Ice Viper's fur collar is a beautiful, rich shade of brown, that matches the his arm and boot fur as well, and that really brings the figure together nicely. The armored plates are colored black, which is fine, as that actually tones them down a bit and doesn't make them seem quite so out of place. Light gray straps over his boots also look nice and add a bit of detail to his footwear that is appreciated. Where the paint apps really come to life in this figure, though, is in the face. Where the mask is open we've got an excellent flesh colored face paint, and the eyes are nearly perfectly done. We've all grown accostamed to those black lines representing the eyes on our vintage sculpt figures...well the Ice Viper has the whites painted, and just the little touches throughout his face bring this character to life.
As nice as all of these colors are, though, they all seem like pretty basic choices for an arctic specialist...where the Collectors' Club really shines here is with the bold blue choice. Some think COBRA isn't COBRA without some form of blue on the figure, and the blue used here is simply gorgeous. It's a bright, royal blue that isn't often seen, but it actually fits the icey tone of these arctic figures perfectly, yet really separates from the other colors around it and you end up with a figure that absolutely jumps out at you. Ice Viper's blue mask and bright blue chest armor are both colored perfectly and these small touches of different colors make this figure almost shine. I really can't express how much I love the blue used here, and how nicely I think it was applied.
Ice Viper's weapons are a bit of a mixed bag. Really, I can't complain because he's got his trusty helmet (which I rarely used as a kid, but it's still nice to see it here) and his two sai's, which match every weapon that the original came with. The fact that we're able to get all three of these weapons is terrific, so any complaining I do kind of gets offset by that. Still, perhaps I'm in the minority, but for whatever reason, I just HATE that Big Bear machine gun. I'm not sure why, honestly...maybe if it had a clip, or maybe if it was a bit larger I might like it more, but honestly I'm not a big fan, so I do kind of wish a different weapon was chosen here. Still, as I said, it's tough to complain because we did get all of the original weapons that Ice Viper came with, so the machine gun itself is just gravy.
I know a lot of folks have sort of given the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club a bit of grief as well, because they stated these figures would not be "army builders" yet every COBRA has been a trooper class COBRA so far. From my own personal standpoint, however, I really like the way the Club has made each character kind of stand out amongst their trooper peers. I love the idea of this Ice Viper being COBRA Commander's personal driver in the arctic environment, and love his "bodyguard" status for the Snow Serpent Commander. I've always had a soft spot for the Ice Viper figure and character in my world, and this guy fits in perfectly in almost every way. The funny thing is...as great as this figure is...he's not even the best figure in this two-pack!
Okay, confession time...I have a dirty little secret. I never liked the '85 Snow Serpent.
Still reading? Good...let me see if I can explain myself a bit. As a kid, even though I lived in New England, arctic based figures did not appeal to me much. As I've mentioned time and time again, figures that were specific to certain environments did not thrill me, but for whatever reason it was the arctic figures that really left me...well... "cold". The fact that these thickly wrapped and armored figures were totally unusable in any kind of warm weather climate meant that they became isolated. Figures like Snow Job and Frostbite could only go on missions together...they couldn't work with Flint, Duke, or Hawk in the jungle, and often times (at least in Flint and Duke's case) the guys with the short sleeves couldn't operate in the arctic. So, that left my poor snow Joes (and COBRA's) somewhat on their own, and often times left in the box while the more versatile toys got all the action. Obviously, since Snow Job and Frostbite (and later Iceberg, even though I hated that figure as a kid) had no missions to go on, they had no snow-based COBRA's to fight either.
Which meant, that even though I owned a Snow Serpent back in the day, he never got any use and never got any love. Thankfully, though, that changed over the years, and when I got a bit older, I started to really appreciate just how cool the original Snow Serpent figure really was.
Back in 1985, Hasbro was just starting to "bulk up" their figures a little bit. Even though the '84 Roadblock and '83 Gung Ho were supposed to be the burly brawlers of the Joe team, figures like Flint, Footloose, and Dusty really seemed larger and tougher, simply because Hasbro added the neckball articulation and thickened up the molds for the figures a bit. Even amongst the beefier figures, though, the Snow Serpent stood out as being really large and really solid. Obviously as an arctic trooper, he should be, but even compared to figures like Frostbite and Iceberg, Snow Serpent seemed larger and more imposing.
The first thing you really notice about the Snow Serpent (and thus, the Snow Serpent Commander) that makes him really unique is his head sculpt. His tightly sculpted ridged helmet has a great shape and design to it, and blends in with the almost emotionless facemask very well. Sculpted goggles on top of the helmet add a touch of realism, and the little buckles and straps here and there make it seem like it could really exist in the real world. Like the Ice Viper, the Snow Serpent has a thick fur collar, though the one on the Serpent is much more dramatically designed than the Ice Viper's. Snow Serpent's uniform is thick and padded pretty much everywhere, with wrinkles, bulk, and pouches in every possible place and position on his uniform.
Breaking up any possible monotony of the basic winter bodysuit are some very nicely sculpted straps that run down over his chest and around his shoulders, which really add some nice flair to the mold of his torso, and I really love the buckles amongst these straps. Other nice touches are the fur gloves that go almost up to his elbows, and the intricate seams up the legs of his pants....these are other small details that aren't really necessary, yet add a lot of life to the figure.
As cool as all of this tooling is, believe it or not, I think a lot of the intricate design elements were somewhat lost on the original version of the Snow Serpent because of the color scheme. Don't get me wrong, the classic light gray, white, and blue is famous in Joe circles these days, and I do love the colors...but the richer, more elaborate paint apps of the Snow Serpent Commander really show off these little details much better than back in the day.
Using a white base instead of the light gray, Snow Serpent fits in with Ice Viper and looks the part of an arctic specialist immediately. Like the Ice Viper, he has the same elaborate gray camouflage pattern on his uniform, and I find it just as cool and just as successful here as it is with the Ice Viper...perhaps even more so.
Snow Serpent Commander doesn't have quite the same blue impact as the Ice Viper does, but the same beautiful brown color used on the fur collar and the fur gloves immediately gives him some real nice design asthetics, and the small touches of black throughout his straps, belts, and boots brings everything together nicely. But really, it's the small touches that add up where this figure is concerned. The intricacies of the buckles on the torso has always been somewhat lost with the original figure, but here, painted in gold, those buckles and clasps really shine and you get an idea of just how nicely those were done. The '85 version of this figure had those buckles in the same light gray as the uniform underneath, so some of that detail kind of blended with the figure...but not in this case.
While Snow Serpent Commander doesn't have that beautiful blue on his chest, he has it on his facemask, and it works well there, but the coolest part of his mask has to be those two green and gold eyes, the same color as his goggles (and as the goggles on the helmet of the Ice Viper as well). These kinds of small details really make these figures look great. From the figure chosen, to the paint scheme applied, the Snow Serpent Commander takes everything that was cool about the original Snow Serpent and just brings it back to life in the best possible way.
The Collectors' Club even does a really nice job with Snow Serpent Commander's accessories as well. Considering how long it's been since this figure has seen mass release, it doesn't surprise me that his gun and his rocket launcher were not able to be found, but enough decent accessories were found to really make the Snow Serpent Commander resemble the original in all of the important ways. The parachute pack, the beautifully sculpted (and painted) backpack, and the heavy machine gun chosen all work very well for this figure and are all great accessories. Topping it off with his snow shoes is awesome as well, and I'm thrilled that they were able to locate those, too.
Like the Ice Viper, the Collectors' Club does a great job with their characterizations here, too...giving us a new arctic forces commander is a great idea, though part of me wishes he had a unique code name (like Skullbuster), I still think it's pretty cool to finally get some sort of Snow Serpent "Commander".
I'm not a huge fan of this mortar launcher, but I can understand why they chose it, and it serves as an okay replacement for the launcher they couldn't locate. In my mind, they got all of the important accessories, and the Snow Serpent Commander ends up looking like a fantastic update.
Even though I've never been a fan of snow themed figures, from the moment I saw this set, I knew I'd love it. I am so happy the Collectors' Club was able to track down some elusive tooling for this last two-pack, and the paint applications they chose are darn near perfect. Even though I'm not big on arctic figures, I can't argue that the figures in this two-pack are very good choices, and they really knocked the ball out of the park with the paints and the characterizations.
So the Operation: Flaming M.O.T.H. two-packs are said and done...but it looks like plans for a vehicle and pilot are in the works, so there's still something to look forward to! Also, we've been told that if sales on these sets prove worthy, it's quite possible we'll see more two-packs in the future, which is nothing but a good thing. As time goes on, it looks more and more evident that the Collectors' Club is going to be our one and only source for vintage sculpt figures, so I think it's important that we show our support and appreciation for getting more of these great toys out to us old school fans.
If you're not a member yet, I strongly encourage you to sign up, and definitely join the members only forums over there. It's a great line of communication to the guys that run the Club, and there's often a lot of cool information you can't find anywhere else. Trust me, it really is worth the $36.00 a year...what's more important, that one cup of Starbucks a month, or supporting this club that feeds our classic sculpt habit? ;)
Now that the figures for M.O.T.H. are over, I think the whole process was quite successful, and I hope to see more in the future. Let the vehicle speculating begin!